Pen turning is a fun, addictive hobby. Here are the MINIMUM
basics that you need to get started:
* Lathe - Any woodturning lathe will do for pens. To choose a lathe, think about what other things you will make with it. For me, a variable speed knob
is a must-have feature.
IMPORTANT NOTE: When you get a lathe, pay attention to the taper size and headstock thread size. I recommend getting a lathe with the very common Morse Taper 2 (MT2), but a few lathes have MT1. Get a headstock thread size of 1 inch x 8 TPI (very common) or 1.25 inch by 8 TPI. Avoid 3/4 inch or any other non-common thread size. Pay attention to the taper and thread sizes when you buy a pen mandrel, a chuck, etc.
* Turning tools - high speed steel (HSS) or carbide or both. A three-piece carbide turning tool set might be a good start.
* Sharpening method - How will you sharpen those turning tools? (Carbide tips are usually replaced with sharp fresh ones.)
* Saw to cut pen blanks. A small hand saw is fine.
* Drilling method - A way to center and drill your pen blanks, and also to square the ends with the pen mill.
-> Drill press? Lathe? Hand drill with special jigs? I use the lathe, see below.
* Face shield.
* Dust mask.
* Maybe hearing protection. Some lathes can squeal or make other loud sounds. I wear hearing protection with most tools.
* Pen Kit. One per pen.
* Pen blank. One per pen. Start with wood. Look at the ends for grain. Whatever you see on the sides will be gone after you turn it.
* Drill to match the pen kit. There are several common sizes. The pen kit instructions will tell you the drill size you need for that pen.
* Bushings to match the pen kit. Pen kits in the same "family" can share bushings, but each kit "family" has its own bushings. Keep your bushing sets separate!! Sizes are similar and they are impossible to sort out later.
* One set of slimline bushings to use as spacers, and to use as bushings for making slimline pens.
* Pen mill - Uses a drill to mill/grind the ends so that they are square.
* Pen Mandrel.
* Pen press or other assembly tool. I use these, but they only fit MT2 lathes (the most common):
* Glue - Start with medium CA glue.
* Disposable gloves.
* Micro-mesh pads (9 pad set). They last nearly forever. I am still on my first set, and I have made over 70 pens. Hint: Cut the 3x4 inch pads into multiple sets; a better value than buying the 2x2 pads.
* Applicator for CA Finish. Paper towels are popular, but I use a thin sheet of craft foam cut into small squares.
* Rags. For wiping off sandpaper grit and micro-mesh grit on a stopped lathe
between sanding/polish steps, plus tiny bits of fabric for applying friction polish. I use cut up T-shirts.
* "Cover" - Use rags or plastic bags to cover and protect the lathe "ways" when you apply finish. Weigh it down with something to prevent it from getting sucked into the spinning pen blank.
The above recommendations assume that you will use the CA glue for gluing tubes inside the pen blanks AND also as a pen finish. Use the sandpaper, then wet micro-mesh pads in sequence to polish your CA-finished pen blanks to a bright, durable high-gloss shine.
Some people prefer a friction polish better than a CA finish. I like the natural look of the friction polishes better than the "plastic" CA finish, but the friction polishes are not as durable as a CA finish. Look for "Hut Crystal Coat" (okay, not great), Myland's, Shellawax, etc.
Rockler sells a Starter Pen Turning Kit with 3 slimline pen kits, 3 pen blanks, slimline bushings, a pen mandrel, a 7mm drill, a pen mill set, and medium CA glue in an organizer box:
OPTIONAL EXTRAS, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED:
* Plastic Bushings. Keeps CA finishes from sticking to your metal bushings. Worth it. I put them on before sanding time to keep from sanding the bushing steel and darkening the wood ends, but be careful not to round over the edges of your turned blanks!
* Mandrel Saver - Keeps your mandrel from bending, reduces chances of off-center turning, better overall.
I bought mine from Woodcraft, but can't find it there now. Search for "mandrel saver" on Amazon and other places.
* Spare brass pen tubes. Takes the stress out of making pens. If you mess one up anywhere before final assembly, you don't stress over it. Get out another piece of wood and a spare tube, no hassles.
OPTIONAL EXTRAS, MORE COSTLY, BUT RECOMMENDED:
* Calipers for measuring parts, measuring your pen turnings, and more. I like the digital calipers, but other people hate them. Whatever works for you.
* Four jaw chuck for drilling on the lathe, and also for all kinds of wood turning, especially bowls.
There are lots of choices. I like the Nova G3 (1 in x 8 TPI) and Nova SuperNova 2 (1.25 in x 8 TPI), but there are many other fine chucks.
-> This pen making Nova G3 chuck set is brand new on the market. I like it because it includes the pen jaws and a mandrel saver. It includes a woodworm screw and 50mm jaws for bowl turning. Make sure the chuck matches your lathe threads (1 inch x 8 TPI):
(I use a Nova G3 chuck set, but it came with different components. I bought the pen jaws and mandrel saver separately.)
* Jacobs Chuck for drilling on the lathe:
Works with the four-jaw chuck above to drill on the lathe. The Jacobs chuck holds the drill bit. I use pen jaws in a Nova chuck to turn the pen blank while I slowly crank in the drill bit in the Jacobs chuck on the tailstock. Get the Jacobs chuck and the taper that matches your lathe (probably MT2). This is what I use:
* This website has everything you need related to pen making. They are gentle with beginners. The folks there are almost as nice as the folks here in WoodworkingTalk. Maybe nicer. :-)
* Pen blanks are typically 3/4 x 3/4 x 5 inches or so. You can make a pen from nearly any wood, and many other materials as well (but start with wood). My point is that you don't have to buy ready-made pen blanks. You can take any board or branch or burl or scrap and cut a small piece of it for pen making. Before long, you will have more wood than you have time.