Inlay Pens Explained

I have had numerous requests for custom inlay pens for items that I am not able to produce.  There is a simple reason for this and I will explain below.  There are about 60-75 different inlay pens available today.  Each with a different topic or theme, if you will.  You can get inlay kits that depict scenery, specific items of interest including guns, musical instruments, military themes, and so on.

I get asked frequently why these pens are priced so differently than some of my other pens.  The answer is lasersimple:  The time it takes to assemble each inlay pen and the difficulty of the kit determines the prices.  The inlay kits come in several pieces.  Each piece is precisely cut by a laser that is as thick as a human hair.  The laser machine used to create these kits is upwards of $85,000.00, so it is not cost effective for me to own one.  The individual pieces are them pressure dyed so that the end result color is deep into the wood all the way through.

The precision of each piece is sometimes so precise that it makes parts of the kit fragile and easy to break.  The high cost of each kit also play a role as all kits are not equally priced.  Some kits are simpler than others by only having a few parts, whereas others have 50+ parts to make the desired pen.  Click the thumbnails below for a larger image.

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lasercutting

In the photo to the right of the page you can see the production of an American Flag inlay kit being made.  This kit comes with two blanks (upper and lower).  The upper blank contains the blue field with 50 white stars that are so small, you could place 15 of them easily within the border of a penny.  The lower blank features the stripes in red and white.  The white stripes are inlaid into the red blank.

The kit, when completed fits together with such exact nicety that it looks as if it were painted or assembled in some other way.  The end result of a pen kit like this produces a brilliant and beautiful pen that will surely get the attention of those around you when you use it!

flag pen kitThis pen, for instance, runs about $250.00 simply because of the amount of time it takes to assemble the pen and the costs of the materials to build it.  Once the pieces are assembled to the blank, I then must insert the brass barrel which will receive the pen parts for the chosen pen style.  The barrel has to be carefully inserted without pushing out any of the parts that were so meticulously placed.  After the barrel is centered into the blank, special adhesives are used to fuse the parts to each other as well as set them to the barrel.  Many applications of the adhesive are used and must have ample time to dry between applications.

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Once the pieces are sufficiently adhered to the barrel, the blank must be trimmed precisely to a 90 degree angle flush to the barrel so there are no gaps between the blank and the finished pen parts.

From here, we finally make it to the lathe.  On the lathe, the proper bushings commensurate to the pen being built are installed and the blank(s) are attached to them.  At this point there are many choices to be made as to how to proceed with the turning of the kit.  Traditionally, you have your wood turning tools to shape, cut and turn the blank to the desired size to fit the pen.  The problem is, if you have a weak spot in your glue up of the piece, and then you start off hitting it with a turning tool while it is spinning at 2600 RPM, you risk the blade catching one piece just right and throwing a piece of the blank off the lathe never to be seen again.  So usually, I choose to start off with a medium-fine sand paper and smooth off the surface before I ever go near the project with one of the turning tools.

Once I am satisfied that nothing is going to fly off the lathe, I start fine tuning the blank to the bushings

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using the various turning tools and start shaping the pen.  Once this point is reached, there is a series of sanding that is done starting with 220 grit and ending at 12,000 grit.  Several coats of finish are applied and then sanded to a reflective shine which will protect the pieces, the pen, and give it that awesome look when you get the finished product!

I hope that my endless rambling has given you a better inside look into the intricacy and detail that goes into making an inlay pen.  I felt it necessary to explain in great detail what goes on behind the scenes of making a great pen.  Some might find it easy, but I assure you it takes great skill and temperament to create the final product you receive.

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