Pen Turning #1: Intro to Pen Turning - Part 1

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Blog entry by WayneC posted 07-13-2007 04:17 AM 17473 reads 19 times favorited 24 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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There are a number of people who have indicated they would like to know more about what it takes to turn pens. There are quite a few very good pen turners who are members of our community. My intent is go get an overview out there to encourage more people to give it a try. I’m hoping some of the other pen turners will add to this and we can get more people turning. It really is quite simple and very rewarding.

What I like about turning pens is the ability to finish a project in a short period of time. Given my work schedule, I’m finding it hard to get time to complete longer projects. This is a good way to spend an hour in the shop and feel like I accomplished something. You can actually complete a project or two.


There are a number of suppliers of pen kits and pen turning supplies. Woodcraft, Rockler, Craft Supplies USA, Penn State Industries are a few that I have delt with.


There are a couple of books and videos that I recommend. I own all of these and have found them very useful.

  • Penn State Industries free Pen Turning DVD. You cannot beat the price on this basic introduction to pen turning. You can order it directly off the web in under 3 minutes.
  • Turning Pens And Pencils by Kip Christensen and Rex Burningham. Every thing you could want to know about pen turning. Lots of ideas for making jigs in stead of throwing $30 or $40 per pop for them at Woodcraft or Rockler.
  • Videos that go with the Turning Pens and Pencils book


You can turn pens from a wide variety of materials and the suppliers are adding to the list all of the time. Some items that can be turned include wood, antler, plastics, alunimum, corian, corn cob, bone, etc.

When you are starting out I recommend you get a pen blank assortment from Woodcraft. This will give you a variety of wood to play with. As you advance, I recommend purchasing a few board feet of wood that interests you and then cut your own blanks.

The wood I am going to use for this pen is some Texas Ebony provided by BlueStingrayBoots. He was nice enough to mail me this wood to play with.

Texas Ebony

There is a very large variety of pen kits available. To work with a particular pen kit, you need to purchase the kit, a set of bushings for the kit, and one or more drill bits as required for the kit. In addition to styles there is a wide range of quality for the different kits. Cheaper kits are less durable and prone to losing their plating. I have seen kits from under $2 to $60 or more.

When you start out I recommend keeping to a few styles of kits and adding to them over time. This will keep the cost down. The basic start kit is a 7mm slim line pen kit these are the easiest to learn and are very inexpensive.

For this pen I am using a cigar pen kit from woodcraft. It takes a 10mm drill bit. Normally it is recommended that you use brad point or bullet point bits to help keep the wood blanks from blowing out when you drill them. In the following photograph, you can see the pen kit, bushings and instructions, drill bit, barrel trimmer used to square pen blanks, counter sink tool, and a MT#2 Pen Mandrel.

Pen supplies

The pen kits come with a variety of parts including a pair of brass tubes. The first step in the process is to review the instructions and ensure you have the correct drill bits and your blank is large enough for the type of pen your trying to turn.

Pen Kit

Next you take the tubes and rough them up with some 150 grit sandpaper to make them ready for glue. I then take the tubes and a sharpie and mark out the wood blank. As a side note these are round because this is the way they were when Boots sent them to me. Normally, pen blanks are square.

Rough tubes and blank marked for cutting

I make the horizontal marks so that I can align the parts in the mandril correctly. Also, I would normally would start at one end of the blank, but I was setting aside a piece for a pill holder.

The next step is to cut the blanks to length. I’m using the miter gauge on my bandsaw, but you could easily use a hand saw if you did not have a bandsaw available.

Cutting the blanks to lenght

Once you have the blanks to lenght you then need to drill holes for the brass tubes. I’m using a commercial jig that I got at woodcraft. Also I place the center part of the blanks towards the top. These are the ends with the horizontal lines on them. You need to be careful and make sure that you clear the chips out frequently. Depending on the material, it is easy to blow out the side of the blank.

On the Drill Press

Here is a close-up

Drilling Blank - Close up

And what the hole looks like

Drilled Blank

The next step is to glue the tubes into the blanks

Glue and finishing supplies

I’m using CA glue. I coat the tubes in glue, insert them to the outside ends (opposite with the horizontal lines from above) turn it around in the tube to spread glue then insert the tube into the other end. I insert them just inside of the end. Then spray both ends with the accellerator. What I am trying to do is align the grain between the two parts to the best of my ability.

The next step is to make the ends of the pen blank square to the tubes. This is done with the pen mill. There are different size pen mills that match the inner diameter of the tube your kit requires. In this case I am using a 10 MM mill.

I put the blank in a vice.

Pen blank in vice

Put the mill in a hand drill

Pen Mill in the Drill

Then square the end

Square the end of the blanks

Here is what it looks like when done

Square ends

The next thing I am going to do is put the blanks in the mandril, rough them out, and part of the end for a bloodwood accent.

In Mandrel

Note how the horizontal lines were aligned in the photo above.

After about 45 seconds on the lathe you have this.

Rough Blank

Next. I will add the bloodwood and finish turning the pen.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

24 comments so far

View Bob Babcock's profile

Bob Babcock

1809 posts in 4143 days

#1 posted 07-13-2007 04:34 AM

Good start Wayne. I wish I didn’t alraedy have so much on my plate….I want to go turn a pen now.

-- Bob

View WayneC's profile


13754 posts in 4154 days

#2 posted 07-13-2007 04:38 AM

Thanks Bob. I should be finished with this segment in 15 or 20 minutes.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View PanamaJack's profile


4483 posts in 4134 days

#3 posted 07-13-2007 05:09 AM

I’m waiting for the final here Wayne. By this Fall I want to be turning! I am scheduling a lesson at the Indy Rockler Store in two weeks.

Just finished up on cleaning up my “new” Jet 1236. (to me that is) I have been trying to refurbish it for about two months now. It took a while for me to knock the rust off, and work the regular job at the same time. Fortunately most was surface type rust. It had been sitting in an unheated barn in southern Indiana for 8 years idle. Until it found a new home that is. It’s looking and acting fairly well now. I had a lathe turning “pro”, from our local woodworking club here, come over lSunday afternoon to try it out. He says it’s doing very well for it’s size. It’s something to start with anyway.

For some reason I am all of a sudden into fixing tools nobody wants…..Because they’re cheaper is the main reason.

-- Carpe Lignum; Tornare Lignum (Seize the wood, to Turn the wood)

View WayneC's profile


13754 posts in 4154 days

#4 posted 07-13-2007 05:57 AM

I will post the other half of this tomorrow night. Need to get a few other things done tonight. I’m guessing you will really like it PanamaJack. You may want to set aside some cash for basic pen turning gear when you take the class.

Sounds like a good plan on the Jet Lathe, I love restoring machines and tools. It is a good way to get a deal if your careful.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View mot's profile


4911 posts in 4093 days

#5 posted 07-13-2007 06:47 AM

Wayne! Thanks you! This is just fantastic!

-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

View David's profile


1969 posts in 4195 days

#6 posted 07-13-2007 07:03 AM

Wayne -

Thanks! I am sure I am going to get into more trouble following this outstanding posting (and hopefully . . . blog series!). As you know this is an interest of mine . . . just lacking a lathe (a temporary situation).

Looking forward to more . . .



View WayneC's profile


13754 posts in 4154 days

#7 posted 07-13-2007 01:58 PM

Mot and David, your welcome.

Lathes are almost as slippery a slope as festool…

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View Bill's profile


2579 posts in 4218 days

#8 posted 07-13-2007 03:22 PM

Great job Wayne! This helps de-mystify the pen building mystic so everyone can start turning them. You may have a bunch of competition soon!

I think the lathe is an even more slippery slope than the Festool. Once you turn something, you get hooked.

-- Bill, Turlock California,

View Karson's profile


35128 posts in 4457 days

#9 posted 07-13-2007 03:28 PM

Great Job Wayne. I use 5 minute epoxy to glue the tubes in. I mix it up and can do 4 – 5 pens sets before the glue sets up. So I only mix a small amount, but I find that it works great.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View m1garand's profile


6 posts in 4126 days

#10 posted 07-13-2007 06:07 PM

Great write-up. Close to the procedure I use.

-- Helicopters don't fly, they beat the air into submission.

View WayneC's profile


13754 posts in 4154 days

#11 posted 07-14-2007 02:03 AM

Bill, competition is good. I turn purely for the fun of it. No intention to ever sell anything.

Great tip Karson, with CA you have to be real careful or you end up with a tube stuck half way in or your fingers stuck to the tube for that matter.

Thanks M1garand. Have you posted any photos of your pens yet? I would like to see them.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View coloradoclimber's profile


548 posts in 4124 days

#12 posted 07-14-2007 02:46 AM

Excellent post wayne, thanks for taking the time to put it together.

After reading various posts about pen making I’m thinking I’ll want to take a turn. I’ve been looking at the small Jet but thinking I should at least surf craigslist for a while before I drop the money on a new one.

thanks again

View woodspar's profile


710 posts in 4156 days

#13 posted 07-14-2007 06:11 AM

Again, thanks Wayne. (read 2nd installment first.)

-- John

View WeeWilly's profile


20 posts in 4124 days

#14 posted 08-01-2007 06:39 PM

Nice job on the instructional…...I use “Gorilla Glue” on the brass barrels as it fills any voids inside the blanks. This glue takes about 24 hours to dry so you can make as prepare as many pen blanks ahead as you want. You might want to use rubber gloves while handling Gorilla Glue, as it will stain your fingers. As for drilling the pen blanks, on the larger sizes, I usually leave pen blank an extra 1/2 inch in length. You go ahead and drill the blanks to the depth needed while making sure to clear the drill often, then cut off the excess blank to the barrel length. This way, you don’t get as many “blow-outs”, just a technique I picked up on various websites. As for lathes, I use a Jet variable speed 14”....enough power, easy to change speeds, takes up minimal space, and only cost $ 300.00, including free shipping from .

-- WeeWilly

View Sawdust2's profile


1466 posts in 4144 days

#15 posted 08-02-2007 05:18 AM

I’ve seen a couple of different posts and posters who put the mill in a power drill.

I just made a wooden handle and trim it by hand. As I often get down to the brass tube quickly I wonder how you control the power drill to not mill off too much.

-- No piece is cut too short. It was meant for a smaller project.

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