As the Ink Flows

As a teen attending high school in England, Bryan Field only used fountain pens in class. To this day he still prefers a fountain pen over any other.

So, about 15 years ago, Field began buying used fountain pens on eBay, but found that many of them needed to be repaired. As he began to learn the skills and acquire the tools to repair the pens, it became clear that he might just as well make his own, rather than continue to buy used pens and fix them.

Now retired, Field crafts and makes a variety of fine fountain pens, plus mechanical pencils and more, not only for his own use but as requested for sale through his business Bryan Field Pens.

“I enjoy coming up with designs and trying out new processes,” Field said. “Everything I learned I learned on YouTube. The International Association of Penturners website is also a fabulous resource.

“Pen making includes metalworking and woodworking, and in high school I took machining skills. The other piece with fountain pens is understanding how the nibs work and fine turning or shaping the end of the nib.”

It may seem like a pen is a pen, but the craftsmanship that goes into a custom-made fountain pen is somewhat detailed. For Field, when he makes a fountain pen, the first step is to craft the section that goes between the finger and the nib, typically composed of plastic or metals, with threading. Wood pens need a sleeve to hold the ink component, so Field makes that next, from aluminum or brass, also with threading.

Following that is crafting the main body of the pen, which is also where Field can be his most creative.

“I love the different materials, though I mostly work with wood and resin. I also work with aluminum. As a retired science teacher, I can use chemistry skills and anodize, which allows me to introduce color,” Field said.

“With the woods, I like to use a lot of local varieties, like cherry or maple, and accent with a tropical wood. I can also use a credit card or an aluminum can. It’s about how creative you can be in a round 5-inch space.”

This main body of the pen can be made of one wood, or Field said it can be segmented with different pieces, but will ultimately only measure about 3/4-by-3/4-by-4 inches. That artistic square of material is then put on a lathe and spun to create the round body. The sleeve is then glued in and the center drilled to complete the pen body.

In the final steps, Field makes the cap, which is actually composed of both cap and clip, and then the wood is sanded down multiple times before being treated with a finish of either multiple layers of types of glue or a special Renaissance wax finish for particularly intriguing woods.

These last steps, between the sanding and the finish coats and dry time can, often take as long as the rest of the process, according to Field.

“I think customers enjoy the fact they’ve got something handmade by an artisan. And it’s local,” Field said. “I enjoy always learning. I throw a lot of stuff away because I screw up a lot, but I can turn my mistakes into something better than the original.”

Better than the average pen is what brings many people back to fountain pens from the dominant ball point pen most folks use. As Field noted, a fountain pen can make an impression or act as a fine accessory people notice when taken out.

“Fountain pens are a niche market, but they make a nice gift for Dad or maybe for someone who likes to keep a journal. They are something that people treasure,” Field said. “Fountain pens also provide real personality to your handwriting.

“A ball point pen provides the same thickness, but with a fountain pen you can have a wider downstroke or a cross-stroke, so it has great personality. You also refill them from a bottle, so nothing is thrown away.”

“I am retired so this my avenue for creativity,” Field added. “I love doing it. It’s a passion.”

Most of the writing instruments from Bryan Field Pens are custom orders and typically pens are available at just one or two local art fairs per year. To learn more, including how to contact Field for a commissioned pen, visit his Facebook page at facebook.com/BryanFieldPens. Those interested in learning to make fountain pens, can contact the MAxT Makerspace in Peterborough (maxtmakerspace.org) to express interest in attending a future workshop led by Field.