So you have been to a show or two and met the turning guy amongst the crafters. Now you want to turning pens. Well, great news if you’re already a woodturner you can buy the equipment for less than the price of a gouge. If you’re a woodworker, the biggest expense is the cost of a lathe. But it will open more opportunities and incorporate them into other projects.
The list above tools needed to make a pen. The biggest outlay the cost of a lathe and the associated equipment. If you haven’t tried woodturning, it’s a marvelous idea to try a turning club to see if suitable.
People doing woodwork won’t need all the specialist pen making kit. If you watch any of my videos, I use my bench vice for an assembly and drill vice on the pillar drill.
Choose A Kit
To start you will need a kit and directions. Slimline and Gatsby or its clones don’t come with plans but you can download them as this Streamline kit instructions. With high quality pen kits as from Penn State or Bear Tooth Woods the directions in with the kit.
What Is A Pen Blank
A wooden blank the raw basic material to turn the body. With wood blanks online a vast choice for any you can think of. You can use exotic woods from anywhere. Penturning a great way to try new wood for little outlay you can use in other areas.
How long are pen blanks? you ask. Normally between 125 – 150 mm and 20 – 22 mm square. These are fine for most designs but watch the dimensions if making one of the bigger ones. These blanks are more than big enough for the entry Streamline/Slimline kits or get two blanks for a Sierra or similar. It can work out cheaper to buy bowl or spindle blanks if you make a lot of the same pen turning kit.
Different Mandrel Types
A wide choice of different types available with different price points. Rotur universal priced at £25, Axminster evolution one £40. Top one in the picture my first and I don’t know if it’s even made anymore. In, the photo both bottom two adjustable with the ability to replace the rod if needed. With the last two you can either correct for length or use spacers for single barrels.
Small cylindrical metal pieces that go on a mandrel either end of the brass tubes. Bushes are specific to each kit with exceptions detailed here. Metal bush allows you to turn material to dimension consistently.
Slimline bushings are all the same size. For others we must read kit instructions to see location and size of each. If you get hooked with this hobby, it will need a method to keep bushings separate and organized.
Drill The Wood
A method required to drill the blanks either a drill press or cordless. You can buy a dedicated vice, though I use a regular machinist vice. Measure the brass with dial calipers and select a suitable brad point bit. Square the blank with a small square and drill each part.
We can do blanks on the lathe itself if you have suitable chuck jaws.
Pen mills come in different sizes with shaft and head interchangeable between them for different size tubes. Not every size covered, this will need ingenuity on your part. Bottom one pictured is great for the entry level Slimline/Streamline and Designer kits suitable for 7mm.
For, wood different grits needed from 120 through to 600. A box of different grits available for pen turners or my personal favourite Mirka abranet. Regular paper needed to prepare for the finish. Once you have applied superglue, followed by Micro-mesh for final polishing.
Prepare To Turn
You need a wooden blank and kit, place the brass tube on blank and mark centre. Over to the bandsaw and cut it, you need to mark each blank for centre alignment. Two lines across the middle for later wood alignment.
You can use a sledge or you could do it freehand, it will need squaring up. The cheap plastic centre finders are only two pounds and good for square, round stock.
You can use an ordinary vice to clamp it. Make sure the bit is square in both plains and wood square in vice. Wood on the bottom to stop’s blow out, don’t force the bit through in one go. Drill from middle, and peck at it taking your time to avoid blowout.
Key the brass before they get inserted into the wood blank. I use epoxy for acrylic blanks and polyurethane on wood. I don’t use CA glue unless I have to cause it can fail. Rough up each tube and insert from middle. Twist it as you push in and leave to dry overnight.
Once dried you need to use a barrel trimmer to square up the ends, just till it touches brass. Over enthusiasm will cause a tube to be short on sierra types. You can do it on a disc sander, but it needs a Jig to hold the tube. A sliding square isn’t good enough, it will square the blank to disc not the tube.
Once trimmed place on the mandrel with bushings and centre marks alined. You can adjust for length or use spacers, don’t over tighten. Push up the tailstock and ease in the quill with the lathe on slow so it centralize then tighten. Just tighten up don’t bend the rod.
Preference for tools 19 mm Continental Gouge and 12 mm skew. With speed on a slow turn from middle out to prevent splintering. Once corners knocked off increase speed and shape using the skew chisel for finishing cuts. The wood should finish shy of bushings for sanding.
Sand through grits up to 600 then with ordinary kitchen towel apply two thin coats of cyanoacrylate. Allow a few minutes to dry between coats, build up with 6 coats of medium.
When you finish with the CA, polish with micro-mesh. There’s 9 different grades up to 12,000 grit. They’re colour-coded just dip it in water, keep it wet. The wood needs cleaning between each different grade, so you don’t contaminate them.
Now it needs assembly you can use a press or bench vice. Insert nib end first, I use a piece of Corian to save the bench. Make sure it’s square and straight if not it will break.
There should be a smooth transition between metal and wood. Twist mechanism next, best to make sure the action work’s before you press home. I go in past the brass and check the fit before I press anymore. Now check fit and adjust as required. When bottom assembled push centre ring on, it’s tight till nearly there.
Do the top in the same way and push top barrel onto bottom, line grain up for best effect. If you need further help, I have a video on YouTube.
Wood turning no problem what sets a writing instrument apart and stand out above the rest is fine details. Figured wood, finish and grain running through both sections, just small details. If you have any tips or advice maybe I forgot something? Please leave your comments.
If you look around the web for help and advice, lots of forums with IAP the biggest. For more advanced pen turning you might find the articles below interesting.