One Blank – Seven Possible Projects

Monday 9 July 2018

I was asked to come up with some possible items that could be made from a pen blank, apart from pens and pencils, of course.

This selection of items is just an example of the things you can do with pen blanks or other small pieces of timber and off-cuts, others include small knobs and handles, finials, miniature pieces and segmented work. You are only limited by your imagination here.

All of the pieces turned opposite were made using some simple turning tools: a narrow parting tool, 20mm (3/4in) oval skew chisel, 25mm (1in) spindle roughing gouge and an 10mm (3/8in) spindle gouge. In addition to these tools, you will also require some suitable drill bits.

1. Magnifying glass

This magnifying glass is very easy to make and is based upon the same principle as most turned wooden pens, utilising a brass tube which will fit a standard pen mandrel. Drill the blank out for the tube on the lathe using a long (150mm) 7mm pen drill – a twist drill would do but it must be long enough to go all the way though the blank. Glue the tube in place using two-part epoxy adhesive, Cyanoacrylate or Polyurethane. Once dry, trim the ends square on a disc sander and mount on a pen mandrel. After turning to a cylinder with a spindle gouge the design of the handle can be as simple or ornate as your tool skills will dictate, but make sure you turn the ends to a diameter to match the gold plated components.

2. Honey dipper

A really easy way to make the slots at the business end of honey dippers is to use a thin parting tool of about 2mm (5/64in). I use a similar method of turning to that used for the dibber, although I often save time by just mounting the blank straight into the pin jaws of the scroll chuck and turning most of the blank to a cylinder, taking care not to get too close to the jaws. I find that these are best made from beech, sycamore or some other timber that will tolerate being washed – and occasionally thrown in the dishwasher by mistake. Olivewood is an attractive alternative. If I apply a finish at all it will be food safe oil.

3. Corkscrew/stopper

As with the magnifying glass this item uses brass tubes and a pen mandrel. Bushings are available to fit the mandrel and guide you to make the handles a neat fit with the components. Only two very small off-cuts are required to make this piece. At least two sets could be made from a single pen blank. The method of making is as for the magnifying glass, but there is less scope for design innovation here, just the odd bead or cove or the finished item will look too “busy.”

4. Needle case

No fancy hollowing skills are needed here – just turn the blank to a cylinder, making sure it is long enough to leave a mounting spigot at each end for the pin jaws. Then, mount it in the pin jaws, supported by the tailstock, part off the piece that will become the top and place to one side. Drill and shape the body then turn down the top 6mm (1/4in) to match the drill you will use for the top. Once the body is sanded and finished part it off and then hand finish off the lathe. Mount the top in the pin jaws, drill to fit the body, then shape, sand, finish and part off in the same way.

5. Key ring

These little items use the standard length brass tubes from the “slimline” style of pen that is popular with beginners to pen turning. I find this very useful, because when I have messed up one half of a pen, or the blank has had an irreparable split or fault in it, I can use the other half to make a key ring. Once again, the method of making is the same but you can, if you wish, turn two of these at a time on a standard mandrel. The only limiting factors to the design are your skill and imagination.

6. Dibber

This item is really simple to turn. I turn the blank to a cylinder, mount one end in a scroll chuck fitted with pin jaws and support the other end with a revolving centre in the tailstock. I then do most of the shaping with the blank supported at both ends in this way before parting off the tailstock end by turning down to the point of the dibber with a skew chisel or spindle gouge. Then finish the shaping, sanding and apply a finish before parting off the handle from the headstock end and tidying up the end by hand.

7. Letter opener

These are available in styles to match the magnifying glass and together they make an ideal desk set. Similar turning skills and methods are required as for the previously described items but if you are making a set, care will be needed to ensure the design of the handles is consistent. This may need some care as the handles are of different lengths. I find that finishing these with friction polish works well, although you may wish to try an acrylic or melamine lacquer. Experienced turners might also wish to have a go with a Cyanoacrylate finish or perhaps even spray them with lacquer off the lathe.