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Pen Turning Mandrels

A pen turning mandrel is a tool used on a lathe that provides a stable base on which to turn a pen. The pen barrel is mounted onto the mandrel between bushings which provide a guide to the profile of the pen. A pen mandrel is an essential tool and is required for turning pens on a lathe.

When choosing a mandrel, the most important consideration is to make sure you get a mandrel that will fit your lathe, either using the morse taper fitting on the inside of your lathe spindle or one that screws onto the spindle and has the same thread as the spindle of your lathe.

There are several types of pen mandrels available and your choice of pen mandrel should be based on the type of pen you wish to make and the quality of the finish that you want to achieve. The different types of pen turning mandrels are outlined below.

Mandrels for turning standard pens

Basic pen mandrel

The basic pen mandrel is the most affordable option for getting started in pen making and comprises a morse taper fitting and shaft that have been pressed together. This mandrel can be used straight out of the box and requires no adjustment. The mandrel is long enough to hold two pen barrels simultaneously, either for turning a double-barrel pen or for turning two single-barrel pens concurrently.

A mandrel saver live centre may be used together with the basic pen mandrel to make turning easier and to prolong the life of the mandrel shaft. The mandrel saver live centre is described in more detail below.

Adjustable pen mandrel

The adjustable pen mandrel has the same basic construction as the basic pen mandrel, with the key difference being that the shaft is not fixed to the morse taper fitting, but is held by a collet that grips the mandrel when the nut is tightened. This offers several advantages:

  • The length of the mandrel shaft can be adjusted to precisely the length required to turn your chosen pen using the adjustment nut.
  • When turning a pen, it is preferable to use the shortest possible mandrel shaft as this reduces the chances of any bend in the mandrel shaft through the pressure of the turning tool, which can result in the final turned barrel becoming slightly oval in shape.
  • The mandrel shaft can be replaced if necessary without having to replace the whole mandrel - this is usually more cost effective. If you use your pen mandrel frequently, it may become worn or bent over time and the ability to replace only the shaft will save you money in the long run, even though the initial cost of the adjustable pen mandrel is higher than the basic pen mandrel.

A mandrel saver live centre may be used together with the adjustable pen mandrel to make turning easier and to prolong the life of the mandrel shaft. The mandrel saver live centre is described in more detail below.

Turning Between Centres pen mandrel

A Turning Between Centres pen mandrel is a revolutionary new pen mandrel design that will work with the same pen bushings as used on the basic pen mandrel or adjustable pen mandrel. Its key distinguishing feature is that it does not have a shaft. This mandrel consists of a drive centre that fits into your lathe spindle's morse taper and a live centre that fits into the tailstock morse taper. The drive centre and live centre both have a seat onto which the bushings fit, which looks something like a short mandrel shaft. These seats do not meet or join when the pen barrel is being turned, resulting in the pen being turned-between-centres in the same way as other spindle turning items that do not use a mandrel.

The main advantage that a turning-between-centres pen mandrel provides over conventional pen mandrels is that it has no shaft (which can bend over time) and the turned pen will therefore always be perfectly round. The results are therefore unmatched.

In addition, no parts of this mandrel will ever require replacement (since there is no shaft), so it may work out to be the most cost effective option in the long term.

However, the barrels of a double-barrel pen must be turned individually which may take longer than on a conventional pen mandrel.

Grabber Pen Mandrels

Grabber pen mandrels are used for turning closed-end pens - these are pens that do not have a gold (or other plated) pen cap, but are closed at the back, being turned completely out of the wood or other material used to make the pen.

The grabber mandrel has a similar construction to the adjustable pen mandrel as it has a shaft and morse taper fitting. However, the shaft is threaded and a rubber tube is placed over the thread. An end-bushing is fitted to the tail end of the shaft and this holds the rubber tube on the shaft.

The barrel of the pen to be turned is placed over the end-bushing and the rubber tube on the mandrel shaft.

Behind the morse taper fitting there is a nut that is used to pull the shaft through the mandrel causing the rubber tube to expand and grip the barrel of the pen to be turned. This gripping action makes it possible for the closed end of the pen to be turned and finished without the necessity for a pen cap to be pressed into the back end of the pen, creating an attractive looking pen that has more wood (or other material ) than the conventional pen types.

Project Mandrels

Many other turning projects (such as keyrings and letter openers) are also turned using pen mandrels (both conventional and grabber mandrels), making the pen mandrel versatile.

Some turning projects may require their own specially designed mandrels.

Mandrel Accessories

Mandrel Saver Live Centre

The mandrel saver live centre is a specially designed live centre that has a 6.2mm hole through its centre that slides neatly over the mandrel shaft and steadies the shaft whilst turning the pen. The mandrel saver live centre is tightened onto the pen bushings to grip the pen barrel without putting any pressure on the mandrel shaft. This action prolongs the life of the mandrel shaft when compared to the use of the knurled brass nut to grip the bushing, with the point of the live centre pressing into the end of the mandrel shaft.

When using the knurled brass nut to hold the pen barrel, any overtightening of the tailstock with the point live centre puts the mandrel shaft itself under significant pressure and can cause it to bow. This bowing of the mandrel shaft will cause a type of off-centre turning and produce pen barrels that are not completely cylindrical in shape (ie slightly oval).

The mandrel saver live centre removes all pressure from the shaft since the shaft itself is free in the centre of the mandrel saver. The life of the mandrel shaft will therefore be prolonged and the pens turned using this specialised live centre are likely to be superior to those turned using the knurled brass nut to grip the pen barrel.