Glen 20 Part Deux

Decided to give it a try myself, to see if there is any substance to this curious concept.

I started by running a bead of thin CA without any accelerator to see how long it would take to set up. After a minute I got bored (short attention span), so moved onto commercial accelerant. It took a few seconds, then the reaction was both expected, and impressive. Smoke, heat, crackling sounds and a solid bead appeared. (One of the reasons I don’t like a pump applicator- you end up with a rather foam-like result as the boiling creates an aerated result). A good result, at least in the sense of a proper exothermic rapid reaction.

Next I tried alcohol, specifically vodka. Interesting- a very quick result, but it wasn’t an exothermic reaction (at least not obviously). Instead it was more of a rubbery result, sticky almost. Not what you’d want from CA, or an accelerator on a pen (or any other use of CA).

So onto water, and in the same time period, the same result. Guess it was the water content of the vodka that got the result, not the ethanol.

Time for the Glen 20. Hmm- no exothermic reaction, and the same sticky, gummy result as I got with all the other potential accelerator alternatives. And yeah, the Glen 20 smell gets pretty repugnant after a very short time. What I think is setting the glue off is the water content of Glen 20, and not the ethanol. I’m not saying that Timberbits didn’t get the result they did, but if it worked that well, you could use a spray of water to equal result, which is even cheaper, and won’t make your shed smell like a just-cleaned toilet.

So the result, at least for me, is that none of the alternatives tested are a good substitute for genuine accelerator. I’m still very much of the mind that I prefer aerosol to pump applicators.

Hmm – how do I get superglue off my fingers again?

Pen Finishing on a Shoe String

The Roving Reporter pointed me in the direction of this video by which is one of the woodturning pen suppliers in Australia.

The CA finish is something I have demonstrated on this site before (have a check under Shed.TV), but this is a bit of a different version of the technique which is interesting in itself.  The white glaze he was getting during the video I often associated with a failed finish, but even that is something I will now reassess after watching this segment.

One thing we (I assume) agree on, is CA accelerator is best done by aerosol.  I’ve tried the pump spray applicator and have a strong loathing for it (for finishing) – where it comes to just setting off the CA glue I’ve used to repair a crack in a turning, or after gluing something up, it is perfectly acceptable, but I like a nice even coat of CA, followed by a nice even covering of accelerator, rinse and repeat 20 times when doing a CA finish.

However, the aerosol can be tricky to track down (especially if you run out on a weekend, and don’t want to waste time driving to the woodwork supplier wherever that happens to be, or wait for the postman if you order online), so here is an interesting alternative. Glen 20!

It costs 1/2 as much for twice the quantity compared with a commercial accelerator.  A very curious proposition.

So time for some research. MSDS (material safety data sheets) are an excellent source of information!

Superglue / CA is ethyl cyanoacrylate which polymerises in the presence of water (and thus why it is particularly good at gluing skin!! Many claim the best accelerator is to use the fingers, although with a few difficult side effects!)

The standard accelerator is around 95% acetone (which is a ketone for those diving for their old organic chemistry books), with 2.5% toluidine (methylaniline), which is a benzene based compound.  Fortunately not all accelerators use it, as it is carcinogenic. Others use toluene which is not only a very similar compound (and is also benzene-based) but is not as toxic (still, I wouldn’t be drinking it!)  And 2.5% quinone (cyclohexadienedione) which is also benzene-based.

However it is the 95% component that interests me.  Acetone – anyone with wives, girlfriends, daughters is quite likely to have some of this in their bathroom cupboard, being the primary ingredient in nail polish remover.  What is really curious, is acetone is also effective as a CA glue remover – so why is it so effective as an accelerator??  (And from my misguided youth, I can also reveal that chloroform is a very effective CA glue remover!!) Acetone is also used as paint thinner, so as far as organic chemicals go, it is very readily available.

So what about Glen 20? Well for one, there is no benzene-based compounds.  But nor is there any acetone or other ketone (although there is a “hydrocarbon propellant”, namely butane, and that makes up around 20% of the contents).  The rest is good ol’ fashioned ethanol (around 50%) and then some undeclared stuff (which being non-hazardous is a. not likely to be an organic chemical, and b. is most likely water with a bit of scent added, but they don’t really want to tell you that you’ve just bought ethanol and water!)  Ethanol – I have a fair amount of that at home as well- in my drinks cabinet.  One in particular would probably be getting close in proportion to Glen 20 – vodka!  20% ethanol, 80% water or thereabouts.  Perhaps I should ‘clean’ more often!

Some people have mentioned baking soda is another accelerant for CA.  I’m not convinced.  Certainly, baking soda is used as a filler in conjunction with CA, and when you do that the curing of the CA is quite exothermic but I’d think that can be put down to the greater contact surface area providing more nucleation points for the glue to cure from (and the faster it cures, the hotter the result).  In that respect it has accelerated the curing process, but it has had to become a part of the bond to perform the role.  You end up with a different result than if the CA had cured of its own accord, whereas traditional CA accelerants result in an identical result, just faster.

The question is then: how does Glen 20 work?  We can go on the anecdotal evidence from Timberbits’ video that it does.  Work that is.

I wonder, and I probably won’t get an answer on this, but the polymerisation of CA requires water.  More precisely, it requires hydroxide ions.  And what is alcohol, but an alkane carbon chain with a hydroxide ion attached?



Either way, there is the hydroxide ion the CA requires (and for those playing at home, it is the red-white ball combination, with red representing oxygen, and white hydrogen).  And if not from the ethanol, there is still a fair chunk of water in Glen 20.  I’ll have to try it to see if just simply spraying with water is sufficient to speed up the process.  I’m sure someone must have a tube nearby that they can try and report back!

Tiger Myrtle Sedona

After tackling the Mont Blanc, I had a closer look at the Sedona kits that I (re)discovered in my pen kit, and decided it wouldn’t actually be a complicated build.  It has a large-diameter brass tube core, so I opted for a larger blank I had to ensure that I didn’t suffer any splitting during the drilling step.  And I had a perfect piece of Tiger Myrtle for the job.

This was also a good test of the drilling vice – how easy it copes with changing the size of the blank, and it proved to be no drama.

Sedona Fountain Pen

The pen lid is threaded, and can screw onto the end when the pen is used, giving it a very nice feel, weight and balance.  It is also interesting writing with a fountain pen – a completely different feel to a ball point.  I haven’t used one since the Navy – it is traditional to hand write letters (posting acceptance letters from vague memory) using a fountain pen.  12 or so years on, and I’m rediscovering fountain pens as a writing implement.  They also make quite a statement when you use one in a meeting, just have no idea what that statement is!


Even capped, the style has a bit of punch, but it is interesting watching the reaction when the cap is removed and they discover the iridium nib, rather than the ball point they were expecting. The finish, like normal for me these days is the significantly durable and glossy (by choice) CA finish. (CA = Cyanoacrylate = Superglue)


The pen obviously comes apart for refilling, and comes with both a standard ink cartridge (purchasable from stationary shops).  It also comes with an interesting cartridge that has a bit of a syringe thing happening.  It is a reloadable cartridge, designed to be used with an ink bottle to refill.

Refillable Ink Cartridge

So another pen design experienced – by no means the cheapest (or the most expensive). Around $25 for the pen mechanism.

It is a nice pen 🙂

Feedback on Pen Videos

Just tripped over some discussions about my recent Pen Turning videos (Part 1 – Preparing and Turning and Part 2 Finishing and Assembling) on a site called and thought I’d provide some responses here:

Firstly, thanks for the comments (both positive (and not so positive – they make some good points))

I wouldn’t have minded if you’d told me where you thought I’d gone wrong – I’m still learning like everyone!

To the specific points raised:

Speed I was turning (and sanding) at – not sure – fast! (A tip I picked up from Robbo, who is an amazing professional turner)

Chisel – yeah – the gouge is way too big for the job.  I definitely have my eye out for one that is a more appropriate size.  The one I used did the job, but it is 2-3 times larger than it should be for such a small item! Also, toolrest to workpiece distance – good point (I’m still learning this turning caper)

To Harry’s comments – yes, I didn’t work up through anywhere near as many sandpaper grits than I used to (I used to head up to 1200+), but found it doesn’t seem to make any difference to the result under a CA finish.  Perhaps I could get an even better result if I did.  As to skipping micromesh grits – no – didn’t skip any – sorry if I didn’t make that clear.  However, nor did I clean off the residue between grits, and that is a very good point – thanks for that pickup – will change my practices accordingly.

Too much accelerator? I’m positive that I was, and that stuff isn’t cheap so I will definitely scale back my use of it. The only time I have gotten a milky finish is when I forgot to use the accelerator, (or when I tried one before I had some, and didn’t leave enough time for the CA to set properly).  I tend to think the milky issue is caused by a micro-shearing of the CA finish on a layer that wasn’t set hard enough (that layer slipping).  However, it will also be interesting to monitor the pens over time to see how they are affected down track.  At this stage, the first pens I did with CA are now over 2 months old, and are as pristine as the day they were made (and have been used every day since then too).

The use of accelerator is just that – to speed up the process.  If you are willing to wait an hour or so between coats, then yeah- there is no need for the accelerator.  Like any glue, there is a time to when the glue sets and therefore you can remove the clamps, but then there is a much longer time for the glue to cure and achieve full strength.  Superglue is the same – it may seem to dry in seconds, but it will take a good hour or so to cure properly.  The accelerator, well, you can surmise from its title what it does!

Thanks for the discussion though – hopefully I’ve helped a bit, clarified a bit, (and I’ve learned a bit as well!)


it is more productive just going to bed.

After a number of false starts over the weekend (too many things to do, not enough time), I finally slipped into the shed around 10pm.  Couldn’t think of any particular task, so thought I’d turn a Tiger Myrtle Sierra Pen.  At that time of night, I needed something that wasn’t too noisy to make!

So, to start the count, how many indicators were there that I shouldn’t have bothered?

1. late
2. tired
3. cold (under 10C, and the shed is rather….ventilated)
4. tiger myrtle (somehow, I always stuff it up)
5. overdid the milling – ended up slightly shorter than desirable
6. turning the pen went too easily (never a good sign)
7. CA was like syrup, it was so cold
8. forgot to use accelerator, and had to strip off the finish and restart
9. got a catch with the paper, and had a nice CA bulge, rather than a good CA spread
10. found a fault in the finish – sand it back
11. got to the final polish grit, found another significant fault
12. never really got rid of the bulge, and now found a hollowing as well
13. later
14. tireder
15. colder
16. fail.

Sometimes you just have to pay attention to the messages!

I did find out one interesting trick. If you have to strip off CA, instead of sanding it away (which does take a bit – it is a durable finish), it is like any other acrylic – it doesn’t like heat.

Holding a padded piece of paper towel against the timber while it is spinning, and applying a bit of pressure quickly builds up the heat, and all of a sudden the finish fails and strips off. Once you have a start, work along the pen, and the CA comes off very easily, leaving pretty much bare timber. A quick sand, and you can be ready to start over. Interesting trick, but not one that you want to have to do, as it means something has already gone frustratingly wrong.

Episode 50b Finishing and Assembling a Pen

Episode 50b Finishing and Assembling a Pen

Episode 50a Preparing and Turning a Wooden Pen

Episode 50a Preparing and Turning a Wooden Pen.

Part b will include finishing with a CA finish (Superglue), and assembly.

Productive Days

Been a couple of rather productive days, which always feels good, recharges the batteries, keeps the electron population down and generally results in piles of sawdust!

For those that have been asking – yes, the pen turning video (and CA finish) has been shot, and is “In-the-Can” as they say.

Had a few successes, and a few failures, but that is also acceptable as it hopefully means something learned, and therefore less likely to be repeated.

One of the failures was actually the router bit of the month back in November last year – the Linbide Flush Trim Bit.  I cannot seem to use this bit without some colossal grabs, and kickbacks, and I’m starting to feel surprised by the number I’ve had, that I haven’t had a body part pulled into the cutter.  I don’t understand what is going on with it, as I came to a conclusion that I probably will shelve the bit for a good while (at least until the heart recovers (bloody good thing I installed a defibrillator recently!!)) before giving it one last attempt, and the benefit of the doubt.  However, given the number of startling grabs I’ve had with it, I returned to my old pattern copying bit (or straight cutter with bearing bit, however you want to call it), and with the same material, same approach etc etc, I didn’t have a single grab or scary moment.  I was starting to doubt myself there for a while – thought I’d lost my touch (and was quickly loosing my nerve), but it is the bit I tells ya.

Ran some more material through the drum sander tonight – this time some cyprus pine that I had resawed aways back.  I’m steadily becoming more and more impressed with the machine- it is achieving exactly what I was hoping it could do (but didn’t know as never having seen, let alone used one).

Some Promotional Images

Been working on some images for a website, and thought I might as well throw them on here to see how they look live, as it were.




ncf-quick-ca-acceleratorThe second image is CA Accelerator – although we think of CA (superglue) as being incredibly quick-drying, when using it as a finish when turning (such as for a pen) it is beneficial to be able to get it to cure even faster, and thus this is where the CA Accelerator is useful.

Couldn’t find any, until I mentioned it on here of course, and next thing I was getting suggestions (cheers!) on where to track it down, including hobby shops, and the Woodworking Warehouse, where I sourced this can from.

The Results

A couple more results

A couple more results

These are the resulting two pens from the evening.  The pen on the left is again a Sierra, with a black acrylic body.  I’ve had this pen blank for a couple of years, and hadn’t found a project to use it on, until I saw the black components of the Sierra, and that made it a no-brainer.  I don’t think I expected the white to remain thin tracks through the pen – I though they were going to be large facets of white, revealed as the blank turned round.  I guess not!  Overall I am very happy with how it came out.  The pen would be even better if I was a Collingwood supporter!

The pen on the right is actually the same pen as the previous one.  I decided I really wasn’t happy enough with the fit and finish I had achieved, so took the pen apart, remounted the body in the lathe and turned the original timber off (ie turned it into toothpicks).  I was then able to start again with a new blank.

This time I am much happier with the results.  I don’t know what the timber is though unfortunately.

The finish on the right pen is CA, and given it is my first CA finished pen, I’m not exactly an expert.  However, I will make a pen video very shortly, and will attempt to show how the CA finish is applied.

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