Current Questions, now that I'm at pen 8

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JonathanF1968

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Oct 7, 2018
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I think I've turned eight pens, so far. Here are four that I still own. Three have been given as gifts, and we won't talk about a certain fiasco.... I've done about five slim lines, the Tudor, and two Dragons. A combo of single and double barrel. I'm going to start doing some cigars when my next shipment comes in, and also have a few other bits and bobs.

I'm mostly using applewood from one of my own trees (bottom three in the attached photo), a hunk of ancient pine salvaged from my house's threshold during a recent repair (the Tudor in the attached), and some random cherry, mahogany, and maple from my scrap pile. I've got a few other mystery scraps to try as well. But I'm mostly excited about wood where there's a personal connection. These will all be gifts, not for resale. Though, I can see a point where I'm going to have too many pens in my life, and will need to find some additional way to get rid of them.

As you can see, I'm using the Slimlines to goof around. Playing with shapes. The vertical one had a knot, and so let it be a big bulge, in part because I was a little concerned that if I tried to smooth it down too much, it would catch, and that would be the end of that barrel! But I kind of like that silly lump at the top.

I'm finishing these using the three-part tester pack that Woodturningz sells, which is a sealer, a friction polisher, and a lump of carnuba wax, though I'm also adding some beeswax from my own bees, just to keep it in the family.

Usually, I start sanding at 220, and then do 400, 600, and 1500. Sometimes, I start at 150 if there's something I'm trying to correct. At first, I was starting at 80, but that seemed counter-productive.

Pressing them with an old wood clamp that belonged to my grandfather. I've only cracked two barrels with it, so far.... Learning not to turn my Slimlines too close to the tube.

So, here are my current questions.

1. No matter how careful I am, I seem to have a defect in every pen, where there's a slight gauge in the wood, and I never notice it until after I'm done finishing. I'm not sure how I'm missing these. I imagine it is because of my own limitations as a turner, but the optimistic thought crossed my mind that it could have something to do with the wood that I'm using, which is arguably on the rough side. The apple was a log until recently. (It aged for many years in my basement.) The threshold was installed in 1857, and has had a lot of feet on it. Some insect damage too. Probably, though, this is really due to my own technique, though, particularly at getting the skew sharp enough.

2. The three Slimlines shown are all from the same piece of applewood, but the color varies. I'm not sure why one is lighter than the others. Theories include that I might have used more beeswax on the lighter one, or that I might actually be getting some black from the 1500 sandpaper, perhaps using it too close to the paper, and so the black is coloring the wood? Is that possible? (Someone posted here the maxim, "Throw away sandpaper like someone else is paying for it," and I'm now trying to live by that.)

3. I'm finding it a challenge to keep the tool marks off the wood where it's close to the bushings. A couple pens, I'm doing the final sanding off the lathe. Not sure if there's some technique that I'm missing.

4. I am curious about many other kinds of finish. I like the idea of a matte/wood feel finish. Also, I have to try a CA finish. And then, a food safe finish (going to try mineral oil and beeswax). I'm also interested in shellac, other oils such as Tung, Danish, and BLO. And then, there are things like WTF. What I don't quite understand yet, though, is how to tell by eye or by feel when you've done enough coats. I feel like I'm blindly following other people's recipes and hoping for the best, when I should be taking a more observant and scientific approach to it. I'm just not sure what to look for.

5. Is denatured alcohol, to wipe the piece off before finishing, essentially compatible with all finish types or does it degrade any of them?

6. Do you sand with the grain after every stage of sanding on the lathe, or just towards the end?

I do appreciate your insights, and have learned a tremendous amount from this community. I'm spending a lot of time searching previous posts on the forum. Really helpful. So many details!
 

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jttheclockman

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So many questions in here and I will try to address a few of them. Others will add their thoughts.

Lets start with choice of kits. The slimline is actually a hard kit to master and yet most beginners start with them because they are cheap. Fine and all is good but a one piece kit such as a Sierra (and they are so many forms and names for this kit) is a better kit to learn on. Being a beginner you have the bulge syndrome and are trying all kinds of shapes but you will find people like basic straight line shapes and hold the bulges. Makes for uncomfortable pen to hold. Some may argue this point but who cares it is my opinion. I suggest that you buy extra tubes or lengths of tubes and cut your own sizes. Every kit has tubes sold seperately or may have to buy long tubes and cut. What this does is you do not waste a kit or your time if the blank is destroyed or you do not like the outcome. Pennies thrown away or even better just turn down to tube and salvage the tube. You will learn this trick as you get into more expensive kits and the blanks start cracking on you.

You should never have to start sanding with anything less than 220 and if actually as you get better 400 grit. Me I am from the throw away the sandpaper for good and learn to use a skew and you go from turning to finishing with no stops for sanding. It is not hard if you learn how to properly use the tool. When you say black from sandpaper I assume the 1500 is automotive wet paper which is black. Should be used with a water or some other lubricant and basically when dealing with a film finish applied and not bare wood. You can also be picking up sanding dust from bushings but you said you sand off the lathe but tell us nothing of how you do this so not going to comment there.

Assembly of pens. If you are not going to purchase a pen assembly tool and want to use a tool in the shop then I suggest a drill press if you have. It is a straight doward push with no sideward movement. Many people have used a tail end vise or even a clamp. There are videos on the net showing this. A set of transfer punches should be high on your list to get if you do not have already. Harbor freight runs sales and are real cheap and worth it. Many things including taking kits apart can be done with those.

DNA is ok to wipe down any pen blank with. Make sure you let dry. I like acetone myself.

Going back to sanding, if you plan on sanding I suggest you wrap the sandpaper around a small block of wood and sand with that. What that does is applies even pressure all around the blank. Something your fingers can not do if holding in your hand. The problem comes to the bulges. That you will have to sand with fingers. Oh yes sand with grain after every grit. Stop lathe to do this.

As far as finishes go I answered this a couple posts ago and am tired of answering it so will let others attempt to tell you their methods. Way too many finishes out there to go into them all. Good luck and happy turning. 9 pens is not nearly enough to get the hang of this. But hope you are either keeping mental notes or written ones as you go along and learn from your mistakes. No better way to learn than hands on.
 

1080Wayne

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The lighting you have can really affect how well you can see turning defects . Tool marks are often best seen by light coming in from the side rather than directly over head . Try taking the blanks off the lathe after the first sanding and look at them in different light . May show where you need a bit more lengthwise sanding . If you are very careful in doing that , you probably won`t need lengthwise sanding after the first couple of grits , and certainly not after 400 . Best though as John says is a very sharp skew and lots of practice .
 

JonathanF1968

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Thanks for these replies. Terrific information here.

When I "sand off the lathe," I just mean that if I see tool marks close to the bushings that I'm having difficulty removing (and I'm trying not to sand the bushings too much), I sometimes will take the piece off the mandrill, sand with the grain to get the marks out, and then put them back on. I do most sanding on the lathe; off the lathe only when necessary. In truth, I've started leaving the wood a little thicker at the ends of the barrel, lately (on Slimlines), and so haven't done this in a while. It is both saving me the fussing around and also making it less likely that I crack the barrel during pressing.

I understand that the Slimline is considered difficult, but I'm more interested in improving my craft at the moment than I am at getting salable products, so it's a cheap way to experiment. That said, I'm going to try out some cigars next to see if I like those better. And I did actually just but some Slimline tubes to rescue the kit from the odd damaged barrel. Interesting about buying the longer length tubes. Do you cut them with a hack saw?

I look forward to being free from sandpaper someday, but I'm not there yet!
 

gtriever

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I'll echo the suggestion about lighting. Amazon sells an inexpensive LED light that I have, positioned over the tailstock and angled towards the workpiece. It works well for showing toolmarks. The model number is TROND-Halo-9W-C.
 

maxwell_smart007

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When you say 'gouges' that you don't see until the pen is done - do you mean places where the skew caught, or 'dents'?

I find that a gouge works well for turning as well - and it's less likely to catch like a skew - but make sure it's sharp!

If you're sanding with low grits like 80 and 150, it means your tool is too dull, in my mind.
 

JimB

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If you are hitting the bushings with the sandpaper, even just a little, you are going to get metal sanding dust on your blank. On light color blanks it will darken them near the bushings.

If you are cracking blanks when pressing together it is most likely one of two issues. Either you are not pressing the parts in straight or there is a some glue inside the tube. Even the smallest amount of glue in the tube will cause a problem and cause the blank to split.
 

Ed McDonnell

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Alcohol won't degrade a future finish if you are sure it has completely dried before applying a non water based future finish.

Alcohol can raise the grain on wood. If you are using a water based finish, you would have to deal with that anyway so no problem with alcohol. If you are going to use an oil based finish then mineral spirits would be a better choice for wipe down.

For wood, I don't use solvents to wipe down and remove sanding dust. I find compressed air does a much better job and leaves nothing to worry about on the wood. Of course, it does create a little more airborne dust. I do it outside so not a shop hazard for me, and way better than solvent fumes in the shop as far as I'm concerned.

For plastic blanks I would only use water. Alcohol can cause crazing / cracking on some acrylics. Unfortunately the only way to tell the ones likely to craze from the ones that won't is after it happens.

Ed
 

Dehn0045

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Much of what I have to share has been covered, but will add my 2 cents:

1. I have a defect in every pen, they get harder to find as you improve.
2. I avoid sandpaper and try to finish with a skew. This is much easier with the straight cylindrical (slight bulge). The funky shapes can be more troublesome.
3. Try turning between centers (TBC). It is easier to avoid out-of-round, and there is no worry about hitting the bushings. Chip-out is more likely at the end of the blank. Sharp tool with light cuts, also try using a "push" cut similar to the bowl-turning technique. I use this style cut with the more finicky materials.
4. Blindly follow at first to speed up your learning curve, then trial and error as you find what you like and what works best for you.
5. DNA isn't usually a problem on wood, but let it dry off before finishing. Using it can cause some "bleeding" of colors, so if you want crisp color contrast then avoid. Acetone was mentioned in another response, be aware that it will dissolve CA glue (incidentally it can be used to clean CA from surfaces where you don't want it, like your hands).
6. I'd say that it is more important to sand with the grain on the course grits.
 
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