Getting Started in Pen Turning | The Basics

Turning pens on a lathe is one of those addicting hobbies you come across in woodworking. They can be made from start to finish in about 30 minutes and can be very profitable at craft shows. There are a ton of gadgets available for pen turning which may be confusing. In the video above I simplify the process and break down what pen turning accessories you need and the ones you may not need. The following steps are the basics in getting started in pen turning. Once you have these down you can start to get into the more complicated pen kits and work with segmented pieces as well as acrylics and non traditional materials. I am by no means an expert turner so if you have any suggestions and pen turning tips, leave them in the comments below. As always, be safe, stay passionate and make something!

Pen Turning Supplies and Tools

how to turn a pen on the lathe

pen blank

Step 1: Pen Blank

You’ll need to start off with a 3/4″ square stock. If you don’t have the tools to cut your own blanks you can purchase them pre-cut.

cutting pen blank to length

Step 2: Cutting Pen Blank to Length

We’ll grab the brass tubes from the slimline pen kit and cut our blanks slightly longer than the tubes.

drill pen blank hole

Step 3: Drilling Pen Barrel Holes

Now you’ll drill a perpendicular hole in each piece. This pen drilling jig from Rockler makes drilling these holes easier but you can also use a handscrew clamp. Mark your center line and drill all the way through. Do this with both pieces.

glue in pen barrel

Step 4: Gluing in Pen Tube Barrel

Next you’ll glue the brass tubes into the blanks with CA glue, otherwise known as super glue or crazy glue. I’m roughing up the surface with sandpaper for a better hold. Just apply a bit of glue, twist it in and let it sit for a few minutes to dry.

pen mill

Step 5: Barrel Cleaner / Pen Mill

Now you’ll use a barrel cleaner pen mill in the drill press. This will clean out any glue that got into the tube and at the same time square up and flush the ends with the brass tube. You’ll want to drill drown just until you see the brass tube. Repeat this on each end on both pieces.

pen mandrel

Step 6: Pen Mandrel

Next you’ll mount the pen mandrel in the lathe. Place a slimline bushing on each and in between the blanks. Secure the tailstock and you’re ready to start turning.

pen turning

Step 7: Turning the Pen

You can make the body any shape you want but I find a nice simple and slender look works best for the slimline pens. Be sure to turn each end of the blanks to the same diameter as the bushings.

pen sanding

Step 8: Pen Sanding

Once you get the shape you want you can begin sanding. Between each grit I like to stop the late and sand with the grain to remove any scratches.

pen finishing

Step 9: Pen Finishing

And just like any project there are a hundred ways to finish it. Choose one that works best for you. You could use a pen polish made just for wood turning. Other alternatives include using CA glue and buffing it out for a high gloss. I’ve also had success with spray lacquer or just using wax.

pen pressing

Step 10: Pressing the Upper Pen Tube

Once you’re done with the finishing process you can remove the pieces from the lathe and start assembling your pen.Start with the clip and the cap and press that onto the upper tube.

pen pressing

Step 11: Pressing the Lower Pen Tube

Then you’ll press the tip into the lower tube.

pen pressing

Step 12: Twist Mechanism

Now you’ll press the twist mechanism into the other end of the lower tube. You’ll need to be careful and not go past the indicator ring. If you go past this ring it’s nearly impossible to recover and you’ll need to start over with a new kit.

pen assembly

Step 13: Pen Assembly

Now you can slip on the center ring, thread the ink cartridge and push the two assemblies together.

how to turn a pen on the lathe


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