Fountain pens made by individuals (as opposed to the big name companies such as Visconti and Mont Blanc) can be divided into two categories: kit pens and kitless pens (sometimes known as custom fountain pens.)
Kit pens are wonderful as the supplier provides all the metal components that fit together snugly, and the pen maker turns the central sections and then assembles all the parts. Up till now we have made kit pens and have been pleased with the results. For example:
The downside of kit pens is that there is limited opportunity for developing your own style of pen and infusing it with your personality.
Kitless fountain pens on the other hand give enormous scope for individual creativity as the only part that is bought from an outside supplier is the nib and the ink feed. We have been watching (with awe), individual pen makers who create magnificent custom or bespoke kitless pens. They have each developed their own range of custom fountain pens and the buyer can further personalise a pen by specifying elements such as the length or shape of the section, the material and the type of nib. (Great examples are: Atelier Lusso, Newton Pens, Scriptorium Pen Company, and Walltown Craftworks.)
After months of work (and a fair bit of swearing along the way), we have now gathered all the equipment, made the blanks and practiced to the point where we now feel ready to release our first kitless fountain pen made to our own design.
Why we’ve called ours “Unique”
The word “kitless” doesn’t have much of a ring to it though so we’ve called our pens Unique instead. And they truly are. So, here is our first Unique fountain pen:
The first : our Jungle pen
You could imagine discovering this pen at the edge of a hidden pool, deep in a jungle, concealed by ferns and exotic flowers. Dappled light filtering through the canopy of leaves. The verdant green and deep-water blue are dark and mysterious, yet the pen itself is dandelion-light.
It comes with a Bock #6 nib and you can choose between polished steel and bi-colour (steel and gold), and whether you would like the nib size to be a Fine, Medium or Broad.
For now we will be making Unique pens to our own designs, but if you would like to request a few personalised tweaks, please contact us and we’ll see what we can do. Soon we plan to have a series of custom fountain pen styles that you can personalise in a whole variety of different ways.
What else makes our pens Unique?
Unique pens are much, much harder to make than kit pens and demand far higher levels of precision. They also require specialised equipment, including a metal lathe. Fortunately Dave already had one (a huge beast I’ve dubbed Brunhilde that must weigh a ton) and each pen takes significantly longer to make: Dave estimates that every pen involves at least 50 separate steps, requiring multiple stops to change the tooling on the lathe before continuing. And the pen parts are delicate and easy to break while working with Brunhilde. (Did I mention the swearing …?)
The upside is that because they are so demanding in terms of fine craftsmanship, each pen becomes a collector’s item. The nibs are also very special – we have imported a selection of Bock nibs, which are made in Germany and are recognised by pen collectors as being among the finest in the world.
We look forward to featuring each new style of pen as we develop them.
At shows, people often stop in their tracks at the sight of a wooden strip-built canoe and can’t help but caress her smooth sides. These craft have the curvaceous lines of a Viking ship and the smoothness of stroking a dove’s wing. A single canoe weighs only 15kg – difficult to believe something so strong can be so light. We are regularly asked what it takes to create such a work of art, so here is a brief overview of what goes into making a strip-built wooden canoe or kayak:
The process starts with buying plans from a respected designer, such as Nick Schade of Guillemot Kayaks, and using the templates to cut out a series of forms from plywood. These forms are then attached to a strongback, which is a very long, hollow beam. The strongback is reminiscent of a whale’s spine and the forms resemble solid ribs.
The next step is to cut a whole lot of long thin strips of specially selected wood and then to attach them to this temporary frame. The frame is what gives the canoe its shape. Dave enjoys using Western red cedar, the ultimate wood for building canoes which as its name suggests, has a rich russet colour. Thin strips of light obeche add contrast, and for the gunnel, or strip surrounding the top of the canoe, he uses ash and Mediterranean cedar.
Because the strips are narrow and extremely thin (only 4mm), they are reasonably flexible and can curve around the forms. Typically one machines a bead (or half circle) along the length of one side of each strip, and a cove (or hollow) along the other, so that they can interlock. Dave finds he gets a better fit by using a tiny hand plane to shape a bevel along the sides of each strip so that it fits flush against its neighbours. It is an intricate job requiring very fine precision.
As each strip is shaped to fit snugly, it needs to be glued to the strip below it, and attached to the form while the glue dries. Normally they are stapled to the forms, however this leaves rows of tiny holes once the staples are removed, so to avoid this Dave uses tape and many (many, many) clamps to keep the strip in place.
Once all the strips are in place, the canoe is planed and sanded to a fair finish. The next step is finicky. It involves laying a long, unbelievably sheer sheet of glass fibre over the body and then coating this with an exceptionally thin layer of resin. The fibre is like the finest silk stocking and the slightest tug or snag can stretch or ladder it, plus the resin is temperamental. Many things can go wrong in this phase; fibreglassing is 50% skill, 40% art and 40% luck.
Much sanding and reapplying resin and more sanding later, the canoe is ready to be removed from its form and turned over. The inside is similarly sanded, draped with glass fibre, coated with resin, and sanded until a near-perfect finish is achieved.
Thereafter the outer gunnel is built up, a strip at a time.
A traditional seat is made of a wooden frame supporting woven rattan. Dave makes the frame and could buy the rattan, but prefers to weave it himself. (When there’s a hard way and an easy way, Dave tends to take the hard – and more beautiful – way.)
The entire construction process takes roughly 250 hours for an experienced canoe builder, considerably longer for a beginner, and also depends on whether it is a single or double craft, and a canoe or a kayak.
The end result, whether a canoe intended for a picnic paddle or a sea-going kayak, is truly beautiful. If the idea of owning a floating work of art appeals to you, but the thought of trying to build it yourself is too daunting, Dave can make a custom canoe or kayak for you.
Prices are around the R850 000 mark. Please drop us a line if you would like to discuss your dream craft.