Friday, September 14, 2012

Anybody else got wood?

You'll find a wide variety of common and exotic woods in my pens. Take a look at any of the Sanitarium line and you'll see everything from common pine to exotics like cocobolo and palm -- often in the same pen. I'm developing a real appreciation for woodwork and the beauty of crafted wood.

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?


  1. Fascinating! In my last novel I included a passage on the wistful nostalgia for the quill on the eve of the invention of the fountain pen. I also love to get a pen out and scribble over my manuscript when in process - never quite managed the edit feature on Word!

  2. Last novel? That's something to aspire to, PJ. I'd like to use that phrase some day. BTW, I'm old-school too. I scribble on my manuscripts mercilessly!