Making Pens

by Bob Noles

This article first appeared in a thread on theWoodNet woodworking forum. It was compiled and reproduced here for easier public consumption. All Text and Images are the property of Bob Noles.

For the past 3 days I have been working on an extensive photo shoot of making a pen from start to finish. It is by no means meant to be a complete tutorial as there are DVDs and books that certainly do a better job of that. I have also ignored making comments of appropriate safety that should be used in making a pen. This photo shoot is for entertainment purposes only and the methods used are of my own choosing and by no means the only ones available.

The first thing that must be done is to choose a pen kit and blank. I chose the Ultra Cigar Kit with a Brazilian Cherry blank. It is good to gather all your parts, materials and instructions into your workspace and be sure you have everything needed before starting. More work goes into pen making on the bench than it does on the lathe as this photo shoot will show. I like to take my time and have fun and not be rushed or distracted.

I like to take the pen mandrel and mount the brass tubes and spin them on the lathe using coarse sandpaper to rough them up. This gives a better surface for gluing in the following steps.

The next step is to cut the blanks into the correct size pieces. I use a bandsaw for this, but a hand saw, miter saw or any other means can be used for this purpose. I measure the brass tube from the fence to the blade and add about 1/8 inch or so. No rocket science needed here, just get close and leave some extra wood for squaring up the blank in the following steps. Make a line and arrows or whatever so you can grain match the pieces when mounting on the lathe.

The next steps are to drill your holes in the blanks using the correct size bit for the kit chosen. I use my drill press and a self centering jig to hold the blank as seen in these shots.

I then prepare my work area for the glue up process. I use 15 minute epoxy because that is what I like. There are many types of glue and methods available. I plug the hole in one end of the tube with dental wax to keep the glue from being a problem later on. You can use various materials for this purpose including raw potato slices if you desire.

After mixing the glue, I use a small stick (chinese chop sticks work well) to smear the glue in the holes of the blanks. I then roll the brass tube in the remaining glue and insert it wax end first into the blanks, twisting as it goes in to get a good bond.

Be sure that your tube is not sticking out of the blank at either end and then allow the glue to dry for the prescribed time.

After the glue has dried for one hour, the blanks are ready for the next steps. You can see that there is nothing pretty about these blanks yet.

I like to take a drill bit that is about the same size as the brass tube's inside diameter and ream out the wax and clean the barrel. There should be no debris left in the barrel to obstruct assembly.

Next I get the pen mill ready to square up the blank. Again, there are various means of this process as mentioned in other steps of this post. This is the one I like to use.

I mount the blanks in my vice, which has leather strips to hold them in place, while I square the blanks using the pen mill. Be sure to go slowly here and not drill out too much. Just when you see the shiny brass from the tube, it is time to stop. Do all 4 ends before proceeding.

I like to take this tool to ream and slightly flare out the ends of the tubes which makes assembly easier. Be careful and not flare too much, just a hair will do. I do not know what this thing is called, but any gun shop will have it. This step is not critical, just a step I personally like.

We are then ready to mount the blanks to the mandrel and the mandrel to the lathe. Be sure to line up the grain direction I mentioned earlier so you will have things going the right way when finished. It is important that this step not be overlooked.

I like to mount the mandrel below the centers getting the tool rest as close as possible. My tools of choice are a 1/2" shallow spindle gouge and sometimes a 1/2" skew chisel. Get them good and sharp for best results. We are now ready to actually turn, but don't blink or you will miss the actual turning process.

I told you there was not much turning to it.

Now that the less than 5 minute turning process is over, we move on to sanding and finishing.

I like to sand starting at 220 and move thru 600 and then move to micro mesh 2400 thru 12,000. You can see the results achieved in the following photos. I also like to wipe the blanks down with a paper towel between the finer grits to prevent contamination. Stopping the lathe and hand sanding with the grain between the grits is also recommended for best results.

After the sanding process is complete, we are then ready for the finish. Now there are as many finish arguments as there are pen turners and I am not going there. I chose a finish called Enduro for this pen because it is what I wanted to use this time around. I have and use many different finishes and Enduro is among my top 3 choices. First we apply the sanding sealer as prescribed and let it dry over night.

After drying over night, I take it back thru the micro mesh sanding from 3200 thru 12,000 using a light touch taking care not to sand away the sealer any more than necessary. It is then time to apply the Top Coat in the same prescribed manner and allow it to dry overnight. After drying time is complete, I take it back thru the 3200 to 12,000 micro mesh one last time to get a smooth semi shiny finish before assembly.

Okay, we are finished at the lathe and need to move back to the workbech for assembly and the final steps. We gather all the pen parts, blanks and pen press into our workspace. Again, there are many ways to assemble and press a pen together, this is just the method I use.

It is good to have your instructions in front of you and FOLLOW them CLOSELY during assembly or you may find yourself trying to back track, which is not a process for sissies.

After the pen is assembled, I like to apply a wax called TSW or Renaissance wax to give it a nice glow and feel.

And now a little drum roll for the finished project. This one is for me as I gave my last one away to a client at the office who picked it up to sign a document and would not give it back.

There you have it. I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed making it.

The End!


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