Many fountain pen enthusiasts eventually find themselves wanting to make a fountain pen of their own design. Some even end up profiting from their creations, selling them in online stores like Etsy or Amazon. If this seems like an attractive prospect to you, you’ll first need to know how to make a fountain pen.
Pen-making is a form of art, and like all art forms, it takes time to gain true mastery over it. We all have to start somewhere, though, and if you’re a fledgling pen-maker then this guide will help you along the path to becoming a master.
Zen and the Art of Fountain Pen Making
Before you start, you’ll need to make sure you have all the tools and equipment necessary. You can get most of these at your local hardware store.
What You’ll Need:
- Lathe: A machine used to rotate an object to perform tasks such as turning, sanding, cutting, drilling, etc.
- Mandrel: A steel bar used for turning fountain pen blanks on the lathe
- Collet Chuck: Made to hold an object in place by forming a collar around it and applying pressure to it.
- Thread Die: A tool used to cut male threads onto an object.
- Tap: A type of drill used to cut female threads into an object.
- Pen Blanks: Blocks of wood or resin to be used as a mold for fountain pens, usually measuring at 3/4” x 3/4” x 5”.
- Cyanoacrylate (CA): A strong, fast-acting glue.
- Sandpaper: To smoothen the blank during the turning process.
- Micromesh: An abrasive sheet that delivers fine scratches for a smooth finish.
- Center Drill: Used to bore an opening in the center of the blank.
When you’re making a fountain pen, it’s important to begin with the inner workings first, starting with your nib. The size of your nib will directly influence the size of the rest of your pen, so it’s the best place to start.
You don’t want to go through the entire pen-making process only to find that the nib you’ve made won’t fit the pen.
The size of the nib will determine the size of the feed and housing, which, in turn, determine the size of the feed section. Together, this will influence the size of the barrel.
Every part of a fountain pen is interconnected, like the gears in a watch. Because of this, thoughtful measurements need to be made for all of it to fit correctly so that it works at its best.
Threads are one of the most important aspects of making a fountain pen. They are, quite literally, what holds it all together. This is why you’ll need a good understanding of how fountain pens work.
There are 2 basic types of threads – male and female. The male thread refers to the outer threading, located on a tenon in this case, which gets screwed into the inside of the female.
In regards to the diameter of the thread, they are referred to as the major and minor diameters. The major refers to the diameter of the male thread, while the minor refers to the diameter of the hole containing the female thread.
To get the correct thread measurements, you first need to measure the diameter of your cartridge or converter. The diameter of your male thread should be about a millimeter larger, at most.
Let’s say you have a standard international cartridge, which has a diameter of around 7mm. You’ll need a major diameter of 8mm at most. This should give you an idea of what size thread die you’d need to cut the thread into the tenon of your housing section.
You’ll need to know which drill size to use for the tap when you’re making the female thread. This can be calculated by subtracting the pitch length from the diameter of the male thread. The pitch refers to the distance between each crest on the thread. So if your male is 8mm and the pitch measures at 1mm, your female would need to be 7mm.
When creating a thread, there’s a technique used to make the process smoother. For every few revolutions, you need to switch directions and twist backward for about 2-3 turns. This smoothes out the thread and gives it a cleaner finish. Some lubrication also goes a long way in ensuring the quality of your threads.
Where the size of your nib directly affects the overall size of your pen, the section is just as important because it’s what links everything together.
A nib housing is one of the trickiest things to manufacture when creating a custom pen. If you aren’t able to make it yourself, you have the option of buying ready-made housing from a kit to save you the trouble. There are plenty of outlets that sell them in various sizes.
That being said, if you have some experience making it all yourself, go for it.
If you do decide to make one yourself, you’ll need a resin blank. Materials for this include aluminite, ebonite, and acrylic.
Resin is the go-to material to use because it’s light and easy to mold, whereas a wooden nib section might crack at the threading.
When it comes to wood, the smaller it is, the harder it is to carve threading without damaging it, so using wood for the nib section is not recommended.
Making The Nib Housing
Drill a small hole into the blank using a center drill. The hole shouldn’t be too deep, it’s just to get an idea of the measurements. The blank needs to be held steady so you’ll need a collet chuck to hold it in place.
Attach the blank to a pen turning mandrel and set the lathe at 2000-3000 revolutions per minute (RPM). Use a spindle gouge to turn the resin blank down to the appropriate size, sharp tools are the best choice when it comes to turning resin.
When it’s close to the size you’re hoping for, use a skew chisel or a similarly gentle tool for a fine finish.
Turn the blank down even further at the end to create a tenon. Use a thread die to cut the male thread into the tenon. You can apply a lubricant to help smooth out the threading and leave a blank space at the base of the tenon to make screwing it in easier.
Attach the blank back onto the collet chuck and drill the hole again, but this time be sure to use a drill bit with the correct measurements so that the cartridge or converter will fit.
The male thread is where the cartridge or converter slides through to reach the protrusion at the end of the ink feed, so make sure it fits without too much space on the sides.
Now, drill a hole on the opposite end of the blank where the feed will be housed. Measure the length of the feed. This measurement will tell you how far you’ll need to drill and what tap size to use for the portion of the blank that will house the feed.
Once you’ve got the necessary measurements, use a tap to cut the female threading into the hole.
Use 180 grit sandpaper to sand it while the lathe is in motion. After a bit of sanding, stop the lathe and sand the blank to remove any scratches leftover. Repeat this process until the blank is smooth.
You then use a 1500 grit micromesh sheet dipped in water and sand from side to side. The micromesh sheet needs to remain wet.
When it’s down to the shape and size you want, buff it with a paper towel and some plastic polish to give it a nice sheen.
If you intend on using a plastic or rubber sleeve for the barrel section, you don’t need to worry as much about making sure that everything is completely smooth. But if you want the wood to show through, you need to make doubly sure that everything is in order.
Grip Section And Barrel
If you went with the option of purchasing nib housing from a kit, then you’ll likely want to make your own grip section and use the ready-made nib housing as a sleeve.
Using a brass tube makes a sufficient sleeve for the barrel.
The materials you can use for this range from various types of resin like epoxy, aluminite, acrylic and silicone, to wood or even materials like deer antlers and seashells.
Since we’ve already gone over the turning process for resin, this time we’ll focus on wood and the steps you need to take in order to create a satisfactory piece.
Wood can be tricky to work with. It’s prone to change shape over time and if it’s exposed to certain elements, which is why it needs to be stabilized. Stabilizing the wood makes it resilient to the effects of moisture, limiting absorption and preventing any swelling or warping.
There are ways to stabilize it yourself, but for that, you’d need a vacuum chamber. This is only if you’re using regular wood that’s not in the form of a blank. Stabilized wood blanks are easy enough to come by.
Making The Grip Section And Barrel
First, you’ll need to measure the blank and cut it into 2 pieces, one for the section and the other for the barrel. Make sure the blank for the barrel is long enough to house the cartridge or converter.
Drill through the center of the wood blank and make sure it’s the correct size for the housing and bushing. Then fill it with CA and insert the nib housing and brass tube.
When you’re working with CA and turning wood, you need to wear proper hand and eye protection and work in a ventilated area. The adhesive can stick to your skin and is painful to remove, and the fumes are potentially hazardous.
Glue in the section sleeve and brass tube and leave it to rest.
Once the glue has had sufficient time to dry, place it into the lathe. Set the speed at 2500-3000 RPM and use a skew chisel to turn the wood. The blank for the grip section should be turned down smaller than the barrel.
Use 400 and 600 grit sandpaper and sand it from side to side to get rid of any bumps. Apply friction polish and let it turn for a bit before adding more. Apply multiple layers after it sets to get a gloss.
Use a cloth and buff the blanks with wax for a good finish.
When it comes to the end of the barrel, there are various ways you can go about it.
You can create a tenon and thread it so that a finial can be screwed into it. The finial is the end cap of the barrel. Carving a thread into wood is not as risky in this case since it has a brass tube to offer stability from the inside. You can do this or simply glue the finial onto the tenon since it doesn’t need to be removable.
A removable finial makes your fountain pen look a little more professional, but it’s not a requirement and doesn’t have any effect on the overall functionality of your pen.
Another option is to give the barrel a rounded end. To do this, you need a slightly longer blank and should avoid drilling the hole all the way through it. To carve the end of the barrel takes skill, so we’d recommend that this method be used once you’ve gained some woodworking experience.
You’ll need to create a male thread for the cap on the barrel. This can be done the same way the other threads were made or you make a tenon and then use a die to thread it.
In this case, the male threading sits right along the outside of the female, so you need to be careful about threading it. Though that depends on the design of the fountain pen.
For the cap thread, you should use a triple lead thread die and tap. The lead refers to the linear distance traveled on a thread as you twist it. A triple lead thread is the better option because one twist of the cap would be equivalent to 3 on a regular single lead thread.
Simply put, it makes unscrewing the cap much faster.
Once again you have the choice of purchasing a ready-made cap, but if you already used a specific type blank for your grip section and barrel then you’d probably prefer one made from the same.
The process of making the cap is similar to how the nib housing is made, so we’ll be focusing on making one out of wood specifically. You have to decide if you want your cap to have a clip attached or not.
If you do want a clip, then you’ll need to make a cap finial as well.
To make the cap, first attach the wood blank to the collet chuck to hold it steady while you drill a hole into it. The hole shouldn’t be too large, right now it’s only there to set it on the mandrel.
Set the lathe to 2500-3000 RPM and begin turning it with a skew chisel. The outer diameter of your cap should match that of your barrel.
When it’s turned to the appropriate length, use 400 and 600 grit sandpaper to smooth it, before finishing it with friction polish and buffing it with wax.
After shaping the cap and giving it a satisfactory finish, remove it from the mandrel and set it on the collet chuck to hold it steady. Use a drill to make a larger hole this time. The drill bit you use should be the same size as the one you used for the barrel.
With the hole drilled, it’s time to make the female threads. Use a triple lead thread tap to form the minor thread. We recommend you use lubrication for this. It makes for smoother threads and lessens the chance of damaging your cap.
When you’re done making the threads, remove the blank from the collet chuck and reattach it on the opposite end. This is where you’ll be working to make the thread for the cap finial.
First, you’ll need to create a slight bevel on the end. The bevel will be where you place your clip, which will be sandwiched between your cap and finial.
To make the thread, you need to follow the regular steps that come with creating a minor thread. Use a tap to make the threadings, preferably using lubrication. With this done, you have your thread ready to receive the cap finial.
Cap and Barrel Finial
Measure the diameter of the clip you intend to use, and use that measurement to make an outline for the finial. Do the same with the barrel finial, except using the barrel’s diameter.
Once you’ve marked the finial’s outline, attach it to the lathe and turn the blank down to the size you want your finial to be. Be sure to leave enough room for the tenon. Once you’ve got it down to the size you want, cut off the excess length of the blank.
This blank will be shorter than what you’ve previously worked with, but the process is fairly straightforward.
Take the turned blank and attach it to the collet chuck. Turn it further at the end to create a tenon, and then use a thread die to create the major threads.
When it comes to the barrel finial you’ll simply need the measurement to match the rest of the barrel. If you can’t purchase a clip that has the same diameter as the cap then some slight adjustments will need to be made.
Assuming you’re going with a store-bought clip, you’ll need to find one with a diameter either the same or close to the size of your cap.
If you’re in luck and you’re able to find one with just the right measurements, then all you need to do is place it on your cap and screw in the finial.
If not, you just need to make some adjustments to your cap. You can turn down the ends of the cap to give it a slightly curved design that many fountain pens possess.