Shed Archaeology

I couldn’t progress the pen making very far without the pen mill, and my scrounging didn’t turn it up anywhere.  Probably easier just to get another, and at the same time get one that actually works well.  The designs typically sold I find to be pretty ordinary – they are either blunt and cut so painfully slowly you are tempted to use extra pressure (which can result in chipping and/or burning), flop around inside the brass tube (despite apparently being designed for that pen type), and I can’t think of what other combinations of issues I have dealt with over the years.  Has anyone found a good one?

Heard of sandpaper versions, but not sure where they are sourced from (and what issues they have).  Think there is a definite market for a better way to square off the ends of a pen blank in line with the brass insert.

Standing at the lathe a bit later, in contemplation mode, and heard a familiar tick, tock.  The shed clock.  It was in another stack of crates nearby that I hadn’t looked through, so did the balancing act with them and went for a bit of a look.  Didn’t find the mill (but wasn’t really looking for it) – was hoping to find the tailstock of the Comet II (but it wasn’t there), but did find the other thing I was hoping to uncover: the Nova Titan II Chuck.

I previously thought I had found it, but that turned out to be a SuperNova2 chuck – fooled by the size for a second.  Once I saw the Titan, there was no possible mistake – it is bloody massive!  Will have a look around to find a suitable blank to mount up.

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Can’t wait for the day when I can start unpacking these boxes and crates properly, and rediscovering things.

While looking for a better mill, I did find this mandrel saver at Carroll’s Woodcraft.

planetmandrelsaverIt is specifically for pen turning, and doesn’t push on the end of the pen mandrel (which can cause it to bend slightly if too tight, causing an off-centre oscillation).  Instead, the mandrel feeds through the mandrel saver, which instead pushes directly on the bushings.  This means there is no need for the knurled knob either, and therefore no slippage caused by it being slightly loose, and no distortion of the mandrel.  Very interesting.  If the ends of the blank were milled correctly, getting the mandrel saver a bit tight shouldn’t be an issue, as the load passes through the first bush, through the brass centre, through the second bush and into the headstock.

There is a MT1 and MT2 version (both pictured).  Again, if anyone has used this and has an opinion, I’d be interested to hear.  I’m quite tempted to try it out myself in any case.  To now I have used a live centre with a very blunt point with which to engage the hollow end of the mandrel (a sharp point tends to wander, causing a similar issue as if the live centre was pushing too hard).

Wonder what other developments are out there?

The Camera is (still) Mightier than the Pen

There is a pen style to suit everyone, from the thinnest slimline designs, through to the bulkiest, heaviest ones.  The price can vary from a few dollars to $100 or so, simply for the mechanism.  You’d certainly want to be on your turning game when working with the expensive models.

Elegant Beauty Kit

There are stacks of different pen kits out there, from slimlines, through sierras, sedonas to emperors and on and on.  Some require one turned section, some 2, either the same diameter, or with lids, or other sections.

Sedona Kit

Some are more complicated than others!

Blank Drilling Vice

A blank drilling vice holds the blank steady, and parallel to the drill bit.  Until recently, I used a standard metalworking drill press vice which was ok, but this style of dedicated vice eliminates the problem of ensuring the blank is actually vertical.  It also makes it easy moving from one blank to the next, or to remount a blank for redrilling.  Changing to a larger or smaller blank is easy – certainly no harder (and I’d say easier) than a standard screw vice.  The quick-action lever is a definite boon.

Tube Inserter

This simple tool is a tapered shaft, and allows the brass core to be inserted without you directly coming into contact with the finger -joining Superglue!  I tend to find it also prevents over-insertion, where the brass tube sticks out the other side (and the speed the glue sets typically prevents a fix).  However, it is a rather gentle taper, so is not as effective for the larger tube diameters.

Pen Mill

Once the tube is inserted, and the glue set, it is time to dress the ends so they are flat, and perpendicular to the tube (and therefore the components).  Some mills have different diameter central bores for the different pen types.  This helps keep the mill accurately aligned, and also cleans out any glue (etc) that happens to have gotten in where it shouldn’t have.  However I still haven’t found a mill that I am happy with.

Pen Mandrel

Have a couple of pen mandrels here – the top one is variable (ie has variable length with a chuck)  The mandrel is critical as it supports the blank as it is being turned, and given that the finished pen can be as thin as 0.5mm, providing decent support is rather important.  A knurled knob at one end holds the blank firm as it is turned.

Bush

Different pens have different diameters, both outside to match the components, and inside – the diameter of the brass tube.  Rather than have a mandrel the right diameter for each pen type, bushes are used to fit inside the brass, centering the blank on the mandrel, and the outside of the bush provides a reference for the final thickness the pen needs to be turned down to.  These are a consumable – they do get worn so occasional replacement is necessary.  However, they are only $5 – $8 for a set, so it isn’t too expensive.

Live Centre

Instead of my normal live centre, (or my new Nova one) both of which are too sharp and have too thin a cone end to fully support the end of the mandrel, I found this cheap chinese one, which is hopeless for the job it is designed for, but perfect for pen turning.

Centre matching Mandrel

The short, wide angle and blunt/rounded tip is useless as a live centre, but matches the end of the mandrel surprisingly well.

Sandpaper

Getting the required finish requires sanding (unless you are an expert turner, and even then I imagine they use sandpaper too!), and you always need to work through the sandpaper grits to ensure there are no scratches left to ruin the finish.  This pack provides a convenient storage, and to keep it all in order.

Cyanoacrylic & Accelerator

Other than glueing the tube into the blank, I also use CA glue as a finish, typically with 18-20 coats to produce a very durable finish.  To apply so many layers, the accelerator is necessary.  If one layer is not fully set before the next one is applied the finish is ruined with a milky layer under the surface.  I prefer the aerosol can applicator – a fine, even application.

There is no different between the CA glue here and the Superglue in the small 2g tubes, other than convenience.  A 2g tube will do about a pen, including the finish, give or take.

Acrylic Sanding Pads

Getting a really fine finish requires going to an increasingly fine abrasive, and the acrylic sanding pads are excellent for this, especially when used on acrylic pens, or CA finished ones (you don’t need to CA finish an acrylic pen!)  These pads are coloured based on the grade of abrasive, so it is easy to move from one to the next.  They can be used dry, but they are superior when kept soaked in a bowl, and used wet. This cools the finish, which is important for both types – they are easily destroyed if they get too hot with the friction of sanding, leaving no option but to strip back to bare wood (if a CA finish) and start again, or if an acrylic to drop right back to a rough grade and work you way up again, hopefully the heat affected zone is not too deep.

The pads themselves are also damaged if they get too hot.  A simple rule of thumb is: when used wet, watch out for any dry spots that form which will quickly indicate an area where the temp is rapidly rising.  Watch out for any steam, and feel with your fingers too.  Keep wetting the pads down (dipping them back in the water) – not only will this keep them wet and cool, but also washes off any abrasive particles that have come loose.

The finish these pads do achieve is superb.

Hut Pen Wax

There are other finishes out there, including Hut Wax PPP (Perfect Pen Polish).  These look great straight off the lathe, but I have found them very disappointing with their lack of durability.

Ubeaut Shithot Waxtik

This is a wax by Neil Ellis of Ubeaut, and as you can see I haven’t used it yet (bought it for the name first and foremost!) It got its name from wood turners though, as each when asked how the wax stick was, remarked that it was……., and the name stuck!

Ubeaut was originally going to be called Shithot, but the business licensing organisation cracked it.  At least the product itself, with a typically Aussie approach to naming, made it to the market.

Pen Press

Finally, when it has all been finished, the final assembly can be done.  I used to use a Superjaws for this step, but a dedicated pen press is a much better solution.

Perfect Pen Presentation

Finally, it is imperative that the finished pens are displayed proudly, which leaves only one problem – deciding which one to write with!

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