MetalWrite Pens

MetalWrite Pens

Monday, March 21st, 2011

A note from Rich Littlestone, proprietor of MetalWrite —–

As I recall, sometime during the year 2000, my friend Rik Knablein introduced me to the fountain pen .. again. He showed me a pair of elegant, solid silver, engraved, weighty pens from Andy Lambrou’s Classic Pens effort – they were a CP5 pair and my favorite marque at the time. I bought a couple for myself and over the next few years bought some more, and CP6, and CP7. I was entranced by the solid silver and the exquisite guilloché on the barrels.

I had been an amateur machinist for many years up to that time and after a thought I decided to have a go at making my own pens out of metal. My fascination as a machinist was with metal and as such I eschewed plastics and woods for my pen-making efforts. I made a few pens out of solid Damascus including a couple Parker Duofold replicas.

Rik and I had many discussions about trying to make a business go at it all and after the decision to do it we dreamed up the name MetalWrite to identify the enterprise. We struck up a relationship with Conway Stewart a couple of years ago and bought some additional equipment to make our first joint run of silver and Damascus fountain pens.

Of course quality and value is important but even more so is our discriminating feature in the production method. Modern technology allows just about any idea to be put on a pen barrel but the MetalWrite shop uses the traditional methods of applying the decorative engravings. It is done by using old hand-cranked machines that are up to 200 years old. Now that’s traditional!

Computer-driven machines these days, CNC to be precise, can be programmed to carve just about any design one wants. The task is to generate the artwork and then program the machine to do it. The former is indeed artistry and the latter is certainly skill but not art. The older methods required to artists ideas but also required hands-on skill (no motors or computers) to place the design on the workpiece. The art form never left the artisan’s hands. When CNC machines do it … well, that’s it, isn’t it, … the machines do it. MetalWrite strives to keep hands on so each engraved cut in every one of the MetalWrite pens has had a personal touch applied.

Some of the uniqueness can be seen in the following picture that was taken of two prototypes for the RR2. The engraving was made using what is called a “straight line engine” even though there is no motor. It’s called an engine, an was called an engine for almost 200 years, because it has moving parts. The machine operates by hand cranking a wheel which raises and lowers the pen barrel while the operator also pushes an engraving cutter into the silver barrel. As the barrel passes under the cutter a cam, or pattern bar, on the side causes the barrel to wiggle back and forth following the precise undulations on the bar. What is unusual about these engravings compared to almost all traditional guilloché is that the pattern changes as it progresses along the length of the barrel. The operator can determine at will the spacing and the shifting of the pattern and that is what gives the patterns their closely spaced sparkling beauty. Much care must be taken and much skill must be applied to operate the machine smoothly and also the cutter must be kept razor sharp. You can’t make a mistake!

The patterns in the picture were made from the exact same pattern bar but the spacing and shifting is different. Of these two prototypes the one with the more open spacing (the one on top) was chosen for the RR2 design. The Damascus end cap on the open design barrel was also the Damascus that was chosen for RR2.

The particular machines I used for RR2 were built mid-last century (that’s new for these things). I also employ a century-old “rose engine” for engraving around barrels. Future designs will employ the even older Holtzapffel lathes (for the ornamental turning geek) in the shop.

The MetalWrite shop is located in Centennial, Colorado, a Denver suburb. I run the shop and make all the pens; all one of me. I get blank barrels from Conway Stewart or I make my own out of sterling silver tube, I make the solid sterling clips from scratch out of silver sheet and I commission Damascus makers to forge billets of beautiful steel so I can make the end caps. On the horizon is yet another distinctive silver guilloche pattern never before seen that will go on the RR3 limited edition with a different Damascus design as well, and then possibly Rik and I will be sorting out the details of an all-Damascus pen. Stay tuned!


Rich Littlestone

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