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Pens...why is it so popular?

by steve6678
posted 11-10-2012 03:22 AM

27 replies so far

View BentheViking's profile


1782 posts in 2587 days

#1 posted 11-10-2012 03:58 AM

I was just talking to someone the other day about how neither of us can understand the popularity of pen turning because it was just so off either of our interest charts.

-- It's made of wood. Real sturdy.--Chubbs Peterson

View Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

2657 posts in 2945 days

#2 posted 11-11-2012 12:18 AM

I know four guys that make pens. Some folks are fascinated with lathe work and you can make a pen in 20 minutes. Pens are hard for them to sell because they want $25- $50 for them with an investment of $4 and 20 minutes time! If they sold them for a reasonable amount making and selling them might work.

-- Website is No PHD just a DD214 and a GED

View steve6678's profile


438 posts in 2084 days

#3 posted 11-11-2012 12:42 AM

I see…the catalogs I get have, sometimes 5 pages of Pen stuff, it must be a popular hobby.
I would have thought the pens were a little cheaper. Like 5-10 dollars, maybe…I mean it is such a small piece of stock…but maybe it takes a while or it’s tideous, dunno.
I don’t see myself ever making pens for a living…I do make a living with furniture, but that is by commission, and the customer knows what a piece will cost before I order anything.
I do have a guy that sells my furniture (pieces I either make a few of at a time, or out of re-claimed wood, or some kind of Art-based piece I make) He has a Used furniture store Downtown, and does well, he mentioned to me that the metal bed frames that a lot of people use instead of a frame/hdbrd/ftbrd type set up are getting expensive…I told him I may be able to come up with a Poplar based wooden frame for people, and make them reasonable.
This type of stuff is what I never stray away from.
It’s like the guy that did oil changes, then progressed into re-building engines…the guy never stopped doing oil changes, because it’s where his business came from in the begining, it’s bread-n-butter money.

-- Steve - Dust sucks!

View jap's profile


1251 posts in 2078 days

#4 posted 11-11-2012 01:22 AM

it’s what you like,
just like some people can’t figure out why we do woodwork, same things. its your interests

-- Joel

View steve6678's profile


438 posts in 2084 days

#5 posted 11-11-2012 01:28 AM

Yes I do agree.
I was curious what was up, and why so many people made pens.
I bet they feel good in the hand though… Hmm
I’ll have to see some of these creations for myself.

-- Steve - Dust sucks!

View love2cad's profile


39 posts in 2080 days

#6 posted 11-11-2012 04:40 AM

My brother-in-law has been making pens for a while now. He too doesn’t spend a great deal of time or money doing it but he seems to be making some money selling them. He doesn’t have much wood working experience so turning pens gives him a little sense of what others do with bigger projects.

-- Bobby

View steve6678's profile


438 posts in 2084 days

#7 posted 11-11-2012 04:43 AM

I have NEVER turned anything. I have zero experience on a lathe.
I’ve watched others use one and could probably get into it, and I should…straight tapered legs are getting old, ha.

-- Steve - Dust sucks!

View RussellAP's profile


3104 posts in 2310 days

#8 posted 11-11-2012 04:48 AM

It must be a space thing, some guys just don’t have the room to make anything bigger than a pen.

-- A positive attitude will take you much further than positive thinking ever will.

View oldnovice's profile


6896 posts in 3391 days

#9 posted 11-11-2012 05:38 AM

I have to agree RussellAP! Room and/or time and/or money to spend on larger projects.

My uncle in Germany, who passed away earlier this year, had a 4’x4’ shop and he only made birdhouses. He liked woodworking but space forced the issue!

-- "I never met a board I didn't like!"

View SugarbeatCo's profile


142 posts in 2291 days

#10 posted 11-11-2012 06:01 AM

Pen making is a marketing genius.. Plain and simple. There’s a little money to be made Im sure, but for the most part, guys making tons of money off of tiny blanks, hardware kits are moving off the shelves at light speed, thus taking up 5 pages of your woodcrapt catalog. Mini Lathes, mini chucks, pen mandrels, CA glue finishes, Pen assembly presses, disassemble presses, laser cut kits… Cha frickin Chang.. Fools be makin money off fools that be tryin to make money doing something they find fun. I’ve got more hours behind a lathe this year than probably most anyone on here, never turned a pen one, and dont see the fascination, but to each his own. Only thing I don’t like about it is what it has done to the cost and availability of bowl blanks and larger lumber finds that used to be more abundant. Knife making is the same thing to me, and knife scales. I hate that people buy wood like this, just dont do it, srsly it just drives the cost of larger lumber up. Why sell that 30” bowl blank for $40 when you can chop it into 30 pen blanks that will sell for 20 a bundle of ten. :rant off: Sorry, anyways, yeah I dont see the appeal.

-- Always one more tool away from being an excellent woodworker...

View Woodknack's profile


11773 posts in 2404 days

#11 posted 11-11-2012 08:06 PM

I’ve known a few people who made pens. Someone gave me one years ago and it looked nice but the guts were no better than any random pen. It’d be nice if you wanted to make them as gifts and could laser engrave or carve them.

-- Rick M,

View Wildwood's profile


2322 posts in 2158 days

#12 posted 11-11-2012 08:55 PM

I came to pen turning after many years turning other stuff. Pens for Servicemen got me started after couple hundred Slim Line pens tried other styles. Stopped turning pens for them in 2010 probably spent close to $1,000 on kits, shipping pen blanks over six years.

Can have a sizeable investment if do not have a lathe, tools, and supplies needed to turn pens. Many people take classes at wood Craft, make few pens and quit. Others quit when find no one wants to pay them for their time. A few people doing this full time do make $100k/year. Majority of pen turners make less than $1,000.

To make 5 of these pens would cost me $21.84 per pen, using nothing special wood or acrylic blanks. I would not select this kit or chrome or gun metal platings to make just an example of some but not all cost.

5 pen kits = $69.75
1 set bushings = $5.95
5 pen blanks = 25.00
Shipping = $8.50
Total =$109.23 / 5 = $21.84

Best could hope for here is $30 per pen or $8.16/hr. You need more than $8 per hour to keep up with consumables not listed to make a pen.

-- Bill

View teejk's profile


1215 posts in 2708 days

#13 posted 11-11-2012 09:17 PM

ever priced a Mont Blanc? I can guess they make nice personal gifts for those that already have everything and who knows what and piece of wood is going to look like when it’s done? I’ll pass though.

View Wildwood's profile


2322 posts in 2158 days

#14 posted 11-12-2012 12:26 PM

At one time, few folks made lot of money selling simple 24 KT gold Slim Line wood pens with simple friction finish. Today cross refills cost more those inexpensive Slim Line kits. Not all Slim Line kits so inexpensive, 24 KT gold kits have history of plating wearing off. So if have customers or friends liking Slim Line pens have to opt for better plating. Not so cheap proposition.

Turning pens simple and easy if was not for Murphy’s Law. Just visit International Assoc of Pen Turners site (IAP) and will understand.

Knowing major vendors and resellers supplying craft important, shopping specials and sales saves money. Some vendors and resellers sell a cheap junk line, which end up biting you in the butt eventually whether selling or giving away your pens.

Couple vendors Berea Hardwoods & Craft supplies post a kit wear rating plating chart, that helps understanding plating durability.

If starting out recommend trying this style pen over basic SL kits. Every vender sells a version of Sierra style kit. Just check out instructions think will understand recommendation. If do not like Sierra’s, try different single barrel kit.

If want a motivation for turning pens do a search for most expensive pens. You will know have arrived when see prices listed in hundreds & thousands.

-- Bill

View Fishinbo's profile


11362 posts in 2199 days

#15 posted 11-12-2012 01:51 PM

Maybe, pens catch their fancies :)
I enjoy looking at their pens.

View steve6678's profile


438 posts in 2084 days

#16 posted 11-12-2012 08:56 PM

Me too, I like to look at them, they are so small to do on a lathe, fascinating.
I don’t see myself doing pens, but it certainly keeps a lot of wood-turners busy.

-- Steve - Dust sucks!

View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2272 days

#17 posted 11-12-2012 09:06 PM

I turn pens. It doesn’t fit with my style of woodworking at all, but it is super fun! Yeah, it’s expensive, but I don’t care. I’ve certainly had much more expensive hobbies. My custom made flyrod costs more than my lathe and turning tools combined. Fly tying supplies can get pretty pricey too. I have sold a few pens, but you aren’t going to get rich doing it. If you motive is money, look elsewhere (but that again I think that can be said about woodworking in general). Most were to friends that saw mine and said “can you make me one?” The learning curve is very shallow, and you can go from raw materials to a finished product in under an hour.

You also get to work with some really unique exotic woods that would be prohibitively expensive in any other application.


View Gshepherd's profile


1727 posts in 2225 days

#18 posted 11-12-2012 09:16 PM

I only got into it for my 2 girls and they love it. The time I spend with them as they make their pens is priceless and they will have some fun memories.

I make a few once in a while myself to give to good customers I have who buy a lot of mouldings from me which is my bread and butter. I think a big part of making pens is how quick you can have satisfaction….. Beside who do you know that would not like to have a nice handmade pen? It is a excellent way to get through some of the nice small pieces of wood….. Doing a pen in 20 min…. I am not that quick, a burnished on finish will not last long. I like to use GF Turners finish. From what I undertand from it is that it is like the finish they put on Gym floors…. So far I have been very pleased with the shine and durability….

But hey, it is all about what makes us happy in the shop, weather it is making pens,cabinets,or what ever…. Just make some saw dust and enjoy the ride and hopefully we put a few smiles on some faces that makes it all the better….

-- What we do in life will Echo through Eternity........

View RetiredCoastie's profile


999 posts in 3206 days

#19 posted 11-12-2012 09:47 PM

There is so much more to pen turning than just turning a wood blank and then assembling the pen from a kit. There are kit-less pens that craftsman are making everything either from scratch or some parts acquired from distributors.

There are people making very elaborate or simple segmented blanks, polymar clay pens, resins that people are casting, snakeskin blanks, alligator jaw bone etc etc. The list goes on.

There are low end kits but there are high end kits as well. It can be expensive but it can also be very cost effective if you make your own tools. Like any craft it has many opportunities for making money, but like any business there are very successful ones and those that loose money. I’m not in it for the money but I do make money at it. A lot depends on your craftsmanship, creativity and your clientele and how well you market your product.

Don’t scoff at pen turning, as it can require as much skill, patience and attention to detail as any case work or furniture construction out there.

-- Proud Supporter of Homes For Our Troops

View Steve Peterson's profile

Steve Peterson

377 posts in 3106 days

#20 posted 11-12-2012 09:55 PM

I have turned about a dozen pens to give away as gifts. Most are from cutoffs from rounding the corners of bowl blanks on trees falling on friends property.

The space and equipment required is quite small compared to outfitting a complete workshop. It seems like a cheap way to have a woodworking hobby with a minimal amount of money. I doubt that many pen turners are looking to feed their family with the profits, just cover the cost of the supplies.

-- Steve

View steve6678's profile


438 posts in 2084 days

#21 posted 11-13-2012 12:07 AM

The chance to see and touch some fine exotics that I normally wouldn’t be able to, is cool

-- Steve - Dust sucks!

View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2272 days

#22 posted 11-13-2012 12:14 AM

If you’re ever out in Western MA give me a shout and you can turn a couple. I always have a lot of kits and blanks on hand. It’s a lot cheaper to buy in bulk.


View steve6678's profile


438 posts in 2084 days

#23 posted 11-13-2012 12:23 AM

That’d be cool, Joe…
Thank’s for the offer…
I haven’t been out west since I dated my ex-wife, Ashburnham, ha

-- Steve - Dust sucks!

View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2272 days

#24 posted 11-13-2012 12:28 AM

Yikes, that’s the sticks. I’m right near the Big E and 6 Flags (and woodcraft). I’m off to go turn some bloodwood cutting board scraps into cigar pens now.


View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 3132 days

#25 posted 11-13-2012 12:32 AM

I think it appeals to some folks interested in turning because it produces a practical product within a small time frame. They make good gift items for special occasions. I like turning bowls and cups but I get strange looks if I try to give a vessel away as a gift. My friends and family think they look cool but there is that deer in the headlights look when they receive one because I don’t think they know what they are supposed to do with it :) I think it also appeals to folks who are looking for a way to make money off their woodworking. Unfortunately, the market is flooded with pens as a craft item to purchase and so the novelty of them has been lost and it becomes more difficult to sell them at a price that makes them profitable to produce.

-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View moke's profile


1180 posts in 2800 days

#26 posted 11-14-2012 06:29 PM

I turn a lot of pens. Retired Coastie is very right, there are many facetts to pens. I like to segment the blanks. I use very little wood any more. I have seen pens with over a hundred pieces in the blank or body.

I started turning pens because I was taking so long at some flatwork projects. I was turning out three or four finished projects a year, and I wanted to be able to “finish” some things quicker for personal gratification. I got more into pens, then bottlestoppers, peppermills, and many other small projects. I have returned a little more to flatwork but still enjoy small lathe projects. I try to make 5 or 10 pens a month.

Try it you’ll like it!! Just be fore warned that when others have said there is a substantial investment…..they were not kidding. You’ll spend thousands, 50 to $100 at a time!

-- Mike

View Elizabeth's profile


817 posts in 3167 days

#27 posted 11-14-2012 06:57 PM

I started with pens, in my college dorm room. A mini lathe is affordable, doesn’t require a lot of space, and a pen on a mandrel is unlikely to cause serious injury if basic safety precautions are taken, so it’s a good option for a beginner.

An initial outlay of a few hundred dollars got me going and lasted a long time. The only problem I had was how to sharpen my tools. A friend’s grandpa helped me with that.

I have sold pens and a few other similar items like keychains and kaleidoscopes but mostly I make them for gifts for people now. They are always well received.

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