What began as a simple desire to learn the art of woodturning led Dr. Gary Buxton, instructor of English at Black River Technical College, to get involved with a project that supports American servicemen and women in a unique way.
About two years ago, Buxton decided to pursue his interest in woodturning, a form of woodworking using a lathe. He began by making bowls for fun. His experience then led to making duck calls. Once the duck calls were mastered, pens became his next pursuit. It was through his newfound passion for pen making that he discovered a project called “Freedom Pens,” a volunteer organization that ships custom made pens to service men and women serving in the Middle East.
“I began making pens because I thought they were neat and would make good gifts,” Buxton explained, “especially if made from wood with historical significance. I made my first pen about a year ago using wood from an old elm tree on our property that had died and had been cut down. The grandkids called the tree ‘our property’ because they had always played on it. I decided to cut some wood from that tree and use it to make pens for them as a keepsake. I also made pens for all of the other family members out of that wood as well as other woods on the farm.”
It was after making a few pens that Buxton discovered “Freedom Pens” and decided it was a project he wanted to get involved in. According to the website, http://freedompens.org/, the goal of the project is to provide beautiful writing instruments for the military stationed in foreign countries. Every Freedom Pen that is delivered will serve as a constant reminder to the troops that they are not alone and will have continued support until they return home. It’s a way of showing care for and support of the troops beyond just saying thank you. Each pen has to be made from woods found in North America. To date, 147,151 such custom made pens have been shipped to the Middle East through “Freedom Pens” and 25 of those were made by Buxton.
“With pens, the wood is very thin and you have to insert metal tubing inside before turning,” Buxton explained. “You also have to use bushings to get the wood cut to fit exactly with the nib and top. I often use CA finishing glue (super glue) to finish the pens.” When asked once how to put on the CA glue, Buxton replied – “Very quickly!” The mechanical parts are ordered from a supplier and pressed into the pen once turned.
“I have experimented with several different types of finishes and different types of woods,” added Buxton. “I have made items from woods such as walnut, white oak, cherry, elm, osage orange, and pecan – basically any hard wood. I look for something that is unique…something with character. That’s the fun part about it – when you start turning and get down into it and see the beautiful parts of the wood and the unique patterns.”
Since he began woodturning, Buxton has made and donated some bowls, duck calls and pens for fundraisers to the Missouri Folklore Society, the Mary Sallee Single Parent Scholarship (MSSPS), and the BRTC Foundation Gala. He said some day he may decide to sell items to help recoup expenses, but right now he’s just enjoying doing it for special gifts – keepsakes to pass on to kids, grandkids, family and friends.
“I like to incorporate something significant to make it more meaningful,” noted Buxton, “such as using wood from a tree on someone’s farm or from an old school house. “Occasionally, there are mishaps,” he continues, “pens and pieces that come apart, wood that cracks. You just have to throw them in the fire and start over. But, even with the mishaps, I really enjoy it. It’s therapeutic.”
The next woodturning project in Buxton’s future is a chess set for the den in his home. “I have the plans, but I haven’t started on it yet. One of these days!”