Under Pressure

When using a featherboard, you normally don’t get to choose how stiff the fingers are – they are what they are.  When you put the featherboard into operation, it is pushed up against the workpiece until the desired deflection is achieved.  However, if you find it isn’t right, you have to start again with its setup.

I’m a big fan, as regular readers would know, of the MagSwitch range.  But they only works on ferrous materials.  My router table base is cast iron just to get to use the MagSwitch featherboard, which is all very well horizontally, but given the fence is an Incra LS Positioner with Wonderfence (from PWS), and that is all anodised aluminium, there is a bit of a problem.  I need a featherboard that works in a slot (and the Incra has slots that are perfect for this).

So where to turn?  Well when it comes down to it, there are two companies with incredibly similar ethos where it comes to innovation, quality and accuracy for woodworkers.  If one is Incra, the other must be Woodpeckers.

And sure enough, there is a new Woodpeckers featherboard that is an ideal complement for the Incra Router fence.  The Incra is not the only place the featherboards can be used.  Any slot, T or Mitre can be used. Router table, table saw, bandsaw, disk sander, spindle sander etc etc.

So you choose the Woodpeckers featherboard, put some load into it-get some deflection of the fingers (or feathers), but they are a bit soft for the application.  So instead of trying to achieve greater deflection (which also makes it difficult to feed the wood under or past the feathers), with the Woodpeckers you can choose to stiffen the feathers right up without having to reposition the whole setup with their innovative design.

It also works in reverse – if the feathers are too stiff, applying too much force against a soft timber, you can use the variable adjustment to get a softer action from the featherboard.

Horizontal or vertical, these featherboards are a real complement for the tool.  They come in sets of two – infeed and outfeed, or vertical and horizontal (or just have 2 sets!)

The real secret is in the method for controlling the finger pressure.

There is an upper plate, secured separately to the featherboard itself.  Small fingers insert in between the main featherboard fingers. By loosening the central knob, this separate plate can be slid up and down, effectively lengthening or shortening the feathers as required and thus controlling (and varying) the pressure without having to relocate the whole featherboard.

The shorter the fingers are made, the stiffer they become, and vice versa.

I haven’t taken a photo as yet of this setup on my Incra Wonderfence, but they definitely look the part, and are a perfect complement for my setup.  Being Woodpeckers, they are available from Professional Woodworkers Supplies down under

The Camera is Mightier than the Pen

With the upcoming Carbatec pen demo (31 July), I have been giving some thought to the whole pen-turning process, and just what equipment I use these days when making a pen.

Before I start (and you may have already glanced ahead at the collection of photos), remember that pen turning is a good beginner exercise, and as such you do not need such a collection of tools to produce a pen.  They help obviously, but are not mandatory.

Even the lathe is optional. You can turn a pen using other means, the primary alternative being the humble drill press.  You don’t even need turning chisels – many a pen has been made using a sharpened screwdriver.

Mini Lathe

A lathe makes life a lot easier of course.  I haven’t used a dedicated pen lathe, but my feeling is they would be too underpowered to really be effective.  You can use a belt-driven one or variable speed – I tend to run it flat out for pen turning, so that makes the decision rather moot.  I have a mini lathe, but it would be no issue using a larger lathe as well.  So long as the lathe is accurate (the two ends (head and tail stock being directly in line).

Variable Speed Mini Lathe

A variable lathe does have the advantage when dealing with larger, or more out-of-round blanks – being able to change speed easily without having to move belts between pulleys.

Drill Press

A drill press can substitute as mentioned – turning the pen vertically rather than horizontally. It also is particularly useful for drilling the centre of the blank to insert the brass tube core. This drill press has the laser attachment for centering the bit on the blank.

Bandsaw

A bandsaw is useful for easily trimming the blanks and can also be used to knock the corners off before turning if the blank material is prone to chipping/splitting during the initial turning to round.

It also has a major advantage in preparing blanks – scavenging materials from offcuts, resawing dried branches/logs etc.  You can take a lump of timber full of defects and still extract plenty of material for pens.  If you ever get into segmented turning (and yes, you can do segmented pens), then the bandsaw becomes critical. Not sure where the photos of my harlequin pen have gone…

Harlequin Pen

…..found a poor version back from about 2006.  Made from Red-gum, Pittosperum and Purpleheart. I only made the bottom half of the pen in harlequin – wasn’t happy with the result to justify continuing this experiment, but the principle is valid.

I also made this slimline for an informal pen comp where the theme was cross.

Cross Pen

I went with a traditional cross, with the obvious religious overtones. So I decided to take the photo on the woodworker’s bible (no insult intended).

Disk Sander

I find I use a disk sander for some jobs as well – trimming the ends of a blank down close to the length of the brass insert ready for the pen mill.  It isn’t particularly critical – I use it because it is available, and convenient.

Spindle Gouge

As far as turning tools, you can go the whole hog – roughing gouges, skews, gouges.  For a long time this was the only one I needed – a basic spindle gouge.  Used it for roughing and finishing, and details.

Detailed Pen

Captive Ring Pen

Even with a pen, you are only limited by imagination.  The captive ring was made by taking a very cheap skew and sharpening it to a much longer point so it could reach right under the ring as it was forming.  You can buy dedicated captive ring chisels – never tried one (yet), but the basic tool still achieved a perfectly good ring.

Hamlet Mini Turning Chisels

For very fine detail, a set of mini turning chisels can be quite effective, but again not critical – I got these more for dollhouse furniture than pen turning.

Wood Pen Blanks

The blanks themselves can be either timber, acrylic, bone, horn, metal (cartridge) etc etc.

Acrylic Blanks

Acrylics are interesting to work with, producing some quite colourful results, but I never feel like the pen is fully my own, and it won’t until I get into producing my own acrylic blanks.  This isn’t too difficult, but I need to learn how it is done so I can really feel like some of  these pens are really fully my own creation.

Laser Cut Blank

You can get very elaborate with blanks.  This for example is a laser cut kit from Rockler, and is a development of the segmented turning concept.  Pens made from these sorts of kits are also very interesting, but you are nervous the entire construction because of the cost of the ‘blank’ (around $US50 for this one, and the one below).

Fire Pen

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