The Cardboard Pen




Introduction: The Cardboard Pen

About: I like to make wooden things.

Let's make a cardboard pen! Why? Why not?! I've never seen anyone do this before (although I'd love for someone to prove me wrong), and it seemed like a good idea. Besides, as much as I love wood, we all get tired of those pesky exotic pens made from near-cosmic burls and brightly figured lumber from all corners of the globe! I think it's time we celebrate the hearty brown paper-good that is surely the backbone of America's shipping industry. So grab your favorite (non-corrugated) cardboard, and let's get going!


1. Cardboard - Make sure it's the non-corrugated kind. That means it's flat, like the kind that a 12 pack of soda is made out of.

2. Something to cut cardboard - This could mean one of those big chopping style cutters, or just a pair of scissors.

3. Foam-core poster board - This is the stuff that you make those tri-fold dioramas out of at the science fair. You can also use corrugated cardboard, or something of the like.

4. Epoxy Resin - Make sure you get the two-part stuff that includes epoxy and hardener

5. A Lathe and stuff to operate a lathe - This is the tricky one. If you don't have access to a lathe, check into local makerspaces or ask around. You might be surprised to find out that your friend's uncle has one. If all else fails, and you really want to learn to turn, you can find cheap starter mini lathes for about 150 bucks. You're also going to need the lathe tools (namely, a spindle gouge and skew), a spindle adapter, and the bushings for the pen kit you're using.

6. A pen kit - If you google "pen kits," you'll find one. Make sure you get the correct bushings and drill bit for it.

7. Drill press - If you don't have one, I promise you know someone who does. It doesn't have to be big.

8. Sandpaper - I recommend getting a variety of grits. In this instructable, I use 150, 220, 320, 600, and 1200.

9. CA Glue - "CA" is woodworker talk for Cyanoacrylate, which is fancy talk for superglue. Get some superglue. You should get thin and thick if you can.

10. Wax paper - This one is optional, but it's going to make things a lot easier

11. Boiled Linseed Oil - You can find this at any big box hardware store. You'll need it for the finish, but if you want to use a different finishing method, by all means, go ahead.

This seems like a lot of stuff, but it's really not that hard to gather if you're determined. If you've done any woodworking or turning before, you probably have most of it around anyway.

Step 1: Cut That Cardboard!

I love Dr. Pepper. It is 23 flavors of happiness that tells me there really are decent people in this world. It is truly the ultimate soda (they didn't ask me to say this), unless you can get your hands on some Cheerwine (who also has not asked me to say this). We'll call this pen an ode to Dr. Pepper.

Anyway, grab your cardboard. The pen I'll be making isn't super thick, so I like to have a 3/4" by 3/4" blank. So I cut up the 12 pack into flat faces. The pen blank is going to be three inches long, and in the end, I used one long side of the box, plus another half of a side. I cut it longways, and then I cut those into 3/4 strips. I used a small sliding cutter to make things a little bit quicker, but you don't have to do this. It's going to be easier if you try to make them pretty uniform, but they don't need to be perfect, because it's going to end up on the lathe anyway.

Next, I take the 3/4 inch strips, and cut them into 3/4 inch squares. Now you have a whole mess of little cardboard squares.

Step 2: Build That Blank!

To be sure that you're ready to build your blank, you should stack up all the cardboard squares to make sure they're just a little bit longer than the brass tube that came with your pen blank. I found that stacking them on their side, on top of clear tape made it easier.

Okay, now you need to build your mould. Get the foam-core board (or whatever you're using instead), and make a little open-top box. You want to make it just a little bit thicker than your blank is supposed to be. I made mine 7/8 of an inch, and that worked out pretty well. I assembled it using a mix of tape, CA glue, and staples, but you do whatever works for you. Just make sure they're no leaks. If you used glue, make sure to let it dry.

Now we can begin the painstaking process of glueing all the cardboard squares together. To do this, I'm going to use the thick CA glue. I take one square, put a tiny drop (half a pea-sized), and slap the next one on there. One of the finicky things about CA glue, is that it reacts with paper. By "reacts," I mean, "gets kinda hot when it touches." To avoid injuring myself or my project, I divide the squares into four piles, and glued up four mini-blanks. My CA glue says that the initial drying time is 30 minutes. After they're dry enough to handle, I glue the four parts together. I line the mould with some wax paper, and stick it in there to fully dry. Make sure you read the glue label so see when the full working strength is. In this case, I had to wait two hours.

Next, we can cast the cardboard in resin. Remove the wax paper and the glued cardboard. Then get out your epoxy resin. I got a little package of Gorilla brand epoxy because I knew I didn't need much. Now, I got disposable cup, cut off all but about half an inch from the bottom. Then, make sure everything is ready, cause you have to move kind of quick. Pour two equal parts of resin and hardener into the cup, and mix well with a popsicle stick, or something else you don't mind throwing away.

Pour some resin into the bottom of the mould, just enough to cover the bottom with about 1/8" of resin. Then, quickly stick the cardboard blank in there and press down a little. Now with the rest of the resin, slowly pour over the top, making sure to get it down the sides and ends. The cardboard should be fully submerged in epoxy resin. It will immediately start to bubble, and it's a good idea to try to pop the bubbles. You can either use a needle, or a stick lighter. The lighter works a little bit better, but either way, be careful! I still ended up with a lot of bubbles, and it turned out okay. You should also take caution because the epoxy will become quite hot.

My epoxy needed a full 24 hours to cure.

Step 3: Time to Turn!

I'm not going to go into incredible detail about the turning process, because I already made an Instructable about turning a wooden pen. CLICK HERE FOR THAT INSTRUCTABLE

Here's the short version:

After I get all the foam core off, inspect the blank to make sure there's no major gaps in the resin. Then we're going to drill the hole for the brass tube. Drilling the blank made my epoxy warm and a little bit pliable again, so I threw it in the freezer for a little bit. After that, we're going to glue the tube in with (you guessed it...) CA glue. Once that's try, trim the ends of the blank to the exact length of the brass tube. Now we can mount it one the spindle of the lathe, making sure to use the appropriate bushings.

Begin turning with the spindle gouge. Make sure your tools are sharp and your taking very shallow passes. You don't want to ruin all your hard work now. One you have it to the rough shape, you can refine it with the skew. Now we gotta sand. Start with the lower grit, and move up gradually. You want it to be really smooth! Once, it feels really smooth, keep sanding. Eventually, it will start to shine, and then you can apply the finish.

I decided to use a CA finish, because I figured the cardboard would get damaged eventually if I used a friction polish. Here's the short version for a CA finish: Apply some Boiled Linseed Oil with a heavy paper towel. I use those blue shop towels, but you do you. Then I apply a coat of the thin CA glue and rub it evenly with the same towel. Repeat that a few times. Then sand it with a high grit sandpaper. I use 600 grit for this. This is because you're really just trying to fill any voids before you actually finish this. Do this whole process twice.

Now, do the BLO+CA coat once. Then do BLO + the THICK CA glue and try to get it as even as possible. Do the thick coat twice, and then sand with 1200 grit sandpaper. It should shine like a diamond! You can even apply some plastic polish, if that strikes your fancy. If you're still a little confused about the finishing process, just give it a google. There's tons of guides on it.

Now, just assemble the pen according to your kit's instructions!

Step 4: Admire Your Beautiful Work!

You're done! You have successfully made a high-quality pen from cardboard!

Final thoughts:

I like this pen a lot. You can really see the different layers, and it's glass-smooth. I was hoping you could see the sweet maroon color of the Dr. Pepper label, but you can't really. Perhaps with a brighter colored cardboard? The only thing I would do different is use a better epoxy that's more suited for this kind of thing. I'm not even fully convinced the epoxy was necessary, but it all worked out!

Thanks for reading, and please let me know what thoughts you have about this awesome project!

Cardboard Contest 2016

Third Prize in the
Cardboard Contest 2016



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    14 Discussions


    1 year ago

    I am so terribly sorry that I did not see this Instructable in time to vote for it. What a fabulous, unique project. Big kudos!

    1 reply

    Well to be fair, I'm seven months late to reply to your comment! No worries, and I appreciate the kinds words!

    The pattern of the chip board really looks like an exotic wood grain!

    When i saw the picture i thought you were lying! It looked so professional. Great Job!

    3 replies

    1 year ago

    Using you concept, I wonder what it would look like if you used different colors of construction paper and even varied the colors as you assembly the paper. It would take on a faded color to another color. IDK. Just an idea. Nice project.

    1 reply

    Thanks! If I do this project again, I think I will add a few layers of colored construction paper, to make it a little zippier.

    Thank you so much! I really appreciate it!!

    I always refer to the non-corrugated kind as paper board. Is there a difference or just different names?

    3 replies

    Probably just different names. I always just call it cardboard, but I didn't want to confuse anybody, so I made sure to mention that it's non-corrugated.

    that type of cardboard is called cardstock I believe. if it's thick but not corrugated then it's chipboard. (from what I can remember)