Introduction: Making a Pen Is Easy and Fun (update)
I have been making pens for a little over a year now and are great fun to make.
You can make them as single stick pens but for the most part you would purchase a parts kit that come in varying levels of styles and difficulty.
The kit will consist of all of the metal parts as well as the refill to complete a full pen, what you bring to the party is your skill and imagination when turning your prepared pen blank.
You will see at the end of this guide examples of other pens I have created all consisting of two turned sections, but for this guide I have decided to use a simpler set with a metal top and a single turned section. The only reason is that turning one section is the same as turning another so there is no requirement to repeat steps in a guide.
The update is in Step 5 - I added an alternate method for fini
Step 1: The Pen Kit and Making Your Own Bushings
The pen kit will come with some form of diagram, this will tell you how to put all of the parts together. Its a good idea at this point to lay out all the parts to make sure that you have everything required.
For most kits at this point do not put any bits together you might not be able to separate them.
However for the purpose of this guide the top of the pen is all metal so I was able to put that bit together (see the diagram)
Unfortunately the kit I purchased was from a company that has gone out of business so I was unable to get any bushings.
What are bushings I hear you ask - they are small tubes of metal that fit at the ends of the pen blank while its being turned and give you a point to finish to in order the get a fluid joint between the visible pen parts and the turned blank.
So I had to make some... I used an old brass gas pipe fitting, first measured the external diameter of a spare brass pen tube from a slim-line kit and drilled the same size hole through the gas fitting, this allowed the pen tube to be glued inside of the fitting using epoxy resin.
I then used calipers to measure the parts of the pen kit that would fit on the pen once turned and either be visible or for me joints to other parts of the pen.
I also measured the internal diameter of the actual tube to be used for the pen blank. I placed the prepared gas fittings on a pen mandrel and turned two sections using the three measurements.
Its important to take care when making the bushings as they will set the dimensions of the pen parts.
Step 2: Blank Preparation - Drilling
Next step is to prepare the pen blank.
Start by selecting your wood of choice (I chose purple heart and maple - two woods as I would be making two pens). Now cut a length that is just longer than the brass tube for the pen blank, mark the center of the long axis of the piece of wood and drill a hole all the way through using a clamp to safely hold the wood while drilling. Once drilled confirm that the tube fits the hole.
Step 3: Blank Preparation - Gluing Up
Now mix up your epoxy resin (Equal lengths of resin and hardener) place some of the mixture on the external of the brass tube and insert it into the pre-drilled wood.
Rotate the tube as you insert it and ensure that the glue is visible at both ends and that the ends of the tube are inside the wood.
Step 4: Blank Preparation - Squaring Up the Ends
Before you can square off the blank its best to try to remove as much wood as possible using a band-saw (without touching the tube)
There are I number if ways to square the blank
- Use a drill press fitted with a barrel trimming bit
- Use a disc sander. When I use this method (usually on harder woods) I like to star by roughly turning the wood to a cylinder before i drill and insert the brass pen tube. This way I get a center mark for drilling, but am also able to role the the blank on the sander platform which helps keep the end square.
Step 5: Turning and Polishing the Pen Blank
Mount the blank on the lathe by inserting the bushings into the blank and the sliding the assembly onto the mandrel. I also put several spare slim line bushings on at either end to give some separation from the large chuck and the live center.
Only tighten the but on the mandrel once the end stock has been secured in place. For a single blank its not so important especially if you shrink the mandrel down, but if you are turning a pen with two parts the securing the tail stock before the but will help minimise potential bending of the blank along the mandrel which would result in a concentric pen rather than a round one.
When turning the blank I start with a roughing gouge and keep the chisel turned away from me while turning the right hand side the rotate the chisel when turning the left.
The best advice you can get is to take your time, I've learnt from experience the working quickly will more often result in splitting the blank leaving back at the start having to pre-a new blank.
I turned a simple barrel for the purple heart, but decided to add a small need on the maple , to do this I switched to a small parting chisel and made small cuts until I had a shape I liked.
Before polishing the blanks ensure that you have sanded them with increasing grades of sand paper, I like to combine the last grit (around 400 grit) with wax this not only completes the sanding but also starts to work the polish into the wood. It also works towards reducing the levels of fine dust as you finish your piece of work.
This is a very short Video for the wax sanding (literally seconds):
From this I move to a friction polish filling the manufacturers instructions and for the final coats I applied carnauba wax for a hard shinny surface.
When I use carnauba I try to keep the tissue on the turning piece at the opposite side to the wax stick and apply as well as polish at the same time. I find that carnauba tends to streak and clog if application and polish is done separately. I think that working as above reduces your ability to put too much pressure on during the polishing of the wax so gives the right finish first time.
If you want a really shiny finish that's also very tough you could also use super glue (CA). All you do is sand you pen to the level you like, if you wish you can apply a sand and sealer, BUT no wax at this point.
Pu a drop of glue on a clean tissue and quickly work it over the surface of the barrel. The apply a light sand and polish - for the polish I use either pen pads (from a turners shop) r friction polish. Note that sometimes you may need to very lightly sand with a fine grit paper to remove inconsistencies. Repeat this several times to get a tough coating.
It can be a lot of work but gives a great results.
The books will say use something like a medium thickness glue, but I seem to get the best results from houshold thin from the Pound Shop. In addition to the glue you can also use a little Linseed Oil. put the oils on the tissue then put a single drop onto the oil and apply to the pen as above. The oil helps to keep the glue from curing as quickly making it a little easier to work with, slight drawback is that it can tak a little longer to finish the pen.
Step 6: Assembling the Pen
When you remove the turned pen barrel from the lath its a good idea to rub it ends on a piece of tissue to remove any excess wax build up that could interfere with the next final stages of construction.
Before you go on to build your pen remember that you used epoxy resin to attach the wood to the brass tube. this can spread into the tube, so check to make sure that the ends are clear and if not use a bit a sand paper to remove the glue and clean up any sharp edges.
If you don't clear the ends then the turned material you have worked so hard on could split apart as you push the pen tip and other parts onto the barrel.
To assemble the pen I have two bits of scrap plastic which I sit in a standard wood vice and slow close the jaws with the two parts between, using the plastic gives a better surface than the jaw face to help keep the pen parts square to each other while they are pressed.
As an addition to the plastic I drilled a hole in the middle - this is to sit the tip of the pen when it is pressed in place, I found that the tips tend to wobble quite a bit due to the end being very small, using the hole in the plastic stops the movement.
That's really all there is to it, once all parts are pressed together you can screw (in this case) of push the various pen sections together and enjoy your pen, or give it as a gift.
Step 7: Other Pens I Have Made
The pens shown in this section are ones I have previously created and have been made in a variety of materials for a range of pens kit styles, from slim-line twist pen to push pencil and American Flat top push pen.
The materials include :
Wood (Zebra wood, Paduk, Ebony, Maple, Purple Heart)
Resins (Imitation Ivory, Velstone, Hand poured resin on a gold string base)
I try not to design the pen from the start as its more fun to see what develops as you turn them
I hope you all like them and have fun you can see more examples of my turning at my web site