Pen Turning Question

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Forum topic by CanadaJeff posted 05-12-2010 02:52 AM 2809 views 0 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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207 posts in 4177 days

05-12-2010 02:52 AM

Hi everyone,
I finally picked up a lathe and am now quickly playing around with some beginner projects. One thing I would like to get into is pen turning however I do not have all the equipment that is typically used. In particular everyone I see making pens use a drill press to drill out the blanks for the tubes. However, I’m wondering if a drill press is required or can a hand drill do the trick too?

6 replies so far

View measure2x's profile


50 posts in 3700 days

#1 posted 05-12-2010 03:26 AM

Hi Jeff,

Drilling a blank has to be accurate: If your shaft is way off on one side , as you turn it, you won’t have enough material to complete your pen on one side.

Even with a drill press it can be a challenge. If you can drill “strait” with a hand drill it could work…but most folks can’t. Try it on a practice blank to see (could try levels attached to hand drill—but it’s tricky).

A better option is to get a drill chuck for the tailstock of your lathe—many folks prefer this approach.
Lee Valley is a great supplier…they have a drill chuck ($33) ... see…,180,42334

(FYI, I use a drill press with a simple handmade jig to hold the blank perpendicular to the drill press bed).

Good luck,

-- Terry, Fredericton, NB Canada

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3641 days

#2 posted 05-12-2010 04:47 AM

I consider myself to be an experienced pen turner. To be blunt, I cannot envision drilling out blanks without a drill press.

While I had never thought of it, Terry’s suggestion about drilling out the blank on the lathe seems like a reasonable approach.

On the other hand, you do not need a heavy duty drill press to drill out blanks. The most basic bench top drill press (less than $100) will do the job if you have a good way to secure the blank.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View lew's profile (online now)


12908 posts in 4322 days

#3 posted 05-12-2010 06:24 AM

I have used my lathe to drill the blanks and it works great. However, in addition to the drill chuck to hold the bit, you need to use something like a Nova chuck (or make a chuck) to hold the blank centered on the head stock spindle as the drive center would get damaged from the drill bit.

If you use this approach, and you are making several pens, I would drill all the blanks and then set up for turning to avoid having to make so many chuck changes.

-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View EricRFP's profile


106 posts in 3661 days

#4 posted 05-12-2010 07:51 AM

Drill with a press or on the lathe. Before I got a drill press I did a few blanks by hand. I used jumbo 7/8” blanks to make slimlines. You can use a hand drill but plan on losing a few blanks. Start with cheap blanks and no big loss.

-- Eric, NorCal

View Mary Anne's profile (online now)

Mary Anne

1058 posts in 3776 days

#5 posted 05-12-2010 08:12 AM

Unless you have a huge supply of free wood, you are better off to use one of the other methods for drilling your blanks. If you get a drill press, you’ll find other uses for it and it is a good shop tool investment. If you want to use your lathe for drilling, you will need a Jacob’s chuck for the tailstock and a chuck and jaws for the headstock. As you get into turning, you’ll find lots of uses for the chucks… making bowls, turned boxes, ornaments, etc.

View Eagle1's profile


2066 posts in 3631 days

#6 posted 05-12-2010 01:12 PM

I agree with rich. I use a table top drill press. And I would suggest that you start turning wood pens first. Acrylic pens are a bit harder to turn. Pluse the blanks are more $. You need to watch it when you get down to the sleeve, its easy to chip off the blank, especially with the acrylic. Pen turning is a lot of fun. I like to let the grain talk to me when turning, to bring out the grain nicer.

-- Tim, Missouri ....Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what the heck happened

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