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Drilling Pen Blanks (Read 977 times)
 
Ed Weber
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Drilling Pen Blanks
Dec 9th, 2017 at 1:56pm
 
There seems to be two camps when it comes to drilling pen blanks.
One is to use a drill press or pillar drill for some of you and the other is to use your lathe.

In a recent thread one of our members mentioned that they preferred to drill pen blanks on the lathe because they found it to be more accurate.
If this is also your method, I would like to know how you came to this conclusion.


Here is my thinking on this process and why
I use my drill press, a device designed for the purpose of drilling holes.
I clamp a pen blank to the fence using a stop-block for repeatable (reasonable) alignment. I say reasonable because not all pen blanks are created equal and I do not mill them before I drill them, no need.
I proceed to drill using the appropriate bit, RPM and feed rate, clearing debris as necessary.
Even if occasionally a hole is not "perfectly' centered, I don't care. Why, because the hole is straight & true. if the hole starts in the center but leaves slightly towards the bottom right corner as an example, it doesn't matter. Maybe the blank isn't quite square on the end. Maybe some debris got in the way and it wasn't clamped perfectly square. As long as the hole is straight & true it doesn't matter.

I insert and glue in the tube and allow to cure.

Now when it's time to trim the barrel, ANY misalignment of the hole in relationship with the end of the blank will be erased. Once the ends are brought into 90 degree alignment with the barrel, it doesn't matter where the hole entered and left the wood.
Any drilling "accuracy" or inaccuracy has become a moot point.

This is one, if not the main reason to leave the wooden blank "slightly" longer (1/32" on each end) than the brass tube, so that when it's trimmed you have sufficient material to compensate for any drilling inaccuracies or blank irregularities. This is in most all pen kit assembly instructions.

This is why the additional time and procedures needed to drill with the lathe are IMO unwarranted, I find no benefit over that of using the drill press.

(I know grain alignment is an important factor, especially with two piece pens but the degree of alignment issues is minimal when dealing with a 3/4" piece of stock, you simply should not be "off" by that much without having a different more serious issue)

That's my two cents and how I got there
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Robert Hayward
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Re: Drilling Pen Blanks
Reply #1 - Dec 9th, 2017 at 6:15pm
 
While I agree with your methods and results I use the lathe. I have a homemade jig to drill pen blanks on my drill press and use it... occasionally.

I have a dedicated Nova chuck with pen blank jaws that is quick to put on the spindle and I have a keyless chuck that is also quick and easy to put into the tailstock. I drill a number of blanks at a time then change over to the pen mandrel.

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Re: Drilling Pen Blanks
Reply #2 - Dec 9th, 2017 at 10:25pm
 
I did all the things you mentioned above when I was drilling with my drill press.  I have two drill presses, a floor model and a bench top.  I used the bench top for drilling pen blanks.  I set it on the slowest speed, roughly 400 rpm.  I had good results.

I decided to try drilling on my lathe since I had some pin jaws (4 jaws).  They worked great.  Again I slowed down to about 400 rpm and cleared the debris every one-half to three quarters of an inch depending on the material.  I found the pin jaws held the blank more securely, especially odd shaped blanks, than the pen vice I had been using on the drill press.  Exit holes were consistently closer to center than they were on the DP.  YMMV

Finally I broke down and bought pen jaws (2 jaws) for my chuck and my results were even better because the blank was more secure. 

I still use my drill press on occasion when I have a blank I expect to be a problem child, but I'm sold on drilling blanks on the lathe as the best method for me.
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Ed Weber
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Re: Drilling Pen Blanks
Reply #3 - Dec 10th, 2017 at 10:30am
 
Thanks guys, I appreciate the responses.
Too often people want to make this topic an argument, It's just different methods of work.
I still contend that for the vast majority of "pen blanks" the drill press is the way to go, but that's JMO
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Re: Drilling Pen Blanks
Reply #4 - Dec 10th, 2017 at 1:24pm
 
Ed, I use both a drill press and the lathe.  I really like the lathe, and the 4 jaw pen chuck, when I'm drilling deer antler.  I find that it is easier for me to adjust a curved antler when I use the lathe than on the DP.  On the DP, I found that I was drilling thru the sides of the antler about 50% of the time or more.  On the lathe, I have been much more successful, less than 25% are now wasted.
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Ed Weber
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Re: Drilling Pen Blanks
Reply #5 - Dec 10th, 2017 at 1:56pm
 
I recognize that sometimes there are situations where the lathe may make it easier for certain irregular items.

My main point about pen blanks in general, was initially regarding the "accuracy" that some people seem to get stuck on.
Many people are under the misconception that if the hole is not "perfectly" centered on both entry and exit that somehow the pen wont turn correctly or it will be out of round or some other "old wives tale" or You-Tube theory.

As I explained in my OP there is no real need to be pinpoint accurate on both ends of the blank. While I always strive for accuracy, the act of milling the ends eliminates any inaccuracies. I think that some people get stuck on thinking that the outside of the blank is the reference surface, while it's actually the hole.
When turning a pen,
The blank is referenced around the bore hole NOT the bore hole referenced centered in the blank.

Since you have to, or at least should, mill your blanks no matter how accurate they're drilled, I don't worry about the minuscule amount of error that may only happen a small percent of the time.
Again, JMO
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Len Mullin
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Re: Drilling Pen Blanks
Reply #6 - Dec 11th, 2017 at 9:33pm
 
I have better luck drilling them with the drill press, then I do with the lathe. And I even purchased the proper pen holder set-up, to hold them to be drilled. But every time I've tried using it, the hole doesn't drill straight, it's almost out the side of the blank at the end.
Len
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Re: Drilling Pen Blanks
Reply #7 - Dec 12th, 2017 at 7:16am
 
I do both, and I agree that if the hole is slightly off no problem. As you say, once you trim the barrel square to the tube, the turning process takes care of any problems. Where I see a difference in technique being an argument is how do you square you blanks to the tubes. Barrell trimmer vs sanding disk....
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« Last Edit: Dec 12th, 2017 at 7:17am by Chris Neilan »  

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Ed Weber
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Re: Drilling Pen Blanks
Reply #8 - Dec 12th, 2017 at 10:07am
 
Chris Neilan wrote on Dec 12th, 2017 at 7:16am:
Where I see a difference in technique being an argument is how do you square you blanks to the tubes. Barrell trimmer vs sanding disk....


IMO
A quality pen mill is the more accurate method.
A sanding jig such as Multimedia File Viewing and Clickable Links are available for Registered Members only!!  You need to Login or Register, can introduce too much "play" into the equation.
Both a mill and sanding jig use the barrel as the reference but that's where the similarities end.

With a mill, the tool itself needs to be square which only consists of two machined parts.

With a sanding jig (like the one I linked to),
First the sander needs to be aligned properly, table to disc.
Then the jig needs to be aligned properly, on all axis.
Then the jig mounted to the sander must be aligned properly within the miter slot, not all miter slots are created equal.
The sanding disc must be free of defect, I think this speaks for it's self.

Everyone of these steps can introduce a certain amount of play into the process which can add up to a less the perfect result, Ends not being square and/or a slight convex curve (rotating the blank on the sanding disc) can be the result.
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Re: Drilling Pen Blanks
Reply #9 - Dec 12th, 2017 at 12:59pm
 
How do you hold the blank when barrel trimming?

Glenn J.
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Ed Weber
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Re: Drilling Pen Blanks
Reply #10 - Dec 12th, 2017 at 1:45pm
 
Depends on the species for me.
In the seclusion of my shop, I will sometime hold it in my hand. (I don't advise trying this at home)
I usually use a vise. I have a pair of vise pads with a V-notch cut into them to keep it secure. Minimal pressure is required, the notch really just helps to keep the blanks from wanting to slip and holds it upright, especially with those less than perfectly milled blanks.
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« Last Edit: Dec 12th, 2017 at 1:45pm by Ed Weber »  
 
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Re: Drilling Pen Blanks
Reply #11 - Dec 12th, 2017 at 3:05pm
 
I use the screw vise on my workbench to hold the blanks.  Works great. 

My only complaint about using a pen mill is that there are too many different size pen tubes.  They don't make the pen mill shafts in all of the sizes.
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Ed Weber
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Re: Drilling Pen Blanks
Reply #12 - Dec 12th, 2017 at 4:04pm
 
The Whiteside Mill Kit that I use has 4 "common sizes" 7mm, 10mm, 25/64", and 27/64"
You can purchase individual pilot shafts as you need them
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Re: Drilling Pen Blanks
Reply #13 - Dec 13th, 2017 at 11:03am
 
I have an excellent self centering pen vise, mounted on a board, which is held to the T-slots on my drill press table. Once set to the centre of a blank, I can drill many blanks without moving the vice. It's quick, accurate enough and it does not tie up my lathe.

I use a pen mill, and I'm bad, holding the blank in my hand. I wear a glove from time to time if the blanks are particularly rough. I know - bad again.

As for the different size pilot shafts of the pen mill, I have the standard ones, but when I need an odd one for a kit that I don't use much, I simply make them. I take a 7mm pen tube, glue a corian blank to it, then turn it down to the size I need for the pen I am making. That is, the outside diameter of the turned corian blank is the inside diameter of the pen tube for the kit I am making. Corian is not necessay; wood will do. However, corian puts up with a beating and is nice and slick. Since the inside diameter of the home-made "shaft" is a 7mm pen tube, I can use the 7mm pilot shaft for any kit.
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« Last Edit: Dec 13th, 2017 at 11:05am by Grant Wilkinson »  

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Re: Drilling Pen Blanks
Reply #14 - Dec 14th, 2017 at 6:56pm
 
Great discussion on various techniques.  I think you draw the correct conclusion Ed that circumstances vary and require different techniques.

I drill on the lathe primarily because when properly aligned, the lathe will drill on center all the way through most of the time for me.  This is more important for segmented pens where you need a perfectly centered hole to maintain the balance of your segment sizes all the way around the barrel (think Celtic Knot.)  Secondly, I get better effective quill travel on the lathe for longer blanks.  My DP has 3" quill stroke, and then I have to raise the blank up to finish drilling.  With the lathe, I advance the tailstock and the blank stays chucked in the pen jaws.

I primarily use a barrel trimmer on the ends for squaring, but in some cases you need to sand (delicate blanks, e.g., segmented, can blow apart using a barrel trimmer.)  There is a special setup for sanding on the lathe I found over on the IAP site that uses a mandrel mounted offset in the tailstock (sanding disk on the headstock) that does a great job sanding perpendicular to the tube.

But I don't believe there is only one best way for everything.
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Ed Weber
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Re: Drilling Pen Blanks
Reply #15 - Dec 14th, 2017 at 9:24pm
 
Bill Rockwood wrote on Dec 14th, 2017 at 6:56pm:
This is more important for segmented pens where you need a perfectly centered hole to maintain the balance of your segment sizes all the way around the barrel (think Celtic Knot.)


I understand the necessity for keeping the hole centered in certain circumstances although I've not had issues aligning my drill press to give me the results I desire.
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Re: Drilling Pen Blanks
Reply #16 - Dec 17th, 2017 at 7:28pm
 
Very very nice Ed.  What did you use for the insert?

I always drill my blanks on the lathe for the last 5 years.  It takes away the need for a vise and a drill press and drill.
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Ed Weber
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Re: Drilling Pen Blanks
Reply #17 - Dec 17th, 2017 at 8:01pm
 
Body is walnut, knot is made from ebony and aluminum.
The point was to show that if you set up your equipment properly, you can drill through anything (3 drastically different materials) with the drill press that you can with the lathe and have the same degree of accuracy.
This photo is by no means a perfect example but it was the only photo I had on hand.
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