The Reclaimed Pallet Pens




About: Desktop Support Technician by day ... Occasional hired gun rock drummer by night ... DIY home improvement enthusiast on weekends - maker of whatever I can imagine in between it all. I'm also a professional l...

The challenge set forth unto me - make a pen without a lathe, which works out nicely since I don't have a lathe ... nor do I have any pen kits.

My immediate thought was to make a pen using tools and materials common to a hobbyist woodworker or possibly even your home improvement DIY'er. In my mind, that encompasses a table saw, a power drill, and small scraps/offcuts. A belt sander helps, but isn't necessary.

My primary offcuts are padauk (the red/orange wood) and spalted padauk (the gnarly/veiny looking wood) , which believe it or not, actually came from a shipping pallet. I don't even believe it ... so I included a picture of the pallet. Crazy right? It was/is probably saturated in chemicals, but it's just so cool looking. The third arm I've recently grown is actually beneficial, so I'm not even upset.

Secondary offcuts were poplar - some light and some that are charcoal in color. They'll be my test subjects for each action to ensure I don't totally destroy any of the padauk pens.

Interesting tidbit: I only needed to make one pen, but figured I'd make 2-3 in case one didn't survive. It's also beneficial to make more than one item when filming video, because you can achieve multiple camera angles for individual tasks, which is more interesting to watch in my opinion. Three quickly became "I'll just mill this pile of offcuts and bulk them out," which is how I ended up wanting to punch myself in the babymaker and having 29 pens.

Step 1: Cutting Blanks and Filler Strips

The padauk boards were a bit rough, so I jointed one face and one edge. The opposing face was made parallel using the drum sander and the opposing edge was cut parallel using the table saw. This resulted in 5/8" thick stock. The spalted padauk was from a pallet runner, so it was a larger block. I jointed and sanded it parallel as well.

The next step was to rip the stock into pen blanks. I set the fence to 5/8" and ripped away until I had a stack of 5/8" x 5/8" x various lengths. Any remaining strips become filler strips, and were in the range of 3/16" - 1/4" thick. For the few that needed to be ripped down, I used dual push sticks and focused attention. I'd cut halfway through, flip the board on end, and then cut the other half. Pushing it all the way through the blade would be too precarious and the strip would most likely just fall through the throat plate and cause unnecessary risk. These will be thickness sanded, so any "stepping" left by the two step cut process is inconsequential.

Step 2: Cutting Grooves and Fitting Strips

I'll be using the guts from cheap pens and their ink tubes are just shy of 1/8" in diameter. Knowing I wouldn't be able to drill straight and accurate holes in these blanks, and not having a drill bit long enough anyway, I made the center cavity using the table saw.

My goal was to leave a 1/8" x 1/8" center chamber using a blade with an 1/8" kerf., so I did some overthinking.

Setting the fence to 1/4" puts the 1/8" groove smack in the middle of the board as it pertains to the horizontal axis.

Setting the blade height to 3/8" centers the cut within the vertical axis.
5/16" is dead center - a 1/16" to each side creates the 1/8" chamber. The top edge would be 6/16", which is 3/8".

Once all the grooves were cut in the blanks, I ran all the filler strips through the drum sander until they were a perfect fit. I'm using this necessary filler strip as a design feature by way of contrasting color pairs.

Padauk blanks get a spalted strip while spalted blanks get a padauk strip. Same contrasting scheme for the light and dark poplar.

Step 3: Glue Up

The glue up was pretty painless. I used a length of 1/8" steel rod as a spacer/placeholder for the pen guts, which worked flawlessly. Just drop the steel rod into the groove, spread glue onto each side of the filler strip, slide it into the groove, push it down tight against the rod, and add spring clamps. I probably went overboard with the clamps, but I have them, so I might as well use them.

Once the clamps were on and securely pinching the filler strip in place, I removed the steel rod and moved on to the next blank and then let them sit overnight for the glue to cure.

Step 4: Cleaning Up the Blanks

I purposely processed all my blanks larger than the final dimensions to make things easier on my future self. The first benefit was that I had more available material for clamping. The second was that I'd just be able to cut off the excess filler strip, any glue squeeze out, and any indentations left by the spring clamps. These spring clamps have some force and while it wasn't much of a problem with the padauk, they will, and did, leave indentations on the softer poplar.

Clean up started by trimming the excess filler strip from the ends of the blanks, which I did with a small parts crosscut sled on the table saw.

Test fitting the pen cuts into the center chamber revealed that the plastic tips have a flange which press fits into the plastic pen body - think of it like a tenon of sorts. To resolve this issue, I enlarged the hole on one end of each blank to 5/32". I started with a unibit because it was easier to center and then extended the depth with a standard bit. A tape flag was used as a depth stop.

The last stage was to reduce the blanks from 5/8" x 5/8" to 1/2" x 1/2", which I accomplished in four passes at the table saw.
1. Set the fence to 9/16" and rip the face which contains the filler strip.
2. Rotate the blank 90 degrees and rip that adjacent face.
3. Move the fence to 1/2", rotate the blank 90 degrees, and rip the face opposite of the filler strip.
4. Rotate the blank 90 degrees and rip the remaining face.

Step 5: Rounding the Blanks

If you have a zero clearance throat plate on your table saw and adequate push sticks, you could tilt the blade 45 degrees and trim the corners off the blanks easy enough. You could also use a router table with a 45 degree chamfer bit - definitely use push pads for that. I chose to us the oscillating belt sander because I have a chamfering fixture I made several years ago, which I rarely have the need to use. It was a variation of a design by Pocket83 on YouTube, which was built around a handheld belt sander.

I used the chamfering fixture to sand down the corners and effectively turn the square blanks into octagonal blanks, which looked pretty good as is - add a taper to the tip and they'd make fine pens. However, my vision was round pens, which meant more work ... aka punishment.

I was able to round most of the padauk pens by reaming them onto the 1/8" steel rod, which I then chucked into the cordless drill and spun against the oscillating belt. I used a piece of 1/2" plywood scrap to keep it pressed against the belt. Just enough pressure for material removal - don't just jam it in there like you're fearfully feeding a hungry hippo. Once the blank was round and bottomed out on the fixture, I finished sanded with 220 grit. Just fire up the drill and run a piece of paper along the length by hand.

The poplar pens (and a few padauk as well) put up more of a fight and instead of holding tight to the steel rod, they would spin. The solution was to just chuck the pen blank up in the drill and sand it round with an 80 grit sanding disc, smooth it out with 150 grit, and then finish it with 220 grit. Since most of the blanks were longer than actually necessary, the chucked portion would get cut off in the near future. If you can't spare the length, just flip the blank around and be mindful not to over tighten the chuck and mar the wood.

About the chamfering fixture:
It fits over the existing aluminum deck of the Ridgid OSS and stays in place with a friction fit. The two vertical posts on each side have a slot running up the middle, in which a T-bolt is able to slide. This allows the top portion/fence to move up and down, which in turn dictates the width of the chamfer. Star knobs on the back side pull the fence against the uprights and lock it in place.

I don't have plans for the fixture, but it needs to be modified (or rebuilt if I used glue, which I don't remember) because it has two flaws. I'll film it and make an Instructable when I actually do this.
1. The oscillating belt doesn't run truly parallel to the front edge of the deck. I didn't check that, assumed it did, and built the fixture square to that edge. Because of this, I end up with deeper/wider chamfers on one end of my pieces, which can be worked around by flipping your piece, but more noticeable on longer edges.
2. I should've made the vertical posts taller so I could have wider chamfers.

Step 6: Tapering and Cutting to Length

I wanted the wood to taper at the end, so that it transitioned smoothly into the plastic tip. I did this freehand with the oscillating belt sander. I know, I know ... missed opportunity to build an over complicated workshop jig.

Most of the pens were cut to 5 1/2" in length using the small parts cross cut sled on the table saw. A few ended up shorter because some of the blanks I made were around 10 1/4" and I cut them in half. Surprisingly, the inconsistency doesn't bother me [insert involuntary OCD twitch here].

Step 7: Nail Head End Caps

The last issue to address was finding a way to cap the open end. The square chamber looked interesting, but I still wanted to cap it. I thought about shaving down wood scrap and gluing them in, but trying to match colors and not making a glue mess ruled that out quickly. I decided to just glue nail heads onto the end. It's not ultra glamorous, but it came with a few selling points. It was relatively quick and easy, nails go with the pallet wood theme, and they were magnetic - who doesn't love sticking their pens to magnets?

The nails are 4D and the shafts were cut off using bolt cutters. Epoxy was my adhesive of choice and trying to apply it with a toothpick while holding the nail head in my other hand was a messy nightmare. The solution to that problem was to tape a piece of tape, adhesive side up, to the worktable. That had enough grip to hold the nail heads in place while I applied a small amount of epoxy. Turned out that I didn't even have to pick the nail head up off of the tape. All I had to do was lower the pen down onto the nail head and they because instant friends. It was just a matter of making sure it was centered and then leaving it alone while the epoxy cured. Once cured, I did quickly sand the ends using the oscillating belt sander to remove any epoxy blobs and sightly round over the back edge.

You can see in the last picture that I made a quick track to hold the pens while the epoxy cured. It also came in handy for finishing. It's just a scrap piece of wood with holes drilled and then brad nails poked through.

Step 8: Finishing

For finish I applied a coat of 50/50 boiled linseed oil/mineral spirits, but I'm a bit torn with the results. I like how it made the grain pop with the spalted padauk and polar, but I feel it made the red and orange padauk too dark. Either way ... too late now.

I initially planned to topcoat with spray lacquer, but I wasn't sure how it would hold up to constant handling. Also, I didn't feel like the multiple coats, wet sanding, polishing, etc. I decided to go with Renaissance wax, which I then buffed out with a cotton shop towel.

Step 9: Assembly

Assembly is basically just a pen transplant. I bought a box of 60 plastic pens ($4 at the office supply store), removed the ink tube with a pair of needle nose pliers., and pushed them into the wooden carcass.

The one side effect of this method is that I now have 29 empty plastic pens, which isn't ideal. I'm trying to find a way to use them instead of throwing them in the recycling bin and hoping the transfer station doesn't just sort them into the trash pile.

Step 10: Glamour Shots

I now have more pens than you can shake a stick at (29). I figure I'll give several to close friends, which will leave me with 27 pens. They'll also make great Valentine's Day gifts for when you forget and fail to buy something nice and romantic.

They aren't perfect, but they look interesting enough and are technically refillable, so as long as you don't lose pens like I do, they could last several lifetimes.

Interesting tidbit #2: The only way I'm able to NOT lose a pen is if I keep it behind my left ear. It HAS to be the left ear ... the right just isn't secure enough. Fortunately for me ... these pens are slim enough to fit behind the average human ear.

Step 11: The Build Video

Trash to Treasure Contest 2017

Runner Up in the
Trash to Treasure Contest 2017

Valentine's Day Challenge 2017

Participated in the
Valentine's Day Challenge 2017

Build a Tool Contest 2017

Participated in the
Build a Tool Contest 2017



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    25 Discussions


    1 year ago

    Thanks! Great 'ible. I read it through just for amusement... your writing is very entertaining!


    2 years ago

    Nicely done ! Voted !

    Alex 2Q

    2 years ago

    Great Instructable! I also enjoyed the video!


    2 years ago

    Amazeballs. Well written, well video'ed, well done.


    2 years ago

    I love these. My goal is to make some. I have to wait until my husband is healthy enough to give me my table saw safety lesson. So far I am only allowed to use the drill press and the jigsaw.

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    Awesome! Push sticks are your friends. Stop back and drop a picture when you get them done.


    2 years ago

    Even if I never make reclaimed pallet pens, your video was engaging, entertaining and so enjoyable! Your workshop is fabulously equipped and organized, your video skills adept, your sense of humor and comedic timing spot on. Brilliant!

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    Thank you very much for the kind words - best comment/review ever!


    Reply 2 years ago

    It was hanging out with a stack of pine pallets - had to be lost. Until recently, there was a Bolt Depot a few blocks from my house. I assume it was an international shipment of fasteners or something.


    2 years ago

    You realize you now have to make pen caps out of a pallet, right?