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Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in American Woodwork # 142, June / July 2009.
I stumbled upon pen manufacturing seven years ago while rummaging through my husband Jerry’s woodworking magazines and catalogs, looking for a special Christmas present for him. I came across a mini lathe that was advertised as the perfect tool for making custom pens … and I knew I was hooked.
I pictured myself sitting at a small student-sized workbench with my new mini lathe, diligently working on small projects. I ordered the lathe and pressured Jerry for space in his basement workshop, assuring him that I would only need a very small space. I had no experience in woodworking, so I bought some books on pen turning. When my lathe arrived, Jerry showed me how to hold a gouge and angle.
As my interest in pen turning grew, my idea of adequate space changed. Jerry and I now share the basement, with my area becoming a real 12 ‘by 12’ pen turning shop. It houses everything I need to make a pen: a large 8 ‘workbench and four other smaller work surfaces, 24 drawers and 18 cabinets. Jerry built them all bespoke for me – a great return on my investment for all those years of woodworking oriented Christmas gifts!
The workbenches, shelves and cabinets support the scaled-down tools of my five-inch turning craft: three mini lathes, one mini pillar drill, one mini disc sander, one mini shaper (for pen boxes ), a mini air filter, a mini metal miter saw (for brass pipes), a mini duplicator, mini air compressors and a mini vacuum cleaner. Following my theme of small-scale tools, I cut the blanks of my pen to size with a fine-cut Bosch handsaw, instead of using a miter saw. In fact, the only full-sized tools in my area are my turning tools.
In addition to pens, I now make a number of other “five-inch” projects, including letter openers, wine bottle caps, fishing lures and lures. These little projects don’t throw a lot of sawdust around, so my shop is easy to keep clean and tidy. I store respirators, face shields, project hardware, tips, gauges, rulers, files, glues, gloves, and sanding and finishing materials inside cabinets and drawers, where they remain dust-free and easily accessible.
My projects don’t require a lot of material (I can get up to 12 blanks from a small bowl piece or a turning piece), so storage isn’t an issue. I have accumulated more than a hundred different pieces of local and exotic wood turning. I study books and articles about their origins and the legends surrounding some of them, and wherever Jerry and I go, I look for anecdotes about how they were or are used. I write this information on the papers that accompany my pens.
I’m being teased about the 144 square feet of space I “need” to make a pen, but sharing the woodwork with Jerry is one of the high points of our 40 years together. —Lynn Vanderpool
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