'Wood is one of the few things that when dead can be brought back to life.' UK Handmade Portfolio Member David Shepherdson of Pens Unique talks about his love of woodturning and making pens from a grand piano.
My name is David Shepherdson, an inspired and passionate wood turner. I specialise in creating unique writing instruments that are a real pleasure to use.
My father, who lives in Queensland Australia, is responsible for getting me interested in woodturning. After many failed attempts to get me into his workshop to have a go, I finally acquiesced in 2007 and have been hooked ever since. Unfortunately due to ill health, my father is no longer able to pursue his woodturning ambitions, but he follows my progress keenly, offering advice and suggestions and also keeping me supplied with much of my Southern Hemisphere timber.
I did inherit some of his tools and equipment and they have a special meaning for me when I use them. As my father once said “wood is one of the few things that when dead, can be brought back to life”. How true that is - I still get a tingle when the first application of polish breathes life back into the piece of wood I am working on.
We live in Warwickshire where my workshop is a converted garage, not really as big as I would like, but big enough to be creative in. With two lathes, band saw, dust extraction, drill press and sander, plus all the other equipment needed, I’ve got to be a tidy worker or chaos ensues.
Making a basic pen is a fairly simple process and is very satisfying - I would encourage anyone to have a go. To take a piece of wood and turn it into a useable tactile object is great fun. The more complex my designs are the longer the preparation is and the more care has to be taken before I get to the lathe. If you rush the process, disaster normally follows.
My preferred mediums are exotic rare woods. I endeavor always to create unique designs and strive to find new materials to turn into my pens; I also produce pens from recycled objects that hold special meanings for their owners.
An example of one of the more unusual objects that has been turned into a pen follows on from recently being given an old Erard Grand Piano (circa 1803) that was destined for the skip.
I was given it on the understanding that I would make a number of pens from the piano as mementos for the children who had learnt to play on the venerable old girl. What was left was for my own use.
I have been able to produce a number of very special pens from the wood salvaged from the piano and the one pictured here has been made from the Ebony and Ivory keys.
The first part of the process for this pen was to get the assembled parts sanded and glued into a blank suitable in shape for turning. Four of the black keys were used for the top and four more for the bottom part of the pen.
The salvaged ivory veneer pieces were glued in between these keys and sanded square. These were then put onto a special jig and cut on the diagonal. This was necessary to give me the eight lines of ivory I had in my design. The remaining ivory veneer was then glued in and the blank was once again sanded.
The next step was to drill holes through the blank to enable the brass tubes to be glued inside them. These not only form the basis of the pen body but also ensure a sound basis to mount the metal components onto the finished pen. Drilling the holes in the blanks was done (very carefully) on the lathe. Once the holes had been drilled and the tubes glued in, the ends of the blank were trimmed square.
It was then time to mount the blanks onto the lathe and turn it to the required profile, once again very carefully.
When the desired profile had been achieved, sanding and polishing to a very high sheen gave me the finished blank. The finished pen has had somewhere in the region of fifteen applications of various finishes to achieve the high gloss luster.
Everything was now ready for assembly of the metal pen components. This I did using an engineer’s vice, where all the parts are carefully pressed into the blanks.
The fully assembled pen was treated to a final buffing and was ready to be married up with a lacquered black hardwood case. I don’t make the pen cases at the moment but watch this space.
Once again new life has been given to a once loved object - the Erard Grand Piano lives again.
My pen making is not restricted to fountain pens; in fact I make rollerballs, ballpoints, propelling pencils and soft touch stylus. My fountain pens come supplied with a German made, medium point, iridium tipped nib, which can be changed for a broad or fine point nib if desired.
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