Creative outlet benefits troops

Photos by Matthew Busch/The Herald
Steve Dills of Jasper filed small blocks of wood in his garage the afternoon of April 10 to make pens for the organization Freedom Pens that will send the pens to soldiers overseas. It takes Dills about half an hour to mill each pen. He has made around 50 so far, oftentimes milling them whenever he has the chance at home on his homemade lathe.

Herald Staff Writer

JASPER — When Steve Dills decided he wanted to find a new hobby, he began using a small metal lathe to make wooden pens.

“Making pens is quick and easy,” the Jasper resident said. “But you can only use so many pens.”

He stumbled upon the Hayes, Va.-based organization Freedom Pens, which sends handcrafted pens to military members serving overseas.

“It gave me a good excuse to make more pens,” Dills, 59, said. “It’s easy, fun and I know I would appreciate a pen like this if I were away from home.”

Steve Dills shaved off bits of wood from small blocks on the homemade lathe in his garage the afternoon of April 10 to make wood pens for the organization Freedom Pens.

Joe “Sarge” Kelly of Deham Springs, La., spent 38 years in the U.S. Army and acts as a coordinator for the organization.

“We shipped over 13,000 pens out of my house this last year,” he said. “We’ve got about 400 people that turn pens regularly.”

Dills is ready to send his first 25 pens, made of Indiana hardwoods, to the organization. His goal is to make 100 for the troops.

“I don’t think we can do enough for our veterans or active troops,” he said. “These guys have been fighting so long and have done so many tours. This is just something small I can do to show my appreciation.”

Dills starts with two small blocks of wood and drills a hole though the center of each. A brass cylinder is glued into each hole and the pen is ready to be turned on the lathe.

“It only takes about five minutes to turn a pen,” he said. “The rest of the time is all in the finishing.”

Dills uses six coats of super glue, an acrylic, to give his pens a glossy finish, which he polishes using different grits of sandpaper. He then assembles the pen using a kit purchased from the organization and packs it into a small plastic bag.

“I’ll add a little thank-you note for each one later before I send them off,” Dills said.

Wood pens sat in Steve Dills’ garage April 10, ready to send to the organization Freedom Pens.

The pens can be made of any material and in any style the maker desires. Dills’ pens are all twist pens where one end is twisted to extend or retract the pen tip.

“They can do whatever they want to do,” Kelly said. “Wood is the most common. We don’t put a time limit on how long they’ve got to finish them, either.”

Dills said it costs him a couple of dollars per pen. He tries to make one every night.

“Once I get better, I can probably whip one out in 15 minutes,” he said. “It takes me about a half-hour or so now. That’s not too bad. It’s usually pretty easy to fit in your schedule. It doesn’t take much time at all.”

Though the vast majority of pens come from individuals like Dills, Kelly noted that various organizations, school shop classes and prisons also have donated pens. As of April 5, the organization had shipped more than 3,300 pens overseas this year.

“I just think it’s a great way to let the troops know the people at home care about them,” Dills said. “And it keeps me busy.”


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