Custom Craft of Heartland Pens
Pinecones, scrap wood, and automotive paint chips aren’t typical raw materials for art. But in the hands of Michael “Shep” Walker, they become things of beauty. A Navy veteran and longtime Edmond resident, Shep creates ballpoint and fountain pens in a variety of styles, each one unique.
When he’s not making pens, Shep works as a program manager for Long Wave, Inc., managing a ship-to-shore submarine communication system. Like many other Oklahomans, he found himself stuck at home during the COVID-19 lockdowns of 2020 and needed a way to occupy himself. He had recently purchased a lathe, and he tried creating several different items with it, including bowls, candle holders, and parts for birdhouses “I decided to turn a pen just to see what it was like,” he says. “And 450 pens later, here I am.”
After he outgrew his garage, he built a climate-controlled workshop in his backyard. It’s equipped with a lathe, drill press, plenty of storage space, and everything he needs to craft pens. There’s even a comfortable napping corner for his dog Millie, who keeps him company as he works.
Handcrafted with Care
Each creation starts with a purchased kit, which includes metal parts such as the pen tip, clip, and a brass tube to hold ink. The kits range from basic to elaborate, and finding the perfect kit for every pen is part of Shep’s creative challenge.
The piece that will become the pen barrel is called a blank. It starts as a rectangular block, and Shep forms it into a rounded barrel on the lathe. He purchases some blanks ready-made, but he also makes his own from a wide variety of materials—wood, antlers, or organic materials like wildflower petals that he casts in polymer resin. Some of his most intriguing creations are made from Fordite, layers of automotive paint chips that form multicolored waves, stripes, or mosaic-style designs.
Pen making isn’t a hobby for impatient people. Each barrel goes through many steps of preparation. Wood and organic materials must be stabilized for several days to harden them and remove bacteria. Turning a barrel on the lathe involves many rounds of fine-sanding and polishing before the finished product emerges.
Gifts that Last a Lifetime
Shep sells his pens at the Downtown Edmond Farmers’ Market and the Mitch Park festival, and he’ll be back for a second year at the 2022 Downtown Edmond Arts Festival. He also takes custom orders for gifts, often using wood or other material with special significance to the recipient. For a retiring UCO professor, he made a pen from pinecones gathered on campus and dyed in Broncho colors. All pens come with a lifetime guarantee.
Shep prices his pens based on his costs for materials. They range from under $20 to over $100. But he’s not in it for the money. “When somebody buys a pen for a gift, then comes back and tells me how much the recipient liked it, that’s what it’s all about,” he says. “I like making something that people will appreciate.”
To learn more, go to heartlandpens.com.