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Thread: Selling turned pens and/or pencils

  1. #1
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    Question Selling turned pens and/or pencils

    I apologize if this is too mercenary for my fellow Creek waders. If it is, just let me know and I'll go to private messages.

    I am still a newbie at woodturning and made my first pen barrels earlier this week. I enjoyed the entire process and am wondering what mix of pens and/or pencils I should buy to get started. My company is sponsoring an Arts & Crafts sale next month (only employees are allowed to be vendors). I'm planning to make 20-30 kits for this event which will be my first craft sale.

    For those of you who make and sell turned pens and pencils, do you find that people want pens, pencils, or sets? When you make sets, do you try to match the grain or just settle for same species?

    I would guess that most people who buy sets want a matched pair (same species, same fittings). Obviously, the rollerball and fountain pens come in singles. I would also guess that for other singles, most people would prefer pens to pencils. Should I make a few extra pens in my initial style(s) or keep it to matched sets (pen & pencil)?

    While I am it, which styles work best for you? I've seen several of Ken Salisbury's posts, and I get the impression that Ken makes mostly pens in a variety of styles (Flat Top & Cigar to name two). The styles with "straight" cuts would be easier to start with, right?

    Should I stick with pens and/or pencils? I'd like to offer at least a couple of rollerball or fountain pens. Should I offer a variety of items, including letter openers, key rings, etc. ?

    From what I can gather, folks like a variety of wood species ranging from light to dark shades. I'll probably start with 3-4 species and build out from there once I get going. Which species would you recommend for a beginning turner?

    OK, enough questions for now. :-)

    Cheers,
    Bob Janka
    newbie at pen-turning
    Last edited by Bob Janka; 03-08-2003 at 4:32 PM.
    pen-turner and aspiring cabinet-maker

  2. #2
    Bob, even though I dont plan on selling pens or pencils, I have wondered the same thing myself. I might someday get to making some for gifts so I would be nice to see what people sell/buy.

    Dave

  3. #3
    I have found that my preferences are not those of others... I go for straight grained, colorful wood, but a lot of others go for wild burl and curly grain. To each his own. I'd go for a selection of both extremes.

    Good luck, tell us what they buy.

    B2

  4. #4
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    Blackfoot Idaho
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    Selling Pens

    Hi Bob,

    Welcome to the Addiction!

    I hardly ever make pencils anymore. The idea of a pen-and-pencil set appeals to some people to give as gifts, but people buying for themselves usually just look at pens. I also think that the available kits for pencils are not made that great, and mostly use lead that is too thin, and breaks all the time. So, if you want to make writing instruments that your buyers will use, make mostly pens.

    I find the slimline pens to be very versatile - they allow you to do more custom styles than many of the other kits. I like cigar pens - they are simple to make, look good, show off the nice wood, and have a heft to them that appeals to many people. The flat top American style pens are beautiful and stylish. Probably the top selling style, though, is the round top European, or Mont Blanc style pen. Key rings sell well because you can usually sell them cheaper.

    Since you're just getting started, let me give you a few tips:

    * It is worth it to use good materials. My first ten pens were made from scraps out of my shop. Very plain. I now use expensive stabilized wood blanks I buy from a friend in Arizona. They cost me from $2.50 to $5.00 for each blank. They are worth it! Titanium coated pen kits are more expensive than the 24K gold kits, but they wear ten times better than the gold. They are worth it! Use good materials all the way down the line, and you will be happier with your pens!

    * Turning the pen barrels is actually a minor part of the penmaking process. Pay attention and spend time on every step of your process, from drilling and glueing, up to sanding and finishing. I personally think that sanding makes the difference between a nice pen and a fantastic pen. A great finish makes the difference between a fantastic pen, and one that is one in a million! Pay attention to the whole process.

    * Use good sandpaper. Start at about 180 and sand up to about 600. Then go to Micro Mesh. Micro Mesh is worth it!

    * Finish about twice as much as you think you should. When I started I would put on two coats of HUT Crystal Coat and call it good. I still use the Crystal Coat, but I now do an average of six coats. There are lots of different ways to finish pens, and most are pretty good. Lose the HUT PPP wax sticks if you are still using them. Remember that any finish you use will eventually wear off if the pen is going to be used. Therefore the best finish might be one that is easily renewed or repaired.

    * Get some Renaissance wax and use it on your pens after you have them assembled, metal parts and all. It is worth it!

    Good luck at the craft show. I hope my little hints help some.

    Scott.

  5. #5
    Join Date
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    Huntsville, AL (The Sun and Fun Capital of The South)
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    A few answers

    Lots of questions asked here ! I will give it a shot.

    1. For those of you who make and sell turned pens and pencils, do you find that people want pens, pencils, or sets? When you make sets, do you try to match the grain or just settle for same species?

    In my experience single pen sales out sell set sales by 15 to 1 (or more.)
    <p align="center">
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    <p align="left">
    2. Should I make a few extra pens in my initial style(s) or keep it to matched sets (pen & pencil)?

    The answer to 1 above gives you the answer to this question<p align="center">
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    <p align="left">
    3. which styles work best for you?

    Flat Top American has been my best seller followed in order by Round Top Euro -- Cigar -- Comfort Grip (the style sold by Packard)-- Flat Top Rollerball -- Slimline -- Gold Top Euro -- Flat Top Fountain.<p align="center">
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    <p align="left">
    4. The styles with "straight" cuts would be easier to start with, right?

    I don't know if could say they were easier --- maybe slightly so. If you stay with pure straight styles you limit yourself drasticly
    <p align="center">
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    <p align="left">5. Should I stick with pens and/or pencils? I'd like to offer at least a couple of rollerball or fountain pens. Should I offer a variety of items, including letter openers, key rings, etc. ?

    Mostly pens with a few matching pencils thrown in to make sets. On the issue of sets I have found that auto feed click pencils like the slimline style out sell the twist feed pencils by 10 to 1 even though the slimline click feed pencils have .5mm lead which is REALLY thin and the twist feed pencils use .7mm lead. The only auto click feed .7mm lead pencil I have found is the Comfort Grip version sold by Packard. This is the pen/pencil set I try to stick with along with some slim line sets. Since sets don't sell that well (IMHO) there isn't much reason to make 3 or 4 styles of pen/pencil sets.
    Definitely have a few Rollerballs and a few Fountains. I always have a small qty of Magnifying Glasses and Letter openers (not big sellers but makes inventory variety giving customers more to look at.
    You should also make some toothpick holder key rings which you can sell relatively low priced. With something on you table displaying a sign of say $7 or $8 will cause people to stop and look. I actually sell LOTS of them.<p align="center">
    -----------------------------------------------------------
    <p align="left">6. Probably start with 3-4 species and build up from there once I get going. Which species would you recommend for a beginning turner?

    I would suggest starting with some basic woods that are easier to turn and finish. Like Cherry, Maple, Beech, Walnut. You can give a few exotics a try also. Padauk, Bloodwood, Cocobola are a couple that turn well, finish well and sell well. Woods to stay away from as a beginner --- Wenge --- Zebrawood --- Purpleheart --- Ironwood --- You can get to those after more experience

    <p align="center">I hope this helps you get started
    You can visit my web site to see some pen style samples if you like:
    Ken's Wood Central

    <p align="center">
    <IMG src="http://www.klsal.com/banner.gif">

  6. #6

    Why not putpleheart, Ken?

    I've had a lot of luck with it - it's my wife's favorite, so I MUST, I suppopse, but it seems to turn just fine.

    B2

  7. #7
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    answer

    Ben,

    I say that only for beginners --- Purpleheart has a tendency to tear mor than cut and it is very open grain and takes a little more effort and time to finish properly. I do use it a lot myself -- just don't think beginners should start with that -- it might discourage them.

  8. #8
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    Kens Pens

    I have to say I am in agreement with what Ken says. He makes and sells ten times as many pens as I do, and he knows what he's talking about!

    Purpleheart is a bit tempermental, as Ken mentioned, and I've found that the nice purple color fades over time.

    My theory on wood for pens is that pens are small, so it takes a pretty pronounced figure to make a distinctive pen. That's why burls are popular for pens. I've attached a picture of a pen made from crosscut spalted Boxelder, and you have to admit that the wood makes the pen, in this case.

    Take care!

    Scott.

    <CENTER><IMG SRC="http://myweb.cableone.net/swedg1/pens/SpBE1.jpg"></CENTER>

    One other suggestion I would make is to check out the Penturners Group on Yahoo, if for nothing other than the pictures there. Great inspiration! SG.

  9. #9

    More pen info

    Bob-
    All the previous posts have great merit. It does not take much time to get pretty good at turning pens, just be patient with the sanding, it does make a big difference.

    The display of the pens makes a difference also. I purchased a couple of the display boxes from Woodcraft and then labeled all the different kinds of wood so people know what wood they are looking at. In addition, I started making gift boxes out of the same kind of wood as the pen is, this goes over very well and is not all that difficult.

    Good luck on your sale. Have you thought about how you are going to price them?

    Dave
    Mission Furniture- My mission is to build more furniture !

  10. #10
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    Follow-up: selling turned pens and/or pencils

    Thanks all for the replies!

    Scott & Ken: Thanks to both of you for the detailed responses!

    You have confirmed some of my assumptions about market demand. Sounds like pens rule, with pencils(matching) and/or rollerballs/fountain pens each about 5-10% of my inventory. Keyrings should be another 10-20% of inventory.

    I'm starting with the "straight-cut" slimline until I get proficient at the entire process. Time permitting, I'll add some round-top or flat-top pens (Parker, Rollerball, Fountain). I'll definitely add some toothpick-holder keyrings for price-sensitive customers.

    I do realize that I need to pick good materials if I want to charge prices high enough to recoup my costs.

    Now for some more questions:

    Has anyone tried the 20-kit starter set from PennState? Would it be worth my time or should I just buy 5-10 each of 3-5 kits? It includes 10 pairs of kits (2 pair slimline pen/pencil, 1 pair "comfort" pen/pencil, 1 pair "Designer/Euro" pens, a pair of letter openers, a couple of keyrings, and bushings for Comfort and Designer styles).

    Has anyone tried the "Micro-Mesh" pad set? It includes 7 color-coded pads ranging in grit equivalent from 300 up to 12000. My other option is to buy sheets of Micro-Mesh and cut them into strips.

    If I get the 20-kit starter set, it will include enough Rosewood blanks to build the kits. I already have a 10 pack of Paduak blanks. I was thinking about getting a combo pack or two of other woods like the Popular Collection (2 blanks each of Bocote, Cocobolo, Kingwood, Tulipwood, Zebrawood). That would give me a variety of woods without having to commit a bunch of up-front money. I'll hold off on the Zebrawood until I'm better at turning.

    Our Craft Center has some domestic hardwoods available, so I'm thinking of buying a few board feet of those to make some of my own blanks (probably cherry and maple, maybe walnut). Although I personally like oak, I'll skip on that.

    Until I get better, I'll hold off on the burls and fancy materials. I don't want to waste a blank costing $3-5 until I'm proficient enough to do it justice.

    Thanks again for the tips and info!

    Cheers,
    Bob Janka
    pen-turner and aspiring cabinet-maker

  11. #11
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    Re: More pen info (pricing?)

    Originally posted by Dave Tinley
    Bob-
    ...
    Good luck on your sale. Have you thought about how you are going to price them?

    Dave
    Dave,
    You bring up a good question. I've checked out the comparable pens at Office Depot (namely Cross & Parker styles). It seems I can price pens in the $20-$30 range depending on style, wood, and cuts.

    My actual prices will depend on the venue in which I am selling pens. Although market demand cares nothing about production costs, I do need to make enough to recoup materials and craft labor. On top of that are selling costs (booth rentals, labor, etc.) I'm thinking of having a price list and then setting prices at a "discount" for the employee Arts & Crafts sale.

    Do those of you who sell pens include cases with the pens or do you charge extra? I'm thinking of including a simple case in the price and offering upgrades for a few extra dollars. Is this too complicated?

    I am working on some product cards. Something that describes the wood, the pen style/quality (i.e. 24k or 10k or TN), what kind of refill, and how to restore the finish. I will offer a lifetime warranty to repair/replace any pen or pencil which fails due to manufacturing (excluding obvious abuse).

    I'm thinking about taking orders for pens if someone doesn't see a wood/style combination they want. Since Mother's Day and Father's Day are coming up in the following months, I figure I can handle some of those requests also.

    That reminds me, do you all find any preferences by women and/or men? I've heard that men tend to prefer darker woods and women the lighter woods. Which group buys more often for themselves: men, women, or both?

    OK, enough questions for today.

    Cheers,
    Bob Janka
    pen-turner and aspiring cabinet-maker

  12. #12
    Join Date
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    More Answers

    Has anyone tried the 20-kit starter set from PennState? Would it be worth my time or should I just buy 5-10 each of 3-5 kits? It includes 10 pairs of kits (2 pair slimline pen/pencil, 1 pair "comfort" pen/pencil, 1 pair "Designer/Euro" pens, a pair of letter openers, a couple of keyrings, and bushings for Comfort and Designer styles).

    That might be a good idea for you to start. I have never tried any starter kits since I usually buy 100 kits at a time.

    Has anyone tried the "Micro-Mesh" pad set? It includes 7 color-coded pads ranging in grit equivalent from 300 up to 12000. My other option is to buy sheets of Micro-Mesh and cut them into strips.

    Never tried it. I use garnet paper 120, 150, 340, 600 grit followed by burnishing with the chips from turning.

    Until I get better, I'll hold off on the burls and fancy materials. I don't want to waste a blank costing $3-5 until I'm proficient enough to do it justice.

    Good move

    Do those of you who sell pens include cases with the pens or do you charge extra? I'm thinking of including a simple case in the price and offering upgrades for a few extra dollars. Is this too complicated?

    You can make or buy nice wooden cases, but I have found it is hard to recoup the cost. Folks usually donít want to spend a lot on a case. I ask all my customers if the pen/pencil is a gift. If so I give (free) a simple plastic covered case in a cardboard sleeve. I buy them from Berera Hardwoods at a very reasonable price (I buy in 100pc lots to get a better price). They have 3 basic sizes slimline, standard pen, & a larger box for sets)

    I will offer a lifetime warranty to repair/replace any pen or pencil which fails due to manufacturing (excluding obvious abuse).

    This is a good idea. I have a couple of signs I use on my booth tables that say ďAll handcrafted products are guaranteed against defects in material or workmanship for LIFE, Kenís life -- not yours."

    I make display stands for my pen/pencils which are a take off of the acrylic ones sold by Hutís. I made some in walnut and poplar
    <p align="center">
    Display Stands

    You can look at some picture of how I set-up a Craft Show booth which might help you some.

    Craft Show Layout Picture #1
    Craft Show Layout Picture #2
    Craft Show Layout Picture #3

    When I was in the Consulting business years ago I use to get paid big bucks for advise like this. This should be worth at least one long neck <IMG src="http://www.klsal.com/lilbud.gif">

  13. #13
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    Re: More Answers

    Ken,
    With all of the help you've given me, you are certainly due not just 1, but *2* long-neck Bud Lites whenever you and I end up in the same city.

    <p align="center">
    <b><font color="orangered">
    To Ken Salisbury: I O U
    <IMG src="http://www.klsal.com/lilbud.gif">
    <IMG src="http://www.klsal.com/lilbud.gif">
    From Bob Janka
    </font>
    </p>

    Scott Greaves,
    I also owe you a couple of beers for your help with pen-turning.
    </b>

    At that rate I'm going, I may need a whole case of beers.

    Cheers,
    Bob

    (p.s. this side-thread puts a different spin on my signoff, doesn't it? ;-)
    pen-turner and aspiring cabinet-maker

  14. #14
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    Blackfoot Idaho
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    Selling Pens

    Hi Bob,

    I've never tried that starter kit from PSI. It doesn't sound half bad. I get my slimline kits from PSI, and I hear the comfort pen is a winner. Stick with titanium if you can - you work with these people, and you don't want them returning a pen in a year because the gold wore off. I would also suggest you try a couple of the cigar pens. They are impressive to the buyers. Since you're getting ready for a craft show you might want to concentrate on maybe two styles right now. The comfort pen is a good one because you can make it with or without the grip.

    I use Micro Mesh on most all my pens. I haven't used the color coded pads, I use the little sheets that are about 2 Ĺ" x 6". They come with a felt block you wrap them around to use. When they get dirty (loaded) I just put them in the pockets of my Levis and run them through the wash. They should last quite a while.

    Rosewood is nice, but I think you'll like that Popular Pack. Bocote and Cocobolo are very nice for pens. Tulipwood is pretty, too!

    I think your pricing level sounds about right - $20 to $30. A discount would be OK, but be sure to make it consistent, and make it clear to everybody that they are getting a discount because of the company craft fair, that any subsequent sales will be at the regular rate. It would be easier to price them where you want and stick with that, and not do discounts. I have a friend who does scrollsawn key chains, and usually sells them for $6. He told a friend that he would make her a keychain for $4, and now she wants 35 of them for $4 each!

    I don't include cases with my pens, but it is not a bad idea. A small cardboard box or a suede pouch maybe. If you have a real premium pen that you want to charge $20 more for, then $3 for a nice wood box isn't much. I like the cards you have planned. The real selling point for your pens is that they are unlike the pens they can buy at the store. Anything you can point out that makes your pens better, emphasize that. Know your pens and know the woods so if people ask you, you can tell them a story about the wood.

    Strangely enough I haven't seen much differentiation by gender for pens. In other words I've sold as many cigar pens to women as I have to men. If there is one area that seems to interest women more than men it is the acrylics. Plastic pen blanks can be very beautiful and colorful. But I've even seen Corian do the trick. You may not be ready for plastics yet, but be sure to try them sometime. I'm not trying to show off, but here's a picture of a slimline I made out of celluloid about a week ago. My Dad immediately snatched it up - I had to borrow it from him to take the picture!
    <BR>
    <CENTER><IMG SRC="http://myweb.cableone.net/swedg1/pens/slimcell2.jpg"></CENTER>
    <BR>
    I hope this helps. And I'm with Ken, a couple of longnecks sound good about now! ;-)

    Scott.

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