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Old 12-09-2018, 06:28 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Difference between high quality pens and ok pens

I'm new to this. I think all my pens look awesome, because well, I made them. As I learn and practice, though, I'm not sure I know what things equate to actual quality as perceived by a practiced eye. I would like to focus developing those skills that lead to higher quality. This is a hobby, for now, but it doesn't need to stay that way and I'd like to produce items that are not just visually appealing, but also things that will stand up to a discerning eye.

So, what kinds of things are earmarks of high quality in a hand turned pen?

EDIT:. I've done some research in my own. Google mostly, and I've read several articles. I'm looking for the opinion of pen turners.on this board with more experience than me.

Last edited by brailsmt; 12-09-2018 at 07:14 PM.
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Old 12-09-2018, 07:18 PM   #2 (permalink)
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I would start with the hardware. When I first started I gave most of my pens away. When I started selling a few one person said it was a nice pen but it felt kind of cheap. That's when I decided to spend a little more for the kits. Then I noticed the plating would show signs of wear after a short time of use. Then there's the blank. Where did it come from, is it hard to find or hard to work with. That is taking in consideration the turner is going to put in the time and effort to make sure the fit and finish is at its best as well.
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Old 12-09-2018, 07:51 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Hi Michael and welcome to IAP !

Point 1, buy your components and materials from the best vendors, not the biggest.

Point 2, search THIS SITE, for examples of what you appreciate as quality. . Bear in mind that there are many examples that don't even appear on this site, but if you first of all focus on the ones that do appear here you have a pretty good start.

Point 3, decide what you want to make ... fountain pens seem to command better prices and seem to appeal to "higher class" clients and seem to be a better milieu as examples of quality.

Point 4, keep your eyes on the kitless examples that you find as representations of quality. . Kit pens CAN be nice, but true quality comes without the constraints of kits.

Point 5, keep making pens and examining your own pens for signs of quality you admire.

These are just a few thoughts that popped up as I was thinking and typing.

Your question has a very large scope and won't be fully answered quickly.
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Old 12-09-2018, 08:09 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Hit some of the craft and art shows in your area, look for ones that have woodturners. Look at the pens on display, I also suggest buying some every so often while on this excursion. Compare the other sellers pens and prices to what you have made. You will find that some that are pathetic, some good, some will dazzle you. You will see your own mistakes and perfect fits that are now escaping you.
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Old 12-09-2018, 08:13 PM   #5 (permalink)
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CALIPERS. A good set, make that 2 sets of calipers. Measure, measure, measure. Enjoy the journey of MAKING a pen, not just getting to the end results.

After a dozen pens or so when I started, I cut up a piece of pine 2x4 into a dozen blanks or so and instead of make a pen, I focused on turning to size and measurement and on learning how to provide consistency in my finish.

The two items that helped the most were measuring fittings and then turning to size, stopping and measuring regularly. I also learned to turn to undersize by .005 or so and then build up my finish to make up for the over-turning. The finished finish - when the same size as the fittings - center band, nib end and clip end, - that makes for the beginning of perfection. Don't settle for "good enough". High quality is better than that.

One thing I failed to mention is - don't mind spending a little extra time in sanding with finer sandpaper. I turn to close to size and begin my sanding usually at 400. A good eye will see 400 grit scratches on some woods.

Another thing, if you use carbide scrapers, practice on hard woods or PR until you get very smooth turnings from the tool only. I do some segments that smear with sandpaper. I have learned to turn very smooth with the tool only, not needing to sand. There are several here that do not use sandpaper in some cases, choosing to turn to size with the skew or scraper and it is VERY smooth. These are techniques that come with experience and practice.
Hank Lee

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Last edited by leehljp; 12-09-2018 at 08:15 PM.
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Old 12-09-2018, 08:50 PM   #6 (permalink)
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IMHO high quality handmade pens are produced by makers with a reputation for making high quality pens. Some names that immediately come to mind from my time here on IAP: Skiprat, Toni, Bob in SF, manupropria, jttheclockman, wizard, leehljp, Mark James. Not an exhaustive list by any means, but some to get you started. There is a lot of variation in the pens produced by this group, some kits and some kitless, different materials, different finishes, some artistic and some technical. The things I think quality pens by these and other makers have in common are: durability, attention to detail, and visual appeal. Beyond that, as they say, the devil is in the details.
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Old 12-09-2018, 11:25 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Here is an older post by a gentleman that contributed much here but has sadly passed. It has some interesting points just about the components themselves that speak to quality also.

What is high end

My thoughts on your question is probably not going to answer it but it is food for thought as others have touched a few of the things already. So I may repeat them.

When you start talking quality it always starts with the turner. The more pens you turn the better you get or at least that is the theory but it is all up to the turner. Speed is not the answer. That is left to the business guys and there they have worked out an assembly line system.

The kits you choose and the platings on these kits is a good place to start. The price on the kits are a tell tale sign of quality because this business there are many vendors competing for your $$$. so the mark up is not great and you will find the price realtively same in the class of pen.

Next is the blank. It becomes an art to match the blank to the kit. Some blanks just go better with different kits. You can make blanks or buy from the many many many vendors that sell them and have to say they are not all quality. As you buy from these vendors you will accumulate a rolodex of what is quality and what is not. The more elaborate the blank such as custom made adds to the quality if they are done well.

Then there is you the turner. This is where the tire meets the road. You control the final outcome. Turning the shape and again this is a learning experience to not get too ellaborate especially with some of the kits that are highend. As mentioned a good set of calipers is crucial in this game. Never ever trust bushings to be exact size needed. Each kit can have more or less plating and throw off measurements. You do not want gaps where blank meets components. You do not want to feel ridges of transitions from blank to components. And finally the make or break part is the finish. You can do everything perfect and then apply a finish that is horrible. This is the first thing a person will notice when they pick up your pen. Sanding or not sanding becomes a matter of preferance and how much you do is up to you and you alone. using a top coat that withstands the test of time will help in your sales and final product.

And finally your attitude toward this hobby. If you enjoy what you are doing and want to do your best and improve then you are in the right place. ask questions here look through old threads and absorb the info that has been on display here for many years and continues to grow everyday and soon you too will be adding to this wealth of knowledge.

Good luck and happy turning.
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Old 12-10-2018, 07:59 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Fit and finish on the pen make the difference. Are your edges crisp and flush with the next part or piece if hardware? can you see light or gaps where they meet? Is one side flush and the other stick out or isnt far enough out? if you look along the pen barrel looking at a light can you see scratches or swirl marks in your finish? Does the reflected light make a hard crisp line on the pen or is it blurry? If your finish is supposed to be soft so that the pen doesnt have that plastic feel on wood then it wont have crisp lines. Dale Penkala at Opus Mechan has one of the best finishes on pens you will see. Notice the definition of the shop lights on the cap.

Life occasionally offers us the opportunity to make very very hard choices. I have had such offers.
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Last edited by mredburn; 12-10-2018 at 08:07 AM.
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Old 12-10-2018, 09:46 AM   #9 (permalink)
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I agree with jttheclockman and others. What makes a high quality pen is combination of a lot of factors.

My idea of a high quality pen has evolved. Some of the pens that impressed me in the beginning of our pen turning no longer impress me.

With those that do impress me now, I have a much deeper appreciation for the skill and eye of the person that created them.

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Old 12-10-2018, 01:33 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Thank you for the answers so far. I read that other thread that was linked, and I really wasn't wanting to open a can of worms. I will focus on the interface between blank and kit, the finish, and the initial parts. I'm nowhere near comfortable enough to think about kitless (I didn't even know it was a thing until I saw the kitless forum on here). Is there a vendor of pen kits that is generally known to have higher quality kits? I've been buying stuff from Woodcraft because they have a store locally and I'm impatient. I guess I don't really know anything about the pen kit market, yet.

Last edited by brailsmt; 12-10-2018 at 01:39 PM.
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