Pen turning is a popular hobby. One can use a small lathe to turn pens (fountain, rollerball, or click or twist ballpoint) out of exotic hardwood, or, in some cases, acrylic. Other items of similar construction can be turned, such as mechanical pencils, seam rippers, crochet hooks, and keychains. Manufacturers supply kit parts containing the hardware. These usually are constructed by gluing a metal tube into the wood and turning this in the lathe on a mandrel. PS:One has a small Wen lathe that can do this well, and a collection of tools specific to pen turning.
Please contact Ryan Pierce or Donzell Gordon for information about pen turning, and Donzell for lathe questions and lathe authorization. The pen turning tools do not require special authorization, but authorization on the Wen lathe is required.
Kits for pen turning can be acquired from many suppliers, which include:
- Penn State Industries - Has a very large selection of pen kits and other items and tooling
The standard for pen turning is a 7 mm mandrel, which PS:One owns. You will need to purchase bushings specific to the type of pen. Bushings can be damaged by turning, sanding, and finishing, so they are considered user-supplied consumables. Watch the diameter of your bushings and try not to damage them when turning.
Kits frequently are classified by tube size. PS:One has hardware to make pens with the following tube sizes:
- 7 mm
- 8 mm
- 3/8 inch
- 10 mm
Larger sizes are common for some larger fountain pens, and other less common sizes exist as well. Over time, we anticipate PS:One's tooling inventory for pen turning to grow. This tooling is stored in the blue plastic box under the Wen lathe, labeled Pen Turning. Please make sure all pen turning tools are returned to this box!
At present, PS:One only has tooling for "open end" pens, e.g. where the tube extends the entire length of the wood blank. Special tooling that PS:One does not currently own is required to make "closed end" pens.
Pen blanks typically come in sizes of around 3/4" x 3/4" x 5-6" which is suitable for most small pens. Larger fountain pens may need 1" x 1" blanks. Exotic hardwoods are popular, as are various engineered acrylics with color patterns. These can be acquired from the suppliers, above, as well as many other sources such as eBay and Amazon. Several PS:One members use exotic hardwoods in their projects; it may be possible to recycle scrap for pen blanks. One can also laminate woods together to make a multi-layered blank.
Cutting and Drilling the Blank
- 7 mm
- 8 mm
- 3/8 inch
- 10 mm
Fully retract the tailstock ram, slide the tailstock so the drill contacts the pen blank, and Lock the tailstock. Push the pen blank onto the brad point of the drill at the marked center point and then tighten the jaws on the headstock. Power on the lathe and crank the tailstock ram to drill into the stock. Once the ram limit is reached, stop the lathe, retract the ram, side the tailstock closer until the drill makes contact with the bottom of the hole, lock the tailstock, and repeat.
Tips: First, use the pen blank to determine the depth that the drill will need to enter the wood and make a mark with tape on the drill bit. Also, a drill emerging from the end grain can tear out wood. Make sure the blank is long enough to account for possible tear out. Masking tape placed over the end grain of the pen blank can help reduce tear out. Also, keep in mind that this is an inexpensive lathe with rather high runout, so expect some difficulty drilling.
Gluing the Tube
Trimming the Blanks
The next step is to trim the wood exactly perpendicular to the pen tube, and to the exact length of the tube. At present, we have only one method of blank trimming: a universal pen trimmer. We anticipate getting a disk sanding jig at a future date.
Universal Pen Trimmer
- 7 mm
- 8 mm
- 3/8 inch
- 10 mm
The inserts contain reamers that will also trim dried glue from the inside of the tube. Additionally, the kit includes a brass tube that slips around the 7 mm reamer so it will fit tubes used for the Penn State Industries #PKPARK-PCL and #PKMONT-PCL kits.
It is helpful to secure the pen blank in a vise, or clamp it while trimming, which can help prevent tear-out. Chuck the trimmer in a drill and then trim the wood square and exactly flush with the tube, taking care not to shorten the tube appreciably.
Turning the Pen Body and Cap
We use a “mandrel saver” that slips on the end of the mandrel and has a Morse taper that fits in the tailstock. Apply enough tension using the tailstock ram so that the piece can be turned in the lathe securely, but avoid excess tension. Make sure both the tailstock is locked to the bed, and the ram is locked in the tailstock. If, when turning, you find that the wood catches on the lathe tool and stops while the mandrel still spins, that indicates inadequate ram pressure.
Then, turn the wood to the appropriate profile, according to the instructions and artistic preference. Keep in mind that the amount of wood on a typical pen may be less than 1 mm. The lathe tools have a tendency to gouge the wood and tear at the grain, so use lathe tools for rough shaping only, and approach the final diameter and profile with course sandpaper.
First, it will need to be sanded like any other lathe project. PS:One stocks sandpaper up to 400 grit. Remember to set the lathe at a slower speed.
Pens typically are finished to several thousand grit. At present, the user will need to provide their own fine sanding materials.
Always lay a paper towel on the bed of the lathe before applying any finish, oil, CA glue, or wax to keep the lathe bed clean.
Typically, there are two schools of thought on wood finishes. Finishes are a matter of personal taste.
CA glue is a hard, durable against wear, clear plastic finish that is inexpensive, easy to obtain, and easy to apply. It can be sanded and polished to a high gloss. The disadvantages of a CA finish are feel (the user is really feeling plastic, not the actual wood) and fragility (if the pen is dropped, the CA finish can crack and come off.) One method for applying a CA finish is shown in this video.
Friction finishes employ shellac, oils, and wax to create a glossy but more natural finish. They can be applied quickly but are more expensive to purchase. Ryan prefers friction finishes. His current method:
- He “wet sands” using these sanding pads that range from 500 grit to 4000 grit and walnut oil, wiping the piece clean after changing grits.
- He applies three coats of Pens Plus.
- He applies two or three coats of walnut oil microcrystalline paste wax.
This finishing process is shown in this video.