June 10, 2008
Tift Co. - Just off the Upper Ty Ty road, up a small hill, after the asphalt ends and where pecan trees grow, sits a special classroom in a barn.
Many people would call it an immaculately kept woodworking shop, bathed in fluorescent light, spacious, with several pieces of woodworking equipment ready to come to life with the flick of a switch.
No sawdust; a special vacuum system sucks it up before it gets a chance to wonder.
A gentle man with a quick smile is the headmaster. "I'm enjoying life, having fun," says Hermon Hannon as he walks over to a table saw and aligns an odd shaped piece of wood in front of the blade. The word "Peach" is written in black marker on one side.
Most people would think he makes kitchen cabinets or other precision wood projects in here, but he doesn't.
He makes ballpoint pens.
"I enjoy making them out of different kinds of wood," says Hermon as he picks up a handful of colorful pens with decorative patterns on their barrels.
"Dogwood is my favorite," says Hermon. The same dogwood as in the pretty tree with delicate white blooms seen in spring in yards. "That's where I get a lot of my dogwood is out of people's yards."
High winds frequently break the delicate limbs and people remove diseased trees, but Hermon knows that below the bark waits Nature's art show.
Occasionally, people bring him special pieces of wood to make a ballpoint pen or bowl from. Give Hermon a little while and he'll make a keepsake.
He estimates that he's made about 75 pens, most from wood, but he's made some from deer antlers.
"None of them are identical," says Hermon even when he uses the same materials, especially woods with different grain patterns.
He enjoys mixing the grain patterns. Sometimes, the grain pattern on the top of the pen goes one way while the grain pattern on the lower part goes in another direction.
As a second generation woodworker, he pens his hopes on the family craft passing on to his two grandsons-Connor and Reed McPherson.
"I enjoy having them in my shop," says Hermon, and no doubt the grandsons look forward to it, as well.
Connor, age 9, and Reed, age 7, have made about a dozen ballpoint pens themselves under granddaddy's watchful eyes in the classroom that looks like a woodworking shop.
The boys immediately put on safety glasses as soon as they enter. Six small blocks of peach wood, with holes through their centers, sit on the edge of a work table.
"I've never made one out of peach wood before," says Hermon about the blocks that will get a new life.
Connor selects two of the blocks and gently slips them on the lathe and secures them with a brass-looking thumbscrew.
"Make sure it misses your tool rest," says Hermon referring to a piece of metal where the cutting chisel rests. "Make sure it's secure."
Hermon pulls a big red button outward and the lathe silently comes to life. Seeing the square blocks of wood rotating is the only clue the lathe started turning. It's unusually quiet.
Connor pushes the wooden-handled chisel tool toward the spinning blocks until it makes contact with the rotating wood.
"It's bumpy until you get the piece of wood round," says Hermon whose right hand re-enforces Connor's holding the dark wood handle.
Soon, the peach wood behaves just peachy as Connor goes back and forth to smooth it out. Soon, it reveals an interesting grain pattern, something rarely seen by most people.
"Ease on down. Keep working it on down," says Hermon as he encourages Connor to remove another layer or two of wood.
"This is really fun," says Connor.
Then, his brother, Reed, steps up to the lathe and applies a special polish to make the wood grain brilliant. Nature's pattern was there all the time, as if playing hide-and-seek with Connor, Reed and Hermon.
Reed makes the ballpoint pen's final assembly with a drill press. Hermon is right there talking him through the process. Reed's small hand pulls down the lever to complete its construction.
"You can either keep it or give it to one of your friends," says Reed.
Connor keeps his.
"I save them because that's a treasure because my grandpa and I made it," says Connor.
Hermon often gives his away, and enjoys seeing the expressions on people's faces when he hands one to them.
"I just get a good feeling," says Hermon about his gifts and passing along a family tradition to another generation in a classroom that looks like a woodworking shop.