Brand new and overwhelmed

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sabriel7

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Jan 1, 2015
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10
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Ann Arbor
Hi Everyone,

I got a Turncrafter lathe and PSI pen turning starter kit for Christmas. I've wanted to turn wood for a long time and was super excited to get going. I managed to turn 2 pens, but halfway through pen #2 my wood started chipping. After some research on this forum I realized that the chipping was likely due to dull tools (along with a fair amount of operator error) and that I need to sharpen my (high carbon steel-not HSS) tools. Here's the thing, I don't have any way to sharpen and, actually, I'm dealing with a general dearth of tools--no way to cut, no way to drill, and I should also mention, no huge reserve of cash to play with (I'm a grad student; they don't pay us that well:redface:). So, I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the things I need to get before I can proceed and the decision of how best to stretch my little bit of money has been all consuming. I'm hoping the you all can help.

What should I prioritize?

Should I maybe invest in a couple carbide tools for now just to get going so I can forgo the sharpening dilemma? Are there ways that I could begin sharpening that don't require a substantial initial monetary investment, but may require a little more time/elbow grease?

As far as drilling goes, I've been planning to use the lathe and just buy the necessary chucks, but I'm a bit leery because the tailstock on my lathe seems to have quite a bit of lateral play. I'm not sure if this is typical. I did call PSI and talked with them about it and they said that I should just figure out which side it pulls to and then compensate by manually pulling it in the opposite direction. I can't imagine this would work well for drilling, but what do I know? Is a little bit of left-right movement typical in the tailstock? Will it still work fine for drilling? By the way, I can get the tailstock to align with the headstock, but only if I manually correct it before locking it in position.

This brings me to another question about alignment. The mandrel I received simply does not align with the tailstock no matter how I adjust the tailstock. It's not off by much, but it is clearly rubbing against the dead center and just from the two pens I've turned there is already a groove in the dead center. Am I doing something wrong here or is this typical?

Sorry for all the questions. I just really want to get going, but don't know the best/most efficient way to make that happen. Thanks in advance for all of your help. --lindsay
 
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Cmiles1985

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Joined
Nov 12, 2013
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1,588
Location
Aransas Pass, TX
Hi Everyone,

I got a Turncrafter lathe and PSI pen turning starter kit for Christmas. I've wanted to turn wood for a long time and was super excited to get going. I managed to turn 2 pens, but halfway through pen #2 my wood started chipping. After some research on this forum I realized that the chipping was likely due to dull tools (along with a fair amount of operator error) and that I need to sharpen my (high carbon steel-not HSS) tools. Here's the thing, I don't have any way to sharpen and, actually, I'm dealing with a general dearth of tools--no way to cut, no way to drill, and I should also mention, no huge reserve of cash to play with (I'm a grad student; they don't pay us that well:redface:). So, I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the things I need to get before I can proceed and the decision of how best to stretch my little bit of money has been all consuming. I'm hoping the you all can help.

What should I prioritize?

Should I maybe invest in a couple carbide tools for now just to get going so I can forgo the sharpening dilemma? Are there ways that I could begin sharpening that don't require a substantial initial monetary investment, but may require a little more time/elbow grease?

A couple of things here:
A) You can invest in carbide tools. You can also make carbide tools using 3/8' bar stock for a lot less cash. Watch videos by Capt. Eddie Castelin on YouTube.
B) PSI sells a disc sander/sharpening setup that will mount on your lathe that is fairly inexpensive. http://www.pennstateind.com/store/LCMPLUS.html

As far as drilling goes, I've been planning to use the lathe and just buy the necessary chucks, but I'm a bit leery because the tailstock on my lathe seems to have quite a bit of lateral play. I'm not sure if this is typical. I did call PSI and talked with them about it and they said that I should just figure out which side it pulls to and then compensate by manually pulling it in the opposite direction. I can't imagine this would work well for drilling, but what do I know? Is a little bit of left-right movement typical in the tailstock? Will it still work fine for drilling? By the way, I can get the tailstock to align with the headstock, but only if I manually correct it before locking it in position.

As long as you're drilling centered (i.e. the bit isn't wobbling in the hole). I disagree with their answer of just manually making it line up. Drilling is a fairly precise operation...especially with regards to pens. It doesn't matter which way the hole goes, as long as it's the right size throughout and leaves you with enough material to turn throughout the blank. There may be some adjustment on the tailstock assembly that will allow you to snug the fit to the ways. Perhaps someone here has more experience with that lathe and can add to the conversation.

This brings me to another question about alignment. The mandrel I received simply does not align with the tailstock no matter how I adjust the tailstock. It's not off by much, but it is clearly rubbing against the dead center and just from the two pens I've turned there is already a groove in the dead center. Am I doing something wrong here or is this typical?

You should be using a live center on the tail stock. Also, the live center should be 60 degrees, not the standard live center that comes with lathes. If yours was the penturner's starter package, it should have come with a 60 degree live center. If not, they're about $8 from Amazon.

Sorry for all the questions. I just really want to get going, but don't know the best/most efficient way to make that happen. Thanks in advance for all of your help. --lindsay
Don't worry about questions; those are good ones. The library has some excellent articles on getting started along with techniques for the entire process.

Welcome to the community.
 

monophoto

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Mar 13, 2010
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Location
Saratoga Springs, NY
Lindsay -

Prioritize on practicing and learning, not on buying stuff. You will eventually buy a lot of stuff (turners are often called 'tool junkies' for a reason), but for now, you need to develop the skills to be able to turn, and after you are able to produce turnings, you will have a much better idea of which kind of tools you need to buy.

Yes, you need to sharpen your tools. For the first several months after I bought my lathe, I used an oilstone to sharpen the carbon steel tools that came with my lathe. That worked just fine - a bit tedious and time consuming, but i had some stones available to work with.

If you got a new Turncrafter lathe, it came with a faceplate. I suggest getting a scrap of plywood (or mdf - actually, mdf could be a better choice) about 5 1/2" square to attach to the faceplate with screws. Make sure that the screws aren't so long that they go all the way through the mdf. Use your dull tools to turn the edge down to a circle. Hint: use a gouge, and turn from the face ONTO the edge - that is much easier that trying to smooth a rectangular shape into a circle. Then, pick up some 5" 'pressure sensitive adhesive' sandpaper discs at the home center - look for 220 grit, but 150 is ok. Peel the backing and apply a sheet to the mdf on the faceplate. Now you have a sanding disc that can also be used to sharpen your tools - just rub the bevel in the 6 to 9 o'clock portion of the disc.

I have a Turncrafter lathe - yes, the tailstock does have a little lateral wiggle that tends to disappear when it is locked into position. But you do need to make sure that the headstock and tailstock are aligned - there are four hex-head bolts on the headstock that can be loosened just a little to allow the headstock to be rotated to line it up with the tailstock. Make sure that you lock down the tailstock so that it can't wiggle as you do the alignment. And I found that it is very helpful to put the pen mandrel into the headstock spindle, and the line up the end of the mandrel with the tailstock - the mandrel will 'amplify' any alignment error, and you will get a more precise alignment if the mandrel is in place.


Carbon steel tools are less expensive than HSS, which is why they are usually supplied in starter kits. They need to be sharpened more often, but when they are sharp, they will cut as well, if not better than HSS or carbide. So learn how to sharpen on the carbon steel tools, and after you acquire some skills and have the available cash, then you can invest in HSS. Carbide tools are nice mainly because they don't require sharpening, but they don't cut as well as either carbon steel or HSS, and unless you buy cutters and make your own bars and handles, they can be more expensive.


You can buy predrilled blanks, but they are more expensive and the selection is more limited than with undrilled blanks. So eventually you will need to find a way to drill. The usual choice is a drill press because they have other uses, but if you are mainly drilling pens, a better solution is to buy a morse taper chuck and a chuck to hold blanks on the lathe. While you can buy 3/8" chucks, 1/2" chucks aren't much more expensive and can be far more flexible in the long run. I suggest getting a keyed chuck - less expensive than a keyless and bits mount more accurately.

You will also need a way to hold the blank while drilling. The best solution is a four-jaw scroll chuck. These aren't cheap. I opted for the less expensive PSI 'utility' chuck which has served me well for a number of years - don't regret that choice at all.

PSI and the other suppliers all sell pen blank drilling jaws - I don't think they are necessary. Just mount the blank between centers and turn a tenon on one end, and then mount the blank in the standard jaws of the chuck using that tenon.
 

Edgar

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Joined
Feb 6, 2013
Messages
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Location
Alvin, TX 77511
I started with a set of HSS turning tools and I still use them for a lot of things, but for simple pen turning, I use an R2 carbide tool almost exclusively.

I use this set of diamond hones to sharpen my HSS tools. About 10-15 strokes with each one is usually enough. Ideally they should be sharpened on a grinder and just dressed with the hones, but you can get by with the hones alone for quite a while.

Buy DMT Dia-Sharp 2.5" Diamond Offset Mini-hone, Kit at Woodcraft.com
 

Cmiles1985

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Joined
Nov 12, 2013
Messages
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Location
Aransas Pass, TX
To what Louie said regarding chucks: if you don't plan on doing much other turning than pens in the near future (or until the funds are available), PSI sells a pen blank drilling chuck for $80. It is good for nothing other than drilling, whereas the more expensive chucks will be versatile for turning bowls and other items.

Also, +1 for the faceplate sanding disc. That's all the $40 system from PSI is. It's an acrylic faceplate that mounts with a nut and washer.
 

low_48

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Joined
Jul 1, 2004
Messages
2,159
Location
Peoria, IL, USA.
I always tell newbies that they need to buy a sharpening system the same time they buy a lathe. Absolutely necessary. But you could get an Easy Start Carbide for about $60 to do pens. Did you get a faceplate with the lathe? if so, you can fasten a piece of MDF to the faceplate, and glue on a sheet of good sandpaper, then sharpen on that.
The best money spent, would be to join a local chapter of the American Association of Woodturners. You learning curve will be cut by 2/3 and you will get the right advice on what tools to buy. American Association of Woodturners
 

stonepecker

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Joined
Oct 29, 2012
Messages
4,384
Location
central Minnesota
Find a mentor. Someone in your area that is also a turner.
That is the best advice I ever got and I pass it on. The mentor I found showed me where to spend money. Easier ways to do things. And helped me beyond words. They can give you advice and direction.
Find a local turning club. Those people have made most of the mistakes and can help stop the frustration. They might even know how to aling you equipment.

Welcome from Minnesota.
 

sabriel7

Member
Joined
Jan 1, 2015
Messages
10
Location
Ann Arbor
Thanks to everyone for the wonderful advice. I think the idea of attaching some MDF and sand paper to the faceplate is just brilliant! I'm going to make that my weekend project. I'm also on the lookout for a local wood turning chapter. I noticed a few other Michiganders on here and I'll PM them soon to find out where they're meeting.

Thanks again for sharing your knowledge. I truly appreciate it!
 

Mr Vic

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Aug 11, 2008
Messages
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Falcon, CO
One of the best investments is membership in your local AAW Chapter.
There's one in Ann Arbor AAW Chapter -- Huron Valley Woodturners who meet on the 3rd Sunday of each month. Here's an email contact from AAW
nacl734@hotmail.com
 

WriteON

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Aug 21, 2013
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Location
Lake Worth,Fl. / BlueBell, Pa.
You would do yourself a huge favor and save many hours of frustration by finding someone in your area to help you with your new hobby. I self taught for over a year and grew so frustrated I almost quit. Luckily I found a turning club and as they say the rest is history.
Ditto this. Join a club. Take a course. Learn safe habits and proper working techniques from experienced people.
 

timsickels

Member
Joined
Dec 14, 2014
Messages
16
Location
Thornton, Colorado, USA
Hang in there

I was a carpenter and cabinet maker all my life. I've built roll-top desks, and grandfather clocks, and everything in between. So when I was forced to retire, I thought pen-making would be a great way to solve my addiction to sawdust. It can be the most humbling of endeavors. And expensive! Don't be afraid to shop Harbor Freight for cheap tools, like a small drill press or belt sander. They've come a long way on their quality. And check out all the videos on YouTube. I learned a lot there. And especially read these forums. There is a world of knowledge here gleaned from mistakes you won't have to make. The main thing is to have fun. If you're not having fun after 40-50 pens, sell the damn lathe!!!
 

darrin1200

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Mar 17, 2010
Messages
768
Location
Lyn, Ontario, Canada
This brings me to another question about alignment. The mandrel I received simply does not align with the tailstock no matter how I adjust the tailstock. It's not off by much, but it is clearly rubbing against the dead center and just from the two pens I've turned there is already a groove in the dead center. Am I doing something wrong here or is this typical?

Sorry for all the questions. I just really want to get going, but don't know the best/most efficient way to make that happen. Thanks in advance for all of your help. --lindsay
This sounds lije you are using a dead center in your tailstock. If so, that is why you are getting a groove. You need a live center for the tail stock so that it spins with the mandrel but holds it in place.

Good luck.
 

wyone

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15314 Grasslands, Parker, CO 80134
I am thinking.. maybe take a picture of how you have the mandrel and centers set up and the experts in here can help you figure out if there is anything wrong. This is am AMAZING resource and the people in here are SO helpful!
 

nativewooder

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Feb 26, 2009
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Fort Pierce, Fl 34982
When you started your education, nearly the first thing you learned was to read. Just because you're a little older doesn't mean anything has changed.

See the BLUE blocks at the top of the Home page. The one in the middle is the Library and just like all other libraries it contains tons of information. And read the operating instructions for your lathe and all other pieces of machinery, maybe twice or three times. It can't hurt!:biggrin:
 

sabriel7

Member
Joined
Jan 1, 2015
Messages
10
Location
Ann Arbor
This brings me to another question about alignment. The mandrel I received simply does not align with the tailstock no matter how I adjust the tailstock. It's not off by much, but it is clearly rubbing against the dead center and just from the two pens I've turned there is already a groove in the dead center. Am I doing something wrong here or is this typical?

Sorry for all the questions. I just really want to get going, but don't know the best/most efficient way to make that happen. Thanks in advance for all of your help. --lindsay
This sounds lije you are using a dead center in your tailstock. If so, that is why you are getting a groove. You need a live center for the tail stock so that it spins with the mandrel but holds it in place.

Good luck.
Yeah, I actually misspoke. I am in fact using a live center, but still the mandrel was not aligning. Another poster suggested that I loosen the bolts on the headstock and try to manually adjust it so the mandrel would fit directly with the tailstock live center. I'm happy to report that it worked and I now have a fairly well-aligned lathe!
 

mike4066

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Sep 24, 2014
Messages
353
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Akron, Ohio
I spent the first few weeks with my lathe turning random pieces of scrap wood that I had so I could learn and get used to the tools. It was a cheap way to play with my new toy without spending a bunch more money.

rip down a 2x4 or pickup the 3/4" - 1 1/2" square pieces from home depot/lowes for a couple bucks.
 

sabriel7

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Jan 1, 2015
Messages
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Location
Ann Arbor
When you started your education, nearly the first thing you learned was to read. Just because you're a little older doesn't mean anything has changed.

See the BLUE blocks at the top of the Home page. The one in the middle is the Library and just like all other libraries it contains tons of information. And read the operating instructions for your lathe and all other pieces of machinery, maybe twice or three times. It can't hurt!:biggrin:
I assure you that I did try to do my due diligence of reading and researching on my own. I've spent countless hours reading this forum and its library, watching youtube videos, talking with the folks at the local Woodcraft (they've seen me a few times in the last couple of days:rolleyes:), and reading my lathe manual--twice, but in spite of all that I think I was initially feeling overwhelmed by what felt like an insurmountable expense I needed to spend on things to buy before I could even really begin (saw, drill or drill chucks, grinder or other sharpening device, etc.). Anyway, I'm learning a lot, grateful for all the help and advice, and certain to become a tool-junkie pen-turner in time.
 

GDGeorge

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Bowie, MD
I went surfing through here and then decided to turn around and come back. Somewhere near the top of your list should be some sort of dust collection and respiratory protection. It's as important as eye protection (and in my garage, hearing protection.) It needn't be expensive and there are a number pf approaches, but it's pretty important!

Best,
Jerry
 

sabriel7

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Ann Arbor
I went surfing through here and then decided to turn around and come back. Somewhere near the top of your list should be some sort of dust collection and respiratory protection. It's as important as eye protection (and in my garage, hearing protection.) It needn't be expensive and there are a number pf approaches, but it's pretty important!

Best,
Jerry
Ahh, good to know! That was not near the top of the list, but it will be now. Thanks.
 

Paul in OKC

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Oklahoma City, OK, USA.
As far as your center goes, if you are using the live center that came with the lathe, it is made for wood turning. It is 'sharper' than 60 degrees. You can file the point off a bit and that will let it sit in the end of the madrel better. Did that for a while before I got a 'regular' live center with a 60 degree tip.
 

monophoto

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Saratoga Springs, NY
As far as your center goes, if you are using the live center that came with the lathe, it is made for wood turning. It is 'sharper' than 60 degrees. .
Not necessarily.

Lindsey described the setup as a 'Turncrafter lathe and PSI pen turning starter kit'. The description didn't specify the Turncrafter model.

If the lathe is one of the Commander models, the live center that comes with it is a standard 60 deg cone. I have the 12" Turncrafter and just measured the live-center angle.

PSI also has a low-end lathe intended only for pen turning that comes with a mandrel saver rather than a live center. However, it isn't marketed as 'Turncrafter', so I am inclined to believe that Lindsey has either the 10" or 12" lathe and not the miniature toy.
 

lwalper

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Lancaster, TN
I spent the first few weeks with my lathe turning random pieces of scrap wood that I had so I could learn and get used to the tools. It was a cheap way to play with my new toy without spending a bunch more money.

rip down a 2x4 or pickup the 3/4" - 1 1/2" square pieces from home depot/lowes for a couple bucks.
Agree with using a bit of inexpensive wood. There's a lot of fun to be had from a 2x4. Sounds like you've already got all the tools you need -- but they do need to be sharp. Check out Woodcraft's $1 box too. It's usually a box full of mixed pieces. You can pick up a few of the hard, fine grained exotics that are a real pleasure to turn for very little investment.
 

WriteON

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Lake Worth,Fl. / BlueBell, Pa.
I went surfing through here and then decided to turn around and come back. Somewhere near the top of your list should be some sort of dust collection and respiratory protection. It's as important as eye protection (and in my garage, hearing protection.) It needn't be expensive and there are a number pf approaches, but it's pretty important!

Best,
Jerry
Safety first. Each and every time.
 

Mike211

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Dec 30, 2014
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Erie Pa
Sabriel7, I just joined also. This group is full of resources!!!! I think they know everything (I say that seriously) It is an overwhelming amount of info. I was in the same shoes you are in with dull tools. I just put a piece of tape on my head stalk and glued a piece of sandpaper to it, cut out the center so I could leave my mandrel in it. it worked in a pinch.
 

BocoteMark

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Dec 16, 2014
Messages
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Texas
Until you get dust collection sorted out you can use a "wet" sanding technique. Soak down your sandpaper and wood surface with food grade mineral oil when sanding. This totally eliminates any airborne dust resulting from sanding.

Carl Jacobson (Woodturner) on YouTube has a description of this process. He mixes his mineral oil with some kind of polishing wax.

Note: once you wet sand a piece of wood it will forever be soaked with oil. Any gluing operations will need to happen before wet sanding. Also, you will be limited on what sorts of finish you can use over oil soaked wood. If you are not trying to achieve a high gloss finish, mineral oil alone can be enough of a finish on a well sanded piece of wood.
 

Kragax

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western new york
I am also new here. So new in fact I get my lathe next week LOL.I know a gentleman on another forum that turns pens and he sent me here. That was a good thing for sure. I'm trying to do my "due diligence" and learn as much as I can. I have some experience with a metal lathe and because I carve I know some about sharpening. You fine folks have answered a lot of question and just reading this thread helped a lot. For the original poster also a thank you and good luck.
 

jewellmd

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Jan 22, 2015
Messages
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Location
Grand Rapids, MI
I haven't been turning for very long either, but I can relate to everything you said. Here's what I did. As far as sharpening tools, I took them to my local Woodcraft store and they would sharpen them for $4/tool. I asked to be shown how and discovered that it was relatively easy with a inexpensive grinder. Maybe not "exactly" how WC did it, but it did the job. After I was able to sell a few of my pens, I used that money to get an Easy Wood Tool with a carbide tip. I learned that with a diamond hone & lapping fluid, the bits can be sharpened instead of buying new. That took care of one of my issues.

As far as pen making, I purchased a pen mandrel. As people bought pens, I'd pick up another one and so on (I think I own 4 of them now). Much of this is a learning process and it can be overwhelming.

I generally ask myself - what is giving me the most frustration, or what tool (or thing) could I use the most right now to make the process easier. Not always does it have to be expensive or even a run to the store. Maybe it's a jig, a tool holder or something else. Even experienced turners are always looking for more stuff for their shops.

Hopefully this helps!

-Michael
 

wyone

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15314 Grasslands, Parker, CO 80134
This is the BEST forum on the internet. I have belonged to many, and I have never seen such generous souls as are here. They will go out of their way to help us newbies over and over again and give constructive criticism in a way that we do not feel like idiots.

I have to say, the BEST tool I have bought lately is the pen press. I used my drill press, clamps, etc and had mostly success with those. I was going to build my own press, but I got a present of cash and decided to break down and buy one. I did not realize how much easier assembly would be with the press.

Just my 2 cents worth. As a newbie, I need every advantage I can get. :)
 
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