Pen Making 101

Most of us get a great deal of pleasure out of making things with our own hands.

The basics are shown here.

If you are tempted to start making pens you need to be warned in advance it can be very addictive.

You will need a few basic tools as shown here.

  1. A good table saw to cut the blanks. Mine is an old well used and reliable saw that was given to me a few years ago.
  2. A drill press is the preferred method to drill the center hole, though some blanks can be purchased that are pre-drilled. Along with the drill press you will need a fixture to hold the blanks while behind worked on.
  3. A wood lathe. The one shown is a small Jet lathe that I have been very pleased with. It is compact, functional and I have always felt comfortable with their tools. Personally I would rather spend a bit (sometimes a lot) more money and have a reliable tool that I don't have to wonder exactly who built it. You will also need at least a few gouges for the lathe.
  4. A good hand drill, preferably cordless and one that has adequate power. No the cordless is not used to drill the center holes in the blanks, but is used to clean up the hole and square the blank after the glue has set
  5. A pen press is desired. The first pens we made were pressed together with a large hand clamp.
  6. Find local or on-line sources for the pen kits. They prices range all over the place, but most pens are made from 7mm kits. Another favorite is the "Sierra" pen.
  7. Besides pen kits you also need the blanks. These you may either buy as pre-drilled blanks or plain blanks. These blanks can be made of wood, acrylic, antlers, wine corks or anything else you can think of.
  8. Lastly the one thing you will need is a medium to large bag of money. Pen making is surely an addiction and once you are hooked you will be looking for other challenges to make pens of.

Some pen blanks have do not make it through the entire process and have to be discarded, in most cases you will able to reuse the brass tube. My personal record is 4 tries for a single brass tube before successfully making it into a pen.


If you think pens may be slightly addictive, don't even think about making bowls!

 

This is the pen kit as it came out of its bag.

I have selected a kit with a copper finish for this pen.

step 1
Here are the parts arranged somewhat according to the order they will be assembled in the finished pen
arranged parts

Cutting the pen blank to the desired length.

Most purchased blanks are 3/4 X 3/4 X 5. This blank was 1 X 1 X 12, which will yield 2 or perhaps 3 pens depending on the style used.

cutting blank
All parts together in their approximate positions.
all parts
After marking the center of the blank it is placed in a fixture to drill the center hole.
ready to drill
Drilling the center hole in the blank.
drilling
The blanks are drilled and positioned next to the other parts.
drilled

After sanding to roughen up a bit the brass tubes are glued in the blanks.

We use CA adhesive (super glue) for this step.

Care needs to be taken not to stick your fingers to the piece of wood. You may want to use an insertion tool for this step.

inserting

This shows the brass tubes in position.

After the pen blank is turned to its desired size there is not much wood left around the center hole. The brass tube supports the wood and provides a smooth surface to mount the other pen components to.

tubes in
One more look at the pieces before being turning the blanks.
ready to turn
This is the JET Mini-Lathe used. A lathe can either be placed on a work bench or a metal stand can be used. It needs to be put at a comfortable working.
on lathe
A close-up of the pen turning mandrel ready to start making chips.
close-up
After rounding off the corners of the blank.
starting
Continuing to turn and the blanks are nearly round, but way, way too big
continued

One blank is almost done and the second is getting there.

One needs to remember not to remove too much material. Once you get to about the desired size slow down and take very light cuts.

continued
This is the blanks after turning is complete.
turning completed
Starting to sand the blanks. As expected begin with a coarse grit and work up to the finer grits.
sanding
After sanding is completed you begin to polish the blank.
sanding done

Polishing is done with micro finishing abrasive pads.

Personally I am a bit skeptical about the listed grit sizes on the pads as they go up to 12,000 grit.

So if there are 12,000 grit particles per inch each particle would be about .0000833" or about 2 microns. You also have to account for other factors in determine actual particle size and that makes your brain hurt. Just get the pads and don't worry about them.

polishing
The polishing is completed.
done polishing

I am now ready to apply the finish to the blanks. Some pen makers use the CA adhesive for finish, but I haven't been successful doing that yet.

If you don't apply the CA finish just right you have to sand and polish again to remove bad finish then apply it again.

ready to finish
This is after the first coat of finish.
finish 1
After a second coat of finish you can see the difference it makes.
finish 2
The third coating of finish. There is no set number of coatings of finish. Some pens only need one coat, some take more and I don't put any on the acrylic pens.
finish 3
The final coat of finish has been applied and we're done on the lathe.
final finish
All the parts ready to assemble.
ready
The pen parts all in their final places, now to press them together.
prefit parts

First press on the cap and clip.

Pressing can be done with a hand clamp but for those of us who are loosing their grip this is a better choice.

cap on
The nib is next!
nib  in place

The nib is pressed on, then the transmission is pressed into place and we're all done.

 

nib on

The twist mechanism is now pressed in. Care needs to be taken to get it in the proper amount without pressing it in too far.

Taking a pen apart so you can reset the twist mechanism is no one's favorite activity as there is always a risk of damaging the pen.

twist mechanism
Here is the finished pen!
finished 1

And yet another look at the wood grain that this pen has.

view 2

The finished pen next to the blank it was cut from.

You never really know what beauty is hidden in a piece of wood until you make something out of it.

This pen took about 2 hours to complete.

Acrylic pens can take 3 or 4 hours to make as you have to proceed slowly.

next to blank
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