A number of Raw Materials can be used to create a one-of-a-kind, artistic pen.
In line with a topic in the IAP forums, we are trying to create a rating system for blank materials.
Most penturners have made at least a few pens out of wood. Woods are sourced from all over the world. For the purposes of this Wiki, we refer to Domestic woods as those sourced in North America and considered to be common (easily located). Exotic woods are those considered to be imported from other countries, with a few native species that are also somewhat rare. A third category of wood blanks are those that are manufactured from wood or wood by-products.
The penturner can source wooden pen blanks from many sources, from expensive exotic woods, to his/her own woodpile.
Within each type of wood, there can be natural variations to the grain such as birdseye, burl (or burr), tiger (or tyger), flame, waterfall and spalt.
Some wood pen blanks are treated to stabilize and/or color them.
A common technique is to combine two or more woods into a segmented blank.
Black Gum (Black Tupelo)
Citrus (Orange, grapefruit, lemon, etc)
Other Natural Materials
Sugar Pine and Knobby Pine are ideal.
(crushed sunflower seed hulls bonded together)
cast into Polyurethane Resin(PR)
Flowers (violets) cast into PR
The 'skeletons' of prickly pear cactus cast into Alumilite
Plastic Pen Blanks
Some definition of terms is appropriate for this topic. The word 'plastic' as used here generally applies to (but is not limited to) acrylics, resins, polyurethane and polyethylene materials. All of these are used as raw materials for pen making. Most suppliers for pen turning offer at least one line of plastic blanks. Some of the more popular are listed here.
- Acrylic Acetate
- Acrylic Rods
- Bowling ball blanks
- Italian resins
- Polyurethane Resin
- Polyester resin
- Polyethylene resin
- Self-cast blanks
Different suppliers may use a different name for what is in fact a very similar (if not identical) material. Occasionally, two suppliers may use the same name for two different materials.
The sides of plastic blanks often have two distinct appearances depending on how they come from the mold. The 'A' side is the top or bottom of the mold and has a shiny appearance. The 'B' side shows saw parkings from when the blanks were cut after they were removed from the mold. Either side can be deceiving when trying to determine the appearance of the finished pen.
Turning Plastic Blanks
Plastic blanks (as defined above) can differ substantially from one type of plastic to another. It would be a mistake to make generalizations that apply to all plastic blanks. Check the link for the specific type of plastic that you plan to turn. If there no turning instructions for that specific type of material, the following may prove helpful:
- Use water to cool and lubricate the drill bit when drilling the blank
- Turn the blanks at a high speed
- Sharp tools are critical when turning plastic
- Take light cuts with those sharp tools
- Slow the lathe down for finishing
- Wet sand at slow speed. Sand lengthwise with the lathe off and turning the lathe by hand.
- Use a plastic polish or rubbing compound to get the final finish on the blank, or buff the completed blank on a cloth wheel.