Art of Penmaking 5: Squaring the Blank
Updated: 7 days ago
There's just one more step before we get to the actual fun of turning a pen on the lathe! Remember back in Art of Penmaking 2: Preparing the Blank we cut the pen blank at least 1/16" longer than either end of the brass tube? This excess material was to guard against "blowout" when drilling but must be removed before turning. The trick is to remove the excess (not the length of the brass tube) while leaving the end faces on the pen blank perfectly square with the encased pen tube. Fortunately, there are two methods to accomplish this step.
The first method penmakers can use to obtain square faces on their pen blanks is using a pen mill. This tool can be used in a drill press or handheld drill and consists of a cutting head with a pilot center shaft matched to the interior diameter of the brass pen tube. When kept extremely sharp, the cutting head will make quick work of pen blank material extending beyond the pen tube. However, the first obvious drawback of this tool is it is eminently capable of making quick work of the encased brass pen tube as well! A little inattentiveness results in a pen blank trimmed too short to accommodate the pen mechanism. Perhaps a less obvious disadvantage of the pen mill is its tendency to tear fragile pen blanks apart. Even when kept dutifully sharp, the cutting head of the pen mill can tear end grain apart and can be especially risky to use on fragile resin or burl pen blanks.
The second method of obtaining perfectly square ends on a pen blank is using a disc sander. I prefer this method and use a disc sander equipped with a jig that presents the ends of the pen blanks perfectly perpendicular to the face of the disc sander. This method is very efficient at removing the small amount of excess pen blank I normally leave. I still sneak up on the finished length, checking frequently for the glint of the brass tube to show.
Now that our pen blank is squared up, we're finally ready to mount it on the lathe for turning and sanding!