Sunday, March 20, 2016

THE TIMBER TWIST BULLET PENCIL - INTERVIEW WITH JON FONTANE

Remember those Metalshop bullet pencils I reviewed a while back (Read the review)? Well, there's something new from Metalshop: the Timber Twist bullet pencil (Currently on Kickstarter)! I got in touch with the man behind the brand, Jon Fontane, and asked him some questions about him and his business... an interview, basically! 
Timber Twist Bullet pencil
Let's start at the beginning: what inspired you to come up with a modern version of the bullet pencil?
All this is because of Instagram.  Back in early 2014 Metal Shop was trying to find its way.  It was a new brand and I was still finalizing my previous business.  The brand had little direction.  I typically like to jump in with both feet and figure things out as they come.  We had a small mix of machined metal products, a few variations on bottle openers and a brass cigar stand/ashtray.  We had a direction, we wanted to make unique products that would stand the test the time. 

I would often do small pop up markets but would find that my price point was high being that everything was done in small batches and all made in America.  I decided to wholesale some of the things I liked best and add a mix to my overall product line at these events.  It would also then position my booth as the go to for men's gifts at a variety of price points.  I picked up some solid cologne, some Field Notes and some flavored toothpicks.  But what I really wanted to sell were these extremely handsome hand sewn handkerchiefs by a small maker named Huckleberrywoodchuck. Jay (aka Huckleberrywoodchuck) also sold vintage bulllet pencils that he lovingly restored....I instantly thought that they were the coolest thing I had ever seen.  I picked up a handful and had the light bulb moment to put a modern touch on them.  After the first market with them, that thought was reinforced, people loved them!
So that's it!  I called Jay, said let's make these and the rest is history. 

In comparison to other bullet pencils (old and new), where does the twist stand out from the crowd?

Well that is where the name came from. It's the twisting action. The vintage bullet pencils were all friction fit.  So you jammed the pencil into the bullet and the bullet friction fit into the tube or body.  The problem was sometimes it could be difficult to get the worn down nub out of the bullet.  So we decided to add threads.  Everywhere!  Not just to screw the nub into the bullet but for all the actions, opening, closing, even the eraser end.  So thread = Twist!  It also allows for our version to be more modular.  While some people are more traditional others may want a pocket clip, so we created a pocket clip  system with a cap that threads on to keep it in place.  The Twist is also a tiny bit longer than vintage bullet pencils, not much, just a bit. 

So the threads really differentiate the Twist and adds a modular function.  Prefer a pen? We have it! Cap/clip?Sure...or just go with the standard eraser, whatever you want.  Its a little bit of a secret but I'll share it anyway, we have a fountain pen attachment in the works.  I guess the final point to make would be the concerning the durability.  Using aluminum and, in the new products case, wood/aluminum, the Twist and Timber Twist are built to last a long long time.
Timber Twist Bullet pencil
How did the Timber twist come about? What inspired you to resort to wood for the successor of the twist?

It's an interesting story. I had just engaged with a second shop to help with production demands.  My main shop has limited large scale production so I met with a screw machine shop. These machines are cool.  You simply insert a long piece of stock and the machine does all the operations at once.  So as demand for the original Twist grew I needed to be able to decrease production time. I was visiting to pick up a batch of the Twist tubes and one of their lead machinists came out and just said, "these would be cool in wood." Well it was a total light bulb going off moment. I look at my sales guy (who totally gets what Metal Shop is all about) and he just said, "yes, we can do that." Prior to that, the thought of wood hadn't really crossed my mind.  Actually I was about to tell them we needed to do copper!
So that encounter started it all and since then I've purchased a lathe and been perfecting the sanding and polish process.

I can imagine adding a wooden section to the barrel implies some drastic changes to the production of the twist? Will we notice some changes to the construction with the timber (regarding weight, balance,...)?

The Timber feels a lot lighter!  But in reality its only a few tenths of an ounce lighter.  What is great about the product and how we designed the Timber Twist is that everything works with everything.  So you can have an original Twist at home, take the bullet off of that and use it on your Timber Twist. Same holds true for the pocket clip system and the pen pieces. Where things are different is in production. The body piece (or tube) is just a single unit for the original Twist. Now the Timber Twist version is actually three different pieces that are assembled by hand.

For the OCD pencil enthousiasts (like me), what pencil would you suggest that matches the wood barrels of the Timber?
Oh you know what I'm going to say here, Blackwing all the way.  And now with the Volumes there is even more variety!
Timber Twist Bullet pencil
Just out of curiosity: I really like the full-brass twist! Would, by any chance, a full brass timber join the aluminium models currently available?
Maybe....well probably...actually yes, eventually.  Thought was given to do a brass anodize to keep that weight nice and light.  For the Kickstarter though I'm trying to keep things simple.  At some point testing will begin on using actually brass.  I'm curious to see how that impacts the overall feel.

Of course there's the current Kickstarter campaign going on at the moment...
This is actually Kickstarter #2 for the Twist.  The original Twist was on Kickstarter in October of 2014.  Learned a LOT of lessons from that.  I was very aggressive with fulfillment....the campaign ended on November 1st and I guaranteed holiday delivery.  We actually made it, with the exception of backers that added the pen attachment. 

So with this campaign we built in a little extra time though I say under promise/over deliver. We are also keeping this one simple, only four reward levels to choose from, Single Timber Twist with aluminum, Single with brass, the "Box Set" which is two pencils with each bullet and the "Trifecta" (all three and you get to choose your bullet material).  There are three wood options, Red Cedar, Mahogany and Walnut.  We will sand them on a lathe and do a friction polish finish.  We will also offer a sanded only version as we have had a few people ask for that.  The other lesson learned from the first campaign is to be careful with options and upgrades.  Not only is it confusing for backers but it caused some serious sleepless nights during fulfillment figuring it all out.  One exception may occur.  If the fountain pen attachment meets my standards I think I'm going to have to offer that upgrade!

All is going great so far.  We reached our funding goal and now I'm trying to see how much more we can do, which means more time on the lathe for me!
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Big thanks to Jon for taking the time to do this interview! Should you be interested in the Timber Twist, you can find it here: Timber Twist Kickstarter

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff, great product and Jon simply Rocks IT!

    ReplyDelete