The last attempt resulted in a really unsatisfactory outcome, to say the least! This time, I took on a new approach. Instead of coating the brass tubes of a pen kit with dead fire ants, I decided to mix the fire ants with Alumilite resin and then pour the mixture into a Slimline mold. The nubs in the mold would leave an imprint on each of the pen blanks, which would provide a guide for drilling the 8mm holes required for the Slimline Pro brass tubes. Once the resin had cured, the casting was removed and the pen blanks separated and drilled. The blanks were equipped with Slimline Pro bushings and placed on the lathe pen mandrel.
I turned the blanks without incident, using a carbide finishing tool. I then sanded the turned blanks up through 500 grit. After applying several coats of thick CA glue, the blanks were wet-sanded with micro mesh to 12000 grit, wiping the blank with a paper towel after each grit. A plastic polish was used to finish up the blanks.
The final outcome was a very smooth, somewhat glossy surface. There were some white blushes on the surface which were probably due to areas in the casting where the fire ants may have separated from the mixture. Fire ants do float! (see our first fire ant pen blog) Also since the casting had fire ants mixed throughout, when the blanks were turned any ants near the surface would be sheared off, leaving a surface etched with small shavings of the ant bodies. I hope my fire ant research friend can see more detail under the microscope!
In conclusion, this method provided a more conventional method of turning a pen blank. There were no blowouts and a relatively smooth and finish-friendly surface. I’m just not sure anyone can tell that there are about 1000 fire ants in there!