It’s in Disguise!

Had a chance at part two – to finish off the Mont Blanc camo pen.  This is the top, with the initial turning completed and ready for finishing.  Although the difference in diameters at either end looks quite severe, it is nowhere near as pronounced when the pen is assembled.  So with Paul Kelly cranking out of the stereo about making gravy, I started working on the finish.

Finishing the Acrylic

Running the lathe near flat out (it is after all a very small diameter, so the edge speed is pretty low even at maximum RPM), it is important not to allow the temperature to rise.  Acrylic will melt very easily, and timber has a tendency to blow out.  You can often get away with it with timber, but it is better practice to keep the temp down.

When working with acrylic, the acrylic sanding pads work extremely well, and have the benefit of being used wet, so they are good for keeping the workpiece cool.  If the water runs out/evaporates off, the temperature can spike very quickly, so constant vigilance is the order of the day.

Acrylic Polishing Pads

The pads are colour coded (and again I’m getting that wiggly red line telling me that I’m wrong spelling it that way)

The pads are colour coded, so you can easily identify each grit and work up through them – do not be tempted to skip any, otherwise you are almost guaranteed to have scratches in the finish.  The other thing is to make sure the workpiece, and the abrasive are flushed regularly (or in the case of the workpiece, at least carefully wiped down), particularly when dealing with the large grits.  If any have become dislodged, they can cause significant scars in the finish.

Scoring the Shoulder Width

This pen design has a sleeve that fits on the top half of the pen, so a shoulder needed to be cut.  It was meant to be 7/32″, which means nothing to me – I’m sure it should but I can’t picture what it is.  So with the FastCap calculator, it converted to 5.55mm.  Setting the digital caliper to this, I then used the inside diameter points to become a set of accurate dividers, and to then score the line.

Forming the Shoulder

Using a parting tool as a scraper, it formed a sharp shoulder ready for the sleeve. I originally bought the shoulder down to the diameter of the bush, but it turns out it was not very accurate.  At least it was too large, so I was able to still work down to the right diameter.  It did result in me having to test the fit almost a dozen times, but when it got there, the fit was perfect – no glue required. Slow and steady – if you are in a rush, or impatient, pen turning is a chore rather than meditative, or whatever you get out of it. Again, the digital caliper worked very well, allowing the sleeve internal diameter to be accurately measured, and compared to the forming shoulder.

Top Assembled

Using the new pen assembly press, it all went together very easily.  The press worked well, but it has way too much flex in the base. Not hard to fix – I will simply attach it at a number of points to a heavy, straight (probably wooden) base.  Other than that (which is an easy fix), having a dedicated pen assembly press is a definite bonus.  And a lot more convenient than setting up a SuperJaws which is how I’ve done it in the past.  A bit more of an appropriate sized tool for the job too!

Polishing Pads

Polishing the lower half – the pen is currently turning (3000 RPM) – the flash of the camera has mostly frozen the pen.  Again, working through the grits to get the required finish.  I started with 180 grit sandpaper (dry) to compensate for some irregularities in the surface caused by my less-than-perfect turning abilities.  This sends the acrylic an astonishingly opaque white, but have faith, it all comes right fi you diligently work through the grits of the acrylic finishing pads, with plenty of water to keep the surface cool and clean.

Pen Supplies

Just before I finish, this (for those who haven’t seen it) is my pen turning box – full of different pen kits, some of the tools of the trade, bushes, etc.  It is double sided, so lots of interesting bits n pieces in there.  Found a couple of kits that I forgot I had, so more to try out in the near future.

The Finished Pen

The resulting pen – I haven’t made a decent pen-photographing setup, but I think it comes across ok here anyway.  Has a very nice feel, not as heavy as some (I discovered I like heavy pens after making some Sierras and EBs (Elegant Beauty)), but still closer to what I like than the slimlines, which just seem too thin and too light to me these days.

And the camo makes for a very interesting design as well.

Start of a pen

I was hoping to have a full set of photos of this pen construction – the first time I’ve tried making a BT-401 (a version of the Mont-Blanc pen style) from Carbatec in preparation for the demo day I’m putting on 31 July (last Saturday of the month) at Carbatec, Melbourne (10am-12pm)  Thought I’d better actually try making one or two before the day!

Pen Vice

I started by choosing a blank, in this case an acrylic camo pen blank I bought at the Brisbane Wood Show.  Using the pen vice I recently got from Carbatec, this was the first time I used it for an actual pen rather than playing with it, and it worked perfectly – it is a very well-made pen vice, and for the first time I didn’t have to think about whether the blank was actually vertical.  It may not be essential for making pens, but it is nice having a tool dedicated to a specific task – it removes any small stresses that otherwise result from compromise.  The one thing I still need to acquire here (other than a drill press with less run-out!) is a drill bit that is more suitable, and closer in diameter to the brass insert.  At the moment the bit is 0.25mm oversized, and I feel it results in a fit that is a little looser than I’d like.

I also don’t think the standard bit works as well dealing with the waste material, especially acrylic.  If the waste isn’t cleared efficiently, and the bit doesn’t cut as well as it should there is a potential for the operation getting hotter than is necessary, and I personally believe that overheating the blank at this point results in more failures during the turning and finishing stages than any other step.  Too much heat weakens the blank, whether it is acrylic (which already suffers badly from heat), or timber which dries and/or develops microcracks when overheated.  You don’t realise it at this step, but pay the price near the end when the blank is turned down to final (thin wall) dimensions.

Now you see it..... soon you won't!

Mounted on the lathe with the correct bushes and started turning down the first blank.  I will be very curious to see it actually works – first time with any new pen design is always a little uncertain. I got most of the first half of the pen turned, then the demands of having an under 5 year-old in the household called me away, so I haven’t managed to progress the pen any further at this stage.  The camo blank looks to be working well too – more of a vietnam era jungle green than a modern camo, but that is fine too.  This came from one of the 1m long blanks I bought in Brisbane – very little waste so far!

More to come as the pen is finished.

Pen Tools

The Stu’s Shed demos are still happening at Carbatec – on the last Saturday of the month.  This month (26th June) will be looking at MagSwitch, including tablesaw safety, and resawing on the bandsaw.  In July, I will be doing some pen turning (31 July).  I definitely do not profess to being a pen turning expert, but what I want to demonstrate is even someone with little turning experience can produce a decent pen.

To aid my production, I will also be demonstrating these two new products in the Carbatec range:

The Blank Drilling Vice and

Blank Drilling Vice

The Pen Press.

Pen Press

The vice in particular is some very nice engineering – simple, clever, holds tightly with a presettable holding pressure.  The  notch works equally as well on square pen blanks as well as round.  It really makes that step very easy – the blank is well held and perfectly upright – something I have long struggled with, eyeballing the blank from one side then the other to get it as upright as possible.  No longer.

And repeatable – blank after blank without struggle.  I had tried a different pen vice in the past, and it is chalk and cheese the difference between them.  This one is excellent.

I’ll reserve my opinion of the pen press.  It looks like it will do the job, and is significantly more convenient than having to set up a SuperJaws which is how I’ve done it in the past.  But until I actually use it, I cannot say if it is living up to expectations.

PS Tools Mini Lathe

The PS Tools Variable Speed Mini Lathe, from Pop’s Shed doesn’t make for too bad a starting point for a new turner, both with the convenience of variable speed, as well as the accessories that Pop’s Shed bundle with it.  The price is $695 (including around $100 worth of chisels, a $75 keyless Jacob’s Chuck, and about $125 worth of mini lathe chuck) which brings the lathe itself down to around $400 in value.  The Jet VS is around $675 without accessories fwiw, and doesn’t include the speed readout.

With Pen Blank, Ready for Turning

The lathe uses the standard #2 morse taper for mounting tools, which makes it easy to upgrade or add other live centres, drive spurs, drill chucks etc and has a threaded section on the drive shaft for various jaw chucks.   The head speed indicator was a particularly interesting inclusion, something that isn’t on the VS Jet, and although not essential, as Nova Lathe users will probably testify it is useful getting accurate speed readings, at least in some circumstances.  I certainly liked being able to dial-in a specific speed, and found myself wishing I had a variable speed unit on my Jet lathe.

Mini Chuck

The mini-chuck is a smaller version of a standard self-centering chuck, and it comes with 4 different jaw sets, as well as a mounting plate (used by screwing directly to the timber for odd shapes etc that cannot be otherwise mounted on the lathe).

Mini Chuck Accessories

If compared to a full-sized chuck (such as the Nova G3) and the equivalent jaw sets, it is quite a saving although with considerable less capacity.  However, on a mini-lathe it at least ensures you are not tempted to grossly exceed the lathe’s capabilities.

Keyless Jacobs Chuck

The keyless Jacob’s Chuck was actually rather interesting.  Without getting inside it to see about the quality of the build, it seemed to operate smoothly, and the jaws closed down to pretty much zero clearance (allowing the smallest of drill bits to be mounted).  Drilling on a lathe has a fundamental difference to drilling on the drill press.  Instead of the chuck revolving with the drill bit, it is (rotationally) stationary, and instead the workpiece revolves.  The drill bit is wound into the revolving workpiece via the tail stock thread.

On this lathe (and sadly with a number of threaded tools coming out of China), they don’t seem to be able to make a really smooth operating thread.  I may at some stage see if I can get the tail stock apart and see if the thread can be cleaned up so it operates smoother.  It works as is, but there is working, and then working well.

Speed Sensor Wheel

Inside the headstock there is this toothed wheel next to the belt drives.  The belts still have 3 pulleys, so the variable speed can be set to one of three speed ranges, covering a total speed range of around 600RPm to 3000RPM.  The method for determining speed is the same as old (ie non laser/optical) computer mice, using a light transmitter/receiver shining through a toothed wheel and the rate the light is strobed is used to calculate head speed.

Beginner Tool Set

The chisel set has the more popular chisel types (bowl gouge, roughing gouge, skew, parting tool, scraper, spindle gouge), and will get you started.  As your skills develop, you’ll want to start replacing the chisels you most commonly use with better quality (ie expensive) ones, but having a basic set such as this will at least give you a feel for the different types, and plenty of sharpening practice without doing so on an expensive chisel.  (Given the entire set is worth around $100, and a decent chisel costs about that individually, I’m not being unreasonably harsh).  This set will get you started on the journey (and trust me, wood turning is a slippery slope!)

In checking the lathe itself, I started by turning the fire-pen from Rockler, and it went smoothly until I got down to near the end.  I found the pen was slightly off-centre, but I am putting that down to user error – I hadn’t mounted the pen spindle as central as I needed to, because when I checked the alignment of the head and tail stock, I couldn’t see any problem there.

Head Stock / Tail Stock alignment

Checking how the head drive spur and live centre in the tail stock line up is one of the fundamental checks if a lathe is made properly, and the PS Tools lathe had no issues there, as you can see from the above-photo.

I’ve had some off-line comments sent through about another brand that looked very similar to this lathe, and I will keep an eye on those pickup points, but at this stage I haven’t experienced any of the problems mentioned, and it may just be a case of similar models/brands, but not the same.

Great Pens of Fire!

A few months ago, Rockler released a new set of laser-cut pen blank kits which I mentioned here.  I was fortunate to be able to get hold of one, and I’ve been waiting for a chance to actually try the kit out.  There are lots of small parts, and plenty of assembly required before turning begins (and it is not a job to rush).

The Kit

The kit itself looks exciting (and looking at the components, you can see why you might be a bit nervous to start).  The smoke pieces are like fully burn matches (and you feel might be as weak as a burnt match).  The components are very clever – the black pieces are a full ring (as with the flame), but they are cut so they can be assembled.  A couple would not fit, and I finally determined that they hadn’t been cut apart (I could see where they should be separated), and it took only a little coaxing with a blade to separate the pieces.

Burning Detail

Amazing detail – a stunning component.

Completing the Jigsaw

I took my time, and got the pieces together, and was worried about the gaps, but trusted to the design so carried on to see what the result would be.  The pen was then secured with rubber bands, then flooded with superglue along each crack, allowing it to wick right into the joints.  You don’t bother trying to keep the superglue off the rubber bands – they will get cut away when turning begins.

Glued, Ready for Turning

I sanded the ends down to the length of the brass after this (staged) photo, then sharpened the chisel I planned on using, even to the extent of touching up the cutting edge with diamond stones.  This blank is a one-off – there is no second chance if there is a catch because of blunt tools.  I took the turning very slow (the lathe was running around 2200RPM, but I was very slow and careful with how much material was removed at any time.)  As material was carved away, I would stop and check if there were any gaps that needed filling, and used CA (with accelerator) where some appeared.  This was because at some points the CA hadn’t fully penetrated at the glueup, so stabilising it as I went worked very well.

I started using the PS Tools lathe, but found as I got close I wasn’t sure if it was the lathe that wasn’t set up fully, or that I hadn’t placed the mandrel properly.  Checking the alignment of head and tail stock showed very good alignment, so it was more likely me.  However, this blank was too important, so changed over to my other lathe that I knew was set up and ready.  If it was any other pen etc, I’m sure with cleaning any dust off the morse taper and sticking with the PS Tools lathe would have worked well.  I really liked the variable speed aspect of the lathe, and really, while turning I was quite happy with the lathe.  I’ll give it another go with a less important project, and fully expect it to come through well.

After turning, I finished off with some various grit chisels – from 180 right through to 1500.  I normally don’t go that far, but again, a special pen demands extra attention.  Still, I kept focus on not allowing the pen to overheat during sanding.  An exploding pen at this point would be disaster.  Following the sanding came the finishing, and I stuck with what has been working well for me – CA finish.  20 layers of CA, polished to a superb, and durable gloss.

I have taken to running a razor around at the edge of the pen – between the pen and the bush to aid separation.  Once I remove the bush, I immediately lightly sand the ends to remove any overhanging CA.  I’ve had it happen in the past that the slightest overhang causes a fracture of the surface of the finish.

The Stunning Result

I went with a gunmetal finish Sierra – seemed fitting. I am very pleased with the final product, it took easily three times as much work to get it done, but it was a pleasure to do.  I spent a long time wondering how it would go, and it was a real relief how it did work out.  The dark pieces were not as fragile as they looked, and the gaps I was worried about vanished during the turning and finishing.  And interestingly, the black….isn’t.  It has beautiful wood grain, again that I wasn’t expecting.  It is an incredible blank, and I imagine the other designs are the same.


So there you have it.  If you are looking for a pen significantly above and beyond the typical, then one of the laser cut designs from Rockler definitely fit the bill. Amazing.

Feedback on Pen Videos

Just tripped over some discussions about my recent Pen Turning videos (Part 1 – Preparing and Turning and Part 2 Finishing and Assembling) on a site called and thought I’d provide some responses here:

Firstly, thanks for the comments (both positive (and not so positive – they make some good points))

I wouldn’t have minded if you’d told me where you thought I’d gone wrong – I’m still learning like everyone!

To the specific points raised:

Speed I was turning (and sanding) at – not sure – fast! (A tip I picked up from Robbo, who is an amazing professional turner)

Chisel – yeah – the gouge is way too big for the job.  I definitely have my eye out for one that is a more appropriate size.  The one I used did the job, but it is 2-3 times larger than it should be for such a small item! Also, toolrest to workpiece distance – good point (I’m still learning this turning caper)

To Harry’s comments – yes, I didn’t work up through anywhere near as many sandpaper grits than I used to (I used to head up to 1200+), but found it doesn’t seem to make any difference to the result under a CA finish.  Perhaps I could get an even better result if I did.  As to skipping micromesh grits – no – didn’t skip any – sorry if I didn’t make that clear.  However, nor did I clean off the residue between grits, and that is a very good point – thanks for that pickup – will change my practices accordingly.

Too much accelerator? I’m positive that I was, and that stuff isn’t cheap so I will definitely scale back my use of it. The only time I have gotten a milky finish is when I forgot to use the accelerator, (or when I tried one before I had some, and didn’t leave enough time for the CA to set properly).  I tend to think the milky issue is caused by a micro-shearing of the CA finish on a layer that wasn’t set hard enough (that layer slipping).  However, it will also be interesting to monitor the pens over time to see how they are affected down track.  At this stage, the first pens I did with CA are now over 2 months old, and are as pristine as the day they were made (and have been used every day since then too).

The use of accelerator is just that – to speed up the process.  If you are willing to wait an hour or so between coats, then yeah- there is no need for the accelerator.  Like any glue, there is a time to when the glue sets and therefore you can remove the clamps, but then there is a much longer time for the glue to cure and achieve full strength.  Superglue is the same – it may seem to dry in seconds, but it will take a good hour or so to cure properly.  The accelerator, well, you can surmise from its title what it does!

Thanks for the discussion though – hopefully I’ve helped a bit, clarified a bit, (and I’ve learned a bit as well!)

Episode 50b Finishing and Assembling a Pen

Episode 50b Finishing and Assembling a Pen

Some Promotional Images

Been working on some images for a website, and thought I might as well throw them on here to see how they look live, as it were.




ncf-quick-ca-acceleratorThe second image is CA Accelerator – although we think of CA (superglue) as being incredibly quick-drying, when using it as a finish when turning (such as for a pen) it is beneficial to be able to get it to cure even faster, and thus this is where the CA Accelerator is useful.

Couldn’t find any, until I mentioned it on here of course, and next thing I was getting suggestions (cheers!) on where to track it down, including hobby shops, and the Woodworking Warehouse, where I sourced this can from.

The Results

A couple more results

A couple more results

These are the resulting two pens from the evening.  The pen on the left is again a Sierra, with a black acrylic body.  I’ve had this pen blank for a couple of years, and hadn’t found a project to use it on, until I saw the black components of the Sierra, and that made it a no-brainer.  I don’t think I expected the white to remain thin tracks through the pen – I though they were going to be large facets of white, revealed as the blank turned round.  I guess not!  Overall I am very happy with how it came out.  The pen would be even better if I was a Collingwood supporter!

The pen on the right is actually the same pen as the previous one.  I decided I really wasn’t happy enough with the fit and finish I had achieved, so took the pen apart, remounted the body in the lathe and turned the original timber off (ie turned it into toothpicks).  I was then able to start again with a new blank.

This time I am much happier with the results.  I don’t know what the timber is though unfortunately.

The finish on the right pen is CA, and given it is my first CA finished pen, I’m not exactly an expert.  However, I will make a pen video very shortly, and will attempt to show how the CA finish is applied.

What Goes Around….

A few months ago I showed a shed colleague how to do the basics where it came to turning a wooden pen. I’m not much of a turner, but it was more the sorts of steps involved in creating the pen, rather than the ins and outs of turning itself.

Since then, he’s been off creating a significant collection of pens of all sorts of types and materials, and that in turn was the final inspiration for me to try some different, more expensive models myself (as my post a few days ago showed).

So last night, I had him around again, and this time he was showing me the steps he takes in turning a pen, and in particular something I’ve never really gotten the hang of before – producing a good (and more importantly) and durable finish. In this case, we covered using CA to produce a strong, glossy finish. (CA – aka Cyanoacrylate, or more popularly marketed as SuperGlue.)

So in my best Yoda voice: “The master becomes the student he has”

It just goes to show just how much can be gained from sharing and collaborating with other woodworkers to further everyones skills.

And secondly, leads me to the conclusion that you can only learn about 10% of the trade from watching endless DVDs and reading mountains of books. 90% of the learning and refining of skills MUST be hands-on, in your own workshop, making your own mistakes and just giving things a try.

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