Pen turning can be a very satisfying hobby, as well as a very rewarding way to earn some extra cash over the holidays. It takes very little time, once you know the basics.  They also make great gifts for anyone on your list… after all, do you know of anyone that doesn’t use a pen? 🙂
pensPens pictured are by Running Dog Woodworking

Haven’t turned a pen yet, but want to give it a try?  Here’s a list of the basic tools and supplies you’ll need for pen turning.

Pen Blanks – highly figured wood, birch burl and maple burl are my favorites, but you can also purchase acrylic ones that are quite nice. Highly figured maple and burl pen blanks are available at Vedder Mountain Hardwoods.  A pack of 20 western big leaf maple assorted figured, spalted and burl blanks sells for around $20 US.
figured maple pen blanks
Drill press and drill bit – the brad point bit or bullet drill bit will work well with most materials. You may want to make a jig to hold your pen blanks in place while drilling… this way you can drill several blanks at one time.  Mike will quite often have 10 blanks drilled and glued, so they’re ready to turn when he has a few spare minutes to play on the lathe. 

Pen Kits – there are several different styles available, but the most common and inexpensive kit is the slimline. A good place to purchase your kits online is at

Bushings – you’ll need bushings to match the pen kit you choose – each kit requires different size bushings.

Mandrel -you’ll also need a mandrel – make sure to get the correct MT for your lathe.

Glue is required to glue in the tubes after you’ve drilled the pen blanks – cyanoacrylate, epoxy and polyurethane glue all work very well.

Wood turning tools – Very few tools are required for turning pens.  Each wood turner has his/her own preference.  For turning straight barrel pens, some turners use 1/2″ skew, while others prefer to remove the bulk of the wood with a small shallow gouge.  

Sand paper/abrasive – we use the foam backed paper for our pen and start with 80 grit and go up to 800 grit.  Other types are the micro mesh abrasives that range from 1800 grit to 12000 grit.

Finishes – we like the Crystal Coat friction polish…it shines to a high gloss and it’s easy to use.  Other finishes that are commonly used are french polish, stick wax, paste wax, plastic polish and Mylands friction polish.

A great reference book for turning pens and pencils is TURNING PENS AND PENCILS by Kip Christensen and Rex Burningham.

I hope you’ll find this post informative and useful.  If you see anything I may have missed or would like to add any other tips, your comments are appreciated.