How long does it take you to turn a pen?

Signed-In Members Don't See This Ad

Warren White

Active Member
Joined
Aug 27, 2014
Messages
387
Location
Livermore, CA
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.
 

Attachments

Signed-In Members Don't See This Ad

Woodchipper

Well-Known Member
Joined
Mar 15, 2017
Messages
2,393
Location
Cleveland, TN
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.
 

duncsuss

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 29, 2012
Messages
1,336
Location
Wilmington, MA
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.
 

studioseven

Active Member
Joined
May 6, 2014
Messages
335
Location
Wisconsin
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.

Seven

Seven
 

jttheclockman

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 22, 2005
Messages
12,179
Location
NJ, USA.
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.

 

JimB

Well-Known Member
Joined
Mar 18, 2008
Messages
4,484
Location
West Henrietta, NY, USA.
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.
 

dogcatcher

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 4, 2007
Messages
1,776
Location
TX, NM or on the road
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.
 

leehljp

Member Liaison
Joined
Feb 6, 2005
Messages
6,596
Location
Tunica, MS,
. . . 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.
 

its_virgil

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 1, 2004
Messages
7,032
Location
Wichita Falls, TX, USA.
How Long Does It Take To Make One Of Those?

Do you mean...

not plant the tree, but find the wood,

just ‘see’ the piece, (as if I could)?

to find a highly figured burl,

a crotch, an eye, or pearly curl?

And once I spy it, perhaps buy it,

inventory, store, and dry it?

Then saw or cut it, possibly I kiln it,

glue, imbue with fill, or drill it?

You mean, that once I’m satisfied

it’s stopped the warps, checks, cracks, once dried?

And mounted on the lathe, to turn it,

(which takes much practice, just to learn it;

and then employ a gouge, or two,

or use a skew, which I don’t eschew,

to mold it, shape it (what’s your pleasure?)

by all means, I’m sure to measure,

then sand it smooth, please wear your mitts,

from coarse to fine, 10,000 grits,

then braze, or burnish, paint, or polish,

(the goal: enhance, and don’t demolish)?

Is that your question, start to end,

how long’s that path, its way to wend?

Or do you merely want to know how long it turned?

Ten minutes, or so.

© John A. Styer, The Lathe-meister
 

Chasper

Well-Known Member
Joined
Mar 22, 2007
Messages
1,915
Location
Indiana
"There are some one hour pens, and there are some 24 hour pens," is how I usually start the response when the question comes up at least once a day, sometimes 3-4 time a day. Then I go on to explain that I'm not counting the pens that I throw away after 20 hours when I can see that they aren't going to work out. I explain that some take months with gaps between working on the next step. I mention that I've gotten a lot faster now that I've made tens of thousands of pens. I'll also explain that the days I spend casting is not included.

People ask because they want some assurance that the pen art they are buying is worth the money, sometimes it is a person finding it hard to believe that I'm not selling mass produced pens. Often it is a new pen turner asking and trying to image how they could ever make 500 or so pens like they see in our sales display
 

Ironwood

Active Member
Joined
May 31, 2010
Messages
625
Location
Mackay. Australia
Some of the pens I am working on now were started 20 years ago when I milled the timber and cut the choicest bits into pen blanks. Some of my CA finishes I let sit for a month before I sand and polish , I have enough on the go, that I am not in a hurry to rush them.
Though I had to rush one pen just recently for a commission, got it done in 3 weeks.
 

TellicoTurning

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 24, 2006
Messages
7,232
Location
Tellico Plains, Tennessee, USA.
I don't do pens anymore, but I get asked that question on my pepper mills and bowls about 10 times per 5 hour show... I usually tell them a week or more.... depending on who the finish comes out.... I also tell them that they are not just buying a pepper mill or a bowl, or a piece of wood that's made round, what they are really buying is the artistry that goes into making the piece.
 

Rifleman1776

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 18, 2004
Messages
7,344
Location
Mountain Home, Arkansas, USA.
Of course the finishing time can vary. One of the biggest time consumers, for me, can be just selecting the wood. If the intended pen is for a special project i can be very fussy about what I select. I have cut and collected thousands of blanks over the years and going through 20 boxes of blanks looking for 'just that right one' can take a lot of time. But once I make the decision I know the end product will be something I am proud of. e.g. my next project will be for my daughter and her husband, two Jr. Gents with stabilized pure white holly. Sorta faux ivory. If we charged for our time all pens would have to be way-way over $100.00.
 

Dehn0045

Active Member
Joined
Mar 19, 2017
Messages
906
Location
Houston, Texas
My uncle has been doing wood art as a primary income for upwards of 30 years, his answer is usually "a lifetime".

As for myself, I've been at it a little over a year, the more experienced I get the longer it takes me. Early on I was finishing a pen in 1 to 2 hours. Now I would guess that I am more like 4 hours, but never get a continuous 4 hours in the shop. This doesn't account for the many hours that I spend examining my blanks and trying to pair the perfect kit. And then another hour or so inspecting the finished pen for flaws and inconsistencies. In the end the actual drilling/turning/assembling is only a small fraction of the time that I spend on the hobby...
 

EBorraga

Well-Known Member
Joined
Oct 19, 2009
Messages
3,858
Location
Louisville, KY
It generally takes me a week to make a pen. But i only work on them a couple days a week. Most of my time outside of work is gluing blanks together and casting.
 

sbwertz

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 11, 2010
Messages
2,768
Location
Phoenix, AZ
Hard to say because I prep blanks many at a time. Cut them all, drill them all, tube them all, then mill them all. Usually turn them round, too. That way when my blind turners come in, they can get right to the fun stuff. I don't turn many pens for myself these days.
 

TattooedTurner

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 13, 2016
Messages
1,265
Location
Surprise, Arizona
Short answer, a LOT longer than you!

I let the CA cure for a day before polishing but applying and sanding/buffing takes at least 2 hours, probably closer to 3, but I prefer not to use accelerator. It’s a 3 day process for me: With acrylic, I drill & backpaint the blanks one day, epoxy the tubes the next, turn, sand, and buff the next. For wood I drill/epoxy the first day, turn and apply CA the next, sand and buff on the third.
 

Warren White

Active Member
Joined
Aug 27, 2014
Messages
387
Location
Livermore, CA
This has been a lot of fun, and...

...very informative.

Everyone really added to the conversation. As I hope I indicated, the time I recorded was just for a single blank, non-embellished, pen. Of course, pens that I have made in the past which had, for example, Celtic Knots, take longer, and I did not take into consideration the time spent waiting for processes to 'rest' before going on to the next step. I let my CA finish sit at least one day before proceeding.

I hope Dieseldoc posts a picture of his most recent pen which is segmented and magnificent in every regard. It was 20 hours in the process, and worth every minute of it.

I really liked the range of discussion; the "30 years and 25 minutes" comment was profound. The comment "as long as it takes to get it right" is spot on. When I was doing the pen in the picture, part of the burl popped off and I had to improvise a CA/graphite fix (I wish I had used dust from the sanding, but it came out OK, since the clip was going to hide the "fix").

As for those of you who do production runs, my heart goes out to you. I did one run of 10 and it took the fun out for me. Plus, doing that really caused me problems; I discovered that that long an exposure to the CA I was using at the time just about put me out of commission. I have since changed to odorless CA, and it hasn't been a problem.

I was very sensitive to Sharon's comments and applaud her efforts to involve those with vision issues; my wife is also challenged in this way; but she still manages to do over 100 quilts and receiving blankets a year for various charitable organizations.

I really liked Virgil's poetry. It really spoke to me and made me smile. Time picking the wood is certainly part of the equation as well. "listening" and "reading" the wood can make all the difference in the outcome.

Thank you all for chiming in. My answer in the future is going to be "whatever it takes to get it right."
 
Top