Pen Making Process
The feature point of each pen is the incredible wood with which it’s made. ‘Pen Blank’ is the term given to a piece of material which has been cut down to the correct size for an individual pen - this is generally 20mm x 20mm and anywhere from 5-15cm long, depending on the type of pen. Pen blanks can be wood, acrylic, resin or a combination. A number of higher end pens will use a combination of wood and resin which in itself has been carefully crafted. The contrast between wood and resin makes an outstanding piece of air in itself, but goes to a new level when made into a pen.
The ‘pen kit’ is a pre-purchased assortment of components, which when paired up with the wood, create the pen. The kit includes brass tubes which are glued through the middle of the pen blank, an ink refill (be that parker, cross or rollerball style), an end cap and a tip - different pen kits include different components, but these are the most common. The picture to the left shows the different components for the Slimline pen kit pictures coming soon)
Once the pen blank and kit are chosen, the blank is then cut into lengths slightly longer than the length of the inner brass tubes. The middle of the pen blank is then located by drawing cross markings on one end - this is to ensure that the drill bit enters as close to the middle of the pen blank as possible. The blank is then put into a vice ready for drilling. Each pen kit has different diameter brass tubes, which determine the size of drill bit required. In this example, we are making a Slimline pen which requires 7mm sized holes. Using a pen blank chuck on one end of the lathe and a drill chuck on the tailstock of the lathe, we advance the drill bit into the blank, which drills a perfectly centred hole.
After the holes are drilled, we then glue the brass tube into the pen blank. Firstly, the brass tube is scuffed with sandpaper. A moderate amount of Medium CA glue (super glue) is then applied around the entire brass tube and the tube is then inserted into the pen blank (to avoid getting CA glue on skin, a pen tube insertion tool is used). The CA glue now needs time to cure - I generally allow 24 hours to ensure the glue is fully cured however this is not necessary. The pen blank now needs to be ‘squared up’ - basically we need to bring the wood at each end of the pen blank down to the level of the brass tube. To do this, we use a pen mill which is inserted into the drill and uses 4-6 sharp cutters to drill down to the start of the brass tube. This ensures we are turning the correct length of wood on the lathe.
The lathe - where the blank turns into a pen!
Now we move the pen blank to the lathe to begin turning it into a cylindrical shape. Bushings are used to show us where the pen blank needs to be cut down to, to match the pen kit components - as such, each different type of pen kit uses different bushings. The order of items which are put onto the lather are: Bushing - Pen Blank - Bushing - Pen Blank. These sit on a pen mandrel which keeps the parts aligned on the lathe.
Using sharp turning chisels, we then start to turn the pen blank down. Starting by moving across the entire pen blank to remove the corners, the blank will slowly become more cylindrical. Once a cylinder is made, we will begin rounding the ends of the blank down to the bushings, stopping just a few millimetres shy of the bushings - this will allow us to perfect the shape while doing our final passes with the skew chisel and when sanding.
Now that each end of the blank is the correct shape, we begin to turn the rest of the blank to the desired shape - the slimline kit can be turned with large ‘bulbs’ in the middle of it which gives us a chunkier pen, or can be cut right down to create a very slim pen. Once the desired shape is completed, we then use the skew chisel to make the final adjustments to the shape and ensure the blank is smooth and without any high/low spots.
Now that the shape of the pen has been created, we’ll start to sand the blank starting at 120 grit paper and moving through to between 600 grit. With the lathe on a medium-high speed, we commence sanding from 120grit which is used to finalise the shape of the blank and bring it right down to the height of the bushing. From there we sand using 240, 400 and then 600 grit paper, stopping the lathe after each grit to sand along the grain of the wood.
To finish a Harris Pen, we use multiple layers of CA glue (fancy name for super glue) which creates a very thin, protective layer across the length of the pen. Very small amounts of CA are built up over a number of passes to give the pen a fantastic shine and a strong coating to ensure the pen lasts. Initially we use thin CA glue and add 4-6 layers, then use Medium CA glue to add another 4-6 layers. Then we use micromesh sanding pads to completely smooth out the blank (micromesh pads are very fine grit pads working from 1500 grit to 12000 grit). Polish is added as the last step to give the pen an incredible shine.
After we finish polishing the blank, it's time to press the pen together. A ‘pen press’ is used to ensure all the components line up correctly and that a tight fit is made between parts. The pressing of each pen is different from kit to kit but follows the same principle -be careful and take your time. One miss-press and the pen kit and blank can easily be ruined.
Firstly we carefully line up the pen barrel with the first component (being the tip in this case). Ensuring the tip is straight, we press that into one end of the barrel. Next we will press in the twisting mechanism. After that, we move to the second barrel where we press in the clip and end cap at the same time. From there, we add in the centre band and then firmly press the second barrel into the first.
And there you have it - your hand crafted pen is complete!