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Old 07-03-2018, 12:40 PM   #1 (permalink)
Warren White's Avatar
Join Date: Aug 2014
Location: Livermore, CA
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Default How long does it take you to turn a pen?

This is a question that I (and I assume others) are asked from time to time.

I know the answer depends upon many variables; experience, technique used, shop configuration (for example, my 'shop' doubles as a garage, so I have to roll stuff out and hook it up), issues encountered during the process that require additional attention, single blank vs two blanks per pen, and for me, the "Where did I put that....." during each step (it's crap getting old). Then there are lessons learned almost each time that can and will modify your times. For example, this time I noted before assembly that the mechanism was VERY stiff before I assembled the pen. A few minutes with WD-40 and a paper towel and this pen works more smoothly than others from the same dealer. Other little changes in procedure can save a few minutes here and there.

I finished the pen pictured below and kept track of the time as I completed each task, but I only timed one blank for the pen. Of course, it doesn't take into account the times things are sitting (for example letting the glue/epoxy cure when gluing the tube in, waiting after the CA is applied, etc.).

Prep and drilling 10 minutes
Prep and gluing the tube in 8 minutes
Sanding the ends of the blank flush 5 minutes
Turning and sanding 15 minutes
Applying CA and sanding to 400 15 minutes
Polishing CA finish 7 minutes
Assembly of pen 5 minutes

A total (for me) is just at one hour.

Now I know that this is just one data point, and it applies only to me. I remember meeting a bowl turner who got me started on that aspect of the hobby and when I asked him how long it took him to turn a bowl, he said "15 minutes." It takes me days to finish one.

The pen below is from a Big Leaf Maple Cluster blank from Rocky Bemis (rockb) from Redding. The wood is fantastic! Thanks a lot...

Sorry to be so long in this, but I hope you find it of some interest.
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Old 07-03-2018, 01:07 PM   #2 (permalink)
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It depends on how many mistakes I make, how long it takes me to either correct them or figure out what I did wrong. Never really timed myself. Retired so it really doesn't matter.
To err is human; To really mess it up, you need a computer.
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Old 07-03-2018, 03:01 PM   #3 (permalink)
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I agree with your bowl turning buddy.
It's the finishing that takes the longest.
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Old 07-03-2018, 03:01 PM   #4 (permalink)
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I have a friend who is a professional potter, when anyone asks him how long it takes him to throw a plate or a bowl, his standard answer is "30 years and 25 minutes".

I think the same applies to woodturning -- the more years, the fewer minutes.
Duncan Suss
website: FruitOfTheLathe | facebook: FruitOfTheLathe

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Old 07-03-2018, 03:02 PM   #5 (permalink)
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I picked up a tip on you tube where on single barrel pens (Sierras, Bolt Actions) I mount two blanks. Thus I am turning two pens at once. Saves quite a bit of time. The only draw back is that you have to have an extra set of bushings. I also apply my CA finish on a second lathe. I like to wait until I have at least two separate pen blanks (preferably three) waiting for the finish. Again it saves time. However with that said, sometimes you have that special blank or kit where you want to take your time and enjoy the process.


Over the years I have learned that there are only three types of people in this world....those who can count and those who can't.
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Old 07-03-2018, 03:24 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Don't get asked that much about pens but do get asked all the time about my scroll work. My answer is I do not have one. I rarely finish a project start to finish. Always jumping around. Some projects I can use shortcuts and some are just time consuming. You start giving times and now the customer translate that to per hour charges. They do not take in consideration material and other incidentals. I never give times.

John T.

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Old 07-03-2018, 04:16 PM   #7 (permalink)
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I don’t time myself for my turnings so i don’t know how long it takes. I can tell you it takes as long as it takes to get it right. I also rarely do a project start to finish so I always have multiple turnings in process and at various stages. I turn mostly bowls these days. I currently have about 10 drying, 30 that are now dry and waiting for final turning, a few that are ready for sanding and about 5 that just need finish.

Of course there is always the exception to the rule... I do have a large Red Malle burl that measures about 16”x12”x4”... I have about 16 hours into it and it still needs about 2+ hours of my time to be finish sanded and apply finish.
West Henrietta, NY
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Old 07-03-2018, 04:23 PM   #8 (permalink)
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The time factor changes based on how you run your shop. I rarely make anything one at a time, I usually did them in batches of 6 to 48. The exception would be things like bowls, hollow forms, platters, etc..

With pens, I would make 6 or 12 of the same style/kit at a time. Drill all of the blanks, then glue in all of the tubes, continue each until they were assembled. Changing the tooling from one process to another takes time, the less time wasted the less time I have to charge for.
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Old 07-03-2018, 06:53 PM   #9 (permalink)
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I started this thread about seven months ago. If I Had a Nickel For Every Time I ... A lot of the answers I got apply here. I have modified my answer to "It depends"… on the weather, the pen, the material, my biorhythms, etc, etc. and that does not include the time it took to harvest the tree and make the blank or the component sets or the shipping time.
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Old 07-03-2018, 07:45 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by JimB View Post
. . . I can tell you it takes as long as it takes to get it right. . .
Same as Jim - As long as it takes. I have the experience to make one rather quick and with a great finish. However to me, it is not about how fast, but how well it is made in the fit and finish. At some point, the attention to the most minute' details takes a finished product from being "a nice finished product" to being an "art". It is the "Art" that draws the ones with the extra money.
Hank Lee

Good is the enemy of Best
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