Pen Blank Drilling Jig for Lathe

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Blog entry by Eric_S posted 12-05-2010 03:07 AM 10724 reads 3 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch

The title says pen blank drilling jig, but this jig can easily be tweaked for much larger pieces and act as a horizontal boring jig.

A little bit of background. I have a lathe, a drill chuck, but no chuck to hold a pen blank(or any spindle size) in the headstock for drilling. I’m being pretty cheap this month so I could save money for gifts for family, so I didn’t want to buy a chuck at this time. And even though I’ve been wanting one for a long while now, I also didn’t want to spend money on a Drill Press just yet. I want one, but decided I could wait a few more months. So that didn’t leave me with a lot of options. Every time I’ve seen a drill chuck on a lathe for drilling, it goes in the tailstock and the blank goes in the headstock in a chuck or collet system. Like I said, I didn’t want to spend on one.

I recently saw a video on Woodcraft of Charles Neil showing how he uses a drill chuck in the headstock and a clever jig that rides along the bed to hold the blank. I decided this would be the quickest and cheapest solution for the time being, and probably the most accurate since the drill press I would’ve bought probably would have some slop.

First you need a piece that will fit and slide along the bed. I used pine for this because I had a piece that was this size already and just needed a few shavings taken off to fit.

The jig then sits on top of this track and stays perfectly straight while drilling. I made mine out of melamine because I had some on hand and thought the slippery surface would help it glide. The top and bottom are 6”x15” and the sides are 3.5”x15”. You need to make sure the jig sits much lower than the headstock. I am thinking of making another version at a later time that has a height adjustment.

Then, attach the track guide to the jig and make sure it slides smoothly.

I then found the center point in relation to the headstock

and measured out half distances for blank sizes. So I had marks for 5/8, 3/4, 7/8, and 1” blanks. So the marks were half those(distance from center to one side of blank). I used a square to mark the lines, and then attached a piece of plywood with a straight edge to wing nuts to allow for easy adjustment between blank sizes. I glued a piece of sandpaper to the bottom of this piece to help grip against the melamine better. I did the same to the spot where blanks will sit.

You can adjust the height as well using shims. I used some scraps from some veneers I made for nightstands.

And here you can see a video of it in use :) It works very well. You can hear squeeling at the end. I’m not sure if I have the clamp too tight so as it drills through its pushing down on the bit, or if thats normal for walnut. I also have the speed only at 500rpm for testing, I’m sure I can drill at a faster speed. Enjoy:

I found this to work very well by hand, but I'd prefer to do it with tailstock advancement dial if it was easier. The problem is everytime you want to back it off to clear out chips, you have to wind the thing all the way back and then still push the piece back by hand. I decided to just guide it by hand which was still dead on.

-- - Eric Noblesville, IN

5 comments so far

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 3053 days

#1 posted 12-05-2010 06:33 AM

Mounting the chuck on either headstock or tailstock is perfectly valid.

What you might consider doing is to get a center drill. Even with wood, the smaller bits tend to try to wander and a center drill will get you started better boring long holes.

Starting with smaller bits and working your way to bigger ones one at a time also make it easier and more accurate.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View darryl's profile


1795 posts in 4381 days

#2 posted 12-05-2010 11:56 AM

cool idea!

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4215 days

#3 posted 12-05-2010 12:32 PM

at first I thought, “huh? too much work – I’d rather invest in the kit” ..
and then I saw it in action and the light bulb came on. This is an awesome resource. Very useful. And definitely cheaper than buying the kit.
Well done!

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4168 posts in 2911 days

#4 posted 12-05-2010 12:42 PM

Well done, like all great ideas a simple solution.
I like the fact that you have made spacers for shimming.
It sure beats my method, which I would not share as it is bad.


-- Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though 'twere his own. --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

View Eric_S's profile


1565 posts in 3250 days

#5 posted 12-05-2010 04:57 PM

Thank you. I have to give credit to Charles Neil though as mine was based on his jig.

Jamie, the shims help a lot and was faster than making an adjustable height jig(which I still may do at a later time to expand my drilling capability). Luckily, I didn’t even have to make these shims. I just went through my scrap pile and found a bunch of veneer cutoffs that were already the same width and thickness :) I’m glad I saved all my scraps.

MsDebbie, it only took a couple hours to make and is so simple. Plus it was free :) The track guide fit though is the most important piece. It needs to be snug between the bed rails.

Oh, the squeeling in the video is from the clamp being too tight. I loosened its grip and now its quiet :)

-- - Eric Noblesville, IN

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