Hey, people, I’ve probably made about 20 pens by this point and am just about getting the hang of things but I never got around to editing and publishing the footage I made from my first pen.
So this is a retrospective look at my first pen, the mistakes I’ve made and some of the lessons I’ve learned.
Note that this is not an instructional video and there are plenty of good pen turning tutorials out there.
While people say you should keep your first pen so you can track how you improve, I thought there would be loads of badly made pens to refer to so my first pen needed to be for a chap I work with who has given me loads of scrap wood.
Most recently I think he’d given me some Holly so I thought that would make a great pen blank from that and so I set about looking for a suitable piece to cut down.
To make the wood more manageable I cut it down on my evolution mitre saw.
I then used my bandsaw and cut the Holly down to some nice pen blanks sized around 25x120mm.
I made enough blanks here to do a few attempts in case the first went wrong.
I took a set of blanks and used my drill press and a screw clamp to keep the blank in place while I drilled out a 7mm hole in each for the brass tubes.
The pen kits were slimline twist rollerballs that I had been gifted from a member of the YouTube makers community Dave Gunner. He’d generously given me these and some micromesh pads which you’ll see in a bit so I can start my pen making journey. I’ll pop a link to his channel in the video description.
The brass tubes from the kit had to be inserted into the blanks with superglue. I found these first few times a bit stressful as you only have limited time before the glue dries and if it sets while half way into the blank you could ruin both the tube and blank. Great care must be taken to not get any glue on the inside of the tube or even worse your hand and this can be a problem!
I’ve since come up with a little pen insert tool that can be 3D printed to make this job a little less stressful and I’ll put a download link in the description for this.
The brass tubes inserted I then squared the ends off with my barrel trimmer tool. I had no idea the first time around as to how far to cut down but I’ve since learned how much I need to cut. The brass is soft enough that you might be able to tell you are shaving bits off so quick visual checks are needed.
I’ve found that when the brass goes from dull to having a tiny bit of shine on the edges then its done.
I’ve also learned that while this pen was OK, I should wait a few minutes from going from the glue up of the tubes to the barrel trimming as the heat and force from the tool can force a brass tube to slip a bit if the glue isn’t fully dry.
The pen blanks were then mounted onto my pen mandrel which was given to me by another awesome member of the youtube maker community Paul Willmore and I’ll also put a link to channel in the description.
I had not used the mandrel before but had read lots of advice on how to mount it up along with warnings about not compressing it too much as I could bend the rod. So this fitted together relatively easily with some steel bushings sized for my pen kits and fitted it into my lathe with no issues.
The square pen blanks had to, first of all, be made round so I opted for my 1” roughing gouge for this task. I thought this sort of size of tool could be a bit overkill for pens but speaking to some other pen makers the larger tools have advantages especially at this point with quickly turning square stock to round.
I did this and all the finishing at the lathes slowest speed. The finishing needs to be slow to avoid heat buildup but probably could have gone a bit faster with the turning but just didn’t want to risk it until I’m a bit more experienced. Plus I don’t have a variable speed lathe so changing pulleys is a big faff.
Once satisfied with the round and the bulk of the material removed I switched to my skew chisel for the rest of the work.
I used slicing cuts to get the wood cut down as close as I dare to the bushings. I’ve learned since that I can go pretty close to the bushing but having too large a gap from being too cautious is apparently a normal thing for people new to turning pens.
I’m now using a record power ¾” round skew chisel to do this part on my pens and spending more time with the roughing gouge so hardly any work is needed with the skew.
The pens were made only slightly curved on each half as I just don’t like the large curves you find on some pens.
Once all the turning was complete I removed the tool rest as I’d seen enough pen turning tutorials to know this was extremely important for safety and set about going up the grits with sand paper.
I started at 60, moved to 80, 120 then finally 240.
At 240 grit I then added some sanding sealer and then gave the wood another light sand with 240 grit paper before moving to Yorkshire grit.
I now know from a tip by Paul Lockwood that the Yorkshire grit will act as a sanding sealer so I can miss this step.
I’ve also learned since that cotton rags should not be used as its possible they could get caught up so I now use only kitchen tissue which seems to be OK.
The Yorkshire grit was added in generous amounts and slowly removed with a cloth.
I then broke out the micromesh pads that Dave Gunner had given me and moved up the grits from 1500 all the way up to 12000! The pads were given a quick bath in water in between uses and each pad was used slightly longer than the last.
The pen now felt pretty smooth but I wanted to give it some protection. I opted for adding Cyno acrylate as I’ve seen this is a popular finish and then a wax coating afterwards. Now I’m using plastic polish on the Cyno acrylate and giving the wax a miss though I may use this again if I try some other finishes such as boiled linseed oil.
The cyno arcylate was poured onto the wood very liberally and while the think coating probably gave the pen some nice protection, it didn’t give it the shine that comes from multiple layers. So now I use a tiny piece of tissues to wipe on the glue as the lathe is running, let it dry and repeat for 4-5 layers.
Once the glue was added I put on a layer of wax but again in hindsight this was a little redundant but it just felt right at the time.
I then removed the pen mandrel from the lather and took it over to my workbench for assembly.
The large amount of glue I had used made taking the pen parts off the mandrel and away from the bushings a little tricky so I had to use a bit of force. The glue also caused some mess on the edges of the blanks as well so each end needed a little sand.
With no pen press I had to use one of my clamps to assemble the pen and while this worked OK, it was a fiddly process and I was worried the whole time about destroying my work so far.
I’m now using an arbour press as recommended by John Clothier and finding this brilliant.
On goes the nib first of all.
And then the pen mechanism. I’ve messed up a few pens at this point by accidentally going too far but this first one was OK.
Then I did the end cap with the clip, fitted the centre band and pushed the two parts together.
Wallah! A working pen! The first of many!
The finished pen done, I left it on my work friends’ desk with a note on how it was made. This is something I’d love to do alongside any pen or indeed anything I end up selling as I think it would really complete the experience of buying something handmade.
So, my work friend was chuffed to bits with the pen and I was pretty dam proud too that my first pen turned out OK. Sure, there’s loads of room for improvement and even now I am way away from being satisfied but I think pretty soon I’ll be at the point where I could sell these.
You can also see that it’s the kindness of other makers in the community that have helped me gear up to make pens as well as giving me advice on how. I can’t stress how amazing the maker community is for this! 🙂
Paul Willmore’s channel can be found here:
Dave Gunners channel can be found here:
Paul Lockwoods Channel
John Clothiers Channel
Some of the tools and consumables I use in this video:
Woodwax 22 https://amzn.to/2GUsLYp
Chestut Sanding Sealer https://amzn.to/2xfs2kV
Yorkshire Grit http://yorkshire-grit.com/
The evolution mitre saw (awesome tool!) can be bought here: https://amzn.to/2y56qZ4
My bandsaw the lovely Clarke 305mm https://amzn.to/2GSfm3a
My pen insert tool can be downloaded here:
If you’re a YouTuber, an awesome tool worth looking at is TubeBuddy! Please try it out and if you like it remember to use my affiliate link:
All my videos are edited using Adobe Premiere because it’s awesome 🙂