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This article was published in the Summer 2005 edition of Woodturning Design.


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Mini-Article describing an alternate way of making the Pen Clip Block.

Laminated Pen Clip as a 7 page pdf


So, you spend a lot of time and energy on a pen from a kit, carefully turning, sanding,  and polishing.  Then you put it in your pocket and about all anybody sees is the metal pen clip—which some probably equally hardworking guy from Taiwan made.  That metal clip also severely constrains your design options.  This article is about my attempts to change that by making my own clips out of wood by laminating veneer into a curve.  The laminated clip is glued to a small block which is cut to match the barrel diameter.  I’ve tried several other wooden clip solutions such as split turning and multi-center turning, and they did work.  This method, however, gives a clip that both looks more graceful and “pen-like”, and is more flexible to securely hold the pen in pockets of varying thicknesses of cloth.


Fig01:  A pen with metal clip and a pen with a wood Laminated Pen Clip compared in a pocket.


The laminate is very thin, about 1/16”, depending on veneer thickness.  But it’s stronger than it looks.  Because three separate layers are glued together, the grain will run in three slightly different directions.  This makes the clip much more resistant to splitting.  I have carried laminated clips in my pocket without failure for significant periods of time. Wood is not, however, as strong or durable as metal, however, which you must consider (or educate the buyer) if you sell your work.


Because it’s probably better to try just one new thing at a time, first I’ll describe making a pen with only the clip being substantially different from a standard kit.  Then I’ll briefly describe making a more decorated pen with a wooden clip, ferule, and center band for maximum design latitude.

Basic Pen—Just the Clip

Stock Prep

I began by making a bending form for the Clip Blank.  Starting with the length of a stock clip as a guide, I sketched what I wanted the clip to look like.  You can use the plan in Drawing A or draft your own.  Avoid sharp bends.  I added some overrun on each end and transferred the drawing to a piece of 1 x 1 ½ x  2 ½” thick maple (big enough for two clips).  I cut carefully along the line with a scroll saw.  You could use a band saw, but you may have to sand out the “wash boarding” left by the coarser blade.  The veneer stack is approximately the same thickness as the kerf, so I didn’t have to worry about differentiating the radius of the curves.



Drawing A:  A drawing of a bending form and some pen clips.  This is life-size so you can photo-copy the drawing and fasten to the wood to make the parts.

DrawingA as a pdf


Using the back of one of the bending form halves as a template I traced three veneer pieces and cut them out with scissors.  I put them on newspaper to contain slop-over, squeezed some polyurethane glue on two of them, and spread the glue with a thin piece of cardboard.  Then I stacked the veneer pieces, wrapped them in waxed paper to prevent gluing to the bending form, and clamped them between the two halves of the bending form.  I let the Clip Blank cure overnight.

Fig02:  Polyurethane glue ready to spread on two of the three veneer pieces with a thin piece of cardboard.  To the right is a folded piece of waxed paper to wrap the stack in and the bending form.



Fig03:  The stacked veneer is clamped in the bending form with two C-Clamps and left to dry overnight.


To prepare the Pen Blanks I started with a 5/8” turning square and wrapped masking tape around the kerf location to keep track of which were the middle ends.  I cut the bottom blank the usual length, but cut the top blank about ½” longer than the tube.  I drilled the bottom tube through as usual, but drilled the top blank from the middle just deeper than the tube.  I spread polyurethane glue inside the blanks and inserted the tubes.  You may wish to tape or clamp the tube in the top blank to avoid it being forced out a bit by the foaming glue.  I let the Pen Blanks cure overnight.


Fig04:  A visual comparison of the pen tubes and the two pen blanks.


Fig05:  A quick non-measured way of setting the drill depth for the top blank.  I brought the quill down so the drill touched the blank and held it there with the bottom nut.  Then I put the tube on the drill stop and adjusted the stop nut to be just above the tube.

Preparing the Clip

I use CAD generated templates for the clips because it’s easier to get the clip symmetrical than from a pencil sketch, and because it’s easier to cut to a line I can really see.  You can make a photocopy of one of the clips from Drawing A or draw your own.  I printed out the template, cut it out outside the lines, and glued it to the Clip Blank with Post-it Note Glue (now called Scotch Restickable Adhesive Glue Stick?).  Then I cut out the clip with my scroll saw.  A coarse bandsaw blade would likely destroy something this thin and curved, so if you don’t have a scroll saw I suggest sawing by hand with a fret saw or coping saw. 


Fig06:  Temporarily gluing the pattern to the Laminated Clip Blank.


Fig07:  Cutting out the Clip on a scroll saw.  I’m using a #2 blade.


Fig08:  The cut out Pen Clip.


After the clip was cut out I sanded it.  If you use any kind of power sander be careful you don’t sand clear through a veneer layer.  Since it’s so small, sanding by hand instead won’t take long.  I applied finish to the underside of the clip (less the top ½”, which I masked off) because it will be inaccessible after assembly.

Turning the Pen

I mounted the pen blanks on a standard pen mandrel for turning (I don’t usually use one, and I prefer other ways, as it’s so long that vibration of more of a problem.  But I wanted to show doing this with equipment most people have).  As the top blank isn’t drilled through I used old excess tubes to take up space at the headstock end, and engaged the tailstock in the end of the top blank.  As the barrel trimmer didn’t get the corners of my blanks, I started with a bushing in between the blanks.  After I roughed the blanks to round with a roughing gouge I moved the bushing between the blanks to the headstock end.  I didn’t need to use the bushing in between the blanks anymore because I was avoiding the design constraints of the center bushing by not using it.


Fig09:  The Pen Blanks mounted on the mandrel for roughing.  The middle bushing will be removed once the un-reamed corners have been turned away.


Fig10:  The middle bushing has been removed and the blanks roughed round.


Next I used a parting tool to size the body of the upper blank to ½”.  This diameter matches a ½” round file, which I’ve found to be the easiest way to make a matching profile for the Clip Block.  I turned a small bead near the top.  Besides being an interesting detail, it gives a reference when gluing on the Clip Block and covers up the joint.  I reduced the rest of the pen to ½”, and turned a cove and bead in the lower blank.  Then I tapered the lower blank to the bushing.  I held the ferule up against the pen to make sure the angles were about the same.


Fig11:  The first step after roughing round is to set the barrel diameter to ½”



Fig12:  A small bead has been turned near the top and the remainder of the pen blanks has been reduced to ½”.


Fig14:  Matching the ferule angle.

Fig14 Ready to Sand

Once I was satisfied with the shape I sanded the pen.  Then I masked off the top ½” (to avoid finish—glue problems) and applied a friction polish.  Using CA glue as a finish would avoid this problem.  It’s not a good idea to run a standard mandrel without tailstock support, so I left a nub at the top end.  After removing the blanks from the lathe I cut off the nub, then sanded and finished the end by hand.


 I’ve used masking tape to avoid applying finish where the Clip Block will be glued on.

Making the Clip Block

To make the Clip Block I started by cutting a piece of wood matching the clip to 3/8 x 3/8 x  1/2”.  Then I clamped it in a vise and used a ½” round file to create a recess on one long side that matches the barrel diameter.  If you don’t have a round file this big, then you can turn a dowel and wrap sandpaper around it (when turning the dowel, be sure to allow for sandpaper thickness).  You could also use a router table and a round bottom bit if you did a long enough strip to be safe.  I checked frequently as I filed to make sure the recess was in the middle, and stopped when I had sharp edges on both sides.


Fig16: Cutting the Pen Block.  Ordinarily this is too small to do safely on a table saw, but the Pen Sled I made to cut pen blanks handled it in a non-scary fashion (the plans are on my web site).  Cutting it on a band saw and sanding a bit more would also work.

Fig17:  The Pen Block as held in a vise while the recess was cut with a ½” file.

I've written a mini-article describing another way to make the Pen Block.  It's more versatile because it uses a drill to match the barrel diameter.


To start assembly I spread a coat of medium CA glue to the Clip Block recess and clamped it to the top of the barrel with a small Quick Grip Clamp.  Yes, super glue sets fast, and finger pressure may be all that’s necessary, but a lot of stress will be on this small joint, so I clamped it.  After giving the glue a while to cure I held the clip up against the barrel and traced about where it should be cut.  It looks more graceful if the clip angles in towards the top of the pen.  After the glue cured I applied finish to the unfinished parts of the pen barrel and the Clip Block.  This is harder to do after the Clip is in place.

Fig18:  The Clip Block clamped to the Pen Barrel with a Quick Grip Clamp.



Fig19:  If you don’t have a Quick Grip Clamp, or other small cushioned clamp, you can use a small V-Block and a C-Clamp.  The outer part of the Clip Block doesn’t need a pad because it will be shaped further.


At first I tried cutting the block close to the dimensions I wanted and then filing to fit.  This worked, but I had trouble maintaining a truly flat surface, as any rocking of the file would round over the block.  So I made a jig.  I took a scrap block, about 2 ½ x 4 x 1 ¼”, drew a V-notch 3/8” deep about ½” from one end, and cut the V-Notch on the bandsaw.  Then I ripped a strip about ½” off of one side, ripped it again to ½” thick, and drilled a hole in the strip about 1 ½” from the V-Notch end.  I used the hole to screw the strip to the block, lining up the V-Notches.  The hole was bigger than the screw, allowing the strip to pivot a bit.  I had to cut the front of the jig on an angle to provide clearance, and to lower the front edge of the V-Notch a bit to get the clip in to test for fit.


Fig20:  The Block Trim Jig.

An alternative Pen Clip Block Jig.  I've removed the fixed end of a Quick-Grip mini-clamp and clamped in wood block.


To use the jig I put the pen barrel in the V-Notch, with the Clip Block up against the side of the block, and tightened the screw.  Yes, a carriage bolt and wing nut would be a good investment for heavy use.  Then I trimmed the block oversize on the bandsaw, and then adjusted the fit by sanding on a disk sander, pausing frequently to check the fit of the clip.


Fig21:  The Upper Pen Barrel clamped in the Block Trim Jig


Fig22:  Using the Block Trim Jig to adjust the Pen Block fit on a disk sander.  I’ve laid the Pen Clip close by for frequent checking of the fit.



Once I was satisfied with the fit of the Clip, I removed the barrel from the jig.  I spread medium CA glue on the top of the Clip Block and clamped the clip in place with a Quick Grip Clamp, being careful to keep it aligned with the barrel.  After the glue had a chance to cure I removed the clamp, and corrected any Clip/Block misalignment with a small knife and sandpaper.  Then I touched up any unfinished areas.  The last step was to press the ferule and twist mechanism into the lower barrel.  Ready for my pocket.


Fig23:  Clamping the Pen Clip to the Clip Block.

Fig24:  The finished pen.




Fancier Pen

Using a laminated wooden clip can open up additional design freedom.  Since the clip isn’t attached by an end cap, additional decorative elements can be added above the clip.  Adding a turned center band and ferule can completely free you from the kit constraints.  About the only design constraint left is that the pen has to be comfortable (or at least possible) to hold.  In this part of the article I’ll briefly describe these extra steps.  The result is a fancier (if not gaudy) pen.  The stock was prepared in much the same way except the upper body blank was about 3” long.

Ferule and Lower Body

To make a wooden ferule I mounted a piece of Maple (about 5/8 x 5/8 x 1 ½”)  in my collet chuck.  After turning it round and squaring off the end, I drilled a 1/8” hole 13/16” deep.  Then I drilled about ½” deeper with a #45 drill.    I turned a ¼” long tenon to fit in the pen tube, spread some CA glue on the tenon, then used the tailstock to clamp the lower barrel to it.  Once the glue cured I cut off the ferule ¾” past the barrel blank.


Fig25:  Drilling the Ferule.

Fig26:  After turning a tenon on the end of the Ferule.



Fig27:  Using the tailstock to clamp the Ferule to the Lower Pen Blank.


I cut a 3/8” long piece of 5/8” square maple for the center band, and drilled it through with a D bit.  I mounted a D drill blank in my collet chuck to use as a mandrel.  I mounted a small scrap block, the center band blank, and the barrel/ferule blank, holding it on the mandrel with the tailstock.  Then I turned all these parts to shape, sanded, and applied finish.


Fig28:  The Center Band Blank, along with the Lower pen Blank and Ferule mounted on a rod in the collet chuck for turning.


Fig29:  The Center Band and Lower Pen Barrel after turning.

Upper Body with Band and Inlay

To turn the Upper Body I mounted a the scrap block and the Upper Blank on the D drill blank held in my collet chuck, again using the tailstock to hold it in place.  I turned a 3/8” tenon about 1 ½” long on the end of the Upper Blank, then glued on a ¾” long piece of maple that had been drilled through with a 3/8” drill.  When the glue was dry I turned the Upper Barrel to shape.  Previously I had prepared some stock for inlay by gluing four thin Camateo pieces around 1/8” square pewter wire and then turning it to ¼” round.  I marked the barrel at three spots 90° apart (the clip covers the vacant spot) and drilled shallow ¼” holes.  Then I used CA glue to glue in the inlay rod in each hole in turn, cutting it off flush after the glue cured.  Then I turned the inlay flush and turned the finial.  I sanded, applied finish, and attached the clip as before.

Fig30:  A long 3/8” tenon has been turned on the Upper Pen Blank for mounting a contrasting band.


Fig31:  The Upper Blank after turning beads at the bottom of the blank and top of the contrasting band.


Fig32:  Marking the inlay positions.  I used the headstock index together with a piece of aluminum flashing bent to mount on my tool rest.  This can be set right over the work on the center line, and eliminates the potential parallax errors often obtained when using the tool rest directly.



Fig33:  The finished Upper Pen Barrel.

Split Turning

I took two pieces of Camateo and fastened them together with double stick tape (a quick, easier to clean off, substitute for a paper joint; I learned this from Glen Zepp of the SCPT).  I mounted it between cup centers to avoid splitting the joint, and turned a tenon to fit in my collet chuck.  I mounted it in the collet chuck and turned a finial, sanded and finished it.  I cut off the finial and separated the halves.  I cleaned away tape residue with mineral spirits and glued the half finial on the clip.


Fig34:  The split turning mounted between cup centers to turn a mounting tenon for the collet chuck.

Fig35:  The split turning after turning the mounting tenon.



Fig36:  The finished split turing finial.


Well, after all this, final assembly is easy.  The only part to be pressed in is the twist mechanism.  In or out of pocket, this pen doesn’t hide.

Fig37:  The completed pen.


Materials and Supplies

Twist Pen Kit

5/8” turning square for pen blanks

Matching or contrasting veneer for clip

Scrap wood for jigs

Post-it Note Glue or other temporary bonding glue

Tools appropriate for pen turning

½” round file

Sandpaper and Finish


Twist Pen kits are available at most turning suppliers

Post-it Note Glue is available at large office supply stores.

A wide variety of files are available at metalworking supply houses, such as MSC (, 1-800-645-7270.


David Reed Smith lives in Hampstead , Maryland with his family.  He has been turning since the late 1970’s.  If you haven’t already guessed it, he does have a tendency to almost get carried away with the “rules” for a project; such as “no metal showing” in this case.  He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions via email at