Good Made Better

A Wooden Writing Box for Your Desk: The Writewell

A Wooden Writing Box for Your Desk: The Writewell

In anticipation of telling the story of the Writewell, I made an effort to find my original prototype writing box. This is the box which morphed into the Writewell as you see it today. This “effort” to procure the writing box required me to boldly enter where many have feared yet few have dared to tread–the shared room of three boys under the age of 11. In short, it was no less than an adventure. 

Within the bowels of the room shared by three smallish boys, amongst an air hockey turned Lego turned suffocating clutter table sits the original Writewell prototype. Within the bowels of the Writewell sits something made from literal garbage taken from my office trash can.

It’s been my habit to pass off prototypes to the younger generation in my home, as they generally get something that I might otherwise throw away which keeps them (in theory) from rummaging through my actual trash (that sentence was written prior to taking the above photo, see caption to understand why I slowly shake my head as I type this).

In this case, my writing box was not made from the beautiful black walnut you see on many of our products but of book board. If you’re unfamiliar with book board, think of a cereal box material about an eighth inch thick and you have the idea. You could also just think of a hardback book cover if you're the type that prefers simpler and easier to understand analogies. 

I made this writing box years ago and I patterned it a bit after Thomas Jefferson’s portable writing box, probably the most famous iteration of this style of portable desk.

Jefferson's portable writing box, reimagined for today

I did use it for mobile writing for a bit, but it eventually became a fixture on my small section of my wife’s larger kitchen counter. This was where I deposited my keys, wallet, chapstick, knife, notebook, pen, iPod Shuffle (the best iPod ever made), and my earbuds. It was, in short, the place for the things I carried with me every day…the things every day I would carry with me…my everyday carry things. Let’s just call it my EDC and maybe we can start a trend, although I think it's a long shot that anyone would seriously care about seeing what I carry in my pockets.

A Writing Box Turned Writewell

I’m semi ashamed to say (yet my wife will have you know) that I kept this book board writing box prominently displayed for a few years as I used it daily. It required regluing a number of times but was a fantastic daily tool. While I wasn’t photographing my pocket contents laid out in an unnaturally attractive manner and posting it to social media they stayed rudely organized yet out of sight inside the box. The writing top was a fantastic place to keep my daily planner, and by daily planner I mean a rather attractive and expensive planner system that distracted guest’s eyes from the myriad Post-It notes that I actually used with far more consistency, success, and pleasure.

What would make sense from the guy making products to keep a pen close at hand would be some sort of pen holder. Being made of book board kept that from happening but it seemed a natural progression to make it a true Good Made Better product. Why it took years to finally act on any of these thoughts I’ll never know.

Actually I kind of know. My cheapskate writing box was working quite well for my purposes and I wasn’t pressed to improve it. My wife pressed me to improve it on a couple of occasions, but I never dealt with any substantial internal struggle, which is nothing if not a testament to my mental fortitude. The great husband that I am, I gave my wife a loving and heartfelt gift by making myself a nice walnut writing box. 

A Writing Box Still in Process of Turning Writewell

While this box was fantastic, my aim for the Writewell was along simpler lines. My first true iteration of the Writewell was made from pine rather than walnut (see: my cheapskatedness) but finally incorporated a Penwell, albeit a wart like one sticking off the top and screaming for a hit of liquid nitrogen.

It's right about here that I was hoping to have more detail of the process of creating the Writewell, but I kind of nailed the bones of it on the first (second?) try. All that was left of the basic writing box (which now became a bit less box like and a bit more slab like) was to iron out the design details.

This is how I usually work–I have aesthetic intentions in my head but don’t fret about them until the basic function is in place. I find myself frustrated with beautifully useless products yet pacified with usefully mundane products. It’s when the two are successfully married that my affection for a product reaches the “love” threshold. As I do my own work I find myself generally prioritizing function over form. Even so, the form creation is an absolute labor of love and the process I enjoy the most. While I’m not legally ordained I do hope I’ve successfully married these elements in my take on the classic writing box.

I may have spoken a bit too soon regarding the finalization of the Writewell design. The incorporated Penwells are an important aspect of what makes the Writewell unique, but two other features have surprised me with their popularity.

That's one darn good looking writing box, er, slab

A Writing Box Turned Writewell and Then Some

Who would have thought a little pocket for small everyday items would be such a popular addition to the Writewell? I wish I could recall what spurred me to add this feature by way of subtraction (of wood…as it needs to be removed to make a pocket…if that wasn't clear). It was either the desire to have a holder for our Curiously Heavy Book Weight or simply to have a holder for small items. Let’s say the former as it's a bit of a feather in my 'holistic design' cap.

The Miscellany Niche after spending an embarrassing amount of time placing one pen to make sure it looked nothing like it will ever look like in real life

In any case, outside of the integrated Penwells it’s the most popular option on the Writewell and very few leave our shop without the addition of the removal of five cubic inches of black walnut wood.

Close in popularity to the Miscellany Niche is the Reader’s Kit. This seems a prudent time to note just how bad my memory recall is if you weren't sufficiently convinced of it already. Add this to the list of ideas I’ve had that have proved moderately successful that I’ve forgotten the genesis of.

What I haven’t forgotten is how to break off the steering wheel bolt in the steering shaft of a 1994 Mustang because it seemed like it needed to be just a little bit tighter. For that matter, my life is a series of broken bolts and screws that seemed like they needed to be just a little bit tighter. I was fortunate to have a dad more mechanically inclined than myself, particularly when using a broken bolt extractor. Inevitably, I’d go to bed frustrated and despondent and wake up to a steering wheel installed and properly torqued (with the torque wrench I bought him for Christmas, no less). 

I increasingly like to trick myself into thinking mistakes are worthwhile as they’re fantastic teaching tools. In a weird turn of coincidence, the success of this thought exercise has proved to be in direct proportion to how expensive the mistakes end up being. As I’m now the dad (i.e. the ‘Fixer’--also a good professional wrestling or hitman moniker if I ever make a career change) it is my sole responsibility to make any and all sundry repairs under my roof occasioned by my offspring (see: room of three young boys above). I find the best course of action is to teach moderation of force in the use of screwdrivers, end wrenches, and ratchets. As I always say, “A bolt not broken is a lesson not learned.” Also, I never actually learned how to use the broken bolt extractor.

A Writing Box Turned Writewell and Then Some–Rescued From a Lengthy Digression

Where were we? Oh yes, the Reader’s Kit. I’m a bit obsessed with both book and page holders and if the Penwell was the most natural feature to add to the Writewell, a book holder was a close number two. Using brass was a no brainer as I love the pairing of brass and walnut, not to mention (what a weird phrase, as it always directly precedes said mentioning we just said we weren’t going to participate in) brass, like the wives of good and honest husbands everywhere, [loses its luster] looks more beautiful for its age. (Editorial note: my blog host doesn't allow for strikethrough text formatting, thereby dulling the edge of what I thought was a very humorous final line. Please, for my sake, reread the last line and imagine a strikethrough between the brackets. Thank you.)   

This brass rest offers something Jefferson’s writing box never did–a vertical book rest capable of holding a reference work or even a digital device. It slides in and out to make hospitable accommodations as needed, and a clear piece of acrylic acts as a press against the pages to hold them flat so they don’t turn on you, like cats. 

Jefferson, a noted office holder. Writewell, a noted page holder.

As mentioned previously, our Miscellany Niche is also designed to hold a couple (different styles, not quantity) of our book weights so the Writewell can do double duty holding open your books. Whether you need two options for book holding only you can decide, but one can never really have too many open books or be too much of an open book in our book (not so much a bad pun, but as close as I can get this post). 

The Writewell–Is it a True Writing Box?

If you want to play semantic games the Writewell is not technically a box. It is box shaped, a vast improvement over those kidney bean shaped pieces of cardboard with a beanbag glued on the bottom and posited as lap desks.

One more quick digression: you will never, NEVER see kidney bean shaped anything from us. I enjoy kidney beans in chili and my wife’s five bean casserole. They are pleasant looking little buggers when it comes to it, but while the shape is fitting for a legume can we please stop being inspired to create pools, planting bed islands, and lap desks with this shape as the inspiration? That thing artists use to hold their blots of paint is as close as we need to get to this shape with man made items. 

Painter with kidney bean paint blob holder

While we’ve determined the Writewell to be more box shaped than actual box, we have done a few one off Writewells that do indeed feature a box as well as adjustable storage dividers and even an easel setting, making it a proper writing box semantically speaking. If you click that link and you fail to see any technically correct writing boxes, it may just be because you live in the future and they were sold out years ago. Even so, we clearly still sell Writewells with all their wonderfully useful accouterments that are designed to make your writing and reading more enjoyable, not to mention (read: here comes the very explicit mention) a pleasure to the senses as well.  

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