The Locksmith

A self taught woodworker, Mark Dolan has been turning pens, bowls, and anything else that will fit in his lathe chuck for the last 20 years. But over the last 5 years, Mark has leveled up his workshop by adding digital manufacturing equipment to his arsenal. This is where our stories overlap.

I flew into Reagan international Airport in Washington DC on a warm September day in 2017 to finally meet up with Mark. I had been watching what he was doing with his Shapeoko for years and we became twitter buddies. This was the first time we had met in real life.

Mark is prolific on twitter as @markspens. To date he has posted nearly 30,000 tweets and garnered several thousand followers. His trademark picture is a project with a Miller lite can for scale reference. Rarely does an evening go by without Mark posting at least a few pictures to Twitter.

By day Mark Dolan is a locksmith, but by night (deep into most nights) he is a woodworker. His detached two-car garage acts as his workshop, and it is not uncommon for him to spend 8-10 hours out there after a full day of work.

We met up for dinner around 5pm then went back to his place to check out his operation. Before getting back to the shop though, Mark and his wife gave me a tour of their house. It is a living representation of Mark’s skills. Everything from the side tables to the back deck were built by Mark’s hands. Going into the finished basement uncovered more treasures. An entire man-cave filled with pieces of Mark’s past woodworking experiments. Tessellation tables, pool cue racks, signs, and pens. So many pens. Thousands of pens that Mark had turned. Most with Price tags dangling from their clips.

I asked Mark if he sold many pens. His response was “I like making them”.

Overwhelmingly throughout the visit it was clear that Mark is passionate about what he makes. And by passionate, one may conclude that he is obsessive. Somehow though, Mark has avoided the common trap of making only one thing, or one style of thing. He is a turner first and foremost, and his skills are amazing. Segmented bowls, stadium bowls, and so many other turned items littered his shop and basement shelves. Beautiful, finished pieces that he made for the love of making.

But Mark also makes trinkets, signs, frames, tables, and pretty much anything that speaks to him. Mark told me he is driven to make these things. Almost as if he has no choice in the matter. Once the idea is there, Mark can’t not make it.

Back in 2013 Mark bought a Shapeoko 2 for something new to play around with. After using it for a couple of years, and wanting to get serious about CNC, Mark moved up to a Shapeoko 3 and also added a laser cutter to his shop. He now has the big Shapeoko XXL. A tool that he said let him add features to his existing ideas and let him make an entirely different type of project; Signs.

Mark loves signs with nothing more than phrases. Most have a swear word or two, most will make you chuckle, most are NSFW. He is not trying to be everything to everyone, so if what he makes is offensive he says, ‘oh well’.

The extravagant, the impossible: this is really Mark’s bread and butter. If the project is hard or someone says it is impossible, then Mark is more than likely to give it a try. He asked if his Shapeoko could make a door. My tongue-in-cheek reply was ‘yeah, a small door’. Instead, Mark made a full size door our of Cherry wood, then machined a beautiful 30”x30” relief engraving on the bottom section.

This door is the entry to his shop, a shop that he refers to as his ‘Church of Wood’. And in the Church of Wood, Mark Dolan is the Pastor, his projects are his homily, and everyone who sees his work joins the congregation.