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Old 04-21-2011, 11:43 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default selecting pen blanks

As a new pen turner, I had some questions regarding wood pen blanks.
1. Are there any woods/exotic woods that I would be better off staying away from because they are just painful to work with without either more experience or higher end tools?
2. Are there any woods/exotic woods that I shouldn't buy unless they are stabilized. I think I understand the value of buying stabilized, but it makes me feel like I should never buy unstabilized
3. Are there a few exotics that are very popular and are big sellers? I started with a mixed package of 18 different exotics and the dard reds and black woods seem to be a big hit.
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Old 04-22-2011, 12:16 AM   #2 (permalink)
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1. Expensive ones --- make your "misteaks" on attractive moderate to low cost blanks and avoid feeling you have to rescue every error -- you can have a nice pen without the fancy and will feel good about your craftsmanship.

2. Soft punky woods -- Unstablaized spalted woods take extra care as do the palms.

3. Wood with a story or a theme always goes well. Do some acrylics and corian. Get some practice with different materials. Acrylics sell better than woods in general

Learn to sharpen tools to scary sharp and keep them that way.
Ken Vaughan
Old Apprentice Machinist - learning a new knee in Tucson
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Old 04-22-2011, 12:18 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Walnut makes me want to question my sanity, and they say Ironwood will drive you right past it. I am fairly new to this game also and look forward to see some more answers. I was given some great advice for acrylics( cut longer than you need and do not drill completely through) prevents blowouts. then cut off the extra to expose hole.

Bout all I know to tell you

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Old 04-22-2011, 12:21 AM   #4 (permalink)
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No such thing as BAD experience.

Avoid snakewood, ebony and pink ivory---they are prone to cracking, and they don't stabillize well, usually.

Have FUN!! And it is NOT FUN to ruin an expensive blank. Can't tell you how many dozen I have ruined---but in my first several years, none of the blanks cost over $10, either. GREAT experience.
Ed Brown
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Old 04-22-2011, 07:20 AM   #5 (permalink)
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I have made a LOT of pens.
I have been lucky with ebony.

I have never made a pen with pink ivory.
(Well, not one that didn't crack anytime between 1 day and 90 days later)

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Old 04-22-2011, 07:29 AM   #6 (permalink)
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You can use african blackwood as an alternative to Ebony and avoid the cracking issues. Any wood you use needs to be extremely dry. Otherwise I second starting with lower cost blanks until you start to gain a feel for things. Expect to give those pens away or something.
Reno, NV
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Old 04-22-2011, 08:11 AM   #7 (permalink)
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I agree with starting with lower cost blanks, however, never pass up a challenge. The best experience you can get is working with something difficult, learning how to overcome or fix the problem, and coming out with something great. And, you can stabilize just about anything with patience and CA.
If it's not fun it's time to do something else.

Bruce Fifer
Ninety Six, SC
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Old 04-22-2011, 08:44 AM   #8 (permalink)
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-alot can be said by just looking a blank try to avoid cracks and voids
-try turning some blanks between centers or on a mandrel on its own it will allow you to practice without ruining pen hardware.
-and i'm with rod on the ebony. by far one of my favorite woods to turn.
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Old 04-22-2011, 02:24 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Take some time to learn about any woods that interest you. Wood does not have to come from exotic places to have fabulous figure and color. There are health issues with both exotic and domestic woods you should learn about before turning.

Any piece of wood you select has a story tell that story with your craftsmanship and choice of platings. You do not have to become an encyclopedia of wood knowledge; you will bore people to tears. You can always post any questions you have here.

The fellow that runs this web site is also a woodturner and provides good information.
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Old 04-22-2011, 03:52 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Everyone else has pretty much said close to what I was going to say. I personally have turned about 3-4 ebony pens and to my knowledge no cracking. The thing I hated is how the dust was like black ash and tended to stain my hands lol. I started out with lots of wood first. Acrylics, PR, etc were hit and miss for me until I got a woodchuck, now I don't fear them as much. At any rate there are some cool looking not expensive wood blanks to start with. Cocobolo, aromatic cedar, yellowheart, purpleheart, redheart, just to name of few of my starters I used. And for not much money poly resin blanks are pretty darn cool. I kept most of my blank buying to $5 or less until the last 6 months or so. I still have failures from time to time on blanks I would rather not have blow up, but there is always a learning experience there.

I still have quite a few cedar blanks that is just white cedar I think, some birch, mahogany, etc I would be willing to send you if you PM me your address if your interested. Many people helped me out in the beginning and continue to now, so I want to pass that experience along.
-Todd Rodgers
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