Translating Pen Turning Terms into Polymer Clay

Much of the information online about pen turning is confusing because it’s difficult to sort out what actually applies to making polymer clay pens and what doesn’t.

Do I need a lathe?

No. I have posts here about how to use a drill to finish pens, and you can even just sand them by hand if you want. They are linked off my page on Making Pens with Polymer Clay.

Do I need to buy blanks?

No, you will form your clay right on the brass tubes that come with a pen kit. All you need to do is buy a kit (search “pen kits” in your favorite search engine to find many sources for buying them.)

If you just want to practice, or want to make “blanks” (barrels) to sell, you can buy tubes separately.

Do I need to drill out the center? Superglue the tube to the clay?

No, that’s because woodturners get solid blocks of wood or acrylic that they need to drill out and then superglue (aka CA glue) the tube in. Since we form our “blanks” right on brass barrels, there’s no need to drill them out.

Do I need to buy wood turning tools like a chisel?

No, not unless you are planning on building a solid clay blank and turning it like it were wood. Most polymer clay pens are formed close to their final shape and size, and you can use your standard sanding tools to sand them down and smooth them.

Do I need a mandrel? Bushings?

No, you can make your own mandrel and while bushings are helpful, they’re not required. See my article on the minimum equipment necessary to make a pen for information on how to create your own tools from cheap hardware store components.

Do I need specialized sanding or polishing equipment?

No, you can use what you already use for polymer clay. Just realize that, like jewelry, polymer clay pens will be handled up close so you need to sand and polish them very well and, unlike jewelry, it’s very hard to use resin on them.

You may want to read my article on optional tools that make penmaking easier and higher quality, which discusses some specific sanding and polishing options.

Do I need a pen kit?

Eventually you may like one, but you can start using disposable Bics (or potentially even other brands, just check that the barrel (without the ink cartridge) can stand up to your oven at your clay’s temperature for your normal baking time. Bic Clic Stic, Bic Soft Feel Retractable, and Bic Round Stic are all pens I have heard will work, though it’s always worth double-checking yourself in case the manufacturer changed the formula.

You will need to pull the pens apart, cover the barrel (remove the ink cartridge!), bake, sand/finish, and then put the pen back together.

Do I need a pen press?

Technically no, though if you bought one piece of specialized equipment, I’d recommend it be a simple pen press. There’s more information in my article on the minimum equipment necessary to make a pen.

Do I need to use some specialized finish like CA glue (superglue)?

Definitely not! Melanie Rollens is a fabulous cane and pen maker and doesn’t finish with anything other than sanding and buffing.

That said, I personally prefer a CA finish, and have written a bunch of articles linked off my page on Making Pens with Polymer Clay to try to de-mystify the process for polymer clay artists.

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