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Crafting a Grant Flag Inlay Pen

Because of the unique nature of the flag inlay pens, I thought you might be interesting to see how one is crafted. You can click on any image for a larger view.


This pen is based on the Grant twist pen. The individual components used in this pen are shown below.


The upper and lower brass tubes are the center backbone of any hand-crafted pen. Their length and inside diameter are critical and specific to the style of pen being made. The various couplers are then friction-pressed into the ends of these brass tubes. These couplers allow the other components to be attached, which ultimately hold the upper and lower sections together and provide for motion of the pen refill.

To make a pen both beautiful and functional, you need to surround the brass tubes with some type of material. This could be wood, acrylic, Tru-stone, or in this case a flag inlay made out of laser-cut maple wood pieces.


I buy these laser cut flag inlay pieces as a set, since I don't have a laser cutter. The blue maple blank has 50 star-shaped cutouts and is drilled so that the Grant upper brass tube will fit inside. It has been colored blue with pressure injected resins and has also been heat treated for strength. The plastic bag contains 50+ maple stars that were laser cut to fit precisely within the holes. Similarly, the red striped maple blank has been color treated and laser cut to receive seven curved maple stripes. The lower brass tube fits within it.


Each of the stars is individually hand-placed into the upper blue blank. You need to dip them into water which has a little dish soap in it, so they can slide into the star-shaped hole. It's a very tight fit. Once you get the star started, you then roll and press the tube against the work surface to help push it into place. Since you have to press quite hard, you should keep the brass tube inside the blank when doing this for extra support. My work surface has a curved edge to it which also worked very well to help push the stars in all the way.


Here's what it looked like with all the stars in place. It took a little over an hour to place all 50 of the stars. Magnification helps too.They give you a few extra in case you need them.


The stripes go in similarly to the stars, except that there are only seven of them to put in. 


To help stabilize the stars and stripes within the blanks, I like to flood the inside of the blanks with thin CA (cyanoacrylate) glue. The blanks are each wrapped in masking tape and one of the ends is sealed in tape as well. I then drip in the CA glue and swish it around inside the blank until everything is well coated. The thin CA will get into the cracks that border the stars and stripes and cement everything firmly in place when it hardens.


Once the CA glue hardens, it will irregularly coat the inside of the blank and make the hole too small to fit the brass tube back in. To solve this problem, I mount the blank onto my lathe and drill the hole back to the correct diameter using a 10mm drill bit held by a Jacobs chuck. This scrapes off any of the excess CA glue.


Both the stars and the stripes blanks are longer than the brass tubes. I like the blanks to extend about 1/4 inch beyond the tube. Since these blanks are significantly longer than that, I trim the ends of the blank down by cutting them on my bandsaw.


Here are the shortened blanks and the brass tubes that I will epoxy inside them. I also roughened the outside of the brass tubes with coarse sandpaper. This gives the epoxy a better grip on the brass.

 https://sites.google.com/site/penandwoodart/home/making-a-grant-flag-inlay-pen/Wax%20placement.jpg?attredirects=0 https://sites.google.com/site/penandwoodart/home/making-a-grant-flag-inlay-pen/Sealed%20end.jpg?attredirects=0

In addition, I need to seal both ends of the brass tube with dental wax. This prevents the epoxy from getting into the brass tube. Remember, I will need to press a coupler into each end of the brass tube, so any glue that gets in has to be removed.


Next I mix up some 5 minute epoxy using a popsicle stick. Using the handle from a plastic decorative painting brush, I liberally coat the inside of the blank with epoxy. I then coat the outside of the brass tube with epoxy before sliding it into the blank using both a twisting motion and an in-out motion as I advance it. I scrape off the excess epoxy from the end and advance the brass tube to the other side, where I also scrape off the excess epoxy. Now I carefully center the brass tube on the white stripes, which happen to be exactly the same length as the brass tube.


Here are both blanks with the brass tubes epoxied into place.


Next I sand the ends of the blanks down on my belt sander until they are flush with the brass tube.

 https://sites.google.com/site/penandwoodart/home/making-a-grant-flag-inlay-pen/Blanks%20sanded%20down.jpg?attredirects=0 https://sites.google.com/site/penandwoodart/home/making-a-grant-flag-inlay-pen/Wax%20removed.jpg?attredirects=0

Here are the ends sanded flush with the brass tubes. I then remove the wax seals and any epoxy residue from the ends. The brass tubes are cleaned with a brass wire brush and I smooth the ends of the brass tubes with a deburring tool.


Now it's time to start turning the blanks to the correct size and shape. I measure the components that will be butting up against the blank. I want the final diameter of the blank to be within a few thousandths of an inch of this measurement. For this pen, each end of each piece has a different finished diameter, so it's important to keep track of the orientation of the piece as you turn it down.


I can use bushings for my initial rough turning. These have an outside diameter similar to what I am aiming for.


Here is the blank mounted on my lathe between cone centers. The tool I am using here on the tool rest utilizes a carbide cutting edge, which stays quite sharp. This is critical when dealing with delicate pieces such as a wood inlay. I also use a light touch, taking only small shavings as I go. I turn pen blanks between 2000 and 2500 rpm.


I don't find bushings to be accurate enough for final turning, so I remove them when I start getting closer to my desired dimensions and turn with the brass tubes directly between the cone centers.


I will periodically stop the lathe and take a measurement of what the current diameter is at the ends of the blank. The closer I get to my desired diameter, the more frequently I'll stop and take measurements. 


Here is the top half as it's nearing completion in turning.


Following final turning, the blanks then get sanded while on the lathe using 320 and 400 grit sandpaper.


Once I'm done turning and sanding the blank, I need to square the ends so that they are exactly 90 degrees to the axis of the brass tube. This ensures a perfect fit against the coupling components. I built this jig to accurately square the ends. A transfer punch of similar diameter to the brass tube interior is mounted in a Jacobs chuck. I can then slide the blank onto the transfer punch before bringing it up to a sanding disc that is rotated exactly perpendicular to the punch. 


Now it's time to put a finish on the blanks. I like to use a CA (cyanoacrylate) finish. Using a folded up paper towel, I can wipe a generous drop of CA over the slowly turning blank to distribute it evenly over the surface. I then cause this coating to harden using a spray accelerator. This process is repeated until I have at least 12 coats of CA applied.


Next I sand the 400 rpm rotating blank lightly using first 320 grit, then 400 grit sandpaper to ensure that the cyanoacrylate surface is smooth. In addition to sanding with the lathe on, I also sand longitudinally along the blank with the lathe off. This lets me do a better job on the ends of the blank. Following sanding, I again square the ends of the blanks, to make sure the CA on the ends is also flat and perfectly square to the axis of the brass tube.


Now it's time to start polishing the CA finish. I wet sand it with Micro-Mesh pads while it turns at 500 rpm. Starting with 1800 grit and a generous amount of water, I continue down each successive Micro-Mesh pad (2400, 3200, 3600, 4000, 6000, 8000, and 12000 grit), For the courser grits, I will stop between each grit to clean off the blank and inspect it under magnification to ensure that I have removed all the scratches from the previous grit.


As a finishing touch, I then buff the blanks using fine and ultra-fine buffing compounds. This gives the blanks a glass-like shine.


Now it's time to assemble the pen. Here is the nib coupler being readied for insertion. I place a drop of blue Loctite onto the coupler before pressing it in. This will make sure the coupler does not loosen in the future.

 https://sites.google.com/site/penandwoodart/home/making-a-grant-flag-inlay-pen/Press%20stripes%201.jpg?attredirects=0 https://sites.google.com/site/penandwoodart/home/making-a-grant-flag-inlay-pen/Press%20stripes%202.jpg?attredirects=0

The nib coupler is then friction pressed into the brass tube. I use my drill press for this (with it turned off of course). The transmission coupler is then pressed into the opposite end.

 https://sites.google.com/site/penandwoodart/home/making-a-grant-flag-inlay-pen/Press%20stars%201.jpg?attredirects=0 https://sites.google.com/site/penandwoodart/home/making-a-grant-flag-inlay-pen/Press%20stars%202.jpg?attredirects=0

Here I am pressing the centerband into the upper brass tube, followed by the finial coupler.


Next the clip is placed over the finial coupler and the finial is screwed on. The nib is screwed onto the nib coupler. A spring is placed onto a Parker style refill, which I slide in before screwing on the transmission. The upper half the the pen is then slid onto the transmission. A new functional piece of art is born!