The "Best" Pen Kit for Beginning Pen-Makers

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magpens

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Sometimes we encounter a question or discussion about what kit is "best" for beginning pen-turners to start with.

Often the suggestion is a "slimline" pen kit, but I am not convinced that is the best choice, even though it's probably the cheapest.
"Cheapest" can often lead you down a road which ends up being more complex or more difficult, in one way or another.

So, after carefully considering this matter for some time, I have decided to "stick my neck out" and state my recommendation for "best".

"Best", like "cheapest", is often a term which compromises other considerations, so I do not claim to have the "absolute best" recommendation.

My choice is the 30 Caliber Express Bullet pen kit from Woodturningz.com. . . You can find it here :-


This is a "classically simple" straight-sided single-barrel design with a lot of visual and tactile appeal for just about everybody, IMHO.
On top of that, the barrel turning could be "advanced" from "straight-sided" to a possibly more appealing "slightly bulbous", as skill level permits.

The barrel utilizes a very common 3/8" diameter brass tube (pen-maker's sizing) which is quite a bit easier to handle than the slimline 7mm sizing.
Plus, the refill is a Parker style, which most people prefer ... most people meaning both makers and users of pens, in my experience.

Besides the "straight-sided" barrel design, and Parker refill consideration, here are other reasons for my recommending this pen kit to beginners :
- a twist action refill extension/retraction mechanism which is generally easy to handle at the beginning of pen-making
- an easy matter of pressing the finished "tube+barrel" onto the finial hardware piece - after unscrewing the actual finial and removal of clip
( the avoidance of complications of pressing combined clip + finial is advantageous in the beginning)
- simple reassembly of the clip + actual finial piece after that pressing operation with a conventional pen press
- simple and tactile pressing of the upper and lower portions of the pen together BY HAND after the above operations
- the obvious appeal (to a guy, at least) of the bullet-shaped lower barrel

These factors are highly convincing for this choice for "starting out" pen-makers ..... in my opinion, or course !!

Minor reservations of this recommendation include the double-twist refill mechanism. . Single-twist would be preferrable, and could be arranged at further expense.
Also, the pen kit is fairly low-priced at $8.00 or so, but not as cheap as the usual slimline kit. . However, cost is not everything ! .... Right ?

The simple press-together without the encumbering presence of the clip is quite a big deal .... also "in my opinion", having gone through dealing with the clip on slims.

What say you, everybody ? ... @WoodTurningz
 
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FGarbrecht

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If you're not into bullets, I'd recommend the Jr. Zen rollerball. Simple straight-sided single barrel design, magnetic cap. Very simple and elegant.
 

magpens

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If you're not into bullets, I'd recommend the Jr. Zen rollerball. Simple straight-sided single barrel design, magnetic cap. Very simple and elegant.

With all due respect .......

At $16+, no beginner is going to start with a Jr. Zen pen kit ...... of course, just MY opinion !!! . Unless they buy 10 to get the "per pen" price down.
 

mbroberg

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I normally recommend a Sierra twist style pen. Although, if one can master a slimline early in their penturning journey I'd say they have a slight advantage.
 

magpens

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I say any of the sierra line is a good starter kit. Or even a Zen. Bullet pens are too locked in to a theme in my opinion. Not everyone is into bullets.

I do not disagree and have long advocated the Sierra or similar. . But let's face it ...... the styling is really old !!!

Just thought I would stir things up a bit by recommending a bullet shape. . Come on ! . Admit it ! . It's cool !!!! . Don't think of "bullet" !
 

peter1958

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I'm not that long in pen turning, tried different kits. Cheap but also more expensive.
In my opinion the kit is not so important for making a pen or pencil. I have not tried kit-less pens or casting yet so not that much experienced pen turner.
The difficulties for me are mostly the techniques of making the penblank. That is a sometimes painfull learning process.
I had some blanks "explode" on the lathe, and cleaned up the tubes after that.
Also finishing is sometimes not that easy.

I'm going to make more plastic bushings, easier with CA.

But i have problems staying out of the shop. So addictive.
 
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FGarbrecht

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With all due respect .......

At $16+, no beginner is going to start with a Jr. Zen pen kit ...... of course, just MY opinion !!! . Unless they buy 10 to get the "per pen" price down.
With all due respect .....

If you can spend many hundreds or thousands of dollars equipping a shop, not sure I see the virtue of buying cheap, poor quality kits to start (although I guess you could make an argument that it makes sense to ruin a few cheap kits as you learn how to do things). I started with slimlines and hated them. I wish someone told me to start with a Jr. Zen.
 

magpens

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With all due respect .....

If you can spend many hundreds or thousands of dollars equipping a shop, not sure I see the virtue of buying cheap, poor quality kits to start (although I guess you could make an argument that it makes sense to ruin a few cheap kits as you learn how to do things). I started with slimlines and hated them. I wish someone told me to start with a Jr. Zen.

I understand that line of thought !! :D :D :D ... But ... these are not the low quality kits you are thinking of ... quite respectable ... 1st hand knowledge.

And one of the nice things about it .... it is barrel twist, not finial twist .... that makes it insensitive to barrel length .... good for newbies, just like Sierra.
 
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Dehn0045

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I think the magnetic vertex is probably the 'easiest' kit to make. The rounded feature of the fittings gives you a lot of room for error. It looks like the vertex bolt action is the same way, but I have never made one. That said, I think that the slimline is actually a decent kit to start with. One issue being the bulging wasp waist look that most beginning penturners end up with (myself included). This actually kind of looks ok on a slimline, but I think it looks horrible on most (maybe all) single barrel pens. Cigar is another common beginner kit, which is ok too for similar reasons.
 

CjG78

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I believe slimlines to be the best beginners pen kit. Yes they are the cheapest, so it doesn't matter if you bugger a few up. They aren't the easiest kit, a sierra would be one of the easiest, but I think a beginner needs to be repetitious to get the feel of turning a tube down, make 5 slimlines and you have turned 10 tubes as opposed to 5 if you made sierras.
Even a cigar is a good beginners kit. You can be adventurous with the shape, it isn't all that expensive and once again they get to practice twice per pen.
Eh just my thoughts.
I made about 100 slimlines before trying anything else.
 
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I started with Slim Lines like just about everyone else, the kits came with the package I bought. After that I switched to Trim Lines. Much more meat on the blank and they are always easy to turn, even for the beginners, and they're not that expensive. And I have to say, most people I give them too love them.
 

jttheclockman

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I do not disagree and have long advocated the Sierra or similar. . But let's face it ...... the styling is really old !!!

Just thought I would stir things up a bit by recommending a bullet shape. . Come on ! . Admit it ! . It's cool !!!! . Don't think of "bullet" !
Sorry Mal I do not. I use to make the real deal bullet pens but stopped that quite awhile ago. They are geared toward those who hunt and things like that. A standard sierra pen kit is for anyone. If they are so "OLD" as you say then how come seems every week another style is born in the sierra line. Different colors, satin and platings with different center bands. I believe that has to be the most popular type pen ever to hit the market. Have to disagree with you sorry.
 

magpens

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Sorry Mal I do not. I use to make the real deal bullet pens but stopped that quite awhile ago. They are geared toward those who hunt and things like that. A standard sierra pen kit is for anyone. If they are so "OLD" as you say then how come seems every week another style is born in the sierra line. Different colors, satin and platings with different center bands. I believe that has to be the most popular type pen ever to hit the market. Have to disagree with you sorry.

No problem at all John. . I sometimes welcome your disagreement. . It is not that I disapprove of the Sierra. . I just "perceive" it as old since it has been around for so long (since well before my own pen-making started). . Also, I do not like its STANDARD styling ONLY because of the domed finial. . I like LOTS of the Sierra variants, specifically the Sierra Elegant Beauty and the Elegant Sierra by Berea, and lots of the other variants made by different companies, some of which have been around for many, many years. . I think you might have taken me too seriously, but at the same time I would never say, as you did, that a "standard Sierra kit is for anyone", because I just DO NOT LIKE THE DOMED STYLING of the STANDARD SIERRA.

But the styling of the flat-topped VARIANTS OF THE SIERRA is just as young and vibrant as you and I are, John !! ..... LOL !!!!! ..... :D :D :D :D :D

It's only the STANDARD DOMED SIERRAS that I DO NOT LIKE.

BTW, I still think that my suggestion in my opening post is still valid as a starting pen for newbies.
And at the risk of starting another argument with you, I do not regard "bullet pens" as "too locked in to a theme" as you stated.
The bullet pens are not themed pens, in my opinion, although I will forgive you for saying that.
My concept of a themed pen is those wretched PSI designs that come out so frequently and appeal to very few.

One of the less-despised "themed pens" in the PSI showcase is this one :
and there are far worse "themed pens" which come and go fairly frequently, often recognizable by their marked-down pricing.

"Themed pens" are usually way to specific in concept.

Bullet pens are much more universal in their appeal. . I like them. . I do not regard them as "themed pens" in the same way as you used that term.

I particularly like the PSI 30 Caliber Bolt Action pen, of which I make a lot. . You can see some here :-
These could be great pens for beginners, but perhaps a bit too expensive and a little tricky to handle because of the bolt action mechanism.

I hope I have put your "challenging" remarks to rest, John ..... unless, of course, you want to pursue the matter further (start another thread, please).

But I would prefer to bring this thread back to the subject that I proposed in the opening post and comments more closely associated thereto.

We have digressed.
 
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greenacres2

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Here's another vote for Cigar. Classic look, plenty of meat on the barrel, and forgiving in finding the grain match in the barrels.
earl
 

jttheclockman

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Mal this is why these companies make so many pen kits. Wayyyyyyyyyyyy more than when I first started and they keep growing. I did group all the styles of Sierras together so sure something for everyone.
 

magpens

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Cigar pens are not beginner pens, in my opinion.

Since I started this thread, I feel obliged and privileged to offer some comments about the comments and suggestions of others. . :D :D ... LOL !!

Cigar pens are not beginner pens, and the main reason pertains to their complicated shaping, utilizing 4 DIFFERENT BUSHINGS.

Some beginners may be able to handle that but most cannot. . I surely could not in the beginning. . Today ? . YES ! . I love them.
 

leehljp

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I kinda (speed) read the above, but if there were one that I would stay away from as a beginner, it is a few with tenons. They more or less have to be precise, and most (but not all) new pen turners seem to err on the side of large.
 

dogcatcher

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I vote for the Slimlines. You get 2 barrels to practice on at the cheapest cost. The problem I see is the beginner is scared to make Slimlines that look like the Cross pen which it basically is. Instead the beginners, and a lot of experienced penturners make 2 "pregnant" barrels and the resulting pen looks goofy. Turning them thin takes practice and experience, but then the turner will carry that same practice over to other pens.

Once you can turn the Slimlines so that they look like a Cross pen, most pen kits will be a lot easier.
 

penicillin

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First of all, I dispute the assertion that beginning pen turners have an expensive shop and lots of money to spend on pen making. I have met plenty of pen turners on a very tight budget, working with giveaway lathes (or the least expensive models), hand-me-down tools, and the bare minimum of supplies and equipment.

In my opinion, the best pen kits for beginners start with buying spare pen tubes. Spare tubes take a lot of the stress of turning pens. If something goes wrong, you start over with new tube and blank. A small hardwood board can make a lot of pen blanks, so concerns about wood pen blanks should not be a factor. Don't underestimate how much more confidence you instill in a beginner when they are no longer concerned about messing up. A relaxed, low stress woodturner does much better.

For those on a budget, I agree with @dogcatcher and others, and recommend the cheapest slimline pens. They are not the easiest pens to make, but they are not that difficult either. They teach many good skills that extend to other pen kits. I have used them to teach first-time pen turning and they have proven to work out well.

For those with more to spend on pen kits, the Rockler Manhattan twist pen kits (aka Sierra) are probably the easiest to make. They take a single tube, and the only real assembly is pressing the cap (with built-in clip) in place. They look classy.
 

LK&T

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I'm not that long in pen turning, tried different kits. Cheap but also more expensive.
In my opinion the kit is not so important for making a pen or pencil. I have not tried kit-less pens or casting yet so not that much experienced pen turner.
The difficulties for me are mostly the techniques of making the penblank. That is a sometimes painfull learning process.
I had some blanks "explode" on the lathe, and cleaned up the tubes after that.
Also finishing is sometimes not that easy.

I'm going to make more plastic bushings, easier with CA.

But i have problems staying out of the shop. So addictive.
I agree completely.
 

LK&T

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There's definitely a learning curve to turning the pen blanks. Especially if, like me, you're new to turning resins. Trimming the ends, glueing the tubes, precision matching of the blanks to the furnishings, sanding and finishing, how to not blow up blanks, and so forth. Plenty to learn there, but you learn all that no matter what pen kit you're making. But once you've got a barrel, making pens from kits is about as easy as paint by numbers. I'd argue that slimlines are good kits to learn on because they're harder than a "simpler" kit and make you work on essential skills, which are building the barrels.
 

qquake

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My vote is for the PSI Gatsby or Gatsby Grande. Very similar to the Sierra style, with one crucial difference - the "beads". The beads on the Gatsbys mean the final diameter of the ends of the body isn't as crucial. If you slightly underturn the ends, the beads will hide it (unless it's grossly underturned). The Grande version might be slightly easier than the Gatsby. It has the beads, but it also takes a smaller 3/8" drill bit instead of 27/64". This makes the "meat" of the body thicker, especially since it has a larger OD. This is also better for translucent acrylics.
 

eharri446

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I started out with Slimline's with the dumbbell look, then did more where I tried to downplay the dumbbell shape, I eventually got to where I could make a Slimline with almost straight barrels. I have turned Manhattan's from PSI as well as their Gatsby's. I personally like the Wall Street II from Woodcraft as they have a wide assortment of finishes, and styles. While they are the same look, mostly, as a Sierra, they do have the rounded finial on some of them., I saw a post where someone got rid of the plastic dome and made a insert out of the same material as the barrel. I found that on the Gatsby, I could take a transfer punch and knock out the domed finial and replace it with something that looked better.

I have a large number of Slimline kits that I will be turning the barrels for on my mini metal lathe since I can control how to perfectly matched barrels which are arrow straight and exactly fitted to the hardware.

But for sheer simplicity of turning and assembly my vote would go for the PSI Executive kit.
 

TonyL

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I also like the executive with wood material for beginners. However, at 4.95 or so a kit, a mistake is more costly than if committed on a slim line.
 

TonyL

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The csusa patriot is also nice and somewhat forgiving on tube length. Again, more costly than SLs and some object to the fatter barrel.
 
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