According to just about anyone who’s ever tried it, the “fun part” of the pen making process is watching the smooth cylindrical shape of the pen barrel emerge from a chunk of hardwood – or from one of an ever-increasing array of man-made pen blank materials. As for the rest – boring the blank and installing the hardware – anything that speeds up the process and prevents mistakes is a worth adopting posthaste. Rockler’s recently released Pen Press/Drilling Jig, we think, fits the bill exactly.
As all pen turners know, a successful project starts with an accurately drilled blank. And for that, you need some way to hold the pen blank securely in a vertical position on the drill press, and accurately center it under the bit. Typically, this involves some sort of shop-built jig and/or elaborate clamping arrangement; a workable solution, but not always the most convenient or reliable.
The Pen Press/Drilling Jig, on the other hand, is made specifically for the purpose of holding a pen blank under the drill press quill, and designed to make lining things up as easy as possible. Notches in both jaws hold the blank at the center of the jig, and in a guaranteed perpendicular-to-the-table position. Along with that, the jaws move toward the center of the jig, instead of a single jaw moving toward a fixed end. Together, the notched jaws and their self-centering action make lining up the bore a one shot deal. Whether you’ve got one blank to drill, or a stack of fifty, once the jig is centered and secured to the drill press table, you can rest assured that each and every bore will be exactly centered, regardless of slight variances in the size of the blanks. The jig even comes with three sacrificial over-drill blanks that fit into the base of the unit and prevent blow-out at the exit point of the bore.
With the pen barrel turned, sanded to perfection, finished and shined up with your favorite polish, you’re ready to press in the tip and the transmission. Here, the down and dirty method is to use a bench vice, or even a clamp. The problem with doing things this way is that a small amount of pressure in the wrong direction can turn a delicate, thin-walled barrel instantly into piece of scrap. The Pen Press helps out by providing an easy way to center the pressure accurately, and to apply it at a steady, consistent rate. Both of the jig’s jaws have centering countersinks, which make it just about impossible to crack the frail edges of the barrel with off center pressure, or to install parts at the wrong depth.
Going beyond the basics, a couple of easy customizations can turn the out-of-the-box Pen Press into a full-on pen turning station. The jig comes pre-drilled for easy attachment to a custom sub-base. If you make the base close in size to your drill press table, clamping it in place with a couple of C-clamps will only take a few minutes.
But for proud owners of the Rockler Drill Press Table, there’s an even slicker solution. With a couple T-blots and knobs, you can take advantage of the T-tracks in the drill press table surface, and make aligning the jig a ridiculously simple matter. You’ll only need to get the pen press aligned once – when you attach it to the sub-base. After that, the T-tracks and a couple of registration marks on the sub-base will make setting up to drill blanks will be an easily repeatable, two second process.
While you’re at it, take note that the jig’s base was left purposely left hollow to leave room for a shop-made drawer. If you can tear your self away from your pen projects for an hour or so, building a drawer to fit the jig will give you a handy place to keep all of your easy-to-misplace pen parts, mandrels and related equipment.
If you’re a seasoned pen turner, we think you’ll see instantly how the Rockler Pen Press/Drilling Jig can help you breeze through some of the craft’s less engaging tasks, and let you get on to honing your skills on a selection of pen turning blanks that would take years to work through. (If you haven’t been here for a while, take a minute to check out our greatly expanded pen blank offerings. You’ll find some great new hardwoods along with a number of new man-made materials, some of which is pretty far out there: resin encased Grape Nuts®, anyone?)
If, on the other hand, you’re just an interested passerby, let us say this: pen making is one of the most popular and easy to master entry points into the world of turning. It’s an affordable, compact and quiet hobby that yields beautiful, finished results in hours – not days or weeks. If you’re in the market for a great pastime, but short on time, space or the luxury of an unlimited woodworking budget, pen turning could be just the thing. Take a look through our complete selection of mini lathes, turning tools, blanks, and pen kits to get an idea of the possibilities. Then check out our pen turning video for a look at just how easy it is to get started.