Lathe Speed: Turning Pens

Nov 23, 2013 by

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.


Leave a Comment Below!

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!

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  1. mike

    Just wanna thank you for these very easy to understand instructions. I’ve been turning pens for 16 years, until recently I used my trusty shopsmith but now use a jet mini lathe for turning and use the shopsmith for all other aspects of making pens. Thanks to your review re: dedicated pen blank chucks I will def. be using the mini to drill blanks as well.
    Thanks again & keep turning,

    • Ian

      Hey Mike! My first mini lathe was a Jet and I really loved it. I’m glad that my dedicated pen blank drilling chuck review was helpful for you – let me know if I can help with anything else down the road. Happy turning!

  2. Tim Furlong

    Thank you for the information. i am just starting out and reading as much as I can about turning pens. The one question I do have is how close do you go to the brass tubing and how do you know at what point to stop turing. Thanks Tim

    • Ian

      Hey Tim! I hope you’re enjoying pen turning so far – of course the answer to this question depends on what kind of pen kit you’re talking about. Are you talking about traditional slimline pens, or are you turning thicker pen kits like cigar pens or even more expensive kits? Let me know and I’ll be happy to share what I’ve learned to do over the years I’ve been turning.

  3. Dick Fox

    Nice post. I don’t know how many YouTube videos I’ve watched showing all kinds of techniques, but none of them really go into the proper turning speeds of each step (carving, sanding, applying finish). Thanks for some useful info!

    • Ian

      No problem at all, Dick! I’m glad you found the information to be helpful. If I can help with anything else down the road, don’t hesitate to reach out. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. Dirk Vanbesien

    Hi Ian

    Turned my first pen today.Very usefull comment.
    Thanks a lot for that.

    Dirk Vanbesien

  5. jeff oldham

    what speed to you start out turning acrylic pens blanks

  6. Hi Folks:Thank you very much for watching my Inside-out Christmas Ornament demo at The FVWG mneiteg last night. I had a great time sharing the techniques I have gleaned over the past while.As promised, a PDF file of the that I have prepared is available on the, under . The steps I used are described (hopefully clear enough) for you to be able to make an Inside-out ornament yourself.As always, if you have any queries, or suggestions for me to make it better or different, don’t hesitate to contact me.Best Regards;Allan CusworthWoodturner in Langley, BC604-534-6223

  7. Ken

    A good to know about speed of lathe when turning acrylic ive turned bowls ect but never a pen I just received a Slimline kit and trying to learn pen making up

  8. Benjamin Thompson


    this is great information. I had almost been doing the exact opposite for my pens! Thanks for the info!

  9. James M Douglas

    im having trouble with acrylic blanks i will try these spssds and see if they work for me thanks a lot.

  10. Hey Tim, I am trying to turn plastic to hard material pen blanks. When I turn them at 1500 RPM they just chip up. Any suggestions? Need different chisels to turn these blanks? Please reply to me at Jim H
    Thanks hope you can help….

  11. Hey Tim, I am trying to turn plastic to hard material pen blanks. When I turn them at 1500 RPM they just chip up. Any suggestions? Need different chisels to turn these blanks? Please reply to me at Jim H
    Thanks hope you can help….

  12. Jim H

    Hey Tim, I am trying to turn plastic to hard material pen blanks. When I turn them at 1500 RPM they just chip up. Any suggestions? Need different chisels to turn these ?
    Thanks hope you can help….

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