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Teen's hobby turns nearly anything into a pen

by JIM TOTTEN Livingston County Daily Press & Argus (Howell, Mich.) on August 06, 2013 11:00 AM

GREEN OAK TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Name it, and Joey Schmidt has turned it into a pen.

Coffee beans.


Abalone shell.


Denim. Next.

Even a buffalo head nickel, wood and aluminum foil.

“I haven’t used a garden gnome yet,” the 18-year-old from Green Oak Township joked, but he’s probably thought about it.

Standing inside the 4-H Building at the Fowlerville Fairgrounds, Schmidt wore a T-shirt that said, “I’ll turn anything into a pen.” It showed a garden gnome in a lathe, which is one of the tools he uses to create his unique pens.

Schmidt, who is homeschooled, began making pens a few years ago. He used to create wooden bowls, but he became hooked on pens.

“I saw a demonstration and thought it was one of the coolest things I’ve seen,” he said.

His first pen fell apart because it didn’t have threads. He figured out the problem, and his next pen was an improvement. It’s a process he has repeated numerous times.

“You mess up and figure out what works,” he said.

Schmidt throws the failed pens into a box.

“I do get frustrated a lot, but I concentrate on learning from it,” he said.

At the Fowlerville Family Fair recently, he won first place for Best Leadership/ Education/Citizenship for his book that explained what he learned from making and selling pens.

He has developed skills in marketing, math, chemistry and prototyping.

He sells his pens on Facebook and Etsy.

In 2012, he earned first place for turning wooden bowls.

He also raises pigs and brings them to the fair. He will attend Washtenaw Community College in the fall.

The family has horses, goats, alpacas, pigs and ducks. Schmidt, his mother, Joann Schmidt, and his sisters Esther and Grace camp out on the fairgrounds during the event.

Joanne Schmidt said the family is proud of Joey. He works on his pens in a shop above the barn. The couple has six children.

“If he gets his homework done, he can go up there,” Joann Schmidt said.

“He just focuses,” she said.

She said her son purchases all the materials himself, and her husband, Robin Schmidt, helps him a lot and has taught him safety with power tools.

The pens sell for $20 to $100.

Esther Schmidt buys the pens at cost and gives them away when she sells her ducks. She also uses the pens.

“I really like them,” she said, adding its cool what her brother can do.

“I love my coffee bean pen,” she said.

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