This is an untold story of a great crafting product that never saw the light of day–no pun intended.

When Tammi and I started making things using our first Cricut Explore back in early 2015, I used an X-Acto knife to weed. I found it the best tool because of the sharp tip. I held the hobby knife like I was going to cut but instead, I used the tip and back of the blade to pick the vinyl away from the backing. It worked well except for a couple frustrations. The first was that it often rolled away from me because it was simple cylindrical handle and when it would roll away, it usually yield frustration number two. The second was that new blades were too sharp and when the knife would roll away it would break the tip when it hit the floor. Nonetheless, it was still the best weeding tool I could find–at the time.

In early 2017 I received some samples from a supplier and that shipment contained a weeding pen and a “bubble popper pen.” The weeding pen was less than desirable because it was simply a sharpened metal tip that was tapered similar to a ball point pen, only sharper. It simply did not work well. However, the bubble popper pen had what appeared to be a stainless steel sewing pin tip and it was marvelous for weeding. The problem was the bubble popper pen was as cheap as they come–akin to the cheapest pen you’d see on a ball chain at a cash register or bank teller window. I knew if I could find the right pen body it could be transitioned into a great weeding tool. The pictures in this article are from the development cycle and part of my archive of photos. Most of them are from my camera roll of internal communications or my communications with the design company.

I searched for many samples and tested them myself and give a few to customers and asked for their feedback until I narrowed down the pen body style to what was a comfortable size, weight, and shape. The Pin Pen was born. When the Pin Pen was launched we broke our one day sales record and sold out of Pin Pens. I had underestimated the need for this tool in the market and saw what just a little innovation and a creative name, if not corny, could yield. The Pin Pen quickly became one of our most popular items and we were selling a few hundred of them a month within a few months.

As time progressed and we continued to grow and sell more Pin Pens, I began to expand the line and add multiple colors, and we were then ordering 10,000 units at a time and our assembly department would assemble and QA the pens. We had placed a lifetime warranty on the Pin Pen and the main reason was a few design flaws were revealing themselves after heavy and frequent use. The biggest issue was the cone-shaped end where the needle protruded would crack or chip, so we eventually replaced those with metal parts.

But let’s backtrack to the few months right after the release of the Pin Pin which puts the timeframe around September or October 2017. The Pin Pen was gaining steam and one of the pressing thoughts I had was to improve the design and my first thought was, “If it had a light on the tip, it would be even better.” After ordering several sample pens with lights built-in, I started to work with a company in China using a sample pen I had found that was shaped just like the Pin Pen but had a light around the tip. Unfortunately I could not just adapt the pen because of the batteries inside the shaft, plus with the amount of weeding to be done, the three tiny watch batteries did not last.

This problem needed to be resolved and there’s nothing I like better than a good problem to solve. I worked with the company to develop a rechargeable version of the pen. After some collaboration via email and chat, the company sent me a prototype rechargeable pen with charging base. To say I was excited was an understatement because it looked marvelous. I was imagining the ads showing the glowing base on a dark desk among craft debris. The next obstacle was to have the needle/pin for the tip redesigned for a shorter insert and while it took some time to work through those details I had time to think about the design and what shortcomings it might have that had not surfaced yet.

Being an electronic engineer I understood that the pen not only had to have a certain level of charge, brightness, comfort, and functionality, it also had to be safe. After dissecting the prototype rechargeable pen, my concerns grew. The rechargeable battery they had used was very small and low quality and there were electronics to regulate the charging activity. Essentially, it was a battery that when the pen was inserted into the base, it was nothing more than a battery connected to a voltage source–not the proper way to charge a battery. At the least this would result in a short battery life and high failure rate. At the worst, it could have been a fire hazard.

As a result of these findings and doing further research, testing, and evaluation to meet the needs of my OCD engineering mind, I concluded that to add the necessary safety features, along with adequate battery size, the pen would present several obstacles. The resulting pen would be much larger and heavier than what I could even tolerate and would result in fatigue, negative reviews, and unsatisfied customers. In the past year or two I’ve seen some attempts at similar devices, some are being offered on the market today. However, none of them appear to offer the things I required to go to market with the “Pin Pen Bright” model. I have yet to find a lighted weeding tool that even worked as well as the Pin Pen due to design, must less the ability to truly shed light on the specific weeding spot while meeting the criteria. So the Pin Pen Bright was shoved in a drawer never to be seen again.

I do not consider this an invention as I did not really design or invent the item, I merely added some innovation and creativity to solve a problem I had recognized. I’m not sure what else to call it though so if I fit the role of “Inventor of the Pin Pen”, I guess I accept that title. At last count that I was aware of, I believe we had sold somewhere around 200,000 units in approximately three years’ time. The Pin Pen name became so popular I noticed that searching for it would yield results of related products If you search Amazon today for “weeding pen” you’ll see that most call their products a “pin pen”. It was by far one of our best selling items and was really an anchor product that we had become known for, among other things like putting candy in our orders, doodle drawings on our orders, notes from customers, and super fast shipping. But the Pin Pen Bright was not to be, it was put out to pasture only to be thought about every year or so since. About once a year I think about the research and testing I did, I look at similar products, and quickly determine it’s not worth the effort to even consider venturing down that rabbit hole again.

The moral of the story–sometimes it’s best NOT to innovate. I spent a lot of time working through the details and analyzing the options and while I came up short, the always felt like the exercise was worth the time and effort. The reason I feel it was worth it is because I eliminated the bulk of the concerns and each year I evaluated the potential solution it helped me reach a decision faster. If I had moved forward with a less than acceptable quality product it would have likely diluted the reputation of the Pin Pen. Ultimately it would result in a negative opinion of the product and made it a bad name in the market rather than a popular catchy name. Sometimes it’s not the right time to innovate. And sometimes it’s best to improve what you have without significant feature additions.