11-year-old entrepreneur turns $100 into Arkansas pen business

Posted: September 10, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.
Updated: September 11, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

Ramsay Short, 11, of Russellville uses this wood lathe to make the ink pens for his business.

RUSSELLVILLE -- At 11 years old, Ramsay Short took a $100 reward for good grades and turned himself into a fledgling entrepreneur.

From a wood workshop in his family's garage, Ramsay makes and sells ink pens, mostly ballpoints in attractively shaped wooden exteriors. He also makes mechanical pencils with similar exteriors and has even tried his hand at fountain pens. Acrylic exteriors also are available.

Ramsay became interested in pens when someone gave his father, Wilson Short, a handmade pen a few months ago. Ramsay saw it and thought it was "cool."

Ramsay began reading about the craft and practicing.

"I read a lot," he said.

"Lots of YouTube," too, his dad said.

"Broken wood, sawdust and YouTube," Ramsay said.

It didn't hurt that Ramsay's father, an emergency management instructor at Arkansas Tech University, already was a woodworker.

Ramsay, now a sixth-grader, was wrapping up the fifth grade last spring and carried home a report card of straight A's. His great-grandfather, Ramsay Ward, rewarded him with $100. A month or so earlier, the teacher in Ramsay's gifted-and-talented class, Aimee Dixon, had taught a unit on entrepreneurship, and the boy's task was to write a business plan.

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Combine the handsome wooden pen given to his dad, Ramsay's windfall and the need to develop a business plan, and the youngster had a brainstorm: Make and sell pens.

Ramsey used the $100 to buy a lathe.

"I was like, 'Hey, this is fun. This is easy. I could make money off this,'" he recalled.

And with all that in mind, Ramsay's Wood Shop was born.

Ramsay already was a curious, creative child. He'd previously tried his hand at making candles by melting crayons in the microwave. That effort fizzled out when he accidentally burned up the microwave.

Prices for the ballpoint pens, which take from 20 to 35 minutes to make depending on the design's complexity, range from $20 to $40, while fountain pens can cost up to $50. Pens can be engraved for an extra cost.

Ramsay, who has his own business cards, sells his pens and other writing instruments through his Facebook page, which bears his business's name and where his father also sells his handmade salt and pepper grinders. Ramsay has a website, too. It's ramsayswoodshop.com.

The pens also are sold at Joshua's Fine Jewelry in Russellville, and Ramsay plans to make some red-and-black ones in honor of Russellville High School's Cyclones mascot to sell at Mullen Team Sports & Screenprinting.

With summer vacation now behind him, Ramsay estimated he has sold about 100 pens. He knows the approximate number because his father, a former corporal with the Arkansas State Police's highway patrol, wanted to instill a sense of public service in his two sons. So, Ramsay opted to give $1 for every pen he sells to each of two charities -- River Valley Food 4 Kids, a nonprofit organization where his father is president, and Choices Pregnancy Resource Clinic in Russellville, where his dad is a board member.

Wilson Short said he asked his son why he opted to wait until he got $100 from sales to donate the money to charity. The boy replied that it takes $100 for the River Valley nonprofit organization to feed a child for one year.

Already created and awaiting its owner is a pen made from a Dardanelle pecan tree.

"You can see the wormholes," Short said, holding up the pen.

A pencil shaped from a piece of leftover red oak firewood, a pen of cedar wood from nearby Yell County, and a pen shaped from a dead dogwood are among the other items awaiting buyers.

Ramsay also can make pens from ancient olive wood imported from Bethlehem.

"Those trees are 2,000 to 3,000 years old," Short said, picking up a just-finished pen, the scent of olive oil still detectable, and noting it comes with a certificate of authenticity.

In the wood shop, a variety of wood lies near the lathe -- huge chunks from a pecan tree's trunk. There's also a small box of wooden rectangles -- shaped from woods ranging from leopardwood to ambrosia maple -- that a man Ramsay and his dad didn't even know gave them.

Pen lovers can even commission an item from a favorite piece of wood.

One woman, for instance, had Ramsay make one from a big oak tree that had fallen down in her yard after standing there "for four or five generations," Short said.

Ramsay and his dad are considering expanding the wood shop's offerings to include wine stoppers and elegantly shaped candlesticks.

Ramsay still has the business plan he wrote for school last spring.

In it, he wrote that he planned to sell the pens to "men and women who write a lot, and kids in school."

State Desk on 09/10/2017