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I’ve heard no shortage of belly-aching over custom wood pens. They often get dumped on for one reason or another and honestly, undeservedly so. I have always been a fan of anything one can custom-make and pens are no different. Pens like these from reader rboyett2001 are a great way to spend a little time in the shop and get a sweet-looking writing utensil out of it on the other end.

The main complaint I hear is that you buy a kit and make a pen according to plan and that’s not real woodworking. Well, yes, of course it is. Case in point: A friend of mine just started making custom wood pens and once the first few had been spun off the lathe he showed them to his buddies who proceeded to crap all over his work. Telling him “anything like that just isn’t considered real woodwork.”

Here’s a secret, folks: If you worked the wood and finished a project, it’s woodwork. If there’s any other definition I’ve never heard of it. The important part is you built something and you enjoyed the process. Perhaps it leads to other larger projects or perhaps you just start building pens like a madman. Either way it’s a great way to pass the time in the shop. These two pens make me want to give it a go myself.

Toolmonger Photo Pool [Flickr]


13 Responses to From the Flickr Pool: Wood Pens

  1. Dreamcatcher says:

    I admit, I’m in the crowd that’s dropping turd bombs on pen makers. But it’s not because I don’t consider them woodworkers. I just think that it’s a waste of effort to buy a $20 pen kit just to turn a ‘custom’ wood cylinder and assemble an ink pen that would otherwise be valued at $2.

    Now, if someone’s out there machining all their own pen parts from scratch or even converting dollar store plastic pens into nice wooden customs, that’s a different story.

    The same goes for just about any “custom” item made from a kit. I’ve seen bottle stopper kits, ice cream scoop kits, knife kits, and even $200 for a handplane kit!?!? To me the impressiveness of any item is the amount of skill required to each detail of it.

    Sure I don’t make every hinge and knob of every cabinet I build, nor do I chop down the trees and mill all my own lumber. But if someone did, I would sure expect that the extremity of his craftsmanship and attention to detail was congratulated accordingly.

    As for pens…. I loose them too easily to have them custom made.


  2. Dreamcatcher says:

    Re-reading my post I notice that not only did I screw up the spelling of “lose” but I sound like a jerk. I don’t mean any offense. Woodworking covers a broad expanse and has many interesting niches – anyone who can see make something useful or beautiful out of what would otherwise be seen as a chunk of firewood gets a tip of the hat from me.

    Those pens are beautiful AND useful. Kudos to RBoyett.


  3. Jerry says:

    Okay, buying a kit with a pre-turned blank may border on “woodworking” but it still is. I see the interest in pen making as a rather niche thing but I have seen some that were beautiful. Maybe that person who bought the kit was just needing a general guide to making his/her own from scratch.
    I have seen some pens made from very exotic wood sell for well over $100. I do like the idea of taking dollar store pens and turning them into something nice.

  4. Angelbane says:

    HEY i think the the hand turned pens are woodworking and I have one that my son did as a wood working project with his Webelos den and another that was given to me as a thank you for being the den leader that was done by one of the boy’s dad (who was gracious enough to show 8 rowdy boys how to do it).

    These are among my prized possessions.

  5. I think making pens from kits (or clocks from kits, or any number of other “kit” projects) is a wonderful hobby. Of course, there is the required investment in tools, materials, and a certain amount of skill to produce a decent product.

    But it’s not a fine art, any more than assembling (and expertly painting) a model airplane, car, etc is a fine art.

    I don’t bash anybody who goes out of their way to make something out of nothing. But it’s hard to go to an “arts festival” or gathering of “fine artists” and see 4 or 5 guys all with the same stuff assembled from the same kit.

    There is, obviously, a great deal of work that goes into something like this, if it is to be done properly. But I can’t consider it art. I can consider it craft, and I have enormous respect for finely crafted craft.

    Let’s not put the pens on a pedestal, though. You want respect from every single person that sees your work, you need to do something really special. If you are churning out something indistinguishable from product made by 20,000 other hobbyists, you can’t expect to be held in the highest regard by everyone you meet.

    We can all agree that it’s not easy to put up all the sheetrock in a room, then tape and float it and have it come out perfect. It’s a tough job. Some might say it’s an art. But it’s the same end result you can get from any number of skilled professionals.

    As far as I know, the pre-fabricated pen parts only allow a tiny window of creativity with the final product. There’s not much room for individuality. So I think I would have a hard time setting myself apart from other pen-makers, given the same restraints. And that’s why I don’t make pens.

  6. browndog77 says:

    There are multitudes whose first WW project was a Pinewood Derby racer from a kit consisting of a block of wood & some wheels/axles, or maybe a pre-cut birdhouse or some other beginner-type undertaking. Some stop there & go on to other callings, while plenty continue, being hooked by the “bug”. To a man (or woman), I’d bet dollars to doughnuts they consider that original creation special. It is indeed wood-working!

  7. ThatOneGuy says:

    Who dumps on them? I make tons of these things and give them away. People love them. I don’t see how its not woodworking… well, maybe if you’re turning acrylic obviously its not wood… Really its not any different than turning a table leg or drawer pull or whatever. Same machines, same medium. Granted just because you can make a pen doesn’t mean you can make a table leg right away, but the skills are pretty much the same.

  8. Gary says:

    I’ve taken over my basement with my woodworking hobby. I’ve also made humidors and decorative jewelry boxes. I’ve made half a dozen pieces of furniture for my family. I also like working with hand tools. It’s quiet and it doesn’t throw sawdust everywhere.

    My favorite tool in the shop is my lathe. I prefer turning bowls and hollow forms, but I make pens and bottle stoppers and other small kit items. Several years ago I started charging people for them. I’ll still give them away to people I’m close to, but I started charging because everybody wanted one or more.

    I’ve sold enough of them that I’ve earned back the money I spent on my PM 3520b 4 years ago. That wasn’t my plan. It was a happy accident.

    I make these things out of highly figured exotics and domestics like amboyna burl, rosewood and quilted maple. Put some gentle curves on them and add a glossy finish and people will start placing orders.

    I’ve priced mine higher than some. My main reason is that I don’t want to spend all my time turning pens etc. If you don’t think it’s woodworking, then you have a narrow definition of it.

    When I make a piece of furniture, I design it from the ground up for the place it will be put and it’s use. Am I going to tell you it isn’t woodworking if you build from a purchased plan?

  9. Ken says:

    I also enjoy pen making. I often use wood that may have some sentimental value to the recipient. For example, I salvaged wood trim where I work when it was remodeled and make pens for retirees so they have a piece of the building, When I met my future in-laws in South Africa I brought back some wood that they use for Braai (BBQ) but had an interesting reddish center and turned pens to remind them and me of our visit. They couldn’t believe that something that they consider firewood quality could turn out so beautiful.

  10. Rick says:

    I didn’t think my pens would stir that interesting of a debate.

    I’ve only been turning for a few years but I’ve been a woodworker since I was a child. For me pens are simply fun. I recently discovered that they are also nice way to raise money for charity.

    However I really see pen turning is a gateway drug to turning in general. It is incredibly fun and some of you may be surprised at the amount of technique that can be put into making one. Especially with thinks like inlays an knots like the ones on these pens (my first Celtic knots so be kind)


    Not to long ago I bought the new Delta 1hp midi lathe and I’m now trying bowls. I also just bought a hollowing gouge which I can’t wait to try out.

    Here is my first attempt at a bowl.

    That said, I can see where Dreamcatcher is coming from. Though $20 for a pen kit is more than I’m willing to pay (those damn things can get a lot more expensive than that). There are pen turners that make pens from scratch. I guess those are the Jedi masters of the hobby. I’m just not there yet. There is also a high level of finishing that goes into pen building. There is definitely more than just turning a cylinder involved here.

    But again, I think pen turning is simply a gateway to turning in general. I recently bought out a guys entire wood turning shop. I mainly wanted the aforementioned hollowing gauge and the TONS of wood stock he had. I ended up re-selling his fairly basic Jet 1014 lathe to a total newbie. I gave this fella a couple of pen kits and let him watch as I demonstrated on my lathe. I could tell he already had the bug. Let anyone of limited experience get a taste of making something with their own hands and they’ll become willing disciples of the craft.

    Now please excuse me. I’ve gotta go finish my Maloof rocker…. /jk

  11. Gary says:

    Rick, you’re right about the gateway drug thing. I started with pens because my wife saw a demo and said “do you think you can do that?”

    Next thing I knew she bought me a Fisch mini. I still have that one and a PM3520b.

    I still do plenty of flat work, but if I had to give up all my tools but one, I’d keep the lathe.

    Try bottlestoppers and small turned boxes. They’re just as popular as pens.

    And, I actually have a Maloof style rocker on my list of things to get to…

  12. cheerIO says:


    Very good post and response. Your work and attitude undoubtedly deserve appreciation.

  13. gerry says:

    great work rick! pens with knots is next on my to do list. pen making is definately woodworking. you have to select a piece of wood, orient the grain pattern to get best look, create an appealing shape to the pen and select a finish. it is very easy to make a dull pen from a kit, its a more difficult matter to make something that a customer is willing to pay for.

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