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7th July – Ron Caddy

17 July, 2014

Turning Pens

Sometimes I think we don’t appreciate the talent in our midst. Some of our best evenings are when our own members entertain us and for me this was a good example. I confess I have never made a pen, I don’t fancy the repetition nor the investment in jigs etc that is necessary to do the job efficiently, but I have to say that turned pens can be beautiful and there is obviously a large demand. Ron is very knowledgeable on the subject and the activity is a significant part of his business, Acorn Crafts at Weyhill Fairground.


Though the UK market seems very impressive, it is dwarfed by the demand in USA and it was from there that the first pen kits were introduced into the UK by Dale Nish in 1990.

Ron told the story of how George Bush wanted a presidential gift that was made in America but couldn’t find anything – everything was made in China! Dick Cheney was given the job and came up with hand-made pens incorporating an inlaid presidential seal. I’m not sure which lucky turner got the job but it was a great boost to the market for pens. (I wonder where the pen mechanisms were made though.)

When the British Company Planet introduced a flexible adjustable mandrel it avoided the need for a lot of different sized ones. This has been copied by Axminster and Sorby but Ron thinks the Planet version remains the best.


So on with the show. Pen kits are supplied with the mechanism fitting inside metal tubes. The tubes are inserted and glued into pen blanks and assembled onto a jig for turning between centres. The blanks can be made of any material which can be turned; wood, acrylic, bone…The procedure is the same though tool technique and finishing may vary. What makes a pen really saleable is an attractive material and a high standard of finish.

Selection of blank material

Ron was using olive wood for his first demo. This is one of his favourites, especially Bethlehem olive. Alarmed by the loss of olive trees which take hundreds of years to grow, the Israeli government now prohibits felling. But pruning is allowed though this has to be done by hand to minimise damage and trees do die, so there is a supply albeit at a price. Still, you don’t need much wood for a pen.

Pen blank with insert

The tube must fit snugly into the drilled blank. Ron gently abrades the tube surface and uses a polyurethane glue which works better than superglue. Another pen expert, Ian Woodford, asked whether Ron uses plugs to keep excess glue from the inside of the tubes. Ron acknowledged that some do, using potato plugs, but he is just careful. For a 2 part pen, the blank is parted in 2. To maintain a matching grain, the inside of the inserts is marked with a felt pen at the mating ends. Turning between centres is straightforward with a gouge and a skew. Special sets of small tools are available of course but standard ones will do the job.

Ron turning pen (R)

To avoid sanding marks, Ron sands along the axis without the lathe running, rotating slowly by hand. Ron favours Renaissance wax as a finish. It is synthetic wax which repels the skin oils so the finish is very durable. It can be used on almost any material. The British museum even uses it to protect stone and marble exhibits. Ron no longer uses cloth for buffing as it can snatch and remove fingers. Paper is preferred. Safety cloth is strong but tears when snagged though toilet or kitchen roll works for those on a tighter budget.


Once removed from the turning jig the tubes and mechanism parts are assembled and pressed together. Ron uses a jig from Miles Craft.

Pen parts on press  Pen finished

After the break Ron gave a critique on some of the items that caught his eye on the gallery table. You can see all the pictures on the website.


For his second demo Ron made a pen from acrylic. The method is similar though for finishing, Ron used micromesh, wet, first with the lathe rotating then with it stopped with an axial movement of the mesh to remove any sanding rings. Having wiped off the slurry, the pen was burnished with Profile 300 and 500 cutting compound.


If you are wondering about those bespoke inlaid designs like the corporate pen with a penguin logo, the blanks are made to order by Ken Nelson. I Googled Ken Nelson inlaid acrylic and found a comprehensive article in downloadable pdf format.

Pen examples

If this has whetted your appetite, you might like to talk to Ron about all those jigs and materials and even sign up for a course.

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