Initial Preparation

Safety guidelines: Got long hair? Tie it back. Long sleeves? pull them up and secure them. Rings, other jewelry? Take them off, wedding bands too. Goggles over your eyes? Good, if not, get them. Got a long beard? Guess what, tie it back. Dangly things means danger.

For this section you will need the following:

  • A lathe (I use a metal lathe but wood lathes can also be used)
  • Turning tools for the lathe (I use carbide inset tools but HSS tools will also do, if you are using a wood lathe then obviously use wood lathe tools)
  • A 4 jaw chuck, pen holding chuck or a collet (I made a collet out of a steel pipe)
  • A live center for your lathe
  • Center drill bits
  • drill bit holder for your lathe
  • Vernier calipers (mine are digital to 0.1mm resolution)
  • Some pen blanks
  • Safety equipment, eye protection, ear protection etc, no gloves, never gloves! (if you wear gloves or don’t use the proper safety gear don’t blame me if you get hurt)
  • A pencil

After you have selected which blanks you are going to use there is a good chance that you will need to make a cylinder out of the cuboid blank. Luckily this is pretty easy to do.

The first thing you need to do is figure out how you are going to get your square blank in a round hole of the lathe. If you have one a 4 jaw chuck will be best for this. You can get chuckles specifically designed for holding pen blanks too which has 2 jaws with a v shape in each jaw to hold the corners of the square, I have shied away from that idea as in my mind it would mean changing the chuck around all the time unless you have a lathe specifically for doing this part of the process. If you don’t have either of these a collet chuck will do, that is a retractable chuck that grips on all sides of a circle and so would grip all four corners of your piece.

When I started I had none of these, so i used my initiative and made one. What I did was get some steel tube that was just shy of being able to fit the blank in it and got a hacksaw. With the saw i cut a single line down one side of the tube and opened it up with some pliers. This opening allowed the blank to fit inside the tube and when i put it in the 3 jaw chuck and tightened it up. This cause the tube to close up around the blank and grip it in place. It does deform but it can be widened out once more and reused if it deforms too much.

Square blank mounted in the lathe with live centre in a central divot and the roughing tool.

So, you have the blank in the lathe. You need to find the middle of the blank and drill a small indentation for the center you are using to fit in snugly. If you are using a 4 jaw self centering chuck, a cylinder in a 3 jaw self centering chuck, collet chuck or pen making chuck you are sorted the blank should be mounted pretty center anyway. If you are using something you made or an independent chuck you will need to figure out the center of the blank. Draw a straight line from corner to corner and voilà there is your center. If it is a circular end to the blank you need to draw a square within the circle then draw a line from corner to corner and that will find the center. With the hole drilled the live center in place you can now start turning.

What you need now is your rough cutting tool. For a metal lathe this is the one which looks like a central point. Mount this so the point is at the halfway point of the blank. Back it off and move it to the side and turn your machine on. The idea of this part is to gradually turn the corners off of the cuboid until it is a cylinder.

You will want to rough turn it until all the corners are gone and you have a cylinder. Even with a rough turning tool you can get a relatively smooth finish, just remember the simple rules.

  • The faster the blank is spinning the smoother finish you will get.
  • The slower you move the tool laterally across the blank the smoother finish you will get.
  • The faster it spins and the slower the tool moves the more heat it will generate and you may smell the acrylic as it heats up, use lube, a lot of lube.

Once you have your blank to a cylinder you are ready to go to the next step. Measure the ideal length of the pen you want to make and you can mark the sections on the blank with the pencil. This will help get a visualisation of what the pen will look like.