Is there a reason why your pens haven't moved to automation yet?

I recently got the question asking why I haven’t moved production of my pens into automation; It’s been going on four years, and many of the processes that are undertaken in my shop are still done manually. Why? 

Well, that’s a terrific question, but one that’s a little hard to answer because it’s unclear what is meant by “automation”.

Strictly speaking, automation is used to describe any process that doesn’t require manual operation. The truth is while automation–in some form–is common, it is actually quite difficult to truly, fully automate the manufacture of anything. Full automation would mean that every step of the process is automated–the processing of raw material, loading it into a machine, performance of all operations, reloading as necessary for successive operations, work holding for finishing, assembly, not to mention the ancillary tasks of cleaning off the accumulated shavings from machining operations so that the machine can keep going, sweeping the floor, unloading the vast amount of waste you generate, etc. Full automation is not a realistic goal for the scale of what I need to do here. What I’ve focused on in the past few years was not automation but optimization, because at the end of the day, if you’re not doing full automation, you still need that most indispensible of machines–the worker. And as one factory manager once put it, “we tried to hire workers, but we got people instead.”

Desiderata Pens: Just The Tip: 1

"Shading" is a property of a fountain pen ink wherein the ink, when applied to paper, appears to show multiple, discrete shades of the ink color. In a flex pen, this can produce dazzling effects when well controlled. This property is apparent in many, but not all fountain pen ink.

Very prominent in: Noodler's Apache Sunset, J. Herbin Lie de Thé, Diamine Ancient Copper, Caran D'Ache "Storm" to name but a few.  

How to adjust a Desiderata flex nib for more shading:

  • For more shading, you want to ever-so-slightly starve the ink flow to the nib point; to achieve this, when aligning your clean nib with the feed, shift the nib forward, point away from the ink channel a little bit. Adjust as necessary to get closer to the results you want. 
  • For less shading (more consistent flow), you want uninterrupted ink flow to the nib point; to achieve this, align as described here in the manual under point 2, "Tuning", or, if necessary to achieve more flow, slide the nib point up onto the ink channel further than before.

George Slaboch is dead.

About ten years ago I did a “direct mail” campaign for my piano teaching business where I made a few hundred photocopies of a hilarious “flyer” and put them in mail boxes by hand. Well, one of those flyers ended up in the hands of an ivory tower snob who handed it over to a friend of his in his morning cardiac rehab class. The recipient of that flyer was a cantankerous, self-proclaimed-Bohemian tool and die maker with the thickest, most classic Chicago accent I’ve ever heard in all of my life. 

A few weeks later, George Slaboch called me up and asked if I was still taking students. I told him yes. A year later, he left, and by that time, I had taught him how to read, how to count, how to work alone and effectively, and helped him find for himself a context in which his musical progress could be ascertained because he was always hung up on knowing where he was “at”. (Those Chicago proposition-ending sentences.) 

He and I would talk and do the occasional lesson every once and again when he would ask for it, and I’d oblige him. He was a troublesome student–ornery, I daresay–but lots of fun. 

He was about 5’9” and had a crescent shaped indentation in his skull from an anyeurism he recovered from. He had troublesome hearts in his family, and had had congestive heart failure a couple of times, but he had a bulletproof will, and none of it kept him down. For me, probably the most fun thing about him was his down-to-brass-tacks attitude as a tool and die maker coupled with  his having endured many legitimate hardships and struggles, it enabled him to sling bullshit artfully. 

Being a serious person while being dull, or being a prolific bullshitter with no real skills, is facile and unimpressive, but when you can talk the talk, walk the walk, make ‘em laugh and make it count all at the same time, I think you’ve got something, and George had it. 

A few years later, I gave him a call because I wanted to make a writing tool I couldn’t buy, and I needed his help picking a machine on which to make it. He helped me choose it, get a good deal, clean it up, get it running, and taught me how to use it. He taught me how to make my own tools for it, coached me through the basics of effective operation, and was the guy I called to tout my successes all the way up until the last time I talked to him. He was the only person I could call who I knew would understand when I had a [seemingly] insoluble problem and he was the first guy I’d call when I wanted somebody to be proud of what I figured out how to make. 

He and I had a good time. 

Happy Fountain Pen Day LIVE STREAM!

Hey Everyone,

It's the first Friday in November, so Fountain Pen Day is upon us! 

I'm doing a YouTube live stream!

Please join me TONIGHT, Friday, November 3 from 9-9:30pm (Central time) at:

I’ll be: talking about: 

  • what I’m working on
  • what I’m NOT working on
  • answering any questions
  • what to expect for the holiday season
  • And of course, shooting the breeze.

p.s By the way, I still have a few Shortys left.
p.p.s. I apologize for the incorrect links in the last email. The responsible parties have been sacked.

p.p.p.s. This disquisition on what it means to own land to some people was referenced in that same email.

p.p.p.s Lastly, I dropped the ball in my reference to Wednesday being George Parker's 154th birthday.


Waste not, want not.

When someone asks me what I do, I like to tell them I'm a musician who makes pens. The music part is pretty self explanatory, but the pen making isn't really the whole truth. Though I do walk into a room, spend some time, and when I walk out, I have pens that weren't there before, the blunt fact is that in terms of true output, I don't really make pens so much as I make shavings.

And sawdust.

The sheer amount of unusable material that pours out of my workshop is staggering. Last night, I finished a run of pens, and I swept the floor and filled up a trash can with plastic shavings. Later, I dropped something on the floor, and while I was down there, I saw just how much more stuff I didn't sweep up hiding against the wall. Staggering.

Every pen starts with a solid piece of material–a block of wood or plastic–and from there, I slowly start removing everything that isn't a pen; 

When I'm done, you see what you have, but what you don't see is everything that couldn't be.

Four Blacks


I wanted to write with black for a change (usually I like other colors) and decided to try a brief comparison of:

  1. Private Reserve Invincible Black

  2. J. Herbin Perle Noire

  3. Noodler’s “X-Feather”

  4. Iroshizuku take-sumi

Writing samples were done on my trusty Leuchtturm1917 notebook and a Staples bagasse notebook.

First impressions: The Iroshizuku was clearly the blackest and the boldest of the four blacks. After a 30 second soak in water, some color washed off, though it seems they all have a fair amount of water resistance and would survive incidental contact with water.


The pen was a Desiderata Precession with a Pilot Extra Fine. All inks were dipped. The sample sentence was written along with a short description of the writing experience.

I photographed the pictures with my Nexus 6p with no color correction at 11am in a room with west facing indirect sunlight and CFLs.

Leuchtturm1917 and Staples bagasse were chosen for their mid level paper quality. I wanted to see how this pen and ink combination could perform across a variety of media.


I wanted to choose a black that was both black, bold and well behaved, and I felt like having a little fun choosing, so I chose those four blacks (not all my blacks, mind you, but I just wanted to have a little sampling of the four I use least often) and did a dipped writing test as described above.

Private Reserve: It should really be called “Honest Gray” rather than “Invincible Black”. It was far and away the lightest ink, and it really can’t be fairly called a “black” in comparison with the others. Perle Noire is more black than this, and honestly, J. Herbin is who I go to when I want something that feels washed out! That said, it is a very good quality gray, and I may actually end up using this ink if I decide that I feel more like a gray than a dark black.  

The Iroshizuku: Boldest and blackest, smoothest overall feel on the paper. The line seems wider than the others, but I can’t tell if it’s because there was spread, or if the boldness of the line creates the illusion of breadth. 

Noodler’s: Gave the finest lines by far, and in terms of smoothness, about on par with example one. Blacker than one. Less black than four, but it’s hard to compare because the line width was thinner than that of 4.

 J. Herbin: Solid black, very smooth writing. Clearly smoother than three. It helds its own surprisingly well in the company of other blacks.


None of them had any show-through whatsoever on the other side of the Leuchtturm paper, which is the main concern with using that notebook. Leuchtturm makes a great notebook, but the paper is not invincible.

The Staples paper’s own lines faded more than the inks did! The Iroshizuku lost some color, giving way to a slightly greenish undertone, as did the Perle Noire in the same way. The Noodler’s and the Private Reserve were the ones that held their own as being truly black (or truly gray).

Private Reserve was untouched by the ravages of the soak.  


If I want bold and black: Iroshizuku. 

If I want a terrific gray for printed note taking or where I want a feeling of using a dark pencil: Private Reserve.

Waterproofness: Private Reserve. Hands down. Second, X-Feather. There was a minute amount of blurring of the line with the Noodler’s after the soak, but there was zero with the Invincible Black.

Hairlines and calligraphy: X-Feather

Perle Noire is the be all, do all. If you had to have only a single black, get this. It’s not the blackest, it’s not the smoothest, and has no unique properties but it’s a generic, harmless black that cleans out well (because J. Herbin is always low maintenance), doesn’t leave strong staining, and feels smoother than some other inks. If you have to recommend a black to someone who doesn’t know much about inks, give them this. You quite literally can’t go wrong by owning a bottle. It’s not specialized, it’s just very very good by every objective standard. Like a music competition winner, very good, not polarizing at all.

The above picture is of the dry Staples bagasse.

The above example is the Leuchtturm1917. As I use that notebook, I didn't soak it. The wet Staples paper is the last picture.


Hey Everybody,

My thanks to all the people who volunteered to help try some stuff out for me. I'm getting close to finishing them now, and starting the process of another round of Daedalus. 

Making the pens I do, there are often a lot of steps to get to a finished pen–I often find myself making parts for sub assemblies which build other sub assemblies which lead to assembly, followed by the slow, unavoidable process of finishing (I use an obscene amount of sandpaper).

Factor in that most parts I need can't be purchased off the shelf, and everything in manufacturing is expensive, I sometimes have to make tools to make tools to make pens, and in a given day, it often feels like nothing really gets done.

Day after day goes by like this. Until one day. Finished product. 

It's a slow process.

I humbly ask your patience. 

Really bad haiku.


Once again, I'm having a great time messing with mechanical problems. It seems I need yet another motor controller. This will be the third one on my poor, defenseless little lathe. I don't know what the deal is; Does it not like the work I'm asking it to do? I feed it plenty of oil, electricity and tender-loving-care, and this is how it repays me? Stalling in the middle of a cut? Come on. Come on!

Anyhow, I'm getting back to production of the Daedalus and some other pens on June 10, but before I do that, I wanted to open the door up for a few adventurous souls who'd be willing to help me out with the model I've been in the process of bringing back for the last hundred fortnights, the WoodGlass. 

If you're interested, here's how I want to do it:

  1. Continental US ONLY. There's a good reason for this, and I can go into more detail if you ask, but in brief: Customs. Postage.
  2. Send me a deposit via PayPal using "friends and family". This is not a purchase. It's just a deposit. A carrot to finish the job, as they say. I'll let you know how much once we get our email thread going.
  3. I'll ship you the pen and you use it for two weeks as much as you can, and report your feedback to me. How it works, how it feels, all that stuff, and when you're done.
  4. At the end of two weeks, I get you an address label, and you send it back to me with a report.
  5. When I receive the test pen, you get your money back (minus shipping both ways).

If this sounds good to you, send me an email (the address is on the "ABOUT" page.) with "Placeholder" in the subject heading, your address, and a couple sentences about what you might help me to discover. 

A myriad of changes.

Sometimes I have things I want to tell you that aren't germane enough to enough people to warrant a mass email. The company Facebook page has served as the de facto blog, but that's really not the best platform. So I'm introducing The Desiderata Pen Company Blog, (name TBD) for the purposes of these communications.

So, I'm going to try and save us all a little time. Email updates were coming about once a month, but they'll be saved for seismic news and things I absolutely don't want you to miss, like a new product, or the introduction of this blog. Blog entries will also be much more often in coming. They'll be shorter, of course, but taken in aggregate, anyone will be much more able to track changes and progress. No more, "I just signed up for your mailing list, but missed your last update!" problems. I've been poring over your responses to my most recent survey, and I get the distinct impression that "more pens" is a theme. So while I work on bringing you that, I'm going to try and give you better communication. Not necessarily more, but better.

Not to mention, thanks to all the people who came out to the Chicago Pen Show! I met so many fun and interesting people, if you didn't come or have the opportunity, I highly encourage it.

I enjoy making pens that people use, but just as much, I love to meet the people who use them. There are some really terrific people out there, and being given the chance to please one, even a little, makes me very happy. 

Now, on to the business.


I've tried to forestall this for as long as possible, but a considerable update to my shipping policies had to be done. Please read the full details on the Shipping/Returns page; There are a lot of minutia. For now, here are the highlights.

  1. Domestic (USA) shipping will go up, and items will require an adult signature.
  2. International first class now has: a total order limit of $125, and limits on what countries. The details are linked to in the Shipping/Returns page.
  3. I will no longer ship Priority Mail International because:
    1. It's misleading, and there are no guarantees: You would think based on the name that it should get you the item safer and faster than First Class, but that's just not necessarily true. It's not always any faster than First Class, there's no guarantee on delivery date, and it doesn't come with a true tracking number, so fulfilling claims can be problematic.
    2. In order to get a real tracking number, you're basically paying the same or greater cost for the next step up, Priority Mail Express International.
  4. Priority Mail Express International is the new default for all serviced countries. I still ship flat rate because the cost associated with by-the-weight calculation escalates impractically quickly, but I've tracked the world by zones of the most common shipping destinations and calculated specific shipping (and handling) rates for each zone. So now, Priority Mail Express International isn't just a single, catch-all rate, but one that is more equitable to more people. 
  5. There is still a single "All" Priority Mail Express International rate that covers all countries not placed in a specific zone (this includes countries in which I have never done business) which is higher, but covers every one. Remember, not everyone will have access to First Class international.

I wish I didn't have to do this, but you can probably guess what happened which forced this adjustment.

Who does this affect? The same people who always get the short end of the stick: The isolated and the remote.

I understand. It's incredibly frustrating to—already—be in a disadvantaged position and then be made to suffer further for the acts of a few bad people. That's not fair. I don't like it either. But these are the steps I have to take to protect my work and my own livelihood. This is a small operation with one man, alone, in a room, trying to make the best work he can for the world to enjoy, and there are people who just don't care about taking advantage of that. So, I know I'm going to lose some of you because the shipping costs will just be too high. I'm sorry. Please know that I have to take the steps I can to protect myself. And remember, this isn't over.

Checkout and Payment

In that vein, all checkouts will have to be done through PayPal for the time being. There may be slight issues with some customers, but by and large, for most of you, checkout should be as smooth as it was before.

User Manual

For the first time in a long time, the entire User Manual has been reviewed, streamlined, overhauled, and clarified. Every line, every word. Have a look at it to the left on the navigation bar. If you see any typos or other issues, please email me. 

Stock notifications

I also added the option within each listing to sign up for a list if you like an item that's not in stock at the moment. I'll let you know when they're ready that way.