Part 4 making a pen series. Turning the body.

Part 4 making a pen series. Turning the body.

In the last blog post we covered prepping and drilling the blank and ended with gluing the tubes into the blanks. We still must square the tubes to the ends of the blanks but we’ll do that in after we get them round and take some wood off on the lathe. Yes 99.99% of all handmade pens are made on a lathe. Most often a wood lathe but they can be made on a metal lathe as well.

The size or price of the lathe really isn’t much of a factor in the quality of the pens made on any lathe. I’ve seen many beautiful pens made with cheap tools on broken down old lathes. It’s the skill and attention to detail of the craftsman using the tools with the lathe that makes all the difference in the quality and beauty of any handmade pen.

I’m not going to go into the detail of all the tools and techniques involved with turning the pen on the lathe but I will give you a general overview of how it is done. Now understand that all pen turners have their own way they go about accomplishing things so this is just one way that things can be done.

We start by putting the pen on the lathe this can be done a couple different ways but I most often use a mandrel that mounts into the headstock of the lathe. A pen mandrel is just a long rod that you place the blanks on with bushings you tighten down and secure into the headstock. The lathe tailstock is brought up to support the mandrel while it turns.

Most of us that have been turning pens for a while will start off with the lathe at a high speed but because initially the blanks aren’t round yet, they may be a bit unbalanced. So, it’s not uncommon to start out at a lower speed until the blanks are round then crank up the speed. How fast? My lathe will turn up to 3200rpm so that’s what I’ get up to.

Once the blanks are round it is time to make sure the ends of the blanks are squared to the ends of the tubes. This is an important step, if they are not squared it will show when assembled. So, take the blanks off the mandrel and square them up with either a barrel trimmer or a sanding jig. I use a sanding jig as I have had bad luck with the trimmer. What you’re doing is bringing the blank down in size and ensuring the end of the blank is perpendicular, or squared, to the end of the tube.

When you’ve finished squaring the blanks, you’ll put them back on the lathe and continue turning them down till they are just proud of the bushings. It’s the bushings that determine how thick your pen needs to be to match up with the component. Next we’ll be sanding them down to the final dimensions.

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