Pen Turning Tutorial

So here we are, getting ready to set out on the long “pen turning” road ahead. Depending on the tools you have at your disposal and how serious you are about turning a really high quality pen, the traditional slimline pen kit (typically $3.00-$5.00 whether you buy it from Woodcraft, Wood Turners Catalog, or Penn State Industries) will probably take anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours of hands-on labor to turn.

pen kit components from PSI

 

This tutorial has five sections which will walk you through every fine detail using text and highly detailed pictures. The sections are:

 

What You’ll Get Out of this Pen Turning Tutorial

If you’re putting on a CA finish like I will be toward the end of this walk-through, there will be an extra few hours where the pen sits on the lathe while the finish cures. Any way around it, you’ll be taking a raw set of parts and a chunk of wood like the ones above and turning them into a beautiful, handmade wood pen like this:

completed bocote wood pen

finished hand-turned wood pen

 

In this tutorial I’m going to give you step-by-step instructions to turn a pen about as flawlessly as one can be turned. There are A LOT of things that can go wrong when trying to carve one of these little guys out, but when I was making this pen my wife helped me by taking over 400 pictures to make sure every step was documented as clearly as possible for you. About half of those were duplicates just in case there was something wrong with the first snapshot, so this tutorial will have around 150-200 pictures total.

 

 

Not All of These Steps Are Necessary for Turning a Pen

As we go through, I’ll do my best to point out the steps that some might consider “excessive” so that you can take them out if you’d like. I’ll also do my best to explain the reason for each of those steps, and the possible consequences of skipping them if you choose to cut them out.

 

So here we are. You’re on this page to learn one of two things: 1) How to turn a pen or 2) How to turn better pens. I’ve put a little over 80 hours of labor into this tutorial to help you do exactly that. I’m sure I’m nowhere near the best pen turner in the world, so if you have advice as you go through please feel free to comment on the page so I can improve.

 

And if you find anything in this tutorial helpful, I’d love it if you left a comment to let me know that all of this work was worth something. And if you REALLY enjoy it, I’d be eternally grateful if you share it with fellow pen turners or friends/family.

 

Proceed to Step 1: Preparing Your Pen Blanks for the Lathe >>>

33 Comments

  1. Doug

    Thank you for all of this helpful information. I really appreciate the tips from your finishing with CA section.

    • Ian

      No problem at all, Doug! I’m glad you found it to be helpful – thank you for reading and commenting! Let me know if I can help with anything else.

  2. Ken

    Hi Ian
    I’ve been turning pens for some time now, and have recently begun setting up a pen turning club with 6 lathes here on a mine site in remote Papua New Guinea. After a few Google searches I came across your tutorials – and wow ! they are brilliant ! Congrats to you and your wife for the effort you’ve put into them !! I’ll be using them as training aids, making it much easier and safer to explain each step before actually touching a lathe ! Once again – well done !!

    • Ian

      Thank you very much for all of the kind words, Ken! I’m glad that you found it all to be so helpful. It took dozens of hours to get all of this put together and it’s just great to hear that someone out there is finding it helpful. If I can help with anything else down the road, don’t hesitate to reach out!

  3. Tony

    Hi Ian, I just started out in Pen making and come across your tutorial. Thank you for putting this together, I particularly enjoyed the finsihing section, I have made one pen so far and this info will help me get a fantastic finish like your pens.

    A friend of mine is also starting out pen making and has trouble with the CA lifting at the ends when serarating from the bushings. I think he is using thick CA all the way to the end.. thin CA seems to work better.

    Regards
    Tony from Australia

    • Ian

      I’m very happy to hear that you found it helpful, Tony! Using plastic, non-stick bushings would really help your friend quite a bit, even if he just turned some himself rather than ordering them off of the internet. I hope this helps as well! Thanks for taking the time to comment and let me know that you stopped by, I really appreciate it.

  4. Chuck

    I am married and have been conditioned to following instructions. Your step by step approach is perfect for me & I can not wait to get under way. I will let you know how it turns out. I have been turning pens for about 8 years but have not used a CA finish. I am looking forward to see the difference.

    • Ian

      Hahaha, thanks for the Chuckle 😉 I hope it works out for you and that my instructions set you up for success as well as your spouse’s.

  5. Bruce

    Thank you very much for a excellent tutorial!

  6. Jim Pratt

    Beautiful work! thanks for the detailed tutorial. I am brand new to pen turning; My lathe is on order!!!

  7. John Michael Tulloss

    Thank you very much Ian for this tutorial. I have been turning pens off and on for many years (gifts and such) and your website is very useful. I particularly like the suggestion to use digital calipers to make sure the end diameter is correct. Plus your process for finishing appears to be first rate and I will try it as soon as I can. I also agree with you about using straight lines on the slim line pens they look a lot better that way. Thanks!

  8. Joe Moore

    Ian,
    Thank you for taking time out of your life to do this. I am just starting to investgate this as a hobby.
    I am going to a class givin by Woodcrafters in March, next month.
    It was very informative. Thank you.
    Joe

    • Joe Moore

      I took the class. Great fun. Bought a lathe and have been turning pen and bottle stoppers.
      Getting better with every pen turned. Thanks for all your help.
      Joe

  9. Rick

    Thanks much for your tutorial. Just waiting for my beginner’s kit and some blanks to arrive and I found this extremely interesting and useful. I appreciate your hard work (and your wife’s, as photographer, of course) in putting this together. Looking forword to putting your guidance into practice soon. All the best.

  10. D

    Great tutorial! Now to round up some stuff and try my own…

  11. Jon Geisbush

    One of the better tutorials I have read. Your details explained a couple of problems i was having.

    Thank You

  12. Great tutorial! I have written a tutorial on making antler pens. I’m very impressed with how you’ve laid out this tutorial. Instructions are easy to follow and pictures are perfect. It’s great to see teachers like yourself who want to introduce this great hobby to others.

  13. Jim Helm

    Very well done – picked up a couple of those “Aha!” goodies, too!

  14. Tyler Graves

    Hello ive been making pens for awhile now but never used CA glue but i think im going to try it, one question tho, when you sand with your lathe on how fast do you have it spining? thank you so much and great job on the tutorial!

    • Ian

      Hey Tyler! I talk all about that in this article about lathe speed for various stages of the pen turning process. I hope that helps!

  15. Ron Potts

    Fellow Texan here, about to dip my toe in. I really appreciate the clarity and precision of your entire tutorial. As in all excellent educational materials, the why’s here are prominent along with the what’s.

    I’m coming from a very different 2.5D CNC world. But your tutorials have given me the confidence to try.

    Thank you very much!

    PS: I would be an omission not to mention that a lot of this wisdom could be easily applied to other types of wood work. (Sanding, CA Finish, etc.)

  16. Gary McCuin

    Thank you for the tutorial, great job. I have done a little turning years ago. This inspires me to start again. As a blacksmith I appreciate the attention to detail. Again thank you
    Gary

  17. Dave

    Never turned a pen, about to start. Thanks for all the effort you went to so that I can turn a great pen. Excellent tutorial can’t wait to get started.

  18. Tim Ritter

    Thanks for a clear and well detailed tutorial.

  19. Dave H

    Terrific tutorial. I have about 3 months into pen turning, and can’t believe the information you provide on your website. Great job. Thanks a lot for all of your outstanding work.

  20. Roger Schlenz

    Very good, complete, detailed tutorial. Thank you for taking the time to do it.

  21. Bob Hunt

    Hi Ian,
    I am trying the CA finish for the first time, I tried it with the lathe turning at low speed but ended up with a corrugated finish which required a lot of sanding to get smooth, tried you wipe on method with the lathe stopped and got far better results. I did however get few chip outs when snapping the spacers off, I found a light score just off the end of the wood with the toe of the skew chisel cured this problem. Many thanks for an informative tutorial.
    Bob Hunt – Australia

  22. Jess Harmon

    I am totally impressed with your tutorial. So many just breeze over it and leave all the finesse to trial and error on our part. I am an experienced pen turning and learned a great deal about how and why we do the different steps. I also learned new techniques that I will use to take me to the next level.
    Thank You

  23. Jess Harmon

    I am a experienced pen turning and learned a great deal to take me to that next level

  24. Ron Wilson

    Just wanted to say thanks for for putting this tutorial together! It’s by far the most comprehensive one I’ve seen, with everything you need to know to get started, all in one place!

    Happy Turning to you!

  25. David Searle

    Hello, I am not sure if you’re still maintaining this site or not since it doesn’t look like there have been any posts since 2016. Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks. I came across this site while I was researching what I would need to start making pens and your tutorial gave me a good start.

  26. Rachel

    Thanks for a great tutorial! It was really helpful my first few times through having such a well written, well explained starting point. And all the pictures just really made it amazing.

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