We all love our cigars. We walk into a shop, enter the humidor and our eyes roam over the many colors and shapes of the boxes that hold and present the craftsmanship of the brands. Some of us even collect them, maybe even hang them on our cigar cave walls. But how many of us know the about the process of making them?
As part of my recent visit to Santiago, I had the pleasure of visiting one of the box manufactures – Artesania Estrella – in this one stop shop city for cigar brands. Artesania Estrella, in Tamboril, Rep. Dom., is the creation of Kedwin Estrella and his partner Lic Miguel A Martinez.
Kedwin’s operation is truly an eye-opening experience in the many times forgotten part of the cigar making process. Without the beautiful boxes that house and protect our most loved brands they would just be bundles of cigars.
The history of cigar boxes goes back to 1830 when H. Upmann, a London banking firm started shipping cigars back to its directors in sealed cedar boxes with the bank’s emblem stamped on the box. Prior to then, cigars were sold in bundles covered in pigs bladder. By the way there is a little cigar trivia for you with regards to the H. Upmann line “The Banker”; in case you did not know H. Upmann was originally a bank before they got into the cigar business.
Not to far later, in 1837, Ramon Allones decided to go further and use colorful lithographic labels on his boxes and so started the practice of clear and colorful brand identification.
Artesania Estrella has been in operation for 6 years now and has close to 30 customers including some large ones like La Flor Dominican, PDR, La Palina and many more. They produce upwards of 150,000 boxes of various shapes, sizes, and construction each year and as their reputation grows they are adding new customers constantly.
Kedwin Estrella started the operation in his room and slowly grew the operation over the years. He used to work from 7 AM to 4 AM, 7 days a week. His dedication paid off as now he has a bustling operation that employs 39 workers. He even pointed out that as Artesania Estrella grew they would clear the production room of the days dust and scrap material and lay down mattresses for the worker to sleep. Some of the larger companies approached him wanting to buy him out but he said no, this is my company, you buy the boxes.
It is to this day, truly a family operation, where everyone involved applies their own skill and pride in the 30 plus process steps to making a cigar box. There was even a time when he would take a wheel off cars so no one would leave because they had deadlines to meet.
When you examine these processes and note the time some of them take, he says it takes about 14 hours to make one box. Of course some of those hours are the time it takes for lacquer, stains, and paints to dry.
Kedwin walked me through these processes starting with the cutting of the wood all the way to the final finish and application of brand identity.
The process begins with the raw cedar wood that needs to be cut and milled into planks:
After the plank is cut, you then have to plane it smooth:
Wow you can just smell that fresh cedar aroma at this point!
Once the boards are milled and smoothed, the planks are cut to size.
Of course depending on the type of box, the sizes of the wood pieces vary in size and have to be assembled into the box shape by tacking and gluing the pieces together.
Then the finish sanding is completed.
The boxes are then painted if required.
Hinges and clasps are added:
The finished boxes are then sanded on the bottom if required.
Then the logos and informative information is applied.
Sometimes the planks are stained to give an antique look to the wood.
Once complete, the boxes are wrapped in plastic to protect them during shipping.
They even make cellophane sleeves for the cigars themselves.
So the next time you buy a box of cigars, take the time to truly admire the work that went into making cigar boxes and the number of people employed. I have a new found respect for this side of the cigar business. I would like to thank Kedwin Estrella and his partner Lic Miguel A. Martinez for taking the time to show us their operation.