Turn a Wood Pen /  Apply a CA Finish

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These instructions are split into turning the basic pen, which is a great project for beginning woodturners, and applying the high-build CA glue finish I now use on most of my pens, which is a bit more advanced.  Most turners will want to start with solid hardwood pens, which are more forgiving than acrylic and composite blanks.  In the photos, I'm turning a pen from black palm, which is difficult to turn to a clean finish, but ideal for showing off the advantages of the CA (cyanoacrylate, or super glue) finish.


Safety First!
Safety in the workshop is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY alone; I make no warranty as to the safety of any technique or tool shown or described on this site.  Before beginning any project, you must understand woodshop safety, know how to safely operate any machinery that is to be used in the project, and understand the safe use and any potential safety hazards involved in the use of all materials to be used in the project.  See the General Safety Notice and the Chemical Safety Note for additional information.


Apple Bullet Skip Ahead to the CA Finish


Apple Bullet H O W   T O   T U R N   A   W O O D   P E N  Apple Bullet

Inlay Banding Divider

A Black Titanium Cigar Pen Kit, with Black Palm Blank

    One thing I like about turning pens is the fact that it is fairly easy for anyone to learn to turn a pen in an hour or two, but it can take many years to explore everything that can be done to upgrade, customize, and perfect that basic pen.  The typical wooden-bodied pen consists of a hardware kit and a wood blank.  Hardware styles are numerous, from slimline pens similar in size to those made by Cross, to medium European-style pens reminiscent of those from Mont Blanc, and even big rollerball and fountain pens meant for use as desk pens by collectors and connoisseurs of fine writing instruments.  For more information on a few of the platings, hardware styles, and materials that are available, check out the options listed on my custom pen order page.

    For starters, I recommend a Slimline, Streamline, Cigar, or Carbara / Atlas / Patriot style pen kit, since these are pretty straightforward.  I usually choose a hardware plating that will compliment, rather than contrast with, my chosen blank.  Speaking of blanks, a 3/4" x 3/4" x 5-1/2" hardwood blank of a dense wood such as cocobolo, olivewood, african blackwood, or bubinga will be very forgiving of minor errors, and tends to produce a pretty good-looking pen.  When starting out, you might want to avoid the acrylic blanks and glued-up wood ones, since these are much more fragile and susceptible to catastrophic failure (blowing out) during the final stages of the turning process.  The stabilized burls are somewhere between solid hardwoods and plastic in terms of how fragile they are.

    Once you've picked out the hardware kit and blank, you'll need a few more items (besides a lathe or drill press, and turning tools) to complete the pen.  Each pen hardware style uses brass tubes which must be glued into holes drilled in the wood blanks.  I'm not espousing any conspiracy theories here, but I've noticed that just about every style uses one or two really weird sized drills, such as letter "O", or 7mm, or 10mm, or 37/64", or some other screwball size.  It's almost like the pen kit manufacturers are getting kick-backs from the drill bit manufacturers.  Anyway, you'll need some unusual-size drills, as well as a bushing kit (this is reusable) for the hardware style you've chosen, and finally, a mandrel to mount the blanks and bushings on the lathe for turning.  Other goodies you'll want will be the usual grades of sandpaper for turning (up through 400 grit), 5-minute epoxy or medium CA glue, a pen mill (to match the tube size in the hardware kit), and a turner's friction polish such as Shellawax, Myland's, or Hut Crystal Coat; plus the rags to apply it (if you're not using a CA finish).

    O.K., now that you've spent your allowance on a bunch of oddments that probably came with few or no instructions on how to use them, here's how it all works:

1)    Open up the bag containing the pen kit, and retrieve the instruction sheet and the brass tubes.  There are usually two tubes, but some kits, such as the Carbara / Atlas / Patriot style pen only use one.  If the tubes are of different diameters or lengths (photo at right), use the instructions to determine which is the cap, or upper, and which is the barrel, or lower tube.

2)    Do your best to "read the wood" of your pen blank, and decide which part of it should be the more visible upper part of the pen, then use the tubes to mark out cutting lines on the blank (photo at left).  Allow some excess (about 1/8") length beyond the length of each tube.  After you glue the tubes in, you'll be trimming off this excess wood to bring the ends of the blanks flush to the tube ends.  The extra length also allows for some blowout during the drilling process.
    At this point, I also like to make an alignment mark so that when I turn the pen blanks, they'll be in the same position and orientation as they were in the tree.  This way, I'll be able to assemble the pen and (hopefully) have the grain patterns match across the seam between the cap and the barrel.  The alignment mark is usually simply a  heavy line across the seam where I will cut the two blanks apart.

3)    I cut my blanks on a bandsaw (photo at right), but a handsaw works just as well.  These bits of wood are far too small to be cut safely on a tablesaw, miter saw, chop saw, or radial arm saw without a jig of some sort to hold the wood safely - so DON'T TRY IT!  Remember the smallest safe workpiece on the tablesaw and the others is about 12" long.

4)    Next, you'll want to set up your drill press for a speed of about 1,000 to 1,500 rpm, and chuck the required bit in for the tube size(s) you're using.  To hold the blank safely you'll need a jig.  There are many ready-made jigs available for this, but I find that an accurately cut notch in the jaw of a wooden handscrew clamp, and another handscrew to clamp the first down with, works great, does more jobs around the shop, and costs less than many of the ready-made jigs (photo below).  Sometimes, being cheap pays!

    Anyway, with the blank clamped end-up, and aligned so the hole will run straight down the center of the blank, you're ready to ask yourself the all important question, "Is this the right size drill for this part of the pen?"  (Remember that some kits use different drills for the cap and the barrel.)  If the answer is "Yes!," then proceed to drill the hole, using light pressure on the drill, and lifting the drill frequently to clear the chips.  A sacrificial back-up board underneath the blank helps to prevent blowouts as the drill exits the bottom of the wood.  Repeat this paragraph for the second blank.

5)    Having drilled both blanks, you're almost ready to glue in the tubes.  First, you'll need to rough up the brass tubes so the glue has a good surface to stick to.  I use a clean, green non-woven abrasive pad (like Scotch Brite), but 320 or 400 grit sandpaper works just as well.

6)    Many turners use medium or thick CA glue to glue in the tubes, but I've found that five minute epoxy is well worth the extra effort for the greater reliability of its resilient bond between the wood (or acrylic) and brass.  Many turners ask me about wood and acrylic blanks blowing out on the lathe, and invariably they're using CA glue on the tubes.

    I mix my epoxy on the side of the instruction sheet that doesn't have the assembly instructions (you just might want those later), using a toothpick (remember to wear gloves for this).  You simply make puddles about the size of a dime, one of part A, and one of part B, for each pen tube you're gluing in (photo at right).  (I find that I can glue up to six tubes in a single batch, before the glue starts to set on its own).  During the mixing process, the mixture will turn cloudy, then perfectly clear again, which indicates that it is ready to use after a few seconds' more mixing, just to be safe.

    Use the toothpick to spread some glue inside the hole, then roll the tube in some glue and twist it as it goes into the hole.  This ensures a solid, resilient, gap-filling bond that will resist blowouts, even in brittle acrylic blanks.  Many turners will cut a raw potato into slices, and punch a plug out using the tube so that glue doesn't get into the ends of the brass tubes.  This saves some cleanup later, but if glue does get into the tube, that's not a big problem either.  Set the blanks on something they can destroy when they stick to it, like the big bag the pen kit came in.  Clean up, if necessary, with denatured alcohol before the glue cures; once epoxy has cured, you clean it up with a belt sander.

7)    It takes 15-30 minutes for five-minute epoxy to set hard.  In the meantime, there's some preparation to do on the other goodies you bought.  The shaft of the mandrel will probably need to be put into the morse taper (the larger diameter, tapered metal thingy).  Make certain that the hollow dimple on the end of the mandrel shaft faces out toward the tailstock, because the point of your ball bearing center needs to fit into this.  For safekeeping, put any washers, nuts or knurled brass nuts onto the threaded end of the mandrel, and set it aside.

    If you bought a set of bushings for your pen kit, they're probably the right size, but if they've been used, you need to check them against the diameter of the hardware components they're supposed to match.  Sandpaper cuts metal too, after all.  The idea of the bushing is that it gives you a reference diameter at each end of the wood blank, and that diameter should match perfectly with the hardware component that will be adjacent that particular bit of wood in the assembled pen.  Use the instruction sheet to set the parts in the order they go into the pen, from the nib to the cap, and set the bushings in order in front of them (photo  above).  Save the tiny bags the hardware components came in; they have many uses, especially when using a CA glue finish.

    I measure the bushings, using a caliper, to the nearest thousandth of an inch.  (Yes, you can feel a difference of as little as 0.001" on a finished pen.)  I then compare that measurement to the measurement of the matching hardware component.  If it's within .003", no problem.  If it's oversize, but within .010", I mark the bushing with a black permanent marker.  If it's undersize, but within .010", I mark the bushing with a red permanent marker.  If you look closely at the photos, you'll notice that I also like to mark the bushings with grooves: one groove for the cap bushing, two for the lower bushing on the upper barrel, and so on.  This way, for kits with confusingly similar bushings, there's little room for doubt about which goes where.  The grooves are made the first time I turn a pen with the bushing set, using the sharp (but not for long!) point of a scraper.

    Finally, I check that the centers on the lathe are correctly aligned (photo at right).  If the tips of your regular centers aren't in line, you'll likely have problems turning a pen that fits neatly with the hardware.  Make any adjustments necessary to the lathe headstock or tailstock, according to the procedure recommended for the particular model lathe you have, to bring the centers into perfect alignment.

8)    O.K., now the epoxy has set and you're ready to make some shavings - but not on the lathe.  The last step before mounting the blanks on the lathe is to trim the ends and clean out the tubes with the pen mill.  The pen mill has a pilot shaft that fits almost tight to the inside of the tubes, and a trimming head that fits onto the shank of the pilot shaft.  The idea is that the pilot cleans out the glue while the trimming head squares up and trims the ends of the blank.  I use a cordless drill, and keep the speed down so that I don't risk trimming off a bunch of brass from the ends of the tube.  Also, it's much safer if the blank is held securely in a vise when you do this.  You're done when you've trimmed the wood flush to the brass, and taken just a whisper of the brass off, leaving a "bright gold" surface (photo at left).  One extra detail I find helpful after trimming is to run a countersink by hand inside the brass tube, to debur the ends.  I also check for any remaining residue of glue inside the tube, and revisit the pen mill pilot as necessary to remove it.

9)    Slide the bushings and blanks onto the mandrel, being careful to get them in the correct order.  I habitually place the cap nearest the headstock, but either way works.  If there is extra space on the mandrel that needs to be filled for the nut to be able to clamp everything in properly, an extra bushing or two, or some scraps drilled to fit the 1/4" mandrel shaft can be used to fill the extra space.

    I always check that the mandrel runs true, and is not bent, both before and after tightening the nut to hold the blanks in place.  If the mandrel is off before tightening the nut, I gently bend it as necessary until it runs true, bending it only slightly each time, and sneaking up on the right adjustment a little at a time.  If the mandrel is bent only when the nut is tightened, this is an indication that something in the stack of blanks and bushings is not cut truly square on the end, or that there is some foreign material, such as CA glue or sawdust, stuck between the blanks and bushings, and that is forcing the mandrel to bend when the nut is tightened.  It is very important that everything runs true, or the pen blanks will not fit the hardware without gaps or offsets.

     Last, bring up the ball bearing tail center, place a tiny dab of grease or wax on its point, and advance the tailwheel to lightly press the point of the center into the dimple on the end of the mandrel.  Turn on the lathe, and adjust the pressure on the tail center until it will spin against the pressure of a finger lightly laid on it (photo at right).  Any more pressure than this, and you may have issues with excessive wear on the point of the center, or even bending of the mandrel.  If the center slows, or stops spinning while you're turning the pen, readjust it to keep just enough pressure on it to keep it spinning at the same speed as the mandrel.

10)    Turning time, at last!  I'm assuming that you already know how to safely operate your lathe, and have some woodturning experience.  If you don't, then stop and learn the basics first; these instructions are not meant to be an introduction to woodturning.
    Set the lathe for maximum speed, and start roughing the blanks (photo below).  These blanks are pretty small in diameter, so a roughing gouge, spindle gouge, skew chisel, or scraper work about equally well for rough turning and even finish turning.  I'll take about 1/8" of material off in a pass, but if the material seems to want to come off in chips or chunks, ease up on the depth of cut and on your feed rate across the wood, to avoid taking half of the blank off in one big chunk.

11)    Once you've achieved a cylinder about 1/8" above the bushings, switch from roughing to shaping and finishing.  If you've done a pen or two before, and want to try the CA finish, this is where you jump off to step 1 of the CA finishing instructions.  For those just getting into turning pens, however, a friction polish makes a far easier finish with which to obtain good results, so that's where we'll head from here.
    As for what shape to make the final pen, the bushings give you some fixed diameters fro the ends of the blanks, but you can do anything you want in between.  Some turners prefer straight cylinders, and some turn pens like decorative spindles, full of rounds, beads, coves, urns, and other fanciful shapes.  I generally prefer a smooth, slightly rounded profile, using subtle curves to avoid overwhelming the usually intricate designs of the burls and acrylics I frequently use.  In the end, it's really a matter of your own personal aesthetic regarding your material, hardware, and pen shape choices.

12)    For the final smoothing of the pen, and bringing the ends down to match exactly the bushings' diameter, I prefer to use a well sharpened square-end scraper.  Sharpness is critical for any scraper, and frequent touch-ups to the edge with a fine diamond pad help to keep it cutting cleanly without digging or chattering.  Since I use smooth gentle curves, the straight cutting edge does a good job of knocking down any high spots or bumps left during the shaping process.

    Scrapers require a light touch, should always angle downward to meet the wood at center height, and are typically used tilted sideways, to produce a nice shearing cut.  To achieve this, set the tool rest about 1" to 1-1/2" from the wood, and 1/8" to 1/4" above center height.  Angle the scraper downward, so it touches the wood at center height, and tip it to one side, so only one corner of the tool is resting on the tool rest.  (I find that rounding the bottom corners of the tool's shaft prevents nicking the tool rest.)  Now you'll be moving the tool across the wood in whichever direction it is tilted toward, and just resting the cutting edge lightly against the wood, never pushing it to make a cut (photo above).  If the tool doesn't want to cut the wood with only the lightest pressure, then it needs sharpening.  (In fact, this is true of any woodworking tool.)

13)    Once you've got the wood smoothed and brought to the bushings' diameter at the ends, it is time to start sanding (photo at right).  I can't tell you what grit you should start with, since that depends on the surface quality of the blanks left by the final smoothing passes.  With sharp tools and good technique, 220 or 320 grit paper is all that's required to remove any small tearout or tool marks, and I'll sand to at least 400 grit.  Sanding to finer grits is a matter of debate among turners, but I've never seen any visible difference in the finished pen, as long as it's well sanded with at least 400 grit, or 600 grit for exceptionally dense woods, like ebony.  A lamp placed so that the light comes along the long axis of the pen at a low, raking angle helps to highlight any fine scratches, making it easier to judge the quality of the sanded surface.  I also find that slowing the lathe to about 1,500 rpm helps to reduce clogging and heat buildup, prolonging the life of the sandpaper and giving better results on the wood.

  14)    Once you've finished sanding the blanks to whatever grit you choose, the friction polish is easy to apply.  Keep the lathe running at 1,000 to 1,500 rpm, and fold a clean, lint-free cloth (like an old, well-worn t-shirt) into a pad.  Apply a puddle of finish about the size of a quarter to it, and use an underhand technique (shown at left while wet sanding a CA finish) to apply the polish to the wood.  Keep buffing the polish on, and if the wood dries out within the first 10-15 seconds, apply more finish.  As you continue buffing, the finish dries to a tacky consistency and quickly starts to generate a bit of heat; this heat melts the wax in the finish, and starts the polishing phase.  Once you start getting some heat buildup, increase the buffing pressure slightly and keep going until you see a nice, even shine develop on the wood.  I'll first apply the finish to one blank, then buff it completely to an even shine before moving to the next.  This is because it is more difficult to maintain the necessary heat for polishing when switching back and forth between the blanks.

    Once the finish is polished, the lathe work is done.  I find that friction polishes are susceptible to taking impressions (dents, fingerprints, etc.) for some time after they seem to be dry, so it's not a bad idea to carefully remove the blanks from the mandrel, and set them on end to dry overnight while you start making another pen.  If you're impatient to finish the pen at hand, just be sure to handle it lightly as you assemble it.

    Refer to the all-important instruction sheet for the correct placement of parts as you assemble the pen.  The hardware is a tight press fit to the brass tubes (photo below), and friction alone is usually more than enough to hold the pen together.  I'll put a tiny dab of CA glue into the end of the tube before pressing the cap in, because the clip makes a good lever to work the cap loose over time.  If any part presses in too easily (i.e., it can be pressed in by hand) use a bit of CA glue to keep it from working loose, but be extremely careful.  CA bonds to skin instantly on contact, it's fumes condense on and highlight any nearby fingerprints just like on the crime shows, and removing CA residue from a  finished wood surface tends to also remove the finish.
    The 7mm pens (Slimline, Streamline, 7mm European Round Top), and Atlas / Patriot / Carbara style pens use a twist mechanism that is pressed into the pen.  The trick is that this part also determines how far the ball point sticks out of the nib when it is advanced.  The best method for pressing the twist mechanism in is to press it in a little, then put the ink refill into the pen, twist the mechanism to advance the refill, and note how much farther the mechanism needs to be pressed in.  It is best to be conservative when pressing in the mechanism, since if you go too far, it's pretty difficult to "un-press" the mechanism.  A pen disassembly tool kit can be used for the Slimline and Streamline pens, and can be adapted for the Carbaras, but this is decidedly more difficult than being careful not to overshoot in the first place.

    That's it for the basic pens!  It takes perhaps an hour to complete a pen, once you get the hang of it.  There's no limit to the number of ways you can customize and modify the design of a pen, or to the number of materials from which a pen can be made.  All that's required is a bit of practice, some creativity and ingenuity, and the right tools.  I've seen beautiful pens made from particleboard, pages torn from the telephone directory, deer antler, snakeskin, leather, cultured marble, sand, copper, wood inlaid with wood, stone or metal; and a variety of other unlikely materials.  Have fun with your pen designs and materials, and I'm sure you'll have all your family and friends clamoring for a unique pen for their own in no time at all! Apple w/ Bite

Copyright 9/2009 by David Tilson

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G E T   A   S U P E R   S H I N Y,   S U P E R   D U R A B L E,
Apple Bullet S U P E R   G L U E   F I N I S H  Apple Bullet

Inlay Banding Divider

    I had been turning wood pens for a year or two when I discovered upgrade gold and titanium gold plated hardware. What a revelation! Hardware that could look just as good after a year in my backpack at college as the first day I put it in. There was just one big problem: the finishes I had been using on my wood pens just couldn't last the way these new platings could. I had used friction polishes, like Hut's Crystal Coat or Mylands' Friction Polish, but these shellac and wax based finishes would invariably wear off after a few months' use, leaving the wood dull and lifeless. I set about looking for a more durable finish that could handle life's bumps and bruises, as well as everyday contact with human hands. (Our skin oils are salty and acidic, and rapidly destroy shellac and polyurethane finishes that suffer constant handling).

    After months of experimenting and searching for a consistently clear, bubble-free, smooth, glossy finish, I heard about using CA glue (cyanoacrylate, or super-glue) as a finish, and I tried it, knowing nothing more than that it had been done. It was like a miracle! CA performed nearly as well as the toughest finishes I had experimented with, but was easier to apply, polish, and repair. It took another year of experimenting for me to develop my own "high-build" formula and achieve consistent results. Here's some of what I learned:

How to Build the Finish
With those tips, I'd like to give you the step-by-step how I build my "high-build" CA finish:

1)    Rough out the pen, but don't bring it down to final size and shape yet. Remove the wood and bushings from the lathe and apply paste wax to the mandrel and the "step" part of the bushings. CA glue is good at gluing wood to metal, and the wax helps avoid gluing the pen to the bushings and mandrel.
    Before returning the blanks to the mandrel, sand the ends of the blanks dead flat using 600 grit paper set on the flat lathe bed or a piece of glass (photo at right). This helps to create a water-tight seal between the blank and bushings. (The pen mill does a great job of trimming the blanks and cleaning out the tubes, but doesn't always leave a perfectly flat surface.)

Sanding the ends of the blanks flat on a glass plate.

2)    With the blanks back on the mandrel, turn the wood to about 1/32" smaller than the bushings' diameter(photo at left). (That's 1/64" below the bushing at each end. This ensures an adequate thickness of finish (1/64") near the bushings to avoid sanding or polishing right down into the bare wood.

3)    Sand to 320 or 400 grit, but no finer. If necessary, stop the lathe and sand with the grain to hide the scratch marks. Also, be sure to use fresh paper, as worn out or clogged paper will burnish the surface. Sanding the wood to too fine a grit can burnish the wood, causing the finish to separate from it later.

4)    Set the lathe for its lowest speed, ideally 100-250 rpm., and cover the lathe bed underneath the pen to keep it clean. Belt driven lathes with a bottom end around 500 rpm., such as Jet's Mini Lathes, can be slowed more by releasing the drive belt tension, allowing the belt to slip.

    Also, find one or two small plastic bags, such as the ones pen parts come in, with no holes or printing on them. You'll need them to help smooth the CA glue without gluing yourself to the pen.

5)    Filler Coats: For pen blanks with smooth surfaces, skip to the next step. For rough surfaces, such as purpleheart or a corncob, use as many filler coats of thin CA as are necessary to achieve a fairly smooth surface. Remember to wear gloves, and a small bag over your finger allows you to smooth the glue without sticking to it. It may be necessary to apply these coats with the lathe switched off to avoid trapping air bubbles in the finish. NEVER use accelerator on thin CA, as it tends to foam rather easily; it's best to just let it air dry (first coat ~10-20 minutes, subsequent coats 45-90 minutes). Scrape and sand down any lumps to 400 grit, and thoroughly wipe off any dust with a clean rag.

6)    With the lathe running, lightly mist the surface with accelerator (photo below, right). Hold the can about 8" away and give the pen a 3/4 to 1 second spray. Too much accelerator causes the glue to set before it can be smoothed, and may cause foaming or lumps when applied over wet CA.

7)    Build Coats: Keep the lathe running. Apply a thin bead of flexible CA glue from one end of the blank to the other, and use a bag over your finger to gently smooth the glue (photo above, left). A thin coat cures quickly and levels easily without dripping. I usually apply a coat with the bottle in one hand, and simultaneously smooth the coat with the bag in the other hand.
8)    As with any finish, thin coats are the rule. Thick coats dry much more slowly, and may not dry evenly, which creates problems when you polish the finish.  Let each coat level itself for about 15-20 seconds before lightly misting with accelerator, then allow the glue to harden for 5-10 seconds more (photo above, right).

9)    Repeat the previous two steps until six build coats have been applied, and then set the lathe for 1200-1600 rpm.

10)    Use a sharp scratch awl or diamond point scraper to score the seam between the pen blank and bushing, right down to the metal bushing (photo near right). This separates the glue finish from the bushing, and prevents chipping at the ends of the blanks. Next, stop the lathe and use an old, blunt screwdriver to chip off the glue from the bushings. I do this by setting the shaft of the screwdriver on the tool rest, and, working from center height on the bushing, prying upwards against the glue (photo far right). If you marked the bushings as over- or under-size using permanent markers (as described in the above article), you'll want to re-mark them now.

11)    With the lathe running again, use a scraper very gingerly to trim any lumps down, then gently scrape the entire pen to achieve a smooth surface and bring the ends back to bushing diameter (as nearly as possible without cutting too much metal). Aggressive scraping, especially early on, will tend to chip the finish. If you've done a good job of applying the glue smoothly, you should only have to make a couple of light passes over the blank to get a smooth surface, and maybe an extra pass or two at each end to get back to the bushings' diameter (photo at left).

12)    Sand and polish as for an acrylic pen (photo at right). Wet sanding with Micro Mesh seems to give the most consistently super-glossy sheen, but polishing compounds such as Hut's P.P.P, and the Beall or Wood N' Things buffing systems also work well (and faster). After polishing, I like to apply a coat of wax (without buffing) to protect the finish through the pen assembly process.

13)    (Or, 12-B for superstitious folks) - Remove the blanks from the mandrel, and gently break the bushings free from the ends of the blanks (photo below, left). Use a piece of 600 grit sandpaper held flat on a table to gently sand the glue off of the ends of the blank. This is important to prevent cracking the finish when pressing the parts into the brass tubes (photo below, upper right).

    Next, use the 600 grit sandpaper to form a tiny (near-microscopic) bevel on the ends of the blanks. I do this by tilting the blank 30°-45° off vertical and twisting it while I sand the end (photo above, lower right). This way any slight variation in diameter between the wood and hardware will be far less noticeable. I also like to use a countersink to bevel the brass tube slightly. This makes assembly easier.

14)    Assemble the pen according to the instructions included with the hardware kit. Be careful not to let the hardware start pressing into the brass tube on an angle, and don't continue forcing it after it bottoms out against the wood, or it may crack the finish at the ends of the blank. I put a tiny dab of CA in the tube before pressing the cap and clip assembly in, to prevent it from working loose later on.

    Once any CA used during assembly has dried (preferably overnight), finish buffing off the wax coating by hand with a soft cloth and admire your super-shiny "super-glue" finish! I'm sure you'll find that this finish is very durable, and can last about as long as any hardware plating you may choose. After a couple of years using this finish, I've gotten pretty comfortable with it, and faster as well. It usually takes me about fifteen to twenty minutes to finish a typical pen, but I've whipped though this finish in less than ten minutes when turning a batch of pens production style.

    If the finish is ever damaged by chipping or scratching, the pen can be repaired. (Before you laugh, my more sophisticated pens may take three days or more to construct, so repairs are well worth the while.) Minor scratches can be buffed out after carefully masking the hardware with blue painter's tape. For more serious damage, a pen disassembly kit (Rockler #28540) can be used with a very small hammer (I use a 1 oz. hammer, but a head weighing up to 4 oz. works well) to knock the hardware out of the brass tubes without damaging the hardware or the tubes. The blanks can then be re-mounted on the lathe, the finish sanded, the dust cleaned off, and a fresh coat or two of CA applied and polished. On reassembling the hardware, I find that a tiny dab of thin CA inside the ends of the tubes helps to ensure that the hardware will remain as tight as ever, since the tubes may have been enlarged very slightly when the hardware was removed. Apple w/ Bite

Trouble-Shooting CA Finishes

Dull spots or sand-throughs in the finish.

Sand the blank with 400 grit, thoroughly wipe off all dust with a clean rag, and apply 2-3 more coats of CA, then smooth, sand and polish.

Pits, bubbles, or foam in the finish.

Bubbles are caused by applying medium or flexible CA to textured surfaces and trapping air in the texture, or by over-applying accelerator to the wet glue, or by applying thick coats and using accelerator to cure the surface, leaving liquid glue underneath. Textured surfaces need to be filled with thin CA prior to building up the finish with the flexible CA glue. Bubbles need to be scraped off and 2-3 coats of CA reapplied, then sand and polish.
Pits may also be caused by overly aggressive scraping or a dull scraper. Pits need to be cleaned of all dust with a toothbrush or dental pick and filled with a new coat of CA as noted above, or simply sand down past the pits.
Something like pits can also be caused by the finish melting while turning or sanding. Reduce the lathe RPM, and wet sand when possible to prevent this. Sand or scrape the affected area to remove the damaged finish. It may be necessary to apply 2-3 fresh coats of CA to build up the finish prior to sanding and polishing.

Fine scratches or swirl marks on the finish.

Skipping too many grits when sanding or polishing the finish, or inadequate sanding with each grit can leave swirl marks. Re-sand and be careful to sand thoroughly with each grit as you progress through the polishing sequence. You may need to apply a fresh coat or two of CA to avoid sanding through to bare wood.

The finish chips.

Chipping is usually the result of using normal CA glue, which is very brittle, or of applying an excessively thick finish (too many coats). Flexible CA is formulated to be more resilient and therefore does not chip as easily. Chipping can also be caused by not being gentle with the finish during scraping and pen assembly, or by old glue on the face of the bushing that rests against the end of the pen blank, which breaks the water tight seal and allows fresh CA to seep in and glue the wood to the bushing. Chips may be patched by filling with more CA, sanding the surface smooth, and re-polishing.

The finish separates from the pen blank.

Delamination can be caused by contamination of the surface with grease or dust, or by burnishing the surface by sanding too fine or using worn out sandpaper. The only real fix is to take the finish down to bare wood around the affected area and rebuild it. The ends of a blank may delaminate if the finish is not sanded flat to the end of the brass tube prior to assembly.

White haze or specks on the finish.

CA finishes are susceptible to cosmetic damage from CA glue vapor and from CA accelerator. When CA glue is applied to pen hardware during assembly, care must be taken to ensure the neighboring finish is protected with a coat of paste wax, or masked with tape to prevent accelerator from leaving specks on the surface. In either case, re-buff the surface to restore the shine.

White specks in the finish.

These are usually caused by sanding dust. It is necessary to remove all traces of sanding dust before coating with CA using a clean rag, toothbrush, dental pick, or compressed air where necessary.

Shopping List:
In addition to the standard pen turning gear, you will need the following:

Copyright 9/2009 by David Tilson

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