Finishes for pens - Woodworking Talk - Woodworkers Forum
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post #1 of 6 Old 06-02-2020, 10:12 PM Thread Starter
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Finishes for pens


I just scored a great deal this weekend on a mini lathe from Marketplace, I plan on doing some pen turning to start. My question is: what are a few different options for finishes on pens? I plan on mainly turning wood so we will just keep that in mind for this topic. I'm curious what're some quick finishes that look nice. I've read about a bunch but would like to get some feedback from real experience and maybe even some photos. Let me know!
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post #2 of 6 Old 06-02-2020, 10:46 PM
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A good friend has made over 3,500 pens, he uses CA and made a good video showing his process -

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post #3 of 6 Old 06-02-2020, 11:10 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by difalkner View Post
A good friend has made over 3,500 pens, he uses CA and made a good video showing his process -

JCWP CA Finish - YouTube


CA seems like a popular one, thank you for the video attachment!
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post #4 of 6 Old 06-03-2020, 12:20 AM
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Whoo boy! Ask 10 pen turners that question and you'll get 11 or 12 opinions! :-)

I've been using something close to the process that Barry White (author of several turning and pen turning books) taught be at a session at a woodworking show. He demonstrates it in a video here.

My process for wood blanks is this.

- Sand the turned blank through 600 grit sandpaper
- Polish the blanks using 500, 1000, 2000 and 4000 grit Abralon finishing pads
- Apply five coats of medium CA glue with a light spray of accelerator after each coat
- Wet polish with Micro Mesh pads through 12000 grit
- Apply a touch of acrylic scratch remover and wipe it off with a clean, dry cotton cloth
- Polish on two buffing wheels, the first one with jeweler's rouge

I typically spend more time with the roughest Micro Mesh pads than any of the others.

The type of CA glue you use can make a big difference too. I've seen more people swear by Mercury Flex than any other brand. I've been using Satellite City Super T with good results.
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post #5 of 6 Old 06-03-2020, 12:46 AM
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I use mostly CA as well. After trying several different CA brands, I settled on GluBoost. For most pens, I use two or three coats of regular, followed by two or three coats of thin. I use the GluBoost accelerator after each coat; a quick fine mist from a distance. I like GluBoost because I get consistent, crystal clear, "sparkly" finishes and their accelerator has never given me any issues.

Remember to cover your lathe bed to protect it. I use a plastic shopping bag, weighed down with scrapwood to keep it from getting sucked into the turning lathe. Run your lathe at a slow speed.

Before sanding, I change out the metal bushings for plastic non-stick ones. The plastic bushings avoid the issue where sanding can embed metal particles from the bushings into to your wood and darken it. Be very careful not to round off the edges as you sand or sand off too much. You worked hard to match the turnings to your bushings.

Before applying the finish, I sand with the five sandpapers: 150, 240, 320, 400, 600.

Stop the lathe after each grit and sand sideways along the grain while slowly rotating the hand wheel, to remove circular scratches. Wipe the blank between grits to remove any grit particles that may scratch.

I apply CA finishes with craft foam. I cut off tiny squares from a 9x12 inch (2 mm thick) sheet to apply it. 88 cents at the local Walmart. Wear a glove.

For me, the trick for applying CA finishes is to use very little at a time. I aim for two drops on the foam pad. Move the pad back and forth, smoothing the CA. If you see ripples, keep smoothing. You have time, but not a lot of time. Learn what it feels like when the CA just starts to get sticky. You should have stopped before that.

I use wet Micro-mesh pads to polish CA finishes. I mark the edges of the pads with dots to keep the order straight; 1 dot through 9 dots. It takes only a few seconds per pad. Be careful not to sand off the CA finish with the rougher grit pads. Like the sandpaper, stop the lathe, polish along the grain to remove circular scratches, then wipe off the pen blank before proceeding the next finer pad.

I recommend buying the 3x4 inch pads (over the 2x2 pads) and cutting them up to save money. They last a long time. I lost my first "set" at a demonstration a year ago, and I am still on the second set. For the glossiest pens, I use Hut Ultra Gloss Plastic Polish as a final step. If you want a more matte finish, stop at Micro-mesh pad #4 or so.

CA finishes are quick, easy, and durable, but they don't work on all wood pens. I don't use them on the very darkest woods. CA finishes turn them black, with no grain definition or character. Examples include ancient bog oak and some very dark rosewood blanks. For them, I resort to Hut Crystal Coat, a shellac and carnauba wax friction polish. I do not recommend Crystal Coat, and will try another friction polish when the one I have runs out or expires. In addition, friction polishes are not nearly as durable as CA finishes, but sometimes they look best.

Other people use Traditional woodworking finishes like lacquers. Some people use boiled linseed oil before applying CA. I have not tried any of them. What I have works for me. If you want more info on pen finishes, try:

For plastic pen blanks, I sand, skip the CA, and use Micro-mesh and Hut plastic polish.

You can practice by applying a CA finish to your roughed-down cylinder blank, before you turn it into a pen. Use your lathe tools to turn off the finish, then keep practicing and removing finishes until it is time to complete the pen. You will learn the skills quickly.
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Last edited by Tool Agnostic; 06-03-2020 at 01:00 AM.
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post #6 of 6 Old 06-03-2020, 11:26 AM
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This morning I re-read what I posted, and also took the time to watch the videos. Here are a few additional comments and responses:

* Safety is important.
-> Wear eye protection!
-> Work in a well ventilated area.
-> CA can get very hot. I have seen paper towels smoking from it.

* CA accidents can happen. Eye protection is an absolute must, and CA can bond skin too. If you are accident prone, keep a bottle of debonder on hand for emergencies. I have not needed it, yet. I have heard that acetone or nail polish remover will work in a pinch. It may be what is inside the debonder bottles.

* Write the date of purchase and the date of opening on all your glue bottles, but especially CA. Unlike some glues that maintain their properties until after the bottle is opened, CA begins to age in the unopened bottle as soon as it is manufactured. Buy the freshest CA you can, from a source with a high turnover. Keep it away from moisture. I prefer CA bottles that have a screw cap with a metal pin at the top. The CA will harden around the metal pin, but the screw cap will help you open it and the pin will leave a path for the CA to flow. Some CA bottles have a snap-on cover and a thin applicator tube that tends to clog (like the StickFast brand that they sell at Rockler and other stores). Give those bottles a hard tap to ensure that the applicator top has no CA in it, before before capping it and putting it away. You can buy inexpensive spare tops/caps for those bottles. They are worth it to have a spare one on hand to rescue a clogged bottle.

* Some people use shop towels or paper towels (Bounty is one preferred brand) to apply CA finishes. They absorb and waste a lot of CA. The fibers can stick to your pen blank. I like craft foam, which is non-absorbent and won't leave shreds or fibers. Both videos use absorbent materials to apply CA; I have used them and feel that craft foam is much better and less wasteful.

* To wet the Micro-mesh pads, I put the pads and water in a plastic cup next to the lathe. I prefer the Micro-mesh pads over the thin sheets that were demonstrated in the first video. When I am done, I pour out the water and let the pads dry to avoid mold or mildew. Every two or three uses, I rinse off the white CA from each pad in the sink before putting them away, one-by-one under running warm water.

* Both videos run their lathes faster than I do. Neither video takes the time to remove the circular scratches or wipe off the previous grit before proceeding to the next grit. I think that both steps yield a better finish.

* The second video applies a lot more CA, but also sands to a slurry. He seems to be less concerned about ripples, but with more CA, he sands them out. I think it is better to avoid ripples from the start. For me, ripples happen when I apply too much CA. Too little and the CA doesn't coat the blank, or it gets sticky too quickly. I have found that two (maybe three) drops of CA on the end of the craft foam are just right. If you see ripples, smooth them out immediately. It is easy, but takes practice.

* CA is cyanoacrylate. I assume the "...acrylate" means that it leaves acrylic when cured. Acrylic is plastic, and it can make your wood look and feel like plastic. It is a very hard, durable finish. For pens that are used every day, CA holds up. Other finishes do not provide the same level of protection. If you use those finishes on everyday pens they will eventually get dingy, dirty, and gray.

* Some people apply wax after their CA finish. Wax gives a softer look and a more natural feel, but you can lose some of the gloss that you worked hard to achieve.
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