Stone Pens

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Mach4

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Dec 13, 2016
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Boise, Idaho
Having recently become a resident of Idaho (as a political refugee from the People’s Republic of Kalifornia) I decided that I should embrace the states slogan - the Gem State. While Boise is known as the City of Trees, the climate does not allow for growing timbers native to Australia, the Mediterranean, Central America, South America and Africa as was the case in SoCal. So without a ready supply of interesting woods I’ve decided to explore new materials.

Accordingly I have spent the last several months researching and developing equipment, tools, methods and workflow to use stone and semi-precious gem materials in making pens.

Here is my first attempt as a proof-of-concept stone pen

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Using less than optimal tools with a relatively soft stone (marble - mohs 3-5 compared to granite 6-6.5 and petrified wood 7) I was able to get a sample drilled, tubed, shaped and polished. It wasn’t exactly round, the barrel wasn’t square, the polish and finish left something to be desired and took an inordinate amount of time. But it was encouraging and warranted additional research and development. Clearly it is possible to turn very soft stone like Onyx, Soapstone, Talc and Alabaster using traditional tools but I wanted to use Petrified Wood, Jasper, Quartzite, Agate, Granite, Labradorite, Tiger Eye, Dinosaur bone, Quartz, Obsidian and so forth. Therefore I embarked on a couple months of research and development to create the equipment, tools and workflow to efficiently work with stone.

Every step in the process is different from working with wood.

Blanks
No one sells rock or stone blanks so finding suitable materials and cutting them to appropriate sizes is a significant challenge. Obviously a table saw or band saw isn’t going to cut stone so a lapidary saw or tile saw is essential.

Drilling
Drilling stone is not a trivial matter. Traditional carbide or masonry drills just don’t cut it. And diamond drills aren’t very long and don’t come in many sizes, so developing drilling strategies took a significant amount of time and required fabrication of custom bits.

Barrel Trimming
Traditional barrel trimmers, even carbide ones don’t work, so a custom jig and diamond cutter needed to be fabricated.

Rough Cutting
To get a square stone blank to a rough pen barrel required designing and building a “lapidary lathe”.

Finishing
Final shaping and polishing requires the use of diamond tools. Some material requires special sealants and color enhancers.

Assembly
Stone is extremely brittle, especially when turned as thin as required for pen barrels. Consequently pressing components for assembly risks cracking or chipping of stone so gluing is necessary.

I now feel quite confident that I’ve got the equipment needed as well as processes and techniques down and am pursuing some of the more interesting and exotic materials.
 
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leehljp

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There have been a few to use stone in the past, but it seems like none made it past two or three pens. I hope you persevere through more than that. I have thought this could go farther. Thanks for posting it. That granite pen is beautiful, and so it the marble one!

BTW, I looked at some soapstone last week and almost decided to purchase some, but put it off because of the lack of time on my hands.
 

Mach4

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Dec 13, 2016
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Location
Boise, Idaho
Petrified Wood

Petrified wood has proved to be a real challenge. Over millions of years petrified wood stones have become fractured, cracked and are typically very brittle. I have had many samples blow up either while drilling or in the shaping/finishing process. It’s important to start with samples that are visually intact and stable.

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Here are some successful petrified wood pens.
 

magpens

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Feb 2, 2011
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Coquitlam, BC, Canada
Congratulations !!!

You seem to be determined to "see this through" and I applaud your determination and efforts.

The granite pen is especially beautiful and surpasses many wood burl pens and pens made from acrylic castings that I have seen.

Keep up the great work, and please keep us posted on your continuing progress !!!!

The showing of your pictures is much appreciated, but raises an important issue. . You will be aware that the annual IAP BASH has just begun along with the many pen contests that goes with it. . If there is (are) any of your pens that you would like to enter in a contest then you should not post pictures or descriptions but should submit them ( privately for now ) to the convenor of the contest that you wish to enter. . Bearing in mind the novelty and quality of your work you stand very good chances in several of the contests and I would encourage you to consider making one or more contest entries.

Thanks for opening our minds to this aspect of pen making !!!!
 
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Brotherdale

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Apr 15, 2017
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Location
Houston, TX
Those are truly beautiful.
How do they compare weight wise to wood or acrylic?
You must have the patience Job to pull everything it takes to make those. Congratulations!
 

WarEagle90

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Apr 28, 2019
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Location
Waverly Alabama
Wow, what spectacular looking pens. I'm impressed with your skills to produce the tools and tooling to produce such works of art. Please keep perfecting the process and posting examples of your work.
 

Dieseldoc

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Oct 28, 2017
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Livermore, Ca 94550
Glorious blanks and outstanding work done in making the pens.
You might want to enter a pen not shown in the Bash contest as they are killer pens.
 

mark james

IAP Collection, Curator
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Sep 6, 2012
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Medina, Ohio
Awesome pens - a VERY challenging medium - Kudos to you.

There is a pen in the IAP Collection: Italian Blue Alabaster. John Greco does excellent work. You may want to review his threads for suggestions on process/materials.
 

PenPal

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Nov 29, 2006
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Canberra, A.C.T., Australia.
I admire your project I did commence this journey starting with a stabilised Wooly Mammoth Tooth,Coming from this incredible land of Australia after the first pen I felt it was a challenge too far.

What started me was on a windswept ,dry ,dusty forlorn road in Eastern Turkey some years before I watched a poor soul using an ancient metal lathe produce gems right in front of me and others. I feared for his health,there we were all covered in the resulting turning waste. But his masterpieces were exceptional he sanded by hand using paper backed abrasives.

I joined a Lapidary Group here in Canberra,not a lot of help however I take issue with your thought about drilling cutting etc. Please look at the drill I used then a standard metal drill to the finished size. I found as a pure fluke I could cut the tooth using a little old three wheeler band saw with a metal cutting blade commonly sold with these saws. If you care to send your contact phone number I would share with you further my experiences. These Artu drills are available all over including the good old USA they will drill Steel Files etc. The hardness of the tooth is accentuated by the bands of Silicon formed over the past umpteen years and the blue colour of Cobalt from the soils etc. I feel awkward saying this as I have repeated this many times. Not rocket science to build a rock lathe but for me at 85 yrs I have many other challenges to overcome.

Kind regards Peter.
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Chasper

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Mar 22, 2007
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Indiana
Congratulations on your breakthrough success with stone and minerals, I've tried and failed where you succeeded. I joined IAP 13 years ago to find a way to do what you have done, along the way I got sidetracked with other materials and never got beyond onyx, catlinite and soapstone. In attempting to find the right tools I went to the Tucson Gem and Mineral show and talked with several lapidary experts. The 2020 show is going on right now. https://www.visittucson.org/visit/events/tucson-gem-mineral-fossil-showcase

Among the more promising leads that I found were the tools from Diamond Pacific http://www.diamondpacific.com/index.html The cost of a lapidary lathe and other needed tools seemed prohibitive, so I switched to about every other material I could find to make pens.

I wish you continued success and don't forget the critical need for ventilation and protecting yourself from breathing silica dust, silicosis is real.
 

leehljp

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Location
Tunica, MS,
Congratulations on your breakthrough success with stone and minerals, I've tried and failed where you succeeded. I joined IAP 13 years ago to find a way to do what you have done, along the way I got sidetracked with other materials and never got beyond onyx, catlinite and soapstone. In attempting to find the right tools I went to the Tucson Gem and Mineral show and talked with several lapidary experts. The 2020 show is going on right now. https://www.visittucson.org/visit/events/tucson-gem-mineral-fossil-showcase

Among the more promising leads that I found were the tools from Diamond Pacific http://www.diamondpacific.com/index.html The cost of a lapidary lathe and other needed tools seemed prohibitive, so I switched to about every other material I could find to make pens.

I wish you continued success and don't forget the critical need for ventilation and protecting yourself from breathing silica dust, silicosis is real.

Gerry, you were one that mentioned this long ago. I didn't remember it was you until I saw your post above and it came back to me. I think I just saw your passion for stone pens return in your post. Hopefully, you, Peter, Mach4 and a few others can get a forum going that specializes in this area and push a few others (me included) into this realm of pen making. I would love to see what comes of this.
 

Pierre---

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Jun 10, 2012
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France
Outstanding work. This is a whole new chapter in pen turning.

I would not say that, I find it a bit pen turners focused. I don't want to denigrate mach4 's work that I find absolutely outstanding, but there is a whole rich world around us. Pen turners do not usually turn stone, true. But craft people who works stone sometimes makes pens. See here Hervé Obligi works, he started making stone pens 30 years ago, and a good one at that.
 
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dcameraman

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Apr 10, 2012
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Location
Trail, OR
Making pens out of solid stone can be very frustrating, as well as very rewarding!

Keep plugging away at it. When things don't go right . . . take the time to figure out why and then research a way to correct it.

It seems like every time I cut open a new stone, I am amazed at the beauty inside! I get to see something that no one on earth has seen before.

It seems like there are very few things made out of stone that you can utilize on a daily basis. That is one of the reasons why I love making pens. They are something that you can carry and use every day.

Anyway . . . just wanted to encourage you! What you are trying to do IS POSSIBLE!
 

Mach4

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Dec 13, 2016
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Location
Boise, Idaho
Here is today’s output -

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From left to right, Oregon Petrfied Wood, Jadore Green Quartzite and Blue Sapphire Granite (2).

Another petrified wood barrel blew up during rough forming.
 

Mach4

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Dec 13, 2016
Messages
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Location
Boise, Idaho
In developing the tools and process for doing stone pens, I’ve taken to just making the barrels rather than complete pens. Since stone is so brittle, the components must be made slip fit and glued for final assembly, so it is a trivial matter to swap barrels on a pen kit to “see how it looks”.

Here are the pens and barrels completed to date

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They consist of Jasper, Petrified Wood, Coprolite, Quartzite, Granite and Marble.
 
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