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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here is a close-up
And what the hole looks like
The next step is to glue the tubes into the blanks
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.
Put the mill in a hand drill
Then square the end
Here is what it looks like when done
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.
Note how the horizontal lines were aligned in the photo above.
After about 45 seconds on the lathe you have this.
Next. I will add the bloodwood and finish turning the pen.
-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov