Merry Christmas 2017

Merry Christmas to all of my customers and students

If you’ve received one of my creations as a Christmas gift: I do hope you enjoy it. if you have any questions please do use my  Get In Touch   link.

If you’re interested in staying on top of what I create, or where I’ll be teaching in 2018,  I’m really active on Instagram, so keep an eye there for pictures of creations, classes, and other projects I’ll be working on.



The site was hacked. Hopefully fixed.

Thanks to folks for a couple of quick warnings about the site being hacked.

It was indeed true, and it should be fixed now:  all posts were compromised with an injected link that sent you off to inappropriate sites.

My concern is that this hack attack seems far too focussed specifically on my site, so I will be doing some investigating.

Haven’t posted in a while: updates.

Its been a busy few months at Distinctive Woodworking:  more wood time than website time.

As always: the best way to stay up to date is to keep an eye on my instagram feed at or my facebook feed at  and of course my “get in touch” link at the top here works perfectly.

I’ve got a couple of dozen classes coming  up at Lee Valley tools locations, so look on the Lee Valley website.

I’ll be teaching in Ottawa, Toronto and Waterloo before the end of the year.

A little bit of fun work:   a friend snapped this beautiful picture of one of my pens with the house of commons in the background.

And the benefits of an Ottawa summer:  assembling and sanding chairs on the patio!

Viennese Winter Ball, and thanks.

Well, one must always know when its time to add something to the blog… When one realizes that its been since Christmas!

Last night was the Viennese Winter Ball.  Its one of our favourite events to support because of the combination of fantastic youth fundraising, lovely music, and good company.

We had the opportunity to provide over  forty custom made presentation gifts this year, and while that was a tremendous amount of work, seeing the joy on so many of the recipients was absolutely worth it. The photos below are quick “panoramics” of many of the items just prior to my daughter doing the final tests to make sure they all work.



Unlike last year, I just didn’t have the time to blog about creating all the items,  so I’ll put in a couple of photos here.  As always, if you are interested in talking about music or woodworking or would like a lovely pen to please get in touch.  Just below is a picture of one of the items:  it was offered in the silent auction: I hope the winners love it:  made from Canadian maple and finished with a long-lasting polish I am sure they will love it for years.


My next big projects are to complete a couple of furniture commissions and to get ready for some spring artisan markets.  I have less “pen” stock on hand right now, so many items (especially fountain pens) will be built to order, but that is always fun.  I need to finish a “prairie settle” for my wife, it will end up looking like this:



But right now… it looks like this.. 🙁


Upcoming Events and Product availability for Ottawa at Home Readers

I’ve got an active Facebook page at Distinctive Woodworking/Pens By Jonathan at Facebook  which keeps an active list of upcoming events but if you’re coming from Ottawa At Home Magazine a little bit of additional information.
I do not have a ‘bricks and mortar’ store, but maintain an active set of ETSY sales and a store presence with the fantastic Ottawa business Givopoly Place an order online, and they deliver it direct to you or your gift recipient. If you’re looking for something specific, please get in touch.

I also do a tremendous amount of business this time of year at craft markets:

I’ve already been at the Chance Foundation event at Aberdeen Pavillion, ETSY Made in Canada, and the 613 Flea show at Lansdowne.  I’ll be Hintonburg at the Community Centre on the 19th of December,   at Tudor Hall off Riverside Drive at IBM on December 20th,  at the Museum of History (Former Museum of Civilization) for four days from December 1st to December 4th. I”ll be at the OVCC show at the Place D’Orleans Mall on December 3rd and December 4th, at Nokia’s private sale on December 5th and 6th and wrapping up the season at the Beechwood Farmers market on December 17th

If you know of an event you’d like to see me at, please get in touch.

And of course, I’m happy to meet one on one with you to discuss business or corporate orders including custom branding of presentation gift items as well as custom furniture commissions.  (sample photos are available in my gallery but a couple of perfect images follow )

How to get in touch.

Solid Cherry and Wenge Dining Room Chair

One of my all time favourite pens, maple burl with african blackwood inlay
One of my all time favourite pens, maple burl with african blackwood inlay

Sample Engravings


Recent work and creations.

It has been a busy summer.
Getting ready for the fall craft sales season, preparing commissions for clients, and teaching many seminars at Lee Valley tools has made it challenging to remember little things like keeping the website up to date.

My biggest recent project was a beautiful dining room side table for a client:  it was made from a stunning waterfall bubinga slab with a solid cherry table base and wenge drawer fronts.  What I love about summer woodworking is the opportunity to work on the project in the sunshine and fresh air. It also makes my wife happier because the finishing oil work is done outside 🙂

Bubinga Slab top of cherry side table
Bubinga, wenge and cherry side table, side view




Taking pictures of the project in the client’s home was a severe challenge. The room’s walls are blue and it really shifted the colour of the wood in the photos.

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Hello to visitors from Music and Beyond

If you’re coming to my page thanks to my advertisement in the Music and Beyond program, thank you.
If you are interested in furniture or beautiful pens, please get in touch, either by leaving a comment to this post, or using the ‘contact me page’ at the top of the website.

With apologies: not all of my photos are as good as I would like:  woodworking is often more fun than website maintenance.

As an example of my work, I recently completed a commission for a government client: a maple presentation pen, with maple highlights on the pen mechanism, with an engraved box. I can prepare custom work for your needs either personal or professional for a wide range of price needs.

Maple Pen in Box Maple Pen on marble Maple pen on Marble Engraved Box for Supreme Court

Thanks to the Ottawa Modern Quilt guild, and to Cheerfully Made Markets!

This weekend (the May 7/8) weekend was a handful.

Presenting as a vendor at the Cheerfully Made Market in Almonte with my wood turned items at the same time as my friend Krista (of ) was arranging to display my quilt racks at the Ottawa Modern Quilt Guild’s event at the Ottawa RA centre made for a busy busy weekend.

Thanks to Emily Arbour of for her hard work at creating the event in Almonte, and thanks to the Ottawa Modern Quilt Guild for their event

There was a lot of attention to the quilt racks at the Ottawa Modern Quilt Guild:  Please get in touch if you’d like some lovely furniture.

I take the perspective that an heirloom quality quilt deserves heirloom quality furniture.   If one puts hundreds of hours into creating a quilt, then skimping on a rack that will bow, bend, or warp after a few months is false economy.   I design my quilt racks to be as much of an heirloom as the quilt that is displayed on the rack. That includes quality joinery, a high quality preparation job on the wood so that there are no sharp edges or splinters, and a long lasting finish that will be compatible with the fabric of the quilt.  More expensive, but  a beautiful quilt deserves no less.


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The morning after the ball.

As I write this the house is quiet.
My daughters are still ensconced in their beds, one with the dog and one of the cats curled up beside her. Having seen some of the iPhone snapshots my wife and I took, I know they’re dreaming of dancing the night away in a stunning gown with new friends.  My son is watching Wallace and Grommit. I’ve cleaned up the kitchen from the rubble the kids left last night, and my wife is (I hope) still dreaming of her handsome prince in his stunning suit from ER Fisher.  Hopefully she won’t mind waking up to the middle aged engineer and woodworking artisan I actually am  🙂

Words cannot begin to capture how amazing the Viennese Winter Ball  event felt like.   From the skills of the young gentlemen and ladies and their dancing, the fantastic performers of Thirteen Strings Chamber Orchestra, Michael Gauthier’s fine photography from Freedom Photography,  the amazing support of all the dignitaries, sponsors, honoured guests of the diplomatic corps, or the tremendous work of the Music and Beyond team I’m not sure I can really capture it all.

For my part, what I found most amazing was the kindness and interest of each of the people who received one of my pens, and the interest of the ball attendees who  enjoyed sharing my stories of how each of them came together.

My wife and I  had amazing conversations with the gift recipients, with the interesting people at our table, and with many other lovely people. The tremendous amount of work that it took to create each gift was repaid tenfold  with the kindness and attention as we talked about how a simple piece of wood became a lovely writing instrument.  The stories of each of the people at our table were so much fun to share,  I know my wife and I shall enjoy remembering for years to come.

Whether you’re reading this because you were part of the ball,  one of the debs and cavs wondering about the pen you received, or someone who read about the ball in the newspaper,  I can simply wrap this up with a simple statement.  I hope to see you next year.

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If it wasn’t for the last minute…

Getting 30 items ready for the ball took another family event. We sorted out all the pen boxes, mind each of which is custom laser etched.


Then we deployed the gift pens I had made for each deb and cav and sponsor.

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And we organized them into each box, view and my daughter did a set of quality checks (And she rejected three!)

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As you can see, find the pens look really lovely.


And as you can see the boxes came out perfectly with the laser etching.

And we handed them off to the lovely folks at the Viennese Winter Ball

More than just pens: beautiful furniture. Solid cherry dining set

My wonderful clients Heather and Chad recently had a dinner party and took a moment to capture pictures of their new dining room table and chairs I recently delivered.
Solid cherry tabletop made from recovered cherry trees that fell during the ice storm, and carefully dried, stored, and protected until they found their home. Heather, Chad, and I went through my wood pile  selecting each board so that we had the right combination of boards that met Heathers love of color, and Chad’s desire for texture.


Each board that formed up the tabletop was carefully joined together with a strip of wenge (a beautiful exotic hardwood) inserted on a shallow curve following the bark line of each board.  The goal was a table that would be beautiful as a daily use table, but would also work beautifully for special occasions. A lightweight but solid trestle frame made from Ottawa Valley maple gets the legs away from the corners and eliminates stubbed toes, it also maximizes the number of people that can sit around the table.

Heather, Chad, and I worked together to polish a fine furniture finishing oil made by a German company, Livos.  Not only does it bring out the grain and texture of the wood, it also provides a fantastically robust surface for a table top.

When it came to the chairs,  Heather and Chad wanted something special too. I sketched designs, passed them over by photo and chat, and we went back and forth to identify the perfect design.

Heather has a fantastic taste in color and design and chose a beautiful fabric for the upholstery. Each seat back is made from carefully bent laminated wenge and steam bent cherry. The rear legs of each chair are made from laminated cherry and wenge strips. Each seat is set up on a beautiful 4 degree angle for maximum comfort. The front legs are made from solid straight grained cherry, with a subtle taper, with a single cherry board used to form a continuous wrapped grain all around the seat. Heather and I then collaborated on the upholstery to wrap her fine fabric choice around a comfortable jute, foam and quilt batted seat. Each chair was then tuned for perfect balance and comfort, setting the recline angle just right for comfort while eating while also being just right for an evening of conversation and fine wine.


In the end, a beautiful room full of furniture (this picture was shot with a wide-angle lens, so the chairs are a little distorted on the fringes.

The suite of furniture shot with a wide angle lens.
The suite of furniture shot with a wide angle lens.

Let’s make a piece of furniture for your home: Get in touch

And finally, assembly time!

And finally, its time to actually create the pen.
If you’ve been reading along, you’ve seen how I’ve gone from a block of wood to smaller pieces of wood, to holes drilled by my son, gluing with my daughter, and finally actually to the lathe to do the spinning and turning to create the pens. One can reasonably wonder whether this is the easiest stage at this point.

Of course not…

With all the labour and thinking and planning up to this point, it is amazing how a half second’s inattention can take a potential pen of high beauty, something that might  sell for up to $200, and instantly convert it to firewood. The trick is, again organization.

It starts with carefully considering which piece of wood should go with pen mechanism.  The different metals have differing warmths, and some are too bright.  The other consideration is if the wood is a little more plain, perhaps add a piece of very bright metal to the project.  Of course, if the wood is brilliantly figured, a muted or understated pen mechanism might be best for showing off the wood. Once the planning is done (and the debating with my daughters and wife is complete,  there is always 50% of the pens where my opinion isn’t necessarily the final word. Ahem ) the assembly can start.



The pen fittings are incredibly well machined  so that everything becomes a friction fit. No glue required.  My oldest pen is 20 years old, and has never required a lick of maintenance other than an occasional polishing. In this case, we’re going for bling on bling. The piece of maple has some beautiful figure in it, so lets make it really amazing by combining it with high quality gold and black titanium.


As I’ve mentioned, there are limits to what my son can safely do in the workshop, but he does love assembling pens. The trick is to -very gently- compress the wood and metal fittings together. Unfortunately, this is where that fraction of a second comes into play.  The matter of the smallest pressure in the vice during assembly can make the difference between a shattered pen and a gorgeous product.   The next pen after this one, my son got excited and over tightened, the wood fractured, and we went from a beautiful pen to firewood in an instant.  Painful, but given the choice of excluding my son from this activity, its worth a modest gamble to keep in in the work.

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And with apologies for the “blurry cam” (and the dirty fingers)  we have  a beautiful pen.




A cutting time

So after doing all the work to get to this stage, its time (finally) to actually MAKE the pen.
The pens are squared up using a special tool, and mounted on the lathe.


I then begin to cut the pens.   Much of my work is with a special tool called a ‘skew’   Tricky to work with but it makes a beautiful almost finish ready cut to the wood.  If you look at the pictures below, you’ll see I am slicing away paper thin shavings off the wood.

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The end result:  a beautifully prepared piece of wood.  You notice the knots and defects in the wood? Those carefully captured paper shavings I sliced off get carefully blended into the defects, sealed in place with an industrial strength adhesive and polished.

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I then apply some finishing dye to the pens, and organize them in time for polishing on a diamond paste impregnated polishing wheel.

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And the final result:

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Next steps:   assembly

A sticky time: The path to a set of pen gifts

For the gifts for the Ottawa’s Viennese Winter Ball, I’ve talked about the ‘easy’ parts of making a set of pens so far. But then it gets sticky.
As in glue.

Over the fifteen plus years that I have made pens, I think I’ve heard and read about fifteen different means to glue up a set of pens. The challenge is that you’re looking to bond a variety of pieces of woods, some that are more oily, some that are drier, some that are harder, some that are softer. Finding the best chemistry makes the difference between a gift that lasts for years and decades, and a pen that falls apart after 6 months and disappoints the recipient.

Several years ago I switched to using West System Epoxy. It is an expensive glue that is heavily used for aviation and for boatbuilding, and I consider myself having solved the adhesive problem.  Expensive but worth every penny for the robustness of the pen.

The challenge becomes: how to put a whole bunch of pens together.

This is one of the times when being intensely organized is crucial. The epoxy has only a small amount of time to work with before it starts to set up (longer than those poor quality ‘5 minute’ epoxies, but only about half an hour)   So I drafted my daughter into the battle.

Start with all the pen mechanisms organized in their sorting containers.

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Continue with all the wooden pieces organized in their trays.


Cover the dining room table with paper and take over the dining room (and a little of the family room, and a little of the living room) (And you wonder why my wife has some grey hair?)


And get to work with the glue.  Each pen requires one or two metal tubes that reinforce the wood. That tube needs to be thoroughly bonded to the wood, so a proper layer of glue, well spread, is crucial.  It then needs to be inserted into the wooden pen piece to the right position WITHOUT removing all the glue you just put on.

And the end result looks like this. IMG_0342 IMG_1420

And when we’re all done,  the dining room looked a little like this:


Over forty pens prepared for the REAL work.  Actually turning them into beautiful pens.

From sticks to pens: making a lot of holes.

Working on a large commission like for the Viennese Winter Ball requires organization.   When I’m making one or two pens for a client, I can be extremely specific about the piece of wood, but I do not need to be quite as ‘protective’ as I move the project around the workshop.

In this case, working on almost 30 pens, each of which I have a particular design intent,  requires a whole different set of planning.

As an example, I need to figure out how I want to keep track of all the mechanical structures to the pen.  Some pens can have up to 15 different pieces to the pen, so keeping track becomes a real exercise. The easiest way is simply plastic storage boxes which allows me to visualize all the components to the pens and to compare at a seconds effort whether the particular piece of wood will work with the theme of the mechanical structure of the pen.

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As I have mentioned, my son likes to work with me in the workshop, but with his autism there are limits to what he can and cannot safely do.  The power saws are right out, but things like measuring and marking he is good at, and he loves the drill press.  As a result we can start by taking the pieces of wood that I have cut and identify which pens are likely to look best coming out of those pieces of wood.  So we start, with a plastic bin full of pieces of wood that we’ve tried to find the best possible grain and texture, capturing bark wherever possible, and preparing for a great pen.

The funny thing is, my son loves to work in the kitchen to cook: so his markers and ruler are in the kitchen near his peanut butter, and he marks each piece of wood with the type of pen that we’re making.



By the time we’re done, we’ve got a whole bunch of wood ready and we can shift to the workshop to get ready.


I have an organizational system I use when preparing all the pieces of wood: I have old scrap wooden display boxes, which are absolutely perfect for keeping track of project materials.  So   we get started cutting out each piece of wood.  And by the time we’re done, its quite a different look to the box!



What happens next is that my son and I get to work in the workshop, IMG_1942carefully drilling out each piece of wood to accept the wooden barrel that will reinforce the pen


And by the time we’re done, a huge pile of sawdust, and a lot of pieces of wood that are ready to continue on the road to becoming pens.


Making a set of pens: Gifts for the Viennese Winter Ball

As I mentioned yesterday, the lovely team at Ottawa’s Viennese Winter Ball selected me as the gifts sponsor.
So why a beautiful wooden bodied pen as a gift?

Lets start with the basics.

Rather than something made anonymously in a factory in China, my pens are individually made from carefully selected woods (and occasionally acrylics because of the amazing colors that are possible)  My autistic son helps with the cutting and drilling of the wood, my teenaged daughters weigh in on such important matters as color and texture. Some of my pens need very specific matches between the metallic accents on each pen mechanism and the unique details of the wood, and so we end up in a family discussion about just what makes the piece of wood appropriate for a specific pen.

So where does it all start?   Often it starts with the least assuming piece of wood:

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So that is actually “scrap” wood from one of my lovely local wood suppliers. That is Canadian maple (likely  Ottawa valley) and as you can see it has a circular cut out in it.   The rest of the piece of wood will make a gorgeous bowl: but it makes the rest of the piece seem unassuming and “junk”  But if you look carefully there is all sorts of amazing texture and color, plus the pieces of bark are perfect for a pen.   So: start with a chunk of wood like this: looks like scrap, but with the right eye you can start to see potential.

So what’s next?  Take the piece of wood and cut it carefully into sticks

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You can see that I’ve worked very hard to capture beautiful pieces of bark and other pieces of texture in the wood.   By cutting it this way I can start to establish the shape of the future pen.

And then: the most critical part: cutting out final pieces of a pen.


More later.

Getting ready for the Viennese Ball!

The lovely folks at the Viennese Ball Ottawa’s Viennese Winter Ball, were kind enough to accept my proposal of
custom made pens as gifts for the young men and ladies currently working on their dance skills for the
magical evening of Feb 20th.

Each of the debs and cavs from this years Viennese Winter Ball will be receiving a beautiful pen in a
custom laser etched presentation box.  Each pen will be a lifetime memory for them to treasure: a pen that
can be taken to school, used for exams, used to remember a magical evening in their youth.

I thought I’d take a few posts to explain how a custom made pen goes from  an idea  to a stunning gift.

By doing this, I’ll also help to explain why a custom made pen makes sense as a business gift or a promotional
item as well.

I often get asked “How long does it take to make a pen?”   The short answer is  “2 hours”.  The slightly
longer  15 years! (even after 15 years I’m still learning)

The actual answer is “2 hours spread out over ten days”.

So  watch over the next few days as a pen goes from a an idea, to the selection
from a block of wood through all the steps and skills to create a beautiful pen.

As an example of what the debs and cavs will be getting from the ball:

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Running out of season, lots of pictures, enjoy, get in touch!

I’m running out of woodworking season while I catch up on commissions and orders.  And, to be honest, the woodworking space of the house is a lot more fun than hours on the webpage.So: I’m going to post a bunch of pictures of my work.  Some of the pictures are beautifully composed,  a whole lot of the pictures are not. I’m happy to take further commissions, or to get in touch to sell items that I currently have on hand.



So why Distinctive Woodworking?

Why have I created Distinctive Woodworking?
Custom furniture has developed an undeserved reputation for being too expensive: leading people to think they can only afford cheap particle board and plywood furniture from places like Ikea. The result? Furniture that only lasts a few short years and then ends up in landfill.

So why not spend a little bit more (not as much as you think!) and end up with a piece of furniture that will last long enough you can pass it onto your kids?

A timeless piece of furniture like these?   Stay in touch and lets continue the journey.

Solid Cherry chest of drawers
Two shaker style side tables in curly maple.