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How I Make My Pens

Portrait of WilliamThere are a number of ways to make pens. But, each pen that is offered here for sale is handmade, there are no mass-produced, store-bought pens on the website. I turn the body of each pen and combine it with the fine hardware to make a unique, handcrafted pen. The picture you see is the pen you will receive - there are no 'representative' pictures of pens.

Here is an overview of how I approach making pens.

Style of Pens

First, there are quite a number of pen styles to choose from. Although there are probably hundreds of styles, I have selected a few that I personally like, that fit good in the hand, that work reliably and have a good canvas from which to work. This is important to me, as I view the entire pen a work of art, not just one component.

Each style has a different technique and a different way of approaching the way I make the pen. Some styles start with larger pieces of wood (called blanks), others use smaller pieces. Some require tenons (a piece of wood with a smaller diameter), others don't. Some require difference sizes of holes in the cap and body, some are the same. All have a difference in hardware (the metal parts) that requires special attention to the details.

Selection of Materials

Pens can be made out of quite a number of materials. I make them out of Wood, Acrylic, Antlers / Bone, Stone, Resins, hard surface materials, and even other exotic materials. Each poses a unique challenge in turning. But, all start with the proper selection of materials - looking for that special piece of wood, grain, color or texture that will make a work of art. Careful selection of the material, proper planning on how and where to cut and shape the blank, makes a big difference to the final product.

Pen Preparation

In order to make a good pen, you need to find good materials, but then you need to decide how that material will look when cut / turned. Plus, you need to start to make some decisions on whether the hardware will be titanium, platinum, gold, silver, black, etc. so you can decide how you will finish the pen.

Each blank will be cut, into one, two or sometimes three pieces. These blank segments are then prepared by drilling a hole, through the segments. It is through these holes that a mandrel (a long, machined rod) will be placed which then mounts on the lathe. Some pens have closed-ends, where you do not drill a hole through the wood.

Each blank segment then has a metal tube affixed inside it (there are exceptions), and the ends of these segments are then squared. This is to make sure that when the pen  is assembled later, everything lines up and works smoothly and effortlessly.

Turning the Pen

Once the glue has cured and dried, I then assemble the pen on the mandrel, put it on the lathe, and I can start the turning process. There are a number of shapes that can be created. Pens can have a slight taper, a gentle bow or bulge, or had a radical design. Not all pens even have to be turned. Some can have segmented sides. It really is up to me on how I want to shape the piece of wood, and I try to look at the blank and decide what will look the best. This hand shaping is critical as it determines the final look and function of the pen.

Finishing the Pen

Once the pen has been turned to shape, it is time to finish the pen. This is usually, the most time consuming part of the process. Although it is straightforward to describe, it is difficult to master. Each pen is sanded - many times. Some pen materials require more sanding (such as wood), others a little less (such as acrylics. But, the basic process is to sand progressively, through finer and finer grits. You have to take your time, cleaning the pen between each grit. I usually start with a sandpaper grit of around 180 and then progress up through 220, 320, 400, 600, 800 and maybe 1200 using a dry sanding process.

Once this has been completed, a decision has to be made on the type of finish to apply to the pen. Finishes can vary from several types of friction finishes and polishes, to lacquers to CA (Cyanoacrylate) glue. I typically use the CA finish on wood, as it leaves a mirror finish, polishes well, and is very durable. But, I often use a traditional friction finish or lacquer, for people who like to 'feel' the natural wood. It is completely a personal preference.

After the finish is applied, then the final sanding and polishing starts. Again, I use a series of progressively finer sandpapers and synthetic mesh products, but they are typically polished wet with water. Acrylics have the same process, but end with a liquid finish. Each type of material and finish has its own techniques, but usually I start with around 400, working up through 600, 800, 1200, 1500, 1800, 2400, 3200, 3600, 4000, 6000, 8000 and finally, 12000 grits. Yes, that's 13 difference times my hands are polishing the finish. Combined with the 7 steps to sand, makes 20 times that I am sanding and finishing each and every handmade pen. But, boy, when it is done - wow.

The very last step, is a buffing with a fine polish that makes the finish really pop.

Pen Assembly

The last step is to assemble the pen. Like a fine piece of music, this is where all the parts come together in harmony. I select the hardware style, hardware color and finish that I think complement or accent the pen. Assembly is straightforward, which consists mostly of pressing (or gluing) the parts permanently together, assembly of components, placing in the ink cartridge and a little hand polishing at the end. The last thing I do - take a picture.

Conclusion

I hope that this gives you a little insight into how I make the pens. Although it takes many hours to make each pen, their beauty is timeless.