Pen Turning Extra Comments from the March Club Meeting

Throughout the Am. Ass’n Wood-Turners bowl turning and embellishment far override the interest in spindle turning so I was not surprised to see that about six of the group hung around for more details. I watched the group and saw that interest rapidly faded so I began to cut back and focus on the details that interested the pen turners. Only a few got to see how to take a pen apart. But people like Dee have had a lot of experience. He was acquainted with everything.

The whole upshot is this: If a person wants to make a pen/pencil that person should carefull select and prepare the wood blank before ever getting started. The whole object is to produce a piece with a lot of “character” . It need not be embellished beyond making the item fit the hand of the intended user.
I did not discuss marketing but within this four state area the going selling price ranges from $14 to $32 with the average around $22. The rule of thumb is to price the item at 3 times the cost of the kit.
The large Craft shows such as War Eagle will support only one pen/pencil booth.  Avoid consignment!! The store operator will demand 40% to 50% of the selling price. Customers will damage the item and then request a total refund.  The consignor will tie up your inventory so out of an entire exhibit you might sell one or two pens in 6 months. Avoid flea markets — people come to these places to buy junk!!  A juried show is better than a craft show but the juried show will usually select only one producer.

When wood barrel pens/pencils first appeared on the market they sold from $300 to $800 an item. This is no longer the case. Sales are best in the area where tourist traffic is high.
The first pen kits were made by an Australian engineer who sold his rights to a Tiawan company. Now most of the kits flooding the marked come from Tiawan; a very few from China. Mass produced items come out of Japan. The very best come from Germany, France and Italy. These countried do not sell their kits in the US. On a rare occasion one can find an American made pen/pencil with a fantastic mechanism which can be taken apart and rebuilt with a wood barrel. This is rare — one must hunt through the office supply houses to find tiem. Japan makes some very attractive pens that can be taken apart. The barrel is usually plastic and this can be separated from some of the stubborn parts by soaking it in finger nail polish remover for about 10 minutes.

The brass tubes coming with the kits are neither standard nor metric dimension — they are Tiawan dimension and because of this a look alike brass tube from ACE hardware will be incompatable with the parts of the kit!!!!!!!! The brass tubes from ACE hardware are of much better quality and the wall is thicker. To make such a tube fit the kit part the  ACE tube can be drilled (carefully) and then the kit part can be pressed into place carefully.
It is a waste of time and money to buy exotic wood for pen/pencil making.,  The rarity of the wood and the high price yield an unattractive item with little character. The item itself may be technically perfect but it will not catch the eye of a buyer. Keep in mind that the object of making the pen/pencil is to produce something with unique character.

Tips for Woodturning Demonstrations

In this article, you’ll find some tips for demonstrators of woodturning “out in the field” so to speak. I don’t mean demonstrating at club meetings to other woodturners. I mean public demonstrations at malls, craft shows, fairs, businesses, out in the street and galleries. Mainly, this is a place where I, personally, can come to in order to remind myself of what are best practices and what I’ve learned either by my own experience or by listening (yes, actually listening to kids!) to the great woodturning demonstrators that have come before me.

1) Be Prepared

Bring everything you need and more. If you’re planning to do two demonstrations, bring enough for four of them. If you’re planning to make spheres, bring the equipment and materials to make goblets too because your sphere jam chuck may break or something else may go wrong where you can’t make spheres. Always have a backup project and materials.

2) Don’t bring too much stuff

This often happens when you’re new to demonstrating. You keep bringing more and more things “just in case” (see #1 above) and end up having 3 boxes full of wood and all of the chucks, centers, and tools you own. By the time you get everything to your demonstration space, you’re too tired to do anything! Not to mention that it all just gets in the way.

3) Practice what you are going to do

Practice your “routine” down to the last detail. Spontaneity in woodturning is a basic right and privilege that not many woodworking related hobbies/professions have. But, this is a demonstration. They’re not going to understand why you’re sitting there staring at that piece of mesquite because there was a “design change (opportunity)” when you accidentally rolled that skew the wrong way and you have a huge chunk missing out of that weedpot neck now. Or maybe you accidentally got your only spindle gouge caught in the spur drive and tore it up beyond fixing at the demonstration. You better know how to go on with your demonstration project with another tool. Don’t get caught doing something new at a demonstration. You’re not there to learn …. THEY are. Know what you’re doing and do it that way.

4) Slow Down

This is something else that new demonstrators and, especially, younger turners do. Unless your audience is just a bunch of woodturners that you are wanting to impress, slow down everything. That means the lathe speed, your actions, and how you prepare or mount the wood. People want to see the process as much as they want to see the final product. That’s why you’re there. Otherwise, you might as well just have a display of your woodturnings on display. Slow down, talk to the people and explain the process. You’ll find that it’s more enjoyable to turn this way as well. It also forces you to think about what you’re doing and presenting it to the viewers in the best way possible.

5) Where are your viewers?

We often get into the habit of sanding, especially, in all sorts of positions (or maybe it’s just me?). On some projects, mainly smaller ones, I like to sand on the opposite side of the lathe from me. But, this is where the viewers are going to be. They can’t see much going on with your hands in the way. Now, I’m not saying that sanding is the most interesting part of woodturning but the thought is still the same. Know where your viewers are and play to them. Don’t get in their way of seeing what you are doing. If you’re going to be mounting a piece of wood on a scroll chuck or on a faceplate, do it in front of them and not back behind the lathe where nobody can see. Again, they want to see the process. If you turn away from them too much, they’ll loose interest and walk away sooner. Don’t give them the opportunity. Engage them with everything you do.

6) School is NOT in session.

I’ve split this into two sections and is a big pet peeve of mine….

A) Viewers

This often happens with other artists or demonstrators at a crafts fair, for example, but it also happens with just ordinary passersby too. They are so interested (or just bored) in what you are doing that they will constantly bug you about what you are doing and how you are doing it. You just know that they are wanting to step behind there with you and have you give them lessons in woodturning! There’s a fine line between demonstrating, educating, explaining what you are doing and it turns into a turning class. Many times, I am just as much to blame because of my desire and passion about turning. But resist the temptation and their attempts to turn it into that class. It does a disservice to the other viewers and to that person as well. You can’t effectively do both at the same time. Be ready to offer your turning education services to that person or direct them to a local woodturning club or other place where classes are offered. They’ll appreciate it and you can get back to demonstrating.

B) Other Turners

I’ve seen this happen when a woodturning club does a public demonstration before. What will happen is that either a club member will be taking a break from turning or just be there “for support”. He’ll not retire to the background though. Oh, no! He’s wanting to show you, the person turning now, and the viewers (which is more likely his intent) that he can teach it to a slob like you now. It’s the ones that don’t want to actually help out and turn for awhile themselves that really bug me. But, oohhhhh, they can certainly stand there and teach you how it’s done! Don’t be one of these guys. It’s great to have support from the other turners either morally or by helping you sharpen your tools or getting things ready for you but don’t give a lesson to the guy turning during a demonstration. It’s not the time or the place for it. If you’re going to turn … turn. If not, then get out of the way.

7) This isn’t your club meeting.

This goes very much along the same lines as #6B above. Moral support from other turners, especially your club members, is great. But don’t just hang around to be hanging around at a demonstration event. This isn’t your club meeting. This is for the public at large to showcase what woodturning is all about and to advertise your club. Having half of your club standing in front of the lathe(s) blocking the public view of it isn’t good at all. Get out of the way! If there’s nobody viewing the demonstration, THEN maybe have a person or two stand out there in order to get people to stop and watch (the rubbernecking syndrome I guess). At that point, the club members should fade back and get out of the way. If you’re scheduled to be demonstrating, show up a little early just in case you’re needed earlier than scheduled and to get things ready but don’t hang around all day long.