Pen turning

Well it had to happen eventually. Given a lathe for enough time eventually you’ll give in to the allure of pen turning.
I had started talking about giving it a go, and not long after Kat found herself in Turners Retreat with her dad. Being awesome, she bought me some supplies for turning pens.

One cigar pen kit, one sierra pen kit, two pen blanks, and a pen turning mandrel, as well as some other wood for other projects.

Interestingly Turners Retreat did not supply any instructions with any of the items. I would have thought that seeing the selection of things being purchased they could have mentioned the need for bushings, to go with the pen sets. They could have indicated the existence of other associated tools even if they didn’t push them too hard.

As it was I placed an order to get a few extra bits and bobs so that I was ready to roll.

First job, cut the blanks to the tube lengths. For this I just used the tubes to set the fence of my bandsaw, and cut each blank. Easy peasy.

Second job, drill the blanks. I picked up one of the inner tubes for the cigar pen and sized it against my drill bits, and needed a 10mm bit. I clamped each section of blank, set up on centre by eye, and drilled.

The cigar pen blanks first, then the blank for the sierra.

Uh-oh…the tube for the sierra didn’t fit in the hole. Stupidly I had assumed that all tubes would be the same. They are not.
Luckily the sierra tube was bigger, not smaller – so no harm done. However, the 10mm bit is already the biggest before I jump up to much bigger Forstner bits. Damn.

Turns out that some pen kits cunningly require a bit just a little out of the normal range. And wouldn’t you know it, they’ll sell you one for £20!! So I put that aside for now, and moved on with the cigar pen.

I tried to square off the ends on my disc sander holding the tubes in place for reference. There are special tools for this, of course, but there are limits to how many custom tools I want to buy(or get bought 🙂 ) just to get started.

I glued the tubes into the blanks and left them to dry.

Next comes the fun bit, I looked up instructions for the cigar pen and set up the mandrel and bushings as described.

Now for my first real mistake….
The mandrel is adjustable, and I’d played with it a little. So when I setup the blanks I had lengthened the shaft just long enough to tighten the end piece on to clamp everything tightly.
This meant a largely flat surface at the tailstock end, which I attempted to support with a cup centre.

This was hopeless, and didn’t centre the end properly. I should have realised and done something, but like a fool I carried on.

I shaped the pieces, and sanded, but found that closer to the tailstock meant more off centre from the metal shaft. Correspondingly it was hard to get a good finish on the ends with either tools or sanding.

The results were ok, but not great. I realised later I could have lengthened the mandrel shaft, screwed the end piece down much further, and let the screw threaded end of the mandrel shaft centre in the back of the cup centre. Next time.

Having finished the sections as well as I could, I enthusiastically set about constructing the pen. Using some wood blocks in my vice to protect the ends, I squeezed the bits into the ends.

But in my haste and enthusiasm I didn’t make sure I knew where all the bits went. Without instructions I went on what seemed right based on where threads seemed to fit etc. And boy was I wrong.
I think I got just about every fitting wrong! First I got the fittings for the bottom half the wrong way around. And at length had to figure out how to get them out again. (Mostly the shafts of drill bits that where just the right diameter to hammer out the fittings from the opposite side)

Having fixed the lower piece I set the ends for the top piece, only to find nothing held together. Stupidly I had set what should have been the very top fitting, as the very bottom fitting, and vice versa.

Lessons learned – get the instructions, read the instructions…*then* fit things together.

Also, as I’ve said before….*don’t panic* I screwed up everything, damaged some threads whilst trying to undo some mistakes, and ultimately still wound up with this:


Not fantastic, but I’m happy enough for a first try. I think I got quiet a few mistakes out of the way, so I can learn from them next time 🙂


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