Beginning Pen Turning

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Forum topic by iamMike posted 06-02-2011 04:06 AM 6390 views 1 time favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View iamMike's profile


8 posts in 3551 days

06-02-2011 04:06 AM

I want to get into pen turning. I read somewhere that buying a starter kit is a waste especially i hate the gold look.
If you agree what would you suggest i buy to get started.

Thanks Mike

15 replies so far

View Minorhero's profile


373 posts in 3483 days

#1 posted 06-02-2011 04:48 AM

Do you have anything currently? (ie do you own a lathe?)

You need the following equipment:

1) Lathe
2) Chisel (I did a lot of research and found that a 3/8” spindle gouge to be the best tool because not only can it turn a pen quite easily, but it also can be used for other things)
3) Wood Blanks
4) Some sand paper
5) Some form of finish (friction polish is the easiest thing to apply)
6) The pen hardware, sold in kits from various suppliers
7) Pen mandrel
8) Chuck for pen mandrel if your mandrel did not come with one
9) Some method of sharpening the chisel (don’t skip this you will need it right away, literally – I use a 6” 150 grit grinder stone and a wooden shop made jig that replicates the wolverine system, took me all of 10 minutes to make).
10) Set of punches (I bought mine from harbor freight) for removing pen hardware from blanks when you make a mistake (this will happen)
11) Some Crazy glue or epoxy.
12) Videos, I watched a bunch of youtube videos on pen turning before starting, really helped me figure out what I needed.
13) Bushing’s for use with the specific pen kits you have.

As for specifically what equipment to buy… Well midi lathes are pretty popular and the easiest way to get into the hobby. A used lathe can run about the same as a midi lathe but they tend to be bigger, though chances are you won’t get as good a range of speed control so there is a big trade off there. If you just plan to do pen turning and never anything else, then a midi lathe is all you will ever need.

You will want to resist the temptation to buy a set of chisels, they cost a lot and won’t be of much use most of the time. Spend 60 dollars on a spindle gouge, you won’t be disappointed. I bought a Henry Taylor Kryo and I’m quite happy with it.

Hope that helps.

View iamMike's profile


8 posts in 3551 days

#2 posted 06-02-2011 05:40 AM

going to buy the Delta 46-460

View Woodwrecker's profile


4240 posts in 4454 days

#3 posted 06-02-2011 06:38 AM

I just got a 46-460 and love it, although I’m just a beginner on the lathe.
I’m going to watch to see what others suggest to you because I think I want to try some pens too.
Thanks. Good question !

View rance's profile


4274 posts in 4039 days

#4 posted 06-02-2011 06:55 AM

What Hero said. And you’ll Love that Delta lathe.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View Keith Fenton's profile

Keith Fenton

328 posts in 3798 days

#5 posted 06-02-2011 01:55 PM

I think a round nose scraper is very useful for pen turning and you should have one.

IMO for about the $60 hero mention for a spindle gouge, you can get a decent set, which would be good if you plan to turn other stuff. (M2 High Speed Steel) :

I have a higher end chisel set (Nanotools) and actually haven’t been using them much because I find the rouging gouge and round nose scraper in the Benjamin’s Best set is all I need most of the time. I do use this 1/8” cutter to get in a small touch up sometimes where I can’t really get into to get the shape I want with the larger tools. I wouldn’t say you really need this … just showing what I use:
the page I linked here just has the shaft with no handle just to show you what I meant.

I only use medium CA (crazy glue) for a finish on my wood pens and get micro mesh sanding pads up to 12000 grit followed by plastic polish to get a mirror shine. The micro mesh will also be good for acrylic materials, some of which don’t need any finish applied over them.

here’s the micro mesh pads that I use:,250,43243,43245

here’s the plastic polish that I use:

I also use an acrylic buffing wheel with ultra fine plastic compound after the plastic polish. This is something you can wait on or skip altogether as the finish will be very nice with the micro mesh and plastic polish. The wheel and compound that I got can be found on this page:

The starter kits usually come with 24k gold plating which is one of the least durable finishes. For the lower priced pens, if you want durable, chrome will last much longer. I think you save a couple dollars with the starter pack if you need the drill bit and, of course, if you want the gold pens. As hero said you will need your sharpening equipment right away I use a Wolverine jig myself but you can definitely replicate it out of wood.

-- Scroll saw patterns @

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3953 days

#6 posted 06-02-2011 02:50 PM

I’ve looked over the list of items needed and I don’t see anything to assist in drilling the holes into the blanks.

You need a jig to hold the blank in place on your drill press. Of course, this implies that you have a drill press.

I’ve discovered that I can also drill the hole with my lathe. I mount a Jacobs chuck with the bit on the tail stock and I mount the blank into a conventional lathe chuck. It works quite well.

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

View northwoodsman's profile


380 posts in 4625 days

#7 posted 06-02-2011 03:31 PM

In addition to the items listed above, I would go with (in addition to a lathe):
- Drill press (it doesn’t have to be a large floor model).
- Easy Pen Turner (made by EWT) it’s aka the Carbide tipped iC3 rougher and is available from Craft Supplies USA or Woodcraft – Your lathe tool must be razor sharp and be able to cut paper thin ribbons of shavings otherwise the wood, acrylic, antler, truestone and etc. will chip off. With this tool you don’t have to spend another $100+ on a good sharpening system. It’s really the only lathe tool that you need for pen turning. The carbide tip has 4 sides so when it get dull you just rotate it. It’s about $90.00.
- Adjustable pen mandrel.
- Wood turners sanding strips.
- Pen press.
- Blank drilling jig – the blue one from Rockler can also be used as a press. If you get it just be sure to remove the 4 set srews from the carriages before you use it, apply Locktite Thread Lock to the screws, then put them back in. If you don’t do this, after about 3 – 4 pen blanks they will fall out and you won’t find the bearings and springs in the shavings and saw dust on your shop floor.
- A good compartmental tool box for sorting and storing all of your bushings, tools, blanks, kits and etc.
- For each pen kit you will need the appropriate bushings, pen mill and drill bits.
- Tube insertion tool.

I would start with the Wallstreet II from Woodcraft, or the Sienna from Craft Supplies USA or the Sierra (?). They are all the same kit with different names. They are a one piece tube kit. You can get very elegant versions of them or cheap ones. They are great to learn on and won’t get you frustrated starting out. My kids make them all the time. They made 20 over the past 2 weekends to give to their teachers as end of the year gifts. Stabalized blanks are nice becuase they don’t take a lot to finish them, but the downside is they can be expensive and brittle. Get a nice pack of bulk blanks (20 or so) for around $10 to practice on. Acrylic is also easy to turn an unique. Trustone is nice but I have found that some colors are MUCH easier to turn than others. Certain colors are EXTREMELY brittle.

Good luck. It’s addicting and can be expensive.

-- NorthWoodsMan

View Minorhero's profile


373 posts in 3483 days

#8 posted 06-02-2011 03:39 PM

Darn it I forgot the drill bit.

Yea you need an appropriate sized drill bit to drill your wooden blanks. Different pen kits will require different sized holes. You will also need some method of drilling the hole as richgreer said. I looked at the price of centering jigs designed to hold the wooden blank perfectly centered and also looked at the rather nice, but to my mind, elaborate shop made jigs designed to the same thing and decided to take a different route.

I went to my local hardware store and bought a small 3” mechanics vise. I mounted it to a piece of scrap and then clamped the scrap with the vise on it to my drill press. The vise lets me grip the wooden blank in a vertical position. I am probably not perfectly centered, maybe a few millimeters off by the time the drill bit exits the blank, but considering the amount of material that is being removed that doesn’t mean anything. Plus the vise is far from the unitasker other jigs are, so I get to use it for lots of other things. At 50 dollars it is also price comparable.

That being said, if you have the appropriate chucks then using your lathe eliminates the need to buy any other equipment. I would have used this method when starting out, but at the time I didn’t own a chuck that could grip the blank.

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3953 days

#9 posted 06-02-2011 04:22 PM

Warning – Pen turning can be highly addictive.

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

View iamMike's profile


8 posts in 3551 days

#10 posted 06-02-2011 05:49 PM

Thank you all for the great replies. I broke down and bought a starter kit. Im sure i will buy other stuff as i go but once i get something in my head i need it right away.

Ordered my Delta 46-460
Jet 354165 JDP-15M 3/4-HP 15-Inch Bench Drill Press
Super Pen Making Starter Set without Lathe

id figured id learn on the blanks it comes with and then start on some nice wood.
i have some curly maple,zebra wood, and lace wood that im dying to make some pens out of

View WayneC's profile


14359 posts in 4976 days

#11 posted 06-02-2011 06:15 PM

I would recommend you get the pen turning videos “Turning Pens with Kip and Rex=”. These are excellent videos and will get you well down the road.

I also really like the Craft Supplies USA Pen Kits. They have lots of choices and some high quality kits.

Also, they have a great free catalog.

I would agree with folks that pen turning is addictive. Enjoy.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View Darell's profile


436 posts in 4473 days

#12 posted 06-02-2011 09:30 PM

No bad advice above at all, but I’ll throw my 2 cents in. Check out the Benjamin Bests carbide pen turning chisel set from Penn State. They are sharp and stay sharp a long, long time and are less that $55 for the set. The set comes with a parting tool, spindle gauge and a skew. I’ve used these for over 50 pens both wood and acrylic and they still sharp. I use Aabranet for sanding my wood pens. A 3/4” strip off the end of 4 or 5 different grits will sand 20 to 30 pens or more. That stuff lasts a long time and is head and shoulders above sandpaper. Check out my reviews on Lumberjocks. As mentioned by others, pen turning is addictive. Above all, HAVE FUN!

-- Darell, Norman, Ok.

View Keith Fenton's profile

Keith Fenton

328 posts in 3798 days

#13 posted 06-02-2011 11:29 PM

Did anybody mention it’s addictive?... oh and expensive!

-- Scroll saw patterns @

View Arlin Eastman's profile

Arlin Eastman

4544 posts in 3440 days

#14 posted 06-03-2011 02:56 AM

I agree with everyone here, but I would like to say that WayneC Get the video and their other videos of kip and rex. You will realize after you buy them just how much they are worth.

+1 on the delta 46-460. I did have the penn state, however, when it broke down and would not replace per warrenty I bought the Delta

-- It is always the right time, to do the right thing.

View iamMike's profile


8 posts in 3551 days

#15 posted 06-16-2011 07:28 AM

Ok thanks for all the advice i bought the delta and love it. Wayne thanks for the tip about the videos ive watched them both like 4 times and going to agian. The ony problem i have is that you people didnt tell me it was addictive thanks alot.

Thanks again

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