New to the forum, drilling using the lathe

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samk

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May 13, 2022
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First, this is a great forum with amazing experts.

I am not only new to the forum but also new to pen making. I have been making slim wood pens and the results have been ok so far. Now I started to do "fatter" pens and I am running into problems. I have been using my lathe to drill holes into blanks. Now with 3/8" (about 14.5mm) drill bits it is turning out to be a big problem. It seems to take forever. I have a variable speed lathe (Nova), for hardwood I am using low speed (around 400 rpm). Centering has not been an issue, I am getting perfect centers. The issue is with drilling. Any suggestions? Thank you.
 
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farmer

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Jun 16, 2012
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Is your bit dull , is it getting hot .
are you drilling wet wood ?
Is the bit getting loaded with sawdust or cutting's ?
 

monophoto

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Saratoga Springs, NY
If I understand correctly, you are drilling on the lathe and are not having any difficulties with the hole being centered. However, you do feel that its taking too long to drill the holes using a 3/8" or 14.5mm bit with the lathe running around 400 r/min.

You didn't mention two important considerations - first, what are you drilling? Many pens have separate cap and body sections that are made by cutting a typical 5-6" blank in half. Normally, the recommended approach is to cut the blank to length first, and then drill the two sections separately. Are you drilling the two sections separately, or are you drilling the blank before cutting it to the lengths required for the top and bottom halves of the pen? And of course there are pens that are made from only one blank, but that blank is longer than is the case with slimlines.

Second, you say that it takes 'forever', but how long is 'forever'?

When drilling pen blanks, you generally are drilling end grain, and that does take longer than drilling face grain. And the hole that you are drilling is pretty deep - easily 2" if you follow the recommended sequence (cut first and then drill), and easily twice that if you are doing it backwards. So it's going to take time. Presumably, you are following directions and periodically backing the bit out of the hole to clear the swarf and allow the bit and blank to cool a bit - and that's going to add to the time required.

By the way, the recommendation to use a lower speed when drilling is intended to limit heating. My experience is that you can sometimes get a cleaner hole if you run the lathe a bit faster - 500-700 r/min). But when doing that, its critical that you stop drilling to clear swarf more frequently. The heating actually comes about from swarf buildup in the flutes of the bit rubbing against the inside of the hole, so as you increase the rotational speed of the bit, you have to clear the swarf more often.

But it's also important to recognize that the speed at which the bit is advanced into the wood is a separate consideration from the rotational speed of the bit. If you try to advance the bit too rapidly, you will force the bit into the wood before the tip of the bit has a chance to cut a hole for the bit to move into. This can cause the bit to drift off center as it attempts to follow grain lines separating softer, summer-growth wood from harder, winter-growth wood. Obviously, this is much more of a problem with smaller bits, but it can also happen with hefty 3/8" bits.

Final thought - is your bit sharp? Drilling is faster if the bit is sharp, and trying to drill with a dull bit is a lot of work that creates the perception of taking forever.
 
Last edited:

samk

Member
Joined
May 13, 2022
Messages
13
Location
san francisco
Is your bit dull , is it getting hot .
are you drilling wet wood ?
Is the bit getting loaded with sawdust or cutting's ?
Farmer,

Thank you for the prompt response. Here are my answers to your questions:

1. It is a new brad bit (3/8"), at a time I am able to drill only about 1/8" before it gets hot. I pull out the bit, clean it out and continue.
2. It is a hardwood blank. It is about 2" in length
3. Yes, the bit does get loaded with sawdust. I clear out the sawdust before I continue with drilling.
 

samk

Member
Joined
May 13, 2022
Messages
13
Location
san francisco
If I understand correctly, you are drilling on the lathe and are not having any difficulties with the hole being centered. However, you do feel that its taking too long to drill the holes using a 3/8" or 14.5mm bit with the lathe running around 400 r/min.

You didn't mention two important considerations - first, what are you drilling? Many pens have separate cap and body sections that are made by cutting a typical 5-6" blank in half. Normally, the recommended approach is to cut the blank to length first, and then drill the two sections separately. Are you drilling the two sections separately, or are you drilling the blank before cutting it to the lengths required for the top and bottom halves of the pen? And of course there are pens that are made from only one blank, but that blank is longer than is the case with slimlines.

Second, you say that it takes 'forever', but how long is 'forever'?

When drilling pen blanks, you generally are drilling end grain, and that does take longer than drilling face grain. And the hole that you are drilling is pretty deep - easily 2" if you follow the recommended sequence (cut first and then drill), and easily twice that if you are doing it backwards. So it's going to take time. Presumably, you are following directions and periodically backing the bit out of the hole to clear the swarf and allow the bit and blank to cool a bit - and that's going to add to the time required.

By the way, the recommendation to use a lower speed when drilling is intended to limit heating. My experience is that you can sometimes get a cleaner hole if you run the lathe a bit faster - 500-700 r/min). But when doing that, its critical that you stop drilling to clear swarf more frequently. The heating actually comes about from swarf buildup in the flutes of the bit rubbing against the inside of the hole, so as you increase the rotational speed of the bit, you have to clear the swarf more often.

But it's also important to recognize that the speed at which the bit is advanced into the wood is a separate consideration from the rotational speed of the bit. If you try to advance the bit too rapidly, you will force the bit into the wood before the tip of the bit has a chance to cut a hole for the bit to move into. This can cause the bit to drift off center as it attempts to follow grain lines separating softer, summer-growth wood from harder, winter-growth wood. Obviously, this is much more of a problem with smaller bits, but it can also happen with hefty 3/8" bits.

Final thought - is your bit sharp? Drilling is faster if the bit is sharp, and trying to drill with a dull bit is a lot of work that creates the perception of taking forever.
Monophoto,

Thank you for your prompt response. Please see my answers below.

I am drilling hardwood pen blanks. Yes, I have cut the blanks to length before drilling. The cut blank is about 2" in length. Yes, I am drilling the two blank separately.

Second, at a time I am able to drill only about 1/8" before I notice the bit getting hot. I pull it out, clean it and repeat the drill.

The bit is a brand new one. This is a brad point bit.

Very good inputs.
 

Todd in PA

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Joined
Feb 16, 2021
Messages
323
Location
Port Matilda, PA
Just to confirm— should be spinning the wood in the headstock and pushing the stationary bit using the tail stock. Your bit may need to be sharpened.
 

farmer

Member
Joined
Jun 16, 2012
Messages
771
Location
NV
Sorry I don't use brad point drill bits .
I use Hss carbide bits for wood.
On deep hole boring I use a gun drill .
If you have a air compressor use a air gun shooting down the hole trying blow the saw dust and wood chips out .
or use a shop vac
Normally drilling a half inch or more at a time my bits get loaded up with saw dust .
I have to stop and clean the bit .
Only bit that as fast you can feed it is the gun drill.
But normally its used for deep hole boring which is over kill for a 2 inch deep hole
 

MRDucks2

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Jul 17, 2017
Messages
2,910
Location
Washington, IN
New bits can be dull, out of round and crooked. A quality brad-point bit will cut your finger if you accidentally touch it while handling or mounting your wood (not turning).

Hardwood is pretty broad. Poplar is a hard wood as well as oak, beech and walnut. All should drill pretty easily. Hickory, some locust, and others are harder hard woods for North America and will drill much slower.

Some Exotic hardwoods can make hickory look like a sugar cookie on the hardness scale.

How easily is your tailstock moving without drilling? If it gets gummed up that can make it seem like it is drilling hard when it is just hard to move.
 

Hartwell85

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Joined
May 14, 2021
Messages
36
Location
Findlay, OH
I found that brad point bits work well when drilling across grain but perform poorly when drilling end grain as in pen blanks. I get very good results using Fisch Master Pen Drills, Colt pen makers drill bits, or parabolic drill bits. Parabolic drill bits remove chips more efficiently than twist drill bits. You can get Fisch drill bits from Craft Supplies, Klingspor's, or Exotic Blanks. Parabolic drill bits are available from McMaster-Carr. Colt drill bits are available from Packard Woodworks or Woodcraft. There may be other sources. All these drill bits cost more but well worth the extra cost.

I drill my blanks using the lathe mode on my Shopsmith at about 700 rpm. I would drill at 500-600 rpm if I could but the minimum speed on the Shopsmith is around 700 rpm.

Other advice:
  • When starting to drill, tease the drill bit into the blank using light pressure with an in and out motion. This enables the drill bit to find the center. Start feeding the drill bit once a small dimple is formed and the bit has found center. Feeding too quickly with a straight in motion can cause the drill bit to deflect slightly and start drilling off-center.
  • Don't use high pressure or high feed rates when drilling. Let the drill set the feed rate.
  • Pull the drill bit out every 1/4" or 1/2" of drilling to eject chips.
  • Allow the drill bit to cool between blanks. Warm to the touch is okay. I have used a wet paper towel to speed up the cooling process if necessary.
I hope this helps.
 

samk

Member
Joined
May 13, 2022
Messages
13
Location
san francisco
New bits can be dull, out of round and crooked. A quality brad-point bit will cut your finger if you accidentally touch it while handling or mounting your wood (not turning).

Hardwood is pretty broad. Poplar is a hard wood as well as oak, beech and walnut. All should drill pretty easily. Hickory, some locust, and others are harder hard woods for North America and will drill much slower.

Some Exotic hardwoods can make hickory look like a sugar cookie on the hardness scale.

How easily is your tailstock moving without drilling? If it gets gummed up that can make it seem like it is drilling hard when it is just hard to move.
MrDucks2,

Thank you for your response.

Yes, it turned out to be the bit, although a brand new one. I bought another one, it is working fine.
 

samk

Member
Joined
May 13, 2022
Messages
13
Location
san francisco
I found that brad point bits work well when drilling across grain but perform poorly when drilling end grain as in pen blanks. I get very good results using Fisch Master Pen Drills, Colt pen makers drill bits, or parabolic drill bits. Parabolic drill bits remove chips more efficiently than twist drill bits. You can get Fisch drill bits from Craft Supplies, Klingspor's, or Exotic Blanks. Parabolic drill bits are available from McMaster-Carr. Colt drill bits are available from Packard Woodworks or Woodcraft. There may be other sources. All these drill bits cost more but well worth the extra cost.

I drill my blanks using the lathe mode on my Shopsmith at about 700 rpm. I would drill at 500-600 rpm if I could but the minimum speed on the Shopsmith is around 700 rpm.

Other advice:
  • When starting to drill, tease the drill bit into the blank using light pressure with an in and out motion. This enables the drill bit to find the center. Start feeding the drill bit once a small dimple is formed and the bit has found center. Feeding too quickly with a straight in motion can cause the drill bit to deflect slightly and start drilling off-center.
  • Don't use high pressure or high feed rates when drilling. Let the drill set the feed rate.
  • Pull the drill bit out every 1/4" or 1/2" of drilling to eject chips.
  • Allow the drill bit to cool between blanks. Warm to the touch is okay. I have used a wet paper towel to speed up the cooling process if necessary.
I hope this helps.
Hartwell85,

Thank you for your response.

Great inputs! I ended up using the Fisch bit and it is working fine. The steps you have listed above are very helpful.

Much appreciated.
 

Bryguy

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Joined
Jun 9, 2013
Messages
847
Location
New Hampshire
When drilling large holes you are asking the drill to do too much work, so it will heat up. Instead of going straight to the large drill. work your way up by going through two or three drilss to get to the size hole you need. This way each drill is doing less work. use the drill and peck method with large drills and cool the drill down. If the drill gets too hot you will end up dulling it. Anyway, what's the hurry?
 

samk

Member
Joined
May 13, 2022
Messages
13
Location
san francisco
When drilling large holes you are asking the drill to do too much work, so it will heat up. Instead of going straight to the large drill. work your way up by going through two or three drilss to get to the size hole you need. This way each drill is doing less work. use the drill and peck method with large drills and cool the drill down. If the drill gets too hot you will end up dulling it. Anyway, what's the hurry?
Thank you for your response. Good point!
 

samk

Member
Joined
May 13, 2022
Messages
13
Location
san francisco
Great advice goven. I have an old toothbrush that I use to brush off the bit when I retract it from the blank just to make sure the bit is clean and clear. And yes, slowing down while difficult pays dividends.
Montmill,

Thank you for your response, great advice taken!
 

NGLJ

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Sep 15, 2021
Messages
199
Location
Surrey BC, Canada
When drilling larger holes I always work my way up in drill sizes and I have never had any issues. All of the other advice applies of course. Act in haste and repent at leisure!
 

samk

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Joined
May 13, 2022
Messages
13
Location
san francisco
When drilling larger holes I always work my way up in drill sizes and I have never had any issues. All of the other advice applies of course. Act in haste and repent at leisure!
Thank you for your response. Very good inputs!
 

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