As the saying goes, the pen is mightier than the sword. Pretty strong words! Pens have a great way of saying something about you without saying a word. A beautiful pen used at work, in a meeting or as a gift has a lot of meaning. If you wear a uniform at work a pen works as a perfect accent. I see many police officers that have collar brass along with name tags and badges. Many agencies use nickle.
Two brass or nickle pens in a shirt pocket really help set off the look and add to it. I have experienced compliments many times or a, “Oh wow, that is a cool pen”, when I use my brass pen made with beautiful wood.
I’m going to show you how to make a pen in 10 steps with pictures. The ten steps are listed below. This process only takes about a half hour, not including drying time of glue or epoxy.
The required tools are:
- Pen kit
- Wood Blank
- Acrylic Blank
- Turning tool, sometimes called a knife. Each tool shape has a different name.
- Drill Press, or hand drill (Drill Press recommended)
- Drill Bit, determined by pen kit type
- Pen Mandrel
The Pen Kit
When you start making a pen, in most cases, you need to pick a pen kit that you like. There are thousands of them out there. Amazon has a great selection, you can buy in singles or multiple pens. Some of the cheaper pens to make are called Slimline Pens. Basically, they are as big around as a typical ball point pen so they easily fit into shirt pockets.
Specialty pens are where it can get more fun and interesting. The unique design of these pens can say something about you, your style or things you like. Take for instance this Bolt Action Pen. It is an ideal gift for the hunter, someone who loves guns or someone patriotic such as a military person.
I am what some people call a “Gear Head”, I love cars and love racing. I made this Gear Shift pen for myself and carry it around. It’s not ideal for a shirt pocket but the pen clip works great tucking the pen into the shirt between the buttons.
To make these pens you need to have a piece of wood called a Wood Blank. Really, this is just a piece of wood that is approximately 5/8″ x 5/8″ square and six inches long. Depending of the pen kit you can make one or two pens out of one wood blank. The slimline pens use two pieces of wood for one pen.
The specialty pens typically use half of a wood blank. There are literally thousands of options for the wood blank as any species of wood can be used. The more exotic wood species are the usual because of there beautiful wood grain and colors.
There are more styles of acrylic blanks than there are wood blanks. An acrylic blank is just that. They come as 5/8″ x 5/8″ square and six inches long and can have any color combination. You have to be careful turning an acrylic blank because if you take too big of a cut the acrylic can chip or shatter. Until you get the blank, mostly round, it will be a slow process. It is also going to smell like burnt plastic so I would caution having ventilation.
When making pens you don’t need 5 different lathe turning knifes. In fact, when I started I tried a bunch of different widths of knives, flat blade knives and curved knives. These have more technical names but I think the description I gave will allow you to envision the tool rather than have to search it out to know what I am talking about.
Anyway, I found one knife that I liked and it has been my go to tool for pen turning. It has a half round tip and is only about 1/2″ wide. This allows me to place a smaller profile of the knife blade onto my blank and take small cuts.
And the granddaddy of it all, the lathe, most often called a wood lathe. This tool is going to be your biggest cost but one of the funnest machines in your shop to use. I have my lathe on a stand so I can roll it out of the way when not in use.
There are many different brands and sizes of lathes. The smaller lathes are called mini lathes. They often only have about 12″ cutting length. The next size up is a midi lathe. These are just a little bigger, sometimes have more horsepower and cost a little more. The last is know as a full size lathe. These will often allow you to turn a 48″ piece of stock or more and are the often the most expensive.
The lathe I own is made by Rikon and is a mini lathe, it is shown here. Check out the link and view the specs. I was amazed at how quiet it is and how easy it is to change speeds. You will also need a pen mandrel. Not very expensive and is needed.
Follow these 10 Steps
Preparing the Wood Blank
Preparing the wood blank is the exact same process as preparing an acrylic blank.
- Open your pen kit and find the brass tube. Depending on the kit the tube will be rough on the outside, others will be smooth. If it is smooth you need to grab the pen bushings that came with the kit (Slimline pens bushings are sold separately) and place the tube between them on the mandrel. Turn your lathe on and spin the brass tube. Apply some rough sandpaper to it to roughen the surface. This is for later on when gluing to tube inside the wood blank.
- Depending on the kit you will have one or two brass tubes. You are going to use these to determine the length of wood blank/s you need. I usually place the tube next to the blank and put a mark slightly bigger than the tube with a pencil. Cut the wood blank down to size.
- On the end of the blank find the middle and make a mark. This is where you are going to drill your hole. Place your marked blank in some kind of device to hold it square and steady. I bought a tool specifically designed for this but it cost me another $60. Drill your hole through your blank.
- Glue your brass tube inside the blank you just drilled. I use a quick dry two part epoxy for this. It usually takes about 20 minutes to dry before I can put it on the lathe.
- Use a Pen Mill to square up the blank to the brass tube. This also takes away the extra bit of wood from cutting it slightly larger that the brass tube. If you skip this part you will see gaps between the pen ends and the blank once the pen is assembled.
- Once the epoxy is dry, place the wood blank and brass tube onto your pen mandrel. Use bushing to take up the extra space on the mandrel until the brass screw can be applied to tighten it all down.
- Adjust your tool rest to be approximately 1/8″ away from the largest part of the wood blank. Make sure the blank can spin all the way around and not hit the tool rest before you turn on the lathe.
- Turn the wood blank. Take your time and don’t cut too fast. Once your blank gets to be more round than square it will cut faster and not be as “bumpy”, for lack of a better word. Turn the wood blank all the way down to the bushings that are on either side of the blank. The bushing simulates the size of your pen. Be aware, some specialty pens use two different size bushings so when assembling your pen pay attention to this.
- Once your blank is the close to or at your bushings you need to sand. I place 220 grit paper on a block and sand until the blank is flat and smooth. I then switch to 400 grit paper and do it again. Once you are very smooth you need to buff. I place a standard buffing wheel on my hand drill and spin the drill in the opposite direction my lathe is turning. Using the buffer wheel while your blank is turning will produce a mirror like finish on your blank. If you use a buffing compound it may embed than material in your wood blank and it may not take a stain very well.
- Once your blank is finished follow the instructions your pen kit came with to assemble the pen. I use a large pair of channel locks and paper towel to assemble my pens.
Thank you for your interest and looking through this article. Please feel free to shoot me a message or contact me with questions.
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