Art of Penmaking 2: Preparing the Blank
Updated: Aug 22
Congratulations! You've chosen either a ballpoint pen, fountain pen, mechanical pencil, or rollerball pen to make as your first pen. You've also chosen raw material to make either a resin pen, wood pen, or perhaps an antler pen. To continue, tools will be needed to prepare the material selected for the barrel or barrels of the pen body before turning on a lathe can happen.
Pen barrels begin as pen "blanks" which in their simplest form are most often rectangular prisms of wood or colorful resin made for penmaking. However, more exotic blanks abound and include things like antler or hybrid combinations of resin cast with everything from pinecones to coffee beans. Resin pen blanks can also be cast as cylinders which save time and material in the turning process. Regardless of composition or shape, a pen blank needs to be cut slightly longer than the brass tube or tubes specifically sized to hold the pen's inner workings.
I usually cut blanks about 1/16" longer than the brass tubes at each end. Some penmakers prefer to leave as much as an extra 1/4" to minimize the potential for "blowout" when drilling. Personally, I have found the 1/16" extra to work just fine. This minimal amount of extra material also helps to preserve the continuity of grain or pattern mentioned next. When cutting a single pen blank into two sections for a two-barrel pen, I also mark across the center cut (see photo below) to maintain the orientation of wood grain or acrylic swirl patterns when it's time to rejoin the two halves.
Once the pen blanks are cut to length, it's time for precise drilling.