Turning Archive 2006
Darrell in Oakville
>Oh the insanity!
Lee Valley Tools recently started carrying some new pen kits and pen blanks. My daughter saw the black & yellow acetate in the catalog, and she wanted a pen made of the stuff. And my son wanted the black & blue acetate. Kathy wanted to try the black & bronze. Me? I like wood, and I have lots of interesting wood, so I just ordered a few pen kits for myself, plus their strange stuff.
First one we tried was Michelle's yellow acetate pen. Kathy emailed our friend Jim (who makes a LOT of pens) and asked if he had any warnings/hints/advice regarding this acetate stuff. He replied at length, very helpful, thanks loads Jim! Michelle cranked the post drill for 20 minutes to bore out the holes in the blanks. I had the drill set on low speed, which for her was about 30 rpm but practically infinite torque, what with the gear reduction and all. She took a turn at the lathe too. Had to stand on a step stool to reach, but she did a fine job. She saved pretty much all the shavings and offcuts from her pen, a whole box of the stuff. The pen polished up nicely and looks very cool.
David's pen was next. He's old enough that he could handle most of the work himself, but he had me do the initial rounding off of the blanks, and the final pass with the skew. He has to get some more practice in with that tool. Hmmm, Mother's day is coming up in the not-so-distant-future, maybe a candle holder...? Anyways, we made one mistake on his pen. I had shortened up the mandrel so it would take only half a pen, which makes for a much stiffer blank, and better turning experience for the youngsters (vibration is the bane of most turning). We ended up with the wrong bushing at one end of the long section. Luckily, it was too big rather than too small, so he remounted and re-turned that part. Good save. His pen turned out really well, the colours are quite striking.
And then the insanity started. Kathy jokingly suggested that I try making a solid pewter pen, instead of just casting a pewter ring on one like the first pen I made. Ha Ha, yes, very funny. Hmmm... maybe I could - No, no, it would never work. Yah but if I - Nah, can't be done. Well, if I could do it like this? Possibly, or maybe...
*light goes on*
Yes, that would work! I figured I could bore a hole in a piece of scrap with, say, a #10 auger bit, then mount the brass tube on a piece of dowel that runs down the very (or as close to very as I can get) centre of the #10 hole, I could pour in the pewter and cast a roundish blank for the pen. So whilst David was busy with his Blue Pen, I set up the casting furnace (camp stove) and started messing about with molten metal.
The blank for the lower end of then pen came out OK. I had to ream a bit of spillage from inside the brass tube and there were a lot of small voids in the casting. And one big void where a small bit of wood left in the bottom of the mold had floated up into the melt. Most of that one turned off OK. the blank polished up real nice. I mounted the working parts et voila! it is almost a pen. Then I got out a few pens and tried the tops of them on the new one, thinking that an all-pewter pen would be kinda heavy. But alas, none of the woods looked good against the pewter. So I decided to go for a pewter top anyways. That's gonna be one HEAVY pen!
I set up the same as before, melted the pewter (part of a serving plate from Birks, acquired from a garage sale for $1) and poured. After putting everything away and letting the casting cool a while I noticed that the end of the dowel was askew. Uh Oh. When I split open the form I found that the dowel & tube had come loose and tipped over, ruining the casting. Surprise! Wood floats in molten tin! Duh, of course it does. OK, next time I will wire the wood in SOLIDLY. Um, *if* I can salvage the brass tube... Well, that was enough for one night.
-- temporal discontinuity --
Back in the shop again, and this time I made sure the brass tube could not move during the pour. Some work with a propane torch had the pewter dripping off the brass tube and I was soon back in business. The second piece (the top of the pen) came out exactly like the first, a lot of little bubbles scattered about but otherwise fine. Pewter turns easily, and makes such cool shavings. And there's no grain to worry about.
Finally, I assembled the pen and wrote "It is good" on a scrap of paper. And so it was. I doubt I will be carrying this one in my shirt pocket, it's too heavy. I guess I will have to start wearing a jacket to work now. Or a holster for the Heavy Pen. Betcha that's one writing instrument that'll get attention at an airport security check.
Wood Hoarder, Blade Sharpener, and Occasional Tool User