The Beginning Was A Catalog, As Is So Often The Case
Once upon a long time ago I saw an ad for a “Teacher’s Pen” in a wood turning catalog from Woodcraft. I have a love-hate relationship with wood turning catalogs, which regularly arrive at the house full of tempting toys and projects that seem so simple and reasonable when looking at photos of the completed items. And since I come from a long line of teachers and school administrators, this seemed like just the ticket for a special gift for a birthday or even Christmas.
What Makes It A “Teacher’s Pen?”
What makes a Teacher’s Pen special is that it is double headed, with one head being dedicated to a red ink ballpoint while its opposite is dedicated to blue. The different ends are distinguished by a small acrylic band in the appropriate color. The design of the pen is intended to simplify a teacher’s life by allowing them to complete administrative type tasks with the blue end and then spinning the pen about to the red end to complete grading and correcting tasks without having to keep track of two separate pens. A different version of this kit is available that uses colored woods instead of acrylic. I chose the version that utilized acrylic because I thought that the more vibrant color possible with the acrylic made for a more immediately eye-catching presentation.
Why Maple For The Body?
I chose to make the body of the pen from hard maple for several reasons. The primary reason was color. Maple has a rather pronounced absence of color, which was the goal in choosing it. I wanted a neutral body to add vibrancy to the acrylic end bands. I think the maple accomplishes that quite nicely. I also wanted to use maple because this is intended to be hard working pen and maple is a very nice hard and durable wood that would easily stand up to lots of use and even rolling about in desk drawers, satchels bags, briefcases, pen cups, wherever a busy teacher might stow pens when not in use.
Everything You Wanted To Know About Maple and Then Some
The maple tree belongs to the genus Acer. Within this genus are an approximate 125 different species of trees and shrubs which occur primarily in Asia, but also in Europe, northern Africa and North America.
Only a few of the larger maple species, including Sugar Maple in North America and Sycamore Maple in Europe are large enough to produce valuable timber stocks. References to “hard maple” usually refer to Sugar Maple wood. Because of its durability and hardness, Sugar Maple wood is often the preferred wood for items as diverse as bowling pins and bowling alley lanes to pool cue shafts and butcher’s blocks. Care should be taken to only use wooden butcher’s blocks for either cooked OR uncooked foods, never both, to avoid the risk of cross-contamination with food borne illness causing bacteria.
Maple wood has also been used for baseball bats. However, ash and hickory are more commonly used for this purpose today since they do not shatter as readily as maple does when broken.
Perhaps the two best known applications of maple are the collection and concentration of its winter sap for syrup making and as the national emblem, and prominent feature on the flag, of Canada since 1965.
Because maple wood carries sound waves well it is also known as a tonewood. Some musicians consider that it produces a better sound than Mahogany, the other major tonewood used to make instruments.
Maple is commonly used to make parts of high end electric guitars, including Gibson brand modern and classic guitars. Violins are also commonly constructed in part from maple. Bassoons and double basses may also be constructed from maple. Most all drum kits and sets are made from maple although birch is gaining in popularity for this application.
Some maple wood displays an undulating pattern know variously as tiger stripe, flamed, curly, or fiddleback. Another related figure is referred to as quilting, in which the grain itself is distorted by this figure. While this pattern is commonly and mistakenly referred to as a grain feature, it is instead more properly termed a figure of the wood as the grain and the figure typically run perpendicular to one another. Other figures exist in maple including bird’s eye pattern. Figured maple is prized for its unique and beautiful appearance. Figured maple is frequently used in high end furniture and musical instruments. This use is a far cry from the earliest recorded American use of figured maple; figured maple was used to make stocks on Kentucky rifles during the westward expansion into the Appalachian Mountains.
However, the maple I used was plain non-figured wood since I didn’t think that the size of the pen would do justice to the more highly figured wood that I do have in stock.
Working With Acrylic
I have written more extensively about my experiences, both good and bad, working with acrylic elsewhere on this site. Please visit Unbeliveably Diverse Acrylic, for more information.
The Production Process
The main pen body was drilled with the requisite 7mm hole using a Colt brand drill bit. The Colt brand promises a true bore with no pull back needed for up to 5-7 inch bores. This bore was certainly not that lengthy, but even with a hard wood like maple, the Colt lived up to its reputation and advertising in performing admirably with one pass straight through. The acrylic pieces were of course much smaller and drilled easily stacked together.
Standard methods were used in the turning of the wood and acrylic components. I used a roughing gouge to start the maple and then finished it down to size with the skew chisel. I used the skew chisel throughout the turning of the acrylic. The only difference in the sanding process was the added use of micro-fine sanding pads on the acrylic ends once aluminum oxide strips down to 600 grit had been used first.
Assembling The Pen
The pen assembly was simple and the instructions from Woodcraft clear and adequate. The only thing I had to discover through trial and error was that the refills must be pushed FIRMLY into their threaded holders in order for the extended and withdrawn pen lengths to work correctly. The components pressed together easily using a standard pen press.
Final Thoughts and Recommendations
I found making the Teacher’s Pen to be a relatively straight forward exercise that required less than 2 hours of time from start to finish. Any wood turner who has made other styles of pens should have little to no difficulty in working with this kit. Some familiarity with turning acrylics might be useful since turning and sizing such small pieces, less than 1” in length, could be a bit troublesome given the general issues associated with turning acrylic. Overall, I was pleased with the end result and am hopeful that the teacher to whom this pen is being presented will enjoy the look, style, and functionality of this unique gift.