How to Turn a Pen on a Shopsmith Mark 5

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A couple years ago, I decided I wanted to turn pens. The only lathe available to me was a Shopsmith lathe. The principle and basic operation of pen turning is the same on a Shopsmith, but the mandrel used is a little different due to the way components are attached to the Shopsmith. This is how I do it.

The first part of this endeavor, assuming you have the turning gouges and skews, is finding the mandrel that fits the shopsmith. The only one I could find that really suited my needs was the   “Universal Lathe Pen Mandrel Set: For 5/8 in. Shopsmith”. Just copy and paste that into a search engine and search, you’ll find a few places that you can order it from. There are mandrels that fit into the drill chuck component of the the shopsmith, but I found that to be an uncomfortable way to turn the pens.

Next, I recommend a mandrel saver. They are not too expensive and can be found at the same places you find the mandrel at. It really helps make your mandrel lat far longer, and prevent you from replacing several cup centers or live centers due to wear. Which I go into better detail on in the video below. 

Next you’ll need a pen kit. You can turn any pen kit you wish on the shopsmith using this same mandrel, just keep in mind that different styles of pens require different sized bushings and drill bits for drilling the center hole to place the tube into. In this instance I’m turning a slimline simply because the universal pen mandrel for the shopsmith happens to come with the 7mm bushings and drill bit that you will need for turning the slimline pen.

You simply take one of the tubes out, line it up on the pen blank, measure and mark as explained in the video. Then just cut the pen blank according to the marks you made. Then with a straight edge laid corner to corner, mark a line. Where the lines meet is the center of your pen blank. It doesn’t have to be perfect center, but as close as you can get. If you happen to have a round blank, a center finder is your best option for getting as close to the center of your pen blank as you can.

I have built a jig for the drill press to help me hold the pen blank in place once I get it centered under the drill bit. You can hold it using a clamp and your hands, just make sure you don’t move your blank while drilling, but a simple jig like I use in the video makes life so much easier and risks of damaging the pen blank lessens greatly. I also use an ice pick to poke a hole in the center of the blank so the brad tip of the drill bit will have a good place to start. It just seems to help the bit from wandering off the center mark.

When drilling the center hole into your pen blank, drill a little then bring your bit back out. This helps clear the waste from the drill bit and out of the hole. Also, if you try to hog out the all all at once, your bit will tend to try and follow the grain of the wood or the weakest part of an acrylic blank. This will cause your hole to not be straight and give you problems when you try to glue in the pen tubes. Also, in some extremely hardwoods and especially acrylic pen blanks, The bit might start getting overly hot. Just stop and give it a few minutes to cool. And overheated drill bit will weaken, become dull, and bend.

Next comes gluing in the tubes. There are many choices in glue. Some use CA glue, I find that it loses it’s hold too easy though. Polyurethane glue such as Gorilla glue works well, but it requires all night to get a strong bond. I started using 5 minute epoxy most of the time. It gives a strong bond between the tube and the pen blank in just a few minutes. I run a cotton swap that was soaked in denatured alcohol; not a lot but enough to clean out the dust. While that is drying I run some sand paper over the tubes to rough them up. This helps the epoxy grip the tube better. Then I mix up the epoxy. I put some on the pen tube and spread it on the outside of the tube with the stick I used to mix it with. Then slide the tube into the hole of the pen blank. It helps to slide it in and out a couple of times to spread the epoxy, then slide it on in all the way. Wipe the excess off the ends of the blank and let it set up. I tend to give it an hour just to be sure the epoxy is well set.

After the epoxy has had time to dry, I set up the shopsmith with the sanding disc, placing the table right in front of the disc. Holding the pen blank with a squeeze clamp, I sand the ends to the tube as I show in the second video below. Also in this video I show how I turn the slimline pen. I just turn a basic slimline pen shape in the video, but the style and design of the pen is only limited to your imagination. This second video also shows how I put the pen together.


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