I've played with steel wool before and it wasn't worth messing with. A jeweler friend of mine got me to try it a few years ago. It's not as nice as just using good quality sand papers.
That stuff I used to polish 1018 was Permatex valve grinding compound. It claims to break down and get finer as it runs and is water soluble. I suppose it is the modern version of oil based Clover in the green can back in the day. If you are comparing what you are throwing in the bowl, make sure to get similar action. Are these pens a hobby or just adding to a product line? Maybe you can up size and make custom fancy pool cue handles. One never knows what could make someone good cash in a hurry as a fad these days.