The first time I turned a pen, I think it took me a little over three hours. That was in a class with 11 other students and a very patient instructor (THANK YOU, Duane Hill).
The next couple of pens went a little quicker, and as my skills improved a bit, I became more confident. So much so that when the local AAW affiliate I belonged to back then undertook a commitment to turn pens for active duty troops serving overseas, I decided to step up to the plate and do my part.
It was then that I learned that turning pens in greater volume (25 or so at a crack) was a little different than knocking out two or three in a weekend.
I have been turning Freedom Pens for about 2 years now, and will soon surpass the 400 mark. To do so, and keep my sanity, I had to develop a little system to make the process more efficient. Barring unforeseen circumstances (like life getting in the way), it usually takes me about three days to turn out a batch of 25 pens.
The pen kits (7mm Funline Slimline kits) arrive from Sarge Kelly in a USPS box. The kits are individually packed in plastic bags, with 4 of the components inside each packaged in their own little bag. I open each kit, cut the small envelopes, remove the contents, and sort them in one of the plastic organizers I picked up at the big box.
The brass tubes have a coating that may cause adherence problems for glue, so I load them onto a mandrel on the lathe and give them a quick sanding with 80 grit to rough up the brass.
I don’t buy pen ‘blanks’ ... I make mine from lumber scraps I buy at a cabinet shop down the road (the guy sells me a 5-gallon pail of scraps that are 18”-24” long for $2.50). I cut the scraps into 3/4” wide x 3/4” thick strips on the tablesaw …
... then head to the bandsaw where I cut the blanks down to size using a little sled I made for that purpose. The blanks are numbered, which helps me keep track of grain direction. I don’t like to waste wood, so each half of the pen blank is cut to 2 3/32”.
Now we head to the drill press where another shop-built jig helps drill the hole in the center for the tube.
An important side note … I had all kinds of problems getting the holes straight and the right size for a long time. If I had not been using a gap-filling glue, I would have been sunk. It turned out the bit I was using (an el cheapo) had some serious runout, so even though the jig was solid and I was hitting the approximate center, there was so much runout that the hole would be wallowed out to something more than 7mm. Since I switched to Whiteside bits, the holes are straight and I get a nice snug fit. You just cannot beat quality cutting tools! ‘Nuff said.
Next, we start gluing. I use Titebond Polyurethane glue and an insertion tool I bought from PSI.
By this time, I am usually ready to call it a day, so even though the glue dries in 30 to 45 minutes, I let it sit overnight.
-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"