Making my own blanks...trouble with drilling the holes

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Roger Wilco

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Jan 7, 2019
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Hello, all!
I've just started pen turning and I wanted to make some of my own blanks. I love to see what I get when I turn different wood. I've had some success with this, but it seems to take me a long time to get my blanks drilled. For the moment, I'm only doing slim-line pens cuz the kits are really cheap and it's what I learned when I took a couple Rockler classes.

I do not have a drill press, but I did some research and lots of folks like to use their lathe as a drill press. So I have a four-jaw chuck, pen jaws, a drill chuck...all the stuff you need to drill on the lathe. I cut my first blank (from a eucalyptus branch..roughly 3/4" x 3/4") and attempted to drill my holes. Of course this blank isn't square yet and it moved all over the place. So I had to spend some time turning it to round before it fit properly. I've got some calipers and I keep checking to be sure my "roundness" is the same across the entire piece, but I still get some wobble. Took some time, but I managed to get a couple decent pens.

I did some research and I just can't seem to find an answer so I'll apologize in advance if this is something that has been discussed before. If yes, if you wouldn't mind sending me a link, I'll just go there.

If you're drilling on a drill press, the bit turns and you plunge it into the blank. Doesn't matter if the blank is perfectly square. Just get that hole centered-ish and you should be okay. When you turn it to round everything will even out. On slim-line pens, you're only gonna end up with what...1/16" of wood around the tube?

BUT...on a lathe, I'm turning the blank and the drill bit is stationary. If the blank isn't square it's gonna wobble. I know what you're thinking, "Well Ed...make sure your blank is square, first." I don't want to. I would MUCH rather have the bit turn and I drill into the blank. So is there any reason I couldn't just put my drill chuck into the headstock, and my pen jaws/chuck into the tailstock? Do they make an adaptor that'll let me do that? Seems like that would be EXACTLY like a horizontal drill press and I won't have to be sure my stock is perfectly square. Save me some time. I can't figure out the search terms for what I would need to look for.

"Tailstock chuck mount"? (this search didn't help me)
"Mount pen jaws chuck in tailstock?" (this was a better search term...but not exactly what I was looking for)

Perhaps I'm not being diligent enough with my search and what I want is out there, but I'm too impatient to find it? Anyway, if you guys know the answer to this off the top of your head, I'd sure appreciate it.

Best,

-Ed-
San Gabriel, CA
 
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Here is one on Amazon, threaded morse taper #2, ...https://www.amazon.com/Morse-Adaptador-broca-taladro-v%C3%A1stago/dp/B07WF7153F/ref=sr_1_12?dchild=1&keywords=morse+taper+adapter&qid=1599556677&sr=8-12
Need to determine the thread size for the chuck.
 

KenB259

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Dec 24, 2017
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If you could find an adapter to reverse the normal orientation of the chucks, I’m not seeing what advantage that would be. I know you said you don’t want to square blanks up before drilling, but I’ll tell you it’s a good habit to get into. It’s one of my own personal basic steps. Things go so much smoother when your blanks are square. It’s also extremely important if you get into segmenting. Now if you’re not using a segmented blank, you really don’t have to worry much about a hole that is not perfectly centered.


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monophoto

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Mar 13, 2010
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Saratoga Springs, NY
Ed

They do make adapters that allow you to mount a scroll chuck on the tail stock. But I think that only complicates the process - you should try to simplify rather than complicate.

Drilling on the lathe is actually rather simple - grip the blank in a scroll chuck mounted on the headstock, and with it rotating around 400-600 r/min, advance the drill bit into the blank. It's OK if the blank wobbles a bit as long as the drill bit advances into the wood. The hole must be straight, but it doesn't have to be aligned anything on the outside of the blank - after you drill the hole, you will remount the blank either on a mandrel through the hole, or between centers - and in either case, the axis of the hole becomes the axis of rotation when you turn the blank to make the pen body. Its OK for the hole to not be parallel with the outside of the blank as longs as there is enough wood surrounding the hole to turn the final shape of the pen body.

As Ken pointed out, the only time that the alignment of the hole is critical is when you are turning segmented blanks and it's important that the segmented pattern be symmetrical around the pen body. But that's an advanced technique - start by mastering the basics of turning before you attempt that kind of thing.
 

Dehn0045

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Mar 19, 2017
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Houston, Texas
I guess I'm not seeing the difference -- drill is spinning relative to the blank either way. If you hold things the other way around you still need to hold the blank securely - which will require a square/round blank or a device that can hold a non-square blank. Blank ultimately is going to be turned round (for most pens anyway), so why not turn it round before drilling. I turn round by eye, no need to be that accurate. If there is a slight taper just put the narrow end into the chuck first.

note - use some caution with a drill/jacobs chuck mounted in the headstock, radial force will pop it out. When it is mounted in the tailstock and not spinning you can hold it in place with your hand - not so easy to do when it is spinning. You can get a drawbar to hold it in, but again this is just a rabbit hole that doesn't seem worth travelling down.
 

jttheclockman

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Ed you are making it harder than it is. What tools do you have?? Do you own a bandsaw or a tablesaw?? Either one would make quick work of a round blank into a square or an out of square block into a square one with a couple passes through saw. Never ever put the drill chuck on the headstock and use to drill holes without a drawbar You are heading for the emergency room. That bit will get stuck in the blank and pull that chuck out of taper or unscrew from threads. You will have to learn the most important rule to pen turning and that is learn patience and if you do not have it get out of this hobby. Not for you. I am serious. Just about every step of pen turning should not be rushed if you want to turn out a good product weather you sell, give away or for fun. It is also for safety. People think pen turning is so safe kids do it. Yes it can be but remember you have a spinning machine turning at rpms that are extremely dangerous your hands are always close to a spinning object so use proper safety precautions and slow down and think it through. Taking a few extra minutes to square a blank will pay off. That is my soapbox speech for the day. Carry on.
 

magpens

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In my opinion ..... to do the drilling on a lathe .....

It is best to start with a ROUND blank.

To make a "rough ol' blank" ROUND, use the method of "Turning Between Centers" .... or TBC, as commonly referred to.

Make the ends of your rounded blank square to the axis, with the blank length about 1/4" longer than the required length.

Now mount the rounded blank in your head stock chuck pin jaws, and drill with your drill bit chuck mounted in the tail stock.

For me .... and in my opinion .... starting with a ROUND blank is the key to drilling on the lathe.

There should be plenty of "hits" if you search for "turning between centers" on this website.
 
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Roger Wilco

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Jan 7, 2019
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Location
Southern California
Okay, thanks very much, all! What I'm reading is Patience is the key, both for a better end product and for safety so I'll just let this die and do it properly. I've been doing it that way anyway, but it never hurts to ask. Now I know.

-Ed-
 
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