LIVING Darren Koele, a veteran in central Ohio, has turned his pen-turning hobby into a passion for creating small works of art. Jack Yan speaks with him
Jack Yan is publisher of Lucire.
Darren Koele’s pens, sold through Turn Style Woodturning, are magnificent sights. They’re beautifully handmade and polished, and each is unique, making them perfect gifts for someone special.
Hailing from southeastern Wisconsin, Koele joined the US Army Reserve and attended basic training between his junior and senior years at high school. After he graduated, he became a full-time active-duty soldier, serving with 84th Engineer Co., 2nd ACR in Bayreuth, Germany, then with the 8th Engineer Batallion, 1st Cavalry Division. Koele then served in Desert Shield and Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
Koele recalls, ‘After leaving the service, my disability made it difficult to remain in my desired field. I bounced from one job to another for years. After moving to Ohio, getting married, and buying a house of our own, I began to find stability in certain aspects of my life including occupational. One thing was lacking: active participation in a hobby. Without an activity like this, my mind developed a level of toxicity stemming anger-management issues. So, I tried pen turning. It didn’t take long for me to learn: it’s healthy and productive, and fun and deeply fulfilling.’
It was a surprise to find Koele describe himself as an ‘introvert’ and ‘antisocial’ given his impeccable manners over the many years of our association. Nevertheless, his hobby has become a valuable sideline, and he has pursued this self-taught skill with a degree of assuredness. The pens illustrated here are not those of a merely gifted amateur, but someone who has reached an undisputed level of professionalism.
‘… Making and selling pens are a way I can share myself with others I would normally avoid, while maintaining a certain level of comfort,’ he says. ‘I enjoy being able to make specialized pens such military pens for veterans, bolt actions for hunters, and dragon pens for those with an interest in fantasy. Another drive is the stories why people want the pens. Usually, they are gifts for someone. I’ve done firefighter pens for firemen, a navy pen for a newly commissioned naval officer, and more. It places a value on the pen that goes beyond the monetary.’
Despite his fulfilment in pen-turning, Koele admits not every day is easy. ‘From physical ailments to the psychological “I’m just not feeling it today” to just anomalies in the wood such as grain or colour changes. It’s true. There are some days where I have no interest in turning. This creates stress when I know I have orders to fill or events to prepare for. Physical problems range from unsteady hands to a chronic back problem suffered from my army days. When it comes to wood, some are harder to finish due to deep grains. Some are hard to turn because of the hard and brittle nature of the wood. And finally, some woods like to change colour on you.’
His attention to detail—not to let imperfection or his own discomfort stand in the way—marks out his work.
Presently, Koele maintains a Facebook page and an Instagram account, with orders taken through email or messaging, and payments conducted via Paypal. The asking prices for these handmade works of art range from just US$30 to US$80. He has also created salt and pepper grinders and wooden snowmen, but pens remain his main offering. At the time of our interview, Koele envisages creating higher-end pens retailing for more. Based on these examples, they’ll be worth every penny. •
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