Finishing the Van Gogh Knife Project reminded me of how much I enjoyed working with wood. There is an organic warmth to it that I really connect with. Knowing that I have limited space and tools at home, I decided to focus on something that I can do on my lathe.
For such a tiny lathe, the most common starter project with wood has got to be pen turning. Not wanting to start from total scratch, I went to the local Lee Valley for some Christmas shopping. 30 minutes and $60 bucks later, I got myself a piece of ebony, a brad point drill bit, a Virage rollerball pen kit, a mandrel, and a simple gouge.
Ebony is a dark black hardwood that is pretty exotic and inexpensive enough for a beginner. The blank I got will make two short twist-type rollerball pens and costs only $4 CAD. I wanted a simple colour scheme so I got the ebony despite the fact that I already have zebra wood and maple pieces at home.
Brad Point Drill Bit
I will admit that when I first got the kit, I thought that I could just use my existing assortment of bits. As it turns out though, the sizes used for pen turning is quite specific and I definitely did not have the 27/64″ drill bit needed for the Virage kit. Fortunately, because it is so specific, there are only 3-4 drill bit sizes needed for the majority of pen kits out there. I got myself a nice brad point HSS bit as I expect to be making a few of these pens. When I feel adventurous, I can turn brass bushings to match and make custom pens.
Virage Rollerball Pen Kit
Not much to say here. There are so many choices out there, I just picked a simple one that looked high quality. I decided on the black titanium finish to match the ebony for the ultimate stealthiness.
The mandrel and associated bushings is the best way to center and securely hold the hollow pen blank. It is just a partially threaded rod that I can chuck into the collet on the Taig lathe for a solid hold.
A simple gouge is more expensive than I anticipated. The cheapest ones are actually from Taig and are therefore made in the USA. I cheaped out a bit here and just got one 3/16″ round gouge.
Turning wood completely freehand was a lot of trial and error – pretty fun! I think I need to read up on how best to hold and use the turning tools as I’m sure the angle matters for a smooth cut. Once the shape was formed, out came the sanding paper and patience. I definitely used too much force during this stage as I think I caused some small cracks in the thin ebony. Fortunately, the clip hides it and now I know what not to do next time.