Pen Turning Basics - Woodworking Talk - Woodworkers Forum
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post #1 of 3 Old 11-30-2012, 06:36 PM Thread Starter
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Pen Turning Basics

I posted a reply to another thread that took me nearly an hour to type. Since the same question comes up so often, I thought putting that info in its own thread for future reference would be useful. Please feel free to add more information to this thread that would be helpful to a new pen turner, just keep it on the subject of basic pen turning. Were not going to go into TBC and advanced pen making in this one. This is just to help new people get started in the fun hobby of pen turning!! Sawdust, maybe you could link your pen turning tutorial here as well.

Needed supplies for pen making.

Pen componants or kits: I dont really like the word kit because it sounds like you open the package and put the thing together and whala, a pen. Pen making can be almost that simple but it can also be very involved and challenging. Componants can be purchased through many venders. Some are better than others. I try not to purchase any kits made in China. Taiwan made kits are a lot better qaulity. I personally like Berea Hardwoods for ball point kits such as the Sierra and Cigar, etc and I like CSUSA for rollerballs and fountains such as Jr. Gent II's and Statesman's, etc. Exotic blanks can be a one stop shop for multiple suppliers as he carries most of the more popular componant sets, many times for less money. One place I will say to never buy componants unless they are on sale for a huge markdown is WoodCraft. They sell Berea kits and sell them for twice the cost of Berea and Exotics. Also, stay away from cheap platings like gold, even what some call "upgrade gold". Gold will wear very fast and if it is a pen that you sold, the customer is going to bring it back. I prefer plating that last such as titaniums and rhodium. If you want a gold plating, always opt for titanium gold. Chrome is also an excellent plating and is very inexpensive.

Mandrel: The mandrel is just your means of mounting your blanks to the lathe to be turned. They come in a couple differnt configurations and sizes. I like the adjustable mandrels or pro mandrels as some call them. This allows you to shorten the shaft length when doing single barrel pens. A shorter shaft helps with flex and vibration. Mandrels are sold in an A size and a B size. The A mandrel is standard. I havnt come across a situation where I have ever needed a B mandrel

Live center: Your probably thingking, well my lathe came with one of those so I'm good!! Not quite. The one that came stock with your lathe is no good for pen making. You need a 60 degree live center to match the 60 degress recess in the end of the mandrel. Your stock live center isnt 60 degrees and will allow a little movement or vibration. Another option is to get a "Mandrel Saver" type live center. This is what I prefer. It eliminates the need for the nut on the madrel and eliminates the need to adjust the mandrel for different pen lengths. It also keeps all the pressure on the blanks rather than on the mandrel so you get no mandrel flex. Theres a few of these available. I use the one from PSI but there was a thread recently that reviewed a couple of these.

Bushings: Bushings are used to hold then pen on the mandrel and to give a general referance to the finished diameter of the pen. Every kit will have its own set of bushings. Buy a means to store them in an organized way because you will aquire alot of them. Like was mentioned by another poster, I use a Plano tackle box divider thingy to store my bushings and alot of other pen supplies. When you buy componants, buy the bushings with it. I like to buy bushing from the same place I get my componants because they can vary in size and quality from place to place. So, I'm being clear, if you buy 10 Sierra kits, you dont need 10 sets of bushings. You need one set of Sierra bushings. You will need a set of bushings for every differnt type of pen that you want to make.

Center drilling vice: You need a way to hold you blank while drilling. This dosnt mean that you need a $100 specialized center drilling vice allthough some of them are very nice and I will be getting one as soon as I can put one in the budget. I currently use a home made vice that is just two scraps of 2X4 with a vertical V notch that is tightened with 2 bolts and wing nuts to hold the blank. It took all of 5 minutes to make and has served me well for nearly a year. A wooden screw clamp can also be used to hold a blank for drilling. Blanks can also be drilled on the lathe but that requires a special chuck on the lathe and a drill chuck on the tail stock and were covering basics here so I wont go into that.

Drill bits: Just about any drill bit can be used for drilling blanks but buying a standard set of drill bits will be pretty useless for pen making. The most common drill sizes I use are 7mm, 10mm, 10.5mm, 12.5mm, 25/64, 27/64 and 3/8. The 3/8 bit is the only one I would call a standard size but its still not even standard, its a long flute bit used for drilling a 4" blank for a single tube long click pen. I buy my bits like I buy my bushing, as needed when I start making a new style kit. Personally, I like WoodRiver pen makers bits from WoodCraft. They have a flute design that allows the chips to be pulled up out of the blank fast. They are a brad point bit though and many dont like those. If your going to be using standard bits, I recommend using a center drill first.

Pen mill: You need a way to square the ends of your blanks after you glue the tubes in. I used to use a disk sander and a squaring jig. This method works really well provided you can get your sander to hold a prfectly true square. Mine wouldnt. I think if you want to use the disk sander method, you almost need to have a sander dedicated to this process. The other option and most common method is a pen mill. I cant speak to what mill is best as I just started using a mill. I have the Whiteside mill and I love it. It should also be noted that you need a pilot shaft specific to the tube size of your pen, so , when you start making a new style pen, youll also have to be sure and buy a specific size pilot shaft. Some people turn a sleeve to fit the differnt tubes, I just prefer the proper pilot shaft.

Pen press: You need a way to put that pen together right? Pen componants are press fit. You can use a quick clamp or one of a thousand other ways to press your parts together. The biggest thing here is to have a way to press them together square. If your press isnt sqaure it can give you trouble and damage your tubes and blanks. I personally use a little press I made to fit in my drill press. It costs me a couple bucks to make and works incredibly well. I have an actual pen press but hate it, my drill press works so much better. The first few pens I made, I pressed together with my vice on my work bench so there are many ways to accomplish this task without buying a $50 pen press that if your like me, you wont use anyway.

CA glue or epoxy: Your tubes are glued into the blank with either CA glue or epoxy. Some swear by one while others swear by the other. I wont go into that debate, I'll just say if your going to use CA be careful with your tube and blank prep. Ive read many stories of glue failures but never a story about an epoxy failure, just sayin. I sell my pens so I dont want to deal with returns, ever. I use Loctite 5 minute epoxy. Ive never had a failure and the wait time is similar to CA so it dosnt add time to my process. Its also much cheaper than CA. IMO, CA is a finish. I use popsickle sticks or craft sticks to mix my epoxy and use the other end of the stick to insert my tube. I dont buy into the "tube insertion tool" allthough some people use them and like them.

I think this just about covers the basics assuming you allready have a lathe, turning tools and wood. There are other methods that require other tools but this will get you started. Hope this helps!!

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post #2 of 3 Old 11-30-2012, 06:49 PM
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A bit more detail about mandrels and bushings ...

While BassBlaster was typing all that, I was trying to draw a mandrel and a couple of different types of bushings so you get a picture of what it's about.

The mandrel taper fits into the headstock of your lathe (assuming you have a lathe with a Morse Taper -- I've seen MT#1 and MT#2 mandrels available from a number of suppliers).

If your lathe doesn't have a Morse Taper (for example, it has the Shopsmith style 5/8ths driver) you might still be able to get a mandrel that fits -- or an adapter that makes it possible to use one of the "standard" types.

The bushings are specific to the pen type that you're making (although some pen types share bushings, this cannot be assumed).

The ones on the mandrel in this drawing are typical for Slimline kits. They have an internal diameter equal to the mandrel diameter, which is equal to the internal diameter of the brass tubes supplied in the Slimline pen kit.

The external diameter of these bushings is your target -- turn the wood down to that diameter and it should match the pen components without a step at the join.

The two bushings above the mandrel are examples of Sierra (also called Wall St, Mesa, and Gatsby depending on the supplier).

These bushings have an internal diameter that matches the mandrel, so they don't slop around.

The smaller external diameter fits inside the brass tubes that come with the Sierra kit -- it's a bigger tube than the Slimline kit, so the tube would flop around if it didn't have this support from the bushings.

The larger external diameter is once again the target for you to turn the blank to so that it matches up with the pen components.

There can also be a knurled knob that screws onto the end of the mandrel to hold things tight, or you can get a "mandrel saver" which is a type of live center with a hole through it, the end of the mandrel slides into the hole and then the saver pushes the bits tight as you turn the tailstock handle.
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Last edited by duncsuss; 11-30-2012 at 07:18 PM.
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post #3 of 3 Old 11-30-2012, 07:11 PM
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Here's a link to a step by step tutorial I did a while back.

That bowl was perfect right up until that last cut...
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