As The Lathe Turns #20: My First Pen From A Kit

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Blog entry by William posted 03-21-2013 02:18 AM 1539 reads 0 times favorited 22 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 19: Why Buy When You Can Make? Part 20 of As The Lathe Turns series Part 21: Solutions, And a Couple Of New Mistakes »

I was on pens and needles this morning about, well, pens.
According to the tracking information I checked on this morning, my package with my pen kits were out on delivery. I went to the shop, made coffee, and sat in the door watching for the UPS guy. I don’t remember watching for a package like that since I was a kid waiting for the X-Ray glasses I ordered from the back of a Superman comic book. I was nine, don’t ask me what I wanted to see with the X-Ray glasses.
Anyway, I didn’t have too bad of a wait. The brown truck, with the guy in the brown uniform, with the package arrived almost nine o’clock on the dot. I bet he thought I was crazy. I snatched the package from his grubby hands and ran as fast as I could back into the shop. Ok, I did not really do that, but it made for a better story. I was anxious to get into the box though. I opened it carefully, in hoarder style, because I save all boxes to wrap Christmas presents later in the year.
Let’s fast forward.

The package was from the wonderful gift I recieved last week of a Penn State gift certificate. I ordered the mandrel and as many pen kits as I could get to get started making pens from kits. I liked the ones I made before out of disassembled store bought pens, but I know these were going to be nicer.
The mandrel system was sort of a mystery to me because I’d never seen one, much less used one. Once I got it though and read the instruction sheet with it, it wasn’t nearly as complicated as I feared. Actually, it’s quite an easy piece of equipment to set up and start turning on.
Now though, I had to wait even longer. I had not planned on something very important. After getting everything, making some pen blanks, and gluing in the tubes, I was at a stand still. I had not taken into account that I had to wait for the glue to dry before I’d be able to do anything with those blanks. So I messed around the shop most of the day waiting on glue to dry. Did ya’ll know that waiting on glue to dry is like watching grass grow?
I was told to let super glue dry for twelve hours to fully cure. I don’t know if that is right or not. I do know that by about two this afternoon I couldn’t wait any more.
So, the moment we’ve all, well I have anyway; the moment we’ve all been waiting for.

My first pen from a kit. I made it out of my favorite wood, sapelle. It has copper plated hardware, a beautiful grain pattern, and a dark line just below the center ring that runs almost all the way around it. It is finished with five coats of Shellac thinned down with alcohol and boiled linseed oil. Then it has two coats of Johnsons’s Paste Wax on top of that.
You all know I didn’t stop there though. Of course I did not glue up only one set of pen blanks this morning.

This one is oak. I has the same finish as the first one. It actually looked kind of plain until I put finish on it. The finish darkened some of the grain and really made it pop out.
Some of you may notice, these are slim line kits. The wooden part is actually supposed to be just straight and slender. I intended to do them that way too. However, as soon as I started turning, I just seen a nicer shape that could be formed and went with it. That made me think about it. It doesn’t matter if it shows a straight slender pen on the package. One could play with the shaping of the wood and make any number of different styled pens from the exact same kits.
I think I’m hooked. I have only done two. They are super easy, but I love it. This may seem like something trivial to some, but I am proud of these first two pens.


22 comments so far

View ShaneA's profile


6956 posts in 2627 days

#1 posted 03-21-2013 02:24 AM

Awww yeah! Looking good. I am going to have to jump in on some kits too. They look great. Plus, I bet you could probably finance you pen habit by selling a few here and there to recover the costs.

View Kreegan's profile


1452 posts in 2175 days

#2 posted 03-21-2013 02:37 AM

Those look pretty nice, William. You still need to PM me your address so I can send you those pen blanks I have. I’ll never use em and it sounds like you really like pen turning.

View clieb91's profile


3520 posts in 3963 days

#3 posted 03-21-2013 02:40 AM

Hmmm another addict.. errr I mean Pen turner :)
They look really good. Experiment with them the great thing about slimlines is how versatile they are. If you get a chance take a look at Kurt Hertzog’s website. His Pen Turning to Pen Making articles contain some really great tips on experimenting with the slimline kits.

I am sure there will be more to come, can’t wait to see them.


-- Chris L. "Don't Dream it, Be it."- (Purveyors of Portable Fun and Fidgets)

View William's profile


9949 posts in 2871 days

#4 posted 03-21-2013 02:44 AM

Shane, order some right away if you can. I made some out of BIC pens a short while ago. They turned out ok, but these kits just take it to another level. I couldn’t afford any at the time. A very generous fellow Lumberjock sent me a gift card for me to purchase these. I am forever in their dept now. I love doing these.

Rich, thank you. I must have missed it. I did not know you wanted my address. I will send a PM as soon as I finish this response.

Clieb, you got the addict part right, about turning in general though. I started out playing around with a lathe a while back and that’s about all I’ve been doing since. Thanks for the link. I will check that out as soon as possible.


View DIYaholic's profile


19623 posts in 2703 days

#5 posted 03-21-2013 02:48 AM

& PROUD you should be!!!

-- Randy-- I may not be good...but I am slow! If good things come to those who wait.... Why is procrastination a bad thing?

View DIYaholic's profile


19623 posts in 2703 days

#6 posted 03-21-2013 02:50 AM

With these pen kits….
Are refills readily available from local office supply stores??? I’d hate to give a gift that was difficult to find a refill for.

-- Randy-- I may not be good...but I am slow! If good things come to those who wait.... Why is procrastination a bad thing?

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 3332 days

#7 posted 03-21-2013 02:55 AM

hip hip hooray….yes i can see you bubbling over with excitement, waiting for your pen supply’s im glad you didn’t assault the truck driver, you used your restraint …im proud William….lol…i see you in the back corner of the shop greedily rubbing your hands together, as you mull over the many different pens you will make…lol..enjoy it William..i think i should send you some pen blanks, i have some beautiful wild cherry that would be stunning…what are the measurements for pen blanks…goodnight William, i now have a smile, thinking of you and your run to the truck,

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2719 days

#8 posted 03-21-2013 03:06 AM

Those both turned out very cool. I like your “fatter” design. Skinny pens don’t work well in my size 12 hands. The oak turned out really purty.

A question on the shellac/Blo/alcohol finish: does it dry as fast as shellac? What does the BLO add to the look? How do you apply it? Sorry, that’s 3 questions instead of 1.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View William's profile


9949 posts in 2871 days

#9 posted 03-21-2013 03:27 AM

Thanks Randy. The pens you “cross” style refills. They are readily available at OfficeMax or OfficeDepot.

Grizz, I can definately use pen blanks. I appreciate all I can get. Pen blanks from the suppliers run usually (from what I’ve seen) 3/4” x 3/4” x 5”. However, for some pens, like these slimlines, as long as I have two similar pieces that are at least 2 1/16” in length, I’m in business. Oh the possibilities.
I have a couple of different people looking for deer antler for me as well. Yes, I want to turn antlers now. I’ve also heard of turning bull horns, but I haven’t a clue where I can get that cheap.

Andy, I hate thin pens myself. My big hands, couple with arthritis in my fingers, don’t lend well to wimpy pens. Besides that, I think I can just add more character to them by avoiding the straight line designs.
About the finish, in my opinion, it actually dries faster than straighty shellac. As for the BLO, it acts as a lubricant and helps it “flow” into the open pores better. That’s what I’m told anyway.
This is basically french polish. At the lathe I use toilet tissue to apply it. You never use a rag at the lathe due to the moveing parts. Anyway, I put on the finish with the pen blanks still mounted on the mandrel.
Useing toilet paper, put a drop of finish on one end of each blank, with the lathe running, slide the tissue down the length of the wood. This spreads the finished nice and even.
I wait about a minute, flip tissue to dry side, slide back down each piece.
I repeat that three times.
Then I add another thin coat. You can see the finish how thin it is, or not. If it’s slinging finish off, too thick, if it’s leaving dry spots, too thin. All this depends on the speed at which you move your tissue down the wood.
After applying that lat coat, I turn off the lathe and go have a cup of coffee.
After my coffee break, turn the lathe on high speed, and buff it with a paper towel. The high speed tears the toilet tissue, so I use paper towel.
Then I apply as many coats of wax as I wish.
Oh, I fogot.
I don’t do none of this until it is sanded well.
I sand starting with course grit with the lathe running.
Then I cut the lathe off and sand end to end.
Then I move onto the next grit.
I sand, in order of grit,
80, 120, 240, 320, 400, 600, 800, 1000, 1200, 1500, 2000, and then burnish it on high speed with shavings from the turning.
Did I miss anything? I hope not.


View William's profile


9949 posts in 2871 days

#10 posted 03-21-2013 03:31 AM

By the way Andy, I hope to one day soon start using CA glue for a finish.
It leaves a harder, more durable finish for pens.
HOWEVER, I’m practicing on scraps as I get a chance.
I’m not there yet.
I am going to have to order some of the right stuff when I can.
Right now I’m using locally bought super glue and it just isn’t turning out right for me like I’ve read about and seen on videos.
I don’t know if it’s the glue I’m using or my technique.
I’ll get it eventually.
If you’ve seen pen turners using CA glue, it leaves a great finish, and will outlast the shellac and wax finish I’m using now.


View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4168 posts in 2885 days

#11 posted 03-21-2013 08:26 AM

William those are really nice pens.
Love your description of the wait for the van, it is a great feeling when it
I only discovered after a bit that you can get spare brass tubes. Very handy
if one of the pieces goes wrong, then you don’t need a whole kit.

-- Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though 'twere his own. --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3363 days

#12 posted 03-21-2013 10:35 AM

I can understand your enthusiasm about getting into something new William. Your first pens came out really nice. I’m glad you have found such enjoyable work. I would think you could also sell some of those.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View William's profile


9949 posts in 2871 days

#13 posted 03-21-2013 12:10 PM

I did not realize I could get extra tubes Jamie. I’ll keep that in mind if I mess up.
I was thinking of that though and wondering what other extra parts I can get.
The first kit I opened was missing the center ring, the part that goes between the two wood blanks.
I don’t think it’s worth too much grumbling with the company if that’s the only one out of thirty eight that’s missing a part, but I thought of adding it to a future order if I can get just that part.
Then again, ya’ll know me. I’ve also thought of making a wooden piece on the lathe to replace the metal ring.

Stefang, I have thought of selling some of these to help finance future kits so I can keep going on it anytime I want to instead of having to wait for funds. The part I am wrestling with now is a price. I am not good at pricing my work. I am open to suggestions on that topic.


View Roger's profile


20929 posts in 2833 days

#14 posted 03-21-2013 12:53 PM

Some nice writing tools. They’re fun to make

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

View Dave's profile


11429 posts in 2868 days

#15 posted 03-21-2013 01:04 PM

Now that is a pen. Great work William.

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

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