Although there are many aspects of making a handmade pen, one of the most important is selecting the material for the body of the pen. The pen material determines how the final product will look, so careful selection of the material type and composition is critical to the successful outcome of the final product. Wood, acrylic, Tru-Stone, antler and other materials can all be used, but I will focus on selecting materials for a wood-bodied pen
Selecting the Wood
There are hundreds if not thousands of options for selecting the wood material for a handcrafted pen. There are domestic woods such as cherry, walnut, and maple (see http://www.mazurkapens.com/pages/Our-Wood.html for some examples) . There are exotic woods, such as eucalyptus, cochinchin, and snakewood. Fortunately, wood species exist across the world and the variety is seemingly unending.
Each type of wood can have significant variations in its composition. There are straight-grained woods, burls, birdseye, curly and other variations that can add significant character to the way that the wood looks
Figure and Grain
When selecting a candidate piece of wood, care must be taken to determine the type of figure and wood grain. The grain orientation significantly determines the final look of the pen. Grain that runs the length of the pen will have a traditional ‘wood’ look, while grain that is offset at an angle (as much as 90 degrees) will have a different, often dramatic look. The orientation of the grain also makes the turning of the pen either easier or harder. Grain that runs and an angle can often be a challenge to turn.
Stabilizing the Wood
Wood that has significant variations in its grain (such as a burl or birdseye), or is a real softwood or has spalting (fungus in wood) need to be stabilized. Really, all of the wood that is turned for a pen should be stabilized to have equilibrium for its moisture content. Turning a pen removes significant material from the pen blank, which can cause a substantial change in the wood moisture content. This can lead to cracking in the finish later if the wood has not been properly stabilized.
Finishing the Handmade Pen
Once the pen has been turned and sanded, the finishing process can start. Depending upon the type of wood, some finishes will work better than others. For wood that has been properly stabilized, most finishes will work. The key consideration is to ensure that wood movement doesn’t adversely affect the finish. Hard finishes, such as CA, can crack if the wood has excessive movement. If the wood has a high moisture content, it can shrink over time and cause cracks in the CA finish. For highly figured woods, other finishes may prove to be more durable. Otherwise, care should be taken to ensure that the wood has stabilized.
If care is taken in the selection of the type of wood, its grain composition, and in its proper preparation and stabilization, the final product is a stunning work of art. Through the proper selection of materials, an artist can create a beautiful work of art that will be enjoyed for years to come.