Turning Alternative Material Pens
Turning handmade writing pens, and specifically
alternative material pens, continues to be one of the most popular areas
of interest in woodturning. This article will focus on alternative
materials using the new plastic bodied pens and stabilised wood pens.
Component selection, blank preparation, turning the body, finishing and
assembly will also be covered.4-
Plastic bodied writing pens.
Alternative Material Pen Turning: Quick Tips
plastic bodied, or stabilised pen blanks for best results on pens that
will see heavy usage. Plastic and stabilised pen blanks require no
additional finish if desired, and can be polished to a high lustre with
- Because your finished pens will be quite
small, use highly figured timbers and burrs (burls) with tight
well-defined figure for the best overall visual effect, if you prefer
traditional wood bodied pen barrels.
- Dense hardwoods are more
durable in use than softer species. For maximum durability, choose
blanks that have been stabilised with an acrylic, or epoxy resin.
may be subjected to significant handling and wear during use. Choose
high quality finishes and components that are wear resistant and are
capable of withstanding daily usage.
- Consider using a museum
grade microcrystalline wax as a topcoat over your chosen pen finish.
Micro-waxes provide extra protection and will not show fingerprints.
Basic Procedures for Turning the Body
on Alternative Material Pens
the upper and lower tube from your pen kit on top of the pen blank and
mark the area in between the tubes for cutting. Place a registration
line over the cut line to assist with realignment of the blanks on the
mandrel once the blank has been cut.
- Cut the blank in half on
the drawn line, allowing approximately 1/16" additional space on each
end of the tube. This excess will be trimmed with a pen mill later in
- Place the upper cut blank in a drill press vice
and drill the necessary hole to accept the pen tube. Repeat for the
lower blank. As you are drilling, pulse the drill bit in and out
occasionally to clear the flutes on the drill and reduce the heat
generated during drilling.
- Scuff the outside of the pen tubes with 240-grit abrasive to prepare the surface for gluing.
your choice of adhesive (CA, Polyurethane, Epoxy, etc) to the outside
of the tube and as the tube is inserted into the blank, spin and pump
the tube a few times to evenly distribute the adhesive onto the tube.
It’s important to have an even coating on the tube.
Using a pen mill to square the end of the tube with the pen blank.
the adhesive has cured, insert a pen mill with the correct sized insert
into the ends of the tubes and mill the ends until a uniformly bright
brass tube end is exposed. Do not over mill!
- Once all four ends are properly milled, they’re ready to mount on the pen mandrel for turning.
- Refer to your pen kit instructions and load the pen
blanks and bushings onto the mandrel in the correct order. Apply light
tension to the tailstock ram (Just enough pressure to rotate your 60
degree live centre) and the mandrel thumb bolt to secure the pen and
- If you are a new pen turner, set your lathe revs to approximately 2,000 rpm.
a 1/4" spindle gouge, gently round over the blanks moving from the
headstock towards the tailstock. Use light cuts here for best results.
- Once the blanks have been rounded over, you are ready to begin turning the pen body.
Turning the Pen Body and Finishing
Your Alternative Material Pens
- Using the bushings as a guide, turn and shape the exterior barrels to the bushing diameters.
the barrels are turned, drop the lathe speed to 1,500 rpm and begin
sanding with 240-grit abrasive paper, continuing on through 600-grit.
When you have completed 600-grit, use your Micro Mesh abrasives,
starting at 1,500-grit and progress through 12,000-grit for plastic
bodied pens, if you desire an ultra-high gloss lustre.
- Apply a
light coating of microcrystalline wax on the upper and lower barrels and
lightly buff at high speed to develop a brilliant lustre.
the barrels and assemble according to the kit instructions. Enjoy using
your and writing with your alternative material pens!
- Sharpening Tip: Micro turning tools have very little mass and will grind
away very quickly, even on slow speed grinders. To combat this, turn
the grinder on, once it has reached full speed, turn it off and begin
grinding your tool as the wheel begins slowing down.
Henry Taylor micro turning tools.
- Sanding Tip#1: Sanding the pen barrels may cause wear on the pen
bushings. Even if you are very careful, you may accidentally touch the
bushings. To prevent wear on your best set of bushings, use an older set
that is no longer accurate during sanding. Simply remove the best set
and replace them with the older set before you begin sanding. This will
insure that your best set of bushings will remain accurate for as long
Micro Mesh cloth-backed abrasive in various grits.
- Sanding Tip #2: To obtain the highest lustre and clarity of the finished
surface on alternative material pens, you have two options: 1) Sand
with traditional, or wet-dry abrasives to 1,200-grit, or higher. Then,
buff the surface with a plastic polishing compound on the lathe, or a
buffing wheel loaded with a polishing compound. 2) Sand with a special
abrasive product like Micro Mesh, which can be used either wet, or dry
and is available in nine grits from 1,500 to 12,000. Micro Mesh will
produce an optical quality finish on the surface of plastic bodied pen
barrels very quickly and easily. The results, at 12,000-grit are nothing
short of spectacular!
Need More Help? If you would like additional instruction on
how to turn alternative material pens, check out our 70 minute
step-by-step video on
turning elegant writing pens.
Safety Note: Always follow all manufacturers safety instructions
before working with your lathe, or any of the tools or products you may
use. If you are unsure about any operation, obtain competent
professional instruction before proceeding. Use and wear all necessary
safety devices during turning and observe safe woodturning practices to
prevent accident or injury.
D. Russell is a professional studio woodturner, teacher and writer. He
has written numerous articles for international woodturning magazines,
which have been published in more than 78 countries around the world.
Steve has demonstrated in numerous cities across the United States. His
studio, Eurowood Werks, specializes in bowls, platters and hollow forms
with unique visual and tactile treatments.
is also a regular featured writer for the Guild of Master Craftsman's
"Woodturning" magazine, published in London England. Woodturning
magazine is the world's leading magazine for woodturners. Look for his
monthly articles covering technical topics, or project based articles in
If you have any questions about turning alternative material pens, please feel free to email Steve at
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