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Classic Creations by Don Wood

November 13, 2007|By DAVE THOMPSON

Photography by DAVE THOMPSON AND DANIEL PUTZ

Don Wood can't recall exactly what it was that spurred him to start making custom pens.

But now the Chambersburg, Pa., resident can't get enough of making the elegant writing instruments in his home workshop.

Retired from his job of selling software used in IBM mainframe computers, Wood, 67, had time for a hobby. He'd dabbled in making jewelry and stonecutting some years ago, but decided to go in another direction.

While he liked woodworking, he wasn't particularly interested in large-scale projects such as furniture.

"That stuff wasn't me," he said.

Then he saw an ad, an article or something that inspired him to consider making pens. Doggoned if he can remember what it was, though.

"I just can't recall," he said.

His wife, Evelyn, who'd seen the hobbyist glint appear in Wood's eyes on previous occasions, asked him to make sure he was really interested before investing in additional woodworking equipment. Chuckling, Wood said his wife had reason for her cautionary words.

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"I'm a hobbyist guy. I'll buy equipment and do something for a couple of months, then decide to do something else," he said.

Wood decided to go ahead and buy the equipment, then took a one-day course at the Woodcraft store in Harrisburg, Pa. to learn the basics of pen-making.

Armed with what he called "very basic and crude" knowledge from the course, Wood learned by trial and error to craft better pens. Matching woods and other materials used in the barrel with the metal parts used in the pens' tips was one skill that took time to master, he said.

As he began to produce a better result, Wood found that he was really enjoying making pens. Enjoying it so much, in fact, that he was starting to accumulate a lot of them in his basement.

"It started to occur to me that I'd better try to sell some of the pens in order to be able to continue to make them," he said.

Through word of mouth, a Web site and participation in a craft show, Wood began to sell some of his creations. Then he caught a break last spring by qualifying for the highly regarded Mountain Heritage show in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

"You just leave samples of your work with them, and they tell you if you've made it," he said. "I figured I didn't have much of a chance, but they called two months later and said I was in."

The Mountain Heritage show in May reduced Wood's inventory in a big way as he was able to sell about half of his stock. It was back to work making pens to replenish the supply.

One look at the fit and finish of Wood's pens makes it clear why the Mountain Heritage judges decided to include him in their show.

Most of the pens' barrels start as squared-off "blanks" long enough to make a 5- to 5 1/2-inch barrel when completed. Pen diameters generally range from 3/4 to 7/8 of an inch.

Wood's pens are made from a variety of woods, acrylic and corian. Most of the materials come from supply houses or various Internet sides.

"Some guys sell exotic woods on the Internet," Wood said. He's used Koa from Hawaii and olive wood from Bethlehem is some of his pens. Other woods have included cocobolo from Mexico, bloodwood from the Amazon basin, tulipwood from South America and rosewood from South Africa. From North America, he's used maple, walnut, sycamore, yew and apple.

On one occasion, Wood bought mesquite chunks for his barbecue grill because the local Wal-Mart was out of mesquite chips. When he opened the bag, Wood had an "aha" moment. The chunks were big enough to produce pen barrels. Wood liked the results and purchased another bag of mesquite chunks - earning a funny look from the cashier when he said he didn't plan to burn any of them.

Wood used a maple bowling pin from Lincoln Lanes to create a pen for a grandson who worked there, as well as the establishment's manager. A bamboo cutting board provided material for other pens.

Once Wood secures a suitable blank, he drills a hole in the center to insert the metal tubes that contain the pen's ink supply and transmission. The transmission is the part that enables the user to turn the pen so the writing tip pops out.

When the tubes are inserted and glued in, the blanks are taken to a lathe, where Wood uses cutting tools to give them their rounded shape.

Then the time-consuming finishing process begins. Each blank gets several sandings, starting with 150-grit sandpaper and ending with 12,000-micromesh sheets that actually can be washed and reused. Wood then applies two thin coats of glue to fill imperfections and smooth the finish. The glue is covered by friction polish, a coat of carnuba wax and another coat of Renaissance wax, which is used by the British Museum to wax its furniture. The barrel is then polished to a fine sheen.

Metal parts are attached to the finished blank with a pressing tool. Through trial and error, Wood said he learned to make the pen transmissions fit snugly to ensure the writing tip emerges when the pen is twisted. The pens are designed to take easily obtained Cross or Parker refills.

Pens generally are completed over a period of a few days. Most of Wood's prices are in the $25-$50 range, which seems more than reasonable considering the time and craftsmanship involved. The money he earns enables him to buy more materials and continue his hobby.

He sells various styles, including slimline, atlas, streamline, comfort and cigar, which vary in length and diameter from the slender slimline to the more robust cigar. If a customer wants a custom pen made out of a certain type of wood or corian, Wood will gladly comply provided a blank can be obtained.

For additional information on Wood's pens, visit his Web site at www.geocities.comclassiccreationsbydonwood.

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