Tools and equipment needed for pen turning - Woodworking Talk - Woodworkers Forum
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post #1 of 19 Old 10-31-2019, 04:12 PM Thread Starter
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Tools and equipment needed for pen turning

I am trying to piece together everything I need to begin turning pens but without having some guidance, I am afraid I will be buying things that I don't need and not buying the things that I do need. Is there somewhere that you can buy a package that includes all the tools needed for turning pens, bottle stoppers, etc...
Thanks
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post #2 of 19 Old 10-31-2019, 04:43 PM
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Welcome to the forum! Add your first name to your signature line so we'll know what to call you.

I have friends that are pen turners and can check with them but you'll probably get replies here before I can check with my guys. Do you need a lathe, as well, or just the mandrels and chucks and things like that?

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post #3 of 19 Old 10-31-2019, 07:16 PM
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Pen turning is a fun, addictive hobby. Here are the MINIMUM basics that you need to get started:

GENERAL:
* 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 MAKING:
* 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):
https://www.woodcraft.com/products/l...-adapters-2-mt

SUPPLIES:
* Sandpaper.
* 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:
https://www.rockler.com/starter-pen-turning-kit

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!
https://www.rockler.com/non-stick-pe...-for-ca-finish
* 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):
https://www.rockler.com/nova-g3-chuc...ndle-1-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:
https://www.rockler.com/lathe-chuck-and-tapers-chuck

EXTRA HINTS:
* 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. :-)
https://www.penturners.org

* 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.
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post #4 of 19 Old 11-01-2019, 01:09 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks for all the info. I have the 10x18 Central Machinery lathe and it is MT2 and 1" 8 tpi. I have an 8 piece HSS Woodworking Lathe Chisel Set and just bought a Sorby Toolmaster with 4 interchangeable carbide tips. As far as the rest goes, I'll read over everything again and come up with a shopping list.

Mark
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post #5 of 19 Old 11-01-2019, 02:42 AM
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Most of my list was stuff you have at home like sandpaper and rags and stuff. That Rockler kit has everything you need to make three slimline pens except:

* A way to drill the pen blank. The problem is lining up the pen blank so you can drill very straight through the middle of end grain wood. (You provide a holder, plus a drill press or guided handheld drill ... or use chucks on the lathe.)
* A way to mill the pen blank, using the included pen mill. (You provide a drill press or electric drill.)
* Sandpapers in assorted grits and polishers (Micro-mesh) for a CA finish.
* A way to assemble the pen (pressing the pen kit parts into the finished blanks).

https://www.rockler.com/starter-pen-turning-kit

Check out the Penturners.org website. There is a lot of information there, including many tutorials. Trust me, they can help you get going, and give you honest opinions about what works and what is a waste of money.
https://www.penturners.org

I hate to mention Penn State Industries. There are better sources for pen making stuff, but they are very large and their catalog is very broad. Their pen kits are mediocre, but I use them anyway, mostly because they are so convenient to purchase at the local Rockler store. Look at their website to see the wide variety of stuff they sell, but also look at ExoticBlanks.com, Woodturningz, and others.
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post #6 of 19 Old 11-01-2019, 10:42 AM
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Credit card with a high limit! The lathe is the about the cheapest thing as accessories, tools, etc. as listed will add up to some big bucks. I suggest you also look at www.woodturner.org for more info on turning. I joined AAW plus joined a local chapter- both are worth the $$$, or should I say, investment. One good turn deserves another!
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post #7 of 19 Old 11-01-2019, 03:34 PM Thread Starter
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I really do appreciate all the information. I am starting a Go Fund Me page if ya'll would like to contribute...hahahaha.
I thought my jeep was breaking the bank but looks like woodturning is gonna have it's turn also. With the info and the links provided here, I feel more confident that what I do buy now will actually be the right stuff. I'm getting ready to check out the rockler, penturners and the other websites y'all listed. I feel pretty certain that I will be back asking more questions though. Until then, thanks and have a great day.

Mark
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post #8 of 19 Old 11-06-2019, 05:29 AM
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This 3-piece Rockler carbide pen turning tools can cut through soft wood, hard wood, stabilized wood and acrylics with ease. They are designed for small projects like pen turning, so I do not recommend them for larger projects. If making pens, rings, bottle stoppers, letter openers, etc. is your intention for these tools, you won't go wrong purchasing this set.
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post #9 of 19 Old 11-06-2019, 09:04 AM
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Talking

Quote:
Originally Posted by taurus709slim View Post
I really do appreciate all the information. I am starting a Go Fund Me page if ya'll would like to contribute...hahahaha.
I thought my jeep was breaking the bank but looks like woodturning is gonna have it's turn also. With the info and the links provided here, I feel more confident that what I do buy now will actually be the right stuff. I'm getting ready to check out the rockler, penturners and the other websites y'all listed. I feel pretty certain that I will be back asking more questions though. Until then, thanks and have a great day.

Mark
Check's in the mail.
JEEP= Just Empty Every Pocket!
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post #10 of 19 Old 11-06-2019, 12:12 PM
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I turned two pens a couple days ago.

The dragon pen is a gift for a young family member who is into dragons and has a birthday coming up. The blank is "Nuclear Grape" inlace acrylester. Spouse chose it to match the dragon pen kit. I have never seen a real dragon, so I had to rely on Spouse to get the colors right.

Note: Inlace acrylester can be challenging for beginners. If you want to turn plastic (acrylic) pens, do a bunch of wood pens first, then real acrylic, and then try inlace acrylester. My first inlace acrylester pen took three tries. I had to go back and buy another blank. Twice. Yeah, I am stubborn. Once you get it figured out, it isn't difficult. Plastic blanks take me about three times longer to turn than wood, and they are much messier due to static cling of the plastic ribbons and dust that come off. When polished, they look real perty.

The Duraclick EDC (every day carry) pen was a disaster in every way during construction, but it eventually worked out. The look is very bland - the blank came out of a fallen branch from a Brazilian pepper tree in our backyard. I turned a sample of the branch six months ago, and it was stunning in color, texture and grain. This pen came from the same branch, and it is as plain as can be. Sometimes all the "pretty" goes away as you turn the pen. Here is the detailed story: https://www.penturners.org/threads/162275/

Sources, FYI:
https://www.pennstateind.com/store/PKDRAAB.html
https://www.rockler.com/nuclear-grap...ster-pen-blank
https://www.pennstateind.com/store/PKEDCDBR.html

Photos:
* Dragon pen in antique brass, made with Nuclear Grape inlace acrylester blank.
* Original test turning and Duraclick EDC brass pen, both made from the same branch of a Brazilian pepper tree.
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post #11 of 19 Old 11-06-2019, 01:01 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tool Agnostic View Post
Pen turning is a fun, addictive hobby. Here are the MINIMUM basics that you need to get started:

GENERAL:
* 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 MAKING:
* 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):
https://www.woodcraft.com/products/l...-adapters-2-mt

SUPPLIES:
* Sandpaper.
* 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:
https://www.rockler.com/starter-pen-turning-kit

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!
https://www.rockler.com/non-stick-pe...-for-ca-finish
* 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):
https://www.rockler.com/nova-g3-chuc...ndle-1-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:
https://www.rockler.com/lathe-chuck-and-tapers-chuck

EXTRA HINTS:
* 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. :-)
https://www.penturners.org

* 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.
This post needs to be saved so others can read and learn from it. This is the best (how to do it) post I have ever seen.
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post #12 of 19 Old 11-07-2019, 04:13 AM Thread Starter
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My grocery list of supplies is supposed to arrive today. I'm excited to give pen turning a try. There is an abundance of knowledge in this thread that will be very helpful when I go hibernate in my backyard shop today. I like the idea of the shorter tool set too. I'm sure that will be on my next list of things to buy.....and that dragon pen looks really nice. I have a jeep buddy of mine that is into pirates. I'll have to see if I can find something with a pirate theme like that. Regardless of how my first slimline pens turn out, I'll post some pictures.

Mark
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post #13 of 19 Old 01-17-2020, 11:53 AM
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Are pencil kits available? What about the quality of the pen? Does it compete with Cross and Parker? Where to buy? Do you recommend drilling... using a nova chuck instead of a drill press?

Gary
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post #14 of 19 Old 01-17-2020, 02:02 PM
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Originally Posted by gmercer_48083 View Post
Are pencil kits available? What about the quality of the pen? Does it compete with Cross and Parker? Where to buy? Do you recommend drilling... using a nova chuck instead of a drill press?
Are pencil kits available?
Yes. Pencil kits are available, usually designed to match an existing pen. I have made quite a few pen and pencil sets. Most pencils are 0.7 mm, a few are 2 mm (fat) for carpenters, and there are rare exceptions.

What about the quality of the pen? Does it compete with Cross and Parker?
Some pen lovers would grimace at your characterization of Cross and Parker as "quality." Pens are like pocket knives and jewelry - the sky is the limit for collectors and fans.

Pen kit quality varies from poor to pretty good. Quality issues can appear in:
* The consistency, precision, and the quality of fine details on the metal parts.
* The quality of the plating and finish on the metal parts - thick? durable? epoxy coated? etc. The real question is "Will it wear off or change color in use?" Some sellers guarantee that their plating won't wear off, but how do you enforce it in real life?
* The pen extension and retraction mechanism. Some are twist, some are click, and some are "other." Some mechanisms are plastic, some are metal. Some click mechanisms have poor reputations, others have very good reputations, like the SKM-88. Some clickers are loud, others silent. Some require considerably more force than others.
* The quality of the pen refill. The refills that come in kits are notorious for skipping, leaking, scratching, and other issues. Some pen makers replace the kit refills with higher quality ones, especially sellers with reputations to uphold.
* The "form versus function" question. I think that some pen kits are really intended as art for collectors. I don't think that people expect to use them as everyday writing instruments. As such, the focus is on the exterior design, not a quality mechanism.
* Fountain pen kits do not have a good reputation for quality. Fountain pens have their own community, and they are very much into various nibs, nib tuning, inks, etc. etc. etc. People who make quality fountain pens replace parts and go through extra steps to ensure a quality pen. Fountain pens are high maintenance to their owners, too.

Where to buy?
Keep in mind that the more different kinds of pen kits that you buy, the more bushings you will need to match those kits. That's why I limit my purchases to a couple suppliers and don't try kits from all over. I buy most of my pen kits and supplies from my local Rockler store. They have a wide range of pen kits and products, and I save on shipping. I also buy from Penn State, and I note that many of my Rockler-bought kits are from Penn State. (... but not all.) Woodcraft has stores that sell pen kits, too.

The pen kits I buy vary in quality. They work for me, but other pen makers prefer higher-end pen kits or make "kitless" pens.

I have not made their kits, but Berea and ExoticBlanks have good reputations for quality and support.

Do you recommend drilling... using a nova chuck instead of a drill press?
Yes. I use a Nova G3 chuck with the Nova pen jaws on the headstock, and a Jacobs Chuck to hold the drill bit in the tailstock. So far, it is the best way that I have found for drilling pen blanks centered and straight. It is much more consistent than my drill press.

Photos:
* A Long Wood Pen/Pencil Set in Zebrawood and a Slimline Pen/Pencil Set in Bocote.
* A Slimline Pro Pen/Pencil Set in Kryptonite Glow Stonez.

Links:
https://www.rockler.com/longwood-cli...l-hardware-kit
https://www.rockler.com/slimline-cli...e-kit-24k-gold
Rockler sells the Slimline Pro pen, but not the matching pencil. I got it here:
https://www.pennstateind.com/store/PK-PCLXX.html

Do a web search for "pen kits" and you will find Berea, ExoticBlanks, and others. Remember to price in the cost of bushings before you buy too many "make only one of these" pen kits.
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post #15 of 19 Old 01-18-2020, 09:06 AM
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Tool Agnostic, Thank You for a plethora of wonderful incite into pen making. Sounds like a fair investment initially... but fun making various pens. I take it different size drill bits are also required also. I want to thank you for your very detailed descriptions...they have helped greatly (since I am a novice) to help me understand what is involved. It seems that pen making is very popular, and when I have been at woodcraft... someone is always buying pen blanks for that purpose.

Gary
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post #16 of 19 Old 01-18-2020, 02:04 PM
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Originally Posted by gmercer_48083 View Post
Tool Agnostic, Thank You for a plethora of wonderful incite into pen making. Sounds like a fair investment initially... but fun making various pens. I take it different size drill bits are also required also. I want to thank you for your very detailed descriptions...they have helped greatly (since I am a novice) to help me understand what is involved. It seems that pen making is very popular, and when I have been at woodcraft... someone is always buying pen blanks for that purpose.
You're welcome. Pen making can be a lot of fun. You can make truly wonderful, unique gifts, and the appreciation of the recipients is obvious and wonderful to share. I see my pens being used by the people I know, and I like that.

Sounds like a fair investment initially... but fun making various pens.
Pen making can be inexpensive, if you stick with low cost kits and learn to make them without the fancy accessories. Our woodworking club gives away Slimline-type kits that they buy in bulk, plus lots of nice wood. We return them as finished pens to be donated to veterans and active duty military. Many clubs do that.

This pen costs $1.67 per pen kit. Not the highest quality mechanism on the planet, but a decent, solid, working pen. I have seen amazing pens made by other club members with the "Funline" kit. Some of the members turn in 50 or 100 pens a month, and they do amazing work!
https://www.pennstateind.com/store/PKSLFUN99.html

My primary objection to the Slimline/Funline pens are the Cross type refills they use. They don't hold a lot of ink. If you write a lot, you will replace Cross refills fairly often, and start wishing for pens that use Parker style refills. Gel ink refills run out much more quickly too, but the writing flows more like a fountain pen.

The plating on the cheap kits tends to wear off with frequent use, too. That's one difference between cheap kits and better kits.

I take it different size drill bits are also required also.
Different pens require different drill bit sizes, but there are four common drill sizes: 7 mm, Letter "O" / 8 mm, 10 mm, and 27/64 inch. To that, I would add: 3/8 inch, which I have used fairly often.

Pen kit instructions always tell you the drill size you need. A few pen kits require different drills for top and bottom. Before you buy, download the pen kit instructions from the seller's website to learn which drill and bushings you need.

I have the fancy Fisch pen drills, but I am not convinced that they are better than other drills. They are long, and if a wood fiber catches on the tip of the drill, it can "twirl" as you drill. A pre-punch helps, and I bought a set of center drills (at Harbor Freight) to try making starter holes first, to see if they improve my drilling. I get by reasonably well, with a Spring Tools punch and the Fisch drills. I am eager to try the HF center drills to start my holes to see it they improve my drilling.

I have been at woodcraft... someone is always buying pen blanks for that purpose
The common, popular size for pen blanks is 3/4 x 3/4 x 5 inches. You can make Slimline pens from thinner stock, and a few rare fat pen kits may need oversize blanks.

In general, people look for hardwood pen blanks with interesting grain. Remember to look at the ends of the pen blank for the grain pattern. Whatever you see on the outside of the pen blank will be gone when you turn it off. In general, pen turners avoid softwoods and "creamy" woods without a lot of grain interest.

In general, I don't buy wood pen blanks, other than special ones (see below):

* Rockler sells large hardwood boards in the back of the store.
I do not know if it is a general policy across Rockler, but at our local store you can buy a cut off end of a board at the same price per board foot as the tag, as long as you leave them with 48 inches (4 feet) or more to sell to someone else. I will buy a 6 inch or 12 inch piece of board end at the "board foot" price and make it into inexpensive pen blanks. If you have a bandsaw or good handsaw skills, the kerf is thinner and you can make more blanks. Otherwise, use a miter saw or a table saw.

The only problem with that trick came when I bought a scroll saw for my spouse. Suddenly a lot of my pen blank boards are turning into scroll saw projects, like the zebrawood zebras for a Noah's ark toy.

* You can get great pen blanks from the cutoffs of other projects, and from your friends' projects.

* You can get pen blanks from old furniture.
I made pens for my family from my parents' pecan china cabinet base that would have otherwise gone to the landfill.

* You can get great pen blanks from downed trees and branches.
Cut them into oversize pen blanks, cover the ends with wax, and let them dry for a few months. Some will crack, some not. Some will be stunning on the inside. Some will be stunning on the outside, but when you turn them down, you turn off all the "pretty" and get very plain wood. Down wood is like a box of chocolates. DAMHIK.

* Trade with friends.
I have a nice mix of hardwood blanks through friends. A few are old-stock rare or endangered hardwoods from retired woodworkers. A few friends like to make pen blanks with vacuums and pressure and epoxy and resin and stuff. They make too many and give some to their friends, too. I have a few with birdseed, palm cuttings, etc.

* Another source for pen blanks are the people at penturners.org.
Most people there are decent, but there are scammers. Don't buy from new members. Do some research first. I bought a box of mixed wood pen blanks from another member there. It was a great value, but I regret the purchase, only because I already have so many pen blanks on hand.

Pretty soon, you will have many more pen blanks than time.
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post #17 of 19 Old 01-18-2020, 02:09 PM
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Special Pen Blanks:
As you see above, I don't buy many ordinary wood pen blanks. They are expensive for what you get, and there are so many other, better sources. Here are few special, unusual pen blanks. I buy them because they have a story and are fun to give:

* Plastic / acrylic pen blanks.
Some people make their own, but I buy the commercial ones. In general, I prefer wood, but a few plastic blanks tickle my fancy. I like the Glow Stonez, which glow in the dark. I have bought acrylic or inlace acrylester pen blanks for special pens. I like the pink acrylic for breast cancer awareness pens, for example. Acrylic is easier to turn than inlace acrylester, which is harder and more brittle.
https://www.rockler.com/shop?w=glow+stonez
I really like the Kryptonite Glow Stonez blank, because the tiny gold flakes inside go well with a gold pen kit:
https://www.rockler.com/kryptonite-g...onez-pen-blank
https://www.rockler.com/pink-acrylic-acetate-pen-blank
Challenging, brittle, but pretty: https://www.rockler.com/inlace-acryl...ographic-black

Personal note on plastic / acrylic pen blank terminology:
Many people call all plastic pen blanks "acrylic". Some plastic pen blanks are made from acrylic, but many are not. A few purists are trying to get everyone to say "Plastic Pen Blanks" instead of "Acrylic Pen Blanks." I do not feel strongly about it one way or the other, but try to be supportive. I write "plastic/acrylic" to join in, but avoid confusion. When the terminology settles down, I will follow whatever terminology others seem to be using.

* Olive (and Carob) Wood from Holy Places.
You can find olive wood everywhere, and it makes beautiful wood pens. When I make Faith Hope Love pens for religious people, I like to use "Bethlehem Olive Wood" (BOW). BOW comes with a certificate certifying that the pen comes from Bethlehem in the Holy Land. (You can also find "Holy Land" and "Jerusalem" olive wood from their respective areas.) The certificate is just a printed card, and there is no real proof that the olive wood did not come from somewhere else, like Italy. Still, the certificate card makes the gift special for the recipient. You can also find carob wood from the same sources, but it tends to be rather plain. After buying a few individual pen blanks, I bought a 1 pound box of cutoffs, which came with many certificate cards. I am pleased with what I got - it was an excellent value:
https://www.rockler.com/bethlehem-olive-wood-pen-blank
https://www.rockler.com/bethlehem-carob-wood-pen-blank
1 pound box:
https://www.pennstateind.com/store/WXPR01BP.html

* Ancient wood pen blanks.
You can find pen blanks that are thousands of years old. Trees fall into bogs and are preserved by the swamp, undergoing the first stages of fossilization. Many of them come with certificate cards that tell the story of the ancient wood. Bog oak comes from many countries - England, Ireland, Russia, and other sources in Europe. Bog oak is typically 1000 to 8000 years old. Ancient kauri wood from New Zealand reaches the limits of carbon dating - 30,000 to 50,000 years old.
https://www.rockler.com/certified-an...-oak-pen-blank
https://www.rockler.com/ancient-kauri-pen-blank

Special Ancient Irish Bog Oak
I purchased bog oak directly from an Irish seller, who appears only once in a while at penturners.org. I also bought a few blanks from him on eBay about a year ago. (I just checked - he is not there now!) What I like about that Irish bog oak is that it was scientifically dated at a university in Ireland, based on the tree ring spacing (dendrochronology). It is nearly 6500 years old. The full page certificate was a lab report that was not suitable for a gift, so I designed and printed my own certificate cards to include with the pens. When he sells out of current stock, he just stops responding. I think he is out of them, until next time, if there is a next time. Most other Irish bog oak and other bog oak have a wide date range. They are not scientifically dated.
https://www.penturners.org/threads/i...rs-old.162315/

Special Pen Blanks I Have Never Tried:

* Historic or Memorable Sources:
Some people are able to find wood from repairs of historic places and other sources of cultural interest. Museums restore or replace floors and other wood structures for example. I have heard of wood pens from historic places like Mt. Vernon or Monticello, the decks from famous Navy ships, or replaced wood floors from old basketball courts at famous universities, for example. Some people are very persistent or very well-connected to get small samples to turn into pens.

* Mammoth Tusk, etc.
You can get small quantities of fossilized mammoth bones and tusks for making into pens. They are rare, expensive, and very difficult to work. Expect failure, and an expensive one at that.

* Cordite, Fordite, other "-ites"
The special baked-on paint that they use for manufacturing automobiles builds up in layers on the floor until it gets so thick it gets in the way. They have to scrape off big chunks of layered, hard, baked-on pain. The layers are very colorful and can make very interesting pens. Cordite = Corvettes. Fordite = Fords. You get the idea. They are rare, expensive, hard to work, but obtainable.

* Other Unusual Materials
Basically, anything turnable.
Corian (used for countertops): is very popular and relatively easy to obtain. It is just another kind of plastic, like acrylic. Very popular because it comes in so many patterns and colors. Watch out, it melts!
Old plastics:Casein, for example. Hard to find, smelly, but looks very pretty. I might try a plastic fake version someday, because I like the look.
Ebonite: Basically, hard rubber.
Etc.: If you can turn it, then somebody made it into a pen.

Off topic, but related:
SOURCES:
Sorry for using so many Rockler links, but that's my local store where I buy stuff. Rockler's search engine makes it easy to find links. You can find similar products at Woodcraft and many other sellers. Do web searches on the product names, like "Kryptonite Glow Stones", and you will find other great sources. For example, the Kryptonite Glow Stonez that I buy at Rockler have a Woodturningz sticker on them, so I assume that Woodturningz is the original manufacturer or importer:
https://www.google.com/search?q=kryptonite+glow+stonez
http://www.woodturningz.com/Glow_Stonez_-_Kryptonite-1
https://www.rockler.com/kryptonite-g...onez-pen-blank

Last edited by Tool Agnostic; 01-18-2020 at 02:49 PM.
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post #18 of 19 Old 01-18-2020, 04:43 PM
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post #19 of 19 Old 01-22-2020, 01:01 PM
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I just received an email from Rockler this morning, 22 January 2020, and several of the pen turning tools and gadgets that I mentioned above are on sale. I am posting this only because this thread has been active, some of the pen turning items I mentioned are on sale, I just learned about it. The sale expires on 30 January 2020.

IMPORTANT: You can find the same tools from other sources, and you can find other brands of tools that will do the same jobs. Study, learn, shop around. Feel free to ignore the rest of this post.

Turning Tools:
* 30% off the full size carbide turning tools. They are the ones that I use, which are large for pens, but good overall. $80 for each tool, on sale.
https://www.rockler.com/rockler-prom...ing-tool-promo
* NOTE: The in-between size "Mini" carbide turning tools are NOT on sale!
* 30% off the Pen-Turning carbide turning tools - this is the SMALLEST turning set, with a high speed steel (HSS) parting tool, NOT a carbide diamond tool. $100 for the 3 piece set on sale.
https://www.rockler.com/carbide-pen-...ol-3-piece-set

Starter Pen Turning Kit Set:
* $60 ($10 off) for the starter pen turning kit. Three Slimline pen kits, 3 wood pen blanks, a drill, a pen mandrel, glue, a pen mill, etc.
https://www.rockler.com/starter-pen-turning-kit

Nova G3 Chucks - Make sure it fits your lathe! - 1 x 8 TPI (G3):
* Nova G3 Chuck and Pen Turning Bundle WITH A $50 GIFT CARD for $179. This is a great collection - G3 chuck, Pen Plus jaws, Mandrel Saver, and woodworm screw and 2 inch jaws for bowl turning.
https://www.rockler.com/nova-g3-chuc...ndle-1-x-8-tpi
* Nova G3 Reversible Chuck Bundle with 3 Jaw Sets for $140 on sale - This is the Nova chuck set that I have. More jaws for bowls and other projects, but the jaws are NOT specific to pen making. Does NOT include Pen Plus jaws or a mandrel saver.
https://www.rockler.com/nova-30th-an...-sets-and-case

(A standalone SuperNova 2 Insert Chuck is also on sale, but you must buy an insert adapter for it. If I had a lathe with a 1.25 inch x 8 TPI headstock, I would rather have the SuperNova 2, 3 jaw set with case. It is not on sale.)

* Pen Press / Drill Centering Jig - which I do not recommend:
The Rockler pen press is on sale at $90, but I do not recommend it. It is oversize and overpriced for what it does. You have to build your own drawer; they couldn't bother to toss in a cheap plastic one. It adds centering jaws for drilling on a drill press, which you won't see on other pen assembly products, but won't be needed if you drill on the lathe.
Not recommended, but on sale: https://www.rockler.com/pen-press-drilling-jig

I recommend that you buy one of the pen assembly/disassembly tools from Penn State or Woodcraft, or consider the lathe pen press adapters from Woodcraft that I use, MT2 only and not on sale:
https://www.woodcraft.com/products/l...-adapters-2-mt

Additional notes about Rockler:
I favor Rockler because they are my local woodworking store. I have observed that Rockler rotates sales through their inventory, featuring different tools each month, and also "flash sales." If you want something from them and are willing to wait for it, it will usually go on sale sometime during the year, often more than once. This particular sale is not special, but I noticed that it features more than a few of the pen making tools that I mentioned above.
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