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Picture of How to turn a wooden pen on a lathe
Have you ever wondered how to make those awesome wooden pens? Well here is how you do it. At first the making of a American pen (that is this kind) will take you about a hour and a half but once you have made a bunch you can make them in 15 minutes.
 
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Step 1: Supplies

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For this Instructable you need these supplies. Most of these tools you can substitute for something else cheaper.
Lathe
Skew (the tool that you turn the wood with)
Wood ( i'm using yellow heart one of my favorites)
CA glue or Super Glue (thick and thin if possible)
Mandrel to hold the pen on with 3 bushings
Sand paper
Pen Kit or you could use pieces from a old pen that you don't use anymore
Paper towels
BLO (boiled linseed oil)
Drill press or equivalent
Clamp
Optional:
Micro mesh to get the super shine
Beall buffing system to put on a awesome finish
Pen press




Step 2: Cutting the blanks

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You will need a piece of wood called a blank. This can be any type of wood as long as the wood is long enough for the tubes to fit in the piece of wood. Then you need to cut the wood so that the wood will be long enough for tubes, Before you start cutting or even think about cutting put on your saftey glasses. I use a Craftsman table saw to cut the wood but a bandsaw or a scroll saw would do the job well. Make sure to measure twice and cut once.

Step 3: Drilling the blanks

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This step can either be done on a drill press, Lathe or hand drill. I would not recommend drilling this hole on a normal drill because the hole has to be perfectly square. The drilling on a drill press is self explanitory. But drilling on a lathe? Yes it can be done with a supernova chuck and a drill attachment.

Step 4: Sand the tubes then glue to Blanks

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Sand the blanks so that they are not shiny and then apply a line of thick CA glue to the tube and push in to the blank. Pull and twist the blank so that the glue gets all over the inside of the hole then repeat on the other side. After you have done that push in the tube so that it is not sticking out of either side of the wood.

Step 5: Sqauring the blanks

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For this step it is best to use the tool specially made for this or you could use sand paper and a square. This makes the wood flush and square with the tubes. Be careful not to drill down to far because then the tube will stick out and in the final product you will have a gap in the joint of the pen.

Step 6: Turning

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This is my favorite part. You can use a wood working lathe and skew or make a lathe like in Catwood's Instructable 100%Homemade Lathe.( If your lathe has a speed control you will want this to be as fast as possible) For a skew I use a round tip. You could also use a gouge or a chisel. Now take your Mandrel and bushings and put the blanks on there so there is a bushing then blank then bushing then blank then bushing. The bushings are your guide to how much you turn down the wood. Remember you can always take off more but you can't but wood back on. (or can you) Try to turn as smooth as possible so you don't have ridges.

Step 7: Sanding and BLOing

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Before you sand slow down your lathe to as slow as possible for the rest of the process. After you are done turning sand with no less grit of 220. Make your way up to 400 grit then look at your blanks. A good way to see if you are done sanding is to run your fingers on the blank with the lathe on. You can tell a-lot more with your fingers than your eyes. After your blank is smooth and flush with the bushings take your BLO (Boiled Linseed Oil) and put some on a paper towel and rub it good then look at how beautiful your pen will be. This is pretty much how your pen will look like when your done except it will be 100 times shinier.

Step 8: Glueing

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In this step you will start to apply the finish. You need CA glue or regular super glue. (CA glue works better) If you have thin glue start with this then do thick glue. Make sure to make the glue as smooth as possible and even. Take your glue and paper towel and put the paper towel on the bottom of the pen then squeeze glue and smooth out the ridges. The paper towel does get hot and does smoke. Make sure not to take away the paper towel to fast because it will look bad, but don't leave it on too long because the glue will set up and will stick to the pen. You will want to do 1 coat of thin and 2 or 3 coats of thick depending on how smooth the blanks are.

Step 9: Sanding and Micro Sanding

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After you do the CA finish you will see that the blanks are shiny, you will want to take 400 grit sand paper and get rid of all the shiny spots. You will then take Micro Mesh sanding system and sand from 1,500 grit to 12,000 grit. Every other grit you should turn off your lathe and sand back and forth horizontally while turning the lathe by hand. This will get rid of sanding and tool lines.

Step 10: Finishing

After you have done Micro Mesh you need to tale out your Beall buffing and finishing system. This is a 3 step process that starts with tripoli then white diamond then carnauba wax. You load these with the finish by turning on your lathe a rubbing the bars on to the wheels. While the wheels are spinning twist and turn your blanks (still on the mandrel) in the wheels so there is a even and thick coat. After that take the blanks off the mandrel and get out the pen press or clamp. Check the blanks to see if there are and imperfections and if there are set that blank to the side and get the other one and press the tip in to one end.Then take the same blank with the tip and put the transmission in the other end. BE CAREFUL not to put the transmission in to far, push it in to the line and then put in the ink refill and see how far it goes. After that take the blank with the imperfection and take the clip and little cap, and position the clip over the imperfection and then put the spacer on between them and stick them together. YOU HAVE A HAND MADE PEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Step 11: Links

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Beall Buffing System
Pen Blanks
Drilling With a Lathe
CA Glue
Micro Mesh
Look for more Instructables from me, on how to make other kinds of pens.
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JohnG217 months ago

I've made similar pens. there are a couple of variations to your process that may be worth sharing.

1 - When I am cutting the wood I use a guide made up to the exact length of the pen barrel. This is clamped to the square guide of a bench saw and allows me to get my wood cut to within half a mm or so.This cuts out the need for end squaring or the tool needed to do so.

2 - I leave my pen bodies slightly thicker than the mandrel and turn in a small shoulder to go flush with the mandrel / fittings.

3 - Polishing. i start with 120 / 150 grit sandpaper, and sand while the pen is still in the lathe. then 220, 280, 320, 400 grit and finally a cutting paste. This is followed with a polishing compound and polishing is done with clean soft rags. Again it removes me need for some of the specialist tools.

4 - Lastly, I press the parts in using a drill press with a square bolt held in the chuck of the drill. placing the pen end on on top of a piece of wood, I use the drill press to push the items in place. I've also used an adjusted bottle capper for the job.

Thanks for the instructable - nice wood - really colourful. I've got some really dry apple wood and some cherry wood lined up. It will be interesting to see how that goes.

if you put wax or little bits of potato slices in tubing holes before gluing glue won't get in (:

Don't use paper or cotton cloth. The cellulose reacts with the CA glue and get's really hot. Use a synthetic cloth, like those microfiber lens cloths, and it won't get hot.

keaton43 years ago
An actual "skew" chisel will likely leave as good a finish as you will get straight of a tool, as it cuts with a shearing action, where as a scraper, well it scrapes and tends to tear the fibers more than actually cut them. As well most turners regard the scraper as a tool for face work and not center work, such as pen turning. A properly ground and sharpened spindle gouge does very well also. But a skew is ideal, as it truly shines on spindles with either straight or gradually flowing lines and will produce a finer finish than most any other tool.

The Crown "Skewchigouge" is sort of a version of a skew, and it's easier to cut with and produces good results. It's very affordable too. I often will use just it to turn out a run of 20 or 30 pens, as it's just easy to use and cuts better than most anything except a true skew.

Also, you may want to try backing the speed down a bit. I find I have good results @ 800-1000rpm when initially rounding the blank, and 1500-1800rpm when shaping.
Superninjacamper941 (author)  keaton43 years ago
Thanks for the feedback, I will definitely have to try out the "Skewchigouge"!
Wi114 years ago
Nice pens but that's not a skew, it's called a round-nose scraper. Still, it's name doesn't matter. All that matters is that this method works well for you (oh, and safety too, lol).
z-man62335 years ago
Dude just totally made a pen out of purple heart wood it rox thx for the ible
sssssbooom6 years ago
I love turning pens I am a senior in high school and I have made many pens for my self, friends, and family and I have sold a couple too. I love to turn acrylic pens also they are fun to make really shiny. But when I make pens I never go past step 7. Putting CA on it is something I have never heard or thought of sound like it might make a tougher finish I will have to try it. here is a pic of some of mine from right to left red hart, ash, pink acrylic for my sister
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About how much did you sell the pens for?

qwerty987 timd25 years ago
they are sold at Mt. Vernon for $95
Man I wish I could get that much for mine. That would be a sweet job.
George Washington planted that tree.
Well, I didn't sell those exact pens (they were for me and my family members.) but I have sold some acrylic pens for $30 before.
Superninjacamper941 (author)  sssssbooom6 years ago
Nice
qwerty9875 years ago
I know someone who makes pens for Mt. Vernon for $95 that are from a tree George Washington planted.
squirrelMLM5 years ago
 I have been wood turning pens since I was about 7 or 8 with a lathe that we have in our basement. So I've been doing this for a while, and it is great fun. I'd say the best pens I made were out of Corian, which is kind of like marble feeling, but it has many colors and of course a bit softer to turn. I also would recommend making pens out of bloodwood, which is a brilliant red, and cocobola wood, which is kinda, well, CocaCola colored. The bloodwood kind of smells bad and the cocobola is very hard to turn. The Cocobola broke a few times when I tried to use it, but it was awesome when it was done. 

BTW, good job with the instructable :D

yyeessno5 years ago
Do you think that you would have more control/get a better finish using a gouge?
chavhaha5 years ago
"a good way to test it is by running your finger on it". This is a very good way, it must be the best way I know to find sharp edges :D (from experience :D)
hedgiehog6 years ago
cool, im already in the process of making a pen from paduak
I'm 14 and I just started turning. i haven't done pens yet, but I made asweet throwing top out of firewood as the first piece I ever turned. it's real pretty.
do you own your own lathe or is it in school?
My grandpa gave it to me for Christmas, it's an old Craftsman, almost an antique.
nice!!!
own it : )
Superninjacamper941 (author)  hedgiehog6 years ago
cool good luck!!
if you want a cool look get about 5mm ply wood and layer it gluing it with high quality wood glue so when you turn it on the lathe you will get a really cool banded effect also if you are looking for the hardware for a pen check out ebay!!! awseome project!!! cm
Clayton H.6 years ago
I watched a movie on how to make one of these pens in woodshop (I think the guys name was Carmine , and his arms and hands were so hairy that you could only see his fingers! Thats how hairy they were) any way... I made my pen and I messed it up TWICE! because I went to thin and it broke but I fixed it and now my friends are jealous because I gots a sweets pens nows.
Superninjacamper941 (author)  Clayton H.6 years ago
Cool I have blown out (messed up went to thin) a few pens myself but you can put the messed up blanks in acetone and get the tubes from the wood.
When i mesed up in woods class, i just took the BIGEST gouge i could find and just "lathe" it off.
Superninjacamper941 (author)  Clayton H.6 years ago
Cool
Now, since I'm ahead of everybody in woods, my teacher is letting me make another pen. This one is going to be made out of walnut.
lucille086 years ago
You've got my vote for the workshop of the future contest. Great job
ihsuf6 years ago
cole is tha shznit hahahahha
...and I just saw this on How It's Made. Good job explaining!
Thanks how its made does it differently with the finish
ravebot6 years ago
odd timing i just made a ton of pens for Christmas presents, i made myself a purple heart fountain pen =)
Superninjacamper941 (author)  ravebot6 years ago
I gave most of them away as Christmas presents also.
uguy6 years ago
Very well done ible. Great looking pens. Thanks for sharing.
Ibanezfoo6 years ago
My wife and I also make these. I have a couple things I would add. If you are going to use a drill press, keep in mind the spindle stroke. The blanks for these types of pens are ~2.5" and most bench drill presses have a spindle stroke of less than 2" so that means you have to drill a little and then lift your table to drill the rest, which is sometimes easier said than done. The longer one piece pens are even more difficult to drill. I like your idea of drilling on the lathe and would like to see the jig you use to hold the blanks! Another method of finishing which makes a nice glossy and protective coating is a friction shellac like Mylands. Just sand to 600-800 grit and rub it on with the lathe off. Then start your lathe and use a cloth to polish and buff the finish. It hardens very quickly with the heat caused from the friction. A few coats with rubbing with steel wool in between gives a nice super glossy durable finish. If you haven't tried it yet, I recommend giving acrylics a shot! When you sand them down to 12000 grit or so they are really neat looking. Just make sure to use really high speed and really sharp tools or the acrylic explodes when you try to shape it. Other things I've made with this method are bottle stoppers, ceiling fan pulls, drawer knobs, ring holders, etc.
Superninjacamper941 (author)  Ibanezfoo6 years ago
My dad has tried doing acrylics and thanks for the tips. I did not know about the drill press thanks. I use a Super Nova chuck and drill accessory.
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