Saturday, March 04, 2006

Ancient Swamp Pen

Some of you may have read my Carpenters Pencils posting that Pencil Revolution was kind enough to publish. If you have, then you may recall that I have a family relationship to trades involving wood. Some time ago my mother was visiting her brother who is a retired wood-turner, and he was making some wooden pens from ancient wood. My mother thought “Ah, now there’s a birthday present for my history loving, pen / pencil loving son” so that’s how I have this pen. Now I know this blog is called “Dave’s Mechanical Pencils” and it’s not a mechanical pencil, but I’m sure you can understand there is a certain sentimental value, so it is here as the first pen to feature on my mechanical pencil blog.

“About 26,000 years ago a huge volcanic event in the central North Island of New Zealand toppled trees, blocked rivers and created swamp areas when it deposited vast quantities of ash over the area. Logs that were submerged in the swamp did not decay because the chemical mix of the swamp preserved them. In 2000 AD some logs were recovered from the Reporoa swamp and milled. Some of the off-cuts were made available to local wood turners. 26,000 years buried in the swamp has darkened the timber to a lustrous ebony colour. The general condition of the timber is exceptional considering its history.” Source “Reporoa Swamp Matai” (edited) leaflet that accompanies items made from this timber.

My uncle lives near to the source of this timber and is one of the wood turners given the off-cuts, so its a genuine story. These sorts of “swamp” timbers are not common, but they are certainly not unknown or rare here in NZ, and this wood has been carbon-dated. It is Matai (Prumnopitys taxiflora), a coniferous tree species endemic to New Zealand, much valued for its strength, durability and hardwearing non-denting properties. In the past it was frequently used for the flooring of schools, churches, ballrooms, etc but these days it is generally too expensive and rare for such uses.

My pen and a piece of the swamp Matai showing bark and inner wood.

Forestry in New Zealand is now totally dominated by exotic plantations of Pinus radiata, that’s the Monterey Pine to any American readers. New Zealand is arguably the world leader in plantation forestry. For example the largest plantation forest in the world, Kaingaroa Forest (2,900 sq km or 717,000 acres), is here in NZ and planting began over 75 years ago. Some compartments are now having their third generation of trees milled. The Monterey Pine has been selectively bred so that maturity now takes only 18-20 years. Interestingly I’ve never met a Californian who recognised a New Zealand Monterey Pine as anything like their tree back home. Actually I’m not sure many New Zealanders would know what a Monterey Pine is. Here they are just Pine trees. There’s only one species, they’re all the same, millions upon millions of them, straight row after row, marching on up and over the hills.... But I digress….

So, basically my uncle has a supply of gold-plated pen trims, and then turns pen bodies from wood to make the pen. This is a twist action pen taking a standard type refill. It is 140mm long and 13mm diameter at the widest point. For those who appreciate wooden objects, then it is a wonderful treasure. Say no more.


Slywy said...

That is really lovely and unique.

Anonymous said...

Very nice.
I believe they also make mechanical pencil innards for custom wood turners like your uncle... (you can probably see where this is going....) ;-)
A mechanical pencil with 26,000 year old wood! hmmmm....

Anonymous said...

Hi there. I'm psyched to find this blog. I LOVE mechanical pencils and have been looking for a specific one and maybe you techies can help me. I'm looking for a really technical pencil, something like the kohinors, but I need retractablility. Many years ago I have a teacher that had one that was black and all metal. It was heavy and nice. In order to advance the lead, you simply had to shake the pencil up and down. It was fabulous, but I haven't found anything. Any ideas??? Thanks for the blog. I like the kerry very much and I'm considering it, but I'm not sure I'm ready to move toward something so fancy. Thanks. s I'm at if you want to write. I'll recheck this blog, too.