Last Emperor – When Wood Becomes Art

Prologue ….

Where does the emperor’s journey begin? Let me start by saying that I have turned more than a thousand pens over the years. Created one or two limited editions and on more than one holiday created custom designs for several discerning customers. That said every once in awhile a pen comes off the lathe and after it is assembled I take a step back and I am blown away. Not just because it is something artful that I have created, it is those rare occasions where everything comes together and a masterpiece emerges. I’d like to tell you about one such fountain pen that left here this week for it’s new home in England. So here is the story of a pen I’ve called “The Last Emperor”.

The Process

Several years ago I went out on a limb and purchased two Emperor fountain pen kits with titanium accents. These were very high end kits and several times more than I usually pay for pen kits. However, these kits were beautiful and I just knew the right piece of wood could be found to do them justice. Fast forward nine years …. I came into possession of a nice chunk of Spalted West Coast Big Leaf Maple Burl. The burl was very dry and I ran it through a stabilization process to harden the wood for turning. In addition to stabilizing the wood the process also darkens the wood a bit, highlights the grain and makes the spalt lines pop. This was the wood that would bring the Emperor to life.

Emperor I

I turned the first emperor last year. The result was amazing and the marriage between the pen mechanics and the wood was near perfect. Turned on the lathe to its final shape. Then carefully sanded and polished the grain in the wood came to life. The emperor’s new clothes was a gentle coat of acrylic to highlight and protect for years of service. The acrylic coat is sanded, polished and buffed to a durable sheen that amplifies the wood beneath.

I place the pen in inventory and advertised it in the shop and there it sat. Oh every so often I would take the pen from its case, heft it, hold it, imagine writing with it, but a fountain pen should only be used by its soul mate. Then without warning, a customer appeared fell in love with the emperor and I parted with it gracefully. For only by letting it go could it begin to live and write with its new partner.

The Last Emperor

So earlier this month it was back to the studio. Carefully unpack the remaining pen parts and turn to that last piece of burl hidden away, waiting for its chance. As I process the blank, prepared it for the lathe and then turned it into shape glimpses of perfection began to appear. This emperor followed the steps of its predecessor through turning, sanding, polishing and wearing that acrylic coat. On the lathe the final pieces looked different than before, crisper, more chatoyance, almost shimmering in the studio lights.

I took the turned pieces to the bench and carefully assembled the final pen. When I was done I stepped back and the pen literally took my breath away. Probably the best I’ve ever done, but again only mine to hold and imagine for just a little while. This pen was already purchased and the customer was anxiously awaiting to take possession. So off to England this emperor went this week.

I like to give names to special pens. So why the last emperor? The kit is no longer in production. Oh there are newer, flashier and awesome relatives available and I just might grab a couple and search for more of the perfect wood to marry with the carefully crafted pen parts. However, these were my first and last Emperors.

Thanks for taking time to read the journey of The Last Emperor.

Follow this link to see more  Limited Edition Pens On Etsy

Comments are always welcome.



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Resin Cast Botanical Pen Blanks

Resin Cast Potpourri Grade Botanicals Pen Blanks

Over the past few months we have been experimenting with casting various potpourri grade botanical pen blanks using dyed Alumilite resin. Our first blanks used #1 Grade Lavender flowers cast in a violet resin. Great thing about Alumilite is that it doesn’t mask the aroma of the lavender.

Violet Resin Cast Lavender Botanical Pen Blanks

Lavender in Violet Resin

Anecdotally, while cutting block of lavender casts this spring I was suddenly surrounded by dozens of honey bees attracted by the scent of lavender. Since then we have added chamomile, hibiscus, miniature chrysanthemum flowers, and lemon and orange peel. Each botanical presents its own unique attributes and at times turning challenges.

We recommend that for all of our botanical blanks that you use both painted tubes and reverse paint the inside of the blank after drilling. For this process I use a spray lacquer such as Krylon ™ available pretty much everywhere. Clean

Chamomile Botanical Pen Blanks

Chamomile in Yellow Resin

the brass tubes with lacquer cleaner and apply a thin coat of lacquer. Most times I use either white or black depending on the transparency of the blank and the effect I’m trying to achieve.

While the tubes are drying spray a small amount of lacquer into a small plastic cup. While the lacquer is still wet I take a Q-Tip and use it to paint the inside of the hole drilled in the blank. Set both the blank and the tube aside to dry

Chrysanthemum In Blue Resin Botanical Pen Blanks

Chrysanthemum Botanical Flowers in Blue Resin

thoroughly before glueing. As to gluing the tubes in the blanks I exclusively use 5 minute epoxy, but that’s just me.

Turning Resin Cast Botanical Pen Blanks – Guidance

Resin cast botanical pen blanks can be a bit challenging to turn, but some basic understanding of casting elements and good turning technique can tame these tricky yet beautiful creations.

When stabilizing wood for turning the stabilizing resin penetrates the wood and in essence changes the structure of the blank from wood and air to wood and resin. Casting on the other hand is an encapsulation process. Each of the botanicals is encapsulated within the final blank, but generally resin does not penetrate or change the nature of the botanical. Depending on the botanical and it’s makeup, the final blank will most likely have small air pockets and the turner will need to have CA glue at the ready to fill small voids and prevent tearout as you approach final size and prior to the sanding process. This is especially true for small seeds, florets and soft petals such as rose and chrysanthemum.

Three tenets of woodturning are especially applicable here:

  • Keep your tools very sharp as you approach final diameter
  • Use light cuts like you would use on knarly burl or soft punky wood
  • Turn a the highest lathe speed you are comfortable using

 Final Thoughts

This is but a brief introduction to the spectacular world of resin cast botanical pen blanks. More is yet to come. If you would like to see more of the cast botanical blanks we offer, visit us at our Etsy store. Constructive comments are always welcome. Especially if you have an idea for a casting, color, style or botanical that we haven’t thought of so far.

Here is the link to our store The Wooden Quill on Etsy  .

You can also find it in the sidebar to the right.

If you’d like to be added to our email list you may subscribe in the sidebar too. We never sell our email list and often offer specials only to our customers and subscribers.

Thanks for looking



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A Special Invitation to a Custom Made Christmas

Summer is Winding Down – Can Christmas Be Near

Labor Day has passed, the kids are back at school and the holidays are coming fast. Christmas gifts from the heart are always the best. Something handmade, unique, or readily identifiable as “Just For You” hold special memories and lasting images well past the initial giving.

Continue reading

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Surface Texture and Carving


Mini-Blossom with surface texture

Mini-Blossom with surface texture

I recently posted an Instagram image of an open vessel I created entitled “Ribbons in Wood”. A couple of followers on Instagram asked if I could share the process I used to create the vessel. This weeks blog will hopefully answer that request and maybe inspire others to expand their reach in woodturning to include more than just the basic finishes normally found on turned objects.

References and Credits

Before I start I should reference where I derive most of my inspiration and process techniques. I am a great admirer of Binh Pho he has been one of the leading artists in the evolution and elevation of woodturning from craft to art. Galleries of his work, details of the tools he uses and links to purchase his DVDs can be fount at Binh Phos’ Studio. I can only aspire to attain some of his skill. The second artist I’d credit with inspiring me to embellish some of my turnings is Brian McEvoy from One Good Turn. His techniques impart a simplicity to what appears to be a complicated process. 

My Current Tool List

If you are going to be serious about surface texture and carving then you will need to invest in a few specialized tools. I have two basic hand tools that I use:

  • Powercrafter™ Air Turbine Carving Tool
  • Dremel Rotary Tool Model 300i with Flexible Shaft

Note: I understand the Powercrafter may no longer be in business. A good alternative is the Power Caver 400K

A good Air Powered Turbine tool is a necessity for good effortless wood carving of turned vessels with wall thickness up to 3/16″. The Dremel tool does not have sufficient torque to really accomplish the task repeatedly. The Air Turbine tools use dental burs for carving and embellishment. I actually get mine from my dentist. Once a bur is no longer useable for dental work it is still plenty sharp for wood work.

For adding surface texture I have several dental burs in various shapes and diamond cutoff wheels for the Dremel tool to do veining. You can see a sample of the veining technique on  in my Etsy shop on the Ikebana Flower Vessel I have offered there. You can also find the images at my Instagram page here.

I think I will close here for now. Next time I am in the studio and doing surface embellishment I get some pictures or perhaps a video.

Thanks for looking



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Handwritten Notes: Important As Ever

Custom Writing Instruments

Custom Writing Instruments

Why Handwritten Notes

Personal handwritten notes are becoming rarer every day. In a world of text messages, emails, and tweets one could argue that theses are more accessible than handwritten notes. Is this the natural evolution of communication?

The 2011 U.S. Postal Service annual report indicates that the average American home only receives a personal letter once every 10 weeks.  A 2013 Wall Street Journal article by Philip Hensher noted that in a British survey  that the average time since an adult wrote anything at all by hand was 41 days. Only 1/3 of respondents surveyed indicated they have not written anything by hand (other than a scribbled shopping note) for at least six months. 

Penmanship and cursive writing are no longer part of a school curriculum. Besides who has time for stamps, paper, envelopes and manual spell-check. I think that the death notice of the handwritten note is premature. Handwritten notes remain impactful, appreciated and unique and often touch the heart at unexpected moments.

Why Bother?

For one, personal handwritten notes mean more to the recipient because they cost more. Tweets, emails, text and Facebook messages essentially cost nothing – except maybe the ramifications of a careless tweet. Notes are easy to write, often full of abbreviations and easy to send. We all create tens if not hundreds everyday. All the electronic communications that permeate our lives are rarely notable. When was the last time you printed an email, wrapped it in a ribbon and tucked it away in a special place to read again?

Handwritten notes are an exception. They take time to construct, with no “undo” or “autocorrect” to speed us to the end of the task. Drafting a personal communication requires stationery, stamps and a walk to a mailbox. A handwritten note suggests investment, and the very fact that you invest time, money and effort imparts value. If  we receive less than one personal letter or note every 7 weeks, then each of those simple expressions means more than all the “cheaper” communications we receive every day.

Where is the Value?

The value in handwritten notes is further enhance by that fact that most personal messages are expressions of gratitude, civility or appreciation that far exceed a simple thank you. Of course saying thank you is important. The elegance of a handwritten note presents a greater investment and deeper appreciation than is conveyed in a simple thank you. A note reminds someone they are not forgotten, extends a conversation, or address new issues. Some of the most successful salesmen regularly keep in touch with valued and new customers with personal notes. In a world where communication is often short, cryptic, and pragmatic, sending a thoughtful, crafted note conveys investment, appreciation, and gratitude to important people in your life or business.


Handwritten notes are tangible and have a longevity and permanence lacking in emails, texts, and tweets. I willing to wager that most of you reading this have one or more high school yearbooks stored safely somewhere. How many of you have a shoebox with love letters or letters from children who were away or in grade school? Pull them out and read some one evening. You’ll find memories long forgotten, friends that you lost touch with and smiles all around. Emails have some permanence. We have technology to search large volumes of emails quickly, but they aren’t tangible and warm. We don’t print them and place them on refrigerators, desks or mantles the way we do with letters, notes and cards. The physical note is memorable.

Not Too Late

There is still time in our busy, fast-paced world for handwritten notes in both our personal and professional communications. Yes, they cost you something, but they mean something. They have permanence that the recipient treasures much more than any text message or email. So, resolve that at least periodically this year, you will pause, take pen in hand and on a card or stationary send your thoughts and appreciation to the people important to you personally or professionally.

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