I turned my first pen about three years ago when I took the very pen turning class I now teach. I’ve been hooked on turning ever since. Making pens is a great introduction to basic spindle turning. Turning your own pens results in beautiful, custom, no-two-alike masterpieces that make great gifts, each having their own character and charm. What a great excuse to sneak out to the shop for a little fun.
There are a few specialized penturning tools you’ll need to get started. Key among the products is a pen turning mandrel. It is a steel bar with a Morris taper on one end and the other end is threaded holding a knurled nut. The pen blanks are turned on the mandrel. If you buy just the basic pen-specific items and cut your own wooden blanks, you’ll spend about $40 to get going. For one-stop shopping, Rockler sells a nice starter package that includes the mandrel and drill bit, CA glue and three pen kits with blanks.
You’ll need a few basic shop tools: a handsaw or band saw for cutting the blanks to length, a drill press for drilling the holes in the blanks, a bit of sandpaper and, of course, a lathe for doing the turning. A 3/8″ or 1/2″ spindle gouge is sufficient to take a pen from roughing to completion.
The pen kits include two brass tubes called barrels, a pen mechanism, a pocket clip and various brass rings used to connect the brass barrels for final assembly.
• Pen mandrel with bushings
• Pen blank you cut or buy
• 7mm carbide brad-point carbide drill bit
• 7mm pen kit
• CA (cyanoacrylate) adhesive
• Finishing supplies
Pen Turning Process
There are four main steps: preparing the blanks, mounting and shaping on the lathe, applying finish and assembling the parts.
Preparing the Pen Blanks
Drill 7mm-diameter centered holes through the blanks. Hold them firmly with a handscrew clamp. If both the blank and the clamp are flat against the drill press table and the table is square to the chuck, your holes will be straight.
TIP: A carbide-tipped brad point bit is preferable, although any 7mm bit will do. The carbide will stay sharp much longer, especially if you graduate to more abrasive pen materials. The brad-point tip keeps the bit from wandering.
Glue the brass barrels into the blanks with CA glue. Before applying glue to the barrels, rough them up with 120-grit sandpaper. Twist the barrel while quickly pushing it completely into the blank. Don’t dawdle, or you can get stuck with a barrel glued halfway in.
Clean out excess glue from inside the barrel using a 15/64″ drill bit or a barrel trimming tool. Bring the ends of the blank flush to the barrels by rubbing them against a piece of sandpaper on a flat surface.