Pen turning

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Revision as of 17:26, 11 November 2019 by Rdpierce (talk | contribs) (Trimming, Drilling, and Squaring the Blank)
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Pen turning is a popular hobby. Typically, one uses a small lathe to turn pens (fountain, rollerball, or click or twist ballpoint) out of exotic hardwood, or, in some cases, acrylic. In addition to pens, other items of similar construction can be turned, such as mechanical pencils, seam rippers, crochet hooks, and keychains. Manufacturers supply kit parts containing the hardware. In most cases, these are constructed by gluing a metal tube into the wood and turning this on a mandrel. PS:One has a small Wen lathe that can do this well, and a collection of tools specific to pen turning.

Please contact Ryan Pierce or Donzell Gordon for information about pen turning, and Donzell for lathe questions and lathe authorization. The pen turning tools do not require special authorization, but authorization on the Wen lathe is required.

Acquiring Materials

Kits for pen turning can be acquired from many suppliers:

The "standard" for pen turning is a 7mm mandrel, which PS:One owns. One will need to purchase bushings specific to the type of pen, which adapt it so that the pen blank can fit on the 7mm mandrel and also provide a reference for the size one will need to turn the pen blank so it is flush with the metal pen hardware. Bushings can be damaged by turning, sanding, and finishing. As such, these are considered user-supplied consumables. One should watch the diameter of the bushing and try not to damage them when turning.

Kits frequently are classified by tube size. PS:One currently has hardware to make pens with the following tube sizes:

  • 7 mm
  • 8 mm
  • 3/8 inch
  • 10 mm

Larger sizes are common for some larger fountain pens, and other less common sizes exist as well. Over time, we anticipate PS:One's tooling inventory for pen turning to grow. This tooling is stored in the blue plastic box under the Wen lathe, labeled Pen Turning. Please make sure all pen turning tooling is returned to this box!

At present, PS:One only has tooling for "open end" pens, e.g. where the tube extends the entire length of the wood blank. Special tooling ithat PS:One does not currently own is needed to make "closed end" pens.

Pen blanks typically come in sizes of around 3/4" x 3/4" x 5-6" which is suitable for most small pens. Larger fountain pens may need 1" x 1" blanks. Exotic hardwoods are popular, as are various engineered acrylics with color patterns. These can be acquired from the suppliers, above, as well as many other sources. Several PS:One members use exotic hardwoods in their projects; it may be possible to recycle scrap for pen blanks. And it is possible to laminate woods together to make a multi-layered blank.

Trimming and Drilling the Blank

Most pens are made in two pieces, in which case the kit includes two tubes. The pen blank needs to be cut to length in pieces, each slightly larger than the length of the respective tube. Marks should be placed on the blank before cutting so orientation can be established later, which is an important consideration to ensure the grain matches. A mark should also be placed at the center of each pen blank on one of the small ends. The opposite end can then be clamped in a 4-jaw chuck on the lathe. A 1 MT Jacobs chuck can be inserted in the tailstock of the lathe, and one of the following brad point drills, based on the tube diameter as specified in the kit instructions, can be inserted in the Jacob's chuck. The Jacob's chuck is currently hanging on a wall rack next to the Wen lathe. Drills are stored inside the blue "Pen Turning" box. The brad point bits are designed to bore into the wood without wandering and are substantially more expensive than traditional drill bits. Please use these drills only for pen turning and make sure they are returned to the blue "Pen Turning" toolbox so that they do not get lost in the woodshop. The following drill sizes are available at present:
  • 7 mm
  • 8 mm
  • 3/8 inch
  • 10 mm

With the pen blank inserted in the lathe chuck in approximate position but with the jaws loose, slide the tailstock with the Jacob's chuck and the drill installed, and the tailstock ram fully retracted, to contact the stock. Lock the tailstock. Push the stock onto the brad point of the drill at the marked center point and then tighten the jaws on the other end of the stock. Power on the lathe and crank the tailstock ram to drill into the stock. Once the ram limit is reached, stop the lathe, retract the ram, side the tailstock closer until the drill makes contact with the bottom of the hole, lock the tailstock, and repeat.

Pro Tips: When the drill emerges from the end grain, it can tear out wood. Make sure the blank is long enough so that the pen tube can be inserted in the hole without contacting any part of the hole with tear out. Masking tape placed over the end grain can help reduce tear out. Place tape on the drill bit so one knows how far to drill into the blank.