Woodworking wasn't Ben Napier's first love, but his true love led him to it.
In the old Wilson Feed Store on Spec Wilson Boulevard in downtown Laurel, locals and tourists can find a general store with everything from duct tape to vintage bottled Cokes and candy. Also inside is a large window that looks into a woodworking shop that’s becoming world famous — Scotsman Co.
“The Napier family heritage is Scottish. We are very proud of that,” owner Ben Napier said. “I wanted to name my furniture shop ‘Napier Company,’ originally, but there was another name in the furniture world called ‘Napier Manufacturing.’ I didn’t want any confusion in the off chance that this became something big. So, I landed on Scotsman Co.”
That “off chance” is now on every Monday night. Millions tune in to the HGTV hit show “Home Town” to watch Ben and Erin Napier renovate Laurel homes. One of the highlights for fans is seeing what old pieces from the house he will take to his woodworking shop and transform into something beautiful and useful for the new homeowners. Jody and Bill Holloway’s piano desk, from Season 1, Episode 6 of “Home Town,” was the biggest challenge Napier has faced so far. Their house had been “unloved for years” and the moisture buildup inside caused severe damage to the home and the piano.
“The idea of converting an upright piano to a drafting table was daunting enough,” Napier said. “I wanted it to look like it had always been this way, which meant keeping the original finish. So, I had to make a lot of veneer pieces from the old piano. However, if I’m being honest, the hardest part was taking apart a piano that hadn’t been cared for in decades. We ended up having to break the harp inside the piano to get it apart.”
For Bill and Julie Hogue, featured on Episode 2 of Season 3, Napier built a round dining room table that seats eight, as well as a small entry table that has legs matching the spindles of their staircase. “These tables are fantastic and we will cherish them forever,” Mrs. Hogue said. “I am so impressed with the fact that Ben thought to match the table legs with the staircase. This is the first thing you see when you walk through our front door and it makes for an extra special welcome.”
Napier first became interested in woodworking during his college days at Ole Miss while his future wife was taking studio art classes, which last several hours per day. “If I was going to spend time with her, I would have to do it there in the art building,” he said. “Sometimes I would study, sometimes I would watch her work, sometimes I would help her, but sometimes I would wander around and talk to other students." “The graduate students who worked in the wood-shop became my friends and they taught me how to use the equipment. The rest is history.”
A random assortment of woodworkers now practice their craft at Scotsman Co., and there are plenty of fans coming to check out their work. Most of the time, the workers don’t even realize anyone is there watching because of how focused they are, but sometimes Napier will look up and see people waving. “I’m glad that people are curious and want to see me work through the giant window that overlooks my shop,” he said. “It breaks my concentration for a minute, but it is really cool that so many people want to see what I’m working on.”
Samuel Branch, the director of photography at the Laurel Mercantile, has been helping out during his down time and acquiring a better grasp on how to do things. “If we have a deadline, we will pull in some of our sales team,” Napier said. “We are still growing. The show has given us a huge platform, but it also pulls me away from the shop.”
Family is No. 1 for Ben, who is the oldest of four brothers. Jesse, the youngest of the four, is often seen on “Home Town” helping his big brother work on projects. “We were best friends growing up and still are. So, when Jesse is in the shop, it feels like I’m a kid hanging out with my best friend in our clubhouse,” Napier said.
The newest addition to the Napier family is baby Helen. She has a custom-built, quarter-sawn, white-oak crib made by her father. He used a light stain to bring out the figure in the wood and made some bobbin turnings on the feet and the top of the front bedposts, which is his wife’s favorite style of turning. “This was the first piece where the dimensions were extremely important,” Napier said. “My daughter would be sleeping here, so it had to be safe."
Fifteen minutes after Erin told me we were pregnant, I was researching crib safety regulations.” He came up with the design using the standard dimensions that he found online. Having the grain of the wood to shine was an important aspect to Napier, so he used really wide slats for the walls of the crib. This also ties to craftsman architecture, which Scotsman Co. enjoys.
“I cut a groove in the top and bottom rails. I let the slats slide into those grooves like you do with tongue-and-groove or mortise and tenon joints, and then cut little spacers that slid into the groove between the slats, but hang down visibly,” he said. “This was dual purpose — it was a functional decision but also added a touch of beauty.”
Napier then created elongated shaker panels on the bottom rail, giving the railing more depth. It acts as a mattress cover, but also grounds the piece of furniture. He used pocket-hole screws to join the four pieces together because he needed to be able to move the crib into Helen’s nursery.
The people and products at Scotsman Co. stay on the move. “The Scotsman Co. workshop is in a perfect space because of the loading docks and barn doors. Raw wood comes in on the south end, finished products ship out on the north end,” Napier said. “I can start a day in the woodshop at 7 a.m. and not realize what time it is until Erin calls me about dinner plans at 5 p.m. Then, I can look at what I’ve accomplished that day, which is my second favorite part.”
The Hogues own The 5000 food truck, located next to the General Store and Scotsman Co. Mr. Hogue, who is the chef, uses a Scots- man-crafted wooden rolling pin to make biscuits.
“Most rolling pins are separate parts put together, but I love this particular rolling pin that Ben made because it is all one piece and doesn’t get food and ingredients stuck in it,” he said. “It’s also great quality and handmade here in Laurel, which is great.”
Open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m.-2 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m.-2 p.m., breakfast is served until 10:30 and lunch items are available all day. Street tacos, pulled-pork sandwiches and even items named after Ben, Erin and Helen are on the menu.
Scotsman Co. is unable to build commissioned pieces at this time, Napier said. Every now and then, he will build something for a friend, but the Laurel Mercantile Co. requires so many small things, such as cutting boards and rolling pins, it keeps the shop busy enough.
“That combined with our filming schedule, home-design meetings, budget meetings, our book tour, our furniture-design meetings and launch with Vaughan-Bassett, and taking care of a baby girl all add up to leave little time for custom builds,” Napier said.
“It is a part of our future plans, but that is going to take a little time.”