Pen Turning Finish with CA Glue

Many pen turners use different types of finish when it comes to their pen blanks. One of the more popular finishes when it comes to pen turning is cyanoacrylate, which is commonly referred to CA glue. Application of CA glue as a finish is a tedious process and one has to be very careful on the technique that is chosen to be used. Whatever technique you use, be patient, and all will go well.

This article is going to take you through a step by step tutorial on how you can apply CA glue as a finish for pen turning. Please be advised that this process can be time consuming, so make sure you have enough time for this particular hobby.

Materials Needed:


Step 1 - Application of the First Layer of CA Glue Finish

Before you start this process, make sure to not use low quality paper towels. The paper towels will be used for applying the CA glue finish to your pen blank. Lower quality paper towels have a higher chance of adding a “hazing effect” to your finished barrels. This is caused by the towel fibers getting caught in between the layers of the CA glue finish.

You can actually test whether the paper towels are of high quality for applying CA glue finish by folding up one sheet of paper towel 3-5 times, depending with what you’re comfortable with, and squeeze a couple drops of CA glue onto it. The paper towel is a fail for using with CA glue if it heats up and starts smoking. If the paper towel does not produce any smoke, then you’re ready to start the finishing process.

Also, it is recommended that you use thin CA glue over the thick or medium CA glues. The thin CA glue does require many more coats than the thicker CA glues but it guarantees you the best results if done correctly since it comes out smoother and glossier.

Use thin ca glue for all your pen turning application finishes. Thin CA is as thin as water and dries as a high gloss finish.

The thin CA glue dries very fast so this process must be done in one consecutive motion. The super glue has a bonding time of about 2-3 seconds.

To begin, fold up your shop towel into halves at least 3-4 times. Then proceed to drop about 4-6 drops of the thin cyanoacrylate onto it.

Take the shop towel immediately to the pen blank since the glue dries fast. Make sure to keep the torn edges of the paper towel off the pen because they might leave behind small fibers that can be added to your finish. Then start applying the CA glue finish side to side quickly. Do this motion at the same time while turning the headstock handwheel. You will only have about a couple seconds to do this before the CA glue starts to bond. If you take too long to coat, the paper towel can bond to the pen blank. Make sure to coat the entire area of the pen blank with the CA glue finish.

After you have done the first blank, get a new sheet of paper towel and repeat the same process for the second blank. Again, be sure to coat the entire blank and work quick. Allow the pen blanks about a minute to dry off between each application. Repeat this process about 4 more times for both blanks.

This first layer of CA glue finish should have a total of at least four applications for each blank. After the fourth application, give each pen blank a couple sprays of accelerator and let them sit for about a minute or two before moving to the next step.

Step 2 – Applying Four More Layers of the CA Glue Finish

This step is just like the previous step but instead of four applications of the CA glue finish, only two applications will be necessary for the second, third and fourth layer.

Before you begin Step 2, make sure the pen blanks are completely dry of the accelerator.

Just as before, fold a clean and new paper towel and squeeze a couple of drops of CA glue onto it. Apply the paper towel with the CA glue to the first blank moving back and forth just as before while turning the headstock handwheel. Repeat the same for the second blank.

Give the pen blanks about two minutes to dry off then apply another coat. After you have applied two coats, spray the blanks with the accelerator and wait a couple of minutes. When about 5 minutes have passed, apply two more layers of two coats each and then you are done.

Leave the finish to dry off for about 2-3 hours. Remember, if any paper towel fibers get caught in the finish, don’t worry, you can just sand it off. If you didn’t do the CA glue finish process correctly, and you completely messed up, you can always sand the entire finish to start from scratch.

Step 3 - The Fingernail Test

In order to know if the finish has completely cured, you need to give it "the fingernail test". Press your thumb nail down towards one end of the blanks. If it leaves an indentation, let it sit for another hour. If it is unaffected, then it is completely cured. Typically, a full cure takes about 24 hours.

Step 4 - Sanding the Fully Cured CA Glue Finish

Take your micro mesh sanding pad, 800-grit is recommended, and start dipping it in a little bit of water.

After getting it moist, gently touch it to the surface of the pen blanks. Be careful not to apply too much pressure. The pressure should be just enough to keep the sanding pad in place.

Sand with the 800-grit pad for about 30-40 seconds for each blank while the lathe is running.

Make sure to wipe the slurry that has hazed up the blanks as you’re sanding. You can use the paper towels.

Repeat this entire process with the next level of sanding pad, 1500-grit.

After you’re done, switch off the lathe and manually sand each pen blank swiping back and forth quickly about 10-15 times on each section. Make sure you clean the slurry as well.

Now you are going to notice a glossy shine on the pen blanks. Repeat this entire process again with 2400-grit and then 4000-grit sanding pads. Then, finally with a 12,000-grit sanding pad. Note that you are also repeating the manual sanding.

After sanding with the 12,000-grit sanding pad, you will notice a beautiful, glass-like, scratch-free finish on your barrels. Leave it to cure completely for 24 hours before assembling it.

Keep in mind that a CA glue finishing is a very time consuming and tedious process. It takes a great deal time and practice for you to completely master it. Remember if at any moment you notice that you have done a terribly bad job applying the CA glue finish to your pen, you can just sand it all off and start again.