Putting a Blank Through its Paces: a brief view of the pen-making process

How a Pen is Made

 blanks on mandrel (1) Here we have the two pieces of Mango Burl from Hawaii on the a lathe mandrel.  The wood starts as a rough cut piece of wood, then it's milled down to the approximate size of the future pen.  After the blank is cut and milled, a hole is drilled lengthwise through each piece; that's where the pen's internal hardware will be stored.  The arrows and scribble on the wood is to make sure the grain of the upper and lower barrels line up properly during final assembly. 

(1a) These are some of the hardware parts that go into making the pen -- the finial, clip, cartridge, couplers, cartridge, and pen tip. This particular set is for a Black Titanium Navigator Rollerball pen. 


vag shot(2) The next stage in the process is roughing out the pen's shape on the lathe.  The wood is spun at high speed and various chisels carve and cut the blanks down to size.  
(3) After roughing out the blank, the blank is sanded to 12,000 grit, starting with 150 grit paper and working my way up. Patience while sanding is key to bringing out the fine texture of burled wood.

(4) A closeup shot of the pen barrel during the sanding process.  With burled woods, there's often voids and unpredictable grain patterns, which makes turning every piece of wood a process of discovery.  


 close up of the mango burl 


The Finishing Stages

(5) After sanding to 12,000 grit, the finishing process begins with applying thin coats of epoxy, the grain really starts to pop. Epoxy finishes are preferable when dealing with delicate burled woods, they help fortify the wood and fill naturally occurring voids.  There are many other ways to finish a pen -- some giving the pen a glassy feel and appearance, others giving the pen a satin gloss sheen that lets you feel the grain. The finish with most woods really depends on the wood and your preference!   
 cock pic(6) After applying 30 coats of epoxy, the pen sits for 24 hours to allow the epoxy to harden and be ready for the next step...
(7) Sanding! Burnishing! Buffing! After the epoxy has hardened, it's wet sanded to glassy perfection.  After sanding, I like to burnish and even out the pen with super fine steel wool.  After the steel wool, it's time for multiple coats of shellac friction polish, which deepens the gloss and glow of the wood.  Lastly, buffing the pen -- this is done with a 3 step process of apply buffing compounds and bringing it up to the desired shine.
(8) Finally, it's time to put it all together. In the inimitable words of Hannibal, I love it when a plan comes together.
 crackers and gravy