Old Jail Pen Presentation Boxes

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Project by lew posted 07-29-2014 02:59 AM 1962 views 0 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Just completed my half of a project!

Our town has the dubious honor as being the only town north of the Mason-Dixon line to be burned by the Confederate Army during the Civil War (at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg). During the burning, one of the buildings not torched was the jail. The jail was built in 1818 and part of the architecture was a large cupola.

This year the cupola was removed and rebuilt.This picture show the copper dome being reinstalled on the top of the rebuilt cupola.

As a fund raiser, it was decided to make 100 ink pens from one of the original beams used in the construction of the cupola. They also needed a couple of presentation boxes for some of the “big donors”.

Seemed like a good idea at the time. The wood is pine. According to the authority at the Pennsylvania State University Forestry Department, the trees started growing in the early 1700’s. When we cut the wood, the knots still contained sap and the shop smelled like Christmas. However, the other areas of the beam were brittle and extremely soft.

Well, I’ve turned and finished about 50 pens (two shown in the pictures above). The made two presentation boxes from the same beam.

The box material is 1/4” thick. The boxes are about 1 3/4” high and roughly 7” long. The construction is hand cut dovetails. The bottoms set in a 1/8” x 1/8” dado and are tapered to fit the slot (similar to the top on the narrow box). The lidded box has “hinges and lift handle” made from the original cut nails removed from the trim pieces on the cupola. The other pencil style box has no metal hardware in the construction.

I lined the boxes with peel and stick felt. I thought about flocking but had never tried it and really didn’t have a lot of time for experimentation. The pen nests are made from the same pine and are fastened to the bottom with tiny wooden pegs. I did inset a rare earth magnet in each box to help keep the pens from moving around too much. It worked but not as well as I had hoped.

Inlayed into each top is a carpenter’s mark from the same beam. Because the wood was so brittle and uneven, I saturated the area with thin CA prior to cutting the inlays. The surface of the wood was cracked, rough and covered with black soot. The CA sealed it nicely.

The finish was rattle can lacquer sealer and several applications of rattle can lacquer.

Thanks for looking!

-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

14 comments so far

View Karson's profile


35223 posts in 5173 days

#1 posted 07-29-2014 03:09 AM


A very nice job on the pens and the boxes.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View Woodwrecker's profile


4239 posts in 4348 days

#2 posted 07-29-2014 03:40 AM

Great pens and boxes lew, and a really cool story to go with it.
Your projects and the stories behind them are some of the best. Thanks.

View HillbillyShooter's profile


5811 posts in 3065 days

#3 posted 07-29-2014 04:23 AM

Great design, details and craftsmanship! Really outstanding gifts for fundraising—it had to have been a big success. Interesting background, thanks for sharing. Oh, and good luck on the remaining 50 pens.

-- John C. -- "Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the peoples' liberty's teeth." George Washington

View Druid's profile


2205 posts in 3568 days

#4 posted 07-29-2014 04:38 AM

Not often that we see pens with an interesting historical past. Nice job Lew.

-- John, British Columbia, Canada

View BCDesign's profile


541 posts in 2195 days

#5 posted 07-29-2014 06:47 AM

those dovetails look so good!its great to be able to recycle something old into something new!what is CA?

-- "The secret of getting ahead is getting started" Mark Twain

View Roger's profile


21030 posts in 3577 days

#6 posted 07-29-2014 12:42 PM

Very awesome Lew! Fantastic story as well. Very well done. The pens and the boxes are super nice.

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed. [email protected]

View SPalm's profile


5335 posts in 4654 days

#7 posted 07-29-2014 12:51 PM

Well that is just gosh darn neat.
And wow, you signed up for a lot of work. Good for you.

Wonderful boxes. They look marvelous.


-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

View woodsmithshop's profile


1411 posts in 4318 days

#8 posted 07-29-2014 01:42 PM

great job on those dovetails Lew!!!

-- Smitty!!!

View Jim Bertelson's profile

Jim Bertelson

4275 posts in 3937 days

#9 posted 07-29-2014 03:06 PM

I like everything about this project. The dovetails are excellent.

Yesterday, as I was doing a csection with my friend and partner of 40 years, we chuckled about the fact that we are getting so old, we have to synchronize our tremors while doing surgery together. Well, looks like that wasn’t an issue with you, unless you have some special relationship with your dovetail saw…........(-:

After a burst of work for a couple of months, finally quieting down some… hopefully will get more shop time. Approaching the monsoon season in Anchorage…......that’s August. Time for indoor hobbies….......

-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

View lew's profile


13116 posts in 4528 days

#10 posted 07-29-2014 07:05 PM

Karson and Eric- Thanks!

John C- Thanks! Actually the other 50 pens are being turned by the gentleman who got this idea going.

John- Thanks!

Ashe- Thanks! CA is the abbreviation for the fancy name of Super Glue.

Roger- Thanks!

Steve- Thanks! It was a lot of work! Those little boxes took a lot longer than I thought.

Smitty- Thanks!

Jim- Thanks! I trust the patient was under total anesthesia when you guys commented on your tremors ;>) Anyway, me and the saw had words on several occasions- especially when it refused to follow a line!

-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View Napaman's profile


5533 posts in 4850 days

#11 posted 07-29-2014 08:28 PM

love it…

-- Matt--Proud LJ since 2007

View Grumpymike's profile


2439 posts in 3088 days

#12 posted 07-29-2014 08:32 PM

Great story and great save on some very old wood.

-- Grumpy old guy, and lookin' good Doin' it. ... Surprise Az.

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 4076 days

#13 posted 07-29-2014 08:48 PM

hey lew, sorry im late for the party, these turned out just great, working with the soft pine can be a bear , i saw the hinge problem and knew right off how frustrating that was, ive had similar problems myself, i hope when that happened you didn’t let any words slip…lol…what an honour to be involved with this..

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View lew's profile


13116 posts in 4528 days

#14 posted 07-30-2014 02:06 AM

Matt and Grumpy- Thanks!

Bob- Thanks! I must admit when the hinge thing happened, they probably would have locked me up in that old jail for the words I used!

-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

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