A few pens

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Project by scottb posted 04-07-2007 06:00 AM 4089 views 2 times favorited 38 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I just knew I’d like turning pens, so I got myself a starter kit last summer. I glued up the tubes in the blanks and paired up the blanks as best I could for matching grain… a fool’s errand with the random set they provided. Looks and works a bit like mahogany, I’m not positive but it could be rosewood. At least that’s what the sample kits are now (from Penn State).

Life somehow got in the way and I never got around to making those pens, despite buying a book, all the tools I’d need and so on. I even picked up a large box of blanks for cheap – so long ago now I don’t know the species! At one point I’d picked out several projects I could make for just about everyone for christmas, in the end I only made the one screwdriver.

The moment passed and I all but forgot about them.

The freak weather this week gave me an unexpected morning off from work. I had power, but the jobsite didn’t, so I headed downstairs to work on my next box in the series, and with the lid and base glued and clamped (and no phonecall saying the power was back up), I looked around for another quick project.

Suddenly I remembered the pens, and thought I’d take a stab at them. At the very least make one, see how that goes, and when I have more time I can really get into it.

I had a little trouble getting the blanks secure on the mandrel I had, not enough bushings, so I mounted three blanks instead of two and started turning. In no time at all I was done. Turned, sanded, oiled and assembled.

Well, that was easy…. Lets try another!

Had a few assembly problems. Jammed in the turning mechanism too far so it won’t fully retract. (I took this one into work, if anyone tries to steal it, they’ll discover it won’t close!)

Lesson learned onto number three…. and four!

Oh, I know, lets skip the band in the middle so I can make a bigger one!

These are all the basic 7mm slimline kit. I’m already anxous to try making some beefier pens. These are all a little hard for me to write with. Too small and too short.

I was pleased with how well the woods went together after finishing. Sanded to 500 spinning, then hand sanded again with the grain. Then I applied a little boiled linseed oil as they spun.

For my first batch I’m really happy with how they came out. I’m already looking for the next ones to buy! This is an addictive little hobby here. Nice quick projects. Instant gratification!

If it wasn’t so late I’d be making more instead of blogging about them!

Anyone else out there who’s done some pen turning, Karson, Darryl… what are your favorite sources for supplies, and more importantly, what finishes do you find hold up the best?

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

38 comments so far

View WayneC's profile


13754 posts in 4095 days

#1 posted 04-07-2007 06:12 AM

I really like Craft Supplies in Utah. Get their free catalog. It is really nice.

I use Mylands friction polish on my wood pens. Sometimes I will use CA (super glue).

I also will use sanding sealer if needed and sometimes EEE Paste wax.

I also prefer large pens. Some of my favorites are made with 3/4 corian. I use sanding pads to finish these as well as pens made with plastics or finsihed with CA.

Elk and deer antler also makes great pens. I finish these with CA.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4324 days

#2 posted 04-07-2007 06:15 AM

Thanks for the links Wayne,

How do you apply the CA?

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View WayneC's profile


13754 posts in 4095 days

#3 posted 04-07-2007 06:23 AM

With the pen in the lathe, I place a small piece of plywood over the bed of the lathe for protection. I apply a little CA directly on the pen and spread evenly over the body of the pen. I use a quetip to spread the ca. Once I have an even coat, I use the accellerator to set it. I then sand lightly with 400 grit sandpaper to remove any extra CA. I then switch to the pads above to polish up to 12,000 grit.

Process on antlers is the similar. Drill the antler, flood hole with thin CA to fill voids in antlers. Then apply brass tubes as normal. Set with accellerator, mill the ends, Turn surface off and take to rough dimensions. Flood with CA as above. Then turn to final dimension. Flood a second time if surface is not covered with CA and finish as above.

Oh and watch out for CA fumes if the temperature is warm where you are.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

767 posts in 4171 days

#4 posted 04-07-2007 06:23 AM

A recommendation from my friend, Vic, if you ever decide to sell pens…

Avoid the slim-line pens. You’ll never be able to get more than $20 for one in most cases. You’ll spend the same amount of time turning a larger pen, and you can sell them for a lot more money (his regularly sell for upwards of $120 to $140).

Another thing… once you start with a company and the kits they sell, it might be hard to switch companies without having to buy all new bushings and such, as theirs sizes aren’t always the same.

That said, pen turning is about as close as you can get to instant gratification in woodworking.

Great pens, Scott!

As a writer, I would caution against getting any crazier with the grips. Personally, I prefer an absolutely smooth transition between the metal cap and the first few inches of the pen. Anything else starts hurting if I write for very long (which, if you can imagine, I’m prone to do).

-- Ethan,

View WayneC's profile


13754 posts in 4095 days

#5 posted 04-07-2007 06:27 AM

I would add to what Ethan recommends.

Use great materials and good quality plating as well. The craft supplies site does a good job of showing materials and pen plating options.

Desert Ironwood and Buckeye Burl are some of my favorites.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View WayneC's profile


13754 posts in 4095 days

#6 posted 04-07-2007 06:28 AM

Also this is the best book on the subject bar none.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4324 days

#7 posted 04-07-2007 06:31 AM

Thanks, and thanks again!

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View WayneC's profile


13754 posts in 4095 days

#8 posted 04-07-2007 06:47 AM

Oh, and there are 2 DVDs by the authors of the TURNING PENS AND PENCILS book I referenced above.



-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4158 days

#9 posted 04-07-2007 11:49 AM

these are great!
So we’ll be seeing a lot more pens, “eh” Scott?

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4297 days

#10 posted 04-07-2007 12:01 PM

Very nice Scott
That’s what I like about wood turning, almost instant gratification. I still haven’t tried making pens yet.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View FMOmbr's profile


47 posts in 4082 days

#11 posted 04-07-2007 02:41 PM

Scott – It sure is nice to be able to turn out a project in limited spare time, especially one that had been sitting for a while. Really nice pens! Mike

View Drew1House's profile


425 posts in 4085 days

#12 posted 04-07-2007 03:30 PM

These look great… I have a neighbor who makes a zillion of these and he heard I was getting this new LS200 delta midi lathe (for $129 with the chisels I though why the heck not) and is planning to rush over as soon as it arrives to help me make some. He is more excited about it than I am… He is a retired school teacher so I think Ill get a good education with it. Let me ask. Are there any specific tools other than the lathe and some basic turning tools you have found helpful? The pens look VERY good for your first go at them. I am very impressed… I figured the learning curve was such that you would loose several as you began… Looks like that is not the case at all… (or you are unusually talented which I hope is not the case as I am not and will be a beginner with pens and turning small things like this…)


-- Drew, Pleasant Grove, Utah

View darryl's profile


1795 posts in 4324 days

#13 posted 04-07-2007 04:01 PM

here’s my two cents…

I like the cigar pens. it’s quite a bit bigger than the slim-line and the natural design of the pen takes away from the urge to make crazy shapes that, as Ethan mentioned, just aren’t that comfortable.

As far as suppliers go, I started out using Ryan is a great guy to work with. However, I do feel the kits offered by Woodcraft are a bit better in the quality department. Though they do cost a little more, I feel they are worth the extra money.

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4324 days

#14 posted 04-07-2007 04:15 PM

Drew, you could say I’m unusually talented! but, fortunately not in the way you mean :)

I did take a 5 week turning class over a year ago, where we primarily used the skew chisel – a very cruel master indeed! (dealt with lots of catches or dig ins) many turners (I’m told) tend to use other tools, but I’m not afraid of mine (I also don’t have a lot of options.)
a three hour class was also rough on the hands for the first couple classes (kinda like using chopsticks at first – learning to use “new” muscles) but fine since then.

I think pens would make a great learning project as you don’t spend too much time turning down to the final size, and don’t have to learn beads and coves right off. Just practice on a few scrap pieces first (something to do while you’re waiting for the glue to dry on your first set of blanks). Having someone show you is even more invaluable than trying to glean from a book. Good luck… It’s fun, and really addictive.

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View Karson's profile


35120 posts in 4398 days

#15 posted 04-07-2007 04:16 PM

Scott: Most of the wood I use is lumber, boards that I get at woodcraft or other suppliers. You can get a lot of pens out of 1 BDF of lumber. Don’t forget some Bloodwood they are great for Pastors etc. Some of the wood that people really like is Maple crotch. Sometimes you see that one piece of wood where someone has cut down a tree and it had 10 branches coming out at the same spot. No own wants it because it is impossible to split. That is the best pen wood.

If you can saw / resaw on a bandsaw is 3/4” square strips then let it dry. You may get a little bow, but no problem for pens. I’ve never had any splitting. One of the best was where a branch had broken off and died and it had a hollow hole in the log. The wood had dark streaks going through the maple curls.

Walnut crotch, oak crotch, blackwood, Desert Ironwood, Pink Ivory. And for pens branch wood is great so if you see a branch with wood having a different color. Use it, Osage Orange could come to mind. I had a bush in my yard called Smoke Tree, bush or whatever the wood was yellow with red and other color streaks Beautiful. One branch died and it was then that I found out the color.

Ged a pen dis assembly kit, It allow you to remove the pen parts and then reset them again to the correct depth.

I bought a bearing press. A big old chunk of steel that looks like a capital “C” with a lever that brings the press and down. After a few time you know the exact place to stop moving the arm. You just press the tips, etc all together.

By the way I use epoxy to glue my tubes into the wood, some of the woods are oily and I found that it works best. Some 5 min epoxy and you can glue up 4 – 5 sets.

Get a drill block guide. The easiest one is one that you can make. It’s got a hinge at one end and some “V” groves cut in one side of the block. You put the blank in and squeeze the handles with your 1 hand and drill with the other hand. I’ll try to find mine and take a picture.


Get some Teacher Pens kits also.

At the Penn State / MLCS store in northern Philadelphia, you walk in and pick up what you want. They also have bins of wood chunks that you buy by the LB.

I use Shellwax from down Don’s way in Australia for a finish

Sign up for Penn States e-mail, and they send you specials every month. MLCS has one also.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

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