Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Here's a great read!

Emily from Another Cup was kind enough to feature us on her blog. She has a great writing style. You'll find yourself several pages in before you know it!

Monday, October 5, 2015

"Time" for something new

When lightning struck in the small wooded area behind our house, knocking down a dead or dying pine tree, my kids decided I had to have the wood. The guys who cleaned up the mess were nice enough to cut the trunk into five-foot sections which just happened to disappear before they came around to collect them.

It sat back there for months while I hemmed and hawed about what I'd do with it. Sculpture? Maybe. Pens? Nah, pine's too common. I cut some discs off an end with the chainsaw my wife couldn't believe I bought and then hemmed and hawed again. That hemming and hawing gave the discs time to dry out and split. 

"Oh, great. Ruined," I thought ... until playing with my acrylic one night. Why not fill the crack with acrylic? That'd be cool. So I sanded two of the discs down. That's when I realized they wouldn't ever become smooth working end-grain like that, at least as not as smooth as I'd like. 

Then I had another epiphany. Why not fill the pocks and pores with acrylic too? So the cracks are filled with regular blue acrylic. When that hardened, I turned the piece over and slathered the faces with blue acrylic with phosphorescent powder added.

While that was drying, I sprayed the clock hands with clear phosphorescent paint. When the acrylic dried, I sanded away the excess, leaving just the pocks, crack and wood. I came out pretty cool, I think. Next time I'm going to carve out 12, 3, 6 & 9 in the wood and fill those with acrylic.

Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Chancellorsville, Start to Finish, Part 4

This Chancellorsville wood is really beautiful. Though I can't say for sure, it looks like pine to me. Pine isn't usually a particularly attractive wood, but perhaps the age and certainly the stabilization have added to the luster and color.

After receiving their cyanoacrylate coats, the blanks are left to throroughly dry and "offgas" overnight. They are wet-sanded with a series of micro-mesh pads in the multi-thousand grit level to even out the coating and make it smooth.

After this, I inspect each one to ensure the CA coat looks good. I have to admit to having a difficult time with a couple of these. If you buff too far down, you expose the wood and have to re-apply the CA, wait overnight again, etc, which happened more than once with some of these. But in the end, patience persevered and they were ready for polish.

I use two coats of plastic polish, which is a friction polish that activates with heat generated by the friction of the blank turning on the lathe. Two coats of wax follow that and really bring out the shine.

The ends are cleaned up to remove any CA, polish or wax that may have spilled over the edge during the process. I lay out and inspect the setting parts and finally assemble the pen using a pen assembly tool.

And here they are, two of the five handcrafted Civil War bullet pens made from wood harvested at the spot Confederate General Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson was mortally wounded by friendly fire.

#CivilWar #StonewallJackson #History #FineWritingInstrument #Chancellorsville

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Chancellorsville, Start to Finish, Part 3

So here are the stabilized blanks. Two with clear acrylic, two red and one blue. I turned the blue one before remembering to photograph them and LOVE how the blue worked into the wood.

The blue is dark in the cracks and voids, lighter and at times green where it mixed with weaker, yellow wood, while leaving the parts of the wood that were still solid their natural yellow. Just gorgeous.

Not shown are two simple steps: reaming out the holes and gluing in the tubes. These steps are visible in some of my previous "Start to finish" blog entries. Check them out, too! Click HERE for the process in wood. Click HERE to see mixing acrylic. Because the acrylic filled in some of the pre-drilled holes, they had to be re-drilled, which only took a minute and ensured the tube chambers were ready to receive the brass tubes. I also barrel-trimmed them to cut the wood down to the exact length of the finished pen body.

Now the blanks go onto the lathe for turning! Even though they were stabilized, I stopped about halfway with each one and soaked them down with thin CA to ensure they didn't burst apart. Maybe this wasn't necessary, but to me this is very special wood and I didn't want to take any chances.

After the blanks were turned and sanded up to 10k grit (I use some special paper I picked up in Japan that goes up to 10k), they receive a light coat of 100% pure tung oil massaged into the wood.  And finally, here are two getting their cyanoacrylate coat.
#handcrafted #penturning #CivilWar #Chancellorsville #StonewallJackson #history #craftsmanship #finewriting

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Chancellorsville, Start to Finish, Part 2

Now that the wood's been cut and drilled, it is immersed in liquid acrylic and weighed down to keep it immersed. It then goes in a vacuum chamber to draw air out of voids in the wood, replacing the air with acrylic.

After a good, thorough vacuuming and overnight soaking, the wood is wrapped in aluminum foil and baked at about 200 degrees for an hour and a half. By the way, this is all done in the workshop, which has no air conditioning, and at the height of summer adding a little heat doesn't help!

And here are the results! They sat overnight to cool (actually because I went to bed). You can see the natural color of the wood remains for the most part in the colored version and that the acrylic has penetrated the cracks and weak points.

They're just about ready for turning!

Here's a link to Part 3.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Chancellorsville, Start to Finish, Part 1

Last year during a visit to the Chancellorsville Battlefield, I surreptitiously smuggled out a short branch of unknown, semi-rotten wood from the spot where General Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson was mistakenly shot and mortally wounded by his own men.

I knew this wood was special and have been saving it for some time. Ok, actually, I'm just lazy and have finally gotten around to working it. ;)

But since the wood is in quite bad shape, having sat rotting on the ground for a long, long time, it has to be stabilized before it can be turned. I'm making one or two "clear" stabilized blanks from it which will be the normal wood color as well as some blue and red stabilized versions.

Picked up a couple of "Civil War Bullet Pens" this wood is destined for. Here are the first two steps in the process, cutting the wood to size and drilling out the spot for the brass tube. Stabilization is next.

Here's a link to Part 2.

I want to know!
Are you a history or Civili War buff? What history do you find most interesting?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Sharing means caring

Am I the most infrequent blogger or what?

It's been two months since my last post! Been busy completing some custom orders lately. I'm also working on another "Start to Finish" photo diary, this time with stabilizing wood gathered from where Stonewall Jackson was shot! Coming soon.
In the meantime, I've also shared my love of pen turning with two of my Marines. When I brought pens in to work for a couple guys to look over, these Marines showed interest. But, let's face it, junior Marines don't make a lot of money. They wanted pens, but what I had was really out of their disposable income range.

I suggested they come over and make their own.

First to take me up on the offer was (then) Corporal Martinez. He wanted a bolt action bullet pen done with an American flag motif. I did the prep work on the acrylic, but he drilled, turned and mounted the pen himself. It looks great and he enjoyed doing it.

Next, Sergeant Fang came by this past weekend. He wanted wood, knowing full well that the work was more in-depth. He chose cocobolo in a magnetic vertex gun metal setting. He did the entire thing himself, from cutting to drilling to shaping, polishing, adding the cyanoacrylate and coming back the next day to polish and assemble.

I admit I did the woodburn of his family name in Chinese character on the side, but that was just a cosmetic touch. Best of all, when he assembled his pen, he was so excited, he stayed to help me work on some other orders. Now he's got a list of things he wants to make as gifts for his family.

I think he's hooked. I know the feeling.

I want to know!
What knowledge, skills and experience do you share with friends and family?

Sunday, June 7, 2015

WAND-ering up some magic

Let's get one thing straight: I am a man.

Furthermore, I'm a US Marine. Implications there include toughness, brutishness, and no nonsense.

The image inspired should have nothing to do with fairies or magic.

However, I swim in a sea of estrogen. Until the recent acquisition of the guinea pig, all the members of my household were female. Waves of touchy-feely drama wash through periodically. Tears are a fairly common occurrence.

Every now and then I have to explain why there's glitter on my uniform.

Brenda and I have striven our whole stint as parents to make a home that inspires creativity, one where fantastic stories and out-of-the-box thinking are as usual as the mundane, day-to-day matters of life.

Whether it's the constant stream of Tolkien's work, indoctrination into Frank Hurbert's Dune, a steady diet of Monty Python, or eating dinner with T-Rex arms as an etiquette lesson in keeping elbows off the table, we're doing a lot to raise two creative girls.

That, or a couple of nut cases.

So when the request came in for magic wands, I was all over it. New territory for me, I plunged in and left lots of scrap on the workroom floor before coming up with something nice.

The original idea was to make something simple to keep the kids entertained while the parents perused other items at my craft fair tables. True to form, I can't do simple and my first wands featured shaping, stain and inlaid acrylic. One of them even had a chamber in the handle with "mermaid hair" inside.

I'm currently using some glow in the dark acrylic I found, which I think the kids will like, and for one I shaped acrylic into a blue talon and embedded it. Adding wood burning helps customize each wand, too.

But honestly, my favorite part is the stories that go with each wand. They're each accompanied by a unique 500-word fantasy story on how the wand came to be. We've done a gnome vs. a bear, a desert boy turned mermaid-lover, a war between goblins and fairies, a woman who turns into a fish, and a few more.

You know, I once fancied myself a writer. I've had a few things published online. Best of all, when I read the wand stories to Hope and Grace at bedtime, there's always a pause, followed by "Oh, that was great! I loved that story."

And that's why I do what I do.

Monday, May 4, 2015

What's in a name?

Thinking about changing from "Hope & Grace Pens" to "Hope & Grace Gifts."

What do you think?

When I started this little fiasco a few years ago, everyone told me, "Don't put 'pens' in the name. Keep it open in case you get tired of making pens."

Well, at least that hasn't happened. I'm still as passionate about fine writing instruments as ever. But anyone who's browsed my stores knows there are a lot more than pens there. If it's useful and beautiful, I'll try my hand at it.

But what's really driven this consideration is the survey so many of you were kind enough to fill out. The majority of you -- 66.6% as of now -- order my work as gifts for loved ones, friends and acquaintances. Hope and Grace (the real Hope and Grace) both agree that my work is more likely something you'd order as a gift than as a treat for yourself.

It's not an easy decision. I've invested a lot of time, effort and a little money into building a brand. That's not the kind of thing you abandon on a whim. Then again, it's only one word and at the tail end of the name at that. I wonder if I'd "lose" anybody who came back looking HGP and finding only HGG?

So, I'm soliciting feedback. Let me know! Should I make the leap?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Drifting Along

What is it about driftwood that's so alluring?

It's not really useful. Some of it is pretty rotten and worm-ridden, generally unusable as wood goes. Then there's the shape. Imagine every twisted sadism Mother Nature can conjure to torture the original path of growth and you'll see what I see walking the shores of the Potomac here in Quantico.

But then, maybe that's it. The bark's been stripped away. Nothing left but the bones, twisted and weathered by time and tide. Soaked, dried and re-soaked perhaps a thousand times, watermarks deep within the veins.

I regret staining and distressing the deluxe desk caddy I recently finished. In hindsight I should have left the tan and gray natural sheen in which I'd found it. Clearly it hadn't been in the water long. Some of the original color remained, though it was split and wormholed and a little rotten in spots that had to be sanded away and stiffened. But staining and finishing it removed the telltale traces of its time in the Potomac. The distressing brought it back a little, but not enough. The satin coating may protect it, but makes it more modern than rustic.

Well, lesson learned. I still have plenty of treasures Grace and I gleaned from the sandy river shore. No staining in their futures. I like the electronics stand for these in particular. There's something about the marriage of worn nature and sleek electronics that's just cool.

And there are plenty of other device stands I've brought to life recently. John R. in Iwakuni showed me how to make these almost two years ago, but these are the first I've put my hand to. Very simple concept, though sometimes tricky to perfect. I have other plans and designs in the works as well.

So I like merging nature and electronics. What are abstract concepts would you like to see? Leave comments below.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Something in the mix

Based on the popularity of the pen making process posts from a few months ago, many people might also be interested in seeing the acrylic mixing and casting process.

Now, I don't cast all the acrylic pen blanks I use. But I did start casting acrylic since returning from Japan and the acrylics so far are quite beautiful.

The acrylic I'll use here is Alumalite. It's an easy 50/50 mix of parts A and B with a healthy set time of about 7 to 10 minutes. The label says 15, but I really need to get it under pressure before then to get the bubbles out. The coloring powder is from a gorgeous set I received as a gift. They're mostly pearl-sparkling colors.

Here is one part with a healthy scoop of blue powder with a hint of green for an aqua flavor. I mix the powder in the part B only to give me a little extra time to get it thoroughly stirred and mixed before adding the part A, which will start the clock before the acrylic hardens.

I mixed one blue and one white pearl, shown here with both parts A and B in the cups. Have to hurry now!

Ok, the acrylic is poured into the mold. The black mold at the bottom is the perfect length for the Executive pen set. There was a good bit extra from the mixing, so I had two PVC molds on standby. I place them in the pressure pot and seal the lid.

The pressure is on! 40 psi of air pressure will remove any air trapped in the acrylic from the mixing process. I'm very careful stirring, but some air gets trapped in the thick liquid no matter how you try to avoid it. Getting it into pressure before the acrylic hardens will ensure there are no voids in the finished blank.

I leave the acrylic in pressure for about three hours, long after the set time. After relieving the pressure, these blanks sat overnight, ensuring beyond any doubt they are done setting up.

And here's the finished blank, quite lovely if I do say so myself. By the way, I won't use the PVC molds any more. The first time I tried them, they popped right out with a little coaxing from the hammer. These, however, had to be cut out.

And now the fun part. Just like the previous post, the blank was drilled, glued, and trimmed. Now it goes on the lathe for shaping.

Turning leads to sanding ...

Here's the blank during the sanding process.

And here's the finished pen in its rhodium setting.  I hope you enjoyed the journey!

Please leave comments below!