When considering an Urushi pen, I’d say most folks in the pen world probably think of companies like Nakaya, Danitrio and Hakumin; maybe even Pilot, Sailor or Platinum. But I’d venture to guess most, if not all, are overlooking the small-town penmaker, located on the rural outskirts of Aiken, South Carolina — Jonathon Brooks (probably better known as Carolina Pen Company).
If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you already know that I have a relationship with Jonathon and his company. I’ve spent some time with him at his shop in Aiken, which is just a short drive from my home and I’m really excited to be writing about his latest venture into the world of Urushi pens.
For those of you not familiar with Urushi, it’s a Japanese lacquer made from the Lacquer Tree (no, I’m not making this up) which is similar to what we would know here in the US as Poison Ivy. The Lacquer Treecontains Urushiol (the same stuff found in Poison Ivy) which is poisonous to the touch until dried and formed into a powder which is then mixed with various things and applied in meticulous layers to form a brilliant and incredibly durable lacquer finish. Urushi has been traditionally used in Asian cultures to create what is known as Lacquerware (look this stuff up, it’s stunning) and, well, pens.
So Jonathon has decided that the combination of making his own materials and custom pens while chasing a miniature horse (yes, he owns a miniature horse) and a 3-year-old around isn’t enough of a challenge and has taken on the art of Urushi Lacquer pens.
After a pen is made from ebonite (a dense, hard rubber that smells like death when you turn it on a lathe), he applies anywhere from 20 to 50 coats of lacquer to the pen. After each coat, Jonathon places the pen in a humidity-controlled environment to cure for a minimum of 24 hours. He then sands each pen and adds another coat. This process takes weeks to complete, but the results are absolutely stunning.
I currently own two of his pens, one in a custom cigar shape with a beautiful orange Urushi and the other is a custom shape with slightly conical finials that has a gorgeous yellow Urushi with back Urushi applied over the top of it in what Jonathon refers to as his “Chaos Treatment.” The effect is a splattered, two-tone look. And because they’re layered, the black Urushi actually has texture. It’s quite an interesting feeling in the hand and I absolutely love it.
Because these pens are made from ebonite, they exhibit two qualities that I really enjoy:
- They’re extremely lightweight making them very comfortable to use for long periods of time. Neither of these pens post, but Jonathon has made them large enough that I can use them unposted and the light weight balances perfectly in my hand.
- They warm up nicely when using them. Anyone who has used an ebonite pen knows what I’m talking about here. Because it’s essentially a rubber and not a plastic, ebonite takes on a very warm feeling when using it, almost getting more “grippy” in a way. It makes for an even more pleasing writing experience and one that I enjoy immensely. If you’ve never used an ebonite pen, give one a try. It’s a joy.
With most custom pens, you’re bound to find some slight imperfections. That’s sort of the name of the game with anything handmade. These Urushi pens add another layer (or 50) of handwork to the process, meaning there is a bit more margin for fluctuations in the final product which makes these pens even that much more unique. It would be nearly impossible to create two identical Urushi Lacquer pens. Each one has it’s own characteristics, it’s own movement in the finish. These pens are works of art. Hand-made from start to finish with hours of meticulous brushwork and treatment in each one. There are a few little places on my Urushi pens that aren’t perfect, but then again nothing is. In fact, the Japanese would refer to these imperfections as “wabi-sabi” which is an acceptance of imperfection. We gettin’ all zen up in here, y’all!
In my opinion, an Urushi pen is something worth owning if you’re even a little bit interested in custom fountain pens. The vivid colors, the warmth of the ebonite, the endless combinations of finishes and that touch of extra character you get from the hand-applied lacquer just make for a really, really unique finished product that there will only ever be one of. So if you’re thinking of going Urushi, or if you’re already considering a pen from Jonathon, definitely give the Urushi process a bit of thought. It’ll add some dollars and wait time to your order, but you’ll be glad you did.
Check him out, as usual, at CarolinaPenCompany.com and tell him I sent you!
Thanks for reading,