Lady's Perfume Applicator

A Turning That Makes Great Scents

Woodturners, here’s the perfect stocking stuffer. It’s a spill-safe perfume applicator that women can carry in their purses and use in an instant. Just screw off the cap and apply the perfume-moistened wick as shown below.

Exotic wood and acrylic pen blanks provide spectacular looks, accented by the hardware’s cobalt gold finish. If you’re a pen turner, chances are you have everything but the applicator kit and special bushings to make perfume applicators. See the Buying Guide, page 66, for all of your needs.

Turn an applicator in 10 easy steps

1. Photocopy the applicator template (in Photo G) and spray-adhere or trace it onto a piece of rigid cardboard. Cut out the template shape with an X-acto knife and set it aside for later. (You can also experiment with a shape of your own creation. Just remember that the ends of the applicator barrel and cap must be the same diameter for the best look and that applicators are thin and delicate, not chubby like some pens.)

2.  Mark the lengths of the brass tube inserts on the blank using either a wood or acrylic 3/4  x 3/4  x 5" pen blank, or one you cut to size from prized scrap you’ve squirreled away, as in Photo A.

(Note that the marks will help you align the blank’s figure pattern when mounting on the mandrel.) Add 1/16" at each barrel and cap end to guard against chipping. Now, bandsaw the barrel and cap to rough lengths.

3. Bore through the blanks. Chuck a 5/16" brad point bit in your drill press, and lower it, using the bit to locate the self-centering vise as in Photo B1. (Don’t have a self-centering vise? Hold the blank below the bit using an altered handscrew as shown in Step 5.) Secure the vise with clamps (or use the shop tip on page 63). Next, fit either the barrel or cap blank in the vise and drill a centered hole through the blank, lowering the bit in ½" increments as in Photo B2, and raising it to remove the chips and to let the bit cool. Drill the remaining blank.

4. Insert the tubes into the blanks. Rough up the outside surfaces of the brass tubes with 150-grit sandpaper, and apply a liberal bead of gap-filling CA glue around the outside wall of one brass tube. Now slip and twist the tube into the  5/16" hole in the appropriate blank using the insertion tool as in Photo C, centering it between the blank ends. Dab up excess squeeze-out, or, if things get messy, keep a bottle of CA solvent handy for cleanup. Repeat for the remaining tube and blank. Let sit for five minutes.

5. Prepare the blank ends for mounting. Clamp either the barrel or cap blank vertically in a handscrew. Next, chuck a pen mill barrel trimmer bit in a cordless drill, slip the sizing tube over the bit, and remove the 1/16" waste at the ends of both blanks as in Photo D. Doing this also squares the blank ends to the inserted tubes. Quit when you see the brass tube ends shine. Coat the ends of the blanks with CA to stabilize them when turning.

6. Mount the blank and mandrel to the lathe. Now slip on the applicator blanks (using the marks for figure alignment), appropriate bushings, wood spacer, and nut on the mandrel in the configuration shown in Photo E. Secure the mandrel between your lathe centers by fitting the Morse taper end of the mandrel to the headstock, bringing up the live center to the mandrel’s other end and tightening with light pressure. 

Meet the Expert

Rob Conner is a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, stationed with the 130th Security Forces Squadron. He operates his part-time business, One Line Pens, from his home in Cross Lanes, W.Va. He says his business is best described as “a hobby that ran amuck.”

7. Shape the parts on the lathe. With the tool rest at or slightly above the workpiece center, turn on the lathe, and using a speed of 1500 rpm (less for acrylic), round and shape the applicator with a 1" roughing gouge as in Photo F. (See the sidebar on Turning and Finishing Acrylic, page 66.) For more detail, use a ¼" spindle gouge, or for “beauty rings” and other special lines, use the tip of a skew or parting tool. Stop the lathe occasionally to check the shape against your template (Photo G), to examine the pieces to see if you are taking best advantage of the grain lines or figure, and to spot flaws in the wood. (If flaws or suspect weaknesses appear, apply CA glue over the surface to keep the blank material intact.) Turn the ends of the blanks so they are just slightly bigger than the bushings.

8. Finish-sand the parts. Prepare two batches of 1"-wide sandpaper strips for sanding your turnings. In one batch, include 150, 220, 320, 400, 600, 800, 1000, and 1200 grits of paper-backed sandpaper. In the second batch, use Micro Mesh in 3200, 3600, 4000, 6000, 8000, and 12000 grits. Now, reducing the rpm to 800 to 1000, sand the applicator parts, progressing through the grits beginning with 150. To avoid scratches and ensure the smoothest possible surface, Rob uses a soft-bristle brush to remove grit and dust from the turning as in Photo H before moving to the next finer grit.  

9. Apply the finish. With the turning brushed and wiped off, lay craft paper on the lathe bed and mask off those tool parts that may get sprayed during the finishing process. Now dust the barrel and cap with spray lacquer as in Photo I rotating the turning by hand. Turn on the lathe for five minutes to let it dry. At the end of five minutes lightly hold a soft cotton cloth to the spinning parts. Turn off the lathe and repeat this process two more times for a mirror finish. Rob takes the shine up a notch with Renaissance Wax which he applies to the spinning turning with terry cloth. Safety first: Remember to remove your tool rest prior to sanding or polishing on the lathe!

10. Add the hardware and perfume. Finally, remove the mandrel from the lathe, the perfume applicator barrel and cap from the mandrel, and set them on a work table. Make a press block (as shown in Photo K) from 1 x 2 x 2" scrap hardwood and drill a centered  5/16" hole in it. (When using the pen press, the block protects the metal applicator wick holder from damage.) With your pen press (which Rob says is a must-have tool for a professional job), applicator hardware parts, and CA glue at hand, you’re ready to install the hardware. Now, working quickly, apply CA glue in the brass tube at the outside end of the cap and, holding it and the appropriate hardware piece in the pen press, pull the lever to bond the pieces together as in Photo J. (Rob keeps a steel rod and hammer nearby in case he needs to tweak the hardware fit before the CA glue sets up.) 

Glue and press the threaded hardware part into the inside end of the cap. For the barrel, glue and press the outside end cap on first. Then, to create the perfume reservoir, insert the filter into the brass tube in the barrel, and then glue and press on the wick holder metal part. Use the wood block in the press for this procedure as in Photo K. Next, insert the wick or applicator tip into the barrel until it bottoms out. Roll on the rubber O-ring and test-fit the cap to the barrel. To fill the applicator with perfume, simply place the tip into a bottle of perfume for 40-50 seconds, letting the wick absorb the liquid. Screw on the cap, reach for a presentation box, and check off one more item on your holiday to-do list.

Finishing Touches

You say you’ve made a pleasing assortment of perfume applicators and now need presentation boxes in which to give them away? Woodcraft can help with either of these pen cases. Maximum turning diameter for both is just under 5/8". See the Buying Guide on page 66 for details.

Get Artsy with Acrylics

Acrylic blanks bring a dazzling new look to turned pens and perfume applicators, offering an exciting range of colors and patterns. And the really good news: you can machine acrylic with the same tools used in woodworking. Since the material differs from wood, guarantee your success with Rob’s tips.


• Avoid an acrylic meltdown by using a slightly slower speed than when drilling hardwood.

• Drill in 3/8" increments, raising the bit each time to clean the bit and hole of debris and to allow the bit to cool.


• Work around acrylic’s tendency to chip by sharpening your turning tools often and maintaining a speed of 1000 rpm. 

• Ride your gouge bevel on the turning, while staying above the centerline. If the tool dips below, it could chip the acrylic or, worse, crack the blank.

• Take thin cuts, peeling off a ribbon of acrylic no thicker than tissue paper.


• Sand acrylic to a very fine grit (12000), following the instructions in Step 8.

• Maintain a slower lathe speed of 800 rpm.


• While finely-sanded acrylic does not need a protective finish, Rob creates a spectacular shine and hides miniscule scratches with Hut Ultra Gloss Plastic Polish (8 oz., #129302, $9.99 at Woodcraft).

• Lastly, Rob achieves brilliance with a thin coat of Renaissance Micro-Crystalline Wax Polish (200 ml, #08G22, $23.99 at Woodcraft) which he very lightly buffs off with a cotton cloth.

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