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William Young's CA/BLO Finishing Technique

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Bill Young’s Technique for BLO / CA finishes: 26 Feb 09

Background information:
There are many different ways to finish a wood pen turned on the Lathe. All of us have a favorite and this tutorial is intended to explain and demonstrate a technique that is working for me. This is an edited version of my original tutorial and incorporates information from many sources. This technique is not the only way or a right way but it works for me. I encourage all pen turners to experiment with new ways so that we can all continue to learn from these collective experiences.

The reason we use Cyanoacrylate (CA) is to form a hard, smooth and durable finish on our pens. The trick is to be able to do this without a lot of fuss and a mess. The avoidance of ripples and beading is of prime concern. Also the avoidance of having to do a lot of sanding is important. The puddle of CA that is placed on top of the oily spot of BLO would be just a little puddle about the size of what is necessary to cover one blank at a time. I have practiced with thin, medium and thick CA and have found that medium works best for me for this particular application . We all know that sanding is the choice of last resort and can always be used to correct a messy situation. Just sand the blank back to the wood and start again…BTW a light coating of paste wax on the ends of the blanks will help prevent sticking them to the bushings with the CA. (Some members do not do this as it might contaminate the finish).

Boiled Linseed Oil (BLO) is the other ingredient used in this technique. BLO in a very small quantity provides a base for the CA to flow across the blank and aids in the curing of the CA. Note: “Small quantity” means just that --- a very small drop on a folded shop towel (6-8 thicknesses) is sufficient to do the job. One inch wide strips cut from a shop towel will make two good applicators when folded. Clean out a small Nasal Spray bottle, remove the plastic tube inside and fill with BLO. Now you have an excellent storage and small drop application bottle.

Some woods may require sealing or filling before the CA finishing technique is started. Deep pores should be filled and sanded so the blank is very smooth. Corn Cobs are the best example of needing lots of filling. Sanding up to about 600 grit will be sufficient so long as there are no visible voids.

Lathe speed is an important factor. There is a need to create heat so high speed is needed. About 1800 RPM will work. Timing is also important so just work on one blank (in a two part pen) at a time. Alternating from upper to lower blank as each coat is applied. It only takes about 20 seconds for each coat per blank piece. The rapid back and forth movement is to create friction and enough heat that it can be felt by the fingers… If it starts going dull, keep sliding the folded towel back and forth rapidly and it will come to a shine as it cures. The alternating between upper and lower blank is good because the wood gets quite warm from each application and it doesn't hurt it to cool down before applying the next coat. If doing a single blank pen, one coat can be appplied diectly after each other . Just avoid too much heat that could possiby cause damage to the blank.

After 4 to 6 coats of CA depending on how much depth of finish you desire, the blanks should be polished. There are many polishes available but one with a microscopic abrasive will work best. Two come to mind: One Step - Plastic Polish and Hut Ultra Gloss Plastic Polish. This will bring the pen finish up to approximately the same as 12,000 Micro Mesh (MM). It is possible to just use the nine MM steps but it takes a lot longer than a plastic polish.

A final coating of WAX will help keeping finger prints off the finish but probably not enhance the shine any. Carnuba and Renaissance waxes have been used by some.

[Note from Ernie McFarlane] Below is Bill's excellent video showing how to apply the CA/BLO finish. This video really helped me figure out this great finishing technique.

Bill also runs a nice web forum (click here) that discusses pen making. If you have any questions, you can get them answered there.

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