When Life Hands Them Anything, Farrell Woods Makes a Pen Posted by: Aaron Stearns | 0 Comments
The idea that would become Farrell Woods spiked up like kindling when Jason Smith was laid off from his construction job. Not long after, he was visiting family in Tennessee, and his uncle showed him how to make an ink pen in his workshop. That new skill would soon ignite like lightning. In fact, it actually was lightning that set everything in motion, when it struck and ultimately destroyed a neighbor’s majestic tree. That was in 2010.
These days, the Indiana-based company, named after Jason’s father, stays busy. This past weekend alone, they filled orders for 26 keepsake, handcrafted pens to be used at weddings, graduations or simply to memorialize something special. The company’s motto is “We’ll turn anything into a pen,” and they’ll do it using a range of materials, such as whiskey barrels, antlers, bullet casings or even far stranger substances.
Lightning played a role in your business? Tell us the story.
“Jason and I are huge nature buffs,” Dusty said. “There’s a house that sits on the corner of this highway where we have to turn. A couple of years ago, we noticed this huge tree, one of the most beautiful trees we’ve ever seen, was cut down. We wondered what happened to it. And we kept driving by and there’s this stump of this tree. We had to know. So, Jason stopped at the house and knocked on the door — obviously we had no shame — and said, ‘We’ve seen that your tree has been cut down, and we’re just curious what you’re gonna do with the wood?’
As it turns out, these folks had planted this tree 40 years ago when they first moved in, and it was struck by lighting. It broke their heart, but they had to chop it down.
They said, ‘If you would like, since you also have this fascination and love for this tree, you can have a piece of it.’
“It took five men to carry this hunk of tree that these folks had given us,” Dusty recalls.
“Out of thanks, Jason made them this gorgeous bowl and some pens. When we presented it to them, they were in tears. They had planted it when they were young and watched it grow and now it was gone. Things like that become cherished parts of your life. Those neighbors are, to this day, some our dearest friends.”
Your business motto is ‘We’ll turn anything into a pen.” What are some of the strangest things you’ve been asked to turn into a pen?
“We’ll visit 7 or 8 craft shows a year, and over the years, folks have started bringing us bizarre little pieces, so the strangest thing that we’ve received is someone brought us this huge hunk of fungus that grows on the side of a tree. It wasn’t a mushroom but the flat pieces that look like a single wall shelf. The piece he brought was probably shoebox-sized piece of fungus.
Jason tried his darndest. He got it turned, but it fell apart because it wasn’t solid enough. It would have been beautiful,” she said with a laugh.
“We’ve also turned deer antlers. Hunters might disagree with this, but you can only have so many antler racks on your wall. He’ll make a pen and engrave it or make a desk set with whatever they want. It’s just another way to memorialize, or make something that’s very personal.
“We had a gentleman about six months ago, he sent us a chunk of wood, it was a gun stock from his World War II 1928 Mosin Nagant rifle. He has traced this rifle’s lineage back to Russia where it was produced. He put a different stock on it, but he sent us the original stock to make him two pens. He’s got a cubby in our workshop, and we keep that stock in case he wants something else.
“People bring us the darndest things. That’s how we got started with the whiskey barrels.”
How do you turn a whiskey barrel into a pen?
“We purchase our own barrels and have them shipped in. Jason and I cut them down. It takes about 7 weeks to dry out a barrel enough to be able to turn it. If you could smell the workshop when we cut the barrels — you could seriously catch a buzz from the fumes. When we’re doing craft shows and making a whiskey pen, folks will walk by and they’ll sniff, and look at us really funny and say, ‘What do you guys have going on in there?’
But they have to be dried because if they have too much moisture, they’ll crack when you try to turn them. By now, we’ve got a whole system. We measure the moisture content and it needs to be somewhat precise.”
What inspired you to make pens from bullet casings?
“Jason’s father passed away about a year ago, and he was in the navy. When a serviceman or woman passes, they get military honors, the 21-gun volley. We were given those bullet casings from the shots they fired at the funeral, and we’re sitting there thinking, ‘What are we going to do with this?’ Then we thought, ‘Let’s do some thing personal out of it.’ And that created a whole other option for folks. Customers send us their memorial shell casings, and we’ll craft a pen from to remember their loved ones service.”
Do you ever find yourself without a pen? Is that even possible?
Yes. I was in the car the other day, and I needed to sign something and I said to Jason, “Do you have a pen?” He was like “What? Why don’t you have a pen?” It’s hard sometimes because I’m not allowed to have any of the cheap-y pens, but sometimes you can’t help it. They give them to you at the bank, pretty much everywhere,” she said.