Hybrid Pen Blanks
Updated: Nov 29, 2022
The first step in handcrafting hybrid pen blanks is stabilizing the material that will be combined with resins to make a pen blank. In my shop, these materials tend to be natural like friable burl wood, pinecones, skeletal cholla cactus, wasp nests, and acorn caps. Why stabilize it first? Stabilization helps natural material withstand changes in humidity and the process of being turned on a lathe. During stabilization, the natural material is placed in a special vacuum chamber and submerged under a liquid stabilization product. I like to use a heat cured product called Cactus Juice. A vacuum pump is used to evacuate any air in the chamber and submerged material. After a surprisingly long time, the air bubbles stop coming from the material and it's left for a pleasing soak in the Cactus Juice. Once good and saturated, the material needs to be cured with heat.
It's best to have something dedicated for this process as opposed to your kitchen oven. Pizza ovens, often available inexpensively at thrift shops, are ideal as long as they can maintain a steady temperature of about 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Pizza ovens do tend to be inaccurate as far as the actual temperature however, so it's advisable to use a separate oven thermometer as well. After baking in the pizza oven, the formerly liquid Cactus Juice inside the natural material is now a solid.
Now, the stabilized material can be combined with a liquid resin in a mold. I like to use a two-part urethane resin product called Alumilite. This resin takes dye and powder enhancements well, turns easily with no chip out, and polishes up beautifully — all with little odor. The Alumilite resin is poured in the mold around the stabilized material with the goal being to fill all the tiny voids in the natural material. With little time to spare, the mold is carefully moved into a specialized chamber (pressure pot) where 60 pounds of pressure is applied to every square inch of surface area! This is about four times the normal sea level air pressure of 14.7 pounds per square inch! This tremendous pressure helps fill those little voids and squeezes any bubbles in the liquid resin so small they are no longer visible. After about 90 minutes, it's time to demold and reveal beautiful hybrid pen blanks!