Woodworking Tips, Tricks and Techniques

 

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Making Custom Pens

Custom Pen Making

Making custom pens is a very enjoyable hobby. Many woodworkers do nothing else, as this is an easy way to make a project from start to finish in very little time. It doesn't require a large investment in tools or materials, or require a large work space.

 

Required Tools (the very basics)

1. A small lathe, used to turn the pen.

2. A single turning tool, like a medium sized gouge to shape the pen.

3. A small drill press, which is optional, to drill the center hole.

4. A mandrel, which is the tool the pen blanks are mounted on, and installed on the lathe, and have bushings, which guide you in turning the ends to the desired diameter.

5. A method of pressing the pen hardware together is really all you need to go from a square pen blank, to a beautiful, finished pen blank. Many people use a wood clamp for this.

 

Required Materials

1. Pen blanks, as they are called, is a small piece of material, usually ¾ of an inch square, by 5 ½ inches long, are readily available from many sources.

2. Pen Kits, also available at these same supply sources, contain all the actual pen parts.

3. Epoxy, or super glue, is used to glue the brass tube into the pen blank. (The brass tube is supplied in the pen kit).

4. A finish to put on the pen to protect it from the oils on your hand during use.

The blanks can also be purchased with much of the work, if it can be called that, pre done. They are already cut to rough length, and rounded to an appropriate size to begin turning. The required hole is also drilled to accept the pen hardware, eliminating the need for a drill press.

These blanks come in many materials. Exotic woods, certain metals, plastics, solid surface materials, like Corian, and much more. Even deer antlers are a commonly used material, and are easily obtained.

The Pen Kits, which is how the hardware of the pen is purchased, are available in many styles and finishes, and include all the necessary parts to complete your pen.

Specialty pens, created around other hobbies, such as hunting, or fishing, and sports like baseball or football, hockey or tennis, pretty much anything you can think of, have pocket clips customized to allow you to make the pen for anyone.

Even clips for different professions like doctors or lawyers are available.

 

Procedure

If buying the standard sized pen blanks, the first step is to cross cut them in half. If making several at a time, laying them against a fixed object, and with the ends flush, mark the halfway point on one blank and using a square, mark all the blanks. The safest way to cut them is a band saw, if available, but even a hand saw is fine.

If you intend to mass produce them, it’s worth making a jig to eliminate the measuring and marking step. It is then just laying the blanks on the jig and cutting them with an appropriate saw.

The next step is drilling the center hole, lengthwise through the blanks. The hole size is determined by the type of pen kit used, and is noted in the kit. 7mm is very common.

Special clamping vises are available for drilling the center hole and are very handy. They make drilling the hole perfectly parallel, much simpler. Although they are around $30.00, they are well worth it. Another way to drill the blank is to hold it in a wood clamp, making certain it is square to the table. Doing this is a bit tricky, and a little aggravating, but certainly doable.

Once the drilling is completed, gluing the brass tube is next. Again, there is a tool designed for this, (around $ 10.00), but a nail set works just fine. Using super glue works well, as does epoxy. The thick, gap filling super glue is the one to use. Before applying the glue, sand the tube a little, just to rough it up and give the glue something to “bite” on to. Apply the glue around the tube and insert it into the hole. Depending upon the cure time of the glue, leave it until the glue is dry.

Again, there is another tool, ($15.00), designed to clean the excess glue from inside the tube, as well as drill the end of the blank flush to the brass tube. Another way is to sand the blank ends flush. If any glue resides in the tube, insert a small drill bit, matching the tube size, and drill it out.

Now it’s time to mount the two pieces onto the mandrel, surrounded by the included bushings. The bushings are the proper size to turn the blank flush to, and are sized according to the pen kit. The mandrel is held in the lathe on both ends by the chuck on one end, and the tailstock on the other. It’s important to use a live center on the tail stock. This simply means the pointed tip spins freely, apart from the center itself, especially with acrylics, otherwise, the end will overheat. The acrylic blank will actually start to melt.

Using the turning tool you choose, a gouge is recommended, turn the blank to the desired shape. Here it is a matter of practice, in learning the control of the tool, and the techniques used for turning. It is advisable to practice on a cheaper blank, at least until you are comfortable with turning. It’s really irritating to ruin a beautiful pen blank!

Once the blank is turned to the desired shape, and you’re happy with it, it’s time to finish it. The finishing process is very easy, and very satisfying. It’s when you get to see the fruits of your labor. Depending on the blank material, the finishing process is done with a variety of products, but in every case, is done while still mounted on the lathe.

When the pen blank is removed from the lathe, it is completely finished.

Once more, a special tool can be used to assemble the pen. (About $ 30.00). This is a press, designed specifically to push the pen parts together, ensuring the parts fit properly. It can be done with a wood clamp, but the press is a much better way to go.

 The entire process of making a pen can be done in less than an hour, and is a great way to enjoy yourself, and forget the hurries and worries of the world.

They can also be sold to generate an extra income, or given as gifts which will be very much appreciated. The user will think of you every time they write something. It's the perfect gift that keeps on giving.

Overall, this is a terrific hobby, is very safe, even for youngsters, with adult supervision, and will lead to many hours of fun.

 

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