Pen Finishes Explained

I have been asked quite a bit about what produces the brilliant finishes on our pens. The question seems simple, but the answer can be complex…. So here goes.


Our pens are made mostly from two materials: resin and wood. Both require different ways to get the blank from a rough round to our amazing, finished product. There are also different types of resins which require slightly different steps as well so it can get a little confusing. Woods also come in different grains, different oil content and hardness just to name a few. These can complicate both the turning of the wood as well as which finishes are used. I will talk about the different types of resins and casting later stay tuned.

For our discussion let’s start with working with our wood pens. First a little background. Years ago, when we first started making wooden items and pens, we did not have the variety of finishes we have today. The finish in most cases depends on what that item will function as. Most of the finishes like lacquer. Polyurethane and the many varieties of these items are toxic to people…. spoons, cutting boards or any item that may encounter food is not recommended. There are a few non-toxic finishes such as shellac and oils which are normally used on these types of products. All of these products will work on pens but next thing to consider is how the item will be used. This deals with how durable the finish needs to be so you do not have to reapply or strip it and start over at some point down the road.

One of the first finishes we used years ago and still do in a few cases is referred to as friction polish. Friction polish is usually made up of shellac or a similar finish. After the artist turns the pen, sands the pen and gets it ready for the finish the friction polish is applied to the spinning pen and cures due to the heat created by the friction produced. Eight to twelve coats are applied to create a deep beautiful finish. The friction finish is used quite frequently and has many strengths. It is quick and easy to apply which in a production environment can save a lot of time and money. It is also a beautiful finish when applied correctly and with enough coats. The downside of this finish is that the oils from your hands can cause the finish to darken and detract from the beauty of the finish. If this pen is one that is used daily, then that may not be an issue. Frequent application of wax or other protective coating needs to be applied to keep it looking good.

The other category of finishes such as lacquer or polyurethane type products can produce very beautiful finishes and are straight forward in their application. Multiple coats of these finishes make the pen more durable and hold on to their shine. We did quite a few pens with lacquer and its still one of my favorite finishes. The downside again is the wear that can take place and the need for a wax or buffing compound to be used from time to time to keep it looking good. While friction finishes take one time at the lathe and can be done quickly, these finishes require drying time between coats and additional time to buff the finish out to a deep shine. Still a very good choice for that keepsake or special pen.

Something relatively new that we use is based on compounds whose main ingredient is cyanoacrylate adhesive. It has a common name and can be found everywhere for home repairs small fix it types jobs and 1000’s of other uses. What’s the common name for it? I will leave that up to you to research. When it first came out for turners it was used to connect pieces together and glue some of the parts together. For pens it was hard to work with and took quite a bit of trial and error to get a good-looking finish. Truthfully it was a real pain. Another downside was that once completed if the pen was dropped on a hard surface the finish would shatter and the pen did not survive. As technology and creativity change out world so too did those chemists come up with a better idea. The cyanoacrylate adhesive is still the base, but they have added a flexible ingredient that avoids this problem. The durability of the finish is amazing, and the depth of the shine is unbelievable. This finish is the one we use on just about all our wooden or hybrid pens to produce that rich look and feel. We also use a version of this on some of the resin pens to give a deeper shine. The downside of this finish is on my side. It does take a level of expertise to complete successfully and although it can be done while the pen is on the lathe, it is a multi-step process that takes a little more time to get right. I have also heard that this finish creates a “plastic” look and you lose the wood feel. If you prefer a more wood feel, then the friction polish is for you. I like the depth of the finish and the amazing look that cyanoacrylate adhesive provides.

All artists and craftsmen have their own favorite process to make their products amazing and this is ours. When we started this business, from a hobby, we did not want to cut corners or produce products that we would not use ourselves. Its hard to enjoy anything that when you must look for that hard to find refill or when you have to constantly maintain and wax the product. Our pens take standard refills and will be beautiful for quite some time.

Hope this helped. I really like educating customer. If you have any questions, please feel free,

….. did you figure out what cyanoacrylate adhesive is?


Your friends at 3 Gen Pen Company



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