Saturday, January 21, 2012

New Detour - Custom Pens

While I haven't added any custom pens to my web site as of Jan 21, 2012, eventually I will have some there, so you can check back for as long as you have the patience to do it. 

There is a ton of info out there on YouTube about "pen turning". Some of the videos were really helpful for me, no doubt. While no individual tool is outrageously expensive, the tally at the end of the day for the pile of stuff you need can definitely get your attention. Here are some of the necessary pieces of equipment I have acquired so far to make pens. In addition to these things, you need a pen mandrel that fits the lathe you have, turning tools, brad point drill bits. the actual pen kits, and the blanks that wind up as colorful and interesting barrels to your pen.

This first picture is of a centering vice. Once set up properly, you can drill repetitively without trying to find the center of the pen blank each time you create holes for the brass tube that runs through each pen barrel.    

Once the hole is drilled, a brass tube for the particular pen kit you use is glued into the barrel material. The brass tube must be roughed up a bit to allow the glue a good surface in which to bond. Then the over sized barrel material is sanded flush to the ends of the brass tube. At this stage, the piece is inserted onto the mandrel of the lathe for turning. 

This is the lathe I chose. It's a Jet Lathe with variable speeds. It operates by using both pulley changes and an electrical rheostat at the left side of the machine. The lathe uses what is called a 2MT mandrel, with MT meaning Morse Taper. At the left of the machine (head stock), the mandrel with the 2MT fits snugly into the hole. If you have ever removed the chuck to a drill press, you will know what that means. It keeps the pen barrel centered perfectly while you turn it.

In between the headstock (on the left) and the tailstock (on the right), the correct bushings for the pen kit you are turning are placed on the mandrel shaft. Then you turn down the material you chose to make the pen barrel from all the way to the outside diameter of the pen bushing. There are also spacer bushings that can be used to allow room for the tool rest that is seen between the head and tail stock in the above photo. Once the material is about a 32nd over sized to the bushing, the remaining material is sanded flush to the diameter of the pen bushing. At this stage, the finish of your choice is applied while the lathe turns. There are a host of choices available for finishing the barrel of the pen. 

After finishing the barrel, the pen parts are pressed to fit to the pen kit. There are many ways to do this. I chose to purchase a pen press to do the work.

After all that, you should have some pens that look like this. The barber pole pen is a kit that uses 4 differently-colored laser-cut ribbons of wood that are interwoven and glued together. After the glue dries, the barrel is glued over a brass tube just as the others are done. Finishing from then on are the same as before. Extremely sharp turning tools must be used when making the laser-cut pen kits. There are a variety of these laser-cut kits available. The barrel alone for these kits can run from about $20 all the way to $60. Then, the pen kit that fits the barrel also must be purchased. Pen kits range from about $9 to about $50. Some kits go together quickly and other are a bit more time consuming. 


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