Turning the Duchess Pen in Acrylester, Plastic and Red Mallee Burl.  02-2012

If you ever need to earn some brownie points  with your significant other, and the significant other is female (in the majority of cases),
consider the 'Duchess'  pen kit from Penn State Industries.  

This pen kit is a hands down winner from ease of turning to the finished product.
Cherry Cheesecake
This example features Cherry Cheesecake,  an Acrylester pen blank.

In this course, we will be going back over some old territory for the new turners,  and some improved upon finishing techniques using CA glue finishes. 
Pen Blanks
I think my favorite plastic  pen type blanks have to be the Acrylester and my favorite Acrylester blank is 'Molten Metal' .  I'll be trying a couple new ones today as well.  These are 'Copper' and 'Black Peacock'.  I don't know about the black one - doesn't seem to have much character.  We'll see.

The kit uses standard 7mm bushings. on one end, and a slightly wider one on the other.  Buy two kits and you can turn two pens at once.

If you cut the Acrylester carefully, you can get two blanks out of one but it is a good idea to measure twice and cut once.  

The next  trick is to drill the blanks without breaking out the other end.  There is not much room for error.  This is done at a slow speed. - about 700 rpm here.
Really back off on the drilling pressure when you get close to the end,  verrrryyyyy gently  easing the drill bit through.  I might have been going a bit too slow in this example, but it did make for an interesting picture  and there was no break-out.
Gluing the Blanks
I use some 150 grit sand paper to rough up the blanks before applying the CA glue.  It helps the glue stick.  

Depending on the make-up of the Acrylester Blank,  it can also be a good idea to color the blanks  with a magic marker before gluing.  Sometimes the copper will show through the finished product, making it look rather strange.  I don't think this will be a problem here.  
Milling the ends
Mill the ends of course, stopping at the first glint of shiny copper tube.
Gluing the Ends
Take some extra time and put a ring of CA glue round the brass tubes on both ends,  same as you would with wood blanks.  

I have a theory that during the milling process, tiny cracks sometimes are created and when you get down to the final cuts on the Acrylester blank, that's how the ends can crack out.
Hitting the ends with your favorite Accelerant speeds the drying process.  I'm not worried about white, bubbly CA glue at this point.  
I just want to ensure the ends are well sealed.

Milling out the Excess
Mill the Acrylester blanks one more time, removing any excess CA glue.
The Milled Ends
This looks fine.  
Two Pens
Another advantage to the Duchess pen is that you can turn two pens at the same time.   All you need is two sets of bushings.

Let's talk about  speed for a moment.  In my view,  crank it up and leave it  unchanged during the turning, sanding and finishing process.  

I found that  consistency in results dramatically improved.  

An ideal speed for me is  a bit above 'G' on the ShopSmith, which is somewhere around 1700-1750 rpm.
Another thing I do anymore is to set the guide lower  than I usually would starting out and raise it up to the proper level as  the Acrylester blanks turn down,  then lastly move the guide in as required.  

It minimizes adjusting the guide during turning.
A little about when you see this kind of chipping or worse.  The following is an example of 'worse'.

Molten Metal

This is an image of my first foray into turning an acrylester pen.  The pattern is 'Molten Metal.'

And if you continue turning without correcting the problem, you can get this:


This is also a great reason for wearing eye protection.  A piece of pen flying off a lathe turning at @ 1700 rpm could cause significant eye damage.

Results like this are likely caused one or all five of the following:

1.  Wrong speed setting.  The faster the speed, the better plastic and acrylester turns.

2.  Wrong guide setting.  Keep the guide close to the piece and if the lathe is not on a permanent footing or if the guide is not locked down, lock in the guide and do what you can to secure the lathe.

3.  Dull tool.  My tool sharpening skills are not great.  If I know the speed is correct and the guide is set correctly,  and I just sharpened the tool and am still getting this type of chipping....I stop the lathe and resharpen the tool.  That usually cures the problem for me.

4.  Wrong tool angle.  The angle of the tool in relation to the work piece may be off.  Sometimes it's the results of unfamiliarity with a new tool, or a bad sharpening job.  
5. Turning direction.  When you are getting close to the final dimensions, it helps to turn from the center out in both directions, down hill.  Turning up hill produces a mixed bag of results.
Raising the guide improved the cutting quality.  
Black Peacock
Black Peacock Acrylester appears to turn a bit differently than the copper.  

I was asked the other day how much time is typically spent turning Acrylester or plastic from square blank to finished product.

When I first started playing around with these a couple years ago,  it took me 20-30 minutes per blank and the end product could look pretty rough.

These days, I can turn a blank in 10 minutes or so or less, and end up with a smooth, dull shine and few if any divots.

Tool Sharpening

This is the Tormek Super-Grind, a wet grinding system.
It is helpful to make a jig to help ensure a consistent grinding angle.
This type of setup works well for most tools.  I think it is lacking  for others.   Not  sure what I would replace it with though.
You don't necessarily have to stop the lathe for most inspections.  Feeling the piece while turning saves wear and tear on the lathe motor.
Backing Board
Both these Duchess pen blanks look good to me.  I start sanding with 150 grit and a backing board to remove any high spots. 
I continue on through 400 grit without stopping the lathe.
Other than one divot on one  acrylester blank and a few small cracks in the other,  these Acrylester blanks look fine. 
Fixing the divots
How to fix the larger divots:

Use a medium viscosity  CA glue and some Accelerant to take care of the problem.

First, spray the divot with Accelerant, which will stay on the surface for 10-15 seconds or more.
CA Glue
Apply  a drop or two to the affected areas.  The Accelerant will keep the CA glue in one place, preventing it from running.

Note: you  don't need to fill the divots with Acrylester flakes.  Just use the glue.
Let these dry without using any more Accelerant.  They will dry quickly and won't bubble .  Wipe any excess glue off the bushings.

Turn on the lathe and lightly knock down the repaired areas and then re-sand to 400 grit.  

Continue sanding both Acrylester blanks to 600 grit  to prepare for the finish.


There are a number of methods for finishing Acrylester and plastic pens.  Here is what works for me:

1.  Use a medium viscosity CA glue and lightly coat both Acrylester blanks.  This can be done while the lathe is turning.


2.  Apply some EEE to a paper towel.


3.  Work the EEE into the CA glue, one Acrylester blank at a time.


The CA glue will begin to assume a milky appearance.  This takes a couple minutes.  

Wipe Off

4. Reverse the paper towel and begin slowly removing the excess CA glue / EEE mixture while using finger pressure to induce some heat and friction.

First Finish

5.  Phase 1 is now complete.  Inspect the results.  At this point the blanks should look fine.

Phase 2

6.  Phase two involves using a smaller amount of EEE, with a drop or two of medium CA glue on top of the EEE.

Phase 2

7.  Rub the CA Glue / EEE mixture into the blanks a second time.  Remove any excess and finish by using a clean paper towel as a final clean-up.

Treat this as a friction polish and apply pressure.  I consider it finished when the paper towel starts to get hot to the touch.


8. At this point,  the Acrylester blanks are finished to somewhere around 2200 grit.  EEE takes it to @ 1500 grit and the paper towel takes it the rest of the way.


If I want to get picky,  I finish with Micro mesh, starting at 3600 and working up to 12000 grit.  Use very light, touch-up type pressure with these pads.

I personally can't see or feel a difference between a finish without using the Micro mesh and a finish with.   Some people claim they can.
The Finished Product

Looks good!   Remove the Acrylester blanks from the lathe and very lightly run the milling tool across all ends to ensure they are flat.

Chamfering Tool

We are now entering the phase that most call, 'The Last Chance to Screw Up Your Pen.'

Use a chamfering tool to dress out the brass.

Useful tip:  If you don't have or can't find your chamfering tool, chuck up a drill bit  larger than the brass tube, start the lathe and chamfer the ends with the drill bit.


Chamfering the ends allows for easier insertion of the pen parts.

Pen Nib

Using a pen press gives you some control when putting the pieces together.  Ensure the piece is pressed straight.

Twist Mechanism

The twist mechanism is next.

The Twist Mechanism

Inserting the twist mechanism is a one way proposition.  Use some caution when pressing it in.


Screw in the ink refill and test the twist mechanism full clockwise and the reverse, checking for proper twist mechanism depth.

Pen Top

Put the rest of the pen together.

Duchess Pen

And there they are -  two Duchess pens in Copper and Black Peacock Acrylester.

Duchess Pen

Here are a few more:  Molten Metal, Gold and Orange, Molten Metal, Copper, Black Peacock.  All these are Acrylester.

I like to leave some extra meat on pens  but if you leave too much, the pens no longer look elegant - they look pregnant, as in the second pen from the left.

There are other materials called Aqua Pearl and Lava Bright  which also can produce some spectacular results and are worth a try.

Three Favorites:





Brown & Rose

And my probable favorite,  Brown and Rose.


Here is a Stylus made from same.


Stylus's are gaining popularity as well.

These Aqua Pearl and Lava Bright blanks are available from Penn State industries.

Questionable Material

Here's another example of leaving too much meat.  

That in conjunction with the loud design, reminds me of a character  wearing an elegant top hat and coat..........and a really cheap pair of pants.  

I'd pay some attention to the design of the acrylester or plastic blank you choose.  Remember,  it's an elegant pen. It deserves an elegant blank.  


This is the most meat I would leave on a Duchess pen.  The material is Red Mallee Burl.

Here's a couple more links dealing with Acrylester, Plastic, Spalted Wood and CA Glue finishes.

Acrylester and Plastic Pens

Coffee Beans

Cigar Pens / Spalted Wood / CA Glue Finishes

Closing Comments / Notes:


Crank it up.   Acrylester seems  to turn well at 1750 rpm.  Acrylic and Plactic I get better results at 1150 rpm.  

Acrylester pen blanks throw out chips while getting them down to round.  Plastic or Acrylic - not so much.

These chips will turn to soft plastic flakes if the turning speed is high enough, and are much more pleasant to work with.

Hole Filling


The following works well for these types of holes:


Spray the hole with accelerant.  Let it sit for 10 seconds or so.

Fill hole

Use a medium viscosity CA glue and apply one drop.  The accelerant keeps the drop in place and hardens it quickly.
This method does not turn the CA glue white.  

If after a few minutes it the dot of CA glue still feels tacky, hit it with more accelerant.

Sand off the excess. 

Useful Tidbit for Blown Up Blanks

Blow Out

Don't you just hate it when this happens?   Sometimes these tubes are non-standard lengths and it  can be a pain to find a new one.

Parting tool

Reuse the brass tube!  Only takes a minut or so using a parting tool to break up the plastic.


It's already sanded, roughed up and ready to go.   And....... you get to see what kind of glue job you really did.  

Choosing the correct type of blank:

Choosing the type of acrylester or plastic pen blank depends on the pen size.


If you are turning a 7mm pen,  choose a solid colored blank and not a opaque one or you frequently end up
seeing the brass tube through the plastic, particularly at the narrowest ends of the pens. as shown in the above example


Solid blanks like these work much better for 7mm pens.

If you want to use a opaque blank anyway,  coloring the brass tube with a magic marker that complements the blank can really help.

8mm and on up, the 
opaque blanks work  well enough.

I would have to say the majority of comments I get center around people initially getting discouraged trying to turn bowls, pens and the like after seeing other demonstrations where it appears to imply that 'if you do it just like this,  perfection every time!',  and they then follow up by failing to get it right not  the first, second, third of more times.....must be a problem with the turner, right?

Yup, that's right.  It's called inexperience.

People don't feel so bad after they visit a few of my pages in which I display some of the unspectacular results I've been responsible for along the learning curve.

They soon discover that displays of  'Perfection every time'  are not  reality and therein lies a measure of hope.

For those who like providing these kinds of guides,  also provide examples of of what can happen when things go wrong.

Explain how you managed to blow out  3/4 of the wall of a bowl and what you did to keep that from happening in the future.

Explain how  the entire end of a pen blank flew off the lathe during the final cuts and the importance of wearing eye protection.

It makes for interesting reading and provides some valuable lessons learned.

Minor Request:

If you have some acrylester or plastic pen pics you'd like to send along, feel free.  If it's a bit different than what I do, I'd be most interested and perhaps I and others will learn something new as well.  Helps with the content too.

And most of all:

Have Fun!