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Pen Turning

You must know by now that we love a good recycling story. Have you seen what Nespresso is doing to recycle the aluminum from their coffee capsules? They have partnered with Switzerland based designer Caran d’Ache to make pens! It’s made of 25% recycled aluminum that comes directly from their product. 25% may not seem like such an impressive figure, but we know that companies need to start somewhere, and we are impressed with the initiative Nespresso made in 2016, launching their Second Life project. They offer consumers a chance to trade their used product into points. Not only do they recycle the aluminum, but they also compost the grounds into fertilizer!

There’s something else we love, you might know what’s coming…it’s manufacturing. We are excited to bring you a tutorial on how to make your very own pen! You can use kits to make these, or if your lathe skills are on point and you want to start from scratch, check out our ABS or HDPE rods! We hope you enjoy our tutorial, and if you’ve made one yourself, we’d love to see the pictures.

Here we go! We’re going to assume if you are as into manufacturing as we are that you have access to a drill press and a lathe and are familiar with how to operate them safely. If you have a shoestring budget we have heard of people who successfully made pens with nothing more than a hand drill, a saw, sandpaper and a lot of patience and determination.

To start, you will need a pen kit, a pen turning mandrel and a set of micro mesh pen sanding pads. There are many companies that sell kits online. A kit comes with all of the hardware that you need to assemble a pen, fountain pen or mechanical pencil depending on your preference.

Depending on the kit you select, you will have one or more tubes that you can decorate with materials of your choice to make a custom looking pen. The kit should also come with instructions explaining the drill sizes to use for drilling the tubes, what bushings to use on the mandrel and any other special notes on shaping the body of the pen to fit the supplied hardware.

Our pen has two tubes and our blank has an interesting three dimensional orange texture. In our case, we want to remember the orientation of the blocks so that the pattern seems to flow from one section to the next.

Place the two tubes on the blank and mark a dividing line near the center of the block. Adjust the position of the line if one of the tubes is larger than half the length of the block. If you are wondering what to do if both tubes are larger than half the length of the block, then maybe you shouldn’t be considering a hobby that involves power tools!

Add a mark on either side of the line to make it easy to determine which way to orient the blocks later so that the design/grain matches up. Next, make a mark on the block at the other end of each tube. Eventually, each piece of the blank will need to be trimmed to match the length of its tube. How much extra you leave now is based on your ability to cut the blank square and accuracy at gluing the tube inside and how much edge tearing of the hole your drill will do. Once you are finished marking the blocks, cut along the lines.

The next step is to drill a hole down the center of each blank. You will need a drill with the correct diameter to make a clearance hole for the tube and long enough to go completely through the cut blank.

If you have a centering vice, this step will be easy, otherwise, use a straight edge to mark a line from corner to corner on the edge face of one of the blocks and use the X as a guide to center the drill and position and secure the blank. Don’t attempt to drill through the blank while holding it by hand. Once the holes are drilled, test fit the tubes to make sure they slide freely into the blank. Once you are happy with the fit it’s time to glue the tubes into the blank sections.

Use a slow setting glue until you are comfortable with the process. Once the tubes are securely glued into the blank sections, the excess material need to be trimmed. There are many ways of doing this, the easiest is with a pen mill. The pen mill will trim the plastic and will also clean excess glue out of the tube. The excess material can also be cut off, sanded away or removed on a lathe.

Now that the blanks are ready, it’s time to mount them on the lathe. To do this, we use a mandrel. At one end, the mandrel will have a tapered end that mounts in the lathe chuck, a partially threaded body and at the other end an indent for the lathe tailstock. The bushings that came with the pen kit are pushed into the ends of the blank, and then slipped onto the mandrel, then some washers and a threaded nut are used to hold the blanks securely on the mandrel. The bushings not only separate the blanks, but also indicate the diameter of the hardware pieces that will attach to the blank sections. Check the instructions that came with the pen kit and make sure that bushings and the blanks are assembled in the correct order and orientation.

Once the parts are correctly mounted on the mandrel and the mandrel is mounted in the lathe, it’s time to turn the lathe on and get to the creative part.

Initially, the blank will be square, so the first task will be to take the corners off and round the blanks. Once that is done, trim the ends of each blank so that they are the same diameter as the bushings and shaped according to the instructions so that the pen hardware will fit on each end.

Once the mandatory steps are out of the way, the rest of the body can be shaped in whatever way you like. When you are finished, move the tool rest out of the way, and start polishing the pen with the micro mesh sanding pads. Start with the most coarse pad and work your way to the finest and as you do it you will see the material form a glass like finish.

Once the pen body is finished to your satisfaction, turn the lathe off and remove and disassemble the mandrel. Be careful with placing the pen body parts if you care about the alignment. Collect the rest of the pen hardware and follow the instructions in assembling the finished pen. Some of the pieces of hardware require a snug friction fit, so if you have difficulties pressing the parts together, you can use a clamp or a vice to provide some additional force.

Once you are finished assembling it, you will have a custom handmade pen!

Did you like the tutorial? Would you like to see more of them? We've got a great video on our YouTube page on how to machine a plastic ball. Check it out!


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