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Thread: Custom-made pens - costs and experience

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    Default Custom-made pens - costs and experience

    Hey fellow forumites.

    I've been watching a quite few videos over on YouTube about how handmade pens are turned and finished. Very interesting and quite revealing! It appears that the general shaping, cutting, threading and polishing of, say, an all acrylic pen takes no more than a couple of hours. I watched one guy cut a barrel, drill the core and add internal and external threads for section and cap in under 15 minutes.

    What this has made me wonder is, excepting special finishes, why are handmade ebonite, wood, acrylic, alumite (and so on) pens frequently priced anywhere from $150 to $400? The cost of the materials is generally low (roughly $15 or less for a standard alumilite, ebonite or acrylic rod). The nibs are mostly generic Jowo nib units that can be had for $10. And the pens do not take a lot of time to make.

    This is for individual handmade pens. I expect that certain economies are enjoyed by those who use CnC lathes for automation.

    I'm overlooking the start-up cost of equipment for two reasons. 1. Some people already have a lathe for other purposes, and a decent wood lathe is sufficient most of the time, and 2. at the speed these pens are made it wouldn't take long at the prices asked to recoup the equipment costs.

    I think the same consideration applies even to pens like the Nakaya, where the additional cost would reside almost entirely in the finishing and the cost of gold nibs.

    Is this a reasonable base analysis of the economics of making turned pens?

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    Senior Member usk15's Avatar
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    Default Re: Custom-made pens - costs and experience

    First you need skills to work with all this equipment. Also some engineering skills too.

    Also matching the threads, dimensions and internal, ability not to break the materials, all sound easy, but when actually is much more difficult than sound!

    Yes, in theory all materials involved are not expensive as individuals, but adding work labour and design factor that will change your mats.

    Myself I'm not skilled enough to even try it. If you feel that you can do it easily, I wish you good luck and I will keep an eye on your work to see what you can achieve.


    If we're talking custom made pens vs big players, it's all about mass production and cost divided by numbers, sales, marketing, market...etc.

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    Default Re: Custom-made pens - costs and experience

    From the penmaker's perspective, you're not counting the cost of food, housing, utilities, retirement, etc... People have to make a living, not just recoup the cost of their effort.

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    Default Re: Custom-made pens - costs and experience

    Price seems reasonable to me. Any independent freelance work typically has to charge a premium to account for things dneal said and also times when sales are slow.
    I'm betting most custom makers aren't getting rich doing their work.

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    Default Re: Custom-made pens - costs and experience

    There is an easy answer:


    Quote 005 by Ptero Pterodactylus, auf Flickr

    (Pilot Parallel 2.4 mm ..... KWZ Azure #4)


    You almost never pay for the material value, no matter on which goods you look at.

    Think about the needed equipment to produce something.
    Think about the hundreds or thousands hours of experience and practice which are needed to produce something handmade.
    Think about the many failures which were need to learn it (time and material).
    Everything look easy if somebody masters the process.
    Think about the amount of pieces which a single person (or a group of persons) can handmake.
    We are not talking about a production rate of thousands of pieces a month.
    The people also need a reasonable profit for the small amount of pieces they produce and can sell.
    Think about how to make a living out of handcrafted goods.
    Equipment, power costs, learning time, experience, failure costs, living, .... also have to be covered with the price.

    I hate this "Greed is great" mentality which ruined already many artisans and small handcraft manufacturers.

    We are not talking about machined chinese crap goods which flodding the markets.

    If you think it´s not worth it, don´t buy it.
    Buy equipment, spend many hours and learn it yourself.

    Or buy chinese bulk freight crap goods instead!

    Handcrafted goods have their value, don´t question that.
    Last edited by Pterodactylus; June 24th, 2017 at 08:31 AM.

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    Default Re: Custom-made pens - costs and experience

    As an engineer and tradesman it often makes me laugh when I give people the bill for a boiler repair, most of which is material cost, and they moan endlessly. Yet show them something they think is custom made and they will pay well over the odds.
    People are inherently greedy and will charge as much as they can.

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    Default Re: Custom-made pens - costs and experience

    Show me an engineer, mechanics,..... which do not charge a reasonable amount for their time.
    This is ok, people have to live.

    Half of the amount are taxes anyway (at least in Europe).

    You are right, greedy people ruin our western economics, by buying Chinese (Asian) junk produced by modern slaves under catastrophic conditions for environment, nature and the people which produce that crap.

    Ironically those people still want to get paid reasonable for their work, no matter what kind of work they do.

    Thank globalization for that....
    Last edited by Pterodactylus; June 24th, 2017 at 08:49 AM.

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    Default Re: Custom-made pens - costs and experience

    Perceived quality, performance, marketing, and investment - is there anything else which causes us to buy in to something we can actually get for free?!

    Turn it around, why do the majority of folk satisfy themselves with using disposable pens?!
    Why do so many of us work as employees when we could be earning at least double doing the same job working for ourselves?

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    Default Re: Custom-made pens - costs and experience

    Perhaps a hand made pen that is one of a series of pens all exactly the same could cost less, if it's just copy turning. Mind you, most of the small makers I know would not want to be tied down to turning exactly the same pen day in, day out.

    But with most pens there's going to be a whole load of time involved that isn't on the lathe.
    - designing. Even if it's just back of envelope that'll take a few minutes. And then you have to make sure you have the right taps, dies, hardware so that the design works in practice.
    - running the business. Everything from paying your accountant (who doesn't come cheap) to taking photos for advertising to attending pen shows to ordering materials.
    - breakages (when you've spent three hours on a pen and manage to break the cap just as you get to the end of the process, and you don't have enough of the same material to replace it).
    - customer care.

    And of course there's also the fact that a pen maker has to have both the design ideas and the crafts knowledge to do the job. So what do we believe a pen maker should be paid by the hour? Minimum wage? A couple of hours to make a pen at $150, less materials and consumables (yes, sandpaper does wear out) at say $40, that's $55 an hour, which isn't far off what senior accountants get. That's looking only at the direct costs of the business and remember, indirects (eg insurance and cost of trade associations, as well as energy, marketing, logistics etc) have to be accounted for.

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    Default Re: Custom-made pens - costs and experience

    Quote Originally Posted by amk View Post
    Perhaps a hand made pen that is one of a series of pens all exactly the same could cost less, if it's just copy turning. Mind you, most of the small makers I know would not want to be tied down to turning exactly the same pen day in, day out.

    But with most pens there's going to be a whole load of time involved that isn't on the lathe.
    - designing. Even if it's just back of envelope that'll take a few minutes. And then you have to make sure you have the right taps, dies, hardware so that the design works in practice.
    - running the business. Everything from paying your accountant (who doesn't come cheap) to taking photos for advertising to attending pen shows to ordering materials.
    - breakages (when you've spent three hours on a pen and manage to break the cap just as you get to the end of the process, and you don't have enough of the same material to replace it).
    - customer care.

    And of course there's also the fact that a pen maker has to have both the design ideas and the crafts knowledge to do the job. So what do we believe a pen maker should be paid by the hour? Minimum wage? A couple of hours to make a pen at $150, less materials and consumables (yes, sandpaper does wear out) at say $40, that's $55 an hour, which isn't far off what senior accountants get. That's looking only at the direct costs of the business and remember, indirects (eg insurance and cost of trade associations, as well as energy, marketing, logistics etc) have to be accounted for.
    I very much doubt the insurance and business costs for a person making a pen would run quite that high. If I can fit a boiler for around £500-£600 which is a day and a half work 2 hours making a pen in a shed is unlikely to be quite that pricey.
    But yes hidden costs do add a bit.

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    Default Re: Custom-made pens - costs and experience

    In answer to the original question: You might also want to figure another factor into your cost analysis: it sometimes takes more than one rod of material to produce a pen. One pen I had made required two distinct colors and the other required two rods of the same color so that the striations could be matched exactly when the pen was capped. The latter also took a great deal extra time to produce.

    So, a little additional cost in such cases for materials and waste. I think we're paying for the hours of practice the makers had to put in before producing their first pens when we buy these one-of-a-kind pens.
    Last edited by VertOlive; June 24th, 2017 at 11:41 PM.
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    Default Re: Custom-made pens - costs and experience

    [QUOTE=RocketRyan;211824]
    Quote Originally Posted by amk View Post
    I very much doubt the insurance and business costs for a person making a pen would run quite that high. If I can fit a boiler for around £500-£600 which is a day and a half work 2 hours making a pen in a shed is unlikely to be quite that pricey.
    But yes hidden costs do add a bit.
    True, they are not necessarily that high - but of course their relation to the price of a pen depends on how many pens that maker is turning out.

    Oh, and I should have added to the cost of consumables: broken bandsaw blades. Two in two days - on different saws.

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    Default Re: Custom-made pens - costs and experience

    What does one consider a fair hourly wage in the pen-maker's locale? And I would expect the seller to be able to recoup EVERY cost associated with the making of the pen, and then on top of that charge the fair hourly rate. And if the work is high-quality artisan level, then a premium can be expected to be put on top of that. And then there is the factor of the range of prices in the market in which the pen is being sold.

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    Default Re: Custom-made pens - costs and experience

    The "prestige" of owning something that can only be purchased from one source. There is a certain element of exclusivity not unlike owning a Montblanc when you can say, "This is a custom turned pen by XXXX made from hand poured acrylic by XXXX." Then there is the element of choice. When you direct the design of your pen as far as choice of materials, colors, finishes, etc., that pen is uniquely yours. Some makers will customize even further and allow you to design the pen body. Newton Pens, for instance, has a design that was totally customer driven. It later became one of his signature pens.
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    Default Re: Custom-made pens - costs and experience

    Quote Originally Posted by KrazyIvan View Post
    The "prestige" of owning something that can only be purchased from one source. There is a certain element of exclusivity not unlike owning a Montblanc when you can say, "This is a custom turned pen by XXXX made from hand poured acrylic by XXXX." Then there is the element of choice. When you direct the design of your pen as far as choice of materials, colors, finishes, etc., that pen is uniquely yours. Some makers will customize even further and allow you to design the pen body. Newton Pens, for instance, has a design that was totally customer driven. It later became one of his signature pens.
    That is what you are essentially paying for, the prestige. It's only worth it, when the person puts that value to it.
    Nothing wrong with that, if that is what you value.
    Pens after all are quite a personal object.

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    Default Re: Custom-made pens - costs and experience

    Quote Originally Posted by RocketRyan View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by KrazyIvan View Post
    The "prestige" of owning something that can only be purchased from one source. There is a certain element of exclusivity not unlike owning a Montblanc when you can say, "This is a custom turned pen by XXXX made from hand poured acrylic by XXXX." Then there is the element of choice. When you direct the design of your pen as far as choice of materials, colors, finishes, etc., that pen is uniquely yours. Some makers will customize even further and allow you to design the pen body. Newton Pens, for instance, has a design that was totally customer driven. It later became one of his signature pens.
    That is what you are essentially paying for, the prestige. It's only worth it, when the person puts that value to it.
    Nothing wrong with that, if that is what you value.
    Pens after all are quite a personal object.
    Then there are certain materials like specific celluloids that can't be had in any other way unless you have a custom made pen done for you. I have purchased pens just because they were made from a material that I really wanted but could not find a pen made from that material, other than custom made.
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    Default Re: Custom-made pens - costs and experience

    Quote Originally Posted by Empty_of_Clouds View Post

    Is this a reasonable base analysis of the economics of making turned pens?
    I think not.

    Equipment costs are recouped by the sale of pens, not the making of pens.

    Not all custom pens are made in a short period of time. See, Urushi.

    Craftsmen also are compensated for their artistic talent, including design. If no such talent was needed even I could do it: I can't.

    Some of the custom makers also include nib tuning and customizing.

    There is also the issue of supply and demand. As demand goes up the price goes up for a limited number of handmade pens.

    Finally there is the issue of profit. I am certain that there will be widely varying opinions on what an acceptable profit margin is.

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    Default Re: Custom-made pens - costs and experience

    Quote Originally Posted by kazoolaw View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Empty_of_Clouds View Post

    Is this a reasonable base analysis of the economics of making turned pens?
    I think not.

    Equipment costs are recouped by the sale of pens, not the making of pens.

    Not all custom pens are made in a short period of time. See, Urushi.

    Craftsmen also are compensated for their artistic talent, including design. If no such talent was needed even I could do it: I can't.

    Some of the custom makers also include nib tuning and customizing.

    There is also the issue of supply and demand. As demand goes up the price goes up for a limited number of handmade pens.

    Finally there is the issue of profit. I am certain that there will be widely varying opinions on what an acceptable profit margin is.
    I think turning on lathes is more a practice makes perfect sort of skill. Design obviously is open to interpretation, yes a one off pen designed by the maker will taken time to design Ground up as it were. Copying an mb 139 design maybe not so much.
    As I say it depends on the individual, if you think the price is worth it then it's worth it.
    Just to mention, I'm not against custom pens, I would actually like to get a 139 replica with an original nib, if I can find one. But I know that the price I will pay will be for "getting what I want" rather than being genuine value for money.

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    Default Re: Custom-made pens - costs and experience

    Quote Originally Posted by RocketRyan View Post
    I think turning on lathes is more a practice makes perfect sort of skill.
    You may think that if you like, but there is quite a bit more to it than mere repetition. If all materials behaved the same on a lathe, it might be close. They don't, and good work done in turning is as much an art as it is a skill.
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    Default Re: Custom-made pens - costs and experience

    There is a core precept that is either not being addressed or danced around: the artistry involved in all of this.

    When I look at the truly 'bespoke' pens done by Brian Gray in his portfolios, it is clear there is a lot of artisan work going into them. When he cranks out a boatload of the same pen every quarter or so for Goulet, then I think you can consider it 'workmanship'.

    When ordering a truly custom pen being made for you - materials you pick, design elements, particular size issues, particular filling system and the myriad of functional and aesthetic elements that can make up a custom writing instrument, I think many of the makers have put their prices in a sensible zone.

    My comparison is to myself: I am a musical artist. When I go into a recording studio to add things to your music, there is a fee involved. If every project specifically had one type of tamborine part to be laid down, you could lower the price and get some student. When you have no idea what you want to hear, or only have a basic concept and want to draw on decades of experience doing this, that is why you pay me to come and do that. It isn't so much about paying off my djembes or the cost of my transport of all the equipment to the studio, but the fact that you value what I bring to your project that is different from anyone else, and that it is being done specifically to please you. I won't be happy until you are happy with the end product.

    I look at truly bespoke penmakers in this light: I value them for who they are and what they bring to the project, a pen that will be like no other. That is worth something to me.

    And now we pause for one of the greatest rants of all time, which speaks to the era of cheap labor and "something-for-nothing", but at the bottom line is also a passionate argument for an artist getting his due. Take it away, Harlan!

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    and that when Truth and Error have fair Play, the former is always an overmatch for the latter."

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