Making wooden pens has been one of the most satisfying hobbies of my life. There's nothing like making a functional craft that you can use yourself or give to someone else. This instructable will take you through the basic steps to make a Slimline Pen.
Note -- This instructable assumes you have some basic knowledge of woodturning and know the safety hazards associated with it. Please make sure you have the proper training and have read the operating manuals of the tools you will be using.
Good luck and have fun!
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Step 1: Buy a Slimline Pen Kit
First you need to buy a Slimline Pen kit from a supplier like Woodcraft (www.woodcraft.com) or Penn State Industries (www.pennstateind.com) Slimline kits are a favorite for those just getting into pen turning. When you get your kit, compare it with the instructions that come with the kit to make sure you have all the components. This kit comes with a tip (or nib), 2 pen tubes, twist mechanism, ink refill, spring, center band, and cap/clip assembly.
Step 2: Get a Copy of the Pen Kit Instructions
Each pen kit usually comes with a set of instructions. It's critical to get a copy of these instructions to make sure you are drilling the correct size holes and using the right size bushings. The instructions will also tell you the proper way to assemble your pen once you've finished turning the blanks. The instructions normally come printed with the kit or you can access them online.
Step 3: Select Your Pen Blank
For this pen, I used an exotic wood called Zebra. Pen suppliers have a plethora of blanks to choose from. Some of my favorites: Cocobolo, Purpleheart, Bocote, Walnut, Olive, African Blackwood, Lacewood. Look through a pen catalog to get a good idea of what woods look like. You're looking for something that satisfies your tastes, but also displays striking natural features of the wood grain. All you need is a piece of wood 3/4 inch by 3/4 inch by 6 inches. Since the Slimline is made up of 2 sections, you want both sections from the same piece of wood.
Step 4: Mark Up the Blank
Use the pen tubes that came with the kit and measure where you need to make the cuts on the wood blanks. I like to cut each section so that it's 1/4 inch to 1/2 longer than the pen tube. Also, note in the picture how I've drawn a horizontal line on my uncut blank so I can match the wood grain later.
I also go ahead and decide what will be the upper and lower barrels of the pen. I write this on the pen blank.
Step 5: Use a Saw to Cut the Blank
You can use just about any saw to cut your blanks. I used a benchtop band saw. Don't worry about getting these cuts perfect. Just get them as straight as you can. Watch your fingers and make sure you've read the operating instructions of your saw.
Step 6: Drill Holes for Pen Tubes
Mark the center of your blank and use a drill to make the holes for your pen tubes. The pen kit instructions specify the correct size drill bit and the pen tubes come with the kit. For the Slimline you will need a 7mm drill bit.
Step 7: Glue in the Pen Tubes
I first take some sandpaper and scuff up the outside surface of the pen tubes. This will help the glue adhere better. I prefer CA (super glue), the medium kind. You can get this at Hobby Lobby. Clamp the blank down to your bench. Hold glue in one hand and the tube in the other. I apply the glue to top of tube as I twirl and slowly push into the blank. I wear nitrile gloves to prevent glue from getting on my skin. Push the tube into the blank so that 1/8 inch or 1/4 inch of wood overlaps the pen tube on both ends. Do this step fairly quickly as the CA glue sets almost instantly. I like to allow 30 minutes to an hour for the glue to completely cure.
Step 8: Trim Excess Wood Off Ends of Pen Blanks
Use something called a barrel trimmer (which fits in a regular hand drill) to trim down the excess wood down to the pen tubes. The barrel trimmer comes in different sizes, so choose one that fits your pen kit. Otherwise you will need to use a disc sander. Be careful not to trim into the pen tubes. Just go down until you see the shine of the pen tubes (you probably will shave off a sliver of the brass pen tube and that will be okay). This step ensures that the ends of the pen blanks are perfectly perpendicular with the pen tubes. It also ensures that the components of the pen will fit properly, not leaving any gaps.
Step 9: Mount the Pen Blanks to the Lathe
The pen blanks mount on something called a pen mandrel. The pen mandrel mounts between the lathe's headstock and tailstock. Follow the pen kit instructions and make sure you have the correct set of bushings. In the picture you can see the metal bushings on the end of both blanks and in the middle between them. The bushings slide over the mandrel and rest against the pen blanks. The bushings are there to help guide you and keep the blanks at the correct dimensions on the ends. There is a locking nut on the end of the mandrel that will press everthing together so the the blank will be locked firmly on the mandrel. You can also see that I've used the horizontal mark I made earlier so that I can match up the grain between the pen blanks.
Note that in my pictures I'm using something called a Pen Mandrel Saver which is slightly different from a regular mandrel. But either one works fine.
Step 10: Begin Turning the Pen Blanks
I assume you've had some practice with a wood lathe. Read the operating instructions that come with your lathe. Remove all jewelry and wear a face shield and a dust mask. Using a roughing gouge, begin turning the square-shaped blanks down to a cylinder. Make sure you rest the tool properly on the tool rest and slowly push the bevel against the wood. Move the gouge smoothly back and forth along the blank. The lathe should be running at 2000 to 3000 RPM. Once I've got a majority of the wood off, I switch to a skew. Use the skew to take off more wood, but don't go all the way to the bushings.
As a beginner you should probably stick to keeping a gradual curve in each blank. In other words, the pen barrels are a little fatter in the middle than the end---but not too fat. You want the pen to look good and fit the hand well. With more experience, you can get more creative with shaping the wood.
Step 11: Sand the Pen Blanks
Remove your tool rest and begin sanding your pen blanks all the way down to the bushings so that the wood and bushings are flush with each other. I cut my sandpaper into 1 inch strips. Start with 120 grit, then 220 grit, then 320 or 400 grit. Stop between each grit and check progress. Also sand lengthwise along the blank (with the lathe off) to remove circular scratches. Don't forget to wear your dust mask and/or run your dust collector.
After using the sandpaper, I move to something called Micro Mesh cloths. Start with 1500 grit and work up to 12,000 grit. Don't forget to stop the lathe periodically and check your progress. You can use either denatured alcohol (with lathe off) or an air compressor to clean the blank periodically as you sand.
Step 12: Apply a Finish
There are several ways to finish your pen. Many like to finish with a few coats of CA glue, but that's for advanced pen turners. The CA finish produces a high gloss and very durable finish. For the beginner, I recommend a commercial friction polish. I use a friction polish made by HUT. Use a clean paper towel and squirt about a quarter size amount of polish onto the paper towel. With the lathe off, wipe the polish all over and then turn the lathe back on. Wear your faceshield and bring the paper towel up to the bottom of the wood blank. Don't stay in one spot, but move the paper towel back and forth along the bottom of the blank. As you do this, you should feel a little heat building up through the paper towel. That's good because the heat helps to cure the polish on the wood. Do this for about 30 seconds to a minute, and then turn the lathe off and allow the polish to dry.
I don't recommend using cloth because there is the potential for cloth towels to get caught on the spinning wood and this could be a safety hazard. Use paper towels because if they do stick, they will break away.
Note that with this finish, the pen will leave the lathe with a glossy finish, but with time and use this will fade away (unlike a CA finish). But some like this finish because you can feel the wood in your hands, and it doesn't feel like the pen is "plastic" or made out of a "synthetic" material.
Step 13: Assemble the Pen
Get your pen instructions back out. Please read them very carefully and follow the exact steps to assemble the pen. Pull the wood pen barrels off the mandrel and keep them aligned so that the grain matches. Choose the blank that you earlier assigned as the lower pen barrel and press the tip into one end. I prefer to use a bench-mounted vise. Do this slowly and carefully. Make sure the tip is alligned perfectly as you press into the blank. Don't force anything.
Next, press the twist mechanism into the opposite end of the lower barrel, according to the pen instructions. Be careful not to press it too far. You can put the ink refill in, test it, and make adjustments as you go. You want the ink refill to retract all the way back into the pen when you're not using it to write.
Lastly, press the pen cap and clip into the upper pen barrel. Note that the center band will go between the pen barrels.
Put the ink refill in place per the instructions, slip the center band on and then slide the upper pen barrel (with clip/cap assembly) over the twist mechanism.
Test the pen and make sure it operates and writes well. When the ink runs out, you can buy additional ink refills from any office supply store.
Congratulations! You've just completed your first pen. Welcome to your new addiction!
Step 14: Give Someone Your Handmade Pen
Here is one of the most gratisfying parts of making pens --- giving them away or selling them. I normally will present my pen to someone in a wooden pen display case or a plastic pen tube. These can both be purchased from a pen supplier store.
Thanks for reading my instructable. Check out my website for more tips and tricks on pen turning.
Happy pen turning!