Well, the "holiday rush" is over. As you can imagine, the demand for expensive fine writing instruments is "selective" at best, so the holiday rush mostly consisted of me "rushing" to the post office to get some packages sent off before the post office shut down for an undetermined period (see the "Sally Field" update from Oct. 22 below). But actually sales have picked up quite nicely lately, and not just from gift-givers. More than one client indicated their order was for themselves and not a stocking stuffer. And orders kept coming in right up to Christmas Eve, well outside my Holiday shipping window (again, damn you Sally Field).
Sunday, December 16, 2012
So I spend more time than I'd like in chat rooms and reading articles on running an online side business. One of them (by and for Japanese sellers) highly encouraged international shipping. They pretty much had me convinced to open up to international sales. But then I read another thread with horror stories about shipping and claims and lost packages and insurance, yada yada yada, that had me convinced otherwise.I want to know! What different or unusual things happen in your work, hobby or interest? Comment below. Check out my current inventory at http://www.articents.com/HopeAndGracePens
Friday, December 7, 2012
So in the summer of 2010 I made my wife cry by blowing up on her. She kept suggesting I get a kindle e-book reader, which were on sale at the time. And subconsciously resisting being dragged into the digital age, I had had enough.
"I like the feel of a book in my hands!" I shouted (among other things, which started the waterworks). Needless to say, she was right. My kindle arrived in the mail while I was deployed on ship and it didn't take long for me to fall in love with it. She had pre-loaded some books onto it, and it never left my side through Pakistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Afghanistan and several points between. Today it's my "security Kindle" and goes everywhere I do, keeping my mind gainfully employed in many a lobby and waiting area.
Last year she wanted the touch-screen "Kindle Fire."
"Humbug!" thought I. "Next she'll want an iPod."
Funny, an iTouch magically appeared in the house a few months later. Now remember that she's even more CDO than I am, which is really saying something. CDO is "Obsessive Compulsive Disorder," but with the letters in alphabetical order the way they ought to be (thank you, meme!). How in the world will either of us operate a touch-screen device without spending 90% of our time wiping fingerprints off the screen?
Ok, so next she wanted a stylus, which was right up my alley. Now we're talking, I thought. So I made her a pen/stylus combo from a beautiful piece of swirly blue acrylic she ordered. PITA to work with, but got the job done. Now I'm going to have to figure out what design to use for my own stylus. I'm reluctant to admit the words "Kindle Fire" appear on my Christmas list...
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Thursday, October 11, 2012
Part of the fun of doing this is being surprised by the experiments in form and design. Especially when I first started learning pen turning, what I intend and what came out in the end are at times very different things. I confidently make a cut or series of cuts, "knowing" how they'll turn out, only to stand at the end thinking, "How in the ... ?"
One of my favorite examples of this was "Crazy Spider." The idea was a wave design in purple heart and canary wood with an offset inlay line. After the fairly simple cut and glue of the purple heart and canary, I turned the blank 90 degrees and cut another wave, inserting a padauk inlay and then just gluing the two pieces back together. The surprise came when I turned it on the lathe. The width of the pen just happened to coincide with the peak of the inlay wave. Sanding to that point created the red padauk "X" that came out in the final pen. It may not be pretty, but it sure is unique! I've been able to duplicate this a few times, but it's not easy.
Another fun thing is to just cut and assemble, with no idea what's going to happen. Most of the Sanitarium Line are like this, at least in specific shapes and patterns. They're designed to be abstract, so if they make a discernable shape it really is a surprise. I thought this one looked like some kind of Picasso-style eye when it turned out. That silver dot, by the way, is a piece of aluminum I had no idea was in there.
I used to make fun of abstract art!
I want to know! What surprises do you get at your work or hobby?
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Just after coming to Iwakuni late in the summer of 2011, an ad caught my attention to give pen turning a try. I had no idea where it would lead me.
"'It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,' he used to say. 'You step onto the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.'" (Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings)
Now it's led me to be a 'business' owner. I use the word loosely. Turning pens is for me a hobby, albeit one I have a passion for, but certainly not something on which I could feed four mouths. But I do find myself doing all the things real business owners do: interacting with customers, calculating overhead and prices, marketing and advertising, yada, yada, yada -- in other words, a lot of things that aren't fun.
Don't get me wrong, I love doing this. And getting feedback from people I've never met (because, let's face it, my mom pretty much HAS to like my pens) who rave about the beauty of something I've made is very rewarding. But at times I wonder how my feet led me here. I guess it started in the wood shop, envying the work of my mentors until hearing those magic words, "Hey, that looks pretty good. You mind if I try to sell it for you?"
That was Adam, whose mother sold his pens by word of mouth to friends, neighbors and acquaintances. The double-whammy was when I saw Adam the following day. He'd sold the pen about half an hour after he left the wood shop, stopping at the bowling alley on the way home. He showed his pens to someone there and they saw mine among them and bought it on the spot. Cha-ching, I was bitten.
Ever since I've been perfecting my craft, trying to make every pen better than the last one. Never mind that with every sale I spend three times the amount I made on more pen kits and wood. Getting back to zero feels good enough for me.
I want to know! What hobby or project of yours has snow-balled into something bigger than expected?
Friday, September 14, 2012
With thousands of types of trees, there are so many variations in color, hardness, grain, weight, etc., etc. It can be really tough to take a pen you haven't made yourself and pick out what it's made of sometimes. Factor in treatments and stains and you can have an interesting guessing game.
For example, if you laid a board of maple, pine and hickory side by side everyone could tell they're different. Yea, they're all yellow/creamy woods, but each has a distinct grain and hardness. Most people who work with wood could probably identify each by name. But cut any one of them down to some five-by-one inch plugs, shave them into cylinders and then stain one dark, another medium and use oil only on the third, and you'll have three very distinct products.
Some are easier to work with than others. Soft woods like holly and cedar cut down like butter and are a joy to work with. Well, cedar has also exploded on me more than once, but it smells GREAT when you're working it. So does black walnut. I just got my hands on some Philippine mango which smelled just like the fruit until it dried out, and probably will again when I start turning it.
Others are more difficult, but have other benefits. Like I learned making Northern Fury, the hard maple rejects ebony dust that the porous pine absorbed. Ebony itself is a $#%@. Temperamental and fragile, ebony cracks and explodes in a strong breeze. There's nothing blacker, though, so you just have to use it. Brazilian cherry is also a must-use. It's porous and fragile, but it makes light dance with a gloss coat.
What's my favorite? I have no idea. I DO have a favorite. I just don't know what it is. I got this chunk of Japanese wood from Vince E. at the woodshop. I made a pen, put some tung oil on it and WHAM. I have never seen any wood play with light the way this stuff does. Pictures don't do it justice. You have to see it in the light. It shimmers like nothing else. The original block had about 313 rings. We've debated its origin in the woodshop. I've given pieces of it to Japanese friends. Nobody can say for sure what this stuff is. So far I've made a few pens and a knife with it. I'm going to cry when it runs out.
I want to know! What's your favorite material, food or 'thing'? What do you like working with the most?