Finishing pens by hand is doable, but it’s harder to get a perfectly symmetrical finish and takes longer. Luckily, since we don’t need a lathe, there are some good and cheaper power tool options available.
Dremels are a popular tool, but unfortunately will not work as well for pens: pens work with a 7mm (1/4”) mandrel (or sometimes larger), and Dremels do not go above a 1/8” shank unless you have a much older one, as the motor isn’t strong enough to drive it effectively.
If you already own a Foredom tool, they can substitute very well for a lathe, and can run hands-free like the Dremel does, but if you don’t they are also expensive for a single tool purchase.
If you aren’t planning on using woodworking tools to literally turn your clay pens, the good news is there is a much cheaper option, though it requires a bit more fiddling: a standard drill.
The first, and simplest solution I used was a cordless drill like the one pictured here. I did have a corded drill, but as it didn’t have a flat bottom, I had to hold it up the whole time which was tiring very quickly when trying to sand.
- Stands up on its own; my arms didn’t get tired trying to hold a drill in place while I sanded/finished a pen
- No cord to worry about
- My battery only lasted for 1-3 pens (depending on how much sanding I did)
- No “hands free” operation: one hand had to be holding it in place and holding the trigger down.
Here are some photos of my cordless drill set up to finish two slimline barrels:
I’m using the polymer clay mandrel from Penn State Industries, but you could use any threaded 7mm or 1/4” rod with some low-profile nuts or extra bushings/spacers to keep regular nuts further away from where you will be sanding.
Next: how I solved the problem of not being able to do my pen finishing hands-free. Read that post here.