Three Decades and Counting: Laguna Tools Expands

Three Decades and Counting: Laguna Tools Expands

On Monday, March 2, Laguna Tools will flip the lights on for the first official business day at its new 60,000-square-foot headquarters in Irvine, California. The facility offers a third more warehousing and office space than its current buildings, which are located about a mile away. That alone is big news.


Equally newsworthy for woodworkers is that, until the end of the February, Laguna is conducting a “Mammoth Moving Sale” to liquidate, rather than move, some of its inventory. Customers can expect deep discounts on sale-priced Laguna machines, and some will be sold at cost. This moving sale is an earlier and enhanced version of Laguna’s annual “March Machine Madness Sale,” where the company typically sells its demo models, slightly damaged or discontinued items.

“As a practical matter,” says Catherine Helshoj, Laguna’s vice president, “it makes sense to sell our existing inventory rather than move it. So, if you have thought about the purchase of a first or additional Laguna Tools’ machine, this is your opportunity to receive the best prices of the year, or perhaps of a lifetime.”


Laguna’s new headquarters at 2072 Alton Parkway not only will expand the company’s warehousing and office space, plus offer an air-conditioned showroom for its products, but it also will consolidate all operations under one roof instead of two. Just two years ago, Laguna added a second 20,000-square-foot building in order to house the company’s CNC division and its research and development department. That brought the total square footage to just under 40,000 square feet.

Laguna reports that it is investing $250,000 in the new leased space.


Due to “double-digit” growth in recent years, Catherine Helshoj says, “It became very clear that we needed more space to improve efficiency and continue on our current growth plan.”

Laguna Tools has experienced steady growth since its founder, Torben Helshoj, started the company back in 1983. Already an award-winning woodworker in his home country of Denmark, Helshoj came to the United States in order to be the first to introduce European combination machines to the American market. At that time, he and his business partners offered Robland’s K260 machine, which combined jointing, planing, table saw, shaping and mortising operations into one 1,000-lb. machine that could fit easily into a garage shop. That sort of multi-functionality was commonplace in European shops, due to more limited floor space.


But, Torben soon discovered that Robland’s versatility wasn’t a slam-dunk sell to American woodworkers. It was a radical concept that went up against traditional single-function machining methods.

“There was a huge misperception that the machine was difficult to use, lacked precision and quality and took a long time to change from one use to the next. The notion of a combination machine was not in woodworkers’ vocabularies here,” Torben recalls.


After attending “hundreds” of woodworking shows to introduce the Robland combo machine, Torben took an equally radical marketing approach for the time: he filmed a 90-minute demonstration video and offered the VHS tapes to potential customers for a $6 refundable fee. It broke the ice in the marketplace by shattering misnomers about the machine, and to this day, Laguna counts that video as one of its milestone highlights.


“Torben became a star of sorts and our sales took off,” Catherine recalls.

As the Helshojs’ company continued to sell Robland machines and build a reputation for the newly formed Laguna Tools, the company’s original 2,000-square-foot space expanded to 5,000 in 1992. Then, as business grew, combination machines were eventually joined by what has now become a full line of conventional and CNC woodworking machinery. The company expanded to a 20,000-square-foot facility a decade ago.


Along the way, Laguna Tools began to specialize in heavy-duty woodcutting band saws, and Torben’s innovations in band saw design have made them award-winning.

“He transformed the band saw with a ceramic blade guide system, the revolutionary DriftMaster Fence and wheel sizes to match resaw capacity,” Catherine says. “In addition, Torben realized that not only do you need a very high quality band saw. You also need a high quality blade. This is the reason we started making our own carbide-tipped band saw blades.”


Laguna still considers band saws to be its best-selling products, with sizes ranging from 14-in. up to 37-in. Its customer base for band saws encompasses everyone from hobbyists to industrial clientele such as Boeing and Tesla. Lathes are also strong sellers these days. Catherine Helshoj reports that by the end of 2015, the company will offer a full line of lathes in 10- to 36-in. swing capacities. Dust collectors, jointers, planers and table saws are large product categories too.


Catherine credits Laguna’s growth, in part, to her husband’s continued involvement in the design and features of Laguna machines. During the recent economic downturn, the Helshojs also remained “hands-on” business owners and developed “cloud-based” systems, which she feels gave Laguna a distinct edge over its competition. Additionally, Laguna launched its CNC division to open up a new market and to help retain its staff during those leaner times.


Aside from a family business mindset and an admittedly “low-key” customer approach, the company maintains two tenets in its philosophy that have always fostered growth: innovation and passion. Catherine says Laguna continues to research and develop between five and 10 new products at any given time to keep fresh products in the pipeline. And, a genuine excitement about woodworking is fundamental to Laguna’s culture — it’s an enthusiasm that extends from the top down.

“We are often told that the energy (at Laguna) is electric, which is because we are all excited to go to work every day. That passion equates to sales, happy customers and employees.”

Learn more about Laguna Tools’ history, products and this month’s “Mammoth Moving Sale” by clicking here.


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