How does Opa make a pen?

How do you do that?

This is the question I am asked most often when I show someone a pen.

This page shows the techniques, the tools, the supplies and the process used to make a pen. This page shows the creation of an 'Ursa I' style pen, however, the process is similar for all types of pens.

Let's get started.

Step 1:
I choose the pen blank from the 'stash.' For this pen, I chose Bethlehem Olive Wood (BOW).

Step 2:
I select the style of pen. This is what a hardware package looks like when I receive it.

Step 3:
For now, I need only the brass tubes from the hardware package, so we take those out of the bag, and put the bag in the 'waiting for completion' spot.

Step 4:
I examine the blank for particular grain patterns, especially on a highly figured blank such as the BOW. Then, I mark the blank where I want to cut it and draw arrows on to help me position it on the lathe in the way that makes the grain look continuous from one end of the pen to the other. You may notice that I marked this one, then rethought it and marked it a second time.

Step 5:
I use the band saw to cut the pen blank where I marked it.

Step 6:
The blanks are cut to match the length of the tubes. In this pen the tubes are the same diameter, but different lengths. In some pens the tubes are the same lengths and diameters. And, in many pens, the diameter of the tube differs from one end of the pen to the other.

Step 7:
I mark the center of each blank...

Step 8:
...and then I drill it. I have a special vice that helps to center the blank under the bit.

Step 9:
I check to see how straight the holes are.

Step 10:
I shine the tubes up with relatively coarse sandpaper to remove the oxidation and to give the glue a surface it can grip. Next, I press one end of each tube into a sheet of baseplate (dental) wax to plug it. That keeps the glue out of the tube.

Step 11:
On most pens, I use use CA glue in the thickest grade. 'Instant' is a relative term. The tubes 'stick' within a minute but it can take 24 hours or longer before the glue sets up. I use epoxy on some pens, and on a few pens even use 'Gorilla glue'.

Step 12:
I put a dab of glue in the end of the blank away from the end into which I insert the tube.

Step 13:
I put three or four lines of glue down the tube. I capture the tube in a dry spot with the nail of the index finger of my left hand so I can twist the tube as I insert it into the blank. Twisting spreads the glue evenly around the tube.

Step 14:
This shows the tubes glued into the blank. They are resting until the glue is set up and ready to turn.

Time passes....

...and passes...

Step 15:
These blanks set for about 24 hours and are ready to turn. First, I still have to do some preparatory work. This blank is noticeably longer than the tube, so first I trim it on the bandsaw.

Step 16:
I trim the blank on the band saw.

Step 17:
Next, I use a barrel mill (a tool) in the drill press to mill the end of the blank square with the tube.

Step 18:
The appearance of the blank after milling.

Step 19:
The pen barrel is held on the mandrel (more later) between bushings. This pen has 10mm OD tubes, so the bushing is stepped to center the pen barrel on the mandrel, which is about 6.5mm (0.277 inch) diameter. The bushings are different ODs to match the end of the pen blank to the hardware for that part of the pen. This blank will become the 'clip end' of the pen, and will taper from the center of the pen to the end where the clip is.

Step 20:
I insert the bushings into the barrel...

Step 21:
... and mount the barrel on a mandrel that is mounted to the lathe.

Step 22:
Here is a closer view. (OOPS, I need to turn the barrel on the right around, because the arrow should be pointing to the center).

Step 23:
Before we turn on the lathe, we set it to the highest speed. On this lathe we change speeds by moving the belt on a stepped pully.

Step 24:
Before we turn we make sure the skew is sharp. I run it across two diamond hones, coarse and medium, then dress the burr with an Arkansas stone.

Step 25:
Finally, we round the blank - this actually goes more rapidly than many of the other steps. This shows the blank partially rounded off. The final grain pattern is beginning to appear.

Step 26:
I tried to take a picture with the skew actually cutting. Unfortunately it is a little out of focus. As of late, I usually use only the skew to turn a pen blank. It goes well, is quick, and leaves a finish that I can usually begin to sand with 320 or 400 grit sandpaper (depending on the material).

Step 27:
The blanks are turned to their final diameter.

Step 28:
The finish is applied. I used CA glue (the same stuff I used to glue the tubes into the blanks) along with a tiny bit of Boiled Linseed Oil to finish the blank. This shows the CA applied, but before I begin to work the finish down to its final polish.

Step 29:
After the pen barrels are turned, we assemble the pen. Here are the remainder of the parts in the hardware package (except I forgot to include the refill in the picture) laid out with the writing tip on the left and the clip on the right.

Step 30:
The parts are pressed into the finished pen barrels. I sometimes use a bolt chucked into my drill press and a block of wood. I also have a small arbor press that works well.

Step 31:
And here is the finished pen.

And here is the 'official' portrait of this pen, done with correct lighting and camera settings.


Thanks for looking!