Pen Turning

February, 2017

I enrolled in an Intro to Pen Turning class at my local Woodcraft shop.  I’ve taken several classes from them in the past and they have all been great – this one was no exception. I highly recommend their classes for anyone interested in learning the process – no previous experience required. After the instructor demonstrated the process, he coached us on making our own.  Now that I now the proper technique, I’ll be more confident in doing it on my own.


I started with a Cherry wood blank.  Drilled a hole through the center and glued in a brass tube using CA glue.  Next, I used a special barrel trimming bit to true-up the ends.


Once dry, I mounted it onto the lathe using a Mandrel and positioned the tool rest close to the block, just a bit below center.  We were provided really nice Jet lathes with variable speed control.  We started the process at about 1800 RPM.


I used a roughing gouge to clear away most of the wood by making many light passes across the piece.  After getting the wood diameter close to the height of the bearings, I switched to sand paper.  I used 5 progressively finer grit sanding strips (180 grit to 500 grit) and then finished with steel wool at about 800 – 900 RPM.

To finish, I used 3 coats of a friction polish to get a great shine and add protection to the wood at about 1000 RPM.  I used a paper towel to apply the polish and used a bit of muscle to add the pressure needed to generate the heat to activate the polish.


Using the kit provided, I used a padded vice grip to slowly press the back end on, and hand pressed the other side into place.  Total time to complete the project was about an hour excluding drying time.


Having taking a bowl turning class before, I was prepared for the steep entrance cost of doing my own wood turning.  In addition to the lathe, there are many other components that must be purchased.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that pen turning had a much lower cost of entry.  Maybe I’ll shop around for an inexpensive Mini Lathe and turn some pens to give as gifts.  Ugh!  Just what I need – another hobby.



1 Comment

  1. If you’re looking for an entry level lathe I’d recommend the one at Harbor Freight. They have 2: a cheap one and a more expensive one. We’re talking like, $150 or so. Not so bad when you think about it. Once you start making $ from your pen making then you can upgrade to a better lathe and use your first one as a sanding/buffing/finishing lathe. That’s what most pen turners end up doing. They usually have more than one lathe for all the different processes.

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