May 21

Offcut Challange Vase

So when I bought the pen blanks for the fancy pens from Feinesholz, they included a block of padouk in the order. Hadn’t asked for it, they just threw it in there.

The sticker reads, if google translate can be believed, “Thank you for shopping at Feines Holz! Although this piece has one or two flaws or is just undersized, it is too good to throw away. Or not? Maybe you can still do something with it?! Padouk”. You have to love the idea of throwing in an offcut to an order with a challange on it, this is a crowd that knows its market demographics pretty well πŸ˜€

So it wasn’t a huge offcut, about 5cmx5cmx12cm (“about” because every edge was a slightly different length – it’s an offcut, not a processed blank πŸ˜€ ). And there’s variation of the colour throughout because it’s near the boundary of the heartwood and sapwood.

That changing colour might have been the thing that gave me the idea, I’m not sure. I start off simply enough, it looked like the right shape to cut a small bud vase from (and until I get an extension bar for my little forstner bit, bud vases are about the best I can manage), so that’s what I did:

Turned between centers to start, just to round it over and get a basic shape into it, and I’m mostly watching the colour of the heartwood for this and trying to see if I can avoid cutting all of that out. which you could do given the way it was lying in the wood.

Then drilled it out to the depth of my forstner bit (which isn’t much, maybe 75-80mm?), and used a ring tool (the crown mini revolution is the one I have) to work the shape a little inside and a bowl gouge to make a few shallow cuts to get the final lip shape.

Around about this point, I had the idea for this… piece? thing? not sure what you call it. What if I did the outside of that last coloured bowl, but on the inside, like fireworks and have that contrast with the outside which will be all-natural wood, if a fancy colour. But I’d need to open it up down one wall to show it off. Maybe just cut a chunk away? What about the “open jacket lapel” look?

I ebonised the inside to get a feel for what it’d be like (masking became something of a feature of this little project).

And yeah, not the slickest of finishes there but enough to give an idea of what it’d look like and I thought it was worth going on with. Thing is, cutting into that vase and then doing the shaping and sanding and spraying that was to come was going to be a complete pain with it in that horizontal orientation, literally. Ask any woodturner who hollows stuff and they’ll tell you that lower back pain is a problem because you’re bent over at odd angles shoving a bit of metal into a spinning bit of wood, so it’s not just stretching, it’s carrying a load while stretched. This is something I’m kindof familiar with from the air rifle shooting – an asymmetric offset load on the spine is just not something you should do if you can help it. Larger lathes will rotate the headstock or have other ways of coping with this, but mine doesn’t do that, and no lathe will rotate from horizontal to vertical, so something else was needed…

Pictured: Something else πŸ˜€ Specifically, that’s a Simon Hope carving jig. Plugs into the tool post hole in the banjo, chuck screws right onto it, lets you set it at any angle to work on it, and the two blue aluminium cylinders that form the body have a kind of keying detent system between them so they can lock at certain angles (roughly every 30 degrees I think) for even more rigidity. This thing is a very solid little beastie. I don’t know if I’d happily wail on it with a mallet the way I would when carving oak for a box, but for push gouge work, it’d definitely be up to the task, and for sawing and sanding and shaping, it’s not even going to notice that you’re there. So, installed it and mounted the chuck on it.

Sweet. Then I was able to cut out the opening I wanted,

And then I could take the dremel and a saburrtooth burr and shape the edges of the cut to give me the open-lapel thing.

Glue-up was a bit of a pain because you couldn’t clamp it, but get a good matching set of surfaces and a rub joint will surprise you with how little clamping force it needs.

And now that needed shaping, so out with the dremel and burr again…

And I’m trying to get the cut to look like it’s flowing down to that hemispherical cutout as well, just because it looked better than the cut thinning out to nothing. Then I had a few rounds of trying to mask up the outside and spray the inside with ebonising lacquer properly. I say a few rounds, because it’s a bit tricky with that shape and I didn’t want to get puddles of the stuff in the bottom of the vase part.

I figured it can’t puddle at the bottom if it’s on the floor, right? πŸ˜€ This is why you don’t clean up all the shavings off the floor till the project’s done πŸ˜€

Yeah, not great, and I missed a spot. Bother. Try again…

Okay, that time it worked. So I had this idea to steal for how to do the painting on the inside, using iridescent paints, flow medium and string, which Wayne the Woodturner had done a video on a while back and it looked perfect.

…and I couldn’t get it to work on a concave surface at all. Came close but no cigar.

Yeah, just not happy with it at all. So cleaned out the bulk of the paint with isopropanol and then remasked and resprayed the interior.

Getting too used to masking by this point, this is the fourth or fifth respray this piece has had.

Went back to using the iridescent paints neat and compressed air to move the paint. There still seemed something missing though.

Bit of sanding and cleaning up and at that point I realised that what I didn’t like was that “dot” at the bottom of the cut, so I painted that with some titanium white and was happy with that. Then some final sanding, some coats of acrylic gloss lacquer, then some polishing by hand with yorkshire grit and a last coat of hampshire sheen and parted it off and branded it and called it done.

It still needed a good rubdown there to get the last of the hampshire sheen off the surface, but overall I’m happy with that, I got pretty close to what I had in mind and it looks pretty. That’ll do.

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 πŸ˜€

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.

May 21

Fancy pencil

So the first of the fancy pens is going to be a pencil πŸ™‚ Not the normal mechanical 0.7mm lead pencil but a clutch pencil (or I’ve heard them called lead holders as well). 5.6mm lead, so a bit beefy, and more intended for sketching than for handwriting. So I can actually use this for the shed sketchbook as well, for sketching out ideas for turning, which don’t seem to get as many dimensions as the woodworking stuff, mainly because most of the time the exact line of a piece is whatever random shape I wound up getting when I stuck the tool into the spinning thing on the lathe what the wood said it should be. πŸ˜›

This is the kit I’m using, and that picture is what Feinesholz says it should look like when you’re done, if you didn’t cock it up πŸ™‚ It’s not hugely spendy (I mean, it’s more than the basic slimline 7mm pen kit which is about the cheapest standard kit I know of, but compared to fancy fountain pens, it’s less than half their price tag). But the first one’s always more expensive because of the tooling – special drill bit (11.9mm? Why did nobody just use 12mm for feck’s sakes? How is that harder than this 30/64ths nonsense?) and bushings to let you mount the barrel on the mandrel. Throw in a spendy blank and this is probably the most expensive pencil I’ll own once its done πŸ™‚

Speaking of pen blanks, it’ll be this one on the far left here, the shorter turquoise looking one. It’s from a species of white birch called Karelian birch which grows in a small area between Finland and Russia (called Karelia, obviously). It gets called Masur birch a lot as well, but masur is the actual grain and figure, rather than the species (and of course the species name is different again because botanists are worse than mathematicians for naming things – Betula pendula var. Carelica for anyone who speaks botanist). This particular blank has been stabilised with acrylic (specifically with plexiglass) that was dyed blue, hence the colour. Karelian birch is famous as a decorative wood – it even got used for a Faberge egg – to the point where it was almost clearcut into extinction and now it’s planting and harvesting is very controlled (though oddly, it doesn’t seem to be CITES listed). So, y’know, no pressure…

First job was to cut the blank to just over the size of the single brass tube and then drill through the center with an 11.9mm drill bit. That went okay with the main part. I also wanted to turn the offcut into a matching keyring rather than burn it, and of course I blinked and it tried to climb into the drill body, but I was able to stop it in time. Fun cleanup by the way, there’s blue dust everywhere.

Slightly off-center, but not enough to cause issues. Next up, sandpaper the outside of the brass tubes, mix some epoxy and epoxy the tubes in place.

And that went well enough. There’s almost half the tube left sticking out from the keyring, I’ll save that offcut, it’ll do for tree ornament turning later.

And yes, you can cut brass with ordinary woodworking saws and tools, it’s a lovely material to work with.
I don’t have a barrel trimmer in the right size for a 12mm tube (that’s on the list, sometime after the next paycheque) so to get the ends trimmed square to the tube, I resort to sanding:

Now this works, but it’s not perfect – it relies on three things here. First, that the tube is drilled perfectly through the blank, and that almost never happens. It was done with a pillar drill and lots of checking with a good square against the drills table, but you can only count on that getting you within a degree. Barrel trimmers use the inside of the barrel for a reference which is a superior way to do it, but needs must. Second, the two edges of the platform have to be parallel here for the square to be referenced off the back side (that’s done for this platform, the front got jointed and then I ran a marking gauge off it to set the back edge and planed to that line), and third, the front edge has to be parallel to the disk, which you can get within a degree of, but you can get cumulative errors in all of this so if you don’t work carefully, you could get an end that wasn’t square to the barrel and that means that you could get a gap between the pen blank and the fittings of the pen that you couldn’t prevent and that’d be really annoying πŸ™‚
Didn’t happen this time, mind, but I’m still buying that barrel trimmer kit.

I also don’t like that first few minutes of rounding the blank and taking off those corners – it’s the most interrupted the cut ever gets and it’s the most potential for ripping off a chunk through a shock load on the blank, so I thought I’d use an offcut from the padouk pen blank I used the other day and make some miniature V-blocks from it and superglue them to a bit of plywood (that was a pattern for christmas tree carving, but I transcribed it to plasticard a while ago for storage) and jointed that front edge so that I could use that on the sanding platform…

I mean, it’s not rocket surgery, but it’s better than nothing.

Now I’ve not turned this material before so I started on the keyring, because I can use the skew, the spindle gouge, the spindle roughing gouge and some wire for burn lines and very quickly get a rough feel for how it works.

And it works very very nicely indeed. Very forgiving material, cuts clean and easy, scrapes nicely as well. In fact, there’s really only one problem and it’s down to the sabilising acrylic rather than the wood:

It would appear that I have shawarma’d a smurf.

Incidentally, when I say that it’s a forgiving material, all of that pencil body (after the initial roughing to round which was done with the spindle roughing gouge) was done with the skew, and my shed is very tiny so I can cut towards the headstock with the skew without any problem right-handed, but I cannot cut towards the tailstock with the skew while right-handed because I would have to be standing inside my workbench to do that – so my choices are horse the lathe around so it’s at 45 degrees to the wall and I have enough room to move; or cut with the skew left-handed, so I do the latter. On some materials (looking at you, olive ash) that’s a pain in the fundament and I usually just horse the lathe around because I can’t manage it, but on this material it was very straightforward.

And that’s everything cleaned down and all set for finishing. I’m coming off the skew, so I’ll start with 800 grit dry-sanding and then I work up through the micromesh pads to 12000 grit (well, their 12000, whatever that translates to) wet-sanding all the way. I’m using micromesh because of the acrylic – if I used normal sandpaper here, it’d start to melt and smear if the heat built up and heat will build up on blanks like this very very quickly indeed if you’re not careful. 1-2 minutes wetsanding with the lathe running (less time as I go up the grades), then twice that sanding by hand with the lathe stopped along the grain to get rid of radial lines, then dry it off with a clean piece of paper towel with the lathe running and then on to the next grit; and for the last two grits, I clean the blank with isopropanol between pads. Then Yorkshire grit, and then Yorkshire grit microfine. And then two coats of melamine lacquer from a spraycan (the chestnut products one), denibbing with Yorkshire grit microfine after each coat. Then the resin polish (the stuff normally used on cars), and finally a single coat of microcrystalline wax.

And then as I was buffing the wax at high speed, I let the heat build up too much, the melamine lacquer wasn’t fully cured and grabbed the paper out of my hands and basically epoxied it to the blank.

After a bit of cursing, I got the paper off the surface, cursed a bit more, and went back to about 4000 grit on the micromesh pads and did the whole routine over again from there, but with more time on the yorkshire grit this time and with a lot more care on the final buffing pass for the wax πŸ˜€

Still though. Pretty.

Next up, assembly. And nearly destroying the thing. See, the photo on the website that I didn’t see was this one:

You see how you have five pieces there? Well, for shipping, they partially assemble the innards so you have four pieces, not five – the chrome endcap and clip go in their own bags, as does the inner brass tube, but the other end piece, the brass inset that the main mechanism screws into, that’s screwed onto the mechanism for shipping. What you should do is unscrew that, press it into the nib end of the pencil on its own, then screw in the mechanism. What I did was try to press in the entire mechanism – which did in fact set the nib endpiece in place, but which also pushed the clutch mechanism right up inside the pencil so it wouldn’t work, so I had to unscrew the mechanism, pull it all apart (in that photo above, that single mechanism bit with the spring is actually six parts all fitted together with interference fits), reassemble it, tweak the clutch slightly because I’d compressed it a bit too much, and refit everything. But luckily I hadn’t mangled it too badly and it fixed up nicely.

Looks nice in the sunshine, even if we didn’t have much of that today. Oddly looks darker in the lightbox, which should have more lumens. I wonder if the colour profile of the lights is just that much different from sunlight.

Feels nice in the hand, sketches well. I like it. I’m enjoying using it for sketching out an idea I’ve had for that padouk offcut Feinesholz threw into the box with the pen blanks as a challenge. I didn’t quite get the perfect mirror finish that Feinesholz’s model photo has, but they’re using a different material anyway (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). And while the imperfections show up under strong point light sources like in the lightbox or up close to a lamp, you do have to be looking for them and even then they’re more minor things to bug me than they are real flaws that affect using it. I’m starting to think I can make these things well enough that that whole idea of making a piece and selling it to offset the cost of the wood is an actual runner. I might try that later…