Adapted Pen/Marker Holder

Introduction: Adapted Pen/Marker Holder

Many disabilities such as cerebral palsy make it hard to grip a pen, pencil, or marker.  Some people can grab a pen in their fist and draw that way, but others lack the ability to keep their hand in a vertical configuration.  This means that can only hold a pen sideways; hence they can not use it.  This device is something we have used with several students.  It adapts to hold pens, markers, pencils, and even small paint brushes.  The student can then draw on paper.

These instructions will show a couple ways to make this, my preferred way (wood) and then a couple cheaper ways out of PVC for those with less money or tools. 

Step 1: Supplies & Tools

Supplies (Preferred way):
1  x  36" dowel (I often use 1" or  7/8", based on individual)  (oak or pine, will make 5-6 holders) ($4)
Electrical tape or rubber tape
Hurricane Nuts ($5 for 50)  (or t-nuts with the smaller holes for screws)
1" Plastic headed thumbscrews (# 91185A554 @ Mcmaster-Carr) ($7.49 for 10)
Glue (Gorilla glue, E6000, etc.)
Spade bits
Steel wire

Supplies (cheap way #1):
1/2" , 3/4", or 1" PVC pipe
"T" connectors
1/4-20 1" bolt    or 1/4-20 1" Thumbscrew
Electrical tape

Supplies (cheap way #2):
1/2" , 3/4", or 1" PVC pipe
"T" connectors
1/4-20 wingnut
1/4-20 1" bolt    or 1/4-20 1" Thumbscrew
Electrical tape
Duct Tape

Tools:  (Preferred way)
Drill press
Drum sander
Pliers or ClampTite

Tools: (Cheap way #1)
PVC cutter or saw
1/4-20 screw tap

Tools: (Cheap way #2)
PVC cutter or saw
Dremel or File

Step 2: Cut Wood to Size, Shape.

Cut the dowels into 6" or so lengths for adults.  Children need about 4.5", some adults prefer a smaller one that can fit in a hand, some want a longer one, etc.  You can always cut a longer one shorter if the need arises.  For teenagers upwards, I often make a combination of 6" and 6.5".

A table saw or chop saw is good for this step; lacking those tools I used a handsaw.

Using the sander, bevel one end of each cylinder so that it is rounded / domelike.  This end may be in someone's hand, so no corners or sharp edges.  Slightly bevel the other end enough to remove sharp edges.

Step 3: Drill Hole for Marker / Pen

I used a spade bit  in the drill press to bore a hole through each dowel.  I used 3/4" for the 1" dowels, and 5/8" for the 7/8" dowels.   You do need to leave enough wood on either side that you still have some structural integrity.  Obviously, the larger hole can accommodate bigger markers (such as whiteboard markers).  Too big and the wood breaks; too small and many pens won't fit.

I normally make the outer radius of the hole about 1/4" from the end of the cylinder.

Using the drum sander, I bevel each side of the hole to remove rough edges.

Sand all sides with sandpaper to remove any splinters.

Step 4: Drill Hole for Nut

Drill a hole through the end of each dowel (on the axis of the dowel, in the center, on the end closest to the big hole).  This is for the T-nuts / insert nuts / hurricane nuts.  It often helps to predrill a pilot hole.

Step 5: Add Hurricane Nuts

Smear glue on the hurricane nut, then tap the shaft of the nut into the hole with a hammer.

The force from the thumbscrew is directed outwards.

The proper nut to use in this case is the insert nut.  I don't have good luck with these and end up destroying most of them trying to get them in.  In this design, we also don't have much wiggle room and the insert nuts take up more space, which then requires a longer thumbscrew.

T-nuts are intended to be used the other direction - the load pulls against the threads, which pushes the flange against the material.  They aren't designed to be pushed against.   A hammer-in style T-nut will pop right out again when the thumbscrew is tightened.  I sometimes use the T-nuts that are screwed in to the material using little bitty screws (like these), but the little bitty screws are easy to lose in a shop, are hard to drive, sometimes pop out of holes if predrilled, etc.   The hurricane nuts seem to hold very well. 

The problem with the hurricane nuts is that they tend to split the wood.  So far I have had pine, oak, and poplar split on me.  Sometimes the thicker 1" cylinders arrive OK, but the smaller pieces split every time.

To remedy this, I cut a small channel around the top with the dremel.  I put a couple of loops of steel wire in the channel, then twist it with pliers or use the ClampTite tool to tighten the loops.  This prevents further expansion of the wood.

Sand everything.

Step 6: Grip and Thumbscrew

Wrap electrical tape or rubber tape.  This gives it a grip that is easier to hold than slick wood.

Insert the thumbscrew into the hurricane nut. For these, I distinguish dowel sizes by thumbscrew color.

Step 7: Usage

Put a pen/marker in the large hole, tighten the thumbscrew to secure it.

Draw on paper.

Step 8: PVC Version #1

This is built using 1/2", 3/4", or 1" PVC or CPVC pipe.

Cut a 6" or so long piece of CPVC.

Drill a hole through the center piece of the T joint so that the hole comes out the top of the "T".

Tap the hole (I don't have a smaller tap, so I used 1/4-20).  This makes screw threads inside the hole.

Step 9: PVC Version #1, Continued

Strongly press the CPVC pipe into the middle "T" connector.  For extra durability, use PVC cement.

Insert a bolt or a thumbscrew into the threaded hole.  Wrap the handle with electrical tape for grip.

This has the advantage of being a little lighter than the wooden version.

Some people will find a heavier tool is easier to control.
Some people will find the lighter tool easier to control.  Options are always good.

Step 10: PVC Version #2

This is for the people who don't have a tap wrench and tap bits.

Essentially the same as the other PVC version; this one uses a wingnut instead of tapping the hole ourselves.

Carve with the dremel or file away the T-joint so that the wingnut mates snugly with it. 

Drill a hole in the "T" joint as in the first version, right under where the wingnut will be.

Step 11: PVC Version 2, Continued

Wrap duct tape (I use Gorilla Tape) around the wingnut to secure it in place.

Insert the handle.

Wrap handle with electrical tape for a good grip.

Insert a bolt into the wingnut to secure writing utensil.

Step 12: Another Way

I am experimenting with skipping the hurricane nut altogether.  I can tap the wood directly and cut threads into it, thus removing the need for a separate nut.

So far, the harder woods (like oak) take threads a lot better than softer wood such as pine.

There is a lot more "slop" or play of the thumbscrew with this method, but it seems to work OK in the short term (not sure of long term yet).

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    9 years ago on Introduction

    Maybe try and just put a rubber wedge driven in to hold the pen/pencil in the hole. It would save the cost of hardware if you are doing a lot of implements. Would the addition of a strap help someone with no gripping power, like the strap on the side of a camcorder? I imagine a big batch of oogoo would help form a more ergonomic or cushioned grip. Use pipe insulation foam pieces for the grips. Thanks for sharing.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I like the rubber wedge idea, but I suspect they would get separated and lost more easily - the thumbscrews "stay in" unless deliberately removed.

    A strap would work very well for some people. So far, I have not used one of these with someone who had no grip or a weak grip. Most of the people I have made these for have the opposite problem - Cerebral Palsy of a sort that involves very tight muscles. It is only with a lot of concentration and/or help that they can open their hand. Once the handle is inserted, the hand retightens and they then have a VERY good grip on on it.

    If one needs a more ergonomic handle (for anything, not just these), I often use the foam bandaging tape (such as 3M Vetrap) or moldable material (Sugru or thermoplastic) shaped directly to the contours of their hand.

    I do use pipe insulation when working with adults, but I shy away from foam pipe insulation because a lot of special needs children have oral motor texture issues. I have worked with many children who LOVE the texture of foam in their mouths. They mouth it and gnaw it (imagine a puppy with a Nerf football) and it quickly breaks down into pieces and becomes a choking hazard. When I do use pipe insulation around children (as a bumper or a soft handle), it is always completely covered with electrical tape to protect it.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks, I did not know of these needs and conditions. One thing that I came across was I was shopping at the fabric store and a lady was browsing intently at rotary cutters. I had to offer my advice since I used them. Turns out she was thinking about getting one because her arthritis prevented her from using regular scissor because she couldn't grip them. But thinking about it, a rotary cutter probably needs some stabilizing wheels to keep it upright and maybe a two handed grip to guide it along with a press to cut. Idea for another ible.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Assistive Technology is varied enough that there is never one solution. What works for one person doesn't work for the next.

    Depending on what she was cutting, something like Adapted Scissors might work.  We have also seen people with arthritis use spring-loaded scissors with good success (the blades spring apart by themselves, which is the hardest part of using scissors).


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I have never seen a stationary mounted set of scissors before. It might be clumsy to use if you have to gather and pull in the big bolt of fabric into the jaws of the scissor. Most long straight cuts are made by gliding a pair of really sharp scissors through the fabric with the jaws open. I will keep it in mind though.


    9 years ago

    What a great idea for enabling those with disabilities to get job!


    9 years ago on Introduction

    What an awesome idea! I saw that you work in Assistive Technology. What a blessing to use your creativity to help others who are challenged to do the things so many of us take for granted.