Penmaking articles Penmaking Tips

Designer Pens

by Joseph M. Herrmann of Timber Treasures Reprinted by permission from Creative Woodworks and Crafts Magazine

SUPPLIES Wood: kingwood—package of ten blanks, No. PB-1637* Tools: band saw; chop saw; drill press with 7mm drill bit; pen drilling vise; pen tube insertion tool; barrel trimmer; mandrel with required bushings (No. PK-1167 and No. PK-1168 Sizing Sleeve)*; revolving center; lathe with assorted chisels; handheld electric drill with Velcro sanding system; buffing system; pen assembly press No. PK-1023 Designer Pen* No. SG-THICK Superglue* 1/2" masking tape 320- and 400-grit sanding discs 320-grit abrasive paper Danish oil *Available from: Steebar Corp., (973) 383-1026,

It is always tough to find a gift for a man at most craft shows. That’s why these pens are popular. They are larger in diameter and weigh more than the other pens, and if you make them in a “man’s color,” they sell quite well. Christmas, Hanukkah, Father’s Day and Boss’ Day are all good holidays for sales. (Because of its size, I’ve also discovered that this particular type of pen is favored by women who suffer from arthritis.) I sell my pens in the $45.00 to $55.00 range, depending on the material used for the body of the pen. Again, know your market!

I learned early on that pen woods are “gender specific.” Women prefer the lighter colors, such as purpleheart or tulipwood, while men prefer the darker ones, such as cocobolo or kingwood. Some woods, such as tiger and bird’s-eye maple, are “unisex species” and are favored by both genders. The same holds true for the Dymondwood colors.

These pens are a little more difficult to make because of the center band. It is “force fitted” onto a short tenon—which makes the tenon dimension critical. In addition, the blanks are not just turned into a straight cylinder, as are most of the other, more common pen styles. These pens have a long, curved “bead” shape that starts toward the middle of the blank and culminates at the bushings. Turning a smooth transition that “flows” from point A to point B is tricky. Beginning pen makers generally either form a taper instead of a curve and/or undercut the bushings, so be careful.

Preparing the blanks
I chose kingwood for my pen. I like it because it is one of the Rosewoods that exudes a pleasant odor when turned. It also cuts cleanly and sands easily.

The designer pens benefit from having a continuous grain pattern. Because the tubes are of differing lengths, I lay them directly on the blank and mark the midpoint where the center joint will be located (see Fig. 1). I prefer to make this cut on the band saw because very little material is sacrificed to the kerf. Mark a large “X” on both pieces before you make the cut so you can align them later (see Fig. 2).

I also make two more lines to locate the ends of the tubes and I cut the blanks about 1/8" longer than necessary. Even though this wood does not have the problems with “blow out” associated with Dymondwood, I still like to leave them longer than required. Sometimes the drill bit will enlarge the entry hole and this extra length allows me to trim the defect off, if necessary. I make these cuts on the chop saw.

Fig. 1. Start by laying the tubes directly on the blank.
Fig. 2. Mark the center point between the two tubes. Mark the adjacent sides with an “X” so you match the grain later.
Fig. 3. Find the center of both blanks and drill them using the pen drilling vise. Be sure to drill the ends marked with the “X.”


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