Is acrylic much harder to turn than wood?

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Forum topic by Razorburne posted 02-23-2015 04:27 AM 1364 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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41 posts in 1413 days

02-23-2015 04:27 AM

I have not yet turned anything on a lathe – I am reading and watching as much as I can as I finish saving the money to purchase everything to get started turning pens.

My question is whether acrylic blanks are much harder to turn than wood? Most recommend to start with wood pens and then move to acrylic, however, I have read a few comments where people suggest starting with acrylics, claiming it is a better starting point, because there is less to do in order to obtain a durable finish (micromesh with maybe plastic polish vs. sanding wood and then choosing between friction polish that likely doesn’t last long with all the consistent pen handling, and a CA finish that lasts longer but has a bigger learning curve and more potential problems for beginners).

The argument seemed logical to me but then again I have no experience, so I am asking anyone on the forums with an opinion to chime in. I would love to hear what you have to say about it.

8 replies so far

View jeff's profile


1080 posts in 3459 days

#1 posted 02-23-2015 09:10 AM

My experience is to start with wood because its easier to turn.Inexpensive Slim Line Pen kits are a great way to get started,this way you can get some practice with your lathe tools.Pick a few finishes you want to try,maybe a friction polish-there’s a few to choose from or even a CA finish-which is more challenging.YT has great video’s on pen turning and finishing.

-- Jeff,Tucson,Az.

View TheDane's profile


5423 posts in 3657 days

#2 posted 02-23-2015 02:54 PM

Acrylic turns nice and is pretty easy … once you know what you are doing.

Let’s be honest: With wood, if you mess it up you can turn the blank off the brass tube, drill and glue another blank and you are right back where you started.

If you mess up an acrylic blank, you can salvage the tubes but you have wasted a piece of acrylic that cost you some $$$.

I would start with some domestic hardwood blanks (walnut is nice), some slimline pen kits, and finish with O.B.’s Shine Juice (make it yourself … equal parts of clear shellac, boiled linseed oil, and denatured alcohol).

Check out Captain Eddie’s YouTube channel ( ).

-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View Woodbum's profile


812 posts in 3060 days

#3 posted 02-23-2015 04:16 PM

Practice on inexpensive materials first, such as Gerry has suggested, such as oak, ash, walnut etc. Not too pretty, but practice stock just the same. Order some extra 7mm tubes with your first slimline or other inexpensive kits and turn several blanks to the right length/diameter/profile before assembling any just to get the feel for it. Another good alternative is to start with a single blank kit in the beginning. Make certain your tools are SHARP and take LIGHT cuts. Learn to use your turning tools correctly. You really only need three: a roughing gouge, a parting tool and a skew. AH, the skew. The skew will scare the bejeezus out of you at first until you get the hang of it. A good alternative is a spindlemaster, which is a hybrid cross between a skew and a gouge. Develop good technique in the beginning and you won’t have to unlearn any bad habits. Barry Gross has some good info in books and video. There are numerous finishing options for both wood and acrylics etc, you just need to settle on one that is right for you to get your desired results. Once you get used to getting your blanks right, then you can move on to more attractive blanks(and more expensive) such as figured woods, burls, acrylics, and other alternative materials. Some materials are harder to shape right due to their hardness or grain structure. You just need to work up to the more complex kits and blanks. I like to work with alternative materials, but still love the feel of turning wood. Be sure to follow the instructions that come with your kits, especially concerning drilling and trimming blanks/tubes and during assembly. Try Is is from the International Association of Penturners. There are some great resources there.
CAUTION: you are entering into a highly addictive and potentially expensive endeavor. You will have a great time, and are only limited by your creativity Enjoy!

-- "Now I'm just another old guy wearing funny clothes"

View moke's profile


1175 posts in 2771 days

#4 posted 02-23-2015 06:34 PM

Woodbum “nailed it”....pun intended…..I would start by going to the big Box store and buy a 1×6 oak and cut it up into blanks and turn until you feel comfortable and are getting somewhat bored. As stated, buy extra tubes, that way if you mess up you can start over and move right on. Also as stated, you can just turn the wood off the tube if need be, but it is far easier to grab a new tube and move on. I buy 10” long tubes and cut it to the length I need , but cutting the tubes is a little tricky…the best way I found is to buy a little saw at HF, that is trully worthless for anything else:

I love acrylic and turn mostly that exclusively…I do segement in some wood for effect occasionally, though. There are many types of acrylics. Different acrylics turn differently. They only way to figure it out really is to jump right in. If you are pleased that you have a resonable control of your tools and methods. it’s time. Take LIGHT cuts!!

You will find that as you ask for advice you will get a miriad of opinions….different methods work for different people and practrice makes perfect. In my opinion I hate slim lines….and anyone I have mentored I have steered them away from starting with them…..they have the thinnest wall thickness of any of the pens. To believe that, one only needs to look at the thickness of the bushing, add in the tube thickness and see what you have left… with a normal size blank its a little like making a toothpick out of a telephone pole. Pretty much anything else is easier.

The last thing you need to consider is sharpening. I had problems at first with turning because my tools were not sharpened correctly. Research and find a method of sharpening that suits you, learn how to do it and then take light cuts with sharp tools. Again in sharpening there is many methods…do you research and get you tools sharp….some guys that do not want to sharpen use carbide insert tools…(easy wood type) they just replace the cutter. I think that there is a big world of a lot of different tools out there, and to strictly use those limits you, they have there place and I have and use a lot of them, but again, whatever works.
Just my .02

-- Mike

View Woodbum's profile


812 posts in 3060 days

#5 posted 02-23-2015 09:20 PM

Mike that little HF saw is exactly like one PSI sells for about $20+ more. The PSI saw has 4 tube cutting “jigs”, whatever the hell those are. Good find. I might try one out for tubes and other light metal cutting that always comes up in the shop. Thanks for the heads up

-- "Now I'm just another old guy wearing funny clothes"

View Arlin Eastman's profile

Arlin Eastman

4212 posts in 2555 days

#6 posted 02-23-2015 09:40 PM


Acrylics or Plastics are very chippy and a little harder on the tools but when tools are sharp it cuts very nicely.
I have done hundreds of pens with acrylics and hope to make my own sometime.

It does stink while turning them and one other thing. have some thin CA glue with it. When you get a chip in it or a crack you can just put CA in the crack making sure you squeeze it together tightly first and if you get a chip put some shavings in it and pack it tight and add CA and puts it down tighter with a stick.

Biggest thing with turning is HAVING FUN and not sweating messing things up. Biggest thing is SAFETY always.

The biggest thing I do is helping teach other Vets how to turn pens and lately small bowls, vases, and boxes which are really fun too,
Good luck

-- It is always the right time, to do the right thing.

View woodbutcherbynight's profile


4515 posts in 2403 days

#7 posted 02-24-2015 04:41 AM

Turning acrylic is more like machining metal. Patience and understanding of the material is required unless you like wasting money and giving yourself heartache for not making a heirloom quality project first time out. Start as other suggested, with some wood. Make a few dowels or odd shapes. Get a feel for how the wood reacts to the tools. You will use sandpaper at first, so what? Who is coming to check and grade you? While I do make pens and wine goblet bases I find more and more I use the lathe for odd jobs. During the summer I needed a door handle assembly for a 4 inch door to a shed. So I turned the shaft and the handle on the lathe with some scrap. Tomorrow I need a 1/2 spun cover for my airline pipe to cover the nasty hole the previous owner left.

-- Live to tell the stories, they sound better that way.

View gwilki's profile


200 posts in 1468 days

#8 posted 02-24-2015 04:21 PM

When you start with “acrylics”, keep in mind that, like wood, not all acrylics are equal. There are blanks made from poly resin, epoxy resin, truestone, acrylester, etc. Some are more chippy and fracture prone than others. As others have said, the key is sharp tools. Some say, “drill slow and turn fast”.

-- Grant Wilkinson, Ottawa ON

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