Hand Made Wooden Pens by Rodney Neep

Wood
and other materials
used to make pens

I use a wide variety of different woods to make pens. I can obtain some of them relatively easily, whilst others are available in very small quantities* and cannot be sourced again without great difficulty, if at all.

I also occasionally use acrylics for pen making, but not often.


WOOD TYPES


Notes:

Spalted wood is where the timber has laid in contact with the damp ground for some time. Microbes and fungi attack the wood and penetrate through the grain, starting the rotting process. If it is caught at a certain stage, and then dried and seasoned in the normal way, then the results can be really interesting with dark lines and changes in colour. When making pens with spalted wood I first add an extra process of impregnating and stabilising the wood, which makes it perfectly hard again.

Burl Wood is wood taken from the gnarly growths in a tree trunk. These growths occur naturally on many trees, and effectively they are new growth shoots that have gone wrong. The result is a highly prized beautiful swirly pattern, sometimes accompanied by small pippy knots


Anjan


anjan wood pen

An extremely dense and heavy hardwood from India. Rich deep, deep reds and blacks. Similar to Ebony, but deep red and black grain.


Amboyna Burl


A rare wood considered to be one of the very best woods for penmaking. Tight curly contorted grain in a rich golden colour. Expect to pay a premium for good examples of this fine wood. From South-East Asia.


Apple

  • Spalted Apple



The above photo shows spalted apple tree wood. I also use normal grained apple. These are usually sourced locally from a friend who has an orchard and a firewood log pile!


Ash
Olive Ash



Ash usually has a grey tinge to its general colour. Hence the term "ashen". Sometimes I am able to source wood with a purplish olive tinge to it.


Beech

  • Spalted Beech



In addition to making pens of plain beech from our local forest, I especially like the spalted beech with varying amounts of black lines and marbling. It makes a lovely looking pen.

spalted beech pen
Above: thickness and density of the black marbling can vary

spalted beech handmade 	 	 	 	 	 	 	 	 pen
Above: the same wood, cut across the grain, so that the spalting appears as rings. It is particularly beautiful, but a little harder to work with.


Birch


paper birch pen


Boxwood



Extremely fine grained, generally a pale blonde colour.


Bubinga



The pen illustrated is made up of angled segments of wenge and maple, but the main rich coloured wood is bubinga. Bubinga is a rare wood from West Africa.


Caragana*



Caragana is a small tree or shrub native to Asia and Eastern Europe. It is also known as a "Pea Shrub", as its seed pods are rather like pea pods and the seeds are edible. Settlers intoduced the tree to North America (because of its edible seeds) where it survives well. It grows like a weed, but it is almost impossible to source this wood here in the UK. I have only a very few pieces.


Cedar of Lebanon


cedar of lebanon hand made pen
A really beautiful blonde coloured wood from the Eastern Mediterranean. Cedar of Lebanon is mentioned many times in the bible, and is the wood that King Solomon used to build his temple.


Cherry



The domestic cherry provides some really nice wood. My small supply comes from a friend's orchard.


Choke Cherry*



Choke Cherry grows wild in North America. The fruits are small and extremely bitter, and only useful for making cherry jelly by adding lots of sugar! The wood is a uniform dark brown.


Cocobolo



Cocobolo is one of the sought-after tropical hardwoods. Dalbergia retusa, from Central America. Only small amounts of this rare wood reach the market. It makes a stunning pen.


Ebony



Jet black ebony is now quite rare. It is an extremely dense hard wood which sinks in water. Occasionally I may get some pieces of "striped" ebony which is jet black plus some deep brown. I quite like that, as it shows some character. I even have a piece of ebony here that is half white and half black! But I am saving that for a few extra special pens.

striped ebony
Above: Striped ebony (Ceylon)

Ceylon ebony
Above: Jet black Ceylon Ebony


Elm

  • Elm Burl

  • Spalted Elm Burl

  • Wych Elm



Above. Plain Elm

Elm produces great pens! I am fortunate in having a good supply of lovely elm burl wood. There are many colour variations, from pale through to very dark brown.


Above: Light Elm Burl


Above: Dark Elm Burl


Above: Wych Elm. It has an open swirling grain, and some occasional knots for character.

And finally - spalted elm burl

spalted elm burl
Above: Spalted elm burl. I purchased some of this wood a couple of years ago, and never got around to using it. Until now!
From top to bottom:

  • A piece in its natural state - it is rotten in places, and very soft
  • After stabilising - impregnated with very thin cyanoacrylate (superglue) - which makes it hard throughout
  • A pen blank hot off the lathe
  • A pen made from this fantastic wood - gnarly, burly, great variation in colour, and with some fine black wavy spalting lines.

Each piece comes out different to the others, and I can never tell until it is turned on the lathe, sanded and polished. But they are all gorgeous and with lots of character!

More spalted elm from my special reserve wood. This type is particularly stunning.


Eucalyptus

  • Eucalyptus Burl
  • Goldfield Burl


Generally I use only Eucalyptus burl wood. Pale colour with an extremely fine grain. The burl wood displays some weird and wild figure plus tiny pippy knots.

Goldfield Burl: A generic term for burl woods harvested in the gold field areas of Australia, but mainly eucalyptus species. These are extremely special rare pieces, and very expensive indeed. It is extremely hard!

A small piece like this costs around £50. Enough for just two pens.


Hawthorn

  • Spalted Hawthorn



Who would have thought that the common hedgerow hawthorn could produce such a stunning blonde wood? This example is spalted hawthorn, which has pale amber streaks and specks. I have only a few pieces of the spalted wood. It will take me a couple of years to "make" some more.


Holly



I was very surprised when I made my first pen of Holly. It has a lovely fine even grain, but is also a "lacewood". The very fine lace pattern shows up when the grain is viewed from certain directions. This shows on two sides of every pen.


Holm Oak
Holly Oak


Holm Oak - Quercus ilex - is an evergreen oak primarily found in Mediterranean areas. The wood is generally a striped grain, but I have been able to source some very rare wood that shows distinctive fecks in the grain.

 


Iroko


iroko wood pen


Jatoba


jatoba wood pen

Jatobá is a huge canopy tree, growing to 30 m in height, and is indigenous to the South America rainforest and parts of tropical Central America. It has a distict striped grain alternating between a deep reddish brown and medium brown.


Koa



Koa is an Acacia that grows in Hawaii. A very small proportion of the wood from some trees has a curly grain which is highly prized and is now starting to become scarce and restricted. The curly grain is rather like a genetic variation in the tree. Think of it as being like curly hair. Some people are blessed with it, whilst the majority have straight hair. Its the same with koa.


Lemonwood*


Xymalos monospora, also known as lemonwood, comes from the mountains of Eastern Africa. Its appearance is a slightly yellow version of Boxwood.


London Plane (Lacewood)



London plane is the species that is often planted in the centre of our cities. Planatus Acerifolia has a feature of shedding its bark and thus it cleans itself!. It is a very valuable wood, and one tree in London was recently estimated to be worth over two million pounds. The wood exhibits a strong "lacewood" pattern on each side, and a fascinating series of patterns where the sides of the laces are exposed. It must surely be one of England's most beautiful woods.


Madrone Burl


Arbutus menziesii is a broadleaf evergreen tree commonly found in the Pacific North West of North America.


Mahogany


mahogany wood pen


Maple

  • Flamed Maple

  • Flamed Burl Maple (rare)

  • Manitoba Maple



Above: The very rare flamed burl maple. This exhibits both fiddleback flame patterns and swirly burls.


Above: Flamed maple with antique stain to bring out the banding.
The banding appears to move as you move it in the light. Dark turns to light, and light bands turn to dark.
Flamed maple is particularly attractive.


Above: flamed maple can also take a stain well. In this case a pale blue. (Pens made from this wood can be made in a variety of colours)


Masur Birch**


This is an extremely rare and VERY expensive wood. A little log 8" diameter x 12" long costs well over £100. Naturally, I reserve this wood (when and if I can get it) for the very select pens. The spectacular pith flecks and line patterns are caused by the Agromyzia carbonaria beetle larvae attacking the cambium layer of the tree, so every log is different in terms of pattern and regularity.Currently I have three pens of Masurr birch in the inventory, and two of them are not for sale! Please contact me about special orders. I have just purchased a small log of this wood, which has yet to be cut into pen blanks.


Manitoba Maple*


Common in Canada, but rarely seen here in the UK.


Oak

  • Oak burl

  • Bog Oak


oak hand made pen

Oak burl speaks for itself. Its a classic!

Bog Oak - Oak which has lain in the bottom of a bog for anything from 5,000 to 10,000 years.  It is almost jet black in colour. Rather than coat these totally smooth, (which would look like black plastic!), I finish these without grain filler, so that although it is black, you can see the grain.

bog oak hand
	
	
	
	
	
	
	
	
	
	
	    crafted pen

bog oak handmade
	
	
	
	
	
	
	
	
	
	
	    pen


Bethlehem Olive Wood


A superb very dense wood with lovely patterns. No trees were cut down to provide this wood. All pieces are trimmings that are taken in order to keep the trees healthy.


Osage Orange*


Another of the rare hardwoods. I usually only obtain a couple of pieces at a time. Native to Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas, USA.


Padauk



A striking bright orange colour!

Padauk dust on the machine!

Pterocarpus soyauxii. From central and west tropical Africa.


Black Palmira


Also known as Kitul. Caryota urens. From India.
A sea of grass on a tan background. Really hard to work with.


Pink Ivory*


A rare exotic wood from Africa. Highly prized. Very dense and even grain. Quite hard to obtain.


Poplar

  • Poplar Burl

  • Spalted Poplar Burl


This has to be one of my most favourite woods. Pens usually display a mixture of burl, spalting and fiddleback flame, all wrapped up in lovely rich amber colours. Some are lighter in colour than this example. It isn't at all easy to obtain, but I have managed to source some for quite a few pens. This wood is quite difficult to work, and I always have to stabilise it before and during turning. The end result is a perfectly strong piece of wood. Expect to pay a premium for pens made of this very special wood. I prize it above most others.

A more plain poplar, but still very beautiful and with subtle figuring.


Purpleheart


A rare and expensive exotic hardwood. Native to tropical regions of Central and South America.


Redwood Burl



Ropola*


A rare tropical exotic hardwood, which displays a lacewood pattern, and a fascinating "totem pole" appearance where the faces of the lace pattern meet the surface on two sides of the pen.


Rosewood


Rich deep reddish brown, with darker grain lines. It makes a very "classic" looking pen.


Russian Olive*


Not really an olive wood at all, but named as such because it resembles olive. Native to central and Western Asia.


Snotty Gobble


Persoonia Longifolia. Unless you are Australian, then it has the name Snottygobble. Found in the Jarrah forests of southwest Western Australia. This species is characterised by its long narrow dark green leaves, dark yellow to orange flowers and distinctive dark flaky red bark. A tall shrub reaching 1 to 5 metres in height.

The wood is delightful ,with a nice lacewood grain.

I have no more of this wood


Sycamore

  • Plain Sycamore

  • Flamed Sycamore


Rare and difficult to obtain. I have only a few pieces for pen making. This is the same type of wood from which Stradivarius made violins.


Thuya Burl


Thuya Burl

A rare wood. Stunning burl patterns, and a deep tortoise shell colour. I generally reserve this wood for my special pens.

Tetraclinis, a conifer related to the cypress family. From North Africa on the Western Mediterranean.


Tulip Wood


An unusual and exotic tropical wood. It usually has distinct and dramatic red and yellow/honey stripes. Found on the Eastern side of North America and also in some parts of China.


Walnut

  • Plain Walnut
  • Black Walnut


Plain Walnut has a generally dark well defined straight grain, with some darker grain lines.

Black Walnut is dramatic, and produces a very classy looking pen!


Depending on the cut it sometimes exhibits "flamed" holographic bands which move in the light when you move the pen.


Wenge


wenge hand made pen

wenge wood pen

Dark brown and black grain

Millettia laurentii. From Cameroons, Gabon.


Willow



Yew

  • Yew Burl

  • Yew Pippy Burl

  • Yew Heartwood


So many variations in grain and colour! Yew trees are the longest living plants in Europe, some reputed to be 5,000 years old. Most of those that you see in church yards are likely to be between 500 and 1000 years old.


Zebrawood


A rare exotic hardwood. The piece that you see here is cut "accross the plank", with the grain running from top to bottom, giving it a striped banded appearance. This wood also has a surprising feature when it is made into a pen. Its structure makes it look as it it us translucent, and it "moves" when angled in the light. Rather like the mineral "tiger's eye". Stunningly holographic.

The wood of Microberlinia, also known as Zebrano, is imported from Central Africa, (Gabon, Cameroon, and Congo). The heartwood is a pale golden yellow, distinct from the very pale colour of the sapwood and features narrow streaks of dark brown to black. Zebrawood can also be a pale brown with regular or irregular marks of dark brown in varying widths.

zebrano pen
Above: Cut with the grain just off centre from the line of the pen.



Real Stone

See the real stone pens

Steatite (also known as soapstone or soaprock) is a metamorphic rock. It is produced by dynamothermal metamorphism and metasomatism, which occurs in the areas where tectonic plates are subducted, changing rocks by heat and pressure, with influx of fluids, but without melting. It has been a medium for carving for thousands of years. Soapstone is used for inlaid designs, sculpture, coasters, and kitchen countertops and sinks. Soapstone is sometimes used for fireplace surrounds and woodstoves, because it can absorb and evenly distribute heat. The stone that I import from Kenya is selected to be harder than normal soapstone, and it finishes naturally to a high gloss shine.

See the real stone pens


ACRYLICS



Ice White Pearl

 


Often used on my wedding pens and the Dean Crystal Pens

 


Ice Pearl


With black, grey & white

Blue Ice

 


Black Mistique



Black Graphite


Photo to be added


Crocus



Red Satin



Hot, irridescent, see-through satin that is downright sexy!


NATURAL STONE


Actually this material is not solid natural stone, but "processed" stone. It is real stone ground and reconstituted in acrylic to its original patterns and features. It is incredibly hard and dense, and very heavy! This material is extremely difficult to work with on the lathe, and very time consuming. There is no lacquer or wax finish, as the material works to natural high gloss. It is relatively expensive to obtain, and therefore I usually save it for the most select pens.


Banded Malachite



Leopard Jasper



Black with gold web



OTHER MATERIALS



Ivory Substitute


A polyester ivory substitute. I often use this on the wedding pens, including the one I made for Prince William and Catherine with which they signed the register on their wedding day.


Water Buffalo Horn


Generally black, but also tends to be partially transparent and brown in some examples.


Deer Antler


Very rare to be able to get suitable antler with its natural surface showing. Normally it is the white colour, sometimes with granules of grey.



Copyright ©2008 Rodney Neep All Rights Reserved