After our last blog and YouTube video on a fire ant pen build , a follower of ours from Australia asked if we could make a fire ant pen for her. This was several months ago, and we have just gotten around to finding the time to try this pen build again.
I had forgotten how I successfully completed this project last time. Since it took me two tries before, I was hoping I could get it right the first time, this time!
I took the brass tubes from a slim line pen kit and coated them with thick CA glue before rolling them in a pile of dead fire ants. After coating the tubes with fire ants, I placed the tubes in a 7mm pen blank mold. Using Alumilite resin, I covered the brass tubes and fire ants using the 7mm silicon pen blank mold.
After the resin cured, I removed the pen blanks, and squared off the ends with a disk sander. The blanks were placed on a pen mandrel set in a minilathe. Using a carbide turning tool, the blanks were turned down to the bushings for the Slimline pen kit. The blanks were then sanded through the grits to 500 grit sandpaper. The sanding was followed by several applications of thin CA glue. Following the CA glue application, the blanks were wet-sanded with microbes to 12000 grit.
The pen kit was assembled using a pen press. I sat back and took stock of the final product….. it was dog ugly!! (I can say this since I have cats). I’m not just saying this because it is made of fire ants..it really is ugly. The Alumilite didn’t cure properly, probably because there must have been some moisture in the fire ants. I’m not sure that is the reason, since the fire ants were cleaned with ether and dried. Besides the white streaks, several pieces of the Alumilte and fire ants broke off the brass tubes while turning. I tried to patch the voids with thick CA glue mixed with the turnings, but with little success. The final cylinders left the lathe, looking lumpy and ugly.
So what have I learned? Probably to never try this again! But I will. Next time I’ll paint the brass tubes black before adding the fire ants. I’ll saturate each layer of the fire ant applications with thin CA glue. I might also use sandpaper to finalize the shaping of the blanks after a rough turning with a skew. Hopefully this will reduce chip-out during the shaping.
Watch out for a follow-up blog/video on another fire ant build. This pen will not find its way to Australia!