Turned Pens

Turn these little gifts to make your friends turn heads.

SHOP OWNER: Charles Mak
LOCATION: Calgary, Alberta, Canada

    Christmas is just a couple of months shy from being here. It is time for amateur woodworkers to make some sawdust and produce some handcrafted gifts for the holidays. More so for those of us living in Alberta where winter weather can freeze up almost anything in an unheated garage workshop.
    My favorite year round 'give-away' gifts are pens and key rings. I like exotic woods for the pen blanks. This time, I chose padauk, African black wood, and purpleheart for the pens and maple and acrylic acetate for the key rings, as seen in the pictures.
Turned Key Rings

    Both the pen and key ring turnings are relatively straightforward: you start with the pen blanks, cut them to length, drill holes for the brass tubes, glue them to the blanks using epoxy or cyanoacrylate, and turn them on a lathe. Below are a few tips to help you make the process more productive.

    1) Prepare your pen blanks in multiples - I usually do 50 or so a time - to save setup time from cutting to drilling and gluing.

    2) To reduce my turning time, I make and cut my blanks to the smallest possible sizes before I begin. If you buy your blanks, e.g., for slim pens, the standard pen blanks, which are usually 3/4" square by 6" long, can still be sized down to 3/8" square.

    3) For acrylic acetate materials, use a sharp brad-point bit and adjust the drill speed to under 700 rpm to avoid overheating, which can cause the blank to crack. My lathe speed for this kind of materials is usually 800 - 1000 rpm. I use wet/dry papers for sanding with a few drops of water for lubrication up to the desired grit of my choice (400 grit).

    4) If your turning experience is limited, start with a shallow gouge. As you build up your skill, try switching to a skew chisel, which leaves a cleaner cut.

. . . Charles Mak



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