If you’ve picked up October’s issue of Pain Magazine, you may have seen our Painful Pleasures advertisement (shown above) featuring one of our very own. Starting this month, we’ll be running our “In the Limelight” blog series in conjunction with each issue because our ad will feature a different collaborator of Painful Pleasures each time. As a product specialist and writer at Painful Pleasures, I was luckily chosen to kick it with these fellows and find out about the person behind the face and name.
Painful Pleasures offers customization like no other between the custom Prince Albert wands, Unbreakable, Limitless, and Elementals Evolved jewelry. This month spotlighted our in-house custom machinist, Tony, who works in the Custom Division. We talked a bit about his background in making custom jewelry, day-to-day things, and the work he does for Painful Pleasures.
Meeseun: Tell us how this all started. How did you get into custom work?
Tony: My grandfather was a woodworker and it really interested me. From a young age I started to learn woodworking and general machining because all of those tools were accessible to me. I was also really into piercings around high school and at that point, I already had pretty large stretched lobes so I started making my own plugs. People started noticing because I had different plugs every couple of days and then they started asking if they could buy them. So instead of selling it, I started making plugs to give to my friends. I eventually started selling them – I was making most of my money and a pretty good living off of just making plugs and other wood jewelry by the end of senior year in high school. While I was working on my degree in mechanical engineering, I also worked as a machinist apprentice. That’s when I started working with metal. I bought myself a metal lathe and started doing more stuff at my house – like making light sabers because I was bored.
Meeseun: Wait, so did your grandfather train you on those tools when you were younger or did you just try to figure it out yourself?
Tony: He would hand me a block of wood, put it on a lathe or a little mill, and told me to make something. But, he wouldn’t tell or show me how. He would wait until I ended up either hurting myself or doing something completely wrong and that’s when he’d step in. He had a very hands-off teaching method and would be very disappointed when I didn’t get it. A very old school stereotypical way of learning.
Meeseun: Well now that you have experience working with both of metal and wood, and I’m sure other materials – what is your favorite material to work with?
Tony: I like working with all materials – deer antlers, gold, brass… I love stone and lapidary work. Wood... I like weird materials, like the antlers. I guess that’s not that weird. A friend of mine actually worked with human skull inlays. I’d like to try that, but only if it were safe.
Meeseun: How do you come across those type of materials, like antlers for example?
Tony: There are about 13 or 14 deer that hang out around where I live because I feed them every day. They shed their antlers come fall, so I just pick those up. I have a huge pile right now.
Meeseun: That’s cool! But as far as sanitation is concerned, is that safe? Is there a process that it goes through?
Tony: Definitely. They get sterilized. I have a friend in the medical industry who has a huge autoclave, so we use that to get everything sterilized before use. When you’re working with antlers though, like sanding and cutting them, it smells like death. Really atrocious.
Meeseun: And yet that was one of the first materials you listed as a favorite. How about your least favorite material? What do you dread?
Tony: There isn’t a material that I hate working with specifically. I guess it’s circumstantial because I hate when certain things come up, like when customers ask for custom jewelry with dimensions that just don’t work. It could look pretty cool, but it’s extremely difficult to make it fit properly and it’s disappointing because physically, that piece shouldn’t exist. That’s the only thing I really hate, but it does give me a chance to call the person and work something out so that they get exactly what they want.
Meeseun: That makes sense. I feel silly for even asking, but exactly how many different custom pieces are there?
Tony: The variation on individual pieces of jewelry is relatively endless. As far as certain products go, there are about 15 different types of PA wands, there are also 15 to 16 in titanium. I’ve had clients call for chastity devices and other specialty genital piercing jewelry. Those require more difficult machining, but it has been a lot of fun getting into that. With organics, again the possibilities are endless. There are about 13 different standard woods that we work with that are body safe to wear. Out of the thousands of types of wood out there, only 15 to 20 are known to be safe to wear in the body.
Meeseun: So clearly we can’t put a number to this sort of thing. What are other types?
Tony: PA wands in stainless steel and titanium, chunk rings, screw-on ball chunk rings, slave rings, captive bead rings, custom barbells. With organics, there are plugs, ear hangers, ear weights, ear coils… Oh we’ll be getting into bronze casting for ear weights soon, which I’m really excited about. That’s all I can think of off the top of my head.
Meeseun: Right, I’m sure that list is endless. When you sit down and think about it, the number of things you can make and the ideas of pieces people want – it’s never ending.
Tony: Yeah. To use that old cliché, if you can think of it and describe it well enough, we can make it. I hate that cliché. It’s a little different from that BS, because a lot of times, people want some really wild s--- and it just can’t be done. You have to at least be able to tell me what it is you’re looking for, or at least be able to draw it.
Meeseun: What would you say then is the most popular custom piece that we sell?
Tony: Definitely the PA wands because they fill such a niche market. We’re one of few companies that sell them.
Meeseun: You talked a little bit about talking with our customers. On what level do you interact with them? Do you always talk to them?
Tony: Almost always. There has to be a lot of communication between myself and the customer because of where some of these custom pieces are going. It has to fit correctly the first time. If I see anything that is slightly off, I’ll contact them right away to let them know of my concerns. We’re always able to work something out, or I’ll build them a tool or something to take new, correct measurements. I actually started wearing a PA wand because I was always making them and I wanted to be able to give customers actual advice.
Tony: Oh absolutely. I was just speaking with a guy on my way in to work, because he called me last night at 4 am just to tell me that he received his jewelry and was able to get it in. He was really excited. I also often receive pictures from customers. You know, just a picture of penis and a thumbs up. I definitely appreciate it though. Any sort of acknowledgement is good because when I send something out and I don’t hear anything back, it leaves me hoping that it ended up working out for them. It’s a personal process, so I think our customers feel a more personal connection.
Meeseun: Can you briefly describe the typical process?
Tony: The way it often starts is that someone will email me because they’re interested but have never worn or tried anything like this before. I’ll follow up with them to explain what it is, the benefits of it, and my general advice. We’ll discuss exactly what they want and once we’ve figured everything out, a transaction is made and that’s when I get started. It can take anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days depending on how intricate or complex the pieces are. The key thing is every part needs to be flush because you don’t want any fluids or bacteria to nest inside. It has little to do with machinery and a lot to do with finesse – really taking the time and paying attention, making sure you have flush connections for everything. It’s something that’s easy to do, but difficult to master. I’m definitely not a master – close, but not yet. The polish is another very important aspect. Everything we make here is hand polished. Everything is crucially checked over before it’s sent out. You can’t have any imperfections – you want to make the safest piece of jewelry possible without compromising the aesthetic quality.
Meeseun: I have to ask just because I’m not as familiar with all the tools and machinery involved with this type of work – how many different types of machines are used?
Tony: Organics, there’s the Fordham rotary tool which is basically a really nice dremel, a wood lathe, band saw, and sandpaper. Wood and organics are pretty low maintenance. Stonework is a little more intense – you have lapidary machines, lap saws, and finger grits of sandpaper. The heaviest on tools is working with any metal. Metal lathe, a vertical mill, belt and disc sander… the Fordham can also be used with metal… what else.
Meeseun: Okay so basically there are a lot of different machines that you work with on any given day depending on the custom piece – especially if it involves metal.
Tony: Right, it’s definitely a process. There is no one machine in the word “team”? That was a terrible joke. It’s true, though. You’d think that you could do more than just one thing on a single machine, but every machine we use is 100% necessary. You might need it just to do one thing, but without it, that item cannot be made.
Meeseun: Every tool certainly plays a part. You’re not all alone in the Custom Division – talk to us about the help you have. Do you collaborate on pieces at all?
Tony: CJ works a lot with our Unbreakable line and the smaller hand-bent hearts and orbs. He also helps me out with general machinery when I need a hand. He’s been learning for the past year or so. We collaborate pretty often – more so when I’ll get an order for something completely unique, something I’ve never done before. I’ll let the customer know that I need a little bit of time to think about how to do it and CJ is the person I brainstorm with to make the piece a reality. It’s great to have someone to bounce your ideas off of and CJ is really creative when it comes to that sort of thing.
Meeseun: Alright, we’ve made it this far – last question! What would you say was the most fun or challenging experience you’ve had while working on a custom piece for someone? Maybe the jewelry itself was fun or challenging to make, maybe the customer was an absolute riot…
Tony: Oh man, there are so many great customer stories. There’s one gentleman who will remain nameless…
Meeseun: Of course, we don’t want to expose anyone.
Tony: I’m sure he’s going to know just by hearing this – he’ll give me a call two or three times a month just to check in and see how I’m doing. I made this man a custom piece – a wand – but it was a really difficult project because he didn’t have a piercing. Without getting into any specific details, it was challenging to figure out how to make all the pieces connect and work without a piercing (see below for diagram on PA wands). On top of it all, this man was not familiar with computers. At all. Almost the entire order was done by mail and telephone. When he found our site and eventually got through to me, I had to help him delete his search history so that no one would see what he was looking at. Eventually we got it done and he’s incredibly happy with it. He still gives me a call to check in and lets me know everything is working out just fine.
Meeseun: I can’t even begin to imagine how you worked with him on something like this without being computer savvy.
Tony: It was a huge challenge! He would find a lot of images online of what he wanted, but there was no way to get those to me. We’ve walked through it and I tried to explain it; we even tried remote sharing, but it just didn’t work. It took weeks, man. It was nuts.
Tony has been with Painful Pleasures for two years now and though he proclaims he's not a master yet, the work he does for us is flawless. There was a lot of laughing involved in this conversation because of some of the subject matter, but It became very apparent that he just really cares for the things that he makes and is proud of it. Because of this, the rapport that he ends up building between our company and clientele is what sets Painful Pleasures apart from the others in the industry. Be sure to take some time to check out the custom-made jewelry and products that we offer and check in with me next month when I'll share the talk I had with Stevie Monie, one of our resident tattoo artists, about being an artist in the tattoo industry now and the things he's learned from it.