Acrylic pens/pencils are awesome when done correctly. They look and feel absolutely amazing, when done correctly. 🙂 See the theme there?
In the beginning I blew up a lot of blanks trying to get the process right. I’m being completely literal when I say “blew up”. Acrylics are a plastic, and can be very brittle. Chips will fly, and that’s if you’re doing it right!
- acrylic pen blank (these come in a million different varieties)
- 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)
- Hut’s Plastic Polish (or similar)
- 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 pattern runs. Oftentimes, on acrylics the pattern was baked into it so it can definitely make a difference. Measure out the tube against the blank and mark off each half, leaving a little extra on each end. Once you’ve done all that, cut it in half with whatever your preferred method is (bandsaw!).
If your acrylic is a light color (such as white), you may need to color your tube with a sharpie so that it doesn’t shine as much thru the finished pen. The lighter acrylics are mostly see-thru so it’s a good idea to color them (or it can just be a cool effect!).
Find the center of each half by drawing an X on the end of the blank. Mark the center with a hole punch to get the indent.
Place each half on the drill press, moving forward slowly so as to not shatter the blank. Be especially careful as you get to the other end of the blank. Go slow.
Sand the tubes (see above on coloring) and use medium CA glue to insert them into the blanks.
Once the CA dries, use the pen mill to square up the ends. Be careful here, as again it could shatter.
This next step may not be necessary for you, but in the beginning I had tons of problems with my ends shattering right as I finished turning it. I found this trick online as just another safety net. Place a couple drops of medium CA on each end around the end of the brass tubes. This should help with possible crackling later on. Let it dry or use the activator to hurry it along.
If you glued them in the previous step, you will need to ream them with the pen mills again to get any excess glue out. Don’t try and take more acrylic off, just ensure there’s no glue left inside the tubes.
Set your lathe RPM’s as fast as you’re comfortable with. For acrylics the faster the better, to handle chipping.
Place the blank on the mandrel on the lathe.
Use your roughing gouge to round off the blanks. Go slow and work from the centers to each edge. The ends are the place mostly likely to crack (which is why we glued them up before). Don’t use too much pressure or it may shatter. Ensure your chisel is sharp. I honestly go really slow on this part. If you’re doing it right you should have tons of tiny pieces flying everywhere. Make sure you’re wearing your eye/face protection.
Switch to your skew chisel or carbide and shape the blank as you normally would. Again, work from the center to the ends and don’t use too much pressure. If you get the angle just right your acrylic should come off in ribbons. It’s a pretty sight and that’s when you know you’re doing it right.
Slow the lathe speed down to as slow as you can go while sanding. Too fast and your acrylic might melt (it’s plastic, remember?).
Sand from 150-600 grit. I follow the same procedure here as I do for my wood. Sand at 150 to get final shape, then after each grit stop the lathe and sand manually lengthwise to get rid of scratches. Do this up thru 600 grit.
After each grit, stop and inspect for any divots. If you find any, spray a little of the activator into the spot, then put a couple drops of the thin CA on the area. Let it dry on its own and then restart the sanding process. You may need to repeat this a few times. This will just fill in anything and make sure it’s smooth.
Wet sand using the micromesh to 12000 grit.
If you want, you can be done right here. It will look great, but if you want to, you can finish it using a polisher (I like Hut’s Plastic Polish) or however you like.
With the Hut’s, I put a nickel size of the polish on a clean cotton cloth and rub it in while manually turning the lathe. I then turn the lathe back on rub the rest of it in while turned on. I repeat for both ends and do a couple coats each for good measure. If you’ve got a buffing wheel, now would be the time to use it.
And here is the final product ( I made this one into a mechanical pencil).
If you like the pencil above, check out what else we have in our Etsy shop.
Like this post & want to learn more? How about reading: Turning a Slimline (wood) pen.