CWB August 2004
The Lancaster Legacy>
A Kentucky cabinet shop has a family tradition that spans four generations.>
By Sam Gazdziak
Woodworking and the Lancaster family have had a long history together. Wilton Lancaster Sr. was a carpenter; his son, Wilton "Junior" Lancaster Jr., went on to found Lancaster Cabinetry, which at one time or another has employed four generations of Lancasters.
"I was working as a finish carpenter and building some cabinets in the homes, and this little cabinet shop came up for sale in 1968," recalls Junior, who made his first bookcases when he was 13 years old. "I was interested in it and worked out a deal to buy it. I've been at it ever since."
Lancaster Cabinetry Inc., which started in Cadiz, KY, eventually moved to nearby Hopkinsville. "It grew to a large enough business that I couldn't handle it by myself," Junior says, so he talked his dad into joining the company until he retired. Junior himself retired from the management end of the business in 2002, so now two of his sons oversee the company, and his daughter-in-law and grandson also work in the business.
The list of all the Lancasters who have been part of Lancaster Cabinetry include: Wilton Sr. (now deceased), Wilton Jr., his sons Larry and Wilton III (nicknamed "Pud"), Larry's wife Sheila and their son Joshua. That's not counting a number of cousins involved in carpentry that can be called upon to work if needed.
Larry is the company's president with Pud as vice president. Since retiring from management, Junior has come back to work in the shop. "I have more time to work, now that I'm not trying to manage," he says. Sheila serves as Lancaster Cabinetry's secretary, and Josh works in the shop part-time while he goes to Hopkinsville Community College. There are only two other employees who are not Lancasters.
Junior and his two sons all lend a hand in the design, construction and finishing of a project. "It's hands-on for everyone," Larry says. "If we do a bank, Dad will take the plans, design it and lay it out, because he's going to be the one that's [building] it."
"The person who starts on the project usually sees that project on through, regardless of who it is," Junior adds. "That way, you've got a better understanding of it."
Lancaster's biggest job
The company's largest project ever, and one it originally didn't want, was a complete millwork package for the Christian County Justice Center in Hopkinsville. It included solid cherry entryway doors, columns, wall paneling, moulding, judges' benches and stair railings. Because of the nature of the building, much of the paneling was made with bullet-resistant materials. "There wasn't anything straight about it except the crown mouldings," Larry adds. The total value of the project approached $1 million.
"The architect wanted us to do it," Junior says. "They wanted a local company to do it, and we were the only one capable of doing it. But the size of the job was way out of our category. We had never tackled a job that large."
Larry and the architect eventually sat down together and went over all the details of the job. Lancaster then submitted a bid and won the project. Next came the preparations.
"The nine months we did the courthouse, that was pretty much our only project," Sheila says. "We had to hire some extra help for that."
Help came from within the family, as all of Junior's first cousins were builders and finish carpenters. Nine of them were hired to help with the construction.
The company also rented a 4,000-square-foot building down the street from its current 10,000-square-foot shop to build and finish the 218 doors needed for the courthouse. "We had probably done 10 or 15 doors before," Pud says, "but we just sprayed, sanded and stained them. These we had to rout out." The entryway doors have an ebonized cherry inlay, which the Lancaster employees ebonized themselves. There were about 5 miles of the cherry inlay throughout the project.
Pud and a couple of employees handled the door manufacturing and developed a system to produce 10 doors per day. The company, known for taking great care with its hand-rubbed finishes, put three coats on each side of the door over the course of three days. "We had one half of the building for sanding and routing, and the other side we had set up for spraying to keep dust on one side," Pud explains.
Lancaster Cabinetry worked on the courthouse over 2001 and 2002. Larry calls the project "one of the most awesome things we've ever done. It's going to be a part of history, and people can go in and see [our work] for years to come."
Larry and Junior do most of the designing. While he uses KCDw software for the residential and some commercial jobs, much of Larry's work is done with graph paper and a pencil.
"I usually talk to all the customers when they come in," Larry says. "I'll take what they want and sketch it out and make a floor plan. If that suits them, then I take that to the shop. I'll either give it to Pud or Dad, and they'll start working on it in the main shop."
When the cabinets have been built, the face frames are removed and taken into the paint room to be stained and finished. Lancaster uses Wagner air-assisted guns and Valspar catalyzed conversion varnishes for its finishes.
Lancaster considers itself a full-service shop and does its own installations. "We don't sell it any other way," Larry explains. "You've got to know how it's built so you can install it." Lancaster Cabinetry is also a certified Corian and Surell solid surface fabricator and offers Silestone countertops.
With some families, putting so many relatives together every day could be considered asking for trouble. At Lancaster Cabinetry, though, it just brings a history of understanding, Junior says. "We even take our vacations together," he adds.
"I came here in 1996, and there is dependability," Sheila adds. "You can depend on family. If one of these boys is not here, you know that they are really sick, or there's an emergency. I'd have to say most of the time things run pretty smoothly."
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