Preventing Pen Blanks from Breaking/Blowing Out: Pen Turning

Oct 3, 2014 by

If there were a reset button in the world of pen turning, it would be breaking or blowing out your pen blanks while they’re on the lathe – and I’m sure I’m not the only pen turner in the world that has accidentally hit that “button” on a number of occasions. Over the years I’ve added a few very simple steps during blank preparation and turning that cut the odds of pen blanks exploding on the lathe by close to 100%. Never want to have a blowout again? Keep on reading…

Preventing pen blanks from breaking on the lathe


Sand Your Brass Tubes

sanded brass tube vs. unsanded brass tube

If you haven’t already started doing this, now is the time. This creates a stronger bond between your pen blank and the brass tube that’s holding them on the lathe. The better your pen blanks cling to these brass tubes, the less likely they are to break into pieces and come blowing off of your lathe while you’re turning your pens.


Use Flexible CA Glue

applying flexible CA glue to brass tubes

The first several years that I was turning pens I paid absolutely no attention to what type of glue I was using outside of viscosity/thickness. Maybe it’s because I was a kid but regardless, it caused a massive amount of frustration and wasted time that could have been prevented.

Use flexible CA glue exclusively when gluing brass tubes into your pen blanks. I don’t care if you’re turning wood, stone, antler, acrylic, or any other material.

If you’re using the wrong type of CA glue here, whenever you hit a small “snag” during the turning process it’s causing stress on the material you’re turning. If you start using flexible CA glue, a snag causes pressure on the adhesive bond – not on the material that you’re turning. As a result, flexible glue will stretch and keep that pressure off of your pen blanks, preventing a huge percentage of blowout mistakes.


ALWAYS Use Razor Sharp Chisels

Sharpening my gouge chisel

I can’t emphasize this enough – always, always, ALWAYS turn with sharp tools. I don’t care if you’re brand new to pen turning or if you’ve been doing it for decades – if you’re not sharpening your tools constantly you’re dealing with a lot more headaches and frustration than necessary.

There’s definitely a learning curve to it, and it takes time to get good at it. That’s no excuse to delay practicing this vital aspect of pen turning. If you need help/direction on how to build a jig and sharpen your lathe chisels, I have a step-by-step picture tutorial here. You’ll break significantly fewer blanks if you keep your chisels extremely sharp and apply very little pressure – I guarantee it.


Leave a Comment Below!

I really appreciate you stopping by and I hope you found this helpful – if you were here and this post helped you in any way, leave a comment below. It helps me to know what information people are interested in and that all of the time spent writing this stuff actually matters and is helping people, not just disappearing into the vast abyss of the internet never to be seen again.

Also, feel free to ask any questions you have about pen turning in general! I respond to all comments on this site personally. Thanks for stopping by and happy turning!


  1. Robert

    I am new to pen turning have blown two barrels so far in the process of making several pens. Both blowouts happened while using ebony and I think my major mistake was not ensuring an even CA glue layer between tube and blank. When combined with what seems to be a very brittle wood this proved to be a problem. Lesson learned.

    Thanks for your site. I especially like your CA finish tutorial.

    • Ian

      No problem at all, Robert! I’m really happy you’ve found it helpful and that you were able to work through some issues you were facing thanks to this article. Happy turning!

  2. daniel

    from my experience there are different types of “plastic” blanks. some have tendecy to expload and some does not. i think its more related to the material than to the technique. the more soft and flexible blanks are safer. some rounded pretubed blakns
    tend to expload whatever your care and technique are.
    your tips are of course useful and helpful, but does not give me full confidence in blanks. espacially plastic.

  3. Jaime

    very good info

  4. Darlene OBryant

    Thanks for the advice I think you might have just solved my problem

  5. I have just started in the art off turning wood and have been reading s much as I can and all your report on this tag has been very well explained and the tips on the various elements is for me excellent. Thank you.

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