Lathe Speed: Turning Pens
I wondered what the correct lathe speed was for turning pens for YEARS before I found all of the right answers. The optimal lathe speed for turning pens varies throughout the different stages of the process. No need for you to go digging – I’ll write out everything I’ve pulled together and tested over the past few years in this post.
Lathe Speed for Drilling Pen Blanks – Low
Obviously this section ONLY APPLIES if you drill your pen blanks on your lathe. If you drill them using a drill press, feel free to skip over this section.
If you drill your pen blanks using a chuck on your mini lathe, it’s best to use a pretty slow speed. For me, that’s the lowest speed on my 5-speed lathe – 750 RPM, but if you have a lathe that goes lower than that you should keep it in the neighborhood of 400-600 RPM. Make sure to relieve the blank often by drawing the drill bit back out using the tailstock handwheel throughout the process. You don’t want to build up too much pressure or heat in there while you’re drilling.
Lathe Speed for Turning Pens – High
Use the maximum speed available on your lathe for the carving/turning stage. For me, that’s 3,200 RPM. This will make the process go a lot faster, it will help prevent you from digging in too deeply while turning, and it will cause for small, fine chips to come off as opposed to larger “chunks” that might occur while turning at a lower speed. All-in all, you’re setting yourself up to have much fewer errors when you carve at a really high speed.
Lathe Speed for Sanding Pens – Low
Some people sand at the lowest setting, which is fine, but I sand at my second to lowest speed setting. For me, that’s 1,100 RPM. Sanding at a lower speed helps prevent heat buildup which is critical during the finishing stage. If your pen barrels get too hot when they’re close to being finished and there isn’t much material left on your blanks, it can actually cause them to crack, putting a permanent flaw on something you’ve put at least a couple of hours into. It’s best to just be patient, dial the lathe down to a lower speed, and go through various grits until you’re ready to apply your finish.
Lathe Speed for Finishing/Polishing Pens – Very Low
I always use the lowest speed setting on my lathe for the finishing stage, which is 750 RPM. You want this to be as smooth as possible, but you also want it to be as thick as possible without “slinging” the finish off of the pen as you’re applying it. Too high of a speed here will cause exactly that, resulting in a thin, short-lasting finish. Lower your lathe to its lowest speed setting and polish that baby up to a shiny, brilliant finish.
Note: This applies to all types of finishes: liquid, wax, gel, or CA glue finishes.
That Covers All of the Bases!
There you have it, folks! Low speed for drilling, high speed for turning, low speed for sanding, and very low speed for finishing/polishing. Using the proper speed at every stage of the pen turning process will make your finished pens significantly more beautiful and that much closer to perfect.
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If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to comment below! And if you found this post at all useful, please comment to let me know. It’s nice to know that people are actually reading and benefiting this stuff, haha!