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How do you make pens?

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How do you make pens?

Postby Peri » 19 Dec 2023, 19:47

Just been reading Steve's post about acquiring a lathe, and Bob's reply where he mentions making pens.

At work (a college), we teach a variety of metal turning activities on a dozen big old Harrelsons, Colchesters and a few XYZ lathes.

At the end of the turning unit we've been trying to come up with a 'stretch & challenge' job for the students, something useful that they can take away and keep, but doesn't take too long to make - depending on what's involved, a nice pen sounds almost perfect.

I've no idea where to start - anyone have any good guides/tips/advice to share?

Cheers :)
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Re: How do you make pens?

Postby Andyp » 19 Dec 2023, 20:53

Steve, I’m no expert and many others on here have made far more than me but this might help

viewtopic.php?f=24&t=8149&p=136242&hilit=Celtic+knot#p136242

A couple of things are needed. Firstly is the mechanism which comes in kit form from any of the turning suppliers, Axminster, turners retreat etc. The kits contain a couple of brass tubes which must be fitted into accurately drilled holes in a couple of wooden blanks prior to turning.
Also needed is a mandrel which holds the one, or two, blanks required central on the lathe during turning.
No special gouges required, do mine with just a roughing gouge, bowl gouge and sandpaper.
Plenty of tutorials on youtube .

Really not difficult to achieve very passable results.
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Re: How do you make pens?

Postby Lons » 19 Dec 2023, 20:58

Hi Steve

I make pens mostly out of wood and acrylic/resin materials but have mde a few aluminium and brass pens as well as using spent shell cases, all on a wood turning lathe but there are people who use a metal lathe and no reason at all why not. Have a poke around on youtube as I've seen metal bolt acction pens done this way. Standard kit pens as mostly used wouldn't stretch your students. You're going to have to provide some parts i.e. bladder and nib for a fountain pen, refils for other types or a pencil variation is a good one. Maybe look at some of the kit inructions for ideas of how to modify into a project from scratch.

Google turning pens or drop me a pm and I'll see if I can dig out some info.

Edit
Andy beat me to a reply. I'd overlooked the word "quick" in which case a pen kit might well be suitable. Slimeline kits can be very cheap and if using metal for the body you just need accurate holes rather than glue in tubes and if you want to challenge then thread and tapped parts, handmade clips, you can make it as simple or difficult as you wish.
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Re: How do you make pens?

Postby Phil Pascoe » 19 Dec 2023, 21:08

You have a PM.
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Re: How do you make pens?

Postby Peri » 19 Dec 2023, 22:04

Thank you all.

Bob - that sounds great. As part of their basic skills course they learn threading, tapping, taper turning, knurling etc. Incorporating those skills would be ideal.

Phil - replied :)
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Re: How do you make pens?

Postby Woodbloke » 19 Dec 2023, 23:11

Something I'll be trying my hand at in the New Year as there's one or two packages under Christmas tree to help as well as a few simple pen kits in an old biscuit tin in the 'shop. I was shown how to make one recently and I was impressed how straight forward a simple kit is to make though there are plenty that are more complex - Rob
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Re: How do you make pens?

Postby Lons » 19 Dec 2023, 23:35

Woodbloke wrote:Something I'll be trying my hand at in the New Year as there's one or two packages under Christmas tree to help as well as a few simple pen kits in an old biscuit tin in the 'shop. I was shown how to make one recently and I was impressed how straight forward a simple kit is to make though there are plenty that are more complex - Rob

They can be as simple or as difficult as you wish Rob though I don't think any of the kits are akwarkward to make up so it's down to the materials and variations like segmenting or shape. I made a brass bodied pen on a standard fountain pen kit but made the body hexagonal section which was a pita, I used rod I already had but should have bought hex standard stock. :lol: That reminds me, I have a Beall Pen Wizard not used these days, must dig it out and sell on, a clever little tool.

Enjoy your Christmas pressies, Im building up the fund to buy a cheapish laser engraver but the choice is bewildering. :eusa-think:
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Re: How do you make pens?

Postby wallace » 20 Dec 2023, 09:35

The cheapest and easiest are slimline pens, a mandrel, drill bit and the medium you want to use is all that is needed. I made 150 and sold them to raise money to save a local building.
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Re: How do you make pens?

Postby Andyp » 20 Dec 2023, 09:47

Something, I, we, have forgot to mention to the OP are guide bushings. These are sold along with the kit and are placed on the mandrel at the end and in between the blanks. They act as a guide to ensure the blanks are turned to right diameter to match the size of various parts of the kit.
i guess engineering students working on a metalwork lathe would be well capable of hitting the right diameter without the need of these bushes.
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Re: How do you make pens?

Postby StevieB » 20 Dec 2023, 10:26

Lons wrote: Im building up the fund to buy a cheapish laser engraver but the choice is bewildering. :eusa-think:


I have a bit of experience with lasers for wood, but not metal engraving - might be able to help a bit however if you want to ask any questions?
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Re: How do you make pens?

Postby Lons » 20 Dec 2023, 10:49

StevieB wrote:
Lons wrote: Im building up the fund to buy a cheapish laser engraver but the choice is bewildering. :eusa-think:


I have a bit of experience with lasers for wood, but not metal engraving - might be able to help a bit however if you want to ask any questions?


Sorry Steve that's exactly what I mean. I'm just looking at botton end machines as I'll get the rolling eyes treatment from the missus if I spend a lot on what she sees as a new toy (as if :lol: ) I have a friend who bought a Sculpfun S9 a couple of years ago and added an air assist module. He's happy with it so mabe that make in S10 or other guise but there appear to be loads available. Anyway I'm still trying to justify a purchase to myself really, I rarely buy anything quickly.
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Re: How do you make pens?

Postby Lons » 20 Dec 2023, 11:00

Andyp wrote:i guess engineering students working on a metalwork lathe would be well capable of hitting the right diameter without the need of these bushes.


I've turned a number of pens between centres without a mandrel or bushes and a couple of all metal pens held in a standard 4 jaw chuck on the wood lathe so should be even easier on the metal lathe. If they can cut tapers ( I struggle :oops: ) they'll handle it.
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Re: How do you make pens?

Postby SamQ aka Ah! Q! » 20 Dec 2023, 11:50

This is one of Bob's. He knows how to make a nice one.

IMG_20231220_104614[1].jpg
(119.29 KiB)


I use it frequently, nice heft, good mechanism, feels nice in the hand. (Mine are big mitts; I regualrly used to bust gloves open).
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Re: How do you make pens?

Postby Woodbloke » 20 Dec 2023, 12:59

wallace wrote:The cheapest and easiest are slimline pens....


I've got two or three of those to start with plus a few others inc a pair of Penn State stainless steel jobbies from Ax. Much more expensive but SWIMBO said she'd like one as well as me and the other el cheapo ones can be stuffed in her handbag and taken into work - Rob
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Re: How do you make pens?

Postby Lons » 20 Dec 2023, 13:39

That was one of my rejects Sam, why do you think I gave it to you. ;) :lol: Actually I'd forgotten. 303 empty shells x2 used, pretty simple, just don't take it with you when you go back to Belfast or you might get pulled at the airport, stood against a wall and shot.

My brother took some over to Sydney, forgot to take them out of his pocket and all hell broke loose. :lol:
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Re: How do you make pens?

Postby StevieB » 20 Dec 2023, 15:07

Lons wrote: Sorry Steve that's exactly what I mean. I'm just looking at botton end machines as I'll get the rolling eyes treatment from the missus if I spend a lot on what she sees as a new toy (as if :lol: ) I have a friend who bought a Sculpfun S9 a couple of years ago and added an air assist module. He's happy with it so mabe that make in S10 or other guise but there appear to be loads available. Anyway I'm still trying to justify a purchase to myself really, I rarely buy anything quickly.


Mods - feel free to move to a new thread if this is a derail.

So there are generally 2 types of lasers of interest to woodworkers, diode lasers and CO2 lasers. Diode lasers are cheap (circa £200-400) and not particularly powerful. There are a range of makers but pretty much all are from Banggood or similar vendors and ship direct from China, although some are now appearing on Amazon etc. Power is somewhat meaningless but generally these will be stated as in the range of 5w to 20w, potentially creeping up to 40w. The will tend to be on a box frame that is not in a protective case. So at the lower end you have x-tool, Sculpfun etc In terms of cutting capacity, you will require multiple passes to cut even 3mm plywood and they tend to be fairly slow. There is reason many youtube video's speed up the cutting part! While you can cut timber up to 6mm and thicker, it will effectively be unusable given the scorch marks etc on the wood. If you want to cut veneer, some forms of plastic (perspex) or thin ply then they can be useful for this. They are hugely accurate even at the cheaper end (0.1mm generally) but you do need to build a case for them, be prepared to 'fiddle' and 'tweak' to get optimal settings and generally it is a toy rather than a production machine. I had a Sculpfun X9 and it was great fun but definitely a hobby tool.

At the top end of this range, you get the likes of Glowforge, which are still diode lasers and have limits, but have a case, are better designed and have better QC etc. You pay for this obviously, but their capacities and speeds, as well as the number of passes required to cut anything substantial, are still limited. You also need to factor in software as an additional expense (everyone uses lightburn eventually as the de facto gold standard). Not a production machine by any means, but probably good enough for a serious hobby user, prototyping and possibly small batch runs of thin material.

The CO2 lasers use, as you would expect, a proper CO2 tube and generate a big, powerful laser. Typically 40-150w, they are streets apart from a diode laser. They will cut 6-9mm plywood in a single pass, operate at much higher speeds and require a cooling system as well. These are production machines capable of running batch jobs and for longer periods. Price wise they are going to be £2k upwards, with UK sources probably £5-6k upwards. The best 'budget' CO2 lasers are probably OmTech, which ship from China but then do QC in the US before shipping on to the end user. These are available via Amazon etc and there are plenty of video's and youtube links etc. I currently have an 80W OmTech and it is a fantastic bit of kit although I do not use it for production work.

Between diodes and CO2 lasers you might find reference to a 'K40' laser, which was originally a powerful diode laser but with a very limited bed size, but these seem to be largely going out of favour now the price of CO2 lasers has fallen.

Worth noting that none of the above will engrave metal, for that you would need a fibre laser but I have no experience of these.

If you have specific queries let me know, but hopefully hte above is a starter for 10.
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Re: How do you make pens?

Postby Lons » 20 Dec 2023, 17:38

Thanks for all that Steve, more than a little interesting. My missus would divorce me if I spent a couple of grand on a laser. Many of the cheapos nearly state they will engrave on metals so that clearly isn't true and I was rather sceptical,
I haven't seen my mates S9 as he lives in the deep south but I believe he maily uses 2 and 3mm ply.
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Re: How do you make pens?

Postby akirk » 10 Feb 2024, 19:03

I would have slightly different views to the above to add into the pot…

I have a 20w diode laser - xTool D1Pro
it will happily cut 10mm oak and I cut out the pieces for this doll’s cradle on it…

a diode laser is so much easier and simpler than a co2 laser - mine sits in the rafters, I lift it down and it is ready to go, no fragile laser system etc…

there is little I would want to use a laser for that this won’t do…
it is though better to ideally have 20w+ of power to cut as the small cheap lasers will only engrave and not cut - cutting opens up a lot of options…

to stay roughly on topic, I also have a rotary attachment which allows you to engrave pens!

IMG_0072.jpeg
(37.52 KiB)

IMG_0073.jpeg
(35.81 KiB)
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