Dip pen wand: the magic of writing

I wanted to share a project which has continued to be incredibly popular among many groups of people. I thought the piece shown here may be something most haven’t seen before and as I really enjoy showing the steps behind the making of my projects, I thought I’d take you through the process here.

This project is essentially two or three small projects in one: an ergonomic dip pen – a very practical item prized for its versatility by calligraphers and artists; a box to store a variety of nibs; and a lid for the dip pen, which when combined, also doubles up as a fun prop wand.

This project includes some tools and techniques which are less common, but a version should be viable for most turners without the need for kit such as texturing tools or wood stains. Throughout this article, I’ll highlight areas where you can adapt the design if you so wish, but a word of warning before we start: a key factor to success in completing this project is following the order of steps. The end result relies on some relatively tight tolerances, achieved thanks to plenty of experimentation, and I’ve found this to be the best way with my turning.

TOOLS REQUIRED

Wand shaft & pommel: these can be taken from the same blank, the dimensions of which are 370 × 22mm

Handle blank: 140 × 30mm

For the pen

• 7mm brass tube
• Rose ferrule
• 7mm drill bit
• 15 & 19mm Forstner bits

Roughing out the handle

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1 For this project, I chose to use maple and walnut as they have similar properties, contrast nicely, and look great together. For most of my projects, I tend to start by roughing down the stock until round, and it’s no different with the handle here. You need to make sure the piece is held safely in your chuck jaws for drilling. This step may require the cutting of tenons at each side, so you can be doubly sure the blank is held securely

Drilling holes in the handle

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2 Once chucked up, use a Jacobs chuck to hold a 15mm Forstner drill bit; this is for drilling the hole at the pommel/bottom end of the wand. Drill the hole 50mm deep before changing to a 19mm bit, then drilling 8.5mm deep, to create a lip. This drilling makes a hollow within the handle, which can be used as a box to store items such as nibs for the pen, small pieces of vellum or paper, which can be inked onto, as well as acting as a lip for the lid of the box or the pommel of the wand. Alternatively, if you’re a wizarding fan, you may wish to use this compartment for holding items such as phoenix feathers! Once you’ve completed the stepped hole, flip the workpiece and drill a hole 55mm deep using a 7mm drill bit. For now this is all that’s required for the handle. These holes will help when shaping the box lid/pommel and the pen/wand shaft

Making the pen

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3 Find the centre on the face of your blank by drawing two lines that connect each opposing corner. Where the points meet is as close to the centre as you’ll need for this project. Centre finders can be very useful, but for speed and accuracy, I tend to use the straightedge method, but choose whichever method you’re comfortable with. I like to mark the centres by making a divot; this is a good practice to get into if you don’t already as it’ll help when it comes to mounting between centres

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4 Turn your blank to round before holding it in a set of pin jaws on the chuck. Make sure the blank is held true by locating the divot to the point of your revolving centre. Then, swap the centre for a Jacobs chuck with a 7mm drill bit and drill to a depth of approximately 25mm

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5 I recommend reinforcing the hole with a 7mm brass tube – these are readily available from most pen kit suppliers as a replacement tube for slimline kits. This step wouldn’t strictly be required for a standard dip pen, but it does help with the longevity of any pen project and is particularly beneficial here. To strengthen the 7mm hole, rough up a 7mm pen tube using abrasive and glue in place using CA adhesive – I use Gorilla Glue. Once the glue has cured, cut away the excess tube using a saw. After reinforcing, swap the tailstock back to a revolving centre, set it to the now reinforced hole and apply very light pressure to aid in stability during turning. The wand shaft/pen will be thin and delicate, and adding extra pressure is likely to increase the chance of something going amiss – don’t ask me how I know that!

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6 The part of the pen that will be a friction hold in the handle works best at a size of around 20mm; this also provides a good finger rest while the pen is in use. Due to the tolerance required here, extra care should be taken. To achieve a high tolerance, turn a cone leading to the hole on the pen side and offer the wand handle to it. This intersection will leave witness marks, which can work as a guide and show you where to work to. Turn the piece until you roughly reach this mark before stopping the lathe and testing the fit. Repeat the process

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7 Returning the revolving centre to its supporting position, use a long toolrest to shape the wand shaft. Rather than roughing out the full shape and refining, or using a story stick and parting down to a certain depth at a particular point, I like to work from the tailstock end to the live centre. For a long thin piece, this method reduces the chance of undermining the work and weakening the shaft. You want to keep as much wood supporting the area being worked as possible

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8 The ‘wibbly-wobbly’ shape of this wand/pen was developed to be ergonomic and hug the hand during writing. I like to start with a slight fillet, progressing to a swell, then moving into a cove, which feels comfortable in the hand. Stop the lathe to ‘test’ the feel of this part a number of times, so you can be sure it’s as good as can be. Once you’re happy with the shape, create echoes of this swell and cove reducing in size towards the end

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9 Finish the wand shaft using 1-3 coats of melamine lacquer, depending on the wood you’re using, de-nibbing between coats. I use melamine lacquer for this part as it’s likely to be handled a lot, and from experience, melamine can hold up to the wear and tear of pen use. In the past, I’ve held the pre-finished nib end of the wand in pin jaws to aid finishing, which results in a glass smooth, shiny surface when building up layers and burnishing. This surface has proven to be less popular in recent years, but use the method that best suits your end user

Making the handle & pommel

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10 Shaping the handle and pommel together ensures a seamless fit. There was sufficient blank left from making the pen part of the wand, which meant it could act as the pommel blank. Cut a cone and offer up the pommel part of the handle so it leaves witness marks. Shape the wood so it is a friction fit, similar to how you turned the friction fit tenon for the pen

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11 I like to decorate the inside of the pommel as it will be on show when the lid is removed from the box. To do this, use a parting tool to create rings. Finish this tenon with melamine lacquer as before, leave to cure, then friction fit the handle and move the tailstock so that it meets the wand pen shaft end of the handle

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12 The handle has a less exaggerated profile to the swell and hollow shape turned with the wand shaft, but there is some added decoration towards the wand shaft end. Turn from high ground to low, starting at the peak of the swell and turning down. This rounding goes into the pommel blank at one end and ensures the seamless transition from handle to pommel into the hollow at the other end. I tend to leave about 40mm of room at the shaft end with a 4mm bead at each side for decoration. This adds a little grip for those who might use this piece for cosplay purposes. In the channel remaining, use the Crown Miniature Spiralling System, or similar

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13 This is a non-standard tool for most turners, so I’ll give a little more detail on its use. Slow the lathe down to 500rpm and set the angle of the tool initially to the +1 position, moving the cutting head along the channel. It’s important to note that the cutting approach is different when compared to a standard tool, as there is no bevel, etc. Instead, set the toolrest so that it can lie at around 90° – flat – to centre. Next, duck below this point and introduce the tool from the bottom to establish a threaded cut, extending the cut gradually to create a spiral in one direction. Adjust the tool as required to the -1 position and repeat the process to create two overlapping spiral cuts and a knurled effect. At this point, I typically fine-tune some of the details with beading. This mostly completes the handle apart from the finishing, which includes some ‘antiquing’ to hide many potential sins – I won’t tell if you don’t!

Finishing/antiquing the handle

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14 I like to highlight the details in the handles of these wand pens and use an antiquing technique I learnt while making props for TV. Stain the handle with a darker colour, knowing the stain will only penetrate to a shallow depth. Once cured, use abrasive to remove the stain in the areas that will be handled the most. In an everyday setting, this replicates the top layer being worn down, while grooves stay unaffected and potentially become darker due to environmental factors and a resulting patina building up

TIP FOR DEALING WITH VIBRATION

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A tip for those with vibration issues: when I was learning to turn with thin parts like this, my dad showed me how to support the work with one or more fingers, which helps reduce vibration, if it has a chance of occurring. Be careful here and ensure that your fingers are well out of the way and not in a position whereby they could get caught, such as the toolrest. I turn close to 1mm for the tip and sand smooth; this is essentially the most delicate part of the whole project. It’s worth bearing in mind who the end user will be: if it’s a young child, then go for a less sharp point, but if you’re making for a collector, then a sharper point is likely to be a stand out feature

Finishing the pommel

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15 With a handle friction fit to the pommel or box lid, continue the curve of the handle, so there’s a seamless transition. You can then turn the rest of the pommel to a shape similar to that of the Ace of Spades. For this one, I added a small ball at the end and finished it with melamine lacquer

Installing the hardware

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16 Installing a rose ferrule is probably the easiest part of this project. You need to work on a relatively soft surface to avoid scratching the metal before pushing the ferrule into the reinforced part of the pen. From here you can insert a nib of your choice and store a few others inside the wand. You can then attach the parts to the handle and show off your latest creation

TIP FOR RECENTRING YOUR WORK

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A helpful tip for recentring your work, if it has been knocked out of centre, for example, is to lower the lathe speed and slightly loosen the chuck before running the lathe and inserting a stout tool between workpiece and toolrest. As the work rotates, the tool will push it back into alignment. Once the piece is realigned, you can reposition your toolrest, tighten the chuck and increase lathe speed as required

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17 The completed dip pen wand should look something like this

Finished dimensions & design alternatives

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Even though the dip pen wand here uses a rose ferrule, which could potentially be more difficult to find, there is an alternative method. To work around this, you could adapt the project to accept a ball-point pen, a crow quill – a type of nib that doesn’t require a rose ferrule – or just omit the pen part and instead create an interesting gift. The finished dimensions of the project and its components are:

Full length: 370mm

Dip pen wand (not including nib): 225 × 16.5mm

Box lid: 35 × 19mm

Handle: 140 × 29mm

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