Web Joist Reinvents the Pin-Connected Truss
Originally published by: The Daily Chronicle (Centralia, WA) — April 11, 2019
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Kevin Sweet is passionate about trusses. After repeating the word back and forth a few times, he explained that a truss is a component of a roof or floor system in a building. His father essentially reinvented them.
Kevin Sweet’s business, Web Joist Northwest Corp., designs engineered wood floor and roof systems that uses its own “open web pin-connected trusses” and wood I-joists. His father, Kevin Sweet explained, improved a specific type of truss and built his business around it in the mid 1970s.
Kevin Sweet, owner of Web Joist Northwest Corp., reviews plans for trusses for a new Maserati dealership in Santa Barbara, California last week in Chehalis.
Last month, the company again broke new ground — it created a roofing structure for a Maserati dealership in Santa Barbara, California, that would span about five miles if it were laid end to end.
In what looks like a conference room, with a large wooden table and a window that looks out into the woods, a small chihuahua mix in a sweater meanders to Jennifer Sweet, vice president of the company and Kevin Sweet’s wife. She scoops up the dog and advises she isn’t as friendly as she is adorable. Also, just ignore the giant mastiff-lab mix, Kona, if he barks, she said. He isn’t a guard dog, but comes to work daily with the two.
The two sat at the table, outlining the history of the company and the Sweet family. It’s a familiar story of the American Dream — the kind people really like.
Kevin Sweet’s father, L.E. Sweet, started Web Joist in 1976. In the 1960s, he began working at Trus Joist, a company that built trusses and was only a couple years old at the time. The family began in Idaho, then moved to two different locations in Oregon for the job, to Iowa and then eventually to Chino, California.
“After working for about a year there, the economy kind of went down and they fired him,” Kevin Sweet said. “That ripped his heart out and they didn’t give no reason why. So that’s what started this company.”
Web Joist Northwest Corp. owner Kevin Sweet discusses trusses that his company and team built for a new Maserati dealership in Santa Barbara, California last week in Chehalis.
L.E. Sweet came up with an improvement on the pin-connected trusses. Essentially, he reinvented and improved the truss and began Web Joist Northwest Corp.
“It’s (a) knurled pin,” explained Jennifer Sweet. “Where the metal web connects into the wood, the pin has knurls on it and it locks it all in place. It’s supposed to keep the floor from squeaking.”
Added Kevin Sweet, “The bridging strap that connects the whole system together ties all the trusses uniformly when you walk across the floor. It works as a system and improves the whole floor system.”
Web Joist Northwest Corp. employees (left to right) Conrad Bowen, Jesse Bartley, Jason Whitmer, Jamie Dawley, Isaiah Twidwell, Daniel Webster and Hunter Grove are seen with the trusses they built for a Maserati dealership in Santa Barbara, California.
L.E. Sweet started a manufacturing facility in California in 1976, but soon outgrew the facility and relocated to a different spot, also in California. As he continued, he hired people to replace him and opened more facilities in the West. In 1981, he opened a facility in Chehalis about a mile down the road from where the current one is.
The Chehalis location is the only one that exists today and it ships all across the U.S.
“More than anything, it was about a moral principle,” said Kevin Sweet of his father’s business. “... His life was in his work. He loved where he worked and for them to come up to him and just let him go, that ripped his heart out.”
After high school, in 1980, Kevin Sweet began working at his father’s business full time. Web Joist Northwest Corp. is the only company he has ever worked for. In 1996, Jennifer Sweet began working at the company as well and is now the vice president. The two took over operations in 2011. While both of Kevin Sweet’s brothers have worked at the company at different points in their lives, the two are now stockholders, but do not currently work at the company.
Recently, the company has completed one of its largest projects to date — trusses that will hold up a Maserati dealership in Santa Barbara, California. It will be a two-story dealership, with cars on display on the second-floor showroom. Kevin Sweet believes this is the first time anyone has built trusses this long, at this depth.
“It’s been a long process,” Jennifer Sweet said. “There has been a lot of work ahead of getting to the point where we’re at. I think the engineering department has been working with the customer and the sales outlet for over a year getting to the point where we actually built trusses. … I think we started manufacturing in January all of the other parts of the building, but the really long stuff has happened in the last two weeks.”
The long trusses will hold up the roof for the second story, where there is a space with a lounge for clients two view one or two Maseratis. Web Joist Northwest Corp. is also completing the floor system for the second story.
“All of the products that we make, pin-connected-wise, are custom designed,” Jennifer Sweet said. “You can’t just go buy them from the store and put them in your building. They are designed for the specific job they are going into, and by designed what I mean is load requirement. So on a floor you have file cabinets they create weight. The trusses have to be designed to carry that weight.”
Outside, on a windy day, the trusses sat stacked and ready to be taken south to California.
“When they assemble these trusses, they do them by hand,” Jennifer Sweet said. “So there is a guy who actually sets these webs in and physically hammers a pin and pounds the pin through here. So that’s the physical hard work that it takes to make it happen.”
Web Joist Northwest Corp. employs more than 20 people right now, and the core group of engineers and production people — lumber graders, special equipment operators, assemblers and truss designers — built the trusses that will go to Santa Barbara.
“It takes a special person to be able to do things that we do here, a person who has drive and enthusiasm,” Kevin Sweet said. “That’s important in life. You could have the highest education in the world, but if you’ve got no drive or enthusiasm you’re going to have a hard time in life, in my opinion.”