Category Archives: education

Pen Making Class at Marc Adams School of Woodworking


Another great Pen Making Class at Marc Adams School of Woodworking this year. As you can see – Lots and Lots of pens made, over 200 in total! This was my 7th year at the school and the diversity of classes offered coupled with the eagerness of the students to learn keeps me excited to return! Every year my students both stimulate and show me ways to do things I have not thought about.

I want to thank all of you who attended for a great week of Fine Writing Instrument making!

Thank You and Happy Turning – Barry

Photographing Your Work

Distracting Background

I’ve served as a juror for high end craft shows for many years. One issue that always stands out is how people photograph their work.  Some people have elaborate sets, props and backgrounds, and the piece that they are trying to photograph gets lost in the background.  They feel that the “artsier” the image the better, when a plain image is sometimes better.  I am no expert by any means, however, when you can see the work clearly then you are ahead of the game.  Below you will find some general guidelines to help you obtain the image you want so your acceptance into a “Pen Contest” or a juried craft show gets easier for you.

Clean Background & In Focus

Out of Focus

First and foremost, make sure your piece is in focus!  If you are using a digital SLR camera do not use the auto setting.  Use the aperture setting (lens opening) on your camera and set it as high as you can (f16 or f22) to get the most depth of field (focus) as you can.  This will assure your photo will be in focus from the front to the back.  A tripod is helpful to hold your camera to steady the image. Please consult your camera’s manual for exactly how to use it manually.

Lighting is very important.  A dark picture cannot show the detail in the work.  Natural sunlight is best

Dark Image

but it can give you very harsh shadows.  Use a light tent and light the image from three sides, (top, and left & right sides).  By lighting from three sides, you soften any shadows you may get. The light cancels out the shadows.  Using one source of light will usually produce harsh shadows.

Use a plain background.  You want your pen to be the main focus not what you are using as a background. I personally like using a clear pen stand to photograph my pens. If you do not use a stand for your photograph, and you just lay it on your background, your pen will tend to roll and not lay the way you want it to.  Use some tacky putty, museum wax or a tiny piece of scotch tape rolled up and stuck to the back of the pen.  This will allow you to position the pen in the way you want.

Although a digital SLR will probably give the best results, you can still get very good results using a phone or tablet that have a good camera. There are many photography apps available that can help with aperture & focus. Do not use any built-in filters, they won’t make your photo any better. There are attachments for phones & tablets that will allow you to use a tripod to keep it steady for a sharp photo.

So, lighting, focus and a plain background will work most of the time especially, if you are trying to win a “Pen Contest” – get the hint!  Good luck and happy picture taking!

Working Long Hours at a Large Craft Show

Don’t Do This! Get off the cell phone and pay attention to your customer!

Be prepared for long hours when you do a retail show that spans weeks. There were times when we did not sell anything for an hour or two and then there were times when we were selling a pen every five minutes. However, the temptation to pick up your cell phone and text, call or check email was there, but to be polite to the people walking by we (myself and my help) did not do that. Other vendors did, and I watched as potential customers walked right by because they did not engage them! They were too busy texting, or worse, playing games on their phones! That was one of the “rules” I set before anyone was hired – while you were in the booth no cell phone usage – I told them pretend you are driving – of course we know how that works!  But when there were two of us in the booth, no cell phone usage. If someone calls, then leave the booth or do not answer it! When no potential customers were there, clean the booth make sure the pens were properly displayed and not turned around. If someone handled a pen, wipe it off and set it down on display again. Keep busy, it will relieve the boredom and help pass the time more quickly.

At peak times, which we figured out after a few days, we adjusted our schedule so that each of us could get a bathroom break, get some food, and just get away to make a call or check your phone. At times, there were so many people trying to see the pens that one of us actually had to step out of the booth. That was a good thing so we could keep an eye on the pens. Fortunately, there was only two pens taken, one we caught the guy, (charges are still pending) and the other was lost, and I never even knew it was gone until it was gone! My fault! Next year, if I get in, I will have cameras mounted in the booth as a deterrent. After doing some preliminary research, I will install a two camera system that will link to a DVR that has the recording capabilities of one week. After that week it will record over the previous week. Hopefully, that will deter anyone from stealing but as I have learned over the years, the “professional thief” if they want it, they will probably get it.  So, on that cheery note, I will just tell you to be vigilant, stay off the phone, and your chances of theft will greatly be reduced.   

Happy selling,

Pricing Your Work & Discounts

Beetle Wing Pen

 Pricing your work and discounts….

What price do I charge for my handmade pen?  That is the number one question I always get.  My answer is, it depends on the show, and the location of the show. Also, how much did you pay for your exhibit space?  If you are only paying $35 for a six foot table at a church bazaar and the people are coming in for free you would have a difficult time charging $250 for a pen.  You have to understand your market.  If you are paying $1,200 for a 10×10 booth and the guests are being charged $15-$20 to get into the show, then yes a $250 pen will be sold. People coming into a craft show that costs money expect to pay more for handmade items. When you are pricing your item, take into consideration your time (it is worth something – what do you want to pay yourself?). How much did my material cost me and what about the cost of electric and all your tools. These are all factors which should come into effect when thinking about what to charge for YOUR one-of-a-kind masterpiece.

I frequently check out venues for future attendance, and I see other pen makers there charging low prices for pens – like $20 for a bolt action pen!!  The person selling the pen tells me they are retired and feels like $20 is a fair price. So, exactly what did it cost them? The pen kit costs approximately $14, he said he got the wood for free?  He had to drive over to the house where the tree was (gas money) he used a chainsaw, (how much did that cost?) then he had to come back to his shop and cut the wood up into pen blanks with a band saw (cost for band saw & time spent), then make the pen (time to make), how about the overhead of his electric,  tool cost and finishing supplies? All of those factor into his profitability but if they are happy getting $20 for a pen, I certainly cannot change their mind.
However, what this does is lower the value of all the other pen makers work.

I love this one.. “what if I buy two” can I get a discount?
My response was “thank you for asking but these are handmade, I do not buy these from China so when you purchase these I will have to make two by hand to replace them.” That usually politely tells them that you will not give them a discount. In the 42 days at the Grand Central Holiday Craft show, I only had one person tell me that “evidently YOU DO not want to sell anything” because I would not bargain with him, and he walked out.
I sold the pen he wanted the next day for my full price!
Your work is worth something so don’t let anyone intimidate you because they want a discount!

Happy Selling ,

Hiring The Right Help For Long Craft Shows

 Hiring the Right help for a long, and very large Craft Fair can make or break you.

Hiring the right person, or persons, can be a daunting task especially when you are not familiar with how to do it.  

Before you begin your search, you first have to ask yourself exactly what are you looking for in finding the right person.  Not everyone you interview will ever know what a pen is, let alone how to sell it. So what do you look for? In my previous life as a sales manager (for thirty five years), I interviewed thousands of potential sales candidates. So, the first thing I look for is good communication skills.  Do they listen well and then clearly and concisely speak? Do they have good non-verbal skills? In other words do they observe people, and then take a cue from that? For example, a potential customer keeps looking at a particular pen then browses a different section but keeps coming back to a particular pen. Would they know enough to go over to them and explain that pen to then? Are they friendly and outgoing?  Do they display confidence when speaking? Most important are they honest and trustworthy?

These are all very good questions to ask yourself while you are speaking with a potential candidate.   So where do you start?  The best way is to ask other vendors if they know of anyone who is looking for part time sales help.  I found two sales associates that way for the Grand Central Terminal Show who were familiar with selling crafts, and they worked out very well.  You can also use a temporary agency, they will be more money but the candidates will be pre-screened for you. Of course you can use online services but the best way is word of mouth from other vendors and your own instincts.  If your “spidey” sense is telling you something is not right, chances are you will be correct.

The price for the help will vary depending on your location, how many hours they work, and what tasks you expect of them. The simplest task is just having another set of eyes to make sure you don’t let a potential customer slip away because you are selling to another customer (or making sure a pen doesn’t get stolen). The highest level is opening and closing your booth and being responsible for cash and securing your booth. Just remember, more responsibilities = more $$. I hope this will shed some light into the hiring practice for you.  

Happy Turning – more importantly happy selling!

How To Get Started Selling Your Handmade Pens

Marketing Your Pen Making Work,
Part 1: 
Table Money Products

It is the fall craft show season! Time to get busy turning some pens!

I am asked, almost daily, “How can I get started selling my pen turning work?”
My first question back to that individual is “Where do you want to sell your work?”
The typical answer is usually “I don’t know”.

This is the first step.

There is no simple step-by-step guide to follow, if there was then everybody would already be selling their work, and no one would ask me for the answers!

So here are some basic questions & answers:

How do I find craft shows or fairs for selling my handmade wood pens?

Your best resource is the internet. Just type “local street fairs” into Google, and hundreds of thousands of responses came back in under a second! Then you can narrow it down to find the local shows and fairs in your area. Just add your state, town, or county to the search.

For argument sake, let’s break the types of shows down to three groups:

Group 1 – For lack of a better term we’ll call these “street fairs, local bazaars or church fairs.” These are inexpensive to get into, non-juried shows. 

Group 2 – juried shows, medium size, local or regional

Group 3 – juried show, high end. These can be regionally or nationally well known, and established shows. 

We will be discussing these 3 types of shows over the next few blog posts.

Group 1: Local Street Fairs, Local Bazaars or Church Fairs.

This is where you see the fair advertised in the local paper, with flyers at local stores, local social media, or someone tells you about it. Inquire about one of these shows and they will tell you that a six foot table will cost anywhere from $10 to $125 per table. These types of fairs are not juried, so you do not have to submit images of your work to get into the show. These shows do not charge the public to attend. It’s usually a first come, first served type of selection for the vendors. You could be competing with too many other pen makers, or be stuck between the Kettle Korn vendor and the guy selling CDs of his own, very loud, tuba songs. It may be difficult to determine how well you will do at the show, but it is a good way to start.
HINT: I do not go to a show strictly on the word of the promoter, their job is to sell tables or spaces and they do not care what goes on that table as long as they get YOUR money! Sometimes a promoter will brag about how many thousands of people will attend, and they will sell you on that idea. Many factors contribute to how well a show is attended, and if it is attended by buyers, and not just lookers. If you are not selling your pens just yet, go to as many of these shows as possible as a “customer”. You can get a good feel for the show this way, and know the shows you want to sell at when you are ready.

So you have paid the entrance fee, now what?

For this type of show, chances are you will not see the serious pen aficionado, so I would not have a lot of high end fountain pens there selling for hundreds of dollars. For these types of venues, I would suggest pens in the retail range of $25 to $50, say Slimline pens and single barrel pens such as the Sierra or Gatsby. It is always a good idea to have a few higher end pens there, say in the range of $75-$90 and these pens would be like a Baron or Tycoon made as a rollerball pen. You never know who will show up at one of these shows, so have the higher end pens to show off your talent & skills. They will be the “eye candy” of your table.

At these types of venues, Table Money items such as key rings, small styluses and other non-pen items like bottle openers and pizza cutters are always good for the money that will at least pay for the entrance fee. Have these items visible where your customers will check out so they can clearly see them, and purchase them, almost as am impulse item. These items are made from scrap material, they easy and quick to make, and sell for around $15. That’s what “table money” items are. You can pay for your entrance fee with just a few of these products being sold, so always have several types of small things for sale at your checkout station.

How do you display your items?

booth-empty-FBIt is very important to display your items so your customers can see them clearly. Please, don’t just throw a drape over the table and open up a carry case with your pens in it! Put some thought into how you will display your work. You want to have your pens at eye level if possible. Have some sort of a step arrangement to place acrylic stands or pen boxes on the steps to elevate them off the table. It can be as simple as stacking some sturdy and attractive cardboard, wood or acrylic boxes to give you several levels of interest on your display. Local craft stores have many items that can be used for display purposes. Look at jewelry display trees for hanging up key rings, small styli, and other small colorful items for sale. These are just a few ideas to get you started for a successful show.

The next time we will discuss mid-level shows, and some of the items to bring to that type of show.

To get you started, we have put some “Table Money” products, and booth display stands on sale at 10% off. Hurry these are only on sale until Monday October 24!

click here to go shopping



Happy Turning,


Great Week at Marc Adams School!

A few spots remain and there is still time to sign up for classes at Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts (July 10-15) and Peters Valley School of Craft  (August 19-23)

Fine writing Instrument Class

Fine Writing Instrument Class – good looking group!

Bangle Class students with bracelets

Bangle Class students with bracelets – nice Job!

I want to thank all the students who attended my classes from the Fine Writing Instrument and the Bangle Bracelet Class this past weekend.  I enjoyed working with all of you and it was really nice to see students of all ages attend!


Everyone enjoyed the class (they told me they did, so I believe them) and we all learned a lot of techniques and tips.

Hard at work

Colleen hard at work on her kaleidoscope

Students at work!

Students at work on their castings.





Showing off their work

Showing off their work


Group picture showing off some of their pens (below)

Pen Turning Classes This Summer

Increase your knowledge of Pen Making this summer in classes with The Pen Teacher Barry Gross.  Barry will be teaching pen making for everyone, from beginner to advanced in his three courses this summer.  If you are interested in having a week of fun while increasing your skill level, for more detailed information, please contact the schools listed below – classes are filling up fast and a few spaces are still available!

Turning Fine Writing Instruments…

Marc Adams School Of Woodworking, Indianapolis IN. – June 13-17, 2016

Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts, Gatlinburg, TN – July 10-15, 2016

Peters Valley School of Crafts, Layton, New Jersey – August 18-23, 2016

One Other Class … Combining Wood & Metal – Making A Bangle Bracelet – Weekend Course at Marc Adams School of Woodworking June 18 & 19, 2016

See You there and let’s make some dust! – Barry

Barry Teaching at Peters Valley School of Craft in August





Barry will be teaching a workshop on “Turning Fine Writing Instruments” at the Peters Valley School of Craft in Layton, NJ on August 19-23

Students of all levels are welcome in this course to learn a variety of techniques to take their pen making to the next level.

  • Concentration on the fit & finish of a pen will be stressed daily along with thinking creatively to enhance your abilities.
  • Discussion Topics: Tool techniques, sharpening, troubleshooting your problem pens and discussions on which is the best plating that is used for a pen are just some of the topics for discussion.
  • How to stabilize wood so it will not blow apart on you will be demonstrated and practiced!
  • Students will work with a variety of materials including but not limited to the following: exotic wood, stabilized wood, acrylics and demystifying the myth of casting and creating your own pen blanks will be worked on daily.
  • Different finishing techniques will be demonstrated and practiced throughout the course including an easy CA glue finish.
  • When you are finished with your pen masterpieces, we will discuss how to market them.
  • Students will leave with between 8-20 pens, depending on their skill level.

Barry’s “hands-on” workshops are a terrific way to take your pen making to the next level. Many students sell the pens that they make in the workshop and re-coup some, if not all, of the cost of the workshop. Of course, the knowledge you gain is invaluable, and is yours to keep forever!

Click here to learn more about this workshop