Thirty-one-year-old Erik Florip hasn’t been at this woodworking thing long, but he’s already chased his passion to a pretty “meta” place. Just five years after hacking together his first DIY bookshelf, the Traverse City craftsman is already leaving straight-up woodworking behind to focus on building old-school, from-scratch hand tools that any hobbyist would love to reach for in their basement shop. (Find Erik in Empire at Florip Toolworks)

When you say you make your saws from scratch, you’re not kidding: You shape the wood handles, cut the steel for the blades, cut the teeth in the blades. We even read that you make the screws. Really, your own screws? 

Ha. Yes, I guess that sounds a little crazy. I learned how to make the screws for the saws because nobody was really offering decent screws at a reasonable rate. And I thought, ‘Well, this can’t be rocket science to use this little machine that cuts metal to make screws.’

It’s important to me because it gives me the ability to control the process from the point that the truck pulls up and drops off brass, for example, to the finished piece. I guess it’s similar to a painter and his canvas: It’s just a chunk of metal and from that point on, I can think about the tool I’m making and what I want it to accomplish and take care of the other issues similar tools on the market have.

And you’ve found there’s a market for these kinds of high-performance hand tools?

Yeah. But I should say it’s extremely rare that I sell to anyone who’s making a living woodworking. You just can’t get much done in a day with a hand saw compared to a power tool. But there are a lot of people out there who are doing woodworking as a hobby, and it’s a very serious hobby and they actually enjoy taking their time. That’s the person I’m after. I feel like everyone knows someone who likes playing guitar, and while they may not be a rock star, they still want that really nice guitar.

You know, nowadays that idea of having a “hobby” almost sounds quaint. Like, if you asked someone, “What are your hobbies?” you might get some blank stares.

Yeah, I guess you’re right. But I think people are figuring out again that there’s a certain amount of satisfaction that comes from creating something. And at the end of the day, you have to find things to do with your time that’s maybe more than just watching TV, right? And I’ve found that I get a lot of pleasure from creating things. For instance, I have this saw hanging on my wall that was made in 1830-something. And this saw—I could sharpen it right now and use it. It’s just a well-made tool. And I think it’s cool that 150 years from now, my tools could be out there still being used by people who enjoy the same thing I do. It’s rewarding to think that I’m making something that’s worth holding onto. And you’re just not going to get that with a saw from Home Depot.

Florip Toolworks |  4700 W Empire Hwy. | Empire

Photo(s) by Dave Weidner