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Signing up for nicer writing
by MATTHEW NASH
Whether you are left- or right-handed, write perfectly or illegibly, Dennis Johnson probably has a pen just for you.
Johnson, the artisan behind DJ’s Pens, works with his wife, Nancy, to handcraft pens, desk sets and key chain pill bottles from their out-of-the-way Port Angeles home and workshop. He set to work five years ago after buying a small lathe. Some friends and co-workers saw the pens and suggested he make more and go into business. He did.
The Johnsons say their pens stand above plain, cheaper pens because they are high quality to last a long time and use Parker pen cartridges that are all refillable.
DJ’s Pens offers eight different styles of pens that twist or click to write. Fountain pens are available by special order.
Johnson said he works with about 50 different woods but is open to trying any kind of wood. Some of his pens use aspen, bloodwood, cedar, eucalyptus, maple, plum, Russian olive and yew woods. He’s particularly proud of using olive wood from Jerusalem that he buys directly from a wood dealer there.
Buying through a local dealer doesn’t provide the same layers and look as a dealer from the source, he said.
The couple has heard requests for unique materials in pens, such as marble and elk horn.
Johnson said he tried the horn once but there was too much dust and a foul smell.
DJ’s Pens uses a lot of recycled wood scraps, too, from items such as guitars and furniture. Much of it comes from people who give it to Johnson for free.
Most of their business wastes very little, Johnson said, and buying his pens means throwing away less waste when a cartridge runs out rather than a whole pen being tossed.
Nancy shapes acrylic pens and this winter wants to learn how to pour her own acrylics to mold.
Much of their business comes from customers buying gifts, which they feel means people find their pens special.
“Who is going to give a Bic as a gift?” Johnson joked.
The couple only uses their own pens and many of their co-workers buy the pens, too.
People sometimes approach them when they sell their pens saying how they’ve tried crafting pens and failed.
“My first pen I made compared to now, I’m fairly proud of where I am,” Johnson said. “It’s like shooting pool. Practice, practice, practice.”
The couple finds time to make pens two or three nights a week and all day on Sunday. Johnson works full time as a maintenance specialist for 140 senior apartments and Nancy is a medical records specialist.
Sometimes they work at the same time on opposing lathes but have a TV in the shop so they won’t miss their favorite sports teams’ games.
Johnson calls himself a workaholic. He first retired as a general contractor after 45 years but found out he likes to stay busy.
They’ve been selling pens with the Sequim Open Aire Market for three years. The Johnsons do about a show a week from March to December and in the wetter/colder months, the shows are inside. Johnson said Christmas is their best time of year for sales. They are happy with the exposure at the market and find people are starting to seek them out more often.
“We get a lot of repeat business,” Nancy said. “Our pens are all over the world.”
Johnson said he recently sold a pen to a Japanese calligrapher. At each show/market, they have about 300 pens available.
All the pens are made one at a time and not mass produced. They are available for special and corporate orders with laser engraving available. Logos/military branches can be attached, too.
“We can do pretty much anything they want,” Johnson said.
Once they both retire, Johnson said, they might take DJ’s Pens on the road. They have met some people who do trade shows for a living full time.
The Sequim Open Aire Market runs 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays on Cedar Street.
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.