Cardboard Pen




There are a couple of people who have tried to do what I wanted to do and wrote their experiences on various blogs. Everybody seemed to have the same issue, getting the cardboard flutes to completely fill. Removing the air seemed like a very simple solution to this problem.

Before I go any further, I just want people to know that this project wasn’t as simple as I had thought. It’s ridiculously challenging! You should expect failures. Read on to learn how to minimize the failures but I make no promises. I wanted to make pens for the office and walked away with a 25% success rate which is only because I shifted a few bits around enough to get additional blanks out of them.

(This blog originally appeared here)


Step 1: Step 1: Build Your Forms

I am using slimline pens which require a 5/8” x 5/8” x 5” pen blank. I already had scraps of ¼” plywood which was cut into strips that were 1.5” wide meaning my blanks would be around 1” square, a little big but that’s ok. I wanted to put the cardboard at an angle so I opted for a 6.5” length. Make certain to assemble your molds to give you a little extra room on top of the corrugated. This space will be needed when you start to vacuum all the air out of the corrugation. I used hot glue to build the forms because I could be certain that all the gaps would be filled and it costs less than caulk. It was a calculated risk to use because of the heat that is created by the curing epoxy.

Step 2: Step 2: Cut Your Corrugated and Fill Your Molds

I scrounged through the recycle bin where the scraps from our CAD

table end up to find something quick and easy to work with. Luckily, there was a nice long strip of B/C double-wall that was already cut into a 1.5” width which was perfect! (If you’re looking to do this project I suggest a triple-wall board which I’ll explain about later.) All that was left to do was to cut 1” strips. I used a paper cutter and fed the strips in backwards so that I could use the measuring marks on the board. Be careful if you do that because it’s very awkward and you can easily cut yourself.

Then, simply line your molds.

Step 3: Step 3: Mix Your Epoxy, Fill Your Molds, and Place in a Vacuum Chamber

I went with the kind which is commonly used in restaurants for table

and bar tops. It’s incredibly clear and has a much lower viscosity than epoxy you could purchase from a hardware store but also a much lower hardness. It’s probably ideal as it doesn’t smell, react with plastics, or require extra thinning but I would have liked a harder finish.

Mix your epoxy following the directions to the letter. Any wavering and you can end up with a subpar product. Then fill your molds. Mix only enough to fill however many molds will fit in your vacuum chamber. (note: read your epoxy directions before you build your forms. Some epoxies will react with certain plastics which are commonly found in hot glue. Epoxy also produces heat to varying degrees depending on the type used. This too could melt the hot glue.)

Once your molds are filled you need to make certain that each board has epoxy between it and the boards on either side. I used a ball-point pen ink tube to gently open the spaces between the boards allowing the space to fill. You MUST do this step. (note: it was suggested to use a wood stabilizer or CA glue to seal the boards first in an effort to reduce the number of bubbles emitted from the board. I tried a few pieces but was unable to get an even coat that would leave the flutes completely open. It also creates quite the mess, your results may vary.)

Then, place your molds into the vacuum chamber.

Draw a vacuum and leave the molds sit until cured, overnight seems to be long enough. From what I can tell, repeatedly drawing a vacuum and then letting air back in (pulsing the chamber) only introduces air into the epoxy. This creates an epoxy foam and is not what you want. The most effective technique was to pull a vacuum and leave it sit until cured.

Let your blanks cure for a minimum of 48 hours before turning. The instructions say 24 hours but I would play it safe and wait an extra day before turning.

Step 4: Step 4: Turn, Finish, and Assemble Your Pens

Because corrugated is a dry paper product it naturally absorbs some of the epoxy which leaves tiny air bubbles between the boards. This leaves the blanks incredibly weak as soon as you turn the molds off. I tried to turn all four of my blanks down to round and all of them broke except the aerated one which was fractured throughout. It is critical that you insert your pen tubes before you turn the pen.

This epoxy is also very brittle. When it breaks, it looks like broken glass minus the shards. Do your best to work slow to avoid hard shocks which stress the blanks further.

Following basic pen turning techniques minimizes this breakage.

Safety note: turning these blanks produces lots of fine dust and fumes. You should take all safety precautions when working with this material. In addition to a face shield or other eye protection and hearing protection you should wear a dust mask. When finished turning, immediately shower and place your clothes in the washing machine to get rid of the fine plastic dust that has accumulated on your person.

Cut your blanks into octagons to minimize the hard shocks of trying to turn from square. Then, cut your blanks to size, drill them, and glue and insert your tubes. The tubes help give the blanks some rigidity but you still want to work the blank very slowly and very carefully as I still broke one even with the tube.

I do not advise using tools to turn the pen completely down to the shape you want. I had better success leaving the blanks a little more full and finishing with 150-grit and 220-grit sandpaper.

Once your pen is in the shape that you want the next step is
finishing. Start with 220-grit sandpaper and then work your way all the way down to 800-grit followed by 0000-steel wool. With each step turn your lathe off and work end to end to remove any tooling marks caused by the spinning lathe.

You may notice tiny air bubbles which fill with dust from the sanding process. Do your best to wash these out with water, remount the pen on the mandrel, and spin to dry. If the holes are small enough they will fill with a CA glue rub. Larger holes require that you mix a small batch of epoxy, fill the holes, and sand them smooth once the epoxy dries. Note that this doesn’t completely solve the problem it only makes the holes smooth.

Once your CA glue finish has dried you can start the buffing process. I use a jeweler’s kit with diamond pastes while others use buffing pads. It’s up to you as both methods work well.

Then, assemble your pen.



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    9 Discussions


    1 year ago

    I've turn tons of pens and pencils, even some using rattle snake skins and deer antler. Those were the hardest material I ever worked with. One wrong move and it all over, all over the entire shop.

    I have a few suggestions to help with this cardboard material.

    How about taking the epoxy glues and after mixing them, add in some rubbing alcohol. This thins the epoxy without harming the curing process. But it allows the epoxy to become more like water and should assist in getting the watery epoxy into the cardboard easier. And do each piece on its own before gluing/building up the blanks. That should solve the empty voids in the cardboard. Just and idea.

    Nice project using cardboard. You could even dye the epoxy for the different pieces to make it that much different. JMHO

    2 replies

    Reply 1 year ago

    So I tried the alcohol method which I am already familiar with doing. The vacuum seems to be the issue. Vacuuming speeds up the cure time so when the alcohol tries to escape it leaves bigger caverns than just using straight epoxy. The simplest method of regular epoxy and a vacuum has proved to be the way to go for this project.


    Reply 1 year ago

    I would be lying if I said this was my first attempt...
    The first time I did add alcohol and that did improve the viscosity but not enough. The second time I added alcohol and heat, which also thins the epoxy, and tried using a kitchen vacuum sealer. The bag melted and nearly caught fire because of the added heat. It was a real mess.

    This attempt was done with the bartop clear-coat epoxy and it's even more thin than the heated/alcohol thinned dangerous version I made previously. Then I used a vacuum chamber, a real one, to pull about -30psi. I'm convinced that it's the way to go. Just be certain to insert the pen barrel BEFORE turning and it shouldn't shear (it still chips though).

    I plan on doing more and adding epoxy dye was one of my first ideas. I'll upload new photos once I'm done.


    1 year ago

    Awesome work, I never really though about cardboard as a medium for making solid objects. You may consider trying longer strips and cutting them at the angle afterwards. The fall off pieces could then be glued back together to form more blanks. Just a thought, and Thanks for sharing. I will put this in my to do list when I get around to making some pen blanks down the road. Thanks Again for sharing.


    Tip 1 year ago

    Just to add to what AeroSpaceWatercraft has said, you can go to a local Medical supply store and buy yourself syringes of the size and shape you need, but you can also get the metal needle section used to pennetrate the skin for injections, this will allow you to inject each and every flute with the resin, and for basically pennies per piece you don't have to worry about thowing them away after you're done. Also maybe try doing a number of sections of cardboard but don't epoxy them together, but do that later, after each flute in the cardboard has been filled. Then place them in your blank molds and do as you did before. However, this may make the project so overwhelming that it isn't worth it. you may also get a lot of people under valuing your results because they don't know how hard it is to do! You might want to try other methods to use cardboard, a paper maker does, and reduce the cardboard to a pulp and then mix it with resin that way, etc. etc.. Just making a suggestion. but your idea is really a good one, and the result seems to be quite striking, keep up the great work! I've made pens with a lathe many times and I know the work that goes into such projects, especially when things don't go as planned.


    Tip 1 year ago

    Hi, as a cardboard carpenter, smith, or (add title here), viscosity of whatever filler you plan to sink into the corrugation has always been enemy #1. Since you're using epoxy resin, the problem is that it needs to be directly injected (via plastic syringe) into each flute (corrugation). Another issue is how much work time you have with the epoxy itself and being limited in the amount of resin you can make to fill the syringe (via, mixing it in a Dixie drinking cup, then use a HDPE funnel into the syringe, which is held steady with a bench vise. And I say HDPE, because resin will peel off clean after it cures). You could still use your vac chamber, but if you are slow and steady with the resin injection, air bubbles should be minimal. Also, since you are leaning the cardboard blanks to get that spiral effect, I think you could go between 1" to 1.25" instead, which means if you followed my tip, would allow you to inject more flutes with resin. My industrial glue gun has a brass tip that came with an injector like tip, and with a slow and steady pull of the trigger, will fill a flute. I reserve this action normally for making certain parts more rigid, for heavy support.

    The syringes I am speaking of, can be found here:

    The funnel can be found at Wal Mart.

    I hope this is helpful.


    1 year ago

    I have no idea how you can turn cardboard into a pen, seriously thats super cool!

    Penolopy Bulnick

    1 year ago

    That's a really fun idea! I like how you put the cardboard in diagonally :)