Handmade Custom Fountain Pens


Entry Published:
August 27, 2023
These handmade pens belong to a fellow pen enthusiast at BetwixtBetween Studios

Pens handmade from scratch (sometimes called bespoke pens or kitless pens) are almost entirely designed and machined by the pen maker. A pen maker usually purchases ink cartridge converters and nibs and designs around these items. Some pen-makers even design and build their own nibs and ink-filling systems. Fully custom pens are made of various materials, including wood, plastic, metal, or a combination of organic and man-made materials. In very small pen-maker shops, the most commonly used materials are wood, urethane resins, epoxy resins, and ebonite.

There are no instructions on making a fully custom pen since each maker has their own designs and methods. The posts on this page will review how to design and develop a fully custom fountain pen. It is challenging initially, no matter how simple the design is. As with any good design cycle, there are three major phases to bring this fountain pen to life; research, design, and build. Despite best efforts, these phases are not an entirely sequential cycle. You’ll start with some research before designing and building, but you will likely return to research periodically while designing. Whilst building your pen, you may need to iterate on your design or research more build techniques.

Convoluted Development "Cycle"

User Research

To develop a decent fountain pen, you need some basic info about fountain pens and their users. What’s the deal with fountain pens? Why not just use a 20¢Bic pen? What makes a fountain pen a fountain pen? How do you take care of a fountain pen? Listen to different folks who use fountain pens and gain a variety of perspectives on fountain pens. Some great online sources include Goulet Pens Pencast on YouTube and Spotify, The Pen Addict Podcast, and Penboy Roy’s Pentertainment Podcast. 

If you’d like to try a fountain pen and you don’t know anyone who has any, I recommend picking up a Pilot Varsity disposable fountain pen. You can find these at craft stores like Michael’s or online at retailers like Goulet Pens or JetPens. I recommend the Pilot Varsity specifically because it is the most reliable, consistent writer at such an inexpensive price point. With this ~$3 pen, you can see if you like the feel of writing with a fountain pen without worrying about maintenance or any other complexities that come with owning a fountain pen. Be sure to pick up some decent fountain pen-friendly paper like Rhodia or Clairefontaine. There are more great papers out there, but these are probably the least expensive. Using fountain pen-friendly paper makes a significant difference for fountain pens and inks. When using a fountain pen on standard copy paper or other non-friendly paper, the ink tends to feather or bleed, and the cool properties of the ink, like shading, sheening, or shimmering, can be dulled.

Shading Ink on Tomoe River Paper vs. Standard Copy Paper

Fountain Pen Anatomy

Exploded Animation of Fountain Pen Parts

A fountain pen, at minimum, consists of an ink reservoir and a means of getting ink from the ink reservoir to your paper. The above image is an exploded view of the components of a fountain pen. The pen you design doesn’t have to look like the one pictured. There is room to get creative with the shape and dimensions of the fountain pen. The nib assembly and ink reservoir can be purchased, but we’ll design the body, grip section, and cap. Let’s start by defining the fundamentals to design around.

Nib Assembly

A nib assembly consists of a nib, which contacts the paper, a feed, which wicks ink from the ink reservoir to the nib, and a housing to hold the nib and feed together. Jowo, Bock, and Schmidt are the most accessible nib assembly manufacturers. Jowo is the most commonly used by small-shop pen-makers at the time of this writing; Bock is a close second. 

Nib assemblies get threaded into the grip section we design, so we must choose which manufacturer to use and design around their assemblies. Each manufacturer builds the nib assemblies with different dimensions. They are not usually interchangeable in a grip section. To reduce tooling/fixturing needs, it is most economical to stick with one manufacturer at first. Nib size refers to the size designation of the entire nib assembly, not the tipping/line weight. There are a few different nib sizes available for fountain pens, and each manufacturer has their own scale for sizing. Bock and Schmidt each use 3-digit numbers to designate nib sizes. Jowo uses a single number for each of their sizes. No 4 is the smallest Jowo nib I’m aware of. No. 8 being the largest Jowo. nib. Jowo No. 6 is the most commonly used size among pen-makers. 

Every manufacturer offers all nib sizes in different tipping sizes. The tipping size determines line weight and should be left up to the discretion of the pen user. Tipping size does not impact fountain pen geometry, so there is no need to decide on tipping size while designing. If you plan to offer your pens for sale, keep several tipping sizes on hand so folks can choose their preferred tipping. Standard tipping sizes available include:

  • Extra Fine
  • Fine
  • Medium
  • Broad
  • Stub 1.1mm
  • Stub 1.5mm

Flex nibs are also becoming more widely available to pen-makers.

Writing samples of different nib line weights

Nibs also come in different metals like steel, gold, titanium, etc. Steel is best to keep stock of. They are most economical and provide a great writing experience if well-tuned. The others provide fantastic writing experiences but are incredibly expensive. 

Ink Filling Mechanism

Ink cartridges and ink cartridge converters are the simplest, safest option. Fountain pens with cartridge converters are the most commonly used in the United States. Eye droppers, piston fillers, and vacuum fillers are other options but are increasingly challenging to design and execute.


Posting is the ability to secure the pen cap onto the back end of the pen body. Posting can extend the length of an uncapped pen for better comfort while writing with an otherwise short pen body. It can also ensure you don’t misplace your cap when writing. Friction fit, screw-on, and magnetics are some ways caps can be posted. A pen body long enough for a user to hold securely doesn’t need to post. Pen enthusiasts have varied preferences for pens that can/cannot post. 

Clip or Roll-Stop

Roll-stops are small, sometimes ornate protrusions on the outer diameter of a pen that keep it from rolling off a desk. Sometimes roll-stops are not protrusions but rather a facet or irregularity cleverly designed onto the outer diameter of the pen. The objective of the roll-stop is to prevent the pen from rolling off a table when laid down. Clips also serve this purpose and also provide a means of securing a pen to a pocket for greater portability and accessibility. You can buy clips from specialty online sources, or you can make your own clip or roll-stop. There is a lot of room for creativity here. However, these features add complexity to the machining process. They can influence the shape of the pen and introduce further design restrictions. Some pen enthusiasts like clips, and some don’t. For simplicity, it’s a good idea to make a pen without a clip or roll-stop the first time.

Build Research 

A great resource on how to make fountain pens is the, “As The Pen Turns” podcast, and following pen-makers on Instagram. The host of the podcast, Jason, Brad, and Jonathan, go over everything from what tools they use, where they get them, their processes for turning, drilling, threading, and finishing pens, casting resin pen blanks, and even some of the logistics of running businesses selling their wares. Likewise, RJBWoodTurner on YouTube has a lot of informative video content on making all kinds of pens and pen blanks. I especially like his series on making pens without hardware kits.

How you choose to build your pen will have a significant impact on your design. So, it is best to do some research on build methods before designing. You could pick up new skills and tools, or stretch the tools and skills you already have by applying them in new ways. A few tools/techniques for creating a pen from scratch include:

  • Machining - Wood Lathe, Metal Lathe, Mill
  • 3D Printing
  • Sculpting, Molding, and Casting
  • Sculpting, Molding, and Casting

The most common method for making pens is to machine them on a lathe. If you are machining your pen with a lathe ‒ known as turning ‒ you’ll need to purchase or make pen blanks; the raw stock material used for making pens. They may be wood, plastic cast from a resin, a hybrid of both, or even metal if you have a lathe built for turning metal. These pen blanks can be rectangular blocks or round rods. I prefer 10-inch rods for making fully custom pens, though most folks are fine with 8.5-inch blanks. Starting with round rods is easier for work-holding and the extra length gives me more material to hold onto and affords room for mistakes. Alternatively, rectangular blanks can simply be machined round before starting to make your pen.

While you can turn pens on wood lathes and metal lathes there are some pros and cons to either to consider. On a metal lathe, you can achieve more precise repeatability very efficiently since cutting tools are mounted on the machine and move on axes that you control by spinning dials. This does make it more challenging to machine curves and more organic shapes, though not entirely impossible. On the plus side, turning accurate tenons is a breeze and you don’t need to use taps and dies to cut threads, which opens up threading possibilities. Metal lathes tend to be considerably more expensive than wood lathes of similar turning capacity. On wood lathes, you are physically holding a turning tool in your hands to cut away material. This makes it much easier to get organic shapes and curves, but repeatability is more challenging. There are no built-in gauges or dials to measure your movements, only the scale in the tailstock to help you while drilling. You’ll certainly be exercising your calipers a great deal to ensure the features of your pen are to size. 

There are ways to increase efficiency in making pens on a wood lathe by using purpose-built fixtures and tools. For example, I highly recommend Jim Hinze’s tenon cutter for the wood lathe. It’s not necessary, and there is knowledge to be gained from cutting tenons free-handed initially. But that tenon cutter is a big time saver since it takes a lot of guesswork, trial, and error out of the process. It holds a carbide cutting tool in the tailstock of your lathe at a set position depending on what diameter tenon you want. You then extend the tailstock into your piece to the desired length of your tenon.   

The minimum tools you’ll need to hold your stock securely on a wood lathe to drill, turn, and tap your material are:

  • ER-32 Collet Chuck and Collets (1” -8 TPI for many bench-top lathes)
  • Drill Chuck (aka Jacobs Chuck) (MT-2 for most bench-top lathes)
  • Live Center
  • Tailstock Tap and Die Holder Set
  • Mandrels
  • Drills
  • Center Drills
  • Taps & Die

Collet Chuck

A collet chuck holds your stock in the driven, headstock of the lathe. They hold round stock with more even, repeatable pressure and are self-centering, unlike many 3-jaw or 4-jaw chucks. As such, you can get better concentricity as you make your pen parts. The ER is a standard series of collet chucks commonly used for both tool-holding and small part-holding. An ER-32 chuck holds ER-32 collet sizes from 3mm - 20.64mm (0.12in - 0.8125in). ER-32 chucks come in a plethora of mounting configurations for a plethora of different machines. You’ll want to get one that matches the arbor of your machine. For a bench-top wood lathe, that will be either a 1” - 8 TPI or a 1.25” - 8 TPI. Check the specs for your lathe’s headstock. It’s best to get a chuck set that includes a few different-sized collets since you’ll least need a 0.75in (~19mm) and a .625in (~16mm) depending on the mandrels you use. I like the Penn State Industries set pictured below. You can find it at Penn State Industries website, or Turners Warehouse.

ER-32 Collet Chuck Set for Wood Lathe

Drill Chuck

Drill chucks fit into the tailstock and hold drills. You’ll need it to drill concentric holes in your pens. For most bench-top wood lathes, a drill chuck with a Morse #2 taper will fit. Check your lathe’s manual for tailstock specs.

Tailstock Lathe Tools

Live Center

A live center fits in the tailstock of the lathe. It supports your pen parts on the un-driven end to avoid deflection while you turn and reduce axial run-out. Axial run-out is how much a cylindrical part veers away from being parallel to its axis from one end to the other. 

Center Drill

Center drills leave a shallow starter hole on the axis of your part. If you center drill your part before drilling or using your live center, your part will more likely turn centered on its axis instead of being wobbly toward the end that isn’t in the chuck. Wobbly ends lead to cattywampus, oversized holes, and undesirable nonsense.

Center Drills in Various Sizes


There is an overwhelming variety of drills to choose from. Drills come in different point styles, materials, coatings, number of flutes, etc. Many woodworkers have brad-point drills on hand. I used brad-points to make my first several pens, however, after talking to a couple of professional machinists and some fellow pen-makers, I stopped using them. They have their purpose, but drilling on a lathe is not it. At the point where the brad-point first contacts material, it is not truly cutting the material but rather “pushing” it out of the way. Pushing the material at first, instead of cutting it, can move the drill off-center in this application, leaving me with a slightly off-kilter hole, even if I use a center drill. I now use chip clearing, uncoated cobalt steel split-point drills with parabolic spiral flutes. I do not have a full set of these drills in every imaginable size. I only bought the few drill sizes I needed for my pen design. I likely could have found a less expensive drill option for this purpose, but I am happy with my results with these drills and the Pen Turner’s Lube cutting fluid I use from Beaufort Ink.

An Array of Drills

Taps & Die

Use these to thread your pen parts, especially if you aren’t using a metalworking lathe that can machine threads without a tap or die.

Taps and Die for Thread Cutting

Tail Stock Tap And Die Holder

Tap/Die Tailstock Holder Kit

This contraption enables you to put threads on your parts using a wood lathe. The arbor piece fits into a Morse 2 Taper. The knurled handle slides over the exposed end of the arbor. A tap or die holder fits into the knurled handle. The long narrow bar serves as an optional additional handle for more torque. You can find this kit online at Turners Warehouse.


Mandrels hold onto your pen parts without the need for extra part stock and allow you full access to shape the outside of your pen without the collet chuck being in your way. These mandrels have threads that engage the threads you will have machined into your pen parts to hold them securely. They can be purchased with different thread sizes and diameters to fit caps, bodies, and grip sections. Good sources for mandrels include Hinze Pen Company and Beaufort Ink/Turners Warehouse. If you are going to purchase mandrels, decide what sized threads you’ll put on your pen before you buy, so you are sure to buy the mandrel sizes you need. You can also make your own mandrels out of spare pieces of blank stock, metal, or Delrin plastic. Delrin is non-stick so if you wanted to put a coating like superglue or UV resin on your pen parts while they’re on the lathe, you won’t need to worry about your part sticking to the mandrel. 

Various Mandrels for Holding Pen Parts


Once you are satisfied with all your research on fountain pens and how you might make them, it’s time to start designing. We’ll dive into that in the next post.


Entry Published:
August 27, 2023

Coming soon


Entry Published:
August 27, 2023

Coming Soon

Entry Published:

Entry Published:

Entry Published:

Entry Published:

Entry Published:

Entry Published:
Back to Top