Pen Turning - The Process

Here are the tools required.

At the top is the pen drive (or mandrel), shown with three spacing bushes on the shaft. The screw that sets the shaft length can also be seen in the main body.
Make sure that the taper fits your lathe (Morse 2 Taper shown here).

Below the pen drive is the barrel trimmer and two pieces of African Blackwood that will be used in this example.

Next is the tube insertion mandrel - used for pushing the inner brass tubes into the pen blanks.

Finally, a suitable bit for drilling the holes in the blanks to take the brass tubes.

Here are the parts included in a typical pen kit.

At the top are the two brass inner sleeve tubes, shown "roughed up" and ready for gluing.

Below the tubes is the pen mechanism - this is a "twist" pen, so, naturally, it's a twist mechanism.

Next comes the working part, the nib unit or refill. Below that, from left to right are the tip, central decorative ring, pocket clip and end cap.

It's the color and style of these visible parts that affect the appearance of the finished product, so take that into account when buying your pen kits.

These two pieces of softwood (left-overs from a replacement window project) have had 90° cuts made at the bandsaw.

The cuts were of a suitable size to squeeze a piece of pen blank and hold it square and vertical for drilling.

Here, the home-made supports are shown ready for use, held at one end by a clamp. The operator grips and guides the other end.
Here's the result after drilling.

It's important to release the chips frequently when drilling to prevent blowing out at the bottom of the blank - this is true for any wood (or acrylic), not just for this very hard African Blackwood.

Here, one of the brass tubes is being pushed into the blank by using the mandrel.

Prior to inserting the tubes, they need to be scored lightly with sandpaper or other abrasive to ensure a key for the glue.

This can be done by lightly gripping them in a cordless driver and spinning them inside a piece of sandpaper (don't forget to turn the tube round to get at the unscored portion).

This example used cyanoacrylate glue (superglue) and a plastic drinking straw is excellent for distributing the glue around the inside of the blank.

Polyurethane glue could also have been used, but this is more useful if the tube is a little slack in the blank, as polyurethane glue has void-filling capabilities. The downside is that it takes much longer to cure.

The drilling support jig could be used as a vertical steady for this operation, but - with experience - that becomes un-necessary.

N.B: Have a mallet on hand in case the tube needs more than just manual pressure to fully seat it in the blank. You need to be fairly swift when working with superglue - you don't want to wander about looking for a mallet with the tube partly inserted!

Set aside to cure.

This picture shows the tube to be flush with the surface of the blank on the right (the insertion end), but not quite flush with the (inverted) blank on the left (the far end).

This is because the blanks were deliberately cut very slightly longer than the brass tubes.

This method prevents the possibility of pressing a tube in after gluing the blank, only to find that the blank is too short.

Here is the tool to finally prepare the blanks for turning - the barrel trimmer - shown mounted in a cordless drill/driver (set on high speed).

It is a double reaming tool - the smaller diameter reamer cleans the inner brass tube of any excess glue (to ensure that the mechanism works correctly and that the refill is not obstructed), then the four vane cutters trim the blank square, as required.

A drill press could also be used, but it is not essential. The blank can be held in a quick-grip clamp, or, with experience, in a gloved hand.

When trimming, take light cuts until the brass tube is just visible within the blank.

Here is the result of trimming the two blanks.

Beware not to take too deep a cut at each pass. The tubes are brass and will be easily cut with the trimmer, so you could inadvertently shorten the blank and the tube, resulting in too short a tube and an inoperable kit.

The main aim of this process is to get the tube and the blank perfectly square to each other, vital for the assembly process later on.

For this reason, it's also important to give the insertion ends of the blanks a light pass with the barrel trimmer too.

Now the blanks are slid onto the pen drive, with a spacing bush at either end and in between the blanks. You can add extra spacing if you wish. This is now ready to be mounted on the lathe for turning to begin.
Here is the assembly, mounted in the headstock taper and supported at the tailstock end by a live center.

It's very important to use a live center, or the mandrel thread will be damaged.

Make sure that the live center is not over-inserted, as this could flex or bend the mandrel shaft, cause eccentric turning and many other problems.

Here's an "arm's length" view of the assembly, mounted in my full-size Hegner.

I had no difficulty turning pens on this large lathe, although a smaller machine may seem more appropriate to some!

Here are the blanks after turning. They're now ready for sanding, finishing and polishing before removal from the drive mandrel.

Note the slight bulge caused by a knot within the right-hand blank. I've already decided that this will be the top half of the pen, where the imperfection will be partly concealed by the pocket clip.

This picture shows the proportions of the wooden parts of a slim-line pen, prior to assembly.

It is the mandrel spacing bushes that guide you to your finished turning diameter, so you may need a range of bushes if you want to turn pens of differing styles, involving differing diameters.

Most dedicated sites have all the parts that you will need - you just need to know that you need them!

A good example of a comprehensive supplier may be found here (I have no connection with the site, but it shows well the available range of components, kit parts and tooling).

Although purpose-made pen assembly presses are available, I had no difficulty in using a quick-grip clamp with beefed-up jaws - a drill press could also be used with a little ingenuity.

Here, I'm just about to squeeze in the end cap, which holds the pocket clip in place.

You can now see why the blank and tube need to be trimmed square, in order for the pen parts to seat properly when assembled.

Pocket clip and end cap are now fully home, completing the top section.

The tip - and then the mechanism - are pressed home into the bottom half, the decorative central ring slid onto the mechanism and the nib unit screwed home.

All that's needed now is to make sure that the nib is fully retracted, then to carefully line up the grain on the two halves and push them together by hand.

Here's the result.

Imagine how different the pen would have looked with a gold tip, ring and clip.

I hope that you found these words and pictures to be of some use.

Good luck with your pen turning!

İRay Girling, 2006 - 2017