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Pen Turning- How I got started

On September 10, 2011, in Pen finishing, Pen turning, by Eric Anderson

I thought some of you might be intersted in how I got started in the wonderful world of pen turning. So here’s my story…

As long as I can remember I have enjoyed making things with my hands. Arts and crafts, model airplanes and cars, science experiments- I was always doing something like that. As a home builder and remodeler, I also have a fascination for tools and love working with them.

Some time back, I believe I saw an ad in a magazine about pen turning kits and how to make hand crafted pens. I was fascinated with the idea and began to look into it further. I have always enjoyed working with small, intricate objects and making a “masterpiece” out of them. So pen turning seemed right down my alley!

So when my birthday rolled around one year, my family asked me what I wanted. I told them it would be great to have a mini lathe and all of the stuff necessary to get started in pen turning. Well, they pooled their cash and bought me a Carba-Tec mini lathe with all of the accessories to get started.

My first attempts at pen turning were pretty rough compared to what I make today. Especially the finishes I used. I was using a basic friction polish, which looked great when I put it on, and lost it’s luster soon after. I quickly found that turning pens was fairly easy, but turning excellent pens was a whole different matter.

Being a perfectionist by nature, I was dissatisfied with my results, and set about learning everything I could about this fun, but challenging craft. As my skills improved, so did my equipment. I still use the same lathe, but I laid aside my adjustable mandrel and switched to turning between centers. What a difference that made! I started using a digital caliper to get a much better transition from the pen kit components to the wood.

Segmented Wooden Pen

One of my recent pens

I also soon gave up friction polish and embarked on the elusive, but rewarding CA finish. You can read all about how I finally mastered this finish here.

Once I was consistently turning pens that I was (mostly) satisfied with, I started selling them to friends and family. It has been a fun learning experience, and I never stop learning new tricks and techniques. That’s why I started this site. I wanted a place to share my pen turning ideas with others, and learn from others, too.

So that’s my short story on how I got hooked on pen turning! I am planning to post a pen turning tutorial showing lots of pictures from my pen turning process. It might take a little while to get it finished but I think it will be  helpful resource, especially for new pen turners. So keep checking my site for that tutorial.


Pen Photography Made Easy – Part III

On April 30, 2011, in Pen Photography, by Eric Anderson
Well, this final installment of my pen photography series. I once again apologize for the delay! Better late than never…!
In part 2 I showed you the basic supplies you will need to take professional photos of your pens. In this part I will show you how to set up your “photo studio” and what settings I use on my camera.

Setting Up to Photograph Your Pen

First you will need to find a good place to hang your black fabric. I just clothes pin it to a piece of tall furniture, but you can also hang it from a wall with thumb tacks. Just make sure you find somewhere that you can make completely dark (no windows nearby, or at least do this at night!) and has easy access to an electrical outlet.
Next, you will set up your small table (or chair) with the black granite tile in the middle of it. You need a table that has space underneath it for light to pass through. In other words, not a solid end table. You will see why in a minute. On both sides of the small table, set dining room chairs with their backs to the table. Then drape a light-colored sheet over the chair backs so that they make a “canopy” over the table. This sheet is important because it will bounce the light onto your pen so you don’t get a harsh lighting. The photo below shows how your setup should look. Yes, it is very basic (read primitive!) but guess what?! It works and it’s CHEAP!

Pen Photography setup

Camera Setup and Settings

OK, so you have the “studio” all ready to go. Now let’s set up the camera. I showed you in part 2 the camera I use for photographing my pens. Your camera might be different but I’m sure it will have many of the same functions as mine, so you should be able to follow the tips in the section.
First, you want to set your camera right on the front edge of the granite tile itself. If you have a tripod you might want to use it instead, but if you’re one a tight budget like me, you can set it on the tile! I find that this is a good angle for the shot because it avoids the “bird’s-eye-view” perspective that is so common in pen photographs. You know, like the ones you have taken of a pen laying on your kitchen table! This angle puts the camera on the same plane as the pen and I like the results.

Camera in position

There are only a few settings that I make on my camera for pen photography. First, set your camera on macro. This allows you to focus on an object that is very close to the camera. Next, turn the flash off. Most cameras allow you to do this and it is imperative. You will be using a separate light source so that you can have much more control of the lighting. Finally, set your camera on self-timer. When you are shooting without a flash, your camera will probably pick up every little tremble of your hand as you press the button, so with self-timer, there are no blurry photos! That’s it for the camera settings. Now let’s look at …


For lighting I use a simple desk lamp. Pretty much and lamp will work but a desk lamp is nice because it has the shroud that makes it possible to aim the light in a certain direction instead of being an open bulb that is omni-directional. I will explain in a moment how I use the light to achieve different effects in my pen photographs. Whatever you do, do not try to use your camera’s flash for lighting. I think this is the biggest mistake pen turners make when photographing their pens. You flash simply does not give you enough control of the lighting. It tends to wash out the pictures and give them a very amateurish look.
Supplies for pen photography

A desk lamp makes a good light source

Preparing your pen for the shot

Before we get started shooting pictures, let’s take a minute to prepare the pen itself for the shot. Since you are going to be taking very close pictures of the pen, it is worth a few minutes to make sure it is as presentable as possible. I like to wipe the entire pen down with a lint-free cloth to remove all dust and fingerprints. If you do a high gloss ca pen finish like I do (learn my entire CA finishing process here), fingerprints will be visible on the wood of the pen as well as the metal components. I have found that the cloths made to clean sunglasses work very well for wiping down the pen. It is also a good idea to wear cotton gloves as you position the pen for the photo. Otherwise you will add new fingerprints every time you touch it. Or at least handle the pen with a lint-free cloth. Don’t forget to wipe down the black tile, too. If your final photograph has a few dust particles in it you can always remove them with photo editing software.
Next, try to position the pen in an attractive way. Just laying it on the granite tile does not look very appealing. I have a “favorite rock” that shows up in most of my pen photos because it adds visual interest and also gives me something to prop the pen up on. Use your imagination and I’m sure you can come up with lots of ideas.

Taking the photograph

OK, now it’s time to take some pictures! With your camera on macro, no flash, and self-timer, go ahead and center the camera on the pen and get focused on it. Turn off all other light sources (cover windows if not shooting at night) and turn on the desk lamp. There are several ways to position the lamp to achieve different effects. Let’s start by trying to give the photo an “infinite background” effect. To do this, hold the desk lamp in one hand near the floor and point it upward toward the sheet that is draped above the pen. Make sure that the light is not shining on any part of the black background material. By moving th lamp around, you will be able to bounce the light off the sheet and onto the pen. Once you feel satisfied with the light position, press the camera button and make final light adjustments in the few seconds remaining until the shutter clicks. After a few tries, you should have a picture like the one below.

No light on the background gives an "infinite background" effect

You will be amazed how a slight change in the light position can make a huge difference in the actual photograph. Now let’s throw a little light on the background. To do this, hold the lamp near the floor again and point it up toward the sheet like you did before. But this time tip the lamp slightly forward toward the background to cast a bit of light on the black sheet. Now you can see why you needed a table with space under it. This is the effect you should achieve.

Throwing more light on the background

With just a slight change in the angle of the light you can totally change the look of the photo! Once you have mastered the basics of this technique you can start experimenting with different lighting angles, background colors, and pen positions. The possibilities are infinite ad the results are very professional.
By improving the quality of your pen photography you will increase the perceived value of your pens as well. Customers and visitors to your website will be mucj ore willing to pay premium prices for a pen that looks professionally photographed than one that looks amateurish. Plus, the quality of your craftsmanship will be more accurately represented. Put these techniques into practice and start taking better photographs of your pens today! Please do me a favor and send me photos of the pens you have made and photographed. I would like to post the best ones here on my blog. Also, please post your questions or comments below. Happy pen phtography!
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Sorry for the Delay!

On November 6, 2010, in Pen Photography, by Eric Anderson

I know everyone has been waiting for Part 3 of my pen photography series. I do apologize for the delay!

Things have been very busy over the past week and I have simply not had the time to photograph my pen photography setup. I want to be thorough when I write a post about it, so I have been holding off on that, but I promise to post Part 3 very soon! Thanks for your patience!

In the meantime, I would love to hear your pen photography methods and tips as well as see your pen photographs.

Talk to you soon!

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Pen Photography Made Easy- Part II

On October 20, 2010, in Pen Photography, by Eric Anderson

In Part I of this pen photography tutorial, I mentioned that all too many pen turners  turn great pens but take lousy photos of their pens. So my purpose in this brief series is to show you the methods I use to take more professional-looking photos of my pens. Let’s face it- better photos of our pens will help us sell more pens (if you sell your pens) and probably get a better price for them, too.

In this installment of this short series, I will show you exactly what items I use in my pen photography setup. You will soon see that you don’t need fancy equipment to photograph your pens. Let’s take a look at the supplies I use.

My Pen Photography Camera

I use this camera simply because it is the camera I already had when I started photographing my pens. I use the Canon PowerShot SD 550. This camera has 7.1 megapixels resolution and a 3x zoom. It also has some nice pre-set functions for shooting pictures in various environments. I will get into the settings I use in the next part of the series. Obviously you can use any camera you choose. The most important features to have are Macro (allows for very close-up shots), self-timer, and the ability to turn off the flash. I will explain why later.

Camera for photographing my pens

Other Supplies

The other supplies I use are so simple, you probably already have most of them on hand. First, and probably most important, is the item I use to set the pen to be photographed. I use a piece of Absolute Black  polished granite tile from Home Depot (less than $10.00). What I like about this tile is its shiny finish. This helps create a beautiful reflection of the pen.

For a background I use a piece of black, velvety cloth that I got from Wal-Mart for a few dollars. You want this cloth to be at least 3′ wide as you will see later. I like black cloth because with it you can get a grayish backgound or a totally black background depending on how you position your lighting.

And speaking of lighting, the only thing I use is a simple desk lamp with a 75 watt bulb in it. No need for expensive lighting in this case. You just need a light source that you can easily re-position to achieve the look you want.

You will also need a small table or bench to set the tile and pen on. It is important that the table be open underneath to allow light to pass through it. In other words, don’t just use a box or some other solid object. The ability to shine light through the legs of the table will give you alot of control over the final look of the photograph. As you can see from the pictures below, I try to keep my setup very simple.

Supplies for pen photography

Supplies that I use

Pen photography table

My simple pen photography table

There are a few other items you will need that are not shown in the pictures above. They are 2 dining chairs, a light-colored sheet (a bed sheet is fine), and something to prop the pen on. I like to use a nice, attractive-looking rock to lean my pens on, as you might have noticed in Part I.

So that’s all you need to get great photos of your pens. Gather these few items together and in Part III I will explain with words and pictures exactly how I photograph my pens. Please leave your comments or questions below. I love hearing from you!

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Pen Photography Made Easy – Part I

On October 13, 2010, in Pen Photography, by Eric Anderson

Learning to take high-quality, professional looking photographs of your handmade pens is very important, especially if you plan to sell them. I’ve visited far too many websites where a well-made pen has been very poorly represented by low-quality photography.

Now let me say from the “get-go” that I am not a photographer by any stretch of the imagination! Shutter speed, aperture settings, SLR, and all of the rest of the photography lingo means very little to me. However, I have played around with pen photography long enough to come up with some very acceptable results. Below are just a couple of photos of some recently completed pens.

Hand crafted pen

A segmented pen I recently made

Segmented Wooden Pen

This one had aluminum between the segments

If you would like to take similar photos of your pens, stay tuned for Part II. In the next part of this tutorial I will tell you exactly what I do to achieve the results that you see above. My photo “setup” is so simple and basic that I’m almost embarrassed to show you what it looks like. But I will show it to you anyway because I want you to know that you do not need loads of money, equipment, and technical know-how to get nice photos of your pens.

Good pen photos lead to more pen sales, so check out my next post an you will learn how you can start taking better photos of your pens!

Read Part II

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How to Avoid Cracked Pen Barrels

On October 8, 2010, in Pen turning, by Eric Anderson

Every pen turner has experienced it- after going through the entire pen turning and finishing process, you start to press a pen kit component into your beautiful pen barrel and CRACK! It splits! This has got to be one of the most frustrating experiences known to pen turners. I would like to share a few ideas on how to avoid cracked pen barrels during assembly.

Clean your pen tubes

I can tell you from my own experience that one of the most common causes for cracked pen barrels is glue residue left in pen tubes. Even the most minute spot of glue left in your pen tube is enough to expand the brass tube beyond its intended size and crack the thin wood of the pen barrel. So it is imperative that you get your pen tubes absolutely clean.

The best method I have ever used to get my pen tubes totally clean is to run a shotgun bore brush through the tube. To do this, I chuck the bore brush (which comes with a shotgun cleaning kit) in my drill press and then swab out the tube carefully on both ends.

Pen tube cleaning

Use a shotgun bore brush to clean pen tubes

Ever since I started using this method I have drastically reduced cracked pen barrels during assembly.

Chamfer your pen tubes

Another technique for reducing cracked pen barrels is to chamfer the ends of your pen tubes. I don’t always do this every time I turn a pen, but if I’m particularly worried about it, I will use this method. By “chamfer” I mean to bevel the ends of the tubes to make them slightly larger on the ends. The purpose of this is to enlarge the opening of the pen tube so that the component fit more loosely for the first bit of the tube.

The easiest way to do this is to use a countersink bit in your drill press or by hand. It doesn’t take much pressure from the bit to remove brass from the tube, so use a light touch.


Countersink bit for pen tube
Countersink bit chamfers pen tube


You can see from the pictures below how the countersink bit bevels the end of the pen tube.


Squared pen blank
Pen tube before chamfering



Pen tube chamfered
Pen tube after chamfering


Use a larger drill bit

Often it helps to use a slightly larger drill bit so that your pen tube fits more loosely in the blank. Obviously you have to be careful not to make the hole too large, but sometimes just a few thousands of an inch can make the difference between a cracked pen barrel and a successful project.

Press pen kit components straight

I suppose this should go without saying, but you must be very careful not to get your pen components started even slightly crooked as you assemble the pen. Take your time to make sure the component is in line with the pen before applying much pressure.

Got anything to add?

These are some of my best tips to avoid cracked pen barrels during assembly. Now I would like to hear from all of you and learn what tricks you use to avoid cracking your pen barrels. Maybe you can help your fellow pen turners avoid this frustrating problem. Please email me and let me know your tips and I will certainly consider posting them. I look forward to hearing from you.

Video – How to Make CA Glue Removal Tool

On October 2, 2010, in Pen finishing, by Eric Anderson

A couple of days ago I posted a tutorial on how to make a tool to remove excess CA glue from the ends of your pen barrels after applying CA to the pan blank. I’ve gotten some good comments on the tutorial and I appreciate them. Please keep posting comments and sending me new ideas.

I promised to post a video showing how to make and use this simple tool. This video also shows you a neat trick that allows you to sand both ends of the pen barrel at the same time on your lathe, so check it out below.

This video can also be viewed on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PxQuLRo2eYU 

Thanks for watching. I hope you enjoy making and using this tool in your CA pen finish process.

Efficient Pen Turning – Lathe Organization

On September 30, 2010, in Pen Shop Organization, by Eric Anderson

If you’re like me, you like for your pen turning shop to be tidy and organized. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always achieve that ideal but it is something I strive for. Your pen turning sessions will be much more efficient and enjoyable when everything is in it’s proper place.

So what do you do with all of those little items that you need to use constantly throughout the course of a pen turning project? I’m talking about things like bushings, sand paper, paper towel strips, plastic finishing bushings, adjustable mandrel wrenches, etc. These small items are easy to drop or misplace as you are turning pens, changing blanks, and doing your finishing process.

Robert McCormick has a very simple but effective solution to this common problem. His solution? Rare earth magnets! Here’s what Robert said:

As you can see from the photos, I use rare earth magnets to keep things close by, but secured. The magnets I use are about nickel size, and have plenty of holding power for several spacers and bushing each.
Pen turning Lathe

Use rare earth magnets to keep organized

I also use a clip that has a magnet attached to its back to hold a ready supply of sand paper. Even my mandrel tools hang nearby by magnets for the next time I need to adjust the mandrel length.
Those white things on the far right are my Eliminator bushings, which I keep on a 1/4″ bolt that attaches to the lathe with a magnet. And last, but not least, what do you do with those paper towels that you apply CA and accelerator with during finishing? I use a spring clip for each, and exchange them on the magnet as I switch back and forth from CA towel to accelerator towel.
CA finish paper towel clip

Paper Towel clip

I haven’t done it, but the brass nut from the mandrel could also be stored. Like the Eliminator bushings, you would need to have something additional to slip it onto, but a cut off nail would work.
I have a sudden urge to go buy some rare earth magnets! You can buy them at Craft Supplies, USA  as well as many other online stores. Thanks, Robert, for a very practical tip! I love ideas that help me keep my pen turning shop more organized. Try this idea- it will make you a happier, more efficient pen turner.

How to Remove Excess CA Glue from Pen Barrel

On September 28, 2010, in Pen making tools, by Eric Anderson

During the CA pen finish process it is not uncommon to get some CA glue build-up on the ends of your pen barrel, especially when you are finishing your pens between centers. George Valentine, a fellow pen turner, told me about a neat little tool that you can make to remove this glue quickly and accurately. I have made a few modifications to his method, but here is how it’s done.

Supplies you will need

CA glue removal

Supplies you will need for CA glue removal tool

As you can see here, you will need a pen mandrel, preferably adjustable, an adapter if your pen tube is larger than your mandrel rod, double-sided tape, and a piece of 320 grit sand paper with a hole punched in the center. The sand paper needs to be slightly larger than the mandrel lock nut.

CA tool assembly

So let’s put together this simple but effective little tool! First, you need to stick 2 pieces of double-sided tape to one side of the lock nut on either side of the hole, as shown below. Then thread the lock nut onto the mandrel rod and screw it all the way onto the threads.

Pen mandrel lock nut

Stick tape on lock nut

Next, you will need to slide the piece of sand paper onto the mandrel rod and press it firmly against the tape to stick it in place.

Pen mandrel nut

Adhere sand paper to the lock nut

The tool is complete! Now you can slide the adapter onto the madrel rod.

How to use the tool

Adapter on pen mandrel

Slide adapter onto mandrel rod

 With the adapter in place, simply slide the pen barrel onto the adapter and press it lightly against the sandpaper. Lightly twist the sand paper against the pen barrel and you will quickly sand off all of the excess glue. This setup keeps the pen barrel very square to the sand paper and leaves you with a very nice, square, clean end to the pen barrel, which leads to a very nice union between your pen barrel and your pen kit components.

Pen barrel on mandrel

Press pen barrel to sand paper and twist

I recommend that you do this step before you start fine sanding the CA with Micro Mesh or the abrasive of your choice. I just feel better doing this before the pen has a super high-gloss CA finish.

So that is how you make a CA glue removal tool for your pens. I have found this tool to be an excellent addition to my pen turning arsenal. Thanks, George, for a great tip!

Please stay tuned for a video that shows how to make and use this tool. The video will also show a really neat way that you can sand both ends of the barrel at one time.

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Best CA Pen Finish Applicator

On September 27, 2010, in Pen finishing, by Eric Anderson

A CA pen finish applicator can be anything from a paper towel, to wax paper, to the plastic baggies that your pen kit components come in. There is certainly a lot of discussion and disagreement among pen turners about what is the best applicator for the CA pen finishing process. I’ll give you my take on the subject as well as some tangible proof to back up my position.

First of all, I personally believe a CA applicator should be absorbent. This is because I use thin CA for my pen finishes and do not want to run the risk of having droplets of CA glue flung into my eyes. So my applicator must absorb the excess CA as I apply it.

That narrows my options down to cloth, paper towels, or some other absorbent material. I choose to use paper towels because they are cheap and effective.

However, you probably already know that there is also much discussion in the pen turning community about which brand of paper towel is best for applying CA to a pen blank.

I did some experimentation in my workshop and came up with a very simple but effective test to determine which paper towel is the best for the application of CA glue.

Here’s how the test works: take several paper towel brands and drip a few drops of CA onto them and watch what happens. More than likely, you will notice that some brands have an alomst instant reaction with the CA that causes smaoke, heat, and often a crackling sound. This is what you do not want because the fibers in the paper towel are causing the CA to “kick off” way too fast giving you very litle working time as you wipe the CA on the pen blank.

Keep trying different brands until you find a paper towel that does not have a reaction with the thin CA. This is the type you want to stick with. You will usually find that the thicker, more cloth-like brands will perform better. But don’t get stuck on the brand; just pay attention to the performance.

Here is a video that shows my paper towel test in action:

This video can also be viewed on youtube here: CA Pen Finish- Best Applicator

You will soon have a perfect CA pen finish applicator if you perform this simple test!