Turning European Style Writing Pens

Holding one of your own hand turned writing pens is a uniquely satisfying experience. The heft, balance and allure of these writing pens can vary from simple and functional, to rich and opulent. Much like the feeling one gets as you settle into the driver's seat of a fine high performance automobile, using a finely crafted writing instrument feeds the soul and fires your imagination.

In today’s lightning fast electronic and digital world, there is still a place for the handwritten word. Choosing a writing instrument, however, is an intensely personal decision. Whether reduced to its most basic function, or elevated to jewelry grade, there is a pen kit to fit almost any person’s budget and taste.
Four European style writing pens

European style writing pens in Madagascar Rosewood, Black Crushed Velvet, Red Crushed Velvet and Amboyna Burl (from left).

Deer antler for pen blanks

Deer antler: Look for straight tine sections to use for pen blanks.

The relative ease of turning writing pens, coupled with the fact that they can be turned on small, inexpensive lathes has led to an explosion of interest in our craft. Many beginning wood turners are first drawn to our ranks by the desire to turn writing pens.

Writing pens are an excellent project for beginners and seasoned turners alike. They are popular as gifts and generally sell well at art and craft fairs. The timber required for each pen is quite small, allowing even the most expensive exotics and burrs to be utilized.

In addition to traditional timber and burrs, many other materials can be used for pen barrels. Alternative materials like Ivory and Horn, acrylics, numerous plastics, bone, antler, natural horn, fossilized Ivory and many other materials make excellent pen material. Most of these materials are quite easy to turn and will produce stunning writing pens.

Writing pens also offer a unique way to cherish and recall memories of a special, or historical tree. These types of writing pens are generally referred to as Heirloom pens and for many people, are priceless for their sentimental value. Turning special writing pens for family members, from a cherished tree that grew on someone’s home place, is a wonderful way to respect and honour the life of the tree. It provides a tangible and lasting link to fond memories of days long past.


Selecting the Stock for Your Writing Pens

For this particular project, we will be turning a synthetic product called Crushed Velvet. It is a medium hard cast plastic that is available in six colours. Crushed Velvet is capable of taking a very high polish, with a magnificent ultra deep and rich clarity. It is available in small sheets, or pre-cut into 5/8" x 5/8" x 5.25" pen blanks. Its relatively low cost (approximately $3.50 USD for a pen blank) enables even beginning turners to give this material a go.
Crushed velvet writing pen blanks

Crushed velvet blanks for writing pens (from top): red, gold, blue, yellow, black and green.

Synthetic marble writing pen blanks

Synthetic marble blanks for writing pens in red, pink, purple, white and green (from top).

One of the nice things about turning your writing pens in plastic and similar materials is the relative ease you can turn them on the lathe. They are easily drilled and come in a myriad of colours and patterns. Having no grain direction and uniform density allows significant freedom in the turning process. In addition, no finish is required other than perfecting the surface with abrasives and/or deluxing compounds.

 

Although this article will concentrate on turning plastic bodied European style writing pens in Crushed Velvet, the protocol is nearly identical for turning wooden body writing pens. Specific instructions for other writing pens are available from the manufacturer, or distributor of the specific pen kit.
Exotic wood writing penblanks

Exotic wood and burl blanks for writing pens (counterclockwise from upper left): Tulipwood, Palissander, Ebony, Kingwood, Amboyna burl, Buckeye burl, Maple burl, Striped Ebony.



Tips for Turning Wooden Body Writing Pens

  • Pen blank stock must reach equilibrium moisture content for your area before using it. If you are in doubt about any pen blanks you purchase, check them with a moisture meter.
  • Consider using stabilized timbers for writing pens that will see heavy usage, or if you prefer light coloured timbers.
  • Because finished writing pens are quite small, use highly figured timbers and burrs with tight, well-defined figure for the best visual effect.
  • Dense hardwoods are more durable in use than softer species, unless the softer species are first stabilized.
  • Writing pens may be subjected to significant handling and wear during use. Choose finishes and components that are wear resistant and are capable of withstanding daily usage.
  • The top selling writing pens in my studio’s Premier Gifts line include Cocobolo, (which outsells every other timber by a factor of ten!), Desert Ironwood, Madagascar Rosewood, Tulipwood and Kingwood.
  • Among the burrs, Amboyna burr and Mesquite burr top the list. Alternative favourites include antler (deer and moose), Crushed Velvet and Decora.


Writing Pens: Choosing the Right Kit

There is a plethora of kits available to woodturners for writing pens today. Numerous styles, finishes and components are available to suit every taste and budget. The quality and durability of the components in pen kits varies from fair to exceptional. If the components feature gold plating, particular care must be taken in choosing a quality kit.

Writing pen blanks and pen kit components

Crushed velvet writing pen blanks and components of Craft Supplies U.S.A. European style writing pen.

With some inexpensive 24k gold kits, the gold may wear off very quickly. Better quality kits feature thicker gold plating, which may include other alloys like Cobalt or Nickel, to provide increased wear resistance. These may be sold as 22k Extra Heavy Gold (EHG), Cobalt Gold, Premium Gold, or 10k gold.

 

Even if you do not sell your writing pens, or you give them away as gifts, choose the best quality kits you can afford. Check with other turners in your area, or on the Internet at the newsgroup rec.crafts.woodturning for recommendations. Some of the newer pen kits feature titanium plating that is coloured to look like gold. The advantage being that titanium is much harder than gold and therefore will last much longer.
Alternative materials for writing pens

Other alternative materials for writing pens (from top): Corian®, a solid surface material; Decora plastic pen blanks. Both are available in numerous colors.


Titanium plated writing pens are an excellent choice for writing pens that will see heavy use. Among the gold plated pen kits, 22k Cobalt Gold, or EHG is particularly durable. Other plating choices include Platinum, and Chrome, which are very durable and the newer satin finish writing pens in nickel and gold.


Cutting the Pen Blank

The best tool to use for cutting Crushed Velvet, or other plastic pen blanks is a bandsaw. Tablesaws may generate too much heat and melt the blank during cutting. In addition, the larger kerf on tablesaw blades wastes more material than using thinner bandsaw blades. If you do not have a bandsaw, a small fine toothed handsaw, or dovetail saw can be used for crosscutting.

If you are cutting the blanks from a large sheet, set up a reliable fence on your bandsaw to insure accurate cutting. Typically, Crushed Velvet blanks are cut 5.25" long, but you can shorten this if you are resawing your own from large sheets.

Take the two pen tubes out of your kit (upper and lower) and place them on the blank. You will notice that the two tubes are different lengths. The shorter tube is usually for the top section of the pen, the longer tube is for the lower section. Allow enough room for the bandsaw kerf and mark the blank for crosscutting. I usually leave a small amount of excess at each end of the blank (2 mm), which will be trimmed once the tubes are glued inside. Crosscut the blank at the marked lines and proceed to the drill press.


Drilling the Crushed Velvet Blanks

Drilling the pen blanks

Drilling the crushed velvet pen blanks with a 7mm (9/32") pilot point bit. The blank is securely clamped in a cross vice for drilling.

As plastics go, Crushed Velvet is medium hard and drills very easily with standard drill bits. However, being a plastic, it will melt if you get it too hot! Choose a pilot pointed (known in the trade as bullet bits) drill bit for best results. Pilot pointed bits run cooler than brad pointed bits and generally drill truer holes. If you do not have pilot pointed bits, brad pointed bits can be used, but be very careful of heat build-up during drilling.

This pen kit requires a 7 mm diameter straight hole in the top and bottom blanks. Set your drill press to a speed of 500-700 rpm. With the blank secured in a drilling jig, or cross vice begin drilling. Periodically raise the bit to clear the flutes. A quick shot of compressed air will help to cool the bit during use. If you notice the plastic is sticking to the flutes, stop the drill press and cool the bit with a wet rag or a shot of compressed air. Once you have drilled the hole in each half of the blank, you are ready to glue the tubes inside the blanks.


Adhesive Selection

Your pen tubes can be secured with a variety of adhesives. Thick-bodied Cyanoacrylate works well. Using a thick-bodied CA will give you sufficient time to get the interior coated and the tube inserted before the CA cures. Other good adhesives to consider include Polyurethane, and slow setting Epoxy.

Before applying the adhesive, lightly scuff the outside of each pen tube with 240-grit abrasive paper. This will remove the light oxidation on the exterior of the tube and the scratches produced will help the adhesive bond to the tube. There are many ways to apply the adhesive; some turners prefer to apply it into the drilled hole, others on the tube. If you want to apply it in the drilled hole, use a pipe cleaner, or small stick to swab the hole with the adhesive. Insure that the interior is uniformly coated before inserting the tube.

 

Recommended adhesives for gluing in pen tubes

Recommended adhesives for gluing in pen tubes (from left): polyurethane, quick or slow cure epoxy, thick cyanoacrylate.

Cut and drilled pen blanks

Cut and drilled blanks ready for tubes to be glued in. On timber blanks, mark grain direction with a black marker prior to crosscutting.

If you prefer to apply it on the tube, insert the tube ¼ of the way into the drilled hole. If you are using CA, apply a thin bead of thick CA to the exterior of the tube, in three equidistant lines. Insert the tube in a twisting motion as you pump the tube up and down several times to evenly distribute the CA. It takes a bit of time to become proficient with this method, which provides a uniformly covered tube and hole.

If you are using Polyurethane, use a small chip, or acid brush to apply the adhesive onto the tube. Insert the tube and spin it a few times to insure an even coating. Polyurethane adhesives will foam as they cure, providing an excellent bond.

If you live in a very dry climate, you may need to swab the hole with water before inserting the adhesive covered tube. If you are using epoxy and are gluing more than one pen, use the slower setting formula to allow sufficient time for insertion of the necessary tubes. Both the Polyurethane and slow setting Epoxy require several hours to cure before you can mount the blank on the mandrel and turn the pen.

Although using CA is faster than either the Polyurethane or Epoxy, it can prematurely cure, causing insertion problems when you are inserting the tube into the blank. Some exotics like Cocobolo can cause premature curing of CA’s. To combat this, you can swab the drilled hole with Acetone, or a similar solvent. When the solvent has dried, you can proceed with gluing the tube in place.


Squaring the Blank to the Tube

Once the glued tubes have been inserted into the drilled holes, you need to square the tubes to the blanks. This is best done with a pen mill, which features a combination multi-tooth head and an insertion-clearing rod. Securely clamp the blank in a vice or jig before drilling. Crushed Velvet cuts very easily, so use a light touch. As soon as the excess is removed and a uniformly bright brass tube end is revealed, stop milling.

Be careful to only remove the absolute minimum necessary to square the tube and the blank. Over milling may lead to assembly problems, from blanks that are too short. Do not use a sanding station to square the tubes when using Crushed Velvet. The heat generated can easily melt the plastic and possibly ruin your blank. Once all four ends are milled square and true, you are ready to mount the tubes on the mandrel.
Squaring the pen to the pen blank

Using a pen mill to square the tube to the blank with hand held drill.



Double vs. Single Mandrels

Double mandrels allow you to turn both ends of the pen at the same time, a significant advantage in a production environment. However, they are more prone to damage in use and storage. Their longer length makes them more prone to flexing during turning. Care must be taken when bringing up and securing the tailstock, or the mandrel may bow.

Double mandrels can produce highly accurate writing pens; however, they must be properly cared for during use and storage. Mandrels should be stored in protective boxes, or cushioned cases in drawers to prevent other tools from bumping into them, causing damage.

Morse taper pen turning mandrels

Morse taper pen turning mandrels (from top): double mandrel and revolving tail center; single mandrel.

Single mandrels only allow one half of the pen to be turned at once, the top, or the bottom. Single mandrels are much shorter than double mandrels and typically keep their accuracy for a longer period of time. If set-up and turning time is not a concern to you, consider a single mandrel system. Even with the stiffer rods of a single mandrel, accuracy can suffer from improper storage, or aggressive turning.

Although I have both single and double mandrel systems in my studio, this project was turned on double mandrel that fits into the headstock’s Morse taper. Before mounting the mandrel in the headstock, clean the taper of any debris. Even tiny amounts of debris in the spindle taper can cause the mandrel to lose accuracy. A tapered brush can be used to clean the taper if you do not have a dedicated Morse taper cleaner, like a Taper Mate.

If you notice any stains or extractive spray inside the taper, swab the interior of the spindle with Acetone. Once the mandrel is seated in the Morse taper headstock spindle, you are ready to mount the bushings and the prepared blanks for turning.


Mounting the Blanks on the Mandrel

Each pen kit style will have its own special bushings available for mounting on the mandrel. For this European style kit, there are three bushings for the double mandrel. The cap bushing goes on the mandrel first. Next, place the top section of the prepared pen blank on the mandrel. The double bushing mounts next, in the middle. One side contains a free-floating bushing that is used to size the decorative band. The other side functions as the bushing for the top of the lower pen barrel.

Mount the lower prepared blank on the mandrel next. The third bushing is for the pen tip and mounts last. Components can vary in size slightly from kit to kit. Before you mount the blanks, check the bushings and components with a caliper to insure a proper fit.
Caliper and bushings for writing pen

Caliper and bushings for the Craft Supplies U.S.A. European Style writing pen.

Writing pen blanks and bushings on mandrel

Crushed velvet writing pen blank and pen bushings mounted on the double mandrel.

The bushings and blanks are secured to the mandrel with a nut, or knurled nut. If your mandrel has a nut that you must use a wrench to tighten, be careful to only apply enough torque to lightly secure the blanks. Excessive torque on the mandrel nut will cause the mandrel to bow and your parts will not fit correctly. The same holds true for mandrels that feature a knurled nut that is tightened by hand. Very little torque is needed to secure the blanks on the mandrel.

Once the blanks are mounted, bring up the tailstock to within 2-3 mm of the end of the mandrel and lock the tailstock. The mandrel end is drilled with a dimple to allow the point of the tailstock to accurately seat. Start the lathe and gently advance the tailstock ram, until it contacts the end of the mandrel and begins spinning the revolving centre.

If the tip of your revolving centre is damaged, do not use it for turning writing pens. Either replace the point, if possible, or use a dedicated revolving centre for pens. Using a revolving centre with a damaged point may cause the end of the mandrel to not run true. You are now ready to begin turning the body of the pen.


Rounding Over

Set your lathe revs to the high end, 3000- 3,950 rpm. High revs give a cleaner and more elegant cut, with less stress on the mandrel during the rounding over phase. If you are using a double mandrel, be especially careful when rounding over the square corners. Aggressive rounding over may cause the mandrel to flex, or become inaccurate.

To round over the body, I use a Henry Taylor ¼" micro spindle gouge. The gouge is ground with a swept-back fingernail grind and sharpened on a 120-grit, 8" diameter stone.

 

Rounding over pen blanks

Beginning to round over the blanks.

Henry Taylor micro turning tools

My favorite pen turning tools: Henry Taylor micro turning tools (from top): 6mm (1/4") skew chisel, 6mm (1/4") spindle gouge, 3mm (1/8") spindle gouge.

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 and let it spin up to full speed. Once it has reached full speed, turn it off and begin grinding your tool as the wheel begins slowing down. Another option is to use a water-cooled grinder like the Tormek, which removes very little metal with each sharpening and offers a special jig to hold micro turning tools.

Never plunge your tool into the middle of the blank when rounding over, work from each end towards the middle, taking very light cuts.

Once the top section has been rounded over, turn your attention to rounding over the lower blank. Crushed Velvet cuts very easily; however, it has the habit of producing stringy shavings that may load up on the mandrel ends. These can be removed with a brush, or a quick shot of compressed air.

Once both blanks have been rounded over, stop the lathe. Remove any accumulated shavings on the ends of the mandrel, the lathe spindle, and the bedways. The stringy shavings tend to interfere with free movement of the banjo, so keeping the bedway periodically clean is beneficial.
Pen blanks rounded over

Blanks are fully rounded over.


Release the tension on the retaining nut and gently reapply it. The rounding over process tends to over tighten the retaining nut. Once the blanks have been rounded over, very little pressure is needed to secure them during final shaping and finishing.


Turning the Upper Body Section

The first step in turning the upper body is to size a small tennon for the decorative centre band. Use a thin parting tool to turn a 2 mm wide tennon until the free-floating bushing will just slip over the tennon. This is the correct inside diameter that you will turn the balance of the tennon, for the decorative centre band to fit. The total length of the tennon needs to be 6 mm wide for this kit.

You will notice that the free-floating bushing is not the same width as the decorative centre band. The bushing is used to size the interior diameter of the tennon and the outer diameter of the barrel only. The decorative centre band itself determines the actual width of the required tennon. On this particular pen kit, the decorative band is approximately 6 mm wide.

 

Completing the writing pen tennon

Completing the tennon for the decorative center band.

Ensure the tennon is correct length

Using the decorative center band to ensure the tennon is the correct length.

As you are turning the tennon with the parting tool, periodically stop the lathe and check the tennon length with the decorative centre band to get the proper fit. Gently place the centre band on top of the mandrel section, where you are turning the tennon.
It is quite easy to tell when the proper size has been reached. Once you have completed turning the decorative centre band tennon, replace the band in the protective pouch of the kit to prevent damage.
Center band installed on tennon

The decorative center band installed on the tennon to ensure proper fit.


The next part to turn is the body of the barrel for the top section. Use the 1/4" micro spindle gouge, or a 1/2" skew chisel to turn the body. There is a bushing at the top and bottom of the top section for general sizing. However, for the best and most accurate writing pens, you will need to use a calliper to measure the components and the bushings.

Components may very slightly (a thousandth here or there) from kit to kit. Bushings can become worn from turning and sanding. Therefore, it’s best to check before you mount the bushings and blanks and make any adjustments that may be necessary.

 

Shaping top of writing pen

Using the 1/4" spindle gouge to shape the top tapered section.

To turn the top barrel section, I use the Henry Taylor ¼" micro spindle gouge, or a ½" skew chisel. When turning the barrels, do not rub the bevel too hard; this may cause sufficient friction to melt the Crushed Velvet. Light cuts and a light bevel rubbing are all that is needed. The top section for European style writing pens features a gentle tapered design from the decorative centre band up to the cap.

 


Begin your cuts from the larger end (where the decorative band mounts) and cut towards the smaller cap end. Cut the blank to within a millimetre or so of the bushing diameter. Use a freshly sharpened skew chisel, or the ¼" micro spindle gouge to take the last cut to the correct bushing diameter.


Turning the Lower Body Section

The lower body section is turned next. It features the same gentle taper from the large end to the smaller tip end. Remember to take light cuts and periodically clear the mandrel of any accumulated shavings. Use a freshly sharpened skew chisel, or spindle gouge for the last finishing pass.
Both writing pen sections ready for abrasives

The top and bottom sections turned to correct diameter, ready for abrasives.

Sanding writing pen body

Applying Micromesh abrasives to the pen body at 3000 RPM.

Once the upper and lower sections have been turned to the correct bushing diameter, stop the lathe. Closely examine the surface for a smooth and even taper. The turned barrels are now ready for application of abrasives.


Sanding

Crushed Velvet is very easy to sand; however, it tends to load the abrasive paper with a fine plastic dust. If possible, use sterate coated abrasives, or wet-dry abrasives to prevent loading of the abrasive surface.

Sanding Tip: Sanding the writing pen barrels may cause wear on the 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 your 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 as possible.

To obtain the highest lustre and clarity of the finished surface, you have two options:

Midway through sanding protocol

The finished surface midway through the Micromesh abrasive application.

(1) Sand with traditional, or wet-dry abrasives to 1200-grit. 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 1500 to 12000. Micro Mesh will produce an optical quality finish on the surface of the Crushed Velvet very quickly and easily. The results, when taken to 12000-grit are nothing short of spectacular!

 

Sanding upper portion with 12000 grit

Sanding the upper pen body with 12000 grit at 3000 RPM.

Sanding lower portion with 12000 grit

Applying the 12000 grit abrasive to the lower pen body at 3000 RPM.

When sanding with traditional dry abrasives, be very careful about heat build-up on the surface of the blank. Prolonged or aggressive sanding may cause the surface to melt. When you progress through the grit range, cool the blank surface with a short blast of compressed air, before you begin the next grit.

 

If you are using wet-dry abrasives, lubricate your paper with water to control the heat and prevent loading of the abrasive surface. Do not skip any grits in the range for best results. When you have sanded to 1200-grit, the blank is ready for final buffing with polishing or deluxing compounds.
Polishes for synthetic pen turning materials

Plastic polishes for obtaining high gloss on many synthetic materials (from left): 20/20 Plastic Polish, HUT Ultragloss Plastic Polish.

Micromesh sanding sheets

Micromesh sanding sheets from 1500 to 12000 grit.

The plastic polishing compounds are applied on the lathe, whilst the pen is spinning at high revs. Kitchen paper, safety cloth, or tiny 2" x 2" patches of flannel cloth can be used for applying the polish to the pen barrels. Depending on the amount of polishing, you can achieve a satin, or high gloss lustre. Periodically cool the surface during polishing and buffing.

 

If you are using the Micro Mesh system, there is no need for supplemental polishing or buffing! The finished surface is superior to the previous method. The clarity and gloss of the surface is magnificent! Micro Mesh abrasives are supplied on a flexible backing material. The abrasive crystals are imbedded in a soft material that is sensitive to heat. When using Micro Mesh abrasives, keep the abrasive moving and use a different section every few seconds.
Finished pen body surface after sanding

The finished pen body surface after completion of the nine abrasive steps in the Micromesh system range.


The Micro Mesh abrasives are supplied in nine grits, from 1500 to 12000. The 1500-grit sheet is close to a traditional 600-grit abrasive paper. The 12000-grit sheet will produce a scratch pattern that cannot be seen by the human eye. Start with the 1500-grit sheet and progress through the nine steps to 12000. When you change grits, cool the surface of the barrel with air if necessary. The Micro Mesh sheets can be used wet, but I prefer to use them dry. The surface of the abrasive sheet may load with dust, but this can be easily washed off, or blown off by compressed air.


Assembly Jigs

The best tool to use to assemble your writing pens is an arbour press. The arbour press allows a controlled, even pressure to be exerted on the parts in correct alignment. However, few turners have one in their studios. The nest best thing to use is your drill press, as a substitute arbour press. Since most turners have a drill press in their studio, it can be made to do double duty with the aid of a simple jig. Any type of short metal rod or “T” bushing can be used to make the jig.

Chuck the rod into a Jacobs chuck mounted in your lathes headstock. Use a small bit of double face tape to mount a wooden disk to the front of the bushing or rod. Turn a flat face on the wooden disk and sand it to 600-grit. Use a short blast of compressed air to remove any sanding grit from the surface of the disk. Take this jig to your drill press and insert it into the drill press’s Jacobs chuck and tighten the jaws. Presto, you have just turned your drill press into a substitute arbour press! The wooden face prevents the metal rod or bushing from damaging the plated pen components during assembly.
Inserting cap using drill press

Using the drill press jig to insert the cap/clip assembly in the upper body section.


Use another flat piece of timber on the drill press table, or in the cross vice to prevent marring the lower portion of the pen during assembly. You can now apply controlled, even pressure to the pen parts in correct alignment, without causing damage to the gold, or other plated components.


Assembling European Writing Pens

Inserting pen nib using drill press

Inserting the pen nib into the lower body section.

The first part to assemble is the upper cap and clip assembly. The cap has a threaded rod which threads into a small bright friction fitting. The clip is placed between the cap and the friction fitting and the entire assembly is pressed into the top of the barrel using an arbour press, or your drill press jig. Optional step: Once the top assembly is pressed into place, remove the cap by unscrewing it from the top of the pen. Use a small drop of thick CA on the exposed threads of the cap and screw it down, through the clip and into the friction fitting. The small amount of CA on the cap threads keeps the cap from unscrewing during use.

 

The next part to install is the decorative centre band. The band fits onto the tennon that was turned on the lower portion of the upper tapered barrel. Apply three small dots of thick CA, equidistant around the tennon. Be very careful and only apply a tiny amount of CA to the tennon. The decorative centre band slips onto the tennon by hand and the CA firmly secures it. As you slip the centre band onto the tennon, rotate it to insure the CA is evenly distributed around the tennon surface. If you apply too much CA, the excess will be pressed out of the tennon and onto the finished pen barrel, possibly ruining it. After the CA has cured, the upper barrel assembly is finished.
Inserting twist mechanism using drill press

Now the twist mechanism is inserted into the top of the lower body section.


The lower tapered barrel section is assembled next. The pen tip is pressed into the end of the tapered lower barrel and is secured via a friction fit. Use your drill press jig to gently press the pen tip into the end of the barrel. The twist mechanism is installed in the top portion of the lower barrel. You will notice there is a tiny brass fitting at the bottom of the twist assembly. The top of the twist mechanism is bright steel and contains a female threaded collar on the inside, which the pen refill is screwed into.

Cabretta writing pen boxes

Cabretta pen boxes are available in black and red to present or protect your writing pens.

When the completed pen is twisted, the point of the pen is advanced and then locks into place. When it’s twisted in the opposite direction, it is retracted into the tip. The correct insertion of this mechanism is critical to the operation of the pen. If it is pressed too far in, the pen will not advance and lock properly.

 

If it is not pressed in far enough, the point will not advance enough to write with the pen. This is the only tricky part of the assembly process. It is not difficult, but you do need to proceed slowly.
Completed writing pen before final assembly

The completed project pen showing the upper and lower body before final assembly.


If you are assembling several writing pens, a simple depth jig can be made of scrap wood to use in conjunction with your drill press, or arbour jig. Once the proper depth of one pen has been determined, cut the jig to match the depth required and you are good to go. (This assumes that all of your top barrels are the same finished length.)

(The instructions below only apply to the Craft Supplies USA European style pen.)

If you are assembling just a few writing pens and do not wish to make a depth jig, here’s how to insert the twist mechanism to the proper depth. The small brass portion of the twist mechanism functions to provide the friction fit for the twist assembly.

Above this brass fitting, is a small indented ring. Place the lower tapered assembly (with the tip already installed at the opposite end of the barrel) onto your press jig and place the twist mechanism on the top of the barrel.

Orient the mechanism into correct alignment with the brass fitting on the bottom and press it into the top of the barrel until the indented ring is level with the top of the brass tube and stop. The actual depth required is approximately 1/4" past the indented ring. However, to be safe, insert the tube a little bit at a time.

 

Turned writing pen vs. Mont Blanc® pen

From left: My genuine Mont Blanc® pen in burgundy resin with gold accents and the Craft Supplies U.S.A. 22kt EHG European style pen.

Stop and twist the refill into the top of the twist mechanism and twist it out to check how far it extends from the tip. Remove the refill and continue pressing the twist assembly into the lower tapered barrel, until the writing point extends the correct amount from the tip. Be careful, if you press the twist mechanism in too far, you cannot remove it. Take your time and check often.
After you have turned a few writing pens, this process is very quick and is usually accomplished in two to three steps. Once the twist mechanism is inserted to the correct depth and the refill is installed, the pen is complete. Take the upper barrel assembly and slide it onto the twist mechanism on the lower body.
Rosewood writing pen box

Custom fitted Rosewood pen boxes are also available.


To use the pen, gently twist the upper barrel clockwise until the point extends and locks into place, about 1/3 of a revolution. To retract the point, rotate the upper barrel until the point of the pen is retracted.


Final Thoughts

Now that you’ve completed turning and assembling your pen, use it! Try a few other styles of pen kits and experiment with various timbers, burrs and alternative materials to customize the writing pens to your own taste. My favourite pen styles are the European 22kt Gold Cobalt (EHG) and 22kt Gold Cobalt Rollerball pens. These are sold as up-market fine gifts in my studio’s Premier Gifts line and retail for $100.00 to $3000.00 USD, depending on the materials used.

Velvet pen bag and writing pen

Slender velvet pen bags are inexpensive and a good way to protect writing pens in a lady's purse.

I enjoy using unusual materials for the barrels and coupling them with the finest quality kits available. Since I’m quite keen on incorporating gemstones and precious metals into my turnings, some of my writing pens feature extensive jewellery and precious metal inlays. I’m currently looking into having some of my own components manufactured in solid Platinum and solid 18kt Gold for a new line of executive writing pens.

Your writing pens can be anything you want, from the most basic and simple styles, to the finest materials and kits available. Whatever pen material and style you choose, your finished pen will be a reflection of you, your personal style and taste. Every time you pick it up to use it, you can smile and be proud of your accomplishment!

Fully assembled writing pen

The fully assembled Craft Supplies U.S.A. 22kt EHG European style writing pen in black crushed velvet.

Need More Help? If you would like additional instruction on how to turn European style writing 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.


 


Steven D. RussellSteven 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.

Steve 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 each issue.





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