May 21

Berlin desk pen

So, in order to procrastinate before starting the fancy pens (and also because I was on-call this week so I didn’t have much shed time), I wanted to try out a new pen kit. See, brexit (that gift that keeps on taking away) has started driving up prices for UK based vendors and I don’t really see there being a lot of potential for that to stop anytime soon. There are a lot of good UK pen kit vendors and retailers but if I have to pay an extra 20-30% on top of the price tag for customs, duty, handling fees and so on, well, there are a lot of good French and German and Dutch vendors and retailers as well, so I’ve been looking at a few.

The IAP have a nice list of vendors from all over the place, and I basically started going through each of those on the continent and looking at websites for something to jump out. There’s been one ro two but I thought I’d start small so when I saw the Berlin desk pen kit from Gerhard Liebensteiner I thought that’d do nicely (their Berlin Mini pen looks interesting too, but the desk pen has a lot more potential for odd shapes so I’ll start there).

It’s the shape that jumped out and grabbed me here – because it’s a closed-end design, you can turn pretty much any sort of pen shape you’d like, so there’s a lot of potential there.

I liked the taper-away-to-a-point idea, so I thought I’d give that a go to start with. The kit itself is very, very simple:

And by using a brass tube that comes with threads already cut on the inside, this might be one of the simplest closed-end pen kits out there. There are only two real drawbacks to the kit – first, it’s a nonretractable desk pen, so you need some sort of holder for it. But then, if you’re going to go make a 30cm long wand of a pen with this kit, it’s not going into your jacket pocket anyway so maybe that’s not such a big drawback. The other one is that there’s a lot of stickout. More on that in a moment.

Liebensteiner do a nice video on making a pen with this kit, though it is in german, but that’s not really that much of a problem:

So I ordered a kit to test it out and the tooling, which came to around €15 (plus another €15 in shipping, thank you brexit) and it took all of four days to arrive. I had an acrylic pen blank to hand so I used that – this is just a test pen, so it’s not going to be anything special really. I don’t have a pen drill for this kit, but it’s just an 8mm drill bit that you need so I just used one of my completely standard HSS bradpoint drill bits and started drilling.

This is the first problem I came across though – you’re drilling a much longer hols for this pen than normal. Almost 100mm deep and it’s a blind hole at that. So you have to have good alignment and centering or you’ll pay for it later. With the hole drilled, I epoxied in the brass tube after loctite’ing the adjustable plug at the other end of the tube to the right setting for the nib to be exposed by the recommended 2.5.-3.0mm amount.

I mean, technically that’s a pen right there 😀

To mount it on the lathe, your tooling is a small arbor which is threaded on one end; a bushing of the appropriate outside diameter threads onto this thread and you then screw that into the end of the brass tube where the nose cone normally goes and hold the arbor in the chuck. If you have a collet chuck for the lathe, this would be its time to shine. I don’t yet, so out came the stepped jaws which work well for gripping small diameters on my chuck.

You can see the arbor and spacer/bushing there. It’s not fully threaded home here, just for the photo.

And there we’re fully threaded home and seated, and you can see what I meant about the stickout. Granted, here I’m making a much longer pen than the tube, but that’d be par for the course with this pen. I think this might be the only reason this kit isn’t better than the normal kits as a beginner’s kit – if it wasn’t for this, it’d be easier, more fun and less expensive than the slimline pen kits they keep putting into the beginners pen turning kits. So, tail support right up until the end with this one.

Can’t say I’m a fan of this material either. Even on the skew it complained a lot about being cut, in a very high-pitched voice. For the end I wound up cutting it with the skew while supporting it from the far side with my fingers which I’ve seen production woodturners do, but it makes me nervous. A spinning thing and a sharp thing and my fingers. Not a mix I want to try. But, got it done.

And on to sanding, from 400 grit up to 800 dry, then wet micromesh pads to 12000, then Yorkshire grit and Yorkshire grit microfine and resin polish and then a final coat of Hampshire sheen wax.

Not too shabby. Then just unscrew the arbor (I found it easier here to open the chuck and grip the arbor with mole grips because the turning will really jam the pen onto the arbor and I think the forces might get the arbor’s steel thread nicely wedged into the tube’s brass threads and a little effort was needed to break that seal. But no permanent damage done. Just remove the arbor, insert the pen refill and spring and then screw the nosecone down over the lot to secure it, and done.

I think that’s a success. Will have to add Liebensteiner to the list of pen kit retailers. They also do a few other kits, but I might choose another vendor for the next test pen, just to evaluate retailers as well as kits.

Jun 18

Sunbathing poplar

So asking on UKworkshop about that clamping problem I was thinking about with the shelf/desk project led to the conclusion that housing joints won’t work and tapered sliding dovetail joints are the better choice. That will probably mean some router work because of the precision needed – I could probably make a tapered dovetail joint that wouldn’t pull out, but one that would be precise enough to maintain the shelves against racking would be beyond me. So a new router bit, get that router table out of storage and actually assemble it (I basically picked it up in Lidl intending to use parts of it in a proper router table at some point and then just developed a dislike for routers in general 😀 ), and that sorts two of the shelves out; the third gets dovetailed into the top shelf which will also help with racking.

And I keep sketching the idea in my head to try to nail down the bits of it.

It does feel like I’m trying to squeeze the shape I want out of almost not enough wood; the 8″ wide poplar planks I have might not be wide enough and I might need to do a run to the timber yard for some 12″ wide boards. Which would mean a half-day off work and I’d wind up buying a lot more than one board because if you’re giving up vacation time, you buy in batches. So I’d rather get the pieces out of what I have, but if I can’t, there will be more walnut and poplar and maybe some utile to see what that’s like to work with… see, this is the problem with going to the timber yard 😀

Meanwhile, we’re in a heat wave here and the poplar I have has these green streaks, so I figure I’d let it sunbathe for a few days to get rid of them and get that lovely honey colour poplar gets…

Better than a shop dog 😀

The colour of the wood is easing but it’s not a one-day thing…

Before on the left, after on the right in both cases there (the badge is to get a white balance reference but even that didn’t help much, the direct sunlight just blows the camera away).

I’ll keep doing that for a few days, see if it helps.

I also took the opportunity to see what the side would look like with a 1:1 sketch.

(Yes, we’re reseeding that bit of the lawn, we’re just waiting for the weather to break next week or the seeds wouldn’t have a chance).

That bottom desk shelf really looks too low, I know, but I measured Junior’s knees when he was sitting down and nope, that’s the right height. Kids are just small and the scale looks all wrong 😀

And today, since it was the middle of a heatwave, I had some hardware, tools and a chunk of a tree shipped to the office so I could carry them home…

These quadrant hinges are very definitely *not* brusso hinges 😀 But they will suffice to learn and experiment with. Plus, no damned nails, so hopefully less fiddly.

Nobody in the office could identify this 😀
It’s an electric heated bending iron, normally used for making violins. This one’s not temperature controlled, it’s just a PTC resistor in a metal housing that you plug into the mains. The fin bit heats up and then I can use that to bend stringing around sharper corners. Yeah, I could have used a hot air gun, but here’s the thing – in an 8×6 shed, any hot air (at 100C or so) that leaves the gun tends to hit something while still hot enough to damage stuff, especially with foam on the roof for soundproofing, so I decided to go buy this thing (hey, it cost a total of €37 delivered from China via the customs department) instead.


There’s a rule I have for electric stuff you buy off aliexpress (or ebay). If it’s on batteries, it’s probably okay. But if it plugs into the mains, you take the thing apart and check it before it ever goes into a socket, so this got disassembled in the electronics lab and tested for shorts, for the case being connected to the live wire, all that sort of stuff. But no, it seems grand, so out to the shed…

I said it looked grand, not that I trusted it yet 😀 More testing for voltages, waiting to see if the temperature stabilised properly and so forth (that bit of sapele there is to become the base it gets fastened to so I can holdfast it to the bench). All the electrical tests seem okay so far…

The temperature seems a little high mind you, but I think it was made for 110V rather than our 240V. More monitoring needed really and I might want to put some handles on that bit of wood because the fin is not very well isolated thermally from the base…

I worry about the temperature running away too far – if it melted insulation then the case might wind up live and that could be fun. I mean, there’s no ground in the shed really, it’s a wooden floor, but still. Not exactly ideal. Hence, add some handles to the base to pick the thing up and move it about. And maybe some wooden rails along side it to act as hand rests for when I need to steady my hands for particularly delicate bending work.

And what will it be bending? Well, I finally found a commercial source for thick veneers (in this case, 1.4mm thick which is perfect for what I want it for – it’ll get a bit of handplane work to trim it to the thickness of the groove, but with one side of the strip being thinner so it wedges in there).

Some sycamore…

and to compare it against, some maple…

and just for fun, some cedar of lebanon…

That last one is seriously aromatic. I have got to find a source for actual boards of this to use as drawer bottoms, I now know exactly why they used to use this for that purpose. It’s a nice smell, but you know you’re not getting mothholes in your shirts if the drawer is made of this stuff.

Even the bit of hardboard they used to ship this stuff will be of use, if only for drawer bottom material and the like. Happy with that find, now I just have to wait for brexit to screw up the trade rules between here and the UK and for all this wood to become unavailable again. Hell, it might be an idea to stockpile, the way things look to be going…

(You laugh, but you know how house prices in Ireland are rising faster than a SpaceX launch? And you know how we use timber for building houses in everything from making doors and stairs to roof eaves, scaffolding and so on? That timber all comes from the UK because Irish timber yards are too small to buy on the continent because we’re just not that big a country – we have 4 million people, they have 50, and they build more so they buy wood by the hundreds of tons and we buy off their yards and ship it to here. Brexit is going to throw a huge spanner in that, stuff will either have to come from the continent meaning higher purchase prices, higher logistics cost and so on; or yards here will have to buy stuff from UK yards at enormously higher prices. And all that gets passed on to the final house price here. Stockpiling doesn’t seem so ridiculous now, does it, eh?)


Nov 17

Ending, restocking, brexit and black friday

Looooong day. I had a callout over the weekend at midnight on Saturday so I had a few hours off in lieu that I took this morning to go to the timber yard. One of the next projects coming up could use some 8/4 oak so my shopping list was a 6-8″ board of 8/4 oak between 8′ and 12′, an 8-9″ board of 4/4 oak around the 12′ mark, and possibly the same two boards again in walnut. And I thought I’d take a look at the beech and get a small board of that to try working in it.

You know how plans rarely survive contact with reality?

So, Brexit. And now any timberyard here in Ireland has a choice – either get hardwoods direct from the continent via ship which is more expensive than road haulage; or buy it from the continent and drive it back home through the UK with all the customs hassle on both coasts which is expensive; or do what they’ve done till now and buy smaller quantities from UK timberyards and ship it back on the ferry to here, but now paying higher prices because the pound has collapsed, and next year, paying higher prices again because the UK is having to pay customs duties of 20% or more on their imports from the EU (because the UK does not grow enough timber for itself and hasn’t since the 18th century), and then paying higher prices again because of customs duties re-importing that timber back here.

The shorter version of that is, Because Brexit, hardwood now costs 150% or so of what it cost this time last year. Except maybe for that german beech, which I think was roughly the same.

(Oh, and forget about looking to the US, they’ve finished one round of 20% tarrifs on canadian softwood and the entire softwood and hardwood market rising to match that, and they’re now looking at another 20% round Real Soon Now).

So, 8/4 oak board? No worries, Paul had an 8′ board from the end of a pack. Grand for me, no knots, no damage, slight cup but the parts I’ll be making are 1′ or shorter so that’s no worry. But it’s €60/cb.ft. The 4/4 oak is around €45/cb.ft, up from €30. The 4/4 walnut is closing on €90/cb.ft and the 8/4 walnut… well, the one board I’d picked out (8/4 6″x10′) was €140. Alas, it remains in the warehouse 😀

The beech on the other hand, was beautiful stuff, I had the first pick from a freshly opened pack and it had lovely clear grain, so I wound up buying two cubic feet in four boards, way more than I intended to but it was just so damn nice looking and so cheap compared to the rest (at around €24/cb.ft) that I thought it would have been a mistake to leave it behind.

A few minutes with the circular saw to break it down enough to fit in both my car and the shed, and then it was time to test the new car’s timber carrying capacity (the old car gave up the ghost earlier this year and we had to change).

Huzzah! It took all of three minutes to pull those seats last night (they’re built to lift right out, it’s quite neat and tidy) and once loaded I could close the boot and drive home without any fuss. Score one for the Yeti.

Once I got it home, I had to clean up the shed slightly – the floor had about 3″ of shavings and crud built up on it because of the rush on the boxes, so that had to go and the timber store had to be quickly shuffled to make some room, and then it was the haul-it-through-the-house routine:

Nice piece of 8/4 oak there.

And there’s that lovely beech’s grain and the other half of the 8/4 oak board. But all of that has to go in here somehow:

There was considerable shuffling 😀 But…

Done! 😀 Just don’t ask me to get anything out of there in less than half an hour…

And cleaned down and ready for the next project (or more accurately to go back to the one I was in the middle of when I stopped to do the boxes).

Speaking of the boxes…

The oak was a disaster:

Just tore themselves apart along the glue lines after the ebonising (and the ebonising didn’t go well, I think some of the tannic acid got into the iron solution and nullified it, I’ll have to make some more). So those got ditched. But the rest were okay.

Dropped those off at the school in the afternoon for the bazaar and they hadn’t a clue what to do with them so they’re lumped in with the bric-a-brac. Oh well, might get them a bit more notice next year. This year though, someone’s getting handmade boxes rather cheaply 😀

It’ll be interesting to see if they actually do sell, if they do I might make a piece explicitly to sell next year, just to see if it would.


Oh, and today’s Black Friday, so I bought a sander 😀

(along with a few belts and spindles for medium and fine grades to go with the coarse set it comes with). I know it *looks* like a fancy version of a belt sander turned on its side, but it’s a bit better than that. For a start, better dust collection and about 26dBA quieter 😀 Plus, you can swap out the belt for a spindle to do curved surfaces:

And of course, it has built-in storage all over the place which is nice (but doubtless not enough if you have more than one grade of sandpaper). So I’ll build a plywood platform for it and a 2×4 framework to let me store it below the bandsaw. Getting cramped in the shed now though…

And Rutlands were also doing a sale so I got some more titebond (I’m down to my last bottle), a spare silicone glue brush set (because I’m always waiting for the two brushes I have to finish drying before I can use them again), and some other small doodads and gimmicks like plastic razor blades. But hey, if amateurs don’t buy this stuff, who will? 😀