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How to Make a Wooden Pen

Horizontal Wooden Pen
Parker Style pen made from Brazilian Rosewood

Pen Turning can be an exciting and rewarding hobby. Of all of the things that can be made on a lathe, a turned pen is one of the easiest and most attractive products that you can produce. You can turn pens for gifts or to sell for extra money. Recently I gave three pens to my friends and co-workers as I left for a new job. They were touched by the gift, in part because of its beauty, but mostly because it was handmade by me personally for them.

So, you’ve decided to try pen making! Well here are the basics!

What do I need?

Lathe - obviously
Mandrel – A mandrel is basically a metal bar that fits between the centers on your lathe and holds your pen Blanks - for turning.
Bushings – Bushings are used to help shave your blanks down to the appropriate size for your pen kit.
Drill Bit – Appropriate size for pen kit
Drill Press – or a hand drill with a good steady jig
Table or Band Saw – if you plan to make your own blanks
Disc Sander – Optional, for squaring blanks
Clamps or Bench Vice – For pressing the parts together
Parts and Supplies
Pen Kit(s)
Wood blanks
Glue – usually CA (cyanoacrylate) glue (superglue)
Step 1 – Get a blank
The first thing you need is the "blank". What is a blank? A blank is a piece of materiel you use to make the pen out of. A blank can be made from wood, plastic, "crushed velvet", Corean, or a number of other materials. The blank will usually be ¾" x ¾" and around 5" long. You can purchase pre-cut blanks from most of the larger catalog companies. Or, they can be cut on a table or band saw from wood in your shop. A band saw is ideal for cutting blanks from expensive wood because its small kerf wastes less wood.
Step 2 – Cut the blanks
Next, you need to cut the blank into two pieces, one for the top and one for the bottom of the pen. (Read the instructions that came with your pen kit for the exact length.) Cut the blank slightly larger than the specified length. Here it is a good idea to mark the blank so you can match the grain pattern when assembling the pen.

Cut the Blank
Cutting the Blank
(Use Caution When Cutting Small Pieces)

Click To Enlarge

Step 3 – Square the ends
Now that you have cut the blanks to length, you need to square the ends. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT! If the ends are not perfectly square, the pen will show gaps and holes where the blank meets the fittings. The easiest way to do this is with a disc sander with a miter gauge. Sand the blank down to the specified length. Note: You can skip this step if you are sure you can cut the blank perfectly square.
HINT: If you are preparing a number of pens you can store the matched blanks in separate Styrofoam cups or a divided box.
Step 4 – Drill the blanks
Now you need to identify the center of your blank for drilling. To do this, draw an X from one corner to the opposite corner. The center of the X is the center of the blank! Refer to you pen kit instructions for the correct size bit. Make sure that your drill press table is perfectly perpendicular to your drill bit. It is very important that you drill the blank accurately. To hold the blank you can clamp it against the drill press fence, use a carpenter’s clamp to hold it, or use a jig like the one pictured.
Note: Drill slow and pull the bit out often to remove chips. It is very easy to ruin a blank by drilling too fast. A parabolic flute bit is excellent for expelling the chips.

Drill The Blank
Drilling the Blank
Click To Enlarge

Step 5 – Glue the blanks
Now you’re ready to glue the brass tubes into the blanks. Read the instructions that came with the pen kit to determine which tubes to use with which blanks. Test fit the tubes to ensure that they slide in easily. Rough the outside of the blanks up with a fine grit sandpaper to remove tarnish and ensure proper bonding. Now you need glue. You can use either CA (cyanoacrylate) glue or epoxy. Put a few drops of your glue in the end of the blank. Let it run to the other end while turning it to spread it out on the inside. Slide the tubes into the blank and set them on wax paper to dry.
Note: Keep a small hammer or block of wood handy to tap the blank in if they get stuck.

Gluing The Blank
Gluing the Blank
Click To Enlarge

Step 6 – Turn the blanks
After the glue has had time to dry, assemble the blanks on the mandrel with the proper bushings as the instructions direct. Different size bushings are used for different style pen kits. Tighten, but do not over-tighten the nut on the mandrel. Now secure the mandrel in your lathe. Position your tool rest as close to the blanks as you can without making contact. Turn the blanks by hand to ensure they will not contact the lathe. Set the lathe to its highest speed.

Turning the Blanks
Turning the Blank

Click To Enlarge

Put on your safety equipment and get ready to turn! Different wood turners will use different techniques. Most will use a ¾" gouge to bring the blanks to within a 1/16" of the bushings. Be careful not to go too far! Re-position the tool-rest closer to the blanks. Now you can switch to a skew chisel to finish off the blanks. If you are not comfortable finishing the blanks with a skew chisel, you can bring it down close and then use a small piece of board and sandpaper to finish the job. Be careful not to touch the bushings. You can damage a tool and/ or reduce their size.
Step 7 – Sand
Now sand the blanks with your favorite sandpaper and sanding techniques until you reach a smooth fine finish.

Sanding the Blanks
Sanding the Blank

Click To Enlarge

Step 8 – Finish the blank
There are many different pen finishes available on the market. PPP makes a wax that can be applied while the pen is turning on the lathe. Others are wiped on later.
Most glossy finishes will dull over time with use.

Finishing the Blanks
Finishing the Blank

Click To Enlarge

Step 9 – Assemble the pen
Here you will need to refer to your pen kit instructions. Different kits contain different parts and are assembled in different orders. For pens that push together a bench vice or "Quick Grip" clamp are excellent.

Assemble the Pen

Click To Enlarge

Step 10 – Admire your work
Congratulations, you should be looking at a beautiful pen, a pen that you made! If you plan to give it to someone as a gift or sell it, a pen box is an excellent way to dress up and display your handiwork.
Pen in Case


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