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Steel the spotlight: L&L's custom products found all over

L&L Fabrication owner Dave Lein, at his shop in Perham. His custom steel creations have been purchased by buyers from all over the country. Lina Belar/FOCUS

If a person can’t find something off-the-shelf to suit their needs, L&L Fabrication just might be the solution.

A number of L&L Fabrication’s custom creations can be found around the Perham area and beyond, though many people may not even be aware of it. Most of these items are large, and they are often made up of hundreds of smaller parts.

Curious what they could be? Here’s a hint: L&L creates specialty items made of steel.

The owner of this unique Perham business is Dave Lein.

Lein’s work includes custom signs like the ones at the History Museum and the City Cemetery. He was also the man behind the metal work on the front of Karvonen’s furniture store.

Lein also makes ornamental railings – a recent example can be found inside the new addition at St. Henry’s; another can be found at City Hall. Less obvious are the fish house frames he makes, which dot area lakes in winter time.

Further away from home, his popular specialty trailers can be found all over the country. He also builds specialty equipment and stairways for contractors.

In short, he builds anything he’s asked to build. And he keeps very busy doing it.

Lein’s first experience working with metal was in shop class at Perham High School. After that, he went to a technical school for welding. At the time, the Alaska pipeline was being built, and his initial plan was to travel there for work. Instead, he got engaged.

Today, Lein and his wife are still married and have two boys. One is a machinist, following in the metal trade like his father. The other has made a career in technology.

Lein got started in his field when he took a job at Minnesota Metalworks. In 1999, he and Kevin Lehmkuhl bought out the steel fabrication part of the business and they named it L&L Fabrication.

Last November, Lein became the sole owner of the business.

L&L has one full-time employee and one part-time high school student who comes in after school. The student is learning how to make small parts from patterns the same way Lein’s son did when he worked for L&L years ago. Lein said he’s always been lucky to have good employees.

The process of working with metal has changed over the centuries, he explained. Until the late 1800s, blacksmiths had used a technique called forge welding to join iron and steel together by heating and hammering. Later, new processes like arc welding were developed. Arc welding was first applied to aircraft during World War I. Some German airplane fuselages were constructed using the process.

When Lein first started learning the business, an older technique called stick welding was common. Now, everything is done by wire feed.

The American Welding Society states that welding is a dynamic industry with a big future.

Anything made of metal, no matter how big or small, can be welded. Examples are everywhere, from vehicles like cars, trucks and motorcycles, to rail cars, ships, aircraft, rockets and space stations. Construction is a huge market, and skyscrapers, bridges and highways would be impossible to build without welding, as would oil and natural-gas pipelines, offshore oil platforms, giant wind turbines and solar panels.

When asked if he considered himself a descendent of the old blacksmiths, Lein said it wasn’t quite the same: Blacksmiths work with iron by hammering the heated metal into the desired shape, he said, while his work involves cutting and welding the pieces together. What’s similar about the two skills is the degree of complexity.

“If it’s something fancy,” he said, “give it to me.”