CWB April 2004
The need to find a less stressful profession has turned Larry Roofner from a health care executive into a successful woodworker.
By Ann Gurley Rogers
Larry Roofner had been the Director of Wellness for seven hospitals in the greater Orlando area for the Orlando Regional Health Care System. Six years ago, he had a stress related heart attack. Add to that these statistics: His father and three of his brothers had died before the age of 50 from heart attacks.
"I considered this heart attack to be my wake-up call, my opportunity to re-evaluate my priorities," Roofner, 59, says. "I needed to slow down and to find a more relaxing way to earn a living.
"I did some thinking about the fact I had been able to combine two old hobbies when I built my home" he continues. "In high school I had taken shop instead of typing, throughout my life I have made furniture; and for the past 20 years, I have been making stained glass panels. Our house has the first entryway doors that eventually lead to my new business, 'Grand Entrance'." The company designs and produces one-of-a-kind entryway doors that can be considered art, and they are built with skill to be considered fine craftsmanship.
Larry Roofner started his new venture by doing a three-year apprenticeship with Karl Kalamaja, a 76-year-old German master woodworker who taught him to do things the Old World way, using techniques to build doors like they did in the 18th and 19th centuries. "Also, I quickly learned that there is more to making doors than I had originally thought," he says. "For example there are the questions of: Will the door open to the left or to the right, will it swing in or out, and how will the jambs interface with the doors?"
Roofner is a perfectionist when it comes to his doors. He was impressed with the attitude of Kalamaja, who said to him, "If you don't insist on perfection, eventually you will be willing to accept less." He usually uses Honduran mahogany because it is straight grained and less likely to move, and he only selects wood that has been kiln-dried for its stability. Roofner hand-picks the wood to ensure that he has a good color match. He even tries to select wood from the same tree to match grain. When ordering wood for each project, he anticipates wasting as much as 40 percent of the wood, because it can twist and warp due to internal stresses when it is milled, making it unusable.
To make the doors as strong as possible, Roofner uses mortise and tenon joinery. He adds a haunch for additional stability. The panels in his doors float to allow for movement changes caused by fluctuations in temperature and humidity. He uses marine grade gap-filling epoxy instead of either white or yellow glue. He uses a finish that is made in Europe by Sikkens. He learned of this product from a paint store in Orlando. Roofner applies four coats of Sikkens UV protectant finish for durability. The top and bottom of each door is sealed with a laminating epoxy to prevent moisture damage.
Roofner uses Baldwin for the locks and handles and Hager ball-bearing hinges because they are strong enough to handle the weight of the doors. For the glass, Roofner uses German mouth-blown glass from the Lambert Co., one of the few remaining production sites for mouth-blown sheet glass in the world, for its liveliness in movement and brilliance. He prefers to use 1/2-inch-thick bevels, which increase the prismatic effect.
The majority of Roofner's clients come to him from word-of-mouth. He has an attractive Web site, www.artistdoors.com, that he uses mostly as a brochure. Additionally, for the past two years, he has had a display at the Orlando Expo Design Center, which usually generates about three inquiries a week. "The first thing is to qualify these inquiries. My doors range in price from $8,000 to $12,000, so they aren't for everybody," he says. "I can help anybody who has seen the display at the Expo Design Center and decides that they do not want to spend that much money on their entryway door by giving them a referral to a supplier who will better suit their needs."
"After a client has made a commitment, the next step is to set up an appointment in my studio, which is the best place to engage them in the design process," he adds. "If they are willing to do that, I know that they are serious about the project. I tell my clients, 'Your front door is like a handshake, it formally welcomes guests into your home.'" There are several issues to cover, including whether the design will be organic, geometric or a combination of both. Then, there are color choices. "I have a stack of drawings from previous projects, which I use as a starting point to help my clients discover what their new entry doors will be like," he says. The design process is complete when Roofner has a final drawing that the client has accepted. "I tell them with confidence that if they like the drawing, they will love their new doors."
Clients can select options such as carving, raised panels, wrought iron, or exotic trim to go along with the leaded glass. The doors can be as dramatic or as subtle as they want. Usually, clients come by the workshop about six or seven times during the production process. By the time the doors are ready to be installed, Roofner has new friends.
All of this work takes place in a compact 800-square-foot workshop next to his home outside Orlando in Windmere. He has one efficient combination machine that does all of the work. The model X31 combination machine, made in Belgium by Robland, is a table saw, joiner, planer, shaper and side mortiser. The only other equipment in his shop is a Jet dust collector and a bandsaw. Since space is so tight in his shop, he has devised a clever way to hang the doors from the ceiling when he is ready to apply the finish. He attaches a board to one end and then screws in eyelettes to hang the door.
Each set of doors that Roofner makes and installs comes with a three-year guarantee and an arrangement for Roofner to come periodically to apply a top coat if needed. The doors are signed as any work of art should be, and Roofner hopes that they will be considered a family heirloom. The most satisfying part about Roofner's transformation from CEO to woodworker is how happy he is with the results. He tells everybody. "I'm finally doing what I want to do rather than what I have to do."
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