From its inception, Laguna Tools has enjoyed the reputation of the company that brings the best of European tools to the US. That’s not surprising. After all, the owner and president, Torben Helshoj, is himself from Europe. But after more than a quarter century of specializing in European imports, Laguna is about to introduce the Platinum Line, their first Asian imports. It was a long time coming, but Helshoj had good reasons for waiting, and equally good ones for deciding to make the jump now.
“Up until very recently, we’ve been a rather snobbish company,” Torben admitted, “selling only European tools. We did so because they were distinctly better. Nevertheless, we always kept an eye on the Taiwanese and Chinese imports and noticed them getting better and better. We watched as both American and European manufacturers bought more and more components and even complete machines from those countries. The difference between price and quality has now narrowed to the point where it makes sense to start importing from there.
“Thanks to a weaker dollar, European tools are more expensive than they were, and much more expensive than their Asian competition. You can now buy a lot more tool for the dollar if you spend it in Asia. Consequently, for the first time we are offering Asian manufactured machines, priced much lower than what our customers are used to. Admittedly, they are not up to European quality, but they are much closer than ever before.
“We feel this is the right time to introduce the Laguna Platinum Line. It allows us to sell to people who do not have three thousand dollars in the budget for a table saw. Those customers want very good quality, but at a price they can afford. At present, the Platinum line contains American style cabinet table saws, jointers, planers, horizontal and chisel mortisers, drum sanders, European style panel saws with sliding tables and scoring blades, various sanders, lathes, combination machines and even dust collectors. Soon to come will be band saws that have the distinct features our customers have come to love on their Laguna tools.”
While Laguna Tools calls California home, Torben himself got his start, and his attitude toward quality tools, on the other side of the ocean. “I grew up in Denmark,” Torben recounted, “and apprenticed for four years in Copenhagen as a furniture maker. Afterwards, I worked there for about six months. Then at the age of 28, I went traveling and fell in love with Laguna Beach, California.
“I got a job in a cabinet shop there called Canyon Woodworks, but felt the tools in the shop were substandard. I convinced the two owners of Canyon to go to Europe with me on a tool buying mission. At that time, in 1982, the dollar was strong so our buying power in Europe was considerable. We bought a container of mostly used machinery and ended up with a very nicely equipped cabinet shop, which helped the business considerably.
“The people we bought the tools from, though, wanted to do business in the United States. Along with what we needed, we agreed to also bring in a couple of Robland multi-function machines, a type of tool that was common in Europe but at the time, not very common here. The next year, I became a partner in both Canyon Woodworks and the newly named Laguna Tools, and started going to woodworking shows trying to sell machines. Customers had a positive reaction, but that’s a long way from getting money out of them. As a result, we continued to make our living as cabinet makers.
“Then in 1987 I made a presentation video of the Robland machine and started sending that to prospects along with literature. That brought the tool alive to people and let them see the massive differences between it and something like a Shopsmith. The video made the company successful overnight and was the real beginning of Laguna Tools.
“We hired salespeople, got a warehouse and started advertising in woodworking magazines. At first, we brought in an Italian made band saw and some Belgian and Austrian combination machines, and sold them under the Laguna name. We soon added other manufacturers, always pairing European quality with American preferences. In the beginning of the ’90s, I bought out my two partners. One of them remained a cabinetmaker, but the other became a winemaker. Today, Laguna Tools boasts 35 employees handling at least 60 different machines, and many more accessories.
“Because this company is owned and run by a woodworker, we’ve always had our fellow woodworkers in mind. As a result, Laguna has developed a reputation of both high quality and high prices. We sell a full line of woodworking tools, including table saws, jointers, planers, sanders, boring machines, shapers, lathes and even workbenches and dust collection equipment. In short, we’ve become a full-scale supplier of woodworking machinery.
“It’s quite possible, though, that your readership knows us as the company who introduced the European combination machine to North America. They may also see us as the people who took band saws to another level with saws that cut smoother, straighter and with more resaw capacity. That was intentional. We want people to do their ripping on the band saw. It is a lot safer, has no kickback, eats less kerf, creates less dust and uses less power. It is simply not as intimidating.”
Now, with the addition of an Asian line, Laguna not only covers all the bases as far as machinery is concerned, but spans a wider price range as well. Still, for Torben it is all about the quality, irrelevant of the cost.
“No matter what the price,” Torben insisted, “we make sure you get a lot of value for the money.”
That, in a nutshell, is what Laguna has been about since the beginning.