There are many pieces of equipment needed to run a successful workshop and of course having a good reliable lathe is key, like everything else there are many different lathes on the market and choosing the right one will not only produce good work but greatly increase your enjoyment. Going for the cheapest as a starter may seem the obvious choice but I would recommend a slightly better quality with two essential features – a locking switch on the drive spindle and a variable speed control which you will not find on the cheaper models as this involves moving the drive belt onto two different drive wheels each time you need to change the speed. There are two other very important items for your lathe and some suppliers will include these if you are lucky enough to make a deal – they are a chuck and a face-plate, the chuck needs to be as large as you can afford as this will give you a better grip be it on a tenon or mortise – this also applies to a face-plate which will allow you to carve larger items with a higher degree of safety.
I love turning pens just to see the sheer joy on people’s faces when they see a beautiful designed kit finished in a stunning Wood or Acrylic, and this needs a quality mandrel and a Saver Centre to ensure the rod of the Mandrel doesn’t bend when you tighten the tail stock on the lathe. Choosing the right kit and the material to compliment it is the difference between a good looking pen and a stunning looking pen, just choosing the material on its own can be difficult as in everything I make I have to keep in mind that we all have different tastes so I make my pens in a whole range of materials and finishes. If I am choosing wood I have hundreds to choose from, these range from a dark Black Walnut to a light Olive wood with its amazing grain pattern. In Acrylics again the choice is endless not only for their stunning colours and patterns but the finish is glass like. There are two other materials that I use one is called ‘Corian’ generally the patterns are more subtle and the colours are limited but still produce a lovely pen. The other material is ‘Polyester’ again the range in this material is limited but I only use this when I’m feeling brave as it does look stunning when finished if I get that far as it can be unforgiving being a softer material and crack at the last minute.
To produce these pens and many other items you need the right chisels at each stage of the carving process, at the moment I have twenty one chisels each designed for a specific purpose. I have singled out four of my chisels which I consider to be the most important particularly when starting, I have posted some photos which show the chisels from left-to-right – Roughing gouge – Bowl gouge – Skew – Carbide cutter. The Roughing gouge is used to start the carving particularly when you have a blank on the lathe which still has the bark on – The Bowl gouge is mainly used for hollowing out the inside. The Skew takes a lot of practice to use safely but is a great chisel for shaping. The carbide for shaping and hollowing is the chisel I use most as the round blade is extremely sharp and keeps its edge longer, it can also be more forgiving because of its shape you get less catches.
The other photos show two blanks (Olive wood) on the Mandrel with the centre saver ready to be carved into the two barrels of a pen. I am working on a video at the moment to show the whole process from carving to polishing.