When I was a freshman in high school, I had to take shop class.
I was not particularly interested in it at the time, but it was required.
If I had been at that school the year before, I would have had to take home economics. I would have preferred that course.
But, it turned out OK. I learned to use a wood lathe and have used one for the past 60 years.
Like metal detecting, wood turning is a hobby that can be enjoyed by almost anyone. It is especially an easy pastime for seniors.
My lathe, a Shopsmith, is located in my attached garage, so in the winter it is heated and in the summer the house air conditioner keeps it cool.
I have a small squirrel fan behind me blowing past me to keep me cool and blowing the sawdust away from my face. I have a bar stool to sit on so I can last longer before getting tired.
Six decades ago, I spent my time turning bowls of all sizes and matching lamps for end tables.
I made those for many years.
Then, some years ago, I switched to making wooden pens from exotic woods. I found a woodworking catalog somewhere (this was before computers), and started ordering pen parts, wooden pen blanks, tools and other accessories. It was much cheaper back then, but in my current catalog, a lathe and everything needed to get started making pens cost between $300 and $500.
While not necessary, I have a band saw to cut assorted wood to the right size for a pen blank. For the two types of pens I make, the blank has so be at least 3/4” square and either five inches or three inches long. When my saw is set to cut the correct length, I cut as many as 50 pieces of wood before moving on to the next step. Some of the wood blanks in the catalog are already cut to the right length and have the hole (the next step) already drilled.
Then, I move on to my drill press. (Or an electric drill with the blank or the drill mounted in a vice to hold it.) I need to drill a 7 mm hole lengthwise in the longer blanks and a 10 mm hole in the shorter wood pieces. Again, I drill all my cut wood before moving on to the next step.
Then I go inside to the card table in front of the TV. I spread paper on it and lay out all the brass tubes that come in the pen kits I buy from the catalog. The tubes have to be glued into the holes drilled in the wood blanks. I can do this while watching my favorite show.
Use gloves while doing this or you will be wearing glue on your hands. When you are done with this step, set the blanks aside to dry.
Back to the garage; I have a tool (from the catalog) that mounts in the drill press and is used to square the ends of the wood blank so the pen pieces fit properly later. I mount the blank in the vice and square both ends. Then, the wood is ready to put on the wood lathe.
Everyone asks how long it takes to make a pen. I really don’t know because up to this point, I am making a bunch at one time. Once they get to the lathe, I do one at a time and it takes about 20 to 30 minutes. I have to turn the pen down to the correct size, then I sand it with six different grits of sandpaper from 60 to 600, clean with a tack cloth to remove the sawdust and finish with two or three coats of a clear polish to seal and shine it.
Then, it’s ready to remove from the lathe, but it’s not done yet.
I have to take the parts that come with the pen kit and use a vice of some type to press the point, clip and other parts together to complete the pen.
The catalog also has pages of different kinds of woods to use to make the pens.
I use a lot of exotic woods, including olivewood from the Holy Land, Jim Beam and Jack Daniels whiskey barrel wood, and wood from Napa Valley wine barrels.
I buy any material from the catalog which looks neat, plus I have other woodworkers give me scrap wood from their projects (it doesn’t take much to make a pen).
`I have made a pen from the basketball floor of Markleville High School where I graduated, some from a lane in Rains bowling alley when it was torn down, and some from the bottom of Lake Superior where old sunken logs from the logging days were salvaged to make flooring.
While this hobby is great for seniors with extra time and little energy, it also is good for youngsters to begin on something they can enjoy for years in the future.
Ladies also enjoy woodworking as much as the guys, and pens aren’t the only things to make on the lathe. Christmas ornaments, corkscrews, bottle openers, game calls, crochet hooks, seam rippers and dozens of other kits for lathe projects can be found in the catalog.
If you have questions about getting started in woodturning, contact me.