International Association of Penturners - View Single Post - Two months in, notes from a n00b
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Old 02-10-2019, 08:26 PM   #1 (permalink)
Join Date: Dec 2018
Location: Kansas City, MO, USA
Posts: 96
Photos: 37

Default Two months in, notes from a n00b

In another thread, I was challenged to write about my experiences switching over to turning between centers. To quote the great Ron Swanson "never half ass two things, whole ass one thing". So here is my attempt to share my journey from utter n00b in December, to a little less of a n00b now. Many here are vastly better at this pen turning thing than I am, but an afternoon perusal of Etsy listings similar to mine and I can see that I've come a long way and I would say that my pens are better than average. Enough chest thumping though, on to trying to detail my pen turning story thus far.

Back in November I reluctantly decided to sign myself up for a pen turning class at my local Woodcraft store in Lenexa, KS. The class was on December 2nd, that is when this whole thing started. I went in there doe eyed, and with precisely zero woodworking/penturning experience (unless you count my HS wood shop class 30 years ago, which I don't). When I timidly arrived that fateful Sunday morning, the blank drilling and tube gluing had been done for us. We were doing a Wall Street II pen. I keep that pen around to remind me of that day. It is comically bulbous, IMO. It was my first pen, though, so I took a page from Scrooge McDuck, and I've kept it as a reminder of my first. Anyway, that day, I ordered myself a Comet II midi lathe and stand and a set of carbide tools. I've made nearly 100 pens since then. I've since sold a few, and had my fair share of f*ck ups and success stories.

Like most, I think, I started with a 7mm mandrel, and a whole load of trepidation. Always my own worst critic, this journey has been fun, and frustating, mostly fun though. I mainly make hart double twist, cigars, and CSUSA americanas. I detest slimlines, they take longer to turn and feel cheap. Anyway, my focus has always been on getting a perfect fit. Several of my posts here are about how to get there. This is an ongoing thing for me. I have yet to turn a perfect fitting pen. I'm getting ahead of myself.

The mandrel. I've bent 4 mandrels so far. The last one, I bent in 3 pens. I know, I know, too much pressure from the tailstock, only the last one I used a mandrel saver. Apparently, I apply too much pressure while sanding and bending mandrels. With time I hope to use less pressure, but I think this is an experience thing, that I will only learn over time. I *try* to use light pressure, only to end up bending mandrels in 3 pens. With mandrels, I have created a number of really fine pens. Never good enough, but pretty good. Being a perfectionist, though, good enough is unacceptable. So this leads me to my next/current phase, of pen turning...turning between centers.

TBC. The pinnacle of accuracy for turning pens. Right off the bat, though, the cost. Actually, a step back. I watched a video from the guy at The Golden Nib, where he turns a pen between center without bushings. I thought "Hell yeah! This is how I'm going to do it!". The first attempt, I applied so much tailstock pressure that it actually extruded the tubes outside the blank. Failure #1. Ok, fine, too much pressure. For attempt #2 I tried a wood blank with light pressure. Only to split the blank before I could get enough pressure to turn the blank to round. Failure #2. The third attempt I managed to turn it just fine, but screwed up the dimensions and put together a pen with a horrid fit. The fourth attempt resulted in another split wooden blank. I gave up with TBC without bushings at this point. However, the big takeaway from TBC I got from this is that it forces you to think about the desired pen shape in the abstract. With a mandrel, you can essentially seen the pen as you create it. With TBc, you turn one blank, then the next. You have to think about how to shape the top section, while shaping the bottom, and vice-versa. I've started actually planning my pen designs, because of TBC. There is still plenty of seat of the pants design, but I'm always thinking how this blank will match with the other one, something I didn't need to do with mandrels.

TBC, second act. For this one, I decided to use the regular bushings with my 60 degree dead/drive center and 60 degree live center. I made a number of great pens this way, until I started to get out of round pens. How on earth? It turns out that while using regular bushings to TBC is a step above, it is not perfect. The small imperfect fit of bushing to centers amplifies over time. Using the tried and true "resting chisel on top" method of checking for roundness, I found that the bushings themselves were out of round. How? Why? No freaking clue. On top of this, the bushings managed to not only mark up my centers pretty badly, they actually dug into them such that I had to replace my live center.

TBC, act three. This is where I'm currently at. I started looking to use dedicated TBC bushings with 60 degree ends to match the centers. The cost, though. Each pen kit has its own dimensions and a dedicated set of bushings for a every single kit, is unsustainable, IMO. I've already spent way too much on this hobby, and I haven't sold nearly enough to justify the expense of custom bushings for every single kit. Not only that, who is to say that each manufacturer of cigar pens, for instance, use the same dimensions? So, 5 million bushings (this is hyperbole) specific to individual kits was/is out of the question. I went with the next best things, a set of TBC adapter bushings. This lets me use regular bushings between centers without destroying my centers, or the bushings. This has worked out very well and is the current system I use to turn pens. Shout out to the TBC adapter bushings at Fantastic product.

TBC, act three, scene 2. These TBC adapter bushings are great, but...bushings. Bushings are great...for the first pen turned. Every pen after that gets worse and worse as the bushings are worn down from sanding and chisels. Of these, my carbide chisels hitting the bushings is by far the worst offender. What I have found is that very rarely to I accidentally cut into the bushing in an even manner. This causes the wear of the bushing to be uneven, which leads to progressively out of round blanks. I am a huge perfectionist, and in this craft, I am unabashedly so. When I can feel a difference in fit greater on one side of the pen than the other, the bushings go into the trash. This means the bushings last, on average, about 5-10 pens. This is obviously not sustainable, so another solution is needed.

TBC, next act. This leads me to today. I'm waiting for a custom set of TBC bushings from Brian at that are just large enough that they will apply pressure to the tube and blank, but small enough that they will not be sanded down often or hit accidentally with the chisel. This is in response to my non-kit specific bushings post on this forum. These bushings should arrive this week, and the next chapter of this journey will begin with using calipers to measure the actual hardware for each pen, and allowing that to determine the fit, rather than premade bushings. I will update things as I go along this new part of the journey.

Thank you for reading this far.
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