Weekend Pen Assemble Press

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Blog entry by Owlcroft posted 05-24-2012 01:23 AM 5622 reads 13 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I have been using a Rockler Pen vice I bought when I first started making Pens. It is an adequate pen vice for drilling blanks; but a poor substitute for a pen assembly press. I knew there had to be a better way without spending a lot for one of those on the pen making web sites. So I did a little web search to find shop made pen assembly press plans.

I found a lot of shop made pen presses, but none had easy to follow instructions with measurements. I finally ran across a pen assembly press by Al Faul on Woodturning Online. It had a lot of pictures, some explanation of how to make it, and a few basic measurements. More than enough; I love a challenge.

Above is the result after a few minor (critical) changes. It is a pen assembly press from scrapes in my shop, a 3/16” x 36” rod for $2.77 from Home Depot, and 6 wood screws (4 ea. 1” #10 & 2 ea. 2” #10) that can easily be made in a weekend with basic woodworking skills. Please read the notes at the end of the tutorial if you decide to make it.

First thing I did before I began building the pen assembly press was study the one by Al Faul on Woodturning Online (figure 1). First thing that struck me was the stop with one peg. It seemed to me it would be unstable. You would have to be very careful the stop did not turn on the single peg when pressing the pen. Solution was a slightly longer stop with 2 pens. The next thing was the bottom lever blocks. I decided to make a curved base instead of the stepped square ones on the original; strictly cosmetic. Finally I wanted a way to hang it on my peg board for storage. This was easily resolved by a 3/8” hole at the end of the base board. I will discuss all these changes in detail below.

Figure 1

Step 1: Making the base board.

The base will be 24” x 3 1/2” x ¾” (figure 2). I make flag and award cases occasionally for family and friends mostly out of red oak. That means I have a lot of 3 1/2” x 3/4” pieces of red oak in my lumber storage rack. I picked a piece as close to 24” long as I could find. I cut it to 24” using my compound miter saw.

Figure 2

Next I needed to figure out how to drill the holes for the stop block. The solution is my cabinet shelf jig. I used a 3/4” slat (see be figure 3) to align the holes in the jig with the center of the board. The holes are 1 1/4” apart on center; they need to be at least half that distance apart. I needed to figure a way to drill a second set of holes.

Figure 3

The solution is simple. All I had to do is drill the first set of holes, reposition the jig and drill a second set of holes between the first set (figure 4 & 5).

Figure 4

Figure 5

Finally I needed to drill the 3/8” hole needed to hang the completed pen assembly press on my peg board. This completes the pen assembly press base (see figure 6).

Figure 6

Step 2: Making the Handle.

I made the handle by cutting a 3/4” strip from a piece of scrap a little over 14” long on the table saw. This left me with a 3/4” x 3/4” piece of red oak a little over 14” long. I used my compound miter saw to cut it to 14”. I then used my router table with a round over bit and a stop block at 7” to round half the handle to make it comfortable to hold (see figure 7).

Figure 7 – Rounding the top half of the handle.

Next I drilled the pivot holes that attach the handle to lever blocks and joiner board. The hole that attaches the handle to the lever blocks is 1/2” from the bottom of the handle; centered. The second hole for the joiner is 2” from first hole; centered (see figure 8).

I wanted the handle to move freely so I used a 7/32” drill, slightly larger than the 3/16” bar I would be using as a pivot.

Figure 8

Note: The distance between the lever blocks hole and the joiner hole determine the distance the slide travels. You can adjust the distance as required to increase or decrease the distance the slide travels.

Finally, I used my belt sander to round the bottom of the handle (see figure 9).

Figure 9

Step 3: Making the lever blocks.

I cut two pieces of the red oak 2 1/2” long, 1 1/4” high and 3/4” wide for the lever blocks. To insure both lever blocks were exactly the same I used double sided tape and taped them together. I then marked the location of the pivot rod hole 1/2” from the top; centered (see figure 10).

Figure 10

Next, using a 3/16” drill, I drilled the pivot rod hole in both blocks (see figure 11).

Figure 11

I used my band saw to remove most of the wasted from the lever blocks. I then used my belt sander to finish shaping them. Next I marked the location and drilled and counter sank the holes for the woodscrews that attach the lever blocks to the base (see figure 12).

Figure 12

Finally I separated the lever blocks and did the final sanding (see figure 13)

Figure 13

Step 4: Making the Joiner Board.

I cut a piece of red oak 6” long, 2” wide and 1/2” deep. I marked two lines, 5/8” from the edge the length of the joiner board. Then I measured 2” from one end and drew a line between the two lines along the edge. This is for the handle side of the joiner block. Then measured a line 1” from the other end and drew a line between the two lines on the edge. This is the push block side of the joiner board. Next I took the joiner block to my band saw and removed the material from the joiner block where the handle and push block attach (see figure 14).

Figure 14

Next I took the joiner block to my drill press, mounted it in my pen vice to insure the pivot holes are aligned properly and drilled the pivot holes for the handle and push block (see figure 15).

Figure 15

Finally I took the joiner block to my belt sander and rounded the ends. A final finish sanding and the joiner block is complete (see figure 16 & 17).

Figure 16

Figure 17

Step 5: Making the Push and Stop Blocks.

I cut two 3/4” x 3/4” pieces of red oak: one 4 7/8” long for the push block and one 2” long for the for the stop block.

I drilled a 7/23” hole in one end of the push block and rounded it on my belt sander. Then I finished sanded it. Then I cut a piece of Plexiglas slightly larger than 3/4” x 3/4” and super glued it to the end of the push block. Finally I sanded the Plexiglas to the edge of the push block (see figure 18).

Figure 18

The stop block sets in the holes in the base board. The jig I used to make the holes is exactly 1 1/4”, on center. When I made the second set of holes I made them as close to center as possible giving me approximately 3/4”, on center. Both sets of holes are exactly 1 1/4”, on center. To insure I could adjust the stop block 1 hole at a time I made the pins on the stop block exactly 1 1/4”, on center. I then drilled the holes for the stop block pins 9/16” deep, using a 3/16” drill (see figure 19).

Figure 19
I cut a piece of Plexiglas slightly larger than 3/4” x 3/4” and super glued it to the end of the stop block. Then I sanded the Plexiglas to the edge of the stop block (see figure 18). Finally I used a drill to make a dimple in the middle of the Plexiglas to center the tip when pressing pen (see figure 20).

Figure 20

Note: I could have cut the pegs for the stop block from the 3/16” rod I am using for the pivots. Instead I decided to use 1” pins that are normally used to hold shelves in bookcases. They are already the length I need and they are stronger than the steel rod.

Step 6: making the Push Block Guide.

To make the push block guide I cut three pieces: two 1 1/4” square and 3/4” high for the sides and one 3 1/4” long by 1 1/4” wide and 1/2” deep for the top. Next I glued the sides to the top and drilled 2 pilot holes for the 2” wood screws 1/2” from each side; centered (see figure 21).

Figure 21

Step 7: Finish

Before finishing lay out all your pieces and dry assemble the pen assembly press to insure proper fit.
Next do the final sanding and finish each piece. I used a couple coats of a rub-on Poly and let it dry over night.

Step 8: Assembly.

Lay out all the pieces (see figure 22). At this time cut the pivot rods from the 3/16” rod. You will need one 2 1/4” long to attach the handle to the lever blocks; and two 2” long to attach the joiner board to the handle and push block.

Figure 22

First attach the handle to the lever blocks using the 2 1/4” long pivot rod. Next attach the 1 1/2” fork of the joiner block to the handle using one of the 2” long pivot rods. Next attach the 7/8” fork of the joiner block to the push block using the other 2” long pivot rod. You are now ready to attach the lever block and push block guide to the base board.

Use wood glue to attach the lever blocks and push block guides to the base using 4 clamps (see figure 23). I placed a small amount of wood glue on the base of the lever blocks; lined them up using a square; and clamped them to the base board. Next I used a small amount of wood glue on the bottom of the push block guide; placed the handle in a vertical position; aligned the front of the push block guide with the end of the push block using a square and clamped the push block guide in place. This insures the push block is even with the front of the push block guide when the handle is in an upright position. (see figure 23).

Figure 23

Once the glue is dry remove the clamps. Use your drill to drill pilot holes for the 4 1” screws holding the lever blocks in place; and the two 2” wood screws holding the push block guide in place. The reason for gluing and then drilling the pilot holes is to make it easier to attach the lever blocks and push block guide, insuring a tight fit to the base board. I also used Johnson’s paste wax on the screws to make it easier to screw them into the red oak (see figure 24).

Figure 24

That is it; add the stop block and you have a complete pen assembly press (see figure 25).

Figure 25

Project Notes

Note 1: After using the pen assembly press a couple times I realized I made the Joiner to short. It needed to be longer to transfer more of the pressure toward the pen and not into the board. Checkout figure 26, you will see the press with the longer Joiner. I have used the press with the longer joiner several times. It is definitely easier to get the pressure where it is needed to press the pieces together. I changed the measurements of the length of the joiner above.

Figure 26

Note 2: I placed the hole to hang the pen assembly press on my peg board at the end of the base board opposite the handle. The problem is gravity. When I hang it on my peg board I need to use a rubber band to keep the handle from falling. This is easily remedied by placing the hole on the end with the handle (see figure 27).

Figure 27

Note 3: The stop block has a tendency to pop out when pressing stubborn pen assemblies. This is easily resolved by using a clamp (see figure 28). Using the clamp has the added advantage of securing the press to my workbench leaving both hands free to hold the pen and pull the handle.

Figure 28

-- Owlcroft

3 comments so far

View Roger's profile


20929 posts in 2831 days

#1 posted 05-24-2012 01:04 PM

Looks like a gr8 press. Better than store-bought

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

View BigTiny's profile


1676 posts in 2916 days

#2 posted 05-27-2012 04:31 AM

Hi Owlcroft.

Nice rig. If I ever get into pen making, I will definitely have to make one. I’ve added this to my favorites file just in case.

Here’s an idea for the back end: make a slide like you have at the front, but instead of a lever press, use a snail eccentric cam to position the tail, pivoting on a bolt with either a wing nut or knob to lock it in place. More secure and you won’t lose the tail piece from it slipping out while hanging on the wall.


-- The nicer the nice, the higher the price!

View pastorglen's profile


267 posts in 2717 days

#3 posted 07-27-2013 06:43 PM

Very nice. I like your modifications from the original, too. I’m heading to the shop to do the same. Thanks!

-- Glen, Pennsylvania, Colossians 3:23 "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men."

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