Turning pens – how to make your own pen

Posted by jerry on September 11th, 2007 — Posted in DIY, Journal, Woodwork

This is an easy project for the beginner, and shows you how to make your own pens using a lathe. The technique is the same whether for wood or acrylic pens.

pen making

Here’s what you need:
A lathe – can be a small cheap one, but should have a Morse #1 or #2 taper on the headstock (the part that spins your work).
I use just one chisel – a half-inch spindle gouge
pen making

A dust mask and safety visor or glasses
pen making

A saw – a hacksaw will do
A pen mandrel – to hold the pen parts while you turn them
pen making

A pen kit and A pen blank – this one is pre-drilled and has the brass tubes already fitted inside
pen making

A pencil – for marking where to cut and for lining up the grain if you are turning wood
Sandpaper – various grades (360,600,1500 grit)
Automotive cutting polish – for acrylic, or a wood finish of your choice

First take the pen blank and cut it roughly in half – I do this on a hobby bandsaw by holding it against the square set at 90 degrees and just advance it into the blade about one quarter, then rotate the pen blank in place until it separates – the two cut ends should be square to each other. You may need to sand it square if you cut it at a slight angle.

pen making

Insert the pen mandrel into the headstock – the taper should just slide in and hold. Now take the two parts and mount them on the mandrel – there should be three spacers and a brass screw.

Load a spacer, then a pen blank part, then a spacer, then the second pen blank part, then a spacer and the brass screw to tighten it – not too tight or you could distort the mandrel.

Now bring the tailstock up and lock it gently and accurately against the end of the mandrel.

Then set up the tool rest close to the centre of the work and rotate the headstock wheel by hand to ensure that nothing touches the tool rest.

For any turning it is a good idea to have a dust extractor of some kind, but whether you do or not it is important to wear a dust mask and something to protect your eyes from flying chips – a visor or safety glasses. You do not want to breathe acrylic dust or fine sawdust, and you don’t want anything to hit your eyes or to irritate them.

Making sure your chisel is sharp – use whatever you prefer – some people do the whole thing with a skew chisel, but I prefer a half-inch spindle gouge – on small square stock it can also double as a roughing gouge – so you can use one chisel for the whole operation.

Set the lathe on about 3000rpm for timber or about 1500rpm for acrylic.

And turn to shape – The spacers on the mandrel are the same as the diameters of the internal parts, so I first shave the four ends of the pen blank down to just shy of the spacers – you can creep up on the final diameter in a moment.

I wouldn’t get too fancy with the shape – aim for slender consistent cylinders with just a nice rounded shoulder down to the spacers, stopping regularly to check the profile and to clear out the strands of acrylic that wrap around the work and the mandrel.

pen making

It’s a good idea to hold a white piece of paper behind each time you stop so you can better see the profile. When you have a nice smooth cylinder and you’ve eliminated any bumps or uneven parts, it’s time for the finishing.

Leave the blank on the lathe, but remove the tool rest. Now switch on the lathe again and sand gently – moving quickly from one end to the other – to prevent overheating of any one section. Do not wrap the sandpaper around your finger! Start with the coarser grit an move to progressively finer grits until the blank feels quite smooth and silky.

If you are using acrylic, now is the time for polish – load a little automotive cutting polish onto a rag and again, without wrapping it round your finger, apply the polish to the piece while the lathe is spinning. And then buff it with a clean piece of rag until it shines with a high gloss.

pen making

Now you are ready for assembly. Unscrew the brass keeper from the mandrel and slide the two components off, remembering to keep them the same way round.

Take what will be the writing end and press the cone-shaped piece onto the end using a vice, drill press, clamp, or even the cheapest pen press of the lot – a grout press – about $1.50 from your hardware store!

pen making
It’s crude but effective! That said, a vice is more progressive and has more ‘feel’.

Next insert the riser mechanism into the writing end – this way round
pen making
But just ease the bronze bit in and go no further until you insert the refill and ensure that it extends beyond the point, but also retracts beneath the point when you rotate the silver part.

Now for the upper part. insert the small brass cap through the loop of the clip and press this into the upper blank. Now slide a spacer ring over the refill and slide the upper over the silver part of the riser and press it snugly home against the brass spacer.

And there you have the completed pen
pen making


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[…] Jerry who was also on leave, in the meanwhile has been in the shed turning pens. This is one he made for me. […]

Posted on September 19, 2007 at 6:41 am

Comment by David

I just starting out in turning pens, etc and would appreciate any tips that you might pass along.


Posted on February 3, 2008 at 4:39 am

Comment by Mike

Wow, this is a great tutorial that is especially helpful for beginners. I just made a site to help newbies learn more about penturning. Feel free to check it out at http://penturning.info and tell me what you think.

Posted on July 2, 2008 at 2:32 pm

Comment by Wood Turner

Great tutorial. I like all the visuals you’ve included. Really nicely done!

Posted on November 17, 2008 at 8:14 pm

Comment by jerry

Thanks for the comment Chistina/Wood Turner – Readers – you should check out her blog by clicking on the name 🙂


Posted on November 17, 2008 at 9:03 pm

Comment by Tool design

Interesting, never know that we can make our own pen like that. Should try it out once I have the time.
Thanks for sharing.

Posted on October 8, 2009 at 5:06 pm

Comment by jerry

Thanks for the comment – I’ve since made some new ones out of Australian Jarrah wood 🙂


Posted on October 10, 2009 at 7:50 am

Comment by Sherwin Moss

I’ve been looking for pen kits for wall street II. I’m having trouble finding them. Would the kits be under a different style name? Thanks

Posted on May 18, 2010 at 11:51 am

Comment by jerry

If you do a search using the term ‘pen kits’ you should reveal a number of suppliers in your country


Posted on May 18, 2010 at 6:44 pm

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