Monday, June 09, 2014


Tool purists may want to look away now. Pen purists ditto. So-called "upcyclers" might like it though. Yes, it starts out pen-related, but woodworking happens. Just a little bit.

A few months ago I fell across a Parker GB "Slimfold" sans cap, but with a rather nice gold nib. I figured I might be unbelievably lucky and find a cap, or at least find another home for the nib, so divvied up the necessary lettuce and took on custodianship. Well it turns out the nib on a Slimfold is insanely small. I mean really, it's minute. Does the job in its intended body, but finding another donor body for it? Not outside another Slimfold. Another learning experience.

Of course there was nothing actually wrong with its existing body; to all intents and purposes it's a working pen, just without a hat. So then I started to think laterally and wonder about desk sets. You know the things; usually a pen-holding trumpet (or two), usually empty, sometimes with an ink well, sometimes with a calendar, clock, or some kitsch ornament of something or other. They're everywhere and no-one wants them.

At least they're everywhere right up until you consistently take a cap-less Slimfold in your pocket on the off-chance you'll find a suitable set and can see if the pen will fit nicely in it. The things all vanished from sight overnight. It was uncanny.

Time passed. Tired of the gods trifling with me (again), I finally decided to at least find out if my lateral thinking wasn't off the wall so much as up the wall, and threw one of those pen holders marketed to the turning fraternity into an order for something else. It turned (!) up and, well, let's say it's very shiny. At the moment. Not sure how long the coating will last, but hardly surprising at the price. However, it fit the Slimfold like a flaming glove. If I didn't know better - and the cap threads didn't totally give it away, not to mention it being rather short for a desk pen - I'd swear it was made for it. Excellent.

Buoyed by this progress, I got out the atlas and looked up directions to the workshop. A few false turns later and after evicting the new civilisation that had evolved under the Maxi26, I was staring at my stash of exotic off-cuts for inspiration. Rosewood? Something turned? Something incorporating that old boxwood rule? I'll just move this battered old mortise gauge head aside and... Oh, that's heavy.


So one split rosewood (An outside chance it might be ebony, but unlikely I fancy) mortise gauge head with an inevitably chewed-up clamp screw, but the brass escutcheon and wear strips in place and good order. Appears to have been used to hammer in small pins at one time and several areas where wood has split off. Not wildly promising, now I came to look at it, but I cleaned it up anyway and gave it the knackered wood equivalent of a swipe of lippy and some blusher. Shiny. Let's call it "Vintage" - that covers a multitude of sins.

Okay, so a gauge head has, by its nature, a large hole in the middle of it. I decided this was where the pen holder would go, screwed to another piece of wood that I could cunningly hold in place with the clamp screw. That way no permanent damage caused, should the world run so utterly short of old mortise gauge heads that this one ever became desirable again... A dive into the Even-Smaller-Exotic-Off-Cuts yielded a suitable piece of Muhuhu, and a file made reasonably short and accurate work of shaping up a suitable plug. And yes, a file; don't start on me. It's not only small, but a cross-grained evilly-minded piece of wood, and a file was the best tool for the job. Apart from having to grind a brass M4 machine screw down to the required length, the rest was a boring as drilling a hole might be expected to be. A trio of non-slip little rubber feet completed the thing, and behold! The old tool and fountain pen lunatic's ideal desk pen?

Once the freshly cleaned brass has dimmed down a little again, it'll knit together better. Anyway, you see what I meant by battered; that poor gauge suffered horribly.

Anyway, there ya go. Not to everyone's taste, I know, but I like it. Very tactile, and I'm pretty sure, unique. Now we just wait to see if the pen is up to the task; I imagine leaking and/or drying out are both possibilities, but as both the pen and myself are novices at a desk pen existence, I really have no idea. Oh goody, another learning opportunity...


  1. It's always good to keep a set of directions to the workshop taped to the inside of the refrigerator (can't see the outside for all the things posted there with magnets).

    Yes, it is an attractive pen holder!

    1. Inside the 'frig, eh? Good idea - I can always find my way there! And we can't put anything on the outside of our 'frig owing to there being no space between the magnets...

  2. I WAS going to try and come up with some bit of disparaging remarks about the terrible abuse and misuse of woodworking tools, blah blah blah, but...

    Dang it, that looks right and proper and, well... good. And it IS reversible, so I guess there is no lasting damage. As long as, you know, it doesn't show up on Etsy in the near future, I think I may not be totally put off by this mad scientist-like stitching of woodworking and writing.

    Shall we call it "Alf's Monster"?

    Also, your handwriting has developed in rather a positive fashion, I must say. I wish I had the dedication to do the same. I feel as if I have it in me, to write that well, but the desire to bring it out just hasn't surfaced.

    Oh, speaking of nibs (terrible transition, I know), you might be a good source for information here.

    I was at an estate sale this last weekend and snagged up a Taylor Brothers Sheffield saw...

    (Quick recap: In case you've forgotten, a saw is a tool, usually comprised of a handle made of wood and a bit of metal with pointed teeth. You use it to take one piece of wood and make it into two via a series of pushing and pulling motions.)

    ... and it is missing one of the split nuts. Are you, by chance, one of those sort that never throws anything out and might possibly have a wee .55" (just a hair under 9/16" - sorry, I don't have the metric equivalents handy) slotted screw/nut for an antique saw laying about in that shop you've recently journeyed to?

    (He asks, knowing full well you ARE just that sort.)

    If you don't, do you know of anyone in your neck of the woods who might? I'd love to get in touch with them and put this saw back to work, separating the lignin from the men.



    1. Y'know I was just thinking this was an ideal Etsy product and I might have to start a shop...

      Now, split nuts. I am, indeed, one of that sort. I'll have a look see, although such is the hand wrought nature of the split nut, generally you need saw in one hand and split nut assortment in the other to get a match. Or more often not get a match. So don't get your hopes up. A ritual burning of transitionals to placate the tool gods is generally advised to increase the odds, but people tend to frown on that kind of thing these days...

    2. Hmmm... I DO have some scraps of a transitional jointer plane left over from when I "disassembled" it with a band saw just last week to make handles for draw bore pins. (See my last blog post for a picture of my new Bad Axe miter saw taking the first bite into said transitional jointer. Ahhh.... it was nice and long and wielded enough blanks for TWO sets.)

      I was going to save the remainder for inlay material, but I suppose I COULD make a small offering of it in a specially-prepared hearth, if it would help.

      The post is broken off inside the tote, so it would require replacing both parts of the set, anyway, if that makes it any easier.


    3. Ah, save the remains of the transitional - it can be spared for higher purpose because, alas, I don't have a bolt/nut assembly of the correct size in my stash. Bummer. Sorry, Ethan. Hopefully someone has a few ideas of a likely source.

    4. Thanks for checking. I will keep the wood for inlay. It was so pretty, I hated to burn it, but I was willing to for the cause.

      So far, I have two options. One is that Issac Smith @ Blackburn Tools turns all of his own split nuts and said he'd help me out if I sent him the half that is there and the important measurements. It would be new, and probably not the exact same brass alloy components, so it may look "different", but it would be accurate.

      The other option is to act like a squirrel in January and keep my eye out for a Taylor Bros saw I can scavenge for the nuts.

      (It is terribly difficult to write about saws whilst avoiding sexual innuendo. No idea how the saw people do it.)

  3. Glad to see you left the pencils behind you and have returned to the world of pens. You have left the pencils behing you?

    1. Umm. If you don't count the daily click through to see if the Staedtler 925 35 20 is in stock yet, then yep, totally over it. Pencils are utter strangers to me and I am absolutely not singing "Tonight I'm gonna write it like it's 1565" to the tune of Prince's 1999, no siree.

      Oh look, it is in stock. Oh dear. I was rather hoping that wouldn't happen...

  4. You don't want one of those, you want one of these

    1. Oooo... But no, I do want one of the Staedtlers, because now I've tried large lead diameters I really want the 2mm lead, and it's a click-advance mechanism without a rOtring price tag. And I like the colour (shallow as a puddle)

      Ack, now I'm convincing myself to pull the trigger, and if I get away with ordering just that one thing it'll be a miracle of willpower never previously witnessed at Alf Towers. Crivens.

  5. Excellent use of found materials. The decision to make it reversible is in keeping with the highest ideals of the hoard... umm. accumulation method of tool organization.
    One never knows when a bar will arrive in your hands and make the marking gauge eminently useful with a little assembly. Having the block in a prominent place will expedite reassembly.
    I wish I had your foresight. I picked up a vise screw knowing I have a nut to fit it. Somewhere. It has triggered a concerted effort to realign the shops storage system though.

    1. Knowing me I'd find the vice nut in the vice nut place of storage (once I'd remembered where that was), but, naturally, only after mislaying the vice screw...


Owing to vast quantities of spam this blog is getting, I'm afraid only registered users can post. All comments are moderated before publication, so there may be some delay. My apologies.