Wood once destined for the dumpster finds new life as stylish custom pens
Brian Zingleman saves everything. Even the wood shavings and scraps he finds in his workshop get new uses. One of his favorite uses for those scraps is creating custom pens, preferably with old wood that has a story to it.
“I hate to throw anything away,” said Zingleman, owner of Green Wood Working. “So, for my pens, all the wood is recycled.”
Zingleman about nine years ago began learning about making ballpoint and ink pens from wood remnants, he said. He was working for a large, national company and decided to leave and start a new career using his background in business and finance. But a little hobby he developed motivated him to forego corporate America and become an entrepreneur when he got his first big break with a backstory.
In the 1930s, Dow Chemical Co. moved into the Freeport area. Zingleman’s father worked for the company, which had erected redwood cooling towers to be used in extracting magnesium from sea water. In the 1970s, those cooling towers were obsolete and being torn down. His father collected a truckload of the redwood beams with plans to use them to build a greenhouse. He never built it and the wood sat in their yard for decades, Zingleman said. A Dow Chemical supervisor learned Zingleman made pens from wood remnants. Soon, Zingleman was commissioned to create more than 100 pens using the redwood from the Dow Chemical towers. Zingleman partnered with a local trophy company that had the license to engrave the Dow logo on the pens.
“They wanted to give them out to VIPs and retirees,” Zingleman said. “It got me started with my niche — historical wood and wood with a story.”
A 5-inch sliver of wood less than an inch thick is sufficient to make the barrels of the pens. Zingleman was able to craft dozens of pens with a 2-foot-long slab reclaimed in 1982 from the tall ship Elissa in Galveston, he said.
“Before anyone thought about recycling or reclaiming old wood, this wood was destined for the dumpster,” he said. “But someone thought to save some pieces and gave me two planks. I decorate the pens with nautical themes and they are popular.”
He sources reclaimed wood from interesting places, including dumpster diving in his home town when the basketball court at Brazoswood High School in Clute was being replaced. The maple floor had gotten wet and had to be restored. The original floor was tossed out, but Zingleman recovered several planks from his alma mater to make pens, he said.
The owner of the skating rink in his hometown, where Zingleman had childhood birthday parties, replaced the flooring and gave him maple wood to make pens. The skating rink owner gave the pens to his family as Christmas gifts.
Another friend had a 20-foot cedar beam from his great-great-great-grandfather’s house, of which Zingleman used only 18 inches to make pens.
“That wood was probably several hundred years old and meaningful,” Zingleman said.
He has even purchased logs and wood remnants of near extinct tree species, such as chestnut wood. At one time, chestnut trees were considered kings of the forest because the wood never rotted and was used to build barns and houses, he said. But a fungus wiped out much of the American chestnut trees in the United States. So getting a small piece of chestnut wood was a score, he said. He bought three floorboards from a Missouri barn while traveling in Kansas and has made dozens of pens from that dark wood and still has leftover segments.
Lately, Zingleman has been making thin, wooden bookmarks, which he glues onto sheaths to create placeholders.
“I said I throw out almost nothing,” he said.
Zingleman sells his pens in local shops, including G. Lee Gallery at 2217 Strand in Galveston. But he also frequents craft and outdoor festivals both near and far away. Last year, he attended more than 40 shows.
“I like the festivals and craft shows. I like talking to the people and showing them my pens,” he said. “I will not become a millionaire making pens, but at least I am having fun.”
Meet wood artist Brian Zingleman: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 26; G. Lee Gallery, 2217 Strand, Suite 107B, Galveston