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The Process of Making a Handmade Pen

There are a number of ways to make a handcrafted pen, each as different as the artist.  But, fundamentally, each artist ends up with a process that consists of selecting the materials, crafting the pen components, and then final assembly.  Here is one process that will work for making a handcrafted wood pen.

Selecting Materials for the Pen

Inspiration.  It starts the process, and once an artist is inspired they need materials with which to create.  All artists need to start with their material palette.  For painters, this can consists of selecting the type of canvas material, the types of paints, brushes and framing materials.  For an artist making handmade wooden pens, the type of the wood and the types of metal hardware are two of the key components.

Often, you have an idea with which to start, but won't know where you will end up until you are well down the path.  You may select one type of material to start with, such as a Gabon Ebony wood and silver hardware, but once started, events may conspire to change your direction.  The wood may exhibit more color, less color, or different colors than you expected.  Remaining agile during the creative process is key.

Crafting the Wood Pen

There are many options available to create and shape the body of the wood pen.  One of the most popular is to turn the pen on a wood lathe.  This results in a round body (single body, upper / lower bodied pens) that can be easily held in the hand. A wood lathe is used to hold the wood blank, which will be mounted on a mandrel.  The lathe turns the wood blank while the craftsman will use a variety of wood-turning tools to remove wood from the blank.  The result is a cylindrical pen that is usually tapered from end-to-end.

The pen's body can be turned to be straight, have a slight bow, taper, curve or can have beads, groves or other decorations included.  Many options exist, and it is only limited by the imagination of the artist.  Not all pens need to be turned round, as pens can be hexagonal and have other interesting shapes.

Once the pen body has been shaped, it is typically sanded and then a finish is applied.  There are some pens that are simply sanded and then a wax topcoat applied, which is called a friction finish.  I prefer to apply a more durable finish, such as lacquer or other resin topcoat, as it is more durable and water-resistant and lets the grain 'pop' through the finish.

Final Assembly

Once the pen body has been finished, and the pen hardware has been selected, the final assembly process can commence.  Each style of pen can have different steps on how it needs to be assembled, but the following steps are usually common:

  • Pressing the nib into the lower body
  • Assembly of the clip and top
  • Pressing the top / clip assembly into the upper body
  • Assembly of the middle decoration band
  • Insertion of springs and ink cartridge
  • Pressing the upper body and lower body together
  • Final inspection and polishing

The above sequence is typical of the assembly steps, although some steps may not be required.  A single bodied pen doesn't have an upper and lower body, as it has only one segment.  There are many, many variations, depending upon whether the pen is a twist-style pen, or a click pen.  Pencil kits can have additional steps.  Fountain pens and rollerball pens have options of the installation of ink cartridge assemblies as well as a more complicated body assembly.

The key to a successful assembly process is to pay close attention to the details.  It is these details are what set apart a simple pen from one that has been crafted with care and great attention to quality.  For example, it is very important that the ends of the body are perfectly square to the tubes, otherwise small gaps may appear around the area where the top clip and nib meet the body.  Additionally, careful attention needs  to be observed where any joint exists to make sure it is flush, sound and tight after assembly.

It is this process that is critical and it is paramount not to forget any small step, or take shortcuts.  Selecting the material, crafting the pen, and performing final assembly are all key steps in a successful pen-making process.  Overlooking steps or taking shortcuts is almost always a reason that the pen will be of lower quality.  If careful attention is paid to these steps, then a quality handmade pen will result.