Weekly update: Year 2 week 39: Materials

What a day, it was going great until my wifes computer blew up. Gotta love it when a PSU starts to spark. Hopefully it hasn’t fried the mother board. Will find out Tuesday when the power supply turns up. Finished off two customer pens today and finished off shaping a prototype all of which I will share next week.

Oh yeah, it’s my birthday Tuesday, woop woop!

Anyway…

* Pen Making

So, materials, there are a bunch of different materials pen makers use to make pens. Some of them more popular than others. You may notice that I have posted a picture of some very popular materials to go along with this post. The thing is, all these materials we use have their own benefits and drawbacks. Let’s just start with the general thing about materials used in pen making.

So, all materials will either come as square blanks or round blanks, square blanks as a general rule will be quite short and you will need two of them to make one pen. There will an example of these later. Then there is the round blanks, these lead to less wastage and come in two sizes, short and long. The long ones you can get a whole pen out of and the shorter ones you need two. Obviously if you have two patterned blanks it is nearly impossible to match the patterns.

* Alumilite – A brand name for a resin that comes in different types, [epoxy resin](https://i.imgur.com/Mwb0VIz.jpg), which are mixed by volume and [clear or clear slow](https://i.imgur.com/oqCBSvX.jpg) which are mixed by weight. You can get opaque white as well. So from my experience in using the Epoxy as a caster I can tell you the advantage from that perspective is that it is easy to use, you have a long time to get the mixes right. The clear slow, I haven’t used but even with the slow you only have a working time of 15 minutes rather than 30 for the epoxy. However once turned they behave completely differently. Makers like Brooks and Diamond Cast use the clear slow, which for a big manufacturer makes sense because the demould time is quicker so you get a faster turnaround.

How do they turn though, well epoxy is you get the mix right is fine, it’s a relatively soft material and so it turns easily and it polishes up to a nice shine. When it heats up it can get soft which will lead to threads warping and seeming stiff. The clear slow is more stable when turning however both materials give off a lot of powder when turning. They are both quite expensive materials as they are usually from specialist blanks makers.

* [Ebonite](https://i.imgur.com/qgbfTbd.jpg) – This material has a long history in pen making and is great for a number of things, you can make feeds out of it, whole pens, sections, inner workings of the pens. It’s a hardened rubber and comes in a bunch of different colours. The advantages of it are more from a user perspective rather than a makers perspective because it is horrible to work with. For the user it is such a warm feeling material, it comes up to a gorgeous shine and it quite durable. When you work with the stuff though, it stinks to high heaven, think of farts and burnt rubber and you are close. Also when threading the material you have to make sure the threads are quite loose as they will tighten up over time and can seize if you aren’t careful. Finishing it off is the next challenge as it will show up every single mark on it, especially the single colour variations of it. The last thing with it is that the colours won’t be as bright as you get from say, alumilite or acrylic, still when finished properly it is gorgeous and I love it. Oh yeah the other thing about ebonite, it puts a lot of wear on your tools so you better have a good stock of replacement tips or be good at sharpening them.

* Acrylic – The final material I am going to talk about is Acrylic, both [vintage and modern](https://i.imgur.com/tQdnDwa.jpg). A lot of pen makers cut their teeth on the modern acrylics because they are cheap, they come up to a really nice polish and take threads very well. There are, like all things in life, good things and bad things about them. The good things I have already outlined about the modern stuff but the bad sides are that its quite brittle and it normally comes as squares, these square blanks are very rarely even, this can be a nightmare when trying to fit them in the lathe. Heat buildup is also an issue if you are not careful, I have accidentality melted the inside of a blank while drilling it out before now, not too much of a disaster as like I said, it’s cheap and readily available. Vintage acrylics on the other hand are not cheap, at all, and can come in a bunch of weird and wonderful diameters. The other thing about the vintage stuff is that it is in limited supply, something which is great for clients but if you mess it up because it is brittle it can quite easily ramp up the cost of the pen.

* Wood – I have not used wood or hybrid blanks so I can’t really comment on those, they sure do look nice when finished up though.

* Metals – Metal pens are heavy and it takes a while to turn. They look stunning though, I have only used brass so far to make a complete pen and that worked out pretty well. One day when I get around to it I will do one of each design I have as metal.

* Vinyl – So my dad works in a factory where they make records. He is going to have a go at making me some pen blanks out of the scrap material. We’ll have to see how that works. Should be fun.

Any other materials that you can think of that I haven’t covered? Oh there was one thing…

* Polyester – God I hate this stuff, I hate the smell, I hate the material properties and everything about it.

As usual feel free to give suggestions for where these updates go in the comments. Please take care of yourselves and your loved ones and stay safe.

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