Double mandrel for turning pens and other projects
Maintaining Pen Mandrels Overview: One of the more popular projects for new woodturners to turn is writing pens. There is something uniquely satisfying about turning your own writing pen, so it's no surprise that it's one of the most popular areas of interest in woodturning today. Much like the feeling you get as you settle into the drivers seat of a fine high performance automobile, using a finely crafted writing instrument feeds the soul and fires your imagination.
Even if you don't care for turning writing pens, the mandrels pens are turned on can be used for lots of other types of projects including perfume and aromatherapy pens, key chains, toothpick holders, letter openers and magnifiers, sewing kits and similar projects. One of the keys to successfully turning all of these projects is to make sure your mandrel is accurate when you mount and turn your projects. Improper mounting or storage of the mandrel can cause any mandrel to loose its accuracy. Here are a few tips to insure that your mandrel is not only mounted properly, but stored properly as well.
Pen Mandrels: General Tips
Beall collet chuck with mandrel shaft installed
Pen Mandrels: Mounting Tips
#2 Morse Taper cleaner
Note: You must be very careful here... The tailstock ram can easily bend/bow the mandrel if you apply too much force when seating the ram. This will cause you to turn an ellipse instead of a circle and your pen parts will not fit correctly.
Henry Taylor 1/4" micro spindle gouge
with swept back Texas Irish grind
Close-up of the swept back Texas Irish grind
When you are finished with the project, be careful how you remove the blanks. If a bit of finish has made its way into the bushing - blank - tube union it may stick a bit upon removal. Take care to remove the blank inline with the mandrel and support the free end of the mandrel if necessary, until the blank is released.
Pen Mandrels: Storage Tips
A short section of PVC pipe can be
used to safely store mandrels
When you've completed your project and you're ready to put the mandrel away, you need to insure that the mandrel is housed in some type of protective cover to prevent damage when it's stored. If you just place the mandrel in your tool chest without any protection, any tool that happens to fall onto it may damage it. There is no way to easily straighten a bent mandrel, so if you damage it you will have to purchase another mandrel shaft.
I use short pieces of PVC tubing to protect all of my single, double and adjustable mandrels. They work very well and are cheap and easy to make. You can also make up wooden boxes for your mandrels, or use short sections of steel tubing, or conduit. Whatever material you choose, the few minutes you spend making up a protective cover for your mandrel will be time well spent.
Pen Mandrels: Final Thoughts
If you follow these tips, you will be producing beautiful, accurate pens and other mandrel projects for a long time. In my production studio, mandrels only last about three years before they loose their accuracy. If you are a hobby turner, you may well get many more years out of a mandrel. However, you must exercise caution when using and storing the mandrel. If you do, you will be rewarded with a pleasant turning experience and beautiful accurate projects for a long time to come.
Note: If you would like more information on how I turn pens in my studio on a double mandrel, check out my DVD video "Turning Elegant Writing Pens." A short preview and full information on my pen turning video are located here.
This video covers all the steps necessary to turn an elegant writing pen. Steps include blank selection and preparation, gluing, drilling, milling, mounting, roughing, finish turning, sanding, multi-step finishing options, assembly and more.
Safety Note: Always follow all manufacturers safety instructions before working with your lathe, or any of the tools or products you may use. If you are unsure about any operation, obtain competent professional instruction before proceeding. Use and wear all necessary safety devices during turning and observe safe woodturning practices to prevent accident or injury.
Steven D. Russell is a professional studio woodturner, teacher and writer. He has written numerous articles for international woodturning magazines, which have been published in more than 78 countries around the world. Steve has demonstrated in numerous cities across the United States. His studio, Eurowood Werks, specializes in bowls, platters and hollow forms with unique visual and tactile treatments.
Steve is also the current and founding President of the Lone Star Woodturners Association, Inc., an AAW member chapter. The LSWA is a 501(c)3 non-profit educational organization dedicated to teaching and demonstrating the art and craft of woodturning.
Steve is also a featured writer for the Guild of Master Craftsman's "Woodturning" magazine, published in London England. Woodturning magazine is the world's leading magazine for woodturners. Look for his articles covering technical topics, or project based articles in an upcoming issue.