When his younger sister qualified for Junior Nationals, East Duluth, MN native Joel LaFrance made a handful of wax benches to help his family fund raise for the competition. Fast forward five years and LaFrance is still producing handcrafted wax benches for True North Woodworking, a small business he’s grown as a way to continue his family’s love of craftsmanship and creative way to save for his son’s future college education.
“I love working with my hands,” says LaFrance, “and it’s a skill that my Dad, my grandpa, and his grandpa have all continued to pass down. I wanted True North Woodworking to be a continuation of that—a place where I could have my outlet for creativity, but it also be a ways of helping my son –now 2 years old – go to college and do what he enjoys later in life.”
LaFrance’s Minnesota upbringing included four cross-country skiing siblings, two state titles for LaFrance’s Duluth East High School team, four years of racing at Saint John’s University and a year on the Junior Olympic Biathlon team. Though no longer racing competitively, LaFrance continues to make his mark on the nordic world with his handcrafted wax benches.
True North Woodworking Wax Bench ($95)
Pros: Simple design highlights expert craftsmanship. Does the job at a good price. Portable and adjustable.
Cons: Base is flimsy and does not provide ideal stability. Lack of work space could be frustrating for some – though that is the nature of a single-form bench.
As a whole, the bench performs well. Relatively simple to put together, the bench is held together with washers and wing nuts.
A drill is helpful to screw the wooden base to the bottom of the stand and the form easily slips into the top of the stand, tightened for a firm hold with screws.
Once assembled, the form’s length is easily adjusted with the turn of large, handcrafted wooden knobs. Unlike more mainstream or technical wax benches with bright colors or prominent logos, True North Woodworking produces a beautiful product that’s part function, part work of art.
Made of a combination of red oak, fir and pine, the smooth curves of the form are a testament to LaFrance’s craftsmanship. Additionally, the simple structure makes it easy to replace parts (washers and wing nuts) should they get lost during transport, a luxury not always available with the specific screws required for mainstream wax benches.
Despite the simple form and attractive design, the stand lacks a sturdy base that allows you to put an appropriate amount of weight into scraping and brushing your skis. The wooden support is so thin that having a partner stand on the base is helpful to prevent the opposite end from moving or flying up when scraping or brushing.
It would not take much work to reinforce the base oneself, LaFrance should consider making adjustment to increase the stability.
For frequent waxers, the lack of counter space is also tough to contend with and having a table nearby to place a wax iron, scrapers, brushes and related tools and wax makes a difference. The stand and form are easy enough for weekend warriors to set up and wax up their boards, but for someone who waxes multiple times a week and wants an organized space and a highly functional bench, it leaves some work space to be desired.
Overall, LaFrance produces a high quality product, made with aesthetics in mind. With a focus on sustainability, True North Woodworking uses lumber from a mill in northern Minnesota that practices sustainable harvesting and is FSC certified, makes an effort to reuse scraps and everything is produced in-house by LaFrance and his family.
The bench also offers good value – retailing at $95. You will be hard pressed to do better for a simple, yet functional wax form
With wax benches sold in over 20 states, five different countries and products in three retail stores in the Midwest, what began as a small family operation seems to be growing. For more information or to purchase a True North Woodworking wax stand and form, visit their website at www.waxbenches.com.