I mentioned in a recent blog that my dad has the worst woodworking shop possible. He is the king of buying too-cheap-to-use tools. I neglected to mention that while I was there visiting I helped him acquire another tool.
I used one of my lathes to turn a couple of pegs on a project for my mom. When he heard that, he mentioned that he’d been thinking of getting a small lathe “for pens and other small gifts.” It just so happened that I’d seen such a tool on Craigslist before going out to Michigan so I looked it up and it was still available. I let him do the emailing and pretty soon we were on our way to pick up this:
It’s a Fisch turning lathe, a small import resold by a now-defunct company. The lathe is a copy of a Delta and a few others. It’s got multi-speeds (6-8?) via a 3-groove belt. It didn’t come with the stand (that’s his precious stand with the pressure-treated 2×6 top on it.) but it did come with one bed extension, two live centers, two drill chucks, and two sets of mini-lathe tools (Crown and Wilton). He paid $175 for it. Then on the way home we stopped at Woodcraft where I spent another $134, of which $110 was tools and supplies for him – wood blanks, a drill bit, a mandrel, bushings, and a bag of slimline pen kits. I then had to track down and order a new belt because the old one was busted. (two for $14 delivered.) When we got it all set up I gave him a quick lesson on how to turn a pen. We had to drill the blanks on the lathe because his drill press is so out of whack a 7mm drill bits translate into a 1.5” hole. Once the glue dried we mounted it on the lathe and I showed him how to properly hold a lathe tool and make cuts. He promptly ignored that lesson and tried to turn a pen while holding the far end of the lathe tool with two fingers from the right hand while the left hand scratched his ear. The finish was, to say the least, a bit less than smooth. But with much effort and a ton of sandpaper we made a pen.
Now that I know he’s long on “I’m gonna” and a bit short on “I did” there is a great chance that this is a $299 pen. But just in case he wants to continue (he does have another 9 pen kits to play with and it would be nice to get them down to $30 pens instead of $299 pens.) I decided to help him out a bit. I’ve got his set of chisels sharpened and I’m ready to mail them back. I dug through my spare lathe stuff and found a spur center. I’ll throw that in with a bunch of full-size spindle blanks so he can practice making stuff round without ruining a pen kit. I sharpened up a medium-size gouge so he’s got a stronger tool to work with than the mini set (which really aren’t made for holding with two fingers and jamming 1/2” deep into an exotic hardwood blank that is spinning at full-speed on the lathe.) And then just for grins I made him one of those easy carbide tools.
The handle needs the fingerprints sanded and a finish applied and then it’s ready to go. The replaceable tip is a big thumbnail sized offset oval. I was at Kent’s Tools in Tucson and he had a bin full of carbide inserts for 50 cents each. I grabbed 8-10 of different shapes to try out – triangles, hexagons, these large ovals and a circle. These ovals turned out to give the best cut. They’re not true ovals, they are slightly lopsided.
There is also a ridge along the back. I milled a corresponding groove in the tool for the carbide tip to sit into. It’s held on with an 8-32 screw. The whole thing is set full-length in a cherry handle (It’s what I had) and the brass ferrule started out as a BIG brass connector from the plumbing section of ACE. I turned a tenon on the end of the handle and used a wrench to tighen the brass nut onto it, and then just turned everything to shape on the lathe. It already had a hole in the end that was just a shade too tight for the rod to go through, so I put it bak on the lathe and scraped it larger until everything just fit.
If he’s given up on the lathe already then hopefully he’ll send it back because I like the way it cuts. If not, I’ve got more inserts and I can always make another.