Mervyn Cadman

Monday 9 July 2018

Whilst travelling to the rural heart of Essex to visit Mervyn Cadman, I was thinking about what I would see at his workshop. What he was up to? I was also pondering how pen turning has moved on from the ubiquitous cylinder of wood with a drilled hole and pen insert pushed in. It is true to say that there has been a dedicated core of pen turners who are constantly pushing the boundaries, and considering there are myriad styles of pen kits to choose from and materials one can turn for the bodies, it should come as no surprise that some of the creations are causing quite a stir.

Mervyn Cadman is one such turner who loves to turn pens, but he also likes to experiment to the full to make sure his pens have the 'wow' factor.

About the turner

Mervyn is a 48-year-old window cleaner who is able to make his business work alongside his passion for turning. His work has featured in various publications and on many websites, where it has been met with much acclaim. He commented that, one day, he hopes to be able to give up the day job, so to speak, so he can pursue his passion full-time. His workshop, although cleaned up for my visit – we laughed about this as many turners are afraid of showing how their workshop really is on a day-to-day basis – is a spacious chalet-style building that many of us would only dream of having. Each area is dedicated to a different aspect of what he does and everything seems to have its own place; there is ample space and oodles of bench-top space.

Discovering woodturning

Mervyn's passion for woodturning started at the age of 16, although he first experienced woodworking through carving when he was 14-years-old. He commented: “I carved an owl from London plane which I still have to this day. I loved the creative process and enjoyed the feel of the cuts and working with the wood. I had a very good relationship with the woodworking teachers, one called Mr Mills and the other was Mr. Salmon. I wanted to do woodwork outside of the normal time slots and they encouraged and let me beaver away in the workshop to carry on with the projects. I also carved a tiger. The problem was that I spent a lot of time carving, so my girlfriend at the time had to come with me or I wouldn't have seen much of her. I now realise that she didn't have a lot of choice in this; I was 15 at the time and we were together for 18 months, but she didn't complain, much. I was also taught some basic turning and I made a few bowls, using a faceplate as the primary fixing method.”

Mervyn's teacher said that he should learn the carpentry side too, but he resisted this and insisted that he only wanted to continue with the carving and the turning sides of the woodwork. The teachers supported him right up until he left school.

“I really wanted to get into church restoration but there weren't any companies in my area who would take me on. I guess, like any young person, the drive when I left school was to earn money. I ended up working for T & A J Mann, who took me on when I was 16. They were primarily willow merchants. They grew willow trees and then farmed them. They would then bring the wood back to the yard, machine the timber to size and then put them in the turning shops to be made into cricket bats, stumps, items for the food industry, croquet balls and so on.”

Mervyn explains how he really enjoyed working there but he wanted more money so eventually moved on to a warehouse company and became a warehouseman. It was there that he met his wife, Anita. He then went on to have a succession of jobs – all the while still carrying on with turning as a hobby – mixed with a bit of carving, but turning is what he did a lot more of, and he I loved it. Unfortunately, Mervyn ended up being made redundant from a building company he worked for at the time, and vowed never to work for anyone else again.

“This meant that I had to start a business and that's when I set up my own window cleaning company, which now after 20 years, allows me to take on as many jobs as I like, leaving the rest of the time to allow me to concentrate on the turning. In the early days of my business I was doing lots of traditional turning, fruit bowls, fruit, platters, tazzas etc. but didn't sell anything at the time – I gave items away as gifts,” he finishes.

Moving forward

Mervyn tells me how he got his first computer in 1995: “I got interested in how computers worked. I became fascinated with the Internet. It was still relatively new at the time but I saw there was potential and wanted a website. I recognised that this would be important for the future. I realised the potential for not only showing what I was making, but also seeing what others were doing, so that I could develop more and do things that were different. While developing the site I carried on the turning, constantly looking at ways to develop more. I have three websites: www.ukpenkits.com (which is a forum site for pen turners, too); www.turnedwood.co.uk and www.pens-of-instinct.co.uk.

Pen turning

Mervyn explains how it was a friend who got him into basic pen turning: “To be honest, I soon got somewhat bored with the standard slim line pens and started using ever more exotic timbers and pen kits, and then moved on to using acrylics. This gave me a lot of scope, but to be able to create what I wanted, I ended up doing a lot of research on the subject of acrylics, resins and polymers and how to mix and cast my own blanks, colouring them to create the effects I wanted. This now dominates what I do and has turned into a small, growing business; the traditional wooden turnings are only tackled on an occasional basis.”

Mervyn further explains about the blanks and castings he sells to other turners, and these seem to be doing well: “The craft fairs are a hard sell, but if people can see quality and something different then they take a lot of interest. It's funny looking back on it; I only started to look at selling items when I became short of money.”

Mervyn tells me how he gets great pleasure from making and selling an item and how he has not lost the love of making something. He still gets a wonderful sense of satisfaction when someone parts with money to buy something he has made.

The background and history of how someone starts turning is fascinating, but I had to ask him why he concentrates so heavily on pen making. He checked before responding: “I was actually talked into it by a fellow woodturner who had sold some of his pens, and it was an opportunity to maybe make some money from turning. I was dubious and didn't really want to do it, but I had a go and the rest is history. I was hooked. I suppose I am now best known for my feathered pens. I am a trout fisherman and I wondered if I could use the feathers in pen turning, and it is certainly something different. I love the process of making these, the colour matching, the fixing of the feathers and then the resin casting over the top. I guess a basic one from start to finish takes about five hours or so, depending on the type.”

The future

Lastly, I asked Mervyn what the future holds for his pen turning and he tells me how to hopes to refine the process and expand what he does with his castings and acrylics. He promises me that he has how moved on to the next developmental stage of his pens. I wait with interest to see what direction he follows with these, because if they're as good as the feather pens, then we'll be in for a real treat.