A craft that began with the dawn of civilization — metalwork — continues to mold a story in Fairfield County via a Westport-based entrepreneur.
Growing up around machinery in a Paterson, N.J., workshop, Jon Fontane knew that metalwork was in his DNA. His grandfather, who owned Liberty Machine Co., and Fontane’s father made aircraft parts.
“I grew up around that shop and upstairs there would be an office with drafting tables and downstairs all the machinists drilled and cut aircraft parts,” Fontane said. “I would go down to the shop and hang around. When my dad passed away, the operation ended up closing and it disappeared from my mind.”
After launching a career at a sports marketing agency in Westport, Fontane fell in love with race cars. He became curious about the manufacturing and parts-making industry again after he was introduced to a company in Norwalk that made race car simulators used at the Grand Prix New York in Mount Kisco.
Over time, Fontane became interested in making his own products, starting with small-scale endeavors like bottle openers and belt buckles made of reclaimed materials to emulate the vintage effect. He launched Metal Shop in 2013, making his presence known mainly through pop-up shops across the Northeast.
Most recently, he launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for his newest products: bullet pencils. The devices, which use Palomino Blackwing pencils, range from $32 to $50. Since launching on Kickstarter, the product has gained popularity among CEOs and Frisbee golf fanatics, he said.
“One morning, I woke up and there was a $600 pledge from the CEO of the Blackwing pencil company,” Fontane said. “He bought 20 bullet pencils for his staff for the holidays. I also had a guy who is a Frisbee golf fan, so he wants to use the bullet pencils for when they keep score.”
The Kickstarter campaign closed Nov. 1 at $14,500 with 289 backers interested in purchasing the product, including pledges from a dozen retailers. Metal Shop plans to manufacture between 800 and 1,000 bullet pencils through Dickson Product Development Inc. in Norwalk.
“We’re one of the few projects where our product is versatile,” Fontane said. “The tube is colored — blue, red and green. Then there’s the bullet. You screw a pencil or pen into that bullet, and you write with it.”
Fontane said his business partner Jay Smith, whom he describes as a Tennessee mountain boy, designs most of the bullet pencils. The two met through Instagram, and they shared the same vision of reviving bullet pencils from when they were popularly exchanged as battlefield souvenirs during the 1890s.
“In the vintage pencil industry there’s a lot of people who collect these bullet pencils,” Fontane said. “There are people out there who resurrect old pencils, clean them up and make it look nice again, and there’s a market for them.”
Fontane will showcase his bullet pencils at the PopShop Market in Fairfield Dec. 13.