I got started with slimline pens, so thought it’d be the perfect subject of my first post.
Slimline’s are nice, very lightweight and smooth to the touch (when you finish them right!).
Most of the process is pretty static. You’ll find a million references online for how to prep and turn a pen and they’re all pretty much the same. The big difference is in how you finish the pen and that will end up being your preference. Want it to have a glass-like finish? Do what I have below. Want it to be more wood-like, since it’s wood? Then you probably don’t want to do the CA finish. But I like mine smooth and shiny, so that’s what you get.
- pen blank
- pen kit
- 7mm bushing set
- 7mm drill bit
- 7mm barrel trimmer set
- pen tube insertion tool
- a pen mandrel
- a vice (I prefer the pen blank self-centering vice)
- CA glue (both medium and thin)
- CA glue activator
- sandpaper (100 to 600 grit)
- micromesh sandpaper (1500 to 12000)
- Boiled Linseed Oil (BLO)
- denatured alcohol
- Carnauba wax (or similar)
- friction polish
- pen press
- drill press
The first thing I do is take my pen blank and draw an arrow and a cross hatch on it to show me which way the grain runs. This helps on final assembly to give it the wow factor. If it’s a particularly long blank, measure out the brass tubes against the wood to ensure you don’t get too much extra wood in there. You’ll want to give yourself 1/16th of an inch on either of the tube. Once you’ve done all that, cut it in half with whatever your preferred method is (bandsaw!).
On one end of each block, draw an X from edge to edge to get the center. I like to use a punch to make it to make it easier for the drill press.
Place each piece in a vice one at a time and using the 7mm drill bit in the press, drill out the center.
Sand the brass tubes using an 80 or 100 grit paper to rough them up (you want them very scratched up). Place the tube on the insertion tool. Spread lines of the medium CA glue on the brass tube and coat it copiously. Acting relatively quickly (cause the sucker dries fast), place the tube inside the wood. Try to leave a bit of wood on both ends of the tube and quickly remove the insertion tool. It may take a while to get the hang of this, so feel free to use a fingernail to do this. I’ve taken to wearing latex gloves since I’ve glued my fingers together a lot. Spray the activator on both ends to set the glue.
I usually need a beer break at this point, so will give the glue at least 30 minutes to set, although you don’t really need to.
Putting the barrel trimmer in your drill, use the trimmer on both ends of each piece to square the wood. Your goal is to get the wood down to where you can see the glimmer of the yellow in the brass tubes. If you don’t get enough you can shatter your pen when you assemble it later.
You’ll want to assemble the blank on the mandrel using the bushings as separators (bushing – top – bushing – bottom – bushing)
Now you finally get to carve. I’m lazy about sharpening my tools anymore, so use your roughing gouge to get the blank to round, and then your chisel of choice to trim it down. Skew or spindle gouge? Sure. I like my Easy Wood Tools carbide chisels these days.
Your goal with the carving is to get the ends flush with the bushings so that the hardware will fit. One other tip I have is that if you get a knot or a chip in the wood (as seen above), put a dab of CA thin in the hold and fill it with shavings. Don’t worry, you’ll sand it down later.
You can carve whatever shape you want, just make it pen-like.
Sand with Lathe running from 150 to 600. Finish shaping with the 150 and as you progress through each grit, stop the lathe and sand horizontally by hand. Turn the lathe manually as you go. This eliminates the small scratches.
Clean with denatured alcohol after 600 grit. I use a paper towel and wet it, then turning the lathe back on wipe it down with the alcohol. I usually do this 2 or 3 times. You’ll be able to tell when you’re done.
Next we’ll wet sand with the micromesh. Get a cup of water and dip each pad in the water as you go. Keeping the lathe on, wet sand from the 1500 all the way up to the 12000, drying with a paper towel between each grit. No need to do the horizontal sanding with these.
The BLO and CA finish is a little hard to explain. We’re doing one half at a time. With the lathe on, put some BLO on a piece of paper towel and run it over the piece of blank. Run it back and forth, until the BLO is completely dried. Then place 3 drops of the thin CA on the paper towel over the spot where the BLO was. Run it back and forth over the same piece of wood, quickly, until it dries out as well. You’ll want to keep the paper towel moving the whole time or it might stick to the wood. Repeat for 3 -12 coats per piece. I usually stop at 3, sometimes 4, but I’ve seen people who go up to a dozen. If you mess up the CA at any stage you can fix by just starting over with the re-sanding.
Sometimes I let this dry for a while (see above, re: beer break), sometimes I immediately go on to the next stage. Up to you.
You can use whatever finishing product you want to use. I usually use the Mylands high friction polish, but have sometimes used walnut oil. Your goal here is to put a protective finish on the pen.
Basically use the same tactic as above to apply at least 2 coats of polish, but since you need friction to active the polish (see the name: friction polish), you’ll want to apply until you feel the heat thru the paper towel.
Your next stage is using a wax (carnauba or whatever) to give a final sheen. You don’t need much, just a fingernail’s worth. Apply to the blank while turned off, and then use a cloth with the lathe turned on to get it really soaked in.
For your final assembly, use your pen press to put it together. See the instructions for your hardware kit on what order to put it together.
If you like this post and want to read more try checking out how to turn an acrylic pen.
If you would like to see the pens I have turned, check out my Etsy shop.