Wood Stock: Father and son turn wood collection into profits

TRAVERSE CITY – “I love trees! Always have!” were the second words out of Loren Bristol’s mouth after ‘hello.’

Bristol, owner of Loren’s Woodworking on Veterans Drive in Traverse City, is a woodworker, carpenter and all-purpose craftsman with a collector’s enthusiasm for wood.

“Just look at the color, the grain. Here! Smell this wood when I cut it!” he said, as he cut a toffee-scented piece of Brazilian Rosewood. “Smell this one!” he chirped, holding a floral-scented African Tulipwood fresh from the saw.

You gotta love a guy who can find joy in a woodchip.

Loren was eye-level to the tablesaw when his dad starting teaching him about woodworking.

“When I was about nine years old, Dad made Mom a shelf for encyclopedias,” he said. “I so admired the work he did, the way he braced it, that sparked me to learn. I watched him, he taught me, and I learned how to handle wood and the tools.”

I found it remarkable that Loren still had all his fingertips, as my own dad had several “stubs” from a lifetime of carpentry. When I mentioned that, Loren laughed and said, “I watch my hands, and I really concentrate. I don’t even like to be talked to when I’m working. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a few scars, however.”

Loren worked at other jobs while keeping woodworking as a hobby. He and his dad, “Doc” Bristol, worked for John Parsons for a while, and Loren still has wood scraps from the helicopter blades made there.

Twenty years with Traverse Yarn Works and a few more with Burke Lures led him to semi-retirement, which really means a full-time job at his shop.

Loren’s advertising is by word of mouth only, but he’s always busy. He does furniture repair, refinishing, creates new pieces, and can copy anything.

“A lady brought in a chair from Italy, and she wanted me to refinish it and make 11 more like it,” he said. “Chairs are the hardest, most labor-intensive pieces, and they’re my least favorite project. But, I said I’d do it, so I’ve got to do it. All my years in business, I don’t quit until we’re both happy with the job. I’ve done work for a lot of people, but I’ve only had two times I couldn’t make someone happy.”

Loren Jr. has his own corner, complete with tools and stashes of exotic wood. Father and son share an enthusiasm for wood from all over the world, and Loren Sr. shows off his collection in the form of miniature baseball bats. Why miniature bats?

“Everyone seems to be crazy about baseball bats,” he explained. “As a fund-raiser for Sabin Elementary School, my son sold these bats and, back then, people were as crazy about them as they are for Beanie Babies! Plus, bats are small on one end, big on the other, so you can really see the grain of the wood. I can look at a block of wood, and it’s just wood. But, once I start shaping it, the beauty of each individual grain really comes out. To some people, my collection is just a bunch of wooden bats. To others, it’s a bouquet of flowers.”

On the workbench is a line of over 100 bats made from wood of every hue, ranging from the almost white domestic pine to the yellow of satinwood, to the reds of bloodwood and blacks of purpleheart and ebony. Wood as diverse as their country of origin, and some that can no longer be exported.

“Just in our region we have over 200 kinds of wood,” Loren said. “The only piece I don’t have is tamarack, but I’m hoping to get it someday.”

And someday, Loren hopes to build a roll-top desk. The pieces are all cut, it’s just finding the time to assemble it.

Although that desk has been a longtime dream, Loren says any new project is what excites him most.

“People come in with some new piece to repair or some new idea, that’s what I get excited about. It’s like a quest for me! I want to drop everything and start on that new piece, but I have to finish the other stuff first.”

His only other quest is the restoration of a 1925 Federal Knight truck, one of only two known to exist in the world.

“It runs, but it’s not ready for the road yet,” he said. “That’s my other dream, to take it on the road.”

You can bet it’ll be outfitted with beautiful wood accents. BIZNEWS