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Definition Of 'handmade' In The Fountain Pen World


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The term 'Handmade' seems to be very loosely used by manufacturers these days. Many Italian manufacturers use the term even though their pens are turned on a CNC machine. The nibs are mostly outsourced with exceptions. The only things I understand to be done by hand are polishing, assembly and QC (if any).

 

Handmade to me is something that is turned on a manual lathe. A few pen makers like Shawn Newton, Scriptorium pens, Ranga Pens, ASA Pens and some Japanese makers turn the pens by hand. So there is human artistry and skill involved, making each pen unique.

 

I do understand that there is some amount of human touch involved in the manufacturing process but marketing it as 'Handmade' is misleading because majority of the pen is made by machines. Maybe 'Hand Assembled' or 'Individually Assembled and Tuned by Hand' would be more accurate.

 

Thoughts, comments, opinions....

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Agreed. "hand-made" in the words of a marketing person can mean anything from a master craftsman shaping a barrel and cap on a foot-driven lathe with hand-held tools, to an urushi master hand-painting a barrel cut on an NC lathe, to a laborer unloading baskets from a computer-driven injection molding machine. I suspect most pens are assembled by hand, just because it is fiddly, low-skill work in volumes that are too low for expensive robots. So pretty much anyone can claim some hand labor.

Of course even companies that really do hand-form caps and barrels are likely to use nibs produced on NC equipment, so there are probably few, if any, new pens today entirely hand made.

If you really care about how a pen came into being, you have to learn the story of the particular manufacturer and model. But then you have to examine the result. Some examples of hand craftsmanship are better than others, and some can make you appreciate nice, repeatable machines. The one universal truth is that you can't take the marketing literature at face value.

ron

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I think there is a certain amount of gray to it. I just put trim in my house. I did all the sawing with a hand saw and a miter box. Did I lose some element of handmade because I used the miter box? However, the real serious one was that I borrowed an air nailer. The nailing went super fast, but that made it less handmade than if I had used a hammer. And, of course, I bought mdf and outside corner pieces to make the trim. They were already sanded, and the mdf came primed.

 

Good tools make it easier to make something by hand at a higher quality. This is not an attack at Lamy, but a Lamy Safari is not hand made. It is injected and stamped out by mass production. The pen your neighbor turns on his lathe with a piece of acrylic he bought is more handmade, though it is unlikely he has any way to make a nib or feed. When Edison pens turns a pen on a computerized lathe, maybe Brian Gray is not actually working by hand, but he is using a tool to produce something unique. And, of course, he buys his nib and feed.

 

Handmade is a lot of work, and the quality control is more difficult. So, I'm glad that Brian Gray uses his computerized lathe and such. And there is a reason people pay for his pens when they could pay much less for something like a Lamy Safari. (And I do like the Safari a lot, so, again, not an attack.)

 

And there is an even further argument: maybe using a lathe isn't as handmade as turning the pen on a treadle-powered lathe, or even using a knife to whittle it down.

 

Truly handmade is done by my hands alone. I use tools to do more with my hands. At some point enough tools are involved to get to the Lamy Safari level. In between is very gray.

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I have long been fascinated by engine turned guilloché work, the classic Rose engine turning machine. It's one of those gray areas where the operation can be fully automated today but historically was a craftsman who first made a pattern that then was used with a hand operated engine turning machine to engrave almost everything. If we look, for example at the Yard-o-Led Barleycorn and the similar Victorian finishes both include elements of each and the Victorian adds hand carved accents as well. There are also the sideplates of many shotguns with fantastic designs and scenes on a Browning Sweet Sixteen and those found on the Purdey shotguns. Both likely involve lots of hand crafting but the latter is truly handmade.

 

So isn't the real difference a matter of what someone is willing to pay for? Is the final product on the Purdey sideplate really that different than those on the Browning Sweet Sixteen?

 

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Jar:

I think that is a great point. Somewhere along the spectrum between built by a robot and whittled from a stick, you stop paying for the quality of the finished product and materials, and start paying for the story behind the product. As you say, it becomes a personal preference.

ron

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As a penmaker I prefer to call my pens handcrafted.

 

The acrylic blanks that I use are purchased. The wood is purchased (the trees in my yard are too small).

The nib-feed assembly is purchased.

The sandpaper and polish used is purchased.

My lathe is electric, but none of the processes I do are automated, no CNC machine :(. I use drill bits, taps, dies and other store bought tools. All of these make the job easier, but less handmade.

 

However, every piece in my pens I have held in my hands during the process, and given personal attention to. There are decisions made during the process that require eyes and thought.

 

But, to me, handmade is still much more than I do. So I will stick with using the term handcrafted.

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I suspect it's much like art or pornography: you know it when you see it:

 

 

Can't wait to get my Newton pen - delivery tentatively slated for May 2017 :)

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It also depends on what you value most about a pen. For me, the nib and feed are the "engine" of the pen and I won't buy Bock-outsourced pens (they're actually very good - I do have a Kaweco pen). I understand that much of the nib manufacturing process is by machines, but only in-house production will really have the particular "feel" associated with a particular brand.

"If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live."

– Lin Yu-T'ang

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I suspect it's much like art or pornography: you know it when you see it:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvVuNxvqqXA

 

Can't wait to get my Newton pen - delivery tentatively slated for May 2017 :)

Nice video! What nibs and feeds do they use?

"If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live."

– Lin Yu-T'ang

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I think there is a certain amount of gray to it. I just put trim in my house. I did all the sawing with a hand saw and a miter box. Did I lose some element of handmade because I used the miter box? However, the real serious one was that I borrowed an air nailer. The nailing went super fast, but that made it less handmade than if I had used a hammer.

Not only that, it meant you didn't spend more hours bonding with your house, the nailing was more consistent, you probably failed to get some romantic repetitive stress injury in the process. Oh, what you've missed!

 

/s

 

We just finished building our new home (well, the outside, there will be trim and other odds and ends on the inside to do for a long time to come), moved in last November. Not using things like nailers, powered saws and so on would have stretched out things for months. We won't even talk about trying to clear the trees, grade the lot, dig out the basement, cut and grade the driveway and easement by hand instead of using the bobcat...

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We just finished building our new home (well, the outside, there will be trim and other odds and ends on the inside to do for a long time to come), moved in last November. Not using things like nailers, powered saws and so on would have stretched out things for months. We won't even talk about trying to clear the trees, grade the lot, dig out the basement, cut and grade the driveway and easement by hand instead of using the bobcat...

Pah, you didn't build anything, that is like putting together flat pack furniture and calling yourself a joiner! :D.

A real builder would have made a smelter and smithy to refine the ore that they dug with even more primitive tools like antler picks to make the metal tools that they used to fell the trees that they milled to make the lumber that they then used to build their house. :lticaptd:

 

Seriously, I find it hard to say at what point it is no longer considered handmade. I would hope that "handmade" would require the maker to actually do somethjng, not just turn on a machine and walk away. That isn't to say that computer controlled machinery can't be used, but that even that should still require some input from the maker. Even if it is just which way round to put the blank on the machine for the best lookkng result.

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Nice video! What nibs and feeds do they use?

 

He works with a jeweler and will "hand make" a nib for you if you wish - otherwise it's a Jowo. Frankly I'm not sure about the feed.

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Handmade is the new marketting buzzword... Just like "organic" was a few years ago. It is not a barometer of quality, or precision or consistency, as a machine can be programmed to do all of those with ruthless efficiency. I look at a lot (not all) of the hand-made stuff as glorified kit pens - they tend to use mass produced nibs and feeds and to me that is the deal-breaker. I rather have a mass produced Platinum 3776 that has a nib that was designed and built for it, than an acrylic affair sporting some generic Jowo / Bock nib unit. I do not need a story about a "craftsman" or the ebonite / acrylic; I just want the ink delivered to the paper in a manner that feels good.

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Even with the old quill pens, the bird made the feather.

 

I have made some wooden "kit pens" (<100), and I have discovered that what makes them seem more handcrafted is that I make them one at a time, I select the wood for color and grain, and I usually make that fountain pen for a specific individual.

 

On one occasion I made 20 FPs that my daughter wanted to give to employees and clients. I started out working with 20 blanks of 5 different woods, but soon felt like I was divorced from the process. I made the last 15 one at a time, and used several different finishes based on what I thought would look best on that particular pen. Then I attached a label to eat with the name of a jazz piece by a specific musician. The dark walnut pen was Black Coffee, sung by Peggy Lee. The zebra wood pen with the wild grain was Utter Chaos by Jerry Mulligan. ETC. Does this make them any less a kit pen? The recipients all seem to see something in them.

 

Three or four times I have tossed pieces of the kit, making the cap and barrel "closed-end" and leaving off the clip in my attempt to make them my creation. What have I accomplished? I don't have the equipment to cut fine threads, and they probably wouldn't survive in use. Maybe I should try a press fit? Still, I can't make a nib and feed.

 

But in some way they are "hand made".

Baptiste knew how to make a short job long

For love of it. And yet not waste time either.

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Pah, you didn't build anything, that is like putting together flat pack furniture and calling yourself a joiner! :D.

A real builder would have made a smelter and smithy to refine the ore that they dug with even more primitive tools like antler picks to make the metal tools that they used to fell the trees that they milled to make the lumber that they then used to build their house. :lticaptd:

 

I would have done more, but my flintknapping tools are in storage. Alas, the joys I've foregone...

Being 66, rather than 26, seems to have entered into the calculus, too.

 

We have some friends locally who made their home a couple three years ago, literally, from felling (large) trees on the property on to completion. It helped that dad, and his three strapping sons, had the skills, determination and motivation to do it that way.

 

It was a huge effort, and more power to them. I'm grateful that they pitched in a couple times to help us through some difficult parts of our process.

Edited by Water Ouzel
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Would the term "bench made" be more useful than hand made for the CNC manufacturing? This term is used in the knife trade.

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*2 Sailor 1911S Burgundy/gold: 14k. 0.6 mm. "round-nosed" CI (MM) & 14k. 1.1 mm. CI (JM)

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Whether its hand made, machine made, or a combination of both, what is important is the care and attention to detail that went into it to produce a quality product.

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Whether its hand made, machine made, or a combination of both, what is important is the care and attention to detail that went into it to produce a quality product.

 

This is absolutely true!

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I would have done more, but my flintknapping tools are in storage. Alas, the joys I've foregone...

Being 66, rather than 26, seems to have entered into the calculus, too.

 

 

Indeed. I am sure that you realized that I was joking.

 

Despite the humourous approach I think that does illustrate that hand made covers a massive spectrum. I like to bake bread from scratch, I do all the mixing and kneading by hand. I don't think that this means that people who use a mixer for the kneading or even a bread machine are baking bread any more or less than I am. Nor would someone who grew their own wheat, milled it, evaporated sea water for the salt, harvested their own honey... have any grounds to claim that somehow my baking of bread was lacking.

 

I think Corgicoupe has the heart of it. The maker is taking part in the manufacture, making each one individually. The machine turns out identical product every time with no creativity. Going back to the bread machine comment, throwing a pre created pack into the machine involves no creativity, measuring ingredients and making decisions does (The last bread was too sweet I will reduce the sugar... I will add raisins and replace the water with coconut milk this time...) In some cases the maker will produce something that is worse than the machine, but they will learn from that and maybe next time it will be much better.

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Maybe that is why I like vintage pens, there were no CNC lathes in 1930, and each company made their own nibs, feeds, clips, levers.....

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