WEST SYSTEM: Crafting a calligraphy pen in wood and epoxy
Daithi Murphy from Ireland likes to make beautiful calligraphy pens using exotic hardwoods, plywood and acrylic. Here, he walks us through the craft process, and explains how epoxy gives all these materials the strength and flexibility to stay in one handsome piece.
How did the project come about?
Making pens on a lathe is exciting because the pens start out looking completely uninteresting when they’ve just been glued. However, once they’re turned, sanded and finished, the grain pattern or the pattern in the acrylic reveals itself, and often looks quite beautiful.
Which WEST SYSTEM or PRO-SET epoxy products did you use? How did they help?
The joints in this pen present several difficulties. The glue-up involves dissimilar materials (acrylic, stabilised wood and wood), end-grain to end-grain and some of the woods are very dense and oily. Plus it’s a small surface area.
I used WEST SYSTEM® G/flex® epoxy because it bonds dissimilar materials well, can cope with oily exotic hardwoods and is tough and flexible enough to withstand movement in the wood. I also used it to glue the brass flange into the acrylic foot of the pen.
G/flex epoxy has a reputation among custom knifemakers as being excellent for epoxying hardwood knife scales (handles) onto metal tangs (the internal end of a blade), so it will provide more than enough toughness for my pen.
What steps did you undertake to complete the project?
I measured the segments and cut them with a mitre saw. I then levelled the faces of the segments and squared them using a disc sander. This gives a clean joint line and provides a good surface for adhesion.
Simply epoxying the segments together would not be strong enough; to improve strength, I cut a tenon into the tail of the pen, and bored holes in the other segments to accommodate the tenon. The tenon runs through the segments and extends about 15-20 mm into the foot of the pen. I sometimes use a dowel instead of a tenon but cutting a tenon into the tail means that I don’t have to worry about maintaining enough thickness in the tail to house the dowel.
I then cleaned the joint surfaces with either denatured alcohol or acetone because some types of wood, especially African Blackwood, are very dense and oily. I find a clean paper towel is best for cleaning; even a rag that has been washed with detergents can contaminate the joint surface. I also scuff the surfaces with coarse sandpaper.
I then epoxied the pieces with G/flex and applied light clamping pressure. Only light pressure is needed; when working with dense materials with plane surfaces, especially when the force is applied over such a small surface area, it’s easy to apply too much pressure and squeeze the epoxy out of the joint.
Once the epoxy had cured, I turned the pen on the lathe. After it’s turned and sanded, I cut a slot in the foot of the pen to accommodate a brass flange which will hold the pen nib. The brass was scuffed and cleaned and then epoxied into the slot. I applied a Danish oil finish to the wooden parts of the pen.
What’s your top tip for others looking to start a similar project?
Wear a respirator and use dust extraction when working with exotic hardwoods!
Our thanks to Daithi Murphy for his contribution.
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