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A Horizontal Pen Holder Prototype

By Jon Valdés - (2022-07-24)

Even though most of what I post here is about software projects, I also like building physical things. A few months ago I had an idea for a pen holder design, and I decided to build it. I wouldn't classify it as a success, but I still think it's an interesting design that didn't entirely fail, so there might be something to learn from it for other people.

The idea came from learning that most types of pens are better stored horizontally, and realizing I only had vertical pen holders. And so, obviously, I started thinking of how to design a horizontal pen holder.

Version 1

Initially, I grabbed a few scraps of wood I had around, and built a quick prototype in 10 minutes. This was the result:

Initial prototype

Initial prototype

It turned out to be... not great. Placing the pens wasn't quite comfortable enough, the pens were too far apart from each other, and it was limited to only 4 pens. Could be better.

Time to redesign. And over-engineer, of course!

Version 2

After some doodling on Fusion 360 trying to improve pen capacity with a multi-row design, I ended up with this thing:

Initial Fusion 360 design

Initial Fusion 360 design

It's formed by N+1 blocks of the same shape (where N is the number of pen rows).

A 3D render of one block:

Pen holder block

To build this prototype, I decided to print the design blueprint and glue it to a piece of MDF.

Design blueprint glued to MDF board

I then drilled all the necessary holes

Drilling all the holes

Then cut out each shape from the MDF board

MDF cutout

Carved the lower shape out

MDF carving

And removed the glued-on blueprint by shaving the top off with a hand plane

Removed blueprint

Then tapped the small holes with M6 threads

Tapped holes

And finally assembled the whole thing using M6 screws

Assembled holder

Assembled holder

Version 3

Unfortunately, while testing that prototype I realized it was hard to reinsert a pen in the lower row if the upper row was full, and the half-circle feature at the back was difficult to use when inserting pens from above.

And so, I decided to try staggering the rows to see if that helped, and use a closed-circle design at the back.

And with that I got to prototype #3:

Pen holder v2

Pen holder v2

The closed circle design worked better, but the staggered design wasn't much of an improvement. I begrudgingly decided to remove the upper row from the design and try again.

Version 4

This is, as sad as that might be, the final version of the horizontal pen holder design:

Pen holder v3

It's simple, it works... but sadly it's a lot less flashy than the previous versions.

I did a slightly fancier (oak + birch) build of this design and I use it every day ... but I still wish my funky-looking multi-row horizontal pen holder idea had panned out. Maybe the next ridiculous idea will :)

Here's the final design with its ancestors:

All the holders

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