A peek at what we make
Yes, it’s the third and final installment of my Behind the Scenes blog entries detailing how I make acrylic pens (See part 1, How Long DOES it Take? and part 2, I See a Red Acrylic and I Want to Paint it … Taupe?). If you recall, our acrylic pen blanks have been cut to size, drilled, and the insides were painted. After letting the pain dry over night I glued the brass tubes in place, a rather tedious task that I am sparing you from.
After the glue holding the brass tubes was allowed another day to cure, it was time to ‘square’ the blanks. That is to say, the ends need to be made perpendicular to the tube inside of the blank.
Above is the red blank from earlier. Using my lathe, the ends of the blank have been brought to an even finish running perpendicular to the tube in the pen blank. Since the lathe is set up for this process, it is repeated for each of the 7 pen blanks in this batch, each taking a few minutes.
With the ends prepared, the lathe configuration is changed and the first of the 7 pen blanks is mounted between centers. It first needs to be ‘roughed’, or brought from square to round.
The pen blank is now round and the bulk of the material has been removed. We are seeing the beginnings of how the colors will look when it is finished (remember, the inside was painted taupe to add depth and highlight the darker swirls). Here I stop to change the carbide insert on my lathe tool from a 2″ radius to a 4″ radius. It will finish bringing the blank to its final size and smooth the surface, allowing me to start sanding at 600 grit.
Above you see the blank, now fully sanded through 12,000 grit and quite beautiful. You can see the deep ruby-red tone it has taken as a result of the paint choice, but still with plenty of shimmer in the lighter areas of red. This is where many pen makers stop, but I go 1 step further. In the background you see buffing wheels with a special plastic buffing compound. By the time the acrylic is finished, you will not find any scratches in the surface of the pen under 10x magnification. From mounting the pen to being finished with sanding ~30 minutes have passed. It’s important to not turn the blank too quickly, or the acrylic will overheat and explode. Patience truly is a virtue here.
The buffing is done as another batch operation since the wheel is mounted on the lathe. Sometimes it can get a little crazy keeping all of the pen blanks sorted properly, but since these are all for the same style of pen I was able to keep them all together off to the side until they were turned and sanded.
Here are four of the pens from this batch. First you will see the red pen to the left. Why did I want to highlight the darker tones with taupe paint? Because it was being mounted on a Black Titanium hardware set.
Next in is a blank meant to look like silver. This was being mounted on chrome hardware, so I painted the inside white. You can see the ends fade to a lighter silvery color meant to visually lead your eye to the chrome with a smooth transition.
The third one in is the blue blank that had the bright blue paint inside. The bright blue highlighted the pearlescent nature of these lighter areas to play off the Rhodium hardware the blank was mounted on.
Lastly, on the far right is the blank that had the hand-mixed teal paint used inside. It is also mounted on Black Titanium hardware, but instead of playing to it in a matching sort of way (as with the red pen) I used the teal as a big bright color pop. The blank still works well with this hardware because it does have some light swirls of gray.
I know, you REALLY want to know how long it took, right? Well, it takes maybe 1 hour of working on each pen. I mean actively working. But that doesn’t take into account measuring and setting the jigs to cut the blanks to length, changing drill bits and centering the drill press vise that holds the blanks (we want that hole to be dead center after all!), mixing the paints, letting the paint and glue cure, or all of the set up changes made to the lathe.
So, how long does it take? Well, when you consider all of those things I’m still not sure. Add to the fact that I try to have multiple batches going (some glue drying while others are being turned) and it only compounds the confusion. I’ll tell you this much though. That shopper who stormed off from my booth at a craft fair yelling “How much? They’re just pens!“ has no idea, either.
I hope you’ve enjoyed getting a little peek behind the curtain. I’m very fortunate to be able to do what I love full time, and I appreciate you taking the time to read along