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How to turn Burl Pen Blanks

Buying Burl Blank? 

Here’s what to expect! 


Making pens from trees can yield beautiful results!! Drilling through straight grain yields a pen that can be gorgeous but “straight”! 

At some point, most pen makers see a pen where the grain is NOT straight--in fact, the pattern is very unpredictable and “wild.” These pens typically command a  premium price because they are far fewer in number. 

What is a Burl?

So, if you decide to turn a “burl” into a pen, there are several things you should realize: First,  a burl is a growth on the tree or in the roots that results from the tree trying to heal an injury.  So, you may find items embedded in the burl--metal and rocks, especially. This is NOT a  defect, but part of what you should be prepared to deal with when you start turning burls! 

Next, you may encounter cracks and pits--again, this is a result of the irregular nature of the  “healing growth”.

How can I fix nature's challenges?

There are numerous ways to deal with the challenges of turning burls. Let’s start with drilling.  

Simply choosing the drill bit you need for the pen and drilling a hole will often be unsuccessful and can easily make the blank unusable with a crooked, oversized hole in it. 

The better solution is to choose a short, small-diameter drill bit that is SHARP and drill a straight pilot hole. Then, enlarge the hole until your brass tube fits nicely.


A HOT tip!!

Always be aware of generating heat as you drill--getting the blank hot now may result in your pen cracking weeks from now, so keep the temperature down by using sharp tools and retracting the drill bit often to clear the flutes. If you see it getting hot, take a break and allow the bit and blank to cool naturally. 

Additional steps for success!!

Once the blank is drilled, allow it to cool to room temperature; if the wood is wet, it is a good idea to wait a few days to allow the blank to dry from the inside (the hole) before inserting the brass tube. If you wait, you will probably have to redrill the hole, but that is normal and MAY prevent your pen from cracking after assembly. Again, getting your blank as dry as possible will improve your chances of success. Slow drying in an oven can help, but it will often result in some cracks you must repair. Cracks in burls are common! You can repair them by inserting Cyanoacrylic glue or epoxy and filling the crack with sawdust, ground coffee, powdered gemstones for a “feature” effect, or any other material you want to use--you are the artist, be creative. 


In short, “burl” wood pens will create the most unique pens, but they will create some turning challenges--how you handle those challenges makes YOUR work distinctive--Go have  FUN!!! 

Good luck!! 


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