Hi fellow pentuners,
In August I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Las Vegas and I just had to meet up with my friend Ken Nelsen at Kallenshaan Woods. I’ve worked with Ken on various laser engraving projects and have enjoyed making many of the laser art kits he produces. During my visit Ken was kind enough to answer a few questions.
In case you don’t know Ken or Kallenshaan Woods yet, Ken is the originator of the Stars and Stripes laser art pen kit-the very first laser kit produced-and has since added over 120 laser designs to the collection. I highly recommend trying one of these kits; you’ll have fun in the shop and end up with a great looking pen.
Let’s hear from Ken!
Tim-Talk about what led up to the conception of using a laser to create the laser art pen design?
Ken-I was making pens before I had a laser and I remember a lot of people wanting to get pens engraved if they had to pay that kind of money for it. Back then they would compare them to a Bic pen or whatever they were using, they’d say “if you want $40 for your Cocobolo slimline, then if it has my name on it I’ll pay it”.
So I started thinking about that kind of thing. Then I got a project dropped in my lap that required a laser, it turned out really well, and that got me started. I made it a point to not go to the typical laser products shows, such as the awards recognition shows, because all you’re going to see is what’s already being done. Instead I went to gift shows to find products that could be enhanced with laser engraving. I used that to my advantage to get ideas on different stuff.
The age-old issue of turning pens, and I got tired of it real quick, is once you gone through the 20-30 exotic woods that are out there and you’ve done a Euro and Slimline; back then that was it. I figured there’s got to be something more you can do. Engraving is a cool idea because now you can personalize them. I presented that at the first Penturner’s Rendezvous in Provo, UT in 2003. From there it kind of snowballed into advertising for engraving services on some of the forums, then I started doing the idea of stars and stripes pen, cutting around cylinders and all that kind of stuff. Nobody was doing anything like that at the time.
Tim-Did you initially plan on creating pen kits for other penturners or did that evolve?
Ken-I got an order for 10 finished Stars and Stripes pens. I started making them and after putting 50 stars in the first 3-4 of them, I thought “this is sucking, I have to come up with a better way to do this”. That’s when I realized there are a million penturners out there, most of them that aren’t beginners are considering going into bowl turning or something else because there nothing else to do in penturning. Why not do kit form and let them put the stars in and sell the finished pens.
Tim-Did you think it would become this big?
Ken-No, I really didn’t think it was a big deal at the time. I didn’t think it would catch on. I did one and showed it to Bill Baumbeck, former owner of Arizona Silhouette, and he thought it was really cool. He wanted to sell them but I didn’t have pricing structure that allowed that.
Bill was also the person to suggest using red and blue dyed wood for upper and lower body of the Stars and Stripes pen. Being Canadian, it didn’t occur to me to do that since Canadian are not as public about their patriotism as Americans. That’s why the first version of the pen was done in Holly and Mahogany.
Tim-You certainly work with a lot of different woods, do you have a couple of favorites you like working with?
Ken-We get all of our color in Basswood, it dyes evenly and doesn’t have an aggressive grain so the colors show through real well and it’s relatively inexpensive and readily available. Other than that there’s woods I like the smell of, when I was a woodworker in the shop there were woods I liked working with. But doing this stuff we’re burning it, it all smells the same.
We don’t like to do Blackwood. Because it’s a real dense wood and it has a tendency to heat up when you’re drilling and can crack. We’re currently researching substitutes.
I like color combinations. I’m really excited about new series that we’re working on. We’re going to release three color combinations. (more on this later)
Tim-What is your favorite laser kit, I’m guessing Stars and Stripes kit is probably still a favorite?
Ken-I absolutely hate that kit (laughing). That’s the funny thing too, the puzzle kit when it first came out and I was making it, I loved it and I told my son, he hated it, “this kit is the biggest pain in the …. that I’ve ever seen” I said I don’t care, I love the kit. The amount of thought that went into coordinating, organizing this whole thing, to be able to pick it and pull it and do it the way we’re doing, the proper way, every piece of wood is different and we’re losing our butt with each one we sell, I don’t care; I think it’s a cool kit. That was my approach.
The puzzle kit was an absolute total nightmare on several accounts. The first kits were developed early on, before some of the processes were streamlined. Then, people that had already done a puzzle pen were convinced that I stole the idea. I was real proud of this design; I’d wanted to do a puzzle pen for a long time. I came up with a way to do them on the laser. It was the first seamless engraving where the beginning and end meet, which is difficult to achieve. We decided not to do colored woods, but wanted to take more of a “woods of the world” approach. For the Gentleman’s pen, the upper barrel has 16 pieces and the lower barrel has 20 pieces. All the pieces were hand drawn and interlock, modeled from examples of real puzzles.
In the end it’s a jigsaw puzzle; thousands of people have done various puzzle themed items. I’ve been interested in puzzles for a long time. In the corner of my shop there’s a 200 pound puzzle-shape block of wood. I once created a coffee table in shape of puzzle piece.
Tim-Did the release of Berea’s Sierra™ single body pen kit open up new kit designs and markets for you?
Ken-When we started selling to Craft Supplies we didn’t use the Sierra kit. Because of my previous misconception of the need for kits to only be paired with higher-end pen kits it didn’t occur to me at the time to design kits for the Sierra kit. I later came out with “budget” series with simple designs for that kit. Those did okay, but the themes were not well conceived. Since then we converted the existing laser kits for Berea’s Sierra design and then developed new laser kits. Soon after, most all of the pen kit resellers came out with their own version of Sierra style pen kit. The same laser kit works for all of them.
Tim-Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
Ken-When we first started doing this my wife and I would discuss different ideas over meals. Now I get many ideas from penturners, people will say what about this? You apply a filter and go from there.
Tim-Last question, any hints on what might be coming out new?
Ken– I’m working on new series to take to SWAT in Texas but someone’s in my shop right now asking questions (Ken’s jokingly referring to me as today is Saturday, August 17th and the SWAT is only 3 days away).
It’s an electric guitar series in three different color combinations, because there are a lot of guitar players that have a strong preference to the color. I found out early on that if you are working on a design that fits into a series, such as our dog breed series, you need to figure out how to address the various combinations. If we would have just released the Beagle, then someone would call and ask “Where’s the German Shepherd?”.
[updated 9-22-13] Ken recently launched the electric guitar laser kit and it’s now available on his website and likely at many of the resellers.
I recently purchased this kit. Can’t wait to try it…I’m thinking red.
My visit to Vegas was great. Thanks Ken for answering my question.
Here is a listing of where you can buy Kallenshaan Wood products. Selection may vary from store to store.
Rockler (online and retail stores)
Woodcraft retail stores (select stores only, check your location near you)
Lee Valley Stores in Canada
Gary Pye Woodturning in Australia
043 Turning in Australia
Totally Turning Stores in Great Britain