Cigar Pens, CA Glue Finishes and Spalted Woods from A - Z

I don't get many emails from fellow pen turners and when I do, the topic is generally CA glue finishes, poor assembly instructions or
turning pens from spalted woods.

I had a request for some cigar pens a while ago and it provided the opportunity to expand on all three in considerable detail so here goes:
Checking for Pith
Check spalted wood for too much pith.  I do this by seeing if my thumb nail and a little pressure leaves an impression.  
If it does, the wood is too rotted and unless you like draining CA glue into bottomless pith,  contact the seller and get a rebate.
Mark the Blanks
This may seem like plain common sense but when you are preparing a number of blanks at the same time, mark the blanks as you go and indicate the direction they should be mounted.  With Cigar Pens, one piece is 1/4" or so longer  and if you don't trim the blanks after milling the ends, it is hard to tell which is which.  

Don't end up with a pile of cut and milled blanks with no directional markers or  indication of who belongs to who and figure you will get the labeling right the first time.
Glue the Ends
Milling the ends of spalted wood blanks should be done in a couple steps.   Mill down to 1/8" or so above flush.  Stop and apply thin CA glue to the ends and let dry.  This stabilizes the ends and helps ensure you don't end up tearing out chunks during the milling process.

Remember, this is partially decomposed wood you are dealing with.  Use light pressure and patience to get down to brass.

Apply another then coat of CA glue to the ends after milling is complete.
Bushing  Layout
This is the bushing layout for mounting from left to right, pen top to pen bottom.  It would be nice if  the pen manufacturers, WoodCraft in particular, provided better graphical instructions.
It sure is nice to have blanks with directional arrows indicating what goes where, isn't it.
Check that Knob
And while I am thinking about it, there is a downside to these large brass nuts and turning at high rates of speed.  These nuts can tighten while turning, bending the shaft enough to give you a slightly oval pen.  Check this periodically and ensure it is not over-tight.
I have had to use vice grips on more than one occasion to loosen it up.
Speed is Good
Everyone has their preferences, and mine is somewhere around 1300 - 1500 rpm.  For these larger pens, I find starting at one speed and keeping it there throughout the turning process yields the best results.  My theory is that working at a constant speed keeps the balance and center of gravity constant so if your blanks are drilled more or less on center and their weights are similar, there shouldn't be any problems.  
Set the rest high
My absolute favorite tool of all time is the large gouge included with the ShopSmith for this kind of work.

While the metal is not of the best quality and requires
frequent sharpening, the width and pitch of the tool is.  

You can pick these up at very reasonable prices from E-Bay or similar sites.  

I set the tool rest a bit higher than what is normally recommended and angling down.  This aids in not getting too aggressive when turning.
Turning Down
Turn the blanks evenly, gradually sloping the blanks down to the bushings.  When you get within an 1/8" or so.........


Remember we are talking about turning pens from spalted woods here.  Spalted woods are varying degrees of stable.  

Apply thin CA glue at least to all 4 ends if there is any doubt at all about the softness of the wood.  

As a test, apply one drop of thin CA glue onto a suspect end. If it vanishes within the blank, coat the entire blank and let it dry.

This is not so much of an issue when turning larger pens (Cigar Pens come to mind) because there is more wood mass.  

It is a huge issue with 7mm pens because there is so little wood in the end product.  

#1 Rule in turning pens from spalted woods :  If in doubt, use more CA glue.
Finish Bottom First
I prefer to finish turning the cigar pen bottom first, and I then get a width measurement so the pen top will match.
Turning the Cigar Pen Top
Boy, how is that for over exposed.  Anyway, the widest Cigar Pen diameters now match.
Sand Paper
Thank God for  Fall.  The temperatures are bearable.  

The end quality of the CA glue finish is in direct proportion to the quality of the sanding job.  

This is particularly true when turning spalted woods.  
150 Grit
Boy, my exposure settings are all over the place tonight.  Start sanding with 150 grit and use a backing board. A spare pen blank works well. Continue sanding until the divots, humps and other imperfections are removed.  You should feel a nice, smooth surface when done.

Sand one more time with 150 grit freehand (no board).
Check the Nut
Oops, almost forgot.  

Check the tightness of the nut again and ensure it has not got too tight, warping the shaft.  It is not too late to correct an oval pen.
Finished to 600 grit
Continue sanding up to 400 grit.  Stop the lathe and hand sand with 400 grit going with the grain (end to end).  

All imperfections should now be sanded out.

Start the lathe again and sand with 600 grit paper.  Stop the lathe and hand sand with 600 grit.

 I normally go to 400 grit but those CA glue finishes require at least 600, and we are going a bit further than that.
Applying EEE
Clean the Cigar Pen blanks and apply a thin coat of  EEE to both blanks.   EEE gets you to somewhere around 1500 grit.
One container of  EEE goes a long ways.  This one is over three years old and will have to finally be replaced this winter.
I probably need to digress here a minute.  This is not a true CA glue finish.  I don't like true CA glue finishes because they look too fake and plasticky to me.  The method shown here is my own personal hybrid creation.  I think the finish looks much more 'real' and it also adds durability to the cigar pen blanks.

On with the show:

Rub a thin layer of  EEE into a clean paper towel.  The idea is to protect the paper towel from the CA glue, which is going on next.
Two Drops of CA glue
Put two drops of  medium viscosity CA glue on the EEE (if you look closely, you should see two drops of CA glue atop the EEE on the towel).This is for the pen top.  

Start the lathe and coat the pen top working from end as far as you can go with the first drop, using as little CA glue as possible.

 If you run out of glue, use the second drop.  You want to get all the glue on in short order.
Rubbing the Glue in.
After the blank is coated, begin rubbing the glue / EEE mix in slowly, working back and forth.  The finish will begin to wax up as heat and light pressure is applied, and then it will start clearing.  When  the finish looks like it is worked in switch to a clean portion of the paper towel and use more pressure to generate heat, removing all excess glue and wax.  

It is also a good time to remove any excess from the bushings.  You will know when to stop  -  the surface will start shining.  Repeat the process with the pen bottom.

Don't try doing both sides at once.  It rarely works.
Pour a liberal amount of Mylands on a paper towel by pressing the towel over the open bottle and turning it upside down for a second.

Work the polish into both blanks at the same time, slowly building a couple layers while alternating back and forth between the blanks.

Remember, this is a friction polish so pressure and heat is a requirement.
Miill the Ends
Remove the blanks and clean the ends up using the milling tool.
Chamfering Tool
Take a little extra time and chamfer the pen blank ends.  Makes life a lot easier during assembly.
Lay out the pieces
Lay out the pieces in the order which they will be assembled.  Press the nib in as one piece.  Same for the pen clip.  Assemble these parts before hand if they are shipped loose.  Does wonders for assembly. is rapidly becoming my supplier of choice.  Their prices are hard to beat and the quality is the same as the more expensive items offered by competitors.  They also buy up discontinued kits from Pen State Industries and offer them at very nice prices.

Their CA glue is at least half the price of what you normally see.  It is a different brand but I suspect it will work about the same.

If you feel like experimenting with the polymer / plastic pen blanks but blanch at the price for nice ones, check these guys out. 

They also have discontinued blanks.
Pressing the bottom pieces
Press in the pen nib first and then press in the threaded bit. The instructions call for cutting a block of wood for pressing using the shoulder, rather than pressing on the threads. This can be bypassed if one uses the chamfering tool and a block of wood.

  Haven't damaged any threads yet.
Lower Pen Assembly
Insert the spring, ink refill and screw the twisting mechanism into position. 
Bottom Finished
The bottom should look something like this.
Pen Top
Pen top:  press in the bottom piece first.  Don't forget the brass washer.  Press the pen top in as one piece.  
The pen clip can hide minor flaws so it pays to have a close look at the finish before pressing the clip into place.
Assemble the two halves and viola!  A spalted maple pen with a CA glue finish which still looks natural.

Other Cigar Pens:
Hedge Apple
Osage Orange (Hedge Apple) is a dream to turn and makes for some very attractive pens.
White Oak?
I am not sure what this wood is but I think it is spalted white oak.

I dug a log out of a trash pile a couple years ago and got some nice pieces.
Brown Mallee
Brown Mallee - as fun to turn as usual.
Red Mallee
Red Mallee - one of the woods CA glue finishes were made for.
CrossCut Wood
A Cross-Cut Cigar Pen. These other pens took  about 40 minutes a piece.  This cross-cut pen took over two hours.  
There is nothing quite like them but you have to have patience and really sharp tools to have any kind of success.  

If I am down close and the chances of the final turning busting out all over the place look pretty high,
I am not above sanding these down to size.

What makes it all worth it is the completed project.  

There is something about cross-cut woods and the way light refracts off them when sanded and polished to a high degree of perfection.

It can be almost magical.  The picture doesn't  do it justice.
Hedge Apple
Hedge Apple with a little sap wood. This turned out really nice.
Molten Metal
My first acrylic cigar pen.  This one is called 'Molten Metal.'   No CA glue finishes required.  I've made a few of these acrylic pens and my success rate is not good.  I think perhaps I need to actually sit down and read some instructions.
Banksia Pod Cigar Pen
And Last  but not least, a Banksia Pod Cigar Pen.  I will have to write up something on this one.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the show.

Bullet Points for turning pens from spalted wood and employing CA glue finishes:

1.  If in doubt, use more CA glue.
2.  If you are still in doubt, refer to Bullet Point #1.
3.  Test spalted wood for softness before doing any turning.  If you really like the piece and it is soft, refer to Bullet Point #1
4.  Ensure you have enough CA glue on hand to complete the project.
5.  Turning at constant speeds helps.
6.  The better the sanding job, the better the CA glue finish.
7.  CA glue darkens wood.  Try shopping for woods very light in color with very dark spalting.  Spalted maple for this reason, is a favorite.