Enterprise Dispatch, Nov. 28, 2005
Cokato carpenter enjoys designing with wood
By Roz Kohls
The more challenging the carpentry, and the more unusual the wood, the more Lawrence Kilpela of Cokato likes it.
One of Kilpela’s favorite pieces is a buffet he made from Bird’s Eye Maple. It grows only in upper Michigan. “It’s very difficult to work with. You have to be real careful cutting it, because it’s full of knots,” Kilpela said.
His wife, Louise, added that the variety of wood is purposely chosen to be stressed. Its worm holes give it a distinctive appearance.
Kilpela also made a lamp from Kao, another exotic wood from Hawaii. “I have friends that bring wood to me,” he said.
Kilpela spent 40 years in Detroit as a carpenter. He has been retired for about 22 years and moved to Cokato 10 years ago. Kilpela has always loved the artistry of working with wood. One of his earliest memories is asking his mother for a toolbox for Christmas, he said.
“I worked in all phases of the trade,” Kilpela said.
He started in housing, did form work on high-rise buildings, and then trimming in office buildings, where his artistry had a chance to blossom.
One of his favorite projects in Detroit was when he spent 10 months trimming the south wing of the Detroit Art Institute. Trimming is putting in handrails on stairways, paneling, doors, and interior wood work, he said.
Kilpela built a 10-inch wide teak wood handrail on a three-floor staircase. As the handrail moved down the stairwell it was separated by a groove. When it flattened out, the railing blended into one piece, Kilpela said.
Another favorite project was the Detroit Lions’ office building. “It was the most exotic wood I ever worked with, Brazilian Rosewood, very beautiful, hard wood,” Kilpela said.
Not only does Kilpela enjoy the challenge, but also being creative. He built a coffee table that comes apart as a sled. The slats in the sled are made of different woods, such as oak, cherry, and wormy chestnut.
Almost all of the furniture, cabinets and trim he builds are his own design. “Sometimes I think of a piece for many years before I do it. There is always a design in my head,” Kilpela said.
One of Kilpela’s favorite projects he built in Cokato is a four-poster bed. “It’s my own design for one thing, and I love working with walnut. I also made a chest of drawers.”
Walnut is Kilpela’s favorite non-exotic wood. “It’s so easy to turn. The grain is nice and tight,” Kilpela said.
Not only does Kilpela build furniture, he also trims in his own home.
The only major piece Kilpela made for his home on 3rd Street that’s not his own design is a cabinet in the living room. Kilpela used a Shaker pattern, he said.
His modular home originally had a very high entryway between the living room and dining room. Kilpela built a framework, similar to a transom in a door, to make the entryway in proportion to the rest of the house.
Kilpela said he followed his children to the Cokato area when he left Michigan. His son, Fred, lives in Stockholm Township. His daughter, Karen Grangroth, lives north of Cokato. Another daughter, Jill Leukuma, lives in Orono, he said.
Kilpela has a workshop in his basement where he builds everyday.
Kilpela advises those interested in trimming and cabinetry to not hurry. “Plan it out. Make sure you have all the materials you want and the design you want,” he said.
“I’ve made a lot of mistakes,” Kilpela said about his projects over the years. Overcoming or correcting those mistakes is the only difficult part of his art. Otherwise, Kilpela won’t tackle projects he can’t handle, he said.
However, Kilpela recalled an arduous job he had at St. John’s Hospital in Detroit. He had to hang doors that were four feet wide and 11 feet high in an auditorium. “They were so thick, about three inches, I had about four guys help me turn them over,” Kilpela said.
Also, the doors had pivot hinges, not ordinary hinges, he said.
Now, though, Kilpela focuses on trim and furniture. “I’ve done a little carpentry work around here too,” Kilpela said.