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Mark Dreyer Demonstrates for CMW – October 29, 2021

Mark lives in Aurora, Illinois and has been an avid pen maker for over 25 years.  He has participated in multiple demonstrations in both regional and national events.  He is an active member of the Chicago Woodturners and the Windy City Woodturners as well as AAW.

Mark began his demonstration with illustrations of the many types of pen blanks that he has created including those containing snake skin, alligator jaw bone, watch face, pine cones, encs of burl, customized printer images, Marine walking medallions and pressed pennies.  He has a recent article in the April 2021 issue of American Woodturner “Make a Steam Punk Pen”.  Other information is at his website: markdreyerturning.com which contains outlines of his demonstrations, as well as a you tube videos: “10 minutes to better penmaking”.

To get started in pen making you will need a kit and a blank. 

Kits can be obtained from ExoticBlanks.com and/or Penn State Industries and contain the brass tubes and instructions.  His favorite Kit is Vertex Supreme; Majestic pen kits have the largest tubes which are good with pressed pennies. 

Blanks:

  • Choices:  Wood is easiest to work with, followed by Alumilite, commercial acrylic, rubberized acrylic (often camouflage designs) and Inlace Acrylester (which is “chippy”).
  • Preparing the blank:
    • It’s important to wear safety glasses and face shields with pen making.  Acrylic splinters may fly off and get in your eye.
    • For wood blanks, you want the grain to match up from top to bottom of the pen, so mark the top and bottom before cutting the wood for the tube. Put an arrow mark at the center heading to the ends of the blank. If you are making multiple pens, it’s helpful to number the blanks (top and bottom) before drilling.
    • Drill the blanks from the center line to the ends – almost through the blank, then cut off the ends at the proper length to prevent splitting. You can use either a drill press – which is good if many blanks are being prepared, or on the lathe using a Jacobs chuck and a 4-pronged chuck (this is most precise).  He uses a brad point drill bit.  Don’t over-drill – stay cool – acrylics can melt.

Gluing in the tube:

  • Mark doesn’t think it’s necessary to scuff the tube before gluing with epoxy
  • Mark prefers 5-minute epoxy to CA glue because CA glue has no tangential strength, so it is more likely to become loose.  Roll the brass tube in the epoxy and “screw” it in and out of the drilled space.
  • If glue gets into the tube – just rasp in off the inside
  • If the tube sticks part-way into the drilled space, just cut it off at the end of the blank and glue the remainder on the other side of the blank.  It doesn’t matter if the tube is completely filling the blank.
  • Mark sands the ends of the blanks using a sanding block and a punch between the brass

Mandrels:

  • You need the appropriate bushings for your pen to tell you the size of the ends
  • Mark doesn’t use the long mandrel which will hold both pieces of the pen blank because it’s easy to put too much pressure on the end of the mandrel which can bend it.
  • A mandrel saver is used to turn one barrel at a time
  • There is also an option to turn the blank between centers

Turning your blank:

  • Mark uses a small tool rest to get closer to the blank you’re turning
  • Sharp tools a must – he prefers to use Easy Wood Cutter (round end) or square end (for wood).  You can also use a negative rake cutter especially on acrylic and burl – they are less aggressive. Turn the cutter 1/4th turn every 20-40, and discards cutters when you’ve gone around 4 times
  • Use the fastest speed you can and place your finger near the top of the cutter while moving your body from side to side.  For harder blanks, rubbery or chippy blanks, you may need to slow down some.
  • For wood blanks, Mark uses ¼-1/2 of the square carbide tool and pushes straight in to round the blank
  • Cut from center to each end using first a scoop cut where the tool is positioned straight onto the wood and then to the ends, then use a peel cut where the tool is at a 45 degree angle (this produces long peel strips)
  • Work the corners edges, beginning at the bushing and curving around the blank

Finishing

  • Sand using paper from 100-400 grit and then wet micromesh.  Every other grit, he sands with the grain by hand
  • Pens get a lot of abuse, so its important to use a durable finish. He prefers a glue boost because it doesn’t yellow and has a pore filler.  Friction polish isn’t as durable. 
  • Application of glue boost: Use silicon bushings to prevent finish from getting on mandrel
    • With lathe off: Apply 1 drop of medium by hand and spritz with accelerator – this seals the wood.  Repeat
    • Apply several coats of thin glue boost and sprits as above
    • Glue boost can be colored – he uses Master Tint which comes as a set of RGB, Antique and black.  Use the color in the first coat.  The grain will show through – then complete the other coats of glue boost.
  • Buff using the Beal system

Embellishing your blanks:

  • Coloring: See Jimmy Clewes for his dying techniques using trans tint – black; sand; red; sand; purple; sand; yellow
  • You can also bleach the blank using Chlorox.  He showed us black palm and purple heart that had been bleached.  After bleaching, towel off and allow to dry for 48 hrs then finish.
  • Use a segmented blank
  • Stabilization of punky wood – use stabilization juice in a vacuum; let dry, bake at 200 degrees – and it becomes an acrylic
  • Acrylic – paint the hole.  Since Acrylics become transparent, you will see the brass tube unless you paint the drilled hole.  You can use black or white Apple Barrel Acrylics from Michaels using a Q-tip.  You can also use different paint color for the top and bottom section of your pen.

Casting: making your own blanks- John Underhill

All kinds of objects can be put into a casted pen blank: watch faces, abalone shell, Cactus, pine cones, candy bar wrappers, snake skins, the back of a playing card, pheasant feathers. 

Basics: start with a brass tube, wrap it with something and then cast in a mold with acrylic or epoxy

  • Types of medium:
  • Silmar 41 PR resin – Sweet smelling, clearer, better shine, best for labels, requires pressure pot
  • Alumilite – requires a pressure pot – will yellow but has better adhesion for embedded objects and can be colored.
  • Epoxy – takes 7-10 days to cure – doesn’t require a pressure pot

Mixing Process

  • Alumilite must be mixed in the exact same quantities.  To do this use a scale set in grams rather than ounces.  Measure part A and B in separate containers, then pour into a 3rd container to mix.  Mix well using a drill or beater – also glasses and gloves.  Don’t worry about bubbles if using a pressure pot.
  • To measure the amount needed, fill the mold with water and pour into a measuring cup
  • Setting time
    • Alumilite Slow – 12 minutes
    • Alumilite regular – 5 minutes
    • Silmar – about 15 minutes. 

Molds:

  • Silicon molds – flat molds for color casting don’t require a pressure pot.  Other blue molds still need a pressure pot
  • Pen blank molds or deeper molds require a pressure pot to remove any bubbles in the resin
  • Pressure pots should be set at 50-60psi; Silmar requires ~ 24 hours under pressure; Alumilite requires 90-210 minutes.
  • Mark demonstrated setting up an Underhill Casting system (from ExoticBlanks.com) which has plugs that fit into the top and bottom of the brass pen tube.  There is a ring mechanism that centers the tube in the cylindrical mold that can be cut to fit any size tube.  Once centered in the mold, the acrylic is poured in the mold around the pen tube, placed in the carrier and then into the pressure pot.
  • Once unmolded, set the blank set for 1 day for Alumilite and Silmar, Epoxy requires 7-10 days to cure. 

Mark demonstrated several unique blanks

Picture:

  • Size the picture and print it on a waterproof label. 
  • Cut the picture label the right size – add ~1/16inch on the top and bottom and remove the backing
  • Begin with one edge of the picture, carefully wrap the sticky side around your brass tube.  It is then ready to be put into your casting mold. 

Coin or watch face:

  • See Marks Article in The April 2021 issue of American Woodturner “Make a Steam Punk Pen”
  • These items must be bent to fit around the brass tube.  Use a punch tool to determine the appropriate size of your brass tube then use a jeweler’s tapping punch that matches the brass tube you are using.  Push the watch face or coin into the rack to shape the item to the right size of your brass tube.  You can also make your own punch block by drilling the appropriate size space in a wood block
  • Use a single drop of CA glue to attach your item to the brass tube.  Be careful with the CA since it can interfere with the resin.  If you use too much, let the blank sit for a few days to allow the CA fumes to dissipate before casting.

Resources:

Markdreyerturning.com – you tube videos and PowerPoint ; mark@markdreyer.com

ExoticBlanks.com/ Underhill-casting-solutions ; steel-dapping-block- Air Tools

Pennstateind.com – pen kits, blanks accessories etc.

Peachtreewoodturning.com – tool rest with 5 bars

Harbor Freight –punches, pressure pot – must be modified some but also works well – ~$100

Ptownstubbie.com/collections/tube-in-molds Pressure pots can be found on Amazon, Craft supplies, Harbor freight:  Prices ~$100 (Harbor Freight) – $250 California Air T