A local pen craftsman’s story
By Matt Tormey
Photography By Jack Foley
Weymouth’s Al LaFrance is undeniably a skilled craftsman and artist. In 1998, with years of craftsmanship under his (tool)belt, LaFrance came across a catalog for wood pen crafting kits and quickly became enamored. These kits were based on woodturning, a distinct set of general woodworking. “Although complimentary, the skill sets of (woodturning) are distinct from those (of cabinet making),” LaFrance explains. “The art of crafting pens is more similar to that of fine machining work.”
Including all associated tasks, each pen requires roughly an hour to craft. The tasks include preparing materials, drilling, turning and finishing and are all done from his home workshop. The pens are made from exotic hardwoods, various types of plastic and man-made stone.
In 2012, his wife unknowingly to him, enrolled him in a craft fair, asking he recoup some costs from his ever-growing hobby. Shocked, LaFrance feared the $25 table fee was only the latest cost he would be unable to recover. His fears proved to be unfounded as he sold his first pen to a fellow vendor, prior to the fair’s opening. An innumerable amount of fairs have followed since.
“Pens are a perfect gift,” says LaFrance. “They are a tool that everyone can relate to.” At any time, LaFrance has nearly 100 different styles of pens available for sale. Many pens are themed by vocations; artists, doctors, sportsmen and writers are some popular examples. Other big sellers are holiday-related, presents for Christmas, Halloween, Father’s Day and graduations.
While his craft has proven capable of paying for itself, LaFrance insists that his art is just a hobby. Recently retired, LaFrance says he “keeps reading retirement magazines and they all say the same thing, (a retired person) needs an interest—a hobby”.