Distinctive Woodworking

A sticky time: The path to a set of pen gifts

For the gifts for the Ottawa’s Viennese Winter Ball, I’ve talked about the ‘easy’ parts of making a set of pens so far. But then it gets sticky.
As in glue.

Over the fifteen plus years that I have made pens, I think I’ve heard and read about fifteen different means to glue up a set of pens. The challenge is that you’re looking to bond a variety of pieces of woods, some that are more oily, some that are drier, some that are harder, some that are softer. Finding the best chemistry makes the difference between a gift that lasts for years and decades, and a pen that falls apart after 6 months and disappoints the recipient.

Several years ago I switched to using West System Epoxy. It is an expensive glue that is heavily used for aviation and for boatbuilding, and I consider myself having solved the adhesive problem.  Expensive but worth every penny for the robustness of the pen.

The challenge becomes: how to put a whole bunch of pens together.

This is one of the times when being intensely organized is crucial. The epoxy has only a small amount of time to work with before it starts to set up (longer than those poor quality ‘5 minute’ epoxies, but only about half an hour)   So I drafted my daughter into the battle.

Start with all the pen mechanisms organized in their sorting containers.

IMG_1930 IMG_1918 IMG_1917

Continue with all the wooden pieces organized in their trays.


Cover the dining room table with paper and take over the dining room (and a little of the family room, and a little of the living room) (And you wonder why my wife has some grey hair?)


And get to work with the glue.  Each pen requires one or two metal tubes that reinforce the wood. That tube needs to be thoroughly bonded to the wood, so a proper layer of glue, well spread, is crucial.  It then needs to be inserted into the wooden pen piece to the right position WITHOUT removing all the glue you just put on.

And the end result looks like this. IMG_0342 IMG_1420

And when we’re all done,  the dining room looked a little like this:


Over forty pens prepared for the REAL work.  Actually turning them into beautiful pens.