Great Pens of Fire!

A few months ago, Rockler released a new set of laser-cut pen blank kits which I mentioned here.  I was fortunate to be able to get hold of one, and I’ve been waiting for a chance to actually try the kit out.  There are lots of small parts, and plenty of assembly required before turning begins (and it is not a job to rush).

The Kit

The kit itself looks exciting (and looking at the components, you can see why you might be a bit nervous to start).  The smoke pieces are like fully burn matches (and you feel might be as weak as a burnt match).  The components are very clever – the black pieces are a full ring (as with the flame), but they are cut so they can be assembled.  A couple would not fit, and I finally determined that they hadn’t been cut apart (I could see where they should be separated), and it took only a little coaxing with a blade to separate the pieces.

Burning Detail

Amazing detail – a stunning component.

Completing the Jigsaw

I took my time, and got the pieces together, and was worried about the gaps, but trusted to the design so carried on to see what the result would be.  The pen was then secured with rubber bands, then flooded with superglue along each crack, allowing it to wick right into the joints.  You don’t bother trying to keep the superglue off the rubber bands – they will get cut away when turning begins.

Glued, Ready for Turning

I sanded the ends down to the length of the brass after this (staged) photo, then sharpened the chisel I planned on using, even to the extent of touching up the cutting edge with diamond stones.  This blank is a one-off – there is no second chance if there is a catch because of blunt tools.  I took the turning very slow (the lathe was running around 2200RPM, but I was very slow and careful with how much material was removed at any time.)  As material was carved away, I would stop and check if there were any gaps that needed filling, and used CA (with accelerator) where some appeared.  This was because at some points the CA hadn’t fully penetrated at the glueup, so stabilising it as I went worked very well.

I started using the PS Tools lathe, but found as I got close I wasn’t sure if it was the lathe that wasn’t set up fully, or that I hadn’t placed the mandrel properly.  Checking the alignment of head and tail stock showed very good alignment, so it was more likely me.  However, this blank was too important, so changed over to my other lathe that I knew was set up and ready.  If it was any other pen etc, I’m sure with cleaning any dust off the morse taper and sticking with the PS Tools lathe would have worked well.  I really liked the variable speed aspect of the lathe, and really, while turning I was quite happy with the lathe.  I’ll give it another go with a less important project, and fully expect it to come through well.

After turning, I finished off with some various grit chisels – from 180 right through to 1500.  I normally don’t go that far, but again, a special pen demands extra attention.  Still, I kept focus on not allowing the pen to overheat during sanding.  An exploding pen at this point would be disaster.  Following the sanding came the finishing, and I stuck with what has been working well for me – CA finish.  20 layers of CA, polished to a superb, and durable gloss.

I have taken to running a razor around at the edge of the pen – between the pen and the bush to aid separation.  Once I remove the bush, I immediately lightly sand the ends to remove any overhanging CA.  I’ve had it happen in the past that the slightest overhang causes a fracture of the surface of the finish.

The Stunning Result

I went with a gunmetal finish Sierra – seemed fitting. I am very pleased with the final product, it took easily three times as much work to get it done, but it was a pleasure to do.  I spent a long time wondering how it would go, and it was a real relief how it did work out.  The dark pieces were not as fragile as they looked, and the gaps I was worried about vanished during the turning and finishing.  And interestingly, the black….isn’t.  It has beautiful wood grain, again that I wasn’t expecting.  It is an incredible blank, and I imagine the other designs are the same.


So there you have it.  If you are looking for a pen significantly above and beyond the typical, then one of the laser cut designs from Rockler definitely fit the bill. Amazing.

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