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A Tour of Bill Larson's Shop

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I have been in the commercial cabinet business for over 20 years. A few years back, I decided it was time to stop paying rent and start investing in a building, but I couldn't find one.

In November (2000), I noticed a “For Sale” sign on a lot in a very desirable location. Although the lot was zoned residential, I made an offer contingent on getting the zoning changed to commercial. The seller agreed, the building commission and township board agreed, and suddenly I was the owner of a commercial lot in a great location for a cabinet shop.

With some support from my friendly local banker, I suddenly found myself beginning construction of a commercial cabinet shop and kitchen showroom, a project that has quickly and irrevocably taken on a life of its own.

Slab work comes first

One of my first decisions was about the heating system; Northern Minnesota is far from temperate in the winter. I decided that the ideal heating system would be a Wirsbo in-slab radiant heating system, which consists of tubing embedded in the concrete that circulates water heated by a gas boiler. A forced-air system would have been less expensive, but I didn't want forced-air blowers redistributing dust all over everything—this is a dust producing enviornment, after all.

I was lucky enough to get the job of laying out and tieing down the tubing. Imagine doing deep knee bends and tripping on wire mesh for 12 hours straight. Needless to say, I wasn't moving too well the next day.

The building has two heat zones: Zone #1 is the 32' x 80' shop, which I plan to keep at about 62°, and zone #2 includes the 28' x 56' showroom and offices, which I will keep at 68°.

Tubing's In! Now let's hope it's right the first time.

The tubing is now set in concrete, as it were, so we're hoping it's right—there is no changing it now!


Benchmark Kitchens: Going Up!

Finally, the framing crew is on hand to begin the process of framing my shop. The walls will be 12' high. The framing will be with standard 2 x 6 walls for a sheetrocked interior, for fire safety and noise reduction.


12-ft. Walls for the Shop Section

I considered 10' high walls in the shop—which would mean less air volume to heat—but I felt that 12' was the necessary minimum for a woodworking shop. The cost of materials to increase to 12' high was minimal, and the high ceiling will make for a much nicer work enviornment. I'll always be thankful that I can store lumber vertically, which is my preferred method. The duct work for the dust collection system will be at the ceiling also, so the 12' height works well for that application. It keeps the ducts out of harm’s way.

The New Home of Benchmark Kitchens

The showroom walls in the front of the building are 9' high. Part of the reason for the height difference will become apparent with subsequent pictures as we will be attempting a cabover roof. A 9' ceiling will also give a more homey feel to the showroom.


Cabover Construction

With the help of my brother and whomever else would happen by—we had spare hammers for the unwary—we tackled the framing for the cabover roof, named for its resemblance to the front of a tractor-trailer rig. It actually looks more like a conventional roof, but we liked the name cabover better.


The cabover roof is framed on top of a pair of tripled girder trusses engineered to carry the load of the entire center roof system. The massive overhang on the front of the roof is carried with cantilevered 12" LVL glue lams. All the overhangs on the building are 4' deep, with the exception of the front of the cabover which is 6' deep.

The center section of the showroom is under the cabover. This part will have a barrel vault on the inside with windows on the north face for natural lighting (actually...the inside is now ready for sheetrock and the framing for the barrel vault is complete, but, I figure these photos should come in chronological order).

Bill Larson's 'Cabover Roof'

The framing crew has come and gone. They did what they were hired to do—frame up the basic structure and leave all the detail work for me.

Bill Larson's Showroom/Shop

The first two photos (left and below) show the finished exterior of the building. It has been done for a while, and the interior is getting close to completion. I have been in the shop part since December '99 and continue to work on the showroom as time and money allow. Getting those two precious commodities to come together has proven most difficult.

Bill Larson's Showroom/Shop

The siding on the building is a combination of Hardi-Plank cementicious lap siding, the trim details are painted cedar, and above the beltline the siding is exterior-grade, 38" roughsawn mahogany plywood. The soffit is 38" plywood running out to 1 x 6 roughsawn cedar fascia.

Bill Larson's Showroom/Shop

The sheetrock guys have long since come and gone, and the walls and lid are taped and painted. The barrel vault in the cabover section turned out great. The doors are hung and I am currently working on window and door trim. At left is a detail photo of the "inlay casing," made of cherry and maple, that I have done in my office. I don't plan on using that detail throughout the showroom, but thought I'd have some fun in my office. At this writing, I still have 120 sq. ft. of granite tiles to lay in the entry, then…finally…time for carpet in the rest of the showroom.

Southwest View of Shop

The shot at left shows two of three mobile work tables. Note the adjustable height legs on the nearer work table. You can also see miscellaneous lumber storage and a kitchen in progress under the drop cloth.


South View of Shop

At left you can see my two tablesaws. The nearer one is a SCMI Mini-Max slider with scoring blade. The farther one is Delta Unisaw with Biesemeyer fence with my deluxe outfeed table that was featured in a previous Shop Shot on WoodCentral. There's more miscellaneous storage behind the plywood rack, and the spray room is on the other side of the plastic sheeting in the center.


North View of Shop

At left is another view showing the tablesaws, the drum sander, the Makita SCMS and a pair of shapers. The shaper on the right is about 30 years old and beginning to get a little tired.


Southeast View of Shop

Finally, at left is a shot showing my Jet jointer and various cords and air hoses. Oh, and I see the Williams & Hussey molder hiding in there, too!


South View of Shop

If you look closely in the picture at left, hiding behind the classic avocado refrigerator and the junky looking router table…just in front of the gas boiler…you can see my 1949 Allis Chalmers Model G that is patiently waiting for some parts so she will cruise again.

If anyone has a gas tank for an Allis Chalmers Model G, please let me know. I need one! I realize that one rarely sees an Allis G in a woodworking shop, but it's my hobby (when there's time for hobbies) and I hope to have her running again someday.

Keep in mind that this isn't a hobby workshop. I make my living designing, building, and installing cabinets. The shop is usually full of “in progress” projects, but after 20-some-odd years in the business, I've learned to not take on any projects that “have to be done by Christmas,” as they usually mean working into the evening on Christmas Eve. I don't care to do that anymore, as I no longer need the practice. That's why the shop is fairly empty right now (12/20/'01)…and fairly clean, which is a pleasant change of pace for me.

In July, 2001, I was contacted via email and subsequent phone calls by A.J. Hamler, (then) Editor of Woodshop News. He told me he had seen the photos of my building posted in Shop Shots and thought they would be great in conjunction with an article they were doing on “Building Your Own Shop.” And, lo and behold, a photo of the building and some construction process shots appeared in the September '01 issue of Woodshop News. This may have been my 15 minutes of fame that Andy Warhol spoke of. At least I don't have to worry about that anymore.

Bill Larson

Posted 25 February 2003

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