Upgraded my lathe game. Looking for current mandrel recommendations.

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BobC2951

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Started turning right before Christmas and I am really enjoying it. Started out with an inexpensive WEN lathe and quickly discovered its defects and limitations. Just brought home the Laguna 12/16 with the stand and the 10" bed extension for larger bowl capabilities. Along with this upgrade, I am looking to update my pen mandrel system. I purchased an inexpensive mandrel set with the mandrel saver from PSI. It is a #1 MT. I can use a MT adapter but plan on using the WEN for blank squaring and finishing so I would like to minimize tooling setups and changes.

After some initial research, I am leaning towards the Axminister mandrel. I briefly considered the Woodpecker system but the cost just is too much. Are there any other pen mandrels similar in quality to the Axminister I am missing?

Oh - not going to be TBC at this point. Maybe later but for now staying with a mandrel setup.

Thanks.
 

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sorcerertd

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Wow, that's quite an upgrade! I started with that Wen. It's not a bad little lathe, but the slop in the tailstock is insufferable. I'm leaning towards that Laguna next time around, but the old Jet 1014 is getting me by. Sorry that I can't make mandrel recommendations as I've gone TBC, but had to comment on your upgrade.
 

Alan Morrison

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I have the Axminster compression mandrel which I have been using for a number of years with zero problems.
Would highly recommend it, Bob.
 

randyrls

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Harrisburg, PA 17112
Bob; Use caution on adjustable mandrels. The collet may tend to slip and the mandrel retract and loosen if you put a lot of pressure on it. There are two different ones. One is black oxide that I could never get to lock down, and the one is Whiteside (silver) and is much superior.
 

BobC2951

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West Des Moines, Iowa
Wow, that's quite an upgrade! I started with that Wen. It's not a bad little lathe, but the slop in the tailstock is insufferable. I'm leaning towards that Laguna next time around, but the old Jet 1014 is getting me by. Sorry that I can't make mandrel recommendations as I've gone TBC, but had to comment on your upgrade.
The tailstock on mine is absolute JUNK! The slop is horrible as you say and the dang thing keeps locking up on me. I can't retract or advance the quill now. It's just horrible.
 

RunnerVince

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Ogden, UT
Another vote for TBC. I know you said "not right now," but it's not actually that hard, cheaper to set up, cheaper in the long run (no need for bushings), and gets the best results. All you need is a dead center, a 60 degree cone center, and a decent set of calipers. You may have one or more of these already, they're fairly inexpensive if you don't, and I use all three for other things as well.

And I firmly believe it's made me a better turner.

I had a mandrel with my first lathe (MT1), got the same one but in MT2 for my second lathe, then went to a "TBC" mandrel, which was junk. Switched to true TBC and haven't looked back, especially on single-barrel pens.
 

sorcerertd

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The tailstock on mine is absolute JUNK! The slop is horrible as you say and the dang thing keeps locking up on me. I can't retract or advance the quill now. It's just horrible.
Their warranty is pretty good. Not that you're going to get a high quality replacement, but if you get one that at least works, you can sell it and make a few bucks to buy some more stuff (because you will buy more stuff).
 

BobC2951

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Their warranty is pretty good. Not that you're going to get a high quality replacement, but if you get one that at least works, you can sell it and make a few bucks to buy some more stuff (because you will buy more stuff).
Warranty is long gone on mine. Like I said, I am going to relegate the WEN to squaring my blanks.
 

BobC2951

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Another vote for TBC. I know you said "not right now," but it's not actually that hard, cheaper to set up, cheaper in the long run (no need for bushings), and gets the best results. All you need is a dead center, a 60 degree cone center, and a decent set of calipers. You may have one or more of these already, they're fairly inexpensive if you don't, and I use all three for other things as well.

And I firmly believe it's made me a better turner.

I had a mandrel with my first lathe (MT1), got the same one but in MT2 for my second lathe, then went to a "TBC" mandrel, which was junk. Switched to true TBC and haven't looked back, especially on single-barrel pens.
Well - what a difference a few days make as they say.

Been continuing to look into mandrels and keep coming across references to TBC stuff. Watched several videos and it makes sense to me to make an investment in a TBC step given the investment into a quality mandrel is at least $50 and as much as $150 and I already have a mandrel setup that works fine.

Ok, now that is out of the way. The only TBC setup I am seeing out there is the one from PSI. Any others I should be looking at?
 

egnald

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Columbus, Nebraska, USA
Hi Bob - Greetings from Columbus Nebraska.

I realize I may be late to the conversation, but I'm going to chime in anyway. I have a plethora of mandrels that I have acquired over the years as I tried to always go for something a little bit better than what I had at the time. I haven't made it up to the Woodpecker's or Axminister level yet because of cost. Anyhow, where I am today is a combination of a few things.

1) I start out in the headstock with an Adjustable Pen Mandrel (MT2 to fit my lathe). It uses a compression type of collet to hold onto the mandrel shaft.

2) I use a "D" Drill Rod for my mandrel shaft (from Grainger). It is specified at 0.246 inches +/-0.0005 which works perfectly almost all of the time. Sometimes, especially for slimline type pens it is just a tad too tight, so I switch it out for a "C" drill rod which is slightly smaller at 0.242 +/-0.0005 inches. So-called "Standard" pen mandrels or "type A" mandrels are specified at 0.247 inches +0/-0.0002. I made this change because I had several commercial mandrel shafts that were obviously made from less expensive cold rolled steel or other softer materials.

3) On the tailstock end I use a Hold Fast Mandrel Saver by TMIProducts. It comes with a type of collet insert that tightens down on the mandrel shaft and centers it more precisely than what is achieved by the mandrel savers that just have a clearance hole through them. The mandrel saver also comes with a Cup Center insert and a 60-degree Center insert.

So far, this combination has worked very well for me with many of the advantages that are found in the more pricey solutions.

As for TBC, I do that on occasion using a TBC adapter set that I bought from PSI. It is essentially a stubby mandrel on a morse taper for the headstock and on a live center for the tailstock. It accepts standard bushings. It seems like I still gravitate to using a mandrel, especially since I usually do 2 barrel pens, and I like to be able to turn, sand, and finish them at the same time on a mandrel rather than one at a time with TBC.

Regards,
Dave
 

RunnerVince

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Well - what a difference a few days make as they say.

Been continuing to look into mandrels and keep coming across references to TBC stuff. Watched several videos and it makes sense to me to make an investment in a TBC step given the investment into a quality mandrel is at least $50 and as much as $150 and I already have a mandrel setup that works fine.

Ok, now that is out of the way. The only TBC setup I am seeing out there is the one from PSI. Any others I should be looking at?
@BobC2951
Before you read the novel I wrote below, can I suggest that if you've already got a setup that is working for you, then there's no reason to change it. I know that a lot of turners--many that are well-known and well-respected--use mandrels with great success. The only reason I found my way to TBC was that I was not happy with my finished pens. If that's you as well, then read on and continue to ask the fine folks on this forum for their expertise, from which I too have greatly benefitted.

I tried the PSI TBC setup, and I had the same issues (mainly non-concentricity) that I did with a mandrel. Anecdotally, I've seen very mixed reviews from people on this forum. Many have had the same experience as me. Others have found the setup works. On the other hand, I've never heard of anyone giving true TBC a chance and then going back.

True TBC is just a dead center and a 60-degree cone center to hold the work and a set of calipers to measure with. Bushings are optional.
  • Once I've prepared the blank (drilled, glued, squared), I simply put it between the dead center and the cone center, snug it up (not too tight or you can stretch the tube and crack the blank), and get to turning.
  • I use the calipers to take the actual diameter of the mating kit parts, and then measure as I turn.
    • I go just past the diameter so that I can build up my CA finish to the exact diameter. As I'm turning, I'm looking for the very slightest bit of travel when I measure with the calipers. I go until I can get the calipers over the blank without forcing them, and then a tiny bit further.
    • It helps me to have two sets of calipers. I use one for the mating part on each end of the barrel. Even for kits like slimlines that ideally have the same diameter for all mating parts, I've found there's slight variations depending on kit quality. I may even add a third set so I can get all the measurements for a double-barrel pen at once.
  • Bushings:
    • I've stopped using bushings entirely for single-barrel pens.
    • If I have the bushings for a double-barrel kit, I'll use them on my mandrel to get the blank down to a little over size, moreso in order to see the grain and decide which end will be the nib rather than as a time saver. Once the blanks are down approximate size, I'll switch to TBC and finish the barrels individually.
    • You can buy specialized TBC bushings for a lot of kits, and you can make them as well. A lot of people make bushings from delryn (spelling?) because it's relatively inexpensive, it turns easily, and CA doesn't stick to it. Ultimately, you're going to want to use calipers to get the best fit, so for me, buying/making TBC bushings is not worth the time/money investment.
  • CA glue: Although I often forget, I do try to take my dead center and 60-degree center off the lathe and soak the tips in acetone to remove any CA. CA buildup is really the last place left in my process where I can introduce non-concentricity.
One final note: My switch to TBC was motivated largely by issues with non-concentricity. There are many potential causes for non-concentricity, but IMO the biggest are issues with:
  1. Headstock-tailstock alignment
  2. Sanding technique
  3. Workholding (bent mandrel, slight defects in the mandrel, worn bushings, etc.)
  4. Inaccurate blank squaring.
Lathes can generally be adjusted/calibrated for #1. I solved #2 with practice and advice from folks on this forum. #3 was by far the worst offender, and TBC eliminated probably 90% of the non-concentricity I was experiencing. The second biggest culprit was #4. I switched from manual squaring with a pen mill and hand drill. I now use Rick Herrel's offset sanding jig (scroll about a third of the way down), and haven't looked back. I know others have had great success with jigs for a disc sander.
 

BobC2951

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Joined
Jan 18, 2023
Messages
16
Location
West Des Moines, Iowa
@BobC2951
Before you read the novel I wrote below, can I suggest that if you've already got a setup that is working for you, then there's no reason to change it. I know that a lot of turners--many that are well-known and well-respected--use mandrels with great success. The only reason I found my way to TBC was that I was not happy with my finished pens. If that's you as well, then read on and continue to ask the fine folks on this forum for their expertise, from which I too have greatly benefitted.

I tried the PSI TBC setup, and I had the same issues (mainly non-concentricity) that I did with a mandrel. Anecdotally, I've seen very mixed reviews from people on this forum. Many have had the same experience as me. Others have found the setup works. On the other hand, I've never heard of anyone giving true TBC a chance and then going back.

True TBC is just a dead center and a 60-degree cone center to hold the work and a set of calipers to measure with. Bushings are optional.
  • Once I've prepared the blank (drilled, glued, squared), I simply put it between the dead center and the cone center, snug it up (not too tight or you can stretch the tube and crack the blank), and get to turning.
  • I use the calipers to take the actual diameter of the mating kit parts, and then measure as I turn.
    • I go just past the diameter so that I can build up my CA finish to the exact diameter. As I'm turning, I'm looking for the very slightest bit of travel when I measure with the calipers. I go until I can get the calipers over the blank without forcing them, and then a tiny bit further.
    • It helps me to have two sets of calipers. I use one for the mating part on each end of the barrel. Even for kits like slimlines that ideally have the same diameter for all mating parts, I've found there's slight variations depending on kit quality. I may even add a third set so I can get all the measurements for a double-barrel pen at once.
  • Bushings:
    • I've stopped using bushings entirely for single-barrel pens.
    • If I have the bushings for a double-barrel kit, I'll use them on my mandrel to get the blank down to a little over size, moreso in order to see the grain and decide which end will be the nib rather than as a time saver. Once the blanks are down approximate size, I'll switch to TBC and finish the barrels individually.
    • You can buy specialized TBC bushings for a lot of kits, and you can make them as well. A lot of people make bushings from delryn (spelling?) because it's relatively inexpensive, it turns easily, and CA doesn't stick to it. Ultimately, you're going to want to use calipers to get the best fit, so for me, buying/making TBC bushings is not worth the time/money investment.
  • CA glue: Although I often forget, I do try to take my dead center and 60-degree center off the lathe and soak the tips in acetone to remove any CA. CA buildup is really the last place left in my process where I can introduce non-concentricity.
One final note: My switch to TBC was motivated largely by issues with non-concentricity. There are many potential causes for non-concentricity, but IMO the biggest are issues with:
  1. Headstock-tailstock alignment
  2. Sanding technique
  3. Workholding (bent mandrel, slight defects in the mandrel, worn bushings, etc.)
  4. Inaccurate blank squaring.
Lathes can generally be adjusted/calibrated for #1. I solved #2 with practice and advice from folks on this forum. #3 was by far the worst offender, and TBC eliminated probably 90% of the non-concentricity I was experiencing. The second biggest culprit was #4. I switched from manual squaring with a pen mill and hand drill. I now use Rick Herrel's offset sanding jig (scroll about a third of the way down), and haven't looked back. I know others have had great success with jigs for a disc sander.
Thanks for the reply. I should have clarified my motivation for looking into another mandrel in my original post and subsequent responses. I am keeping my existing mandrel for my inexpensive WEN lathe which is a #1 MT setup. I did get some #2MT to #1MT adapters so I could use the setup on my new lathe. It adds a bunch of potential for runout errors as well as some other more minor nuisances but it is getting me by for now. I will keep both the WEN and the mandrel for finishing. I did pick up Rick's sanding jig for blank squaring as I got sick of blowing blanks apart with the barrel trimmer.

As I indicated, if I am going to invest in something for this new lathe, I have come to the conclusion that a TBC setup reduces the opportunity for errors as well as is much less expensive than another mandrel setup for a good quality setup or even a TBC mandrel setup like the PSI unit. The PSI TBC mandrel product looks pretty much like just a shorter version of a regular pen mandrel and mandrel saver system just shorter. I do have a 60-degree live center and would only need to pick up a 60-degree live center for the "true" TBC.

It does look like you need to find a good source for bushings if you don't want to directly insert into the tubes. Haven't come to much of a conclusion on that yet. I see that TBCBushings.com has a TBC adapter setup that allows the use of existing bushings with the exception of the Slimline pens. I will probably end up picking those up as I have a lot invested in bushings at this point. Maybe as I progress my skills I can eliminate bushing and move into using calipers for getting down to the right diameters. My skill level isn't there yet.

Anyway - onward and upward as they say.
 

BobC2951

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Jan 18, 2023
Messages
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Location
West Des Moines, Iowa
Hi Bob - Greetings from Columbus Nebraska.

I realize I may be late to the conversation, but I'm going to chime in anyway. I have a plethora of mandrels that I have acquired over the years as I tried to always go for something a little bit better than what I had at the time. I haven't made it up to the Woodpecker's or Axminister level yet because of cost. Anyhow, where I am today is a combination of a few things.

1) I start out in the headstock with an Adjustable Pen Mandrel (MT2 to fit my lathe). It uses a compression type of collet to hold onto the mandrel shaft.

2) I use a "D" Drill Rod for my mandrel shaft (from Grainger). It is specified at 0.246 inches +/-0.0005 which works perfectly almost all of the time. Sometimes, especially for slimline type pens it is just a tad too tight, so I switch it out for a "C" drill rod which is slightly smaller at 0.242 +/-0.0005 inches. So-called "Standard" pen mandrels or "type A" mandrels are specified at 0.247 inches +0/-0.0002. I made this change because I had several commercial mandrel shafts that were obviously made from less expensive cold rolled steel or other softer materials.

3) On the tailstock end I use a Hold Fast Mandrel Saver by TMIProducts. It comes with a type of collet insert that tightens down on the mandrel shaft and centers it more precisely than what is achieved by the mandrel savers that just have a clearance hole through them. The mandrel saver also comes with a Cup Center insert and a 60-degree Center insert.

So far, this combination has worked very well for me with many of the advantages that are found in the more pricey solutions.

As for TBC, I do that on occasion using a TBC adapter set that I bought from PSI. It is essentially a stubby mandrel on a morse taper for the headstock and on a live center for the tailstock. It accepts standard bushings. It seems like I still gravitate to using a mandrel, especially since I usually do 2 barrel pens, and I like to be able to turn, sand, and finish them at the same time on a mandrel rather than one at a time with TBC.

Regards,
Dave
Thanks Dave.

I took a look at the Hold Fast units which looked intriguing, especially the mandrel saver piece. I was not able to locate a source for that. Looked like Woddcraft used to carry them but they are not currently available. Any sources you are aware of?
 

egnald

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Thanks Dave.

I took a look at the Hold Fast units which looked intriguing, especially the mandrel saver piece. I was not able to locate a source for that. Looked like Woddcraft used to carry them but they are not currently available. Any sources you are aware of?
I think I got mine from WoodTurningz - Dave
 

RunnerVince

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Maybe as I progress my skills I can eliminate bushing and move into using calipers for getting down to the right diameters. My skill level isn't there yet.
The main skill involved is patience and a light touch, and both of those only come with practice. :)
 

BobC2951

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Jan 18, 2023
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West Des Moines, Iowa
Started turning right before Christmas and I am really enjoying it. Started out with an inexpensive WEN lathe and quickly discovered its defects and limitations. Just brought home the Laguna 12/16 with the stand and the 10" bed extension for larger bowl capabilities. Along with this upgrade, I am looking to update my pen mandrel system. I purchased an inexpensive mandrel set with the mandrel saver from PSI. It is a #1 MT. I can use a MT adapter but plan on using the WEN for blank squaring and finishing so I would like to minimize tooling setups and changes.

After some initial research, I am leaning towards the Axminister mandrel. I briefly considered the Woodpecker system but the cost just is too much. Are there any other pen mandrels similar in quality to the Axminister I am missing?

Oh - not going to be TBC at this point. Maybe later but for now staying with a mandrel setup.

Thanks.
Quick update:

I know I said that I was NOT going to be TBC at this point, but I did venture into that space a bit albeit the term "turning between centers" itself is not as straight forward as I had originally thought. I guess "true" TBC involves having the blank turned without the use of any bushings/mandrels involved - only a drive center and live center - typically 60 degrees - coming into contact with the tube/blank.

I did pick up those centers but also opted to use the bushings from TBCBushings.com. Turned my first blank last evening. I have to say there was a much more solid and steady feel to the turning experience. I still need that guidance at this point from having the bushings there for making sure I have the right diameter. Thanks TBC Bushings.
 

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RunnerVince

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I still need that guidance at this point from having the bushings there for making sure I have the right diameter.
Just be aware that, no matter their starting quality, the bushings become unreliable if you touch them with your tools or with sandpaper. They can also become unreliable if you get finish on them.

You can certainly use them as you noted in your post, and many do so with great success. But if you want them to remain useful, you must treat them with great care and/or plan on replacing them regularly.
 

BobC2951

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Just be aware that, no matter their starting quality, the bushings become unreliable if you touch them with your tools or with sandpaper. They can also become unreliable if you get finish on them.

You can certainly use them as you noted in your post, and many do so with great success. But if you want them to remain useful, you must treat them with great care and/or plan on replacing them regularly.
Thanks, Vince. Definitely understood.

I have gone through a few bushings, mostly from becoming loose on the mandrel.

I do NOT finish with the metal bushings. I use HDPE cone shaped bushings for that.
 

derekdd

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Late to the thread but I wanted to say congrats on the new lathe.

I was in a Woodcraft this past weekend and they had that lathe and the next one up from it on display. They appeared to be very nice.

Enjoy!
 
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