Most crafts are handed down generation-to-generation from one pair of loving hands to another. Like passing a torch with a flame that won’t die, each new craftsman carries on an age-old tradition.
But its rare for a young pair of hands, completely self-taught, to pick up the torch. That’s exactly what Ethan Levine, 18, has achieved with his hand-made whips.
Called “Whipcrafters,” Levine’s small hobby-business produces quality, beautiful and functional whips from his Harker Heights home.
“When I was 10 years old, I saw Indiana Jones use a whip in the movie, and decided I wanted a whip, too,” said Levine, seated on his front porch weaving a new whip.
But the $1,000 cost of a hand-made one propelled him to learn to make his own.
Fast-forward almost a decade, and he now makes five different styles in any colors ranging from 3 feet up to 14 feet.
Thanks mostly to Youtube videos, plain ole trial and error and tons of persistence, Levine slowly learned the craft of whip making. “It’s not a popular, common hobby, but it’s a fun thing to learn,” he said.
In the early years, he made whips for family, a friend and even his Boy Scout master. Then his entrepreneurial spirit kicked in recently when he thought about selling them. “In August, I started going to the Harker Heights Farmer’s Market in front of Seton (Medical Center) on Saturday, and so far, I’ve sold five whips,” he said.
Without the benefit of a Facebook page or website, Levine’s business is taking off solely from word-of-mouth.
The process he calls easy is painstaking, requiring a week of several hours each day to make a traditional 6-foot bullwhip, his best seller. He uses 550 paracord in making each whip, but Levine discovered an important lesson with his first one — remove the inner stuffing of the cord and use only the outside.
“That way it lies flat and has a smooth, uniform style.”
Levine begins making a whip with 12 strands. Some styles have a small wooden dowel rod for the handle while others employ a nylon chord as the base.
He also uses athletic tape, more flexible than duct tape, and metal pull chain, like the type for a lamp chain, for weight. The big problem is keeping the strands taunt as he weaves them together, he said.
The five types of whips he makes are the classic bullwhip, snake whip and Australian stock whip.
His smallest whips are the Baby Bull at 4 feet and the 3-foot pocket whip. Prices range from $25 to $150.
Unlimited color choices are available from solid color to multicolor, as well as custom color combinations popular for school, such as white and orange for University of Texas and so on.
His latest request is for a pair of motorcycle bike whips. Most customers just love owning cowboy items, he said.
“A whip is something really cool to hang on the wall,” he said. But his whips are made for use by real cowboys and ranchers. “These are working whips.”
Making a whip is the easy part, he said, but learning the proper way to use it is something else.
The crack of the whip is equal to a sonic boom, as it travels through the air at the speed of sound. He demonstrated the basic movements: overhead, out front and from the side and behind.
Each swing produced an ear-splitting crack heard throughout the neighborhood.
“It’s all in the wrist; just flick it,” he said.
A military family, the Levines moved to the area about a year ago, and Ethan is currently attending Central Texas College. He has no social media sites, so customers can find him at the Harker Heights Farmer’s Market, Medical Center at 850 W. Central Texas Expressway.
Saturday farmer’s market event in front of Seton is the final market in Harker Heights this season.
Levine is also thinking of attending other local fairs and markets.
Ethan Levine never imagined his whip making would get this far — a budding business started by a childhood dream. And like a true craftsman, he loves what he makes.
“Every time I make a whip, it gets better,” he said. “Practice makes perfect.”