Turning a Camphor Pen





Introduction: Turning a Camphor Pen

About: I love woodworking and making fun stuff on the lathe, I really enjoy making stuff and posting it on this website, and I love the Hobbit

So I am a pen turner and I'd say I'm a fairly decent one. There are many secrets to turning a pen that aren't shown in the instructions that come with your pen kit. Today I'll show you how i turned a Slimline Pen out of Camphor wood.

Step 1: Preparing Your Blanks for Turning

I held the brass tube up to my blank and marked a line about a sixteenth of an inch oversized and extended it with a speed square. I did this same thing on my other blank. Next, I cut at those lines on my bandsaw. Then, I clamped the, up in my homemade pen vise and used a standard 7mm brad point bit to drill a through hole through each blank. After that, I prepared everything to glue the brass tubes in. First, I scuffed the shine off the tubes for a better bond. Second, I pulled out a scrap of plywood to wipe the excess on. Then, I grabbed my bottle of medium CA glue. I first ran a small bead of glue inside the the hole in each blank. I did this because once you glue the tube into the pen, by the time it reaches the other end, there is hardly any glue on the tube from squeezing out. After that, I stuck the tube on the end of a pencil and ran several beads of CA on it. Then I slowly inserted it into the blank, twirling and pulling it in and out for maximum coverage. I then dragged each end of the blank across the plywood. This will ensure that the tube is flush with one end of the blank and also remove any excess. I repeated all that with the other blank and tube and let them cure up. Once dry, I flush sanded them on my homemade disc sander.

Step 2: Turning the Blanks

I put everything on my mandrel and applied pressure with my tail stock and mandrel saver instead of the brass nut included with the mandrel. I used a roughing gouge to knock off the corners and I use a skew for a little bit just to stay in tip top shape with my skew skills and get some practice in. But, my go to tool for pen turning is a low fluted spindle gouge which is basically a roughing gouge with the wings drawn back. With a series of push cuts I first brought each end of the blanks down to just a hair above the diameter of the bushings and then smoothed it over and developed a nice easy curve to each blank. You might want to consider a really light skew cut to clean up the surface before sanding. You can pretty much use whatever tool your comfortable with except a scraper. You might be able to use a negative rake scraper or a skew scraper but DO NOT use a round nose or square scraper of any kind! It will catch and blow apart your pen!

Step 3: Sanding!

I always start sanding with 180 grit and work through with 240, 320, 400, 600, and then 800. I use Rhyno Soft foam-backed sandpaper because it is locally sold at my woodturning club and it is extremely comfortable to sand with while turning. Always remember to wear a respirator or use some sort of dust collection. I wore my North Respirator and used a hose clamp to attach my shop vac hose to my lathe.

Step 4: CA Finishing

I know that everybody has their own process for applying a CA finish and by no means do I have any right to say that my technique is the best, but I think that my method of applying CA is a very good one and has always been reliable and given me great results. I squirted a small amount of CA onto a small piece of paper towel and quickly wiped it on the wood (I was turning at around 800RPM). Don't linger with the CA because it could very easily dry and then you have a piece of paper towel glued to your pen......I don't know for sure, but I'd imagine that wouldn't sell to well at a craft show. I hit it with some accelerator (activator) and waited about 43 seconds. Do not lay down all of your coats at once because it will be soft and won't dry properly. If you are using a thin CA each coat will dry almost instantly but you'll need to lay down about 8 coats to get a nice durable finish. However, I'm using a medium CA, so I only need about 3 or 4 coats, but it takes longer to dry even with an accelerator. So I did the same process of squirting CA onto the paper towel, wiping it on, and spraying it with accelerator. Always wipe your CA from the middle of the pen blanks. This will cause it to not gum up so much on the bushings. Also, wiping some beeswax onto the bushings. This will prevent them from sticking to the wood. Then I sanded everything down with 400, 600, and 800 grit. Turn off the lathe after 400 grit and look to see if there are any shiny spots. If so, continue to sand with 400 grit. We are trying to remove the hills and valleys that the CA left over and make everything even.

Step 5: Polishing

I use micro mesh pads to polish the CA finish. Micro mesh is fine grit sandpaper that starts at 1500 and ends with 12,000 with about 9 or something grits in between. Each grit leaves a smaller sand scratch and the last one is so small that the overall surface will look extremely shiny and feel like glass. After the micro mesh I use Meguiar's Buffing Compound (you can use a plastic polish or any sort of buffing compound). I use a damp rag and apply it by hand first to ensure that I get even surface coverage and then I start up the lathe and let it run at 600 revs and gradually turn up the speed as I'm buffing it. By the end, I'm rolling at around 1500 RPM and the surface is absolutely flawless. It will legitimately be smoother than a glazed car. After that, I will take both pieces off the mandrel.

Step 6: Assembly

I'm not going to get into the nitty gritty detail of assembling a slimline pen. I printed my instructions here: https://www.woodturnerscatalog.com/docs/apprentice_fancy_slimline.pdf The only thing I did slightly different than the instructions is that I applied the smallest morsel of CA to the pen clip and top assembly because as time goes by and the pen gets more and more use, the clip will come loose and spin freely, so gluing it in will make sure that that doesn't happen. Just be careful with the CA. Only a dab will do the the job. That's it! I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and it was helpful to you! Thank you!



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    21 Discussions


    3 years ago

    I'm very interested in making custom pens as gifts for friends and family. I looked into some lathes and they seem really expensive... thousands of US dollars. can you offer a recommendation for a reasonably priced lathe that would do the trick? Thanks in advance!

    4 replies

    If all your looking for is small items such as box's pens, etc. many manufacturers make fairly inexpensive pen lathes that are reliable for ($150-$300), but may not have as many bells an whistle as the big guys like variable speed controller or a included mandrill or chuck. Its a great hobby and truly rewarding hope you find something that will work for you.

    It's awesome that you want to get into pen turning! I wouldn't recommend the Harbor Freight lathes although they are very tempting. They are actually made pretty cheap even though they look good. I would go with the Grizzly mini lathe. You can check out that lathe and a few others here: http://grizzly.com/products/10-x-18-Variable-Speed-Wood-Lathe/T25926 (hopefully that link works....if not just go to their website grizzly.com) Btw the mini lathes without the digital readout and variable speeds are a lot cheaper than the mini lathes with a dial to control your speed and a small screen that shows your RPM speed, but you will get really tired of having to change belts to change speed. So I would definitely just spend another 50 dollars to get the variable speed. I wish you the best of luck! Let me know what you decided on. Here's my email: peterturnswood@gmail.com

    I bought a little shop fox lathe with variable speed , spent about 200 on the lathe, then another 150-200 on tools and supplies to get started. I made quite a few pens with that set up. I got the lathe of amazon, and the rest of the stuff I needed from Penn State Industries.

    Hi dford9, Harbor Freight has TWO sizes, a 46" and a 18", both are really inexpensive. I am using a 47" Craftsman 45 year old Lathe, works great.

    Nice looking pen -- I love to turn camphor wood it smells so nice!

    i also do a lot of Pen's, I stopped using CA Glue as it has tendency to be very brittle. I now use 5 Min Epoxy, holds a lot better.

    2 replies

    I use flexible CA. Less brittle and can expand/contract with the wood so no cracks. Do you use a specialty wood turning epoxy? Regular ones are hard to work with.

    Hahaha I actually switched from epoxy to CA and CA actually hasn't blown apart once. The trick is to not spray it with accelerator...Accelerator will make the bond brittle and that's definitely not going to withstand a chisel cutting it at 1500RPM

    Take care,



    2 years ago

    Great advice! Thanks so much!


    1 reply

    Lol yup I'm a mythical beast :) Hahaha it was to good of a riff to pass up but I am trying to come up with a new one :)

    This is so nice, especially since we have this massive camphor tree in our backyard, and beyond it smelling really nice, we wondered if there was anything else we could be doing with it beyond enjoying it's shade. Thanks for the great Instructable!

    2 replies

    The wood is very nice smelling but let me tell you....when you cut into that wood and stand over it for an hour carving it....IT IS LEGITIMATELY THE MOST NAUSEATING SMELL EVER! lol

    Take care,


    I use CA also, but a little different. I use a folded paper towel and place ONE Drop of BLO (boiled Linseed Oil) add ONE Drop Med to Thick CA. wipe over your blank as it turns (back and forth) I do this till it dries. notice how it POPS the grain.

    then i go over the blanks with HUT wax, and polish it.

    1 reply

    I remember making pens in my high school wood shop. So much fun!