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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1 Response to Last Emperor – When Wood Becomes Art

  1. johndowney says:

    I received the Last Emperor, described above, earlier today. It is beautifully made; the Spalted Maple Burl is stunning; the quality of finish is superb and it writes beautifully. If Mike ever makes a similar pen buy it! You will not be disappointed!

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