The Blog for GW Pens

A peek at what we make

Behind the Scenes: Pen Tool

I’ve decided to start doing some behind the scenes entries to give my readers a better idea of what goes into making a pen. Since I just got a new toy, er, tool earlier this week I thought I’d start there.

The bodies of my pens are made on a lathe where the material spins at a high rate of speed, then a chisel, gouge or some form of tool is introduced to the material surface. The result, as you probably guessed, is the material is removed where it contacts the tool. And up until the other day, I had used a wide array of tools to remove the pen material. Then I got my first carbide tipped tool and everything changed.

Previously I was using High Speed Steel tools that required sharpening every couple of weeks. And the wet grinder I used to sharpen them needed to be flattened, or dressed, before I could do that. Shop time is precious and spending it sitting there sharpening was a sort of necessary evil. You need sharp tools for good cuts, otherwise the material will just be chewed up.

Carbide tip of the tool I use to make pens.

Enter the carbide tipped pen making tool (aka the woodchuck pen pro). The bit on the end of the metal arm stays sharp for MUCH longer than my HSS tools, and when the time (eventually) comes that it is dull I can replace it for just a few dollars. Now, I thought that I was able to get a pretty sharp edge on my old tools, but they pale in comparison to how sharp this is! And there are people who have these that have not changed the tip in almost a year….That is how long these stay sharp.

The only problem (and not so much a problem as a challenge) was that it came without a handle. That’s right, it was just the metal rod and a 2″ tang that seats inside of a handle. I could have bought one from the site I ordered the tool through, but where’s the fun in that? I initially planned on using a nice piece of Cherry for the handle until I came across this beautiful piece of Padauk in my scrap bin. I particularly love the strip of creamy colored sapwood running the length of the handle.

Tool used for making pens, showing the sapwood on the Padauk handcrafted handle.

I used a piece of 3/4″ copper pipe for the ferrule and gave it a finish similar to the finish I use for my pens. The only real difference is this wasn’t buffed out to be super smooth- I want to be sure I have a good grip on the tool when it comes into contact with material spinning at 2,000 RPM. Other than that, like my pens, it was designed with comfort in mind. I prefer a more beefy handle to hold on to, so I was able to make this custom to my grip.

I’ve posted so many pictures of projects I worked on, I thought it would be a nice change to show you what I use to make those projects. I hope you enjoyed it!

Side view of my pen turning tool.

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8 comments on “Behind the Scenes: Pen Tool

  1. John Hastings-Kimball
    February 23, 2012

    Great stuff John. Really happy to see you doing something you obviously enjoy day in and day out. Happy to see the business taking off as well.

    • GrecoWoodcrafting
      February 23, 2012

      Thanks, John! I know I’ll never get rich doing it, but it’s extremely satisfying (and fun).

  2. RavinHeart
    February 23, 2012

    I love choice of wood for the handle

  3. GrecoWoodcrafting
    February 23, 2012

    Thanks, Ravin. Keeping the fresh orange Padauk sawdust out of the grain of the creamy sapwood was tricky…that stuff gets everywhere!

  4. James
    February 23, 2012

    Looks gorgeous! Does that tool get you start to finish? Do you need to touch up with a skew before sanding?

    • GrecoWoodcrafting
      February 23, 2012

      Thanks, James! Yep, start to finish- this came with 2 different radius tips, an R4 and an R2. I rough with the R2 and general shape, then clean it up with R4 and can start sanding at 400-600 depending on how careful I was 🙂

  5. Aspiring Woodworker
    February 25, 2012

    Great job on the handle, love the sapwood! The last time I worked with Padauk I developed an itch from it, but I was pleased the way the project came out.
    Jeff

    • GrecoWoodcrafting
      February 25, 2012

      Thanks, Jeff! I haven’t had any allergic reactions to wood yet, but of course now that I’ve said that I’m sure I will this week :p

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