Introduction: Slimline Pen -- Making a Gold and Black "Steelers" Pen
This set of instructions assumes you have a very basic knowledge of pen making. This was a pen that I made for a coworker that retired, and even though I am a Raven's fan, I broke down and made him a Steeler's pen as a gift! I wanted to make the pen "gold and black". Gold was fairly easy, I used yellowheart wood, however, the black created a challenge as I did not have any ebony on hand. I'll show the process that I used to make the pen, and then tell you how I made the oak part of the pen black.
The slimline pen kit is one of the cheapest available, and typically costs less that $2 to purchase a kit and 30 min to an hour to complete depending on your skill level.
I enjoy turning and teaching and I'm currently writing a very basic set instructions on how to make a slimline pen for anyone that has never made a pen. That set of instructions will be more in depth and cover all aspects of making a slimline pen and will include some tips and processes that I have developed that I feel that more experienced turners will benefit from as well.
I have another instructable that provides detailed instructions how to make a cigar pen out of plywood https://www.instructables.com/id/Woodturning-a-Plyw...
HELP REQUESTED -- I have not figured out how to re-size the displayed pictures so that they show the entire picture...if anyone knows how, please leave me a note so I can do that in future instructions, Thanks!
I selected yellowheart wood for the gold piece and oak as the base for the black piece. In the first picture you see the raw materials. In the second picture you see the two pieces cut into 3/4 x 3/4 inch square pen blanks and cut to length for the slimline pen kit.
The next step in making any pen is to drill the appropriate hole for that kit. For the slimline pen, that is a 7mm hole that is drilled vertically into the pen blanks. I use a pen vice as shown in the third picture to hold the pen blanks.
Once the hole is drilled I take the brass tubes that come in the kit and scuff them up with 240 or 320 grit sandpaper to remove the oxidation that has formed on them. This enables the glue to adhere to the tube and wood better and you can see in the fourth picture two brass tubes one that is sanded and the other is not.
Once the tubes are sanded I glue them into the pen blanks. I use medium CA glue for this process. I push the tubes into the pen to make sure they wont get hung up on a loose wood fiber from the drilling. Then I put the tube just inside the hole and put two beads of CA glut lengthwise on the tubes. Twisting the tube back and forth I push the tube into the pen blank until it is flush or just beyond flush. Make sure you cover your work surface with cardboard or several sheets of paper so that the excess CA glue does not bond the pen blank to your work surface.
After waiting several minutes until the glue is cured we need to square the ends of the blank (90 degrees to the brass tube) and reduce the length to match the brass tubes we just glued in place. There are two methods of doing this, the first is to use an end mill in a drill shown in the fifth picture and the second method is to use a barrel trimming sanding jig as seen in the last picture above. I use both methods to square the ends of my pens. If the pen blanks are solid wood (not laser engraved or segmented) I will use the end mill method. The sanding method is less aggressive and therefore I use it on my delicate pens.
Step 2: Turning & Ebonizing
Now that the blanks are fully prepared we mount them on the pen mandrel. My personal preference when mounting two blanks at one time (I typically make each end of the pen separately) is to have the tip of the pen nearest to the headstock. The pen bushings for the slimline pen are all the same diameter. We will use three bushings, one at the headstock side of the mandrel, one between the pen blanks and one on the tailstock side. This is visible in the first picture above. The yellowheart is on the left and the oak on the right.
The tools that I use when making a pen are a 1 inch wide spindle gouge and a 1 inch skew. These tools are my personal favorite to make general pens with. The wideness of the spindle gouge limits the probability of getting a deep catch, more so than a narrower one. The skew produces a very smooth surface on the wood, and also provides me with the ability to match the wood to the bushings very nicely. That being said, roughing gouges and bowl gouges can also be used. I do not use the carbide tip scrapers that are produced for most of my turnings, although they are quite acceptable. Sandpaper is also a tool to use to eliminate rough spots, and don't be afraid to grab a very low grit to start with if your tool work is leaving ridges -- We all had those marks when we started turning, but practice makes us better each time we turn! Dont get discouraged, stick with it and your turning will get better!
I like to put a shape on my slimline pens, and one of my favorite shapes for a slimline pen is seen in the second picture. After obtaining the shape that I desired I then sanded the pen blanks starting with 150 grit and ended with 800 grit sandpaper which resulted in a very smooth surface.
I selected oak as the the "black" piece of the wood because it has a fairly high tannin level in it. The tannin reacts with a chemical compound (see below for the formula) that will turn the wood black on the surface. I've had good success with this process in the past, however, on this specific piece of oak it failed to produce the dark black that I desired. It turned a dark grey color. A second coat did not increase the darkness nearly enough -- so I grabbed a black sharpie and colored the wood with that making it black as can bee seen in the third picture.
Put about a cup or so of vinegar into glass jar, add to that something rusty (a nail, steelwool...). I added a rusty steel wood pad in it and let that soak for 24 hours with the jar open. After 24 hours filter the solution through a coffee filter to remove any particles. The color of the resulting solution will be slightly cloudy and clear or possibly white-ish. Wet a paper towel with the solution and rub it onto the wood. The paper towel was wet (clear) however, when I rubbed it on the oak, the oak quickly darkened to a dark grey. The paper towel remained white in color, which has always surprised me. When darkening woods, those high in tannin work best. Here are a few woods high in tannin -- oak, walnut, mahogany, cherry, ash, maple, pine and beech.
Step 3: Finishing & Assembly
Once the color was set, I used a friction polish on the pen. I put 7 layers of finish on the pen building the finish to a high gloss each time and adding a bit more thickness. I use paper towels as the applicator for the finish and a clean paper towel to "polish" it while the lathe is ruining at about 2000 rpm. The heat that is generated from the friction cures the finish on the pen. Before removing the pen from the mandrel I grab a couple handfuls of sawdust and rub that on my hands -- this prevents me from touching the pen with any wet finish that might have remain on my hands. A couple times before I came up with that process I left a nice fingerprint is left on the surface of the pen! NOT GOOD, especially if you don't notice until after assembly!
Assembly is very easy for a slimline pen. In the picture above you can see my pen press (shown with a cigar pen blank, not a slimline pen blank). I start by inserting the tip into the lower section of the pen, putting that against the plastic part of the pen press and lift the handle until the tip is fully seated. These parts are compression fitting. Next I press in the transmission (the part that turns to push the ink cartridge in/out) into the pen.
On the transmission there is is a brass section and a chrome section. I start off by pressing the transmission until the brass portion is in the lower half of the pen. I then thread the ink cartridge into the transmission and see if the tip exists out of the pen tip far enough. If it does, then I'm done. However, there is an indented ring on the transmission and that marks the location where the transmission should be pushed into. That being said, if the wood was trimmed too far during the barrel trimming the tip will never retract far enough -- so that is a CYA (cover your a$$) step -- a procedure that I incorporated after making several pens that the ink cartridge did not did not retract back into the pen.
Once the transmission is in, and the ink cartridge threaded in place we move to the upper portion of the pen. The cap and clip are installed on the top end of the pen. I place the clip and cap together and against the plastic portion of the press and press them into the brass barrel in the wood.
Locate the metal ring (washer) and slides over the transmission. Now slide the top portion of the pen onto the lower portion aligning any grain patterns. The friction between the top half of the pen and the transmission will enable the ink cartridge to move in and out by twisting the upper and lower parts of the pen.
Your pen is complete. Congratulations!
Step 4: Final Thoughts:
Slimline pens are quick and easy to make, and very cheap as well. I started making them soon after I got my lathe, and continued to make them until I "mastered making them" before moving on to a more difficult pen. I feel that I was a bit too timid, and that I could have moved onto making more difficult pens a long time before I did.
Pens are a great gift and they sell fairly well. It is amazing how many people recognize a hand crafted pen. I had donated a slimline pen and pencil set (made out of Corian) to a charity. About 2 years later I was unknowingly in a business meeting with the person that won the auction. He looked at my pen and commented on how he had one just like it and had won it at a charity auction. He showed me and I laughed telling him that I had made it! I also told him that if he wanted to purchase one at 1/10th of the cost of what he paid to let me know!
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