November 2012: Pen Chest How-To

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BY DON FLUCKINGER • Over the years, I’ve developed a lot of best-practices techniques for creating my cigar box pen chests. While I’ve talked about this in previous columns some years ago, I’ll update it one final time for posterity.

Instant cigar box pen chest. You now have saved enough money — having not spent it on a Reed & Barton or Venlo chest — that you can practically buy another striped Duofold for your collection. Extra Fine Points

People wonder what I store my own pen collection in. The answer? These Fuente Kings:

Cigar box pen chests

To make your own:

First, go to a cigar store in your town. Choose boxes that aren’t moldy, beaten up, scratched, or warped in any direction. Take a tape measure with you. I don’t advise picking up any that are shorter than 6 inches inside length (not counting the sides) unless you collect vintage pens that are standard sized or smaller.

Then, either visit Gary Lehrer’s Web site or visit his table at the next pen show. You’re going to need to decide what color pen tray stock you want to insert in your chest before the next step. I recommend black if you’re planning to resell your chests because it’s easiest to match with the felt you will affix on the sides. But contrasting colors can look cool — if you’re making these for yourself, do whatever floats your boat.

Cigar boxesNext, visit your local Michael’s or A.C. Moore or whatever craft store is closest by. You’ll want to choose some stiff, self-adhesive felt. There will be many choices, and this step is fraught with potential missteps. Basically, the flimsier the felt, the less satisfied you’re likely to be. My favorite brands are Creatology, Stick-It and Eco-Fi — but be careful, the latter two come in several grades of flimsiness. Basically, it it’s stiff like cardboard you have the right stuff.

Prepare the box by removing the labels you don’t want to keep (usually price stickers, tax stamps and government warning stickers) with a rag slightly dampened with Goo Gone, a citrus-based solvent available at big-box home stores. Don’t rub too hard. Also on dark boxes, you can cover scratches and abrasions with touchup markers from home stores or Sharpies, if the color matches. Remove the slats inside the box, if they’re there, and blow out the dust and other schmutz on the bottom of the box.

I recommend cutting either the felt or the pen tray stock to size with a solid wooden paper cutter, like your elementary school teacher had. Barbara happened to have an extra Ingento brand paper cutter, probably from the 1950s, that I use. Premier and Ingento paper cutters can be picked off eBay. If you’re serious about doing this right, it’s worth it. Use scissors or tin snips — or the flimsy X-acto paper cutters that you get at office stores these days — at your own risk.

Cigar boxesTo make the felt sides for the inside of the box, cut pieces very close to, or slightly larger than, the size of the box’s sides. Then cut the tray, again going tight or a little over. If you’re very accurate, it will be press-fit and the tray stock will not need gluing. If it’s “just right,” you’ll glue it in with wood glue. If it’s slightly smaller and you can see a sliver of wood bottom sticking out from under the pen tray, don’t despair or start a new sheet: Cut a sliver of felt and affix it along the bottom edge of the appropriate side to cover the space where the wood shows through.

Cigar boxesCut some squares (you can use a scissors) about 12" up to 1" square for “feet” on the bottom. Wipe down the box one last time with your Goo Gone rag. You’re done.

And that’s it. Instant cigar box pen chest. Congratulations. You now have saved enough money — having not spent it on a Reed & Barton or Venlo chest — that you can practically buy another striped Duofold for your collection.

Another fun trick: If the box has a tray in it (I fabricate my own trays for double deckers), cut some rails for the left and right sides about 1 inch tall with your band saw or table saw (at your own risk; this can be tricky business for the uninitiated) and use Butcher’s Bowling Alley Wax (pictured to the left), which I can get at my local home store, and rub it on the tray sides for smoothing the in-and-out of the box.

Thanks, as always, to the good doctor Bryan Stone for his original idea to create my cigar box pen chests — he was the inspiration and the person who encouraged this enterprise of selling these chests on Richard’s site, an enterprise that has lasted for years longer than anyone ever thought it would. Thanks again, my man.


Don Fluckinger lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, and is the son-in-law of Richard Binder. His articles have been published in Antiques Roadshow Insider, The Boston Globe, and on the Biddersedge.com collectibles Web site. Please note: Any opinions stated in this column are Don’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Richard Binder or this Web site. Don Fluckinger
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