Two months in, notes from a n00b

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brailsmt

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In another thread, I was challenged to write about my experiences switching over to turning between centers. To quote the great Ron Swanson "never half ass two things, whole ass one thing". So here is my attempt to share my journey from utter n00b in December, to a little less of a n00b now. Many here are vastly better at this pen turning thing than I am, but an afternoon perusal of Etsy listings similar to mine and I can see that I've come a long way and I would say that my pens are better than average. Enough chest thumping though, on to trying to detail my pen turning story thus far.

Back in November I reluctantly decided to sign myself up for a pen turning class at my local Woodcraft store in Lenexa, KS. The class was on December 2nd, that is when this whole thing started. I went in there doe eyed, and with precisely zero woodworking/penturning experience (unless you count my HS wood shop class 30 years ago, which I don't). When I timidly arrived that fateful Sunday morning, the blank drilling and tube gluing had been done for us. We were doing a Wall Street II pen. I keep that pen around to remind me of that day. It is comically bulbous, IMO. It was my first pen, though, so I took a page from Scrooge McDuck, and I've kept it as a reminder of my first. Anyway, that day, I ordered myself a Comet II midi lathe and stand and a set of carbide tools. I've made nearly 100 pens since then. I've since sold a few, and had my fair share of f*ck ups and success stories.

Like most, I think, I started with a 7mm mandrel, and a whole load of trepidation. Always my own worst critic, this journey has been fun, and frustating, mostly fun though. I mainly make hart double twist, cigars, and CSUSA americanas. I detest slimlines, they take longer to turn and feel cheap. Anyway, my focus has always been on getting a perfect fit. Several of my posts here are about how to get there. This is an ongoing thing for me. I have yet to turn a perfect fitting pen. I'm getting ahead of myself.

The mandrel. I've bent 4 mandrels so far. The last one, I bent in 3 pens. I know, I know, too much pressure from the tailstock, only the last one I used a mandrel saver. Apparently, I apply too much pressure while sanding and bending mandrels. With time I hope to use less pressure, but I think this is an experience thing, that I will only learn over time. I *try* to use light pressure, only to end up bending mandrels in 3 pens. With mandrels, I have created a number of really fine pens. Never good enough, but pretty good. Being a perfectionist, though, good enough is unacceptable. So this leads me to my next/current phase, of pen turning...turning between centers.

TBC. The pinnacle of accuracy for turning pens. Right off the bat, though, the cost. Actually, a step back. I watched a video from the guy at The Golden Nib, where he turns a pen between center without bushings. I thought "Hell yeah! This is how I'm going to do it!". The first attempt, I applied so much tailstock pressure that it actually extruded the tubes outside the blank. Failure #1. Ok, fine, too much pressure. For attempt #2 I tried a wood blank with light pressure. Only to split the blank before I could get enough pressure to turn the blank to round. Failure #2. The third attempt I managed to turn it just fine, but screwed up the dimensions and put together a pen with a horrid fit. The fourth attempt resulted in another split wooden blank. I gave up with TBC without bushings at this point. However, the big takeaway from TBC I got from this is that it forces you to think about the desired pen shape in the abstract. With a mandrel, you can essentially seen the pen as you create it. With TBc, you turn one blank, then the next. You have to think about how to shape the top section, while shaping the bottom, and vice-versa. I've started actually planning my pen designs, because of TBC. There is still plenty of seat of the pants design, but I'm always thinking how this blank will match with the other one, something I didn't need to do with mandrels.

TBC, second act. For this one, I decided to use the regular bushings with my 60 degree dead/drive center and 60 degree live center. I made a number of great pens this way, until I started to get out of round pens. How on earth? It turns out that while using regular bushings to TBC is a step above, it is not perfect. The small imperfect fit of bushing to centers amplifies over time. Using the tried and true "resting chisel on top" method of checking for roundness, I found that the bushings themselves were out of round. How? Why? No freaking clue. On top of this, the bushings managed to not only mark up my centers pretty badly, they actually dug into them such that I had to replace my live center.

TBC, act three. This is where I'm currently at. I started looking to use dedicated TBC bushings with 60 degree ends to match the centers. The cost, though. Each pen kit has its own dimensions and a dedicated set of bushings for a every single kit, is unsustainable, IMO. I've already spent way too much on this hobby, and I haven't sold nearly enough to justify the expense of custom bushings for every single kit. Not only that, who is to say that each manufacturer of cigar pens, for instance, use the same dimensions? So, 5 million bushings (this is hyperbole) specific to individual kits was/is out of the question. I went with the next best things, a set of TBC adapter bushings. This lets me use regular bushings between centers without destroying my centers, or the bushings. This has worked out very well and is the current system I use to turn pens. Shout out to the TBC adapter bushings at tbcbushings.com. Fantastic product.

TBC, act three, scene 2. These TBC adapter bushings are great, but...bushings. Bushings are great...for the first pen turned. Every pen after that gets worse and worse as the bushings are worn down from sanding and chisels. Of these, my carbide chisels hitting the bushings is by far the worst offender. What I have found is that very rarely to I accidentally cut into the bushing in an even manner. This causes the wear of the bushing to be uneven, which leads to progressively out of round blanks. I am a huge perfectionist, and in this craft, I am unabashedly so. When I can feel a difference in fit greater on one side of the pen than the other, the bushings go into the trash. This means the bushings last, on average, about 5-10 pens. This is obviously not sustainable, so another solution is needed.

TBC, next act. This leads me to today. I'm waiting for a custom set of TBC bushings from Brian at TBCBushings.com that are just large enough that they will apply pressure to the tube and blank, but small enough that they will not be sanded down often or hit accidentally with the chisel. This is in response to my non-kit specific bushings post on this forum. These bushings should arrive this week, and the next chapter of this journey will begin with using calipers to measure the actual hardware for each pen, and allowing that to determine the fit, rather than premade bushings. I will update things as I go along this new part of the journey.

Thank you for reading this far.
 
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leehljp

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VERY Good! I am keeping a copy of this link to refer to it in the future when other newbies come along and have questions!

AS to your standard bushings causing problem on TBC: If you take time to measure them, it seems like commercial store bushings are manufactured to about .01" tolerance, rather than .001" or better. AND on some commercial ones, the holes are off center. I measure the commercial bushings with calipers and find about 25% off center by a smidgen - to visibly off. Check your bushings with calipers and measure the hole from 4 different sides. I'll bet that two opposing sides will be off.

You said you are a perfectionist, and you think and observe and use deductive reasoning skills in looking for solutions. Many just follow instructions, and if they hit it dead on the first time, they will be lost later when it doesn't work out the next time in a similar situation. You will be able to help because you have been there and you wrote it down!

You wrote out things that experienced people have done so many times that they (we) take it for granted and often overlook as the problem - and forget where they come from.

THANKS for writing this up!
 
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magpens

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Yes, indeed !! . Thank you for chronicling your experiences.

Also, thank you for your excellent English expression and for checking your grammar and spelling before publishing this chronicle. . Your account is a pleasure to read !!!

Your account is truly the work of a perfectionist. . Since your account does not have a "last edited" time stamp, I believe that you must have typed your account in another application or a word processor before copying it here. . That can make such a difference and a great improvement in readability and comprehensibility. . Maybe you are a copy-editor in your day job, but your account is, as I said, a pleasure to read.

I am actually puzzled that you have ... and in several iterations ... returned to using bushings.

But we'll see where you end up ... after your next iteration or two.
 

Sly Dog

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As a fellow newbie I appreciated reading about your experiences. I just tried TBC this weekend and had a good result, I think. I haven’t tried turning without bushings yet - mainly because I feel the bushings, even if slightly imperfect, let me know when I’m getting close to final OD. I do heed Lee’s advice and measure the bushings and pen fittings with calipers before starting, and then stop to measure the blank frequently. Some material turns so easily and fast that I’m afraid I will overturn with no bushings there to slow me down.

Looking forward to more from you as time goes on.

Russ
 
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magpens

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As a fellow newbie I appreciated reading about your experiences. I just tried TBC this weekend and had a good result, I think. I haven’t tried turning without bushings yet - mainly because I feel the bushings, even if slightly imperfect, let me know when I’m getting close to final OD. I do heed Lee’s advice and measure the bushings and pen fittings with calipers before starting, and then stop to measure the blank frequently. Some material turns so easily and fast that I’m afraid I will overturn with no bushings there to slow me down.

Looking forward to more from you as time goes on.

Russ

A possible approach is to use bushings until you get close to correct size ... say within 0.005" of final size ... and then remove the bushings and do TBC ... without any bushings ... for the final light cuts to finished size ... with the use of calipers, of course.
 

brailsmt

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Well, the 4th act started today...and abruptly ended in an intermission. Ok, this play analogy has officially run its course. Anyway, the bushings arrived. They look great, the fit is tight, very good work. I started with the 7mm bushings making a razor...only to drop my live center. No big deal, not the first time, not last that I'll do that. Only this time it must have shaken something loose. I put it on and immediately heard a noise from the tailstock. Huh, I thought, I wonder if it'll go away? Nope. It added a bit of vibration just enough that I couldn't get smooth cuts on my finishing passes. So off to woodcraft tomorrow for a 3rd new live center... Maybe I should get a higher quality one? Oh the joys of finding wholly new and exciting ways to screw things up. :D
 

brailsmt

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The sound is definitely coming from inside/the bearings. Maybe some some dust got in. I'm pretty surprised it happened, but it certainly caused a vibration while turning.
 

Pierre---

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5th act : you make your TBC bushings: 60° hole each end, very tight fit, lower than pen OD!
 

brailsmt

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So, my first impression with the new non-kit specific bushings? I don't like it. This is a good thing, though. I don't like them because I am not used to them. I turned a razor last night, and 2 pens today. I have no reference that the bushings used to provide. I have to actually measure? All the time? Yes. That slows things waaaaaaay down because I have no idea how much each cut removes. Guess how I learn that? You guessed it. I guess. I f*ck up. I learn. I guess again, get closer, but still screw it up. This process will repeat itself until I'm the old hat that will tell n00bs that it's easy if they just do XYZ. Both pens I made tonight had issues, both were cut too small. The first is really bad, IMO. The second is actually one of the better pens I've made, but the fit issue is the opposite of what I'm used to. I'm used to most pens turning out with the blank too big. Tonight, both pens had blanks turned too small. I'll regulate. I'll learn. Soon, I'll feel comfortable again. Until then, I hate it. :D
 

1080Wayne

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Some deliberately over turn by a few thou and build back up with finish . Nothing the matter with doing that . Another approach to an over turned barrel is to shorten the barrel by sanding one end until the point is reached where the barrel diameter matches the fitting measurement . This does not work if the barrel has been turned dead flat . It also doesn`t work on pens where the barrel length is critical , such as a cigar . Works fine on slims , Euros , regular Sierras .
 

leehljp

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So, my first impression with the new non-kit specific bushings? I don't like it. This is a good thing, though. I don't like them because I am not used to them. I turned a razor last night, and 2 pens today. I have no reference that the bushings used to provide. I have to actually measure? All the time? Yes. That slows things waaaaaaay down because I have no idea how much each cut removes. Guess how I learn that? You guessed it. I guess. I f*ck up. I learn. I guess again, get closer, but still screw it up. This process will repeat itself until I'm the old hat that will tell n00bs that it's easy if they just do XYZ. Both pens I made tonight had issues, both were cut too small. The first is really bad, IMO. The second is actually one of the better pens I've made, but the fit issue is the opposite of what I'm used to. I'm used to most pens turning out with the blank too big. Tonight, both pens had blanks turned too small. I'll regulate. I'll learn. Soon, I'll feel comfortable again. Until then, I hate it. :D

This is simply experience. Making pens that sell for $50 - $100 is different than making the same pens that sell for $150-$250. Part of that is market location but most of that is the perfection of fit. I know it is irritating that following a 1-2-3 step doesn't produce the same results every time. If one wants the higher pricing pen, the difference is in perfection of fit and finish as much as anything else.

So here is where the difference comes in. Take the components for 5 pens and measure the Center band twice each 90° from each other; do the same for the nib end and clip end. You will find that they some are .005 or so off. The hand/finger can feel that much difference when handling a finished pen. A buyer may not say anything but may think twice before buying it at $200.

If you only want to make and give away, you won't have any problem. If you sell them in the lower price range, again, you won't have much of a problem. But if you want the pen to be the best it can be to sell it at the highest price - here is the order that draws people in: 1. beauty, artistry, design followed by 2. visible finish (wow that glass smooth finish jumps out) and 3.fit and feel. The "Feel" is not noticed by everyone but most that are willing to pay the higher price notice the quality by all three.

Back to the bushings for measurement - bushings shrink over a period of 5 to 10 pens, fit is gone. One to two minutes using the calipers for measurement take the pen from low end sales to high end sales for the same pen (providing the finish is equal in quality.
 
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brailsmt

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So it has been a few days. I've made 4-5 pens and a razor or two now. I'm getting more comfortable, and my fit is "inching" closer to perfect. When I say inching, I actually mean thousandths of an inch. I tried a CA finish last night. I took things down to -0.005" to -0.007" lower than needed, then built it back up to about 0.002". Then the finishing of the CA from 600 grit all the way through my finishing routine had the fit too small, still. That is going to take time to understand just how much is removed with the finishing steps. Holy crap there is a lot to making a perfect fit. Right now it honestly feels unachievable. The closer I get, the more I realize just how much more there is to it. Things like understanding just how much is removed by the look and feel of the cut, by the look of the shavings coming off, so I can judge when I next need to measure. How much each coat of CA adds and the difference of that between thin and medium CA. How much material each grit of sandpaper removes, and how to judge what works for me. Which means understanding how much material I usually remove with finishing, so I can leave that much on prior to starting. As they say, the devil is in the details.

As for the bushings, I am loving them. They are amazing. Everything runs true, the fit inside the tube is great. It is very satisfying to hear and feel the air pressure pop when I remove the bushing from the tube. The bushings basically are just the width of the brass tube, and they work great for allowing me to undercut certain fittings like the razors I make and round off the edges on others, like fittings on cigars between the top and the clip which is usually rounded. Things I couldn't readily do before.
 
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More4dan

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Sometimes I can round off the edges of end of the blank when sanding lengthwise. Using a set of old bushings while sanding keeps this from happening. I’ve made some HDPE bushings for CA finishing to keep the glue off my bushings and centers.


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