Barley Twist

After finding a natural barley twist while holidaying in Queensland, Geoff has sent a couple of photos in of a barley twist lathe that he has acquired (but yet to use).

It is interesting to study, just to see how simple an arrangement it is, and with a little bit of work, pretty easy to duplicate – especially (but not limited to) those with Torque Workcentres.

It would be pretty easy to add this functionality to a real lathe (but NOT switching the lathe on!!!) A lathe with an indexing ring would be excellent for this

Barley Twist Lathe

Barley Twist Lathe

Barley Twist Lathe detail

Barley Twist Lathe detail

I’m not sure the drive mechanism for this lathe – it may be from pushing the router sideways, but I suspect you manually turn the black winder in the second photo.  In that photo, you can also see an indexing ring, which is essential for setting the workpiece to the next start location.  Depending on the combination of how far around the workpiece is indexed, the router bit chosen, and the setting for how fast the router moves relative to each rotation of the workpiece will dictate resulting effect.

A barley twist lathe can be regarded as a glorified Beall Pen Wizard (or is it the other way around – the Beall is a miniature barley twist lathe?!)

Beall Pen Wizard

Beall Pen Wizard

Back to Geoff’s lathe – I can’t see how the gearing is regulated, but I assume it can be changed.

So that is a barley twist lathe.  Do an image-search on Google for Barley Twist will reveal over a million examples of this ornamental feature being used in different projects, with varying degrees of success!  In some instances it is beautifully complementary to the overall object.  In some other cases, it has obviously been included without any understanding of how such an ornate feature should be used.

Attending Hogwarts

As Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermoine Granger have been learning over the years, simply being a wizard does not result in quality magic, unless there is plenty of practice, trial and error, and the Beall Pen Wizard from Carrolls is no different.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I haven’t had a chance to play with the Beall for a little while, so I was really happy to get it out for some trials and tests today, to start properly building an understanding of how it works.

I deliberately did not have any pens to test on – I wanted to concentrate on the Beall, and not waste time turning pens that I’d then want finished properly, and not just used for trials.  So instead, I have a length of dowel that I cut to pen-blank lengths, and drilled a hole for the pen mandrel and got into trying the Beall out.

If you have a bit of a mechanical mind, the Beall offers lots of possibilities.  With various gears and gear combinations possible, it will bring out the inner meccano engineer in any woodworker!  Its fun playing with all the different settings and combinations, but what’s even more impressive, is by changing the cutter, varying the depth of cut, changing the angle of approach of the cutter (top vs side of the pen, creating flats vs grooves), use (or otherwise) of the guilloche attachment (for wavy/sine wave patterns), and the reversing gear which is part of the gearbox, each gear ratio setting can produce a myriad of designs.  The total number of different designs is staggering.

I wasn’t worried about the quality of the finish at all – the dowel is pretty ordinary timber, unfinished and not sanded.  The point was to start discovering how to control the Beall, the various settings, and not producing a quality finish/result.  There is plenty of time for that, and better to learn how to use the machine properly, rather than trying to run before walking.  The first couple of pens I did a ways back did work out pretty well, but now I wanted to know how to reconfigure the gearbox etc. and get the most out of the ornamental lathe.

Just some of the different results without changing the gear settings at all (other than removal of the guilloche attachment), and three different cutters.

For much of the session, I used the Dremel with the flex shaft, but decided I actually preferred the Dremel directly attached to the Wizard.  The thread in the holding plate matches that of the Dremel – one of the reasons I got it, and it feels a lot more stable that way.  Let alone having better access to the on/off switch and speed control.

So a successful little session, and again putting the new workbench to good use.  Now I just need some form of height adjustable bar stool!

With Great Power comes Great Responsibility

Or in other words, just because you CAN do something, does not necessarily make it a good idea!

So after getting as far as I could (be bothered) in a day setting up to have another go with the Pen Wizard, I wanted to try it, and a new carbide cutter out.

I decided to try acrylic again, which although will work, the inherent patten in which may result in a too-busy-a finish, but “I have the power”

First job is to do all the required steps in making a pen, including getting it up to a respectable finish.  It can be done, but is a lot harder to finish with all the grooves cut.  If I was filing the grooves, that’d be a different matter.

Pen Body

So from the original acrylic (seen on the right), I’ve cut, milled, drilled and mounted the blank on the lathe, then turned it round, then finished it with the acrylic finishing pads.

From there, it is off to the Pen Wizard.


The Wizard is set up in this case with the guilloche attachment in place, as well as the depth guide.  A laser bit chosen that is allowed to just be exposed through the guide, then the whole thing height-adjusted to just match the start and end points of the pen, and the stops set. The depth guide takes over once the cutter is at full (set) depth, and then rides up over the pen producing a consistent-depth cut (and in the case of a laser point, a consistent width as well).

With 12 of the possible 24 passes done (using the index wheel between passes), the engraving was completed.  The pen body was returned to the lathe for a final sand, then assembled.

I think the result would be nicer in a plain wood, especially with an infill, but still, the ease of the unit made this a very simple, controllable, repeatable job.

Guilloche Pen

Rather interesting techniques so far – looking forward to trying out other designs.

Carbide Cutters

In preparation for a serious attempt with the Beall Pen Wizard, I had a close look at what cutter profiles were available.  I was particularly interested in some form of side-mill (traditional straight cutter if it was a router bit), 1/2 round, laser bit.  Went through a number of cutters, and they looked ok, but nothing particularly impressive, or what I was particularly looking for.  Until I got to the second cabinet, and there they were – solid tungsten carbide bits.

I know carbide isn’t as sharp as tool steel, but the edge is significantly more durable.  Still, I was surprised to read that these were designed for metal.  They will work well in timber (and acrylic).  There was even a laser bit which was exactly what I wanted – one that comes to a sharp point with minimal radius at the tip.

Picked up 6 different bits initially – I’ll have to check what other profiles are available.

TC Bits

This is the base of the Flex-Drive stand – quite convenient for your regularly-used bits.  Only problem I discovered is the holes for the bits go all the way through, so you can’t have holes in the table (such as with the Walko!).  So I’ve put a piece of plastic underneath to stop the bits falling through to the floor if I happen to use the wrong storage hole.  Has a convenient location for the spanner as well.

The other thing I wanted to try, was to see if the Flex-Drive could be made to fit the Foredom holder that came with the Pen Wizard.  The Foredom handle is straight, with a moderate diameter making it an easy fit, whereas the Dremel is a tapered, design, oval in cross section and all up designed for the hand, not for fitting in a tool (fair enough!)

However, by tapping some extra holes in the Foredom holder for some additional bolts, I found I was able to secure the Dremel very easily.

Tapping Threads

Now I found that the Dremel Flex Drive didn’t protrude through the holder far enough to be able to work, but that is actually going to be a simple fix – I just need to cut the holder shorter, with the amount I remove being equal to the additional amount of protrusion that will be achieved.

Concept Check

The whole reason for this is to be able to mount the Dremel on a hook, and just have the Flex Drive connected to the Pen Wizard.

Mock Setup

Still a bit of a work-in-progress, will be interesting to see if I can get it to work out, and that it ends up a better solution that having the Dremel direct-mounted.  Each bolt is only finger-tight, so removal of the drive is not difficult, although I have also ensured that the drive lock is always exposed so you don’t need to remove the handle to make bit-changes.

Acrylic Wizard

Wanted to see how well acrylic blanks can be machined by the Beall Pen Wizard.

Biggest frustration is you can’t just jump into a project. You have to go through all the steps to turn a pen beforehand. Not a problem (unless you are impatient to try an idea out!)

This was very much a test- I wasn’t so worried about the end result, so long as there was a reasonable degree of confidence that it could be achieved.

The blank is probably too (colour) detailed to also be machined, so I’ll look at plainer acrylics for when I plan to use the Wizard to finish the pen off.

In this case, I used a side-mill bit, and ran a spiral flat on 4 sides of the pen. Then did 4 additional lighter passes in between each of the other 4.

Remounted the resulting pen on the lathe (not turning), and tried the Dremel buffing wheel. Point to note- the heat generated exceeds the melting point of the acrylic!

Then tried the traditional acrylic sanding pads, which worked better, although rounding over and softening the result.

So another successful experiment, with more lessons learned. For one, don’t load up the cutter on the workpiece if the gearbox is in reverse- you are likely to undo the spindle!

Again, experienced a bit of flex and play in the jig, but a decent result (for a beginner!) was still achieved.


Nipped up to Carbatec to pick up a new Dremel so I could use it with the Pen Wizard. Been wanting one for ages, but needed a good excuse to go with the original brand of rotary tools, rather than some after-market ones I’ve had / have (GMC / Triton)  The Dremel threads straight into the Pen Wizard, and that is all the motivation I needed in the end.

I picked up the 400 Series (Digital), which came with a number of fittings and accessories, including a flex drive.  As I’ve said in the past, tools should not be cute, but the miniature versions of common tools (cut off wheels etc) invokes the “aren’t they cute” before you realise what you’ve said.  The digital allows you to preset the desired speed before switching on.

I didn’t buy any additional cutters etc, but I’ll need to, to get some of the fine cutters needed for pens.

The Pen Wizard still gives me the feeling that it needs looking after – it can definitely do the job, but not if you are rough with it.  With the Dremel screwed straight into it, I found it was a little light in balance – the Dremel making it a bit top-heavy.

Taking off the guilloche attachment, I cut a series of mild helices, then engaged the reverse gear and cut them again, producing a light knurled pattern.  The cutter was completely wrong for the job, but the ease of achieving the result was obvious.

Like any tool, it will take some time to become proficient, but once the basics are worked out (setup, cutters, getting the pen blank evenly turned), it will be very straightforward to get decent results.

I am particularly interested in seeing the results from using acrylic – again, the main thing that will affect the result is accurate, even turning.


Almost forgot to actually mention the new toy – been playing with it too much (not using it – haven’t graduated that far yet!) Playing with, reading about, and watching the supplied DVD.

It has gears, handles, gears, a guilloche attachment, more gears and a gearbox.  And it’s for woodworking!

Have you guessed what it is yet?

How about some imagery?

Yeah – more gears!

But does it give you an idea?  That wheel with holes in it is a bit of a give-away.

How about this view:

What do you mean “still no idea!”

But you see this is the tool, and it is cool, but perhaps you need to see what it can do, to know why. (And as I show these, I discover there are very few images on the results of this tool on the web!)

Yes, the new toy (uh, tool) is a Beall Pen Wizard from Carrolls Woodcraft.

It is a type of ornamental lathe, using a high speed rotary tool to produce all manner of pens, with wavy patterns, helices, knurlings, facets, and combinations of these.

You may not want every pen to have an element such as this, or perhaps you do – they make for distinctive pens, and can produce stunning subtle details as well as major features.

Now I obviously haven’t had enough time to actually use the Pen Wizard, let alone take my own photos, but this looks to b an impressive tool, and one that is actually larger, and more robust than I was expecting.  The amount of variety is impressive too – someone calculated there are 600 different combinations.  Not sure if that is true or not, but it does come with a number of alternate gears for different ratios, a reversing gear, and obviously the guilloche attachment with a number of different amplitude settings.

And that is without even considering the range of cutters that are available – straight cutters, flat-bottomed, cove end, laser point etc etc.

If you turn a lot of pens, it does get to the point where you are searching out more and more exotic timbers, or pen blanks, getting into segmented turnings etc to keep the hobby fresh.  With the Pen Wizard, you have not one extra string to the bow, but hundreds.  Choices choices!  And the novelty factor of these pens, when you show the pen off and they try to work out how you’ve done will be worth gold.

These are only imported into Australia by Carroll’s Woodcraft Supplies, so they are definitely the ones to contact if you are interested.  Cost is just under $400, which sounds expensive…..until you find you are selling the results occasionally.  It will only take a few pens to pay off the machine, and with only a few people making them, the novelty factor is high.

Ornamental Pen Turning

Noticed on Carroll’s Woodcraft Supplies newly designed website, that they now stock the Beall Pen Wizard.

Quite an interesting looking tool, designed to cut facets, spirals and waves (as in sine waves) into pens.

Pen Wizard

It uses a high speed cutter, such as a dremel with different bits, and the gearing has a variety of layouts for different ratios of turning to cutter travel.

Pen Wizard

There is an indexing ring, so you can accurately position the next spiral starting point, with anywhere up to 24 index points.

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