Introduction: Turning a Corian Pen | How To
I've been turning pens for a few months and can't get enough of it. I'm also a big proponent of up-cycling and reclaiming - using things that might otherwise be discarded or have a low perceived value and turn them (oops, it's a pun!) into something more valuable. The manufacturing process for Corian generally leaves large cutoffs at the ends of counters and for sink cut-outs. This project is an attempt to use some small scraps and give them new life as a pen. It's also a remix of my first pen turning Instructable. I hope that my overview will help shed light on some of the quirks with the material and that others can learn from my experiences!
- Corian @ 3/4x3/4x5" minimum *
- Pen Kit
- Bushings (matched to the pen kit)
- Cyanoacrylate Glue (Medium) and/or Gorilla Glue
- Sandpaper (120-320)
- Micro Mesh
- Car Polish/Rubbing Compound
- Saw (scroll saw, band saw, table saw, etc...)
- Clamp/Vise (I use a hand screw clamp and quick clamp)
- 7mm Drill bit (may vary depending on your pen kit)
- Barrel trimmer (sized to pen kit)
- Pen Mandrel
- Turning Chisels
*Corian is manufactured in 6,12, and 19mm thicknesses. Most any solid surface material should work
I'm not covering general safety here, just key points along the way, but you should definitely read up on it before turning. Always use a face shield - especially with solid surface materials and keep loose clothing and long hair secured and away from the lathe. Acrylics give off fine dust, so use some sort of breathing protection too!
Step 1: Glue Up
My Corian scraps were not thick enough for pen turning, so I needed to glue them together. I started off with chunks of corian that were pretty manageable in size, making them easy to glue up evenly. Large sheets of the material would be difficult to glue up evenly. You may want to cut yours down accordingly. With two sides clean, I spread medium CA glue over most of one piece and then rubbed the other around on it, spreading the glue over the entirety of both pieces. I then used my handscrew clamp to evenly apply pressure across the majority of the blank. If you still have room, a squeeze clamp can take up the slack.
I leave these to dry overnight. It's also totally doable to glue up multiple sets and have their unglued sides against one another inside a single clamp (see photo above). After these have dried and cured, I like to square them up as best as possible. Either a band saw or table saw would accomplish this. Once squared up, mark the length needed with about 1/8th" more than the length of your pen tube. Cut on the outside of the line, then mark the second tube and cut it to length as well. Since Corian doesn't have grain, there's no need to mark direction or pattern like we do on a wood blank. Use a straightedge across opposite corners to find the center for drilling.
Step 2: Drilling
There are commercial products available to clamp your pen blanks for drilling. There are pen chucks that hold the blank on the headstock of the lathe, allowing you to mount a drill chuck in the tailstock and drill out the blank. I have neither of those tools, nor have I found it necessary to buy a pen vise for drilling. I use a quick-clamp to secure a handscrew clamp to my worktable, on top of a sacrificial board. I then tighten the blank securely, checking that it's basically plumb and drill down through my center mark.
I'm using a bradpoint bit since it came with my pen kit and matches the 7mm tubes. With acrylic, it's very important to drill slowly and not overheat the blank. Heat will cause issues with chip-ejection and also cause the hole to be wider than the bit, which will make gluing in the tubes more difficult. More so than even some of the oiliest hardwoods, I find that the Corian material needs to be cleared out manually quite often while drilling. Take your time and keep the bore, and your bit, clean.
Step 3: Tubes and Flush-trimming
Traditionally, gluing in the tubes is done with cyanoacrylate (CA) glue. I've done this for all of my pens to date, including Corian, but have noticed, and had confirmed by veteran turners, that the issues I've been having with blanks exploding on the lathe are due to improper adhesion of the tube to the blank (pictured above). To remedy this, I'll be switching to Gorilla Glue or some other Epoxy type adhesive that should expand to fill the gaps.
Scuff up the brass tubes to give them some "tooth" for the adhesive to hang onto. I usually rough them up with used 80 grit sanding pads - just remove the shine from the brass. Drizzle glue/epoxy over the tubes and rotate them as you insert so that the adhesive makes full contact down the bore and tube. Some folks plug the end of the tube that goes in first with play-dough or silly putty. I haven't had much issue with glue in the tube, but it's worth noting. A pencil can be handy for fine-tuning where the tube ends up before letting the adhesive set. I usually leave the blanks to cure and go on to a different process. Check your adhesive's directions for cure time.
Once cured, use a barrel-trimmer that matches your tubes to bring the ends of the blank flush and perpendicular to the tubes. This is important for proper assembly of the final blank, as well as proper seating on the pen mandrel/lathe. I use the same clamp setup as before. If you choose to do this operation handheld, be warned that the trimmer's inner rod can extend past the tube and cut your hand (ask me how I know). Doing this step before the adhesive has fully cured may cause the tubes to push down in the blank, shortening the overall length past what the kit is specified for, so don't rush it! Stop trimming as soon as you see shiny brass or you'll trim the tube.
Step 4: Turning
Since there's no grain to matchup, the blanks can mount on the mandrel in either order or direction unless your pen kit has non-matching tubes/bushings. For the slim line kit, I use two bushings on either end and one in the middle. For taking the blanks down from square to round, I'd recommend trimming the hard edges off with a band saw or similar. It's not strictly necessary, but will save your tool's edge and some time.
Use a roughing gouge to get everything down to approximate round. I start with the lathe at the lowest speed, on mine that's around 750rpm, and turn it off from time to time to check progress. More so than wood, the shavings from the Corian make it very difficult to see your progress. I'd recommend using some sort of dust collection if you have it. Keep working with the appropriate chisels/gouges until you reach the desired shape.
The bushings are a guide for where the hardware of the pen kit will meet the pen blank. While there are exceptions to the rule, it is often most aesthetically pleasing for the pen body to flow with the hardware, leaving almost no difference in diameter at the transition. Leave some room for sanding, though not too much, and be careful not to damage your bushings.
Step 5: Sanding
Once the shape has been fine tuned, it's time to sand. There are tons of places that sell strips of sandpaper, but I tend to use old sandpaper from my random orbital sander or cut bits from full sheets. Depending on how clean your turning was, start around 120 or 220 grit. Once happy with each grit, turn off the lathe and sand side-to-side to make sure any sanding marks are removed. After the initial clean-up sanding, each progressive grit is really just meant to improve the uniformity of the previous grit.
I begin wet-sanding with 320. You should probably cover the bed of your lathe to protect it from not only the water, but the slurry of wet plastic muck coming off the blank. I get a bit more life out of my abrasives in this process by wiping them against cloth to de-gunk the plastic slurry from the grit.
It's helpful to wipe the blank down with a clean paper towel to check progress. Do not be tempted to use cloth to wipe on the lathe while it's under power - you could risk dismemberment. The paper towel is a much safer choice. Before getting too far with the sanding, I like to feel the entire length of the pen to determine if there are any points that don't feel smooth. Closing your eyes may be helpful, as the sense of touch will give away the error when it's often hard to see, especially with the kind of patterns that occur in solid surface materials.
After 320, I move to micro mesh sanding pads. I work through each of the grits, wet all the way to 12,000.
Step 6: Polishing
At this point, the pen could be assembled and used. Acrylics don't need a finish applied in the way that wood does. But we've gotten this far -- why not take it all the way?
I have some car polish I'd originally purchased with the intent to rejuvenate some headlights. Squirt a glob of polishing compound on a paper towel and wipe down the length. I rotate the work piece by hand using the wheel to the left of the headstock while applying the polish with my right. Once covered, spin up the lathe and rub in the polishing compound. I did this twice to make sure I hadn't missed any of it and had an even polish.
In the previous step, we'd made a smooth pen. A very smooth pen, even. After polishing, the pen almost feels wet to the touch! There are expensive polishing/buffing setups out there, but this is accessible for beginners and works quite well.
Step 7: Assembly
Your pen kit will no doubt include instructions. For the basic slim line style kits, I start with the nib, pressing it into the tube with a squeeze clamp. For all of these fitting/assembly steps, it is absolutely crucial to keep the pieces straight or you risk compromising the entire pen.
After the nib, I open the clamp a bit and insert the transmission. Putting it in brass end first, press until just before the indentation line. It's easy enough to screw in the refill to make sure the length is correct. A little fine tuning here can make a big difference in how far the pen tip projects from the pen. Be sure not to press it too far or the tip won't fully retract into the pen.
Next, I press the end cap. I tend to turn a slightly more "voluptuous" pen shape, so often the pen clips don't fit in a way that I find pleasing. If yours does, make sure it's between the blank and end cap/finial when you go to assemble. Finally, install the beauty ring/center band and slide down the rear half of the pen. That's it!
Step 8: Glamour Shots
These were my favorite pens so far. Corian is such a joy to turn (when it survives and doesn't blow apart at 1000rpm and hit your faceshield). I hope this inspires some of you to take a look at different materials (scraps and trash, even!) around you and make something!
I'd love to hear from you in the comments and see what you're turning! If you liked this project, please be sure to vote/favorite/follow and check out the full video. I have lots of other articles on everything from building storage benches and bookcases to turkey soup and laundry detergent!
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