Wednesday, February 24, 2016


'Let's make something...let's make a new pen display!'
Making a pen display from scratch has been an item on my TO-DO list for too long. I keep a major part of my pens on display in my cabinet, which has been in my room before it even was 'my room'. But I decided to hang on to it because it conveniently has this really neat display section with glass doors, ideal for storing pens! My pen display has seen quite a few itterations throughout the years. It started with just plastic, felt-covered trays that some of you might recognise as the trays pens are shipped in from the manufacturer. Nothing special, it actually looked kinda crappy. A year or so ago, I decided to mess around with some pieces of wood, and made a frame to hold the plastic trays. This was already a solid improvement, but the trays were still crappy, and actually too small to hold some of my oversized pens. 

The idea of making my own pen trays from scratch did cross my mind quite a few times during the past year, but I never got around to actually making it. Until a few weeks ago... I just finished my midterms, and I felt like making something, so I went ahead and gathered the supplies for my super-awesome-pen-display project! 
I also did a quick sketch with some measurements...yes, I do actually work organised people! (Just kidding I just try to act like I know what I'm doing.) I'll put a scan of this sketch down at the bottom of this post, should you want to build your own display. 

An important note before we start: I'll give the measurements in centimeters and millimeters. I think it's better if you do conversions for yourself, so that I can't screw up with conversion to inches.

The supplies: 

  • Sturdy cardboard. I bought two 2mm sheets, and one 3mm sheet. Rule of thumb for buying enough cardboard is that the sheets should at least be twice the size of the final dimensions of the finished display (including wooden frame). But it's alway safer to buy a sheet extra.
  • Double-sided tape. A lot. I went through 50 meters of this stuff with ease. I found tape that was solvent-free, chemically stable, and heat resistant, depending on how paranoid you are about keeping your pens protected, I guess this stuff will do (not that it comes in contact with your pens, but still, it sounds safer...)
  • Fabric. Any kind will do, I went with ribbed velvet because it's soft and looks classy, but really you can choose whatever fits your fancy. You'll need to calculate how much of this you need, so that you don't have to sew multiple pieces together, I'll explain later on. 
  • Fabric liner. It's a type of fabric that's coated with glue and can be ironed onto any type of fabric to strengthen it. I guess you don't really need to do this, but it will help making the fabric a bit firmer, which is easier to work with. There's a load of variety with this stuff, I chose a stiff, 100% cotton version that wasn't too thick (as thick as normal shirt fabric, not padded). I'd suggest asking help in a local sewing supply store if you don't know what I'm talking about. You'll need equal amounts of both this and the fabric.
  • Wood for the frame. I chose 2cm wide beams of some random hardwood. The height of the beams depends on how deep you want the trays to sit inside the frame. Mine were about 4cm high, but I think 2 or 3cm would be ideal.
  • Hot glue. I used hot glue to glue all cardboard pieces together, using normal glue would take forever (seriously).
  • Stanley knife. The cardboard is heavy stuff, so you need an equally heavy-duty knife to cut it.
Oh, and one more item:
  • Patience. LOTS. OF. PATIENCE. 

I had already done some research on what the dimensions of the trays had to be. I made a concept piece with a some cardboard box scraps and some old fabric. You don't have to do this yourself, you should be fine if you follow my measurements. But if, for example, you collect oversized japanese pens and laquer art pens, you might need to make the slots slightly wider and longer. For a reference, the measurements I used fit everything up to a Delta Dolcevita Oversized, which is the absolute maximum (the Dolcevita has a diameter of 18mm). The maximum height is 16cm.
Starting off with the cardboard for the trays: first, measure strips of cardboard that are 16cm high. These will become the slots (the 'triangles') later on, you should try to measure and cut everything as exact as possible. Measure and re-measure! Believe me when I say you don't want to do this all over again.
The next step is to mark the guidelines where we'll cut the individual pieces that make up the triangles. It might sound insane to cut them one by one, instead of just scoring them and gluing the whole thing in one go, but it's much easier to separate them, and glue them on one by one. you'll want to draw lines with exactly 12mm in between them. For each place in the display, you'll need one triangle. So if you want to be able to have 50 pens per row, you need to cut 50 pieces, although it might not be a bad move to make a couple extra. You'll also need two pieces for the beginning and end of each row, these have one shorter side of 8mm.
Once the pieces are measured, they have to be cut of course. I thought measuring and drawing 200 parallel lines was bad, but the next step almost made me go insane. Cut. Score. Cut. Score. Cut. Score... You should end up with a pile of cardboard strips of 2.4cm wide and 16cm long, scored and bent in the middle across the length.
So we made v-shaped strips of cardboard. The next step is to assemble the tray. As I said in the beginning, the largest pen that fits these trays is 1.8cm wide. So each strip has to be glued so that it spans a width of 1.8cm. If you want wider slots, say 2cm wide, you can just glue them wider, which makes the zig-zag pattern slightly flatter, but it would still work just fine. Since this tray had to fit in my cupboard, I figured it would exactly fit 50 pens, with a few cm on each side for the wooden frame to fit around it.

I made a cardboard back (still the 2mm thick cardboard) that was 16cm high, and 90cm wide (50 slots*1.8cm). I left a small border to it, and marked the positions where the pieces had to be glued.
Gluing the strips on actually wasn't that hard. I used rather poor quality hot glue sticks, which hardened a bit too fast, but all in all it went quite smooth. The only thing that's important here, is to make sure you glue them on as straight as you can, and make sure they all line up nice and tight. The next step here is to remove all the blobs and stray pieces of glue.
Once you're done gluing the triangles on, you can cut away the border around the trays. I scored the back piece before I started gluing, so it was easier to remove in the end.

That's basically part one of the proces. In the next step, we'll make it pretty!

Next up, we need to calculate the total width of the fabric we'll use to cover the trays. Since each slot has 2 sides of 1.2cm, a rough calculation would give 2.4cm times the amount of slots. So for my two trays of 50 pens, I had to have two pieces of fabric that were at least 120cm wide. Since most fabric (at least here in Belgium) is sold at a width of 140cm, I'd be left with 20cm of margin. The height should be a bit more than 16cm, I cut mine at 20cm high, just so there was some margin for error.
As I mentioned in the beginning, we attached cotton lining to the underside of the fabric. The lining did a good job preventing the fabric from stretching, which made the whole process quite a bit easier.
Next, in comes the double-sided tape! I covered the backside of the fabric with about 13 rows of tape. It's not an exact science, if you feel like you'll need more or less tape, go ahead.
Attaching the fabric wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. All you have to do is align it properly (with the protective backing of the tape already removed), and ease it in with your fingertips. I had to correct myself a couple of times along the road, to keep it nicely centered. But all in all, it worked out quite nicely.
To clean up the edges, I cut the fabric, and pushed the individual flaps inside the triangular openings on the sides of the tray. There was another glue strip along the very edge of the fabric, so the flaps stick to the inside of the trays.

I made a wooden frame to fit the trays. (well actually a friend made it!) I guesstimated the inner dimensions of the frame had to be approximately 1cm larger than the trays, so in this case it measured 91*17cm. Being two trays atop eachother, with the complete thing measures 95*40cm, so it's quite a massive piece.

I finished the wood in a black stain, which I thought would contrast the bleak fabric of the trays nicely.
The reason the frame had to be a bit wider, is because I put a fabric border around the inside of the frame. These were just a couple of 3mm thick cardboard strips, about two mm narrower than the frame itself (to compensate for the thickness of the fabric). I lined these strips with fabric, just like I did with the actual trays, and glued them in place with hot glue. A piece of 3mm thick cardboard, hot glued to the frame, served as a back cover for the frame. After a test fit of the trays, I decided to add some pieces of scrap wood to raise the trays. As I said in the beginning, it doesn't really matter how deep the frame is, basically 4cm is a bit too deep, but you can easily put something underneath to lift the trays to the desired depth.
And that was it! a few days later, the display was finally done! It took me about 10 hours or so to complete, but the end result looks exactly like the idea in my head! 
If you feel like making your own pen trays, but didn't quite understand everything, that's allright! Just shoot me an email, or leave a comment, and I'll be happy to help you out! If you just enjoyed (or not) reading this post, I'd appreciate any feedback on whether I should do more TINKERINK posts in the future!


  1. Time to rename the blog to "The Pencil Display Case Blog"? ;^)

  2. Wow. That is really meticulous, high quality work.

    Now I shall have to go back to all my pen boxes and refurbish them. They just don't look so good any more!

  3. Really enjoyed this, I have been thinking about making a (smaller) tray like this for a long time, but didn't really know where to start. Would love more posts like this!

  4. I'll try to make mine, although I cannot cut the wood as in your photos (at an angle). My local woodshop won't do that... I am not sure I'll be able to achieve the same result but I'lll try :)

    1. Awesome! You can buy angle cutting guides in DIY stores if you want to cut them at an angle, but it's obviously not necessary! You don't need the wooden frame either, you can also make the trays and place them in a desk drawer, etc.

      Good luck with your project!