Another thing you can do with a wood lathe is make writing pens. You use it to turn wooden blocks down to make the body of the pen. A friend of mine turns pens and was nice enough to loan me his mandrel so I could take a stab at it. You also need a pen kit which contains all of the metal parts of the pen. You’re left to choose the material to use for the body. You can use wood or blocks made from colorful resins. Here’s how my first attempt went.
Obviously, you’re going to need some wood. I used some of the left over spalted Maple that I had. This was part of the scrap left from cutting a bowl blank out.
The pen kit I have has a body made up of two pieces of wood separated by a metal spacer ring. Inside of the two pieces of wood are brass tubing in which the other parts of the pen are pressed. First, you need to drill some 7mm diameter holes through the wood for the tubes.
I then cut the blocks out of the larger piece of wood using the bandsaw. The holes don’t have to be perfectly centered but you need to leave enough material around the holes to turn them down. In the picture below, the brass tubes are shown on the right.
The next step is to glue or epoxy the brass tubes into the wood. I used some CA I had on hand and it seemed to work fine.
Once the glue has dried that holds the brass tubes inside of the wooden blocks you need to flush the ends up. I used my belt sander to make quick work of this step. Now it’s time to start turning. To hold the pieces on the lathe, a pen mandrel is used. Shown below is the pen mandrel from Penn State Industries. The mandrel consists of a cylinder that slips inside of the wooden blocks. The tapered section on the left is attached to the cylinder and fits into the head stock (the part that is turned by the motor). The tapered section on the right slips into the tail stock and slides over the cylinder. The spacers are the diameter of the pen components so you want to make sure you don’t turn the piece down smaller than them.
Here’s the setup on the lathe. Note that there should be another spacer between the block on the right and the tail stock part. I fixed this later. Compared to the size of the lathe the parts are tiny, but it works well. I could use a smaller tool rest though.
With the mandrel mounted, you can begin to turn the wood down to whatever shape you desire. Here’s a pic of bringing the parts into round with a spindle gouge.
Things don’t always go according to plan of course. I decided to try a skew chisel and it seems I was too aggressive. The size of the chisel, the angle I was holding it at, and the weakened maple all contributed to one of the blocks splitting.
Luckily, I had plenty of wood left over. I stripped the broken wood off of the brass tube and made another block. Being more careful this time, I was able to turn the blocks into a shape I was pleased with.
The surface was rough from the gouge so I smoothed it over using sandpaper. I used a block behind the paper to keep from putting ripples in the wood. I started with 100 grit and worked my way up to 320 grit which is the highest I had on hand.
Here’s the final sanded pieces.
I decided to go with a clear shellac finish again. I ran the lathe on its slowest speed and applied the finish with a cloth. After it set for about 10 minutes I started the lathe back up and held some 0000 steel wool to it to knock down any roughness in the surface. After that I repeated the process three more time.
Once the finish had dried and I was happy with it, I started assembling the pen. First, you press the tip and twist part into one of the wooden pieces. This is a twist pen as opposed to the clicky type hence the afore mentioned “twist part”. They have special pen presses for doing this but also suggest that a regular clamp can be used. I used my Dake No. 1 Arbor Press and a very light touch.
Next, you press the top cap and clip into the other section of the body. The last step is to put the two halves together with the spacer. Thats it! Now you have a finished pen. Here’s the final product.
Thats all there is to it. This was my first time turning a pen and I thought it went together pretty easily.