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Where Rugged Vintage Style Meets Modern Design. Proudly Made in America.

06 Mar '15

The Who, What, Where, When and How of The Twist Bullet Pencil

Posted by Jon Fontane

Now that all the Kickstarter rewards are shipped and the Twist Bullet Pencils, pens and other goodies are loaded to the website its time to tell the story of how The Twist Bullet Pencil came about.

Its was 9 months ago that I sent the picture above to my partner on this project, Jay aka Huckleberrywoodchuck. I took that picture about two minutes after first seeing it. Needless to say I was excited and couldn’t wait to share it with him.

So now the backstory. Why a bullet pencil? What is a bullet pencil? Have to be honest, I had never heard of a bullet pencil and probably hadn’t given any thought to pencils in general since grammar school. It all started in the Spring of 2014. Browsing through Instagram I came across an account for a brand with one heck of a name, Huckleberrywoodchuck. What I noticed right away were some great images of these small pencil holders, typically branded with some Insurance company or grain and feed shop from somewhere in the Mid-West. They looked old, they looked cool, they looked rugged and unique. Turns out I stumbled upon a collection of refurbished bullet pencils. Bullet pencils first emerged in Britain in the the late 1890‘s using spent .303 rifle cartridges to house a small pencil. During the holiday season of 194, Princess Mary gifted British soldiers a care package containing a pencil made from a spent .303 cartridge case along with other essentials like cigarettes and pipe tobacco. With thousands of British soldiers now familiar with this novel idea of a pencil housed in a bullet casing it was just a matter of time before the concept was given a commercial application as advertising and promotional pieces. Between 1930 and 1950 hundreds of thousands of bullet pencils were made. In fact they were so common they were handed out as freely as business cards are handed out today.

At the time, I was looking to bring in products from other small craftsmand to sell along side Metal Shop products at pop-up markets in and around the Northeast. I contacted Jay and ordered a dozen refurbished bullet pencils as well as some of his wonderfully sewn handkerchiefs. Immediately upon opening the package I knew there was something special about these little pencils and thought a modern version of these rugged little vintage items could be a great product for Metal Shop. I figured I would see the reaction at a couple pop-ups and take it from there. Reaction was good, not my overly enthusiastic reaction...but people seemed curious, interested and kids loved them.

All it took was one quick call to Jay, “Hey Jay, we should make a modern version of these.” It was like a call he had been waiting for forever. “I’ve been trying to find someone to make these!” This would be our first collaboration, hopefully of many.

A product (well actually an idea for a product) was born.

So that is the back story. Nine months ago the first prototype was complete. October 1st, Kickstarter commenced and by early February all our backers had product in hand.

It’s hard to believe that its only been nine months. Though at times it seems longer (yes I lack patience). But today I can’t be happier with the Twist Bullet Pencil. Yes we had our fair share of bumps in the road, we’ve made some tweaks and slight changes that have only made the product better. Today we even have options like the cap and pocket clip and the pen. So the original thought of a minimal, every day carry, versatile pencil (or pen) is a reality. This product truly defined what Metal Shop is, modern takes on products with a rugged vintage feel.




04 Mar '15

A History Lesson

Posted by Jon Fontane

Making rugged products for rugged souls, starts with a person working metal by machine or hand. Our products are not massed produced in a huge factory – they’re made by American hands within a Connecticut fabrication shop. Since we’re “old school,” here’s a short history lesson on metal work.


The first metals worked by man were gold, copper, and bronze. Dating back to at least 3000BC in the Middle East and North America, these metals were found in relatively pure form (no smelting required) near the surface of the earth, making their discovery easy. Also, because of their softness, and low melting temperature, these metals were easy to work without sophisticated tools.
Aside from iron meteorites, iron is found only as ores, not as pure metal in the Earth's crust. Several civilizations practiced iron working around 1300 BC, even though Iron’s hardness and high melting point, made it difficult to work with. Its hardness and ability to hold a much sharper edge than the Bronze-age metals, gave iron-working civilizations a huge military advantage over their neighbors; making iron work top secret amongst the cultures that developed it.
Steel (iron with trace amounts of carbon or other impurities) was used to make the best weaponry by the time of the Roman Empire, though the Romans probably imported the steel from the Middle East rather than manufacturing it themselves.
Stainless steel (typically an iron-nickel-chromium alloy) was discovered in 1821, but not widely commercialized until the turn of the 20th century.
Before about 1860 steel was an expensive product, made in small quantities and used mostly for swords, tools and cutlery; all large metal structures were made of wrought or cast iron. Steelmaking was centered in Sheffield, Britain, which supplied the European and the American markets.
From 1875 to 1920 American steel production grew from 380,000 tons to 60 million tons annually, making the U.S. by far the dominant world leader. This explosive American growth rested on the continuous rapid expansion of urban infrastructures, office buildings, factories, railroads, bridges and other sectors that demanded steel. The use of steel in automobiles and household appliances came in the 20th century.

So, now onto the big dogs of the metal industry – THE STEEL KINGS!
Ever hear of the name Andrew Carnegie? Yeah, he made a few dollars in his day. How did he make his money? Carnegie's great innovation was in the cheap and efficient mass production of steel rails for railroad lines. This could not have happened without the prior invention of Bessemer Steel (a way to produce steel faster). Thus Carnegie's "innovation" was scale, not anything technical. By 1889, the U.S. output of steel exceeded that of Britain, and Andrew Carnegie owned a large part of it. By 1900, the profits of Carnegie Bros. & Company alone stood at $40,000,000 with $25,000,000 being Carnegie's share. Here’s some math to blow your mind… According to the WestEgg Inflation Calculator, $1 Million in 1900 would be worth $24,613,670.55. Times that by 25 million for a measly $615,341,763.75.

A couple more names you may have heard about: Charles Schwab and J.P. Morgan both started their mass fortunes in the steel industry. Charles Schwab and Eugene Grace made Bethlehem Steel the second-largest American steel company by the 1920s. Schwab had been the operating head of Carnegie Steel and US Steel. In 1903 he purchased the small firm Bethlehem Steel, and in 1916 made Grace President. Bethlehem concentrated on government contracts, such as ships and naval armor, and on construction beams, especially for skyscrapers and bridges. It produced 1,121 ships, more than any other builder during the war and nearly one-fifth of the U.S. Navy's fleet.
By 1900 the US was the largest producer and also the lowest cost producer, and demand for steel seemed inexhaustible. Output had tripled since 1890, but customers, not producers, mostly benefitted. Productivity-enhancing technology encouraged faster and faster rates of investment in new plants. However during recessions, demand fell sharply taking down output, prices, and profits. Charles M. Schwab of Carnegie Steel proposed a solution: consolidation. Financier J. P. Morgan arranged the buyout of Carnegie and most other major forms, and put Elbert Gary in charge. The old adage that what goes up must come down - which the steel industry did throughout the years with The Depression and then the great fall of the economy in 2008.


Regardless of the ups and downs of the metal and steel industry, the mass production of cheap steel, made possible by the discoveries and men described above (and many others not mentioned), has revolutionized our world. Look around you to see what in your life has been made possible (or better or more affordable) by cheap, abundant steel: railroads, oil and gas pipelines, power lines, assembly lines, skyscrapers, elevators, subways, bridges, planes, trains and automobiles, farm equipment, boats, appliances, nails, screws, bolts, nuts, utensils, surgical instruments, ball-bearings, turbines, drill bits, saws, AND OF COURSE, METAL SHOP’S RUGGED GIFTS!

Our products are nostalgic reminders of the greatness that built America. Each piece is proudly machine and hand made in America. Whether you choose to pick one of the aluminum bullet pens or pencils, a steel slide belt or EDC Steel Bottle Opener/Key Ring, you are picking cool Metal Shop products that bring back a little bit of yester years.

Sources: Wikipedia, pbs.org, anselm.edu

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