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Turning and Finishing Between Centers

Benefits of Turning and Finishing Pens Between Centers
Without a doubt, one of the best things you can do to improve your CA pen finish is to turn and finish your pens between centers. The benefits of this setup are numerous. Let’s take a look at a few:

1. Perfectly round pens
When you turn your pens between centers, you will virtually eliminate any wobble in the pen blank as it spins on the lathe. Pen mandrels can also be used very successfully to turn pens if you take necessary steps to make sure they are running true. By learning how to get the best performance out of your mandrel you can achieve very acceptable results. Having said that, the very best way to get perfectly round pen is to turn between centers.

2. Better finishes
You will get a better CA finish when you turn between centers for several reasons. First, you will eliminate out-of-round which means that you will be sanding more evenly. Read a more detailed explanation of out-of-round and the effect it has on your CA finish here.

Another reason you will get better finishes is that you will be able to apply CA without having standard bushings right up next to the pen barrel. You have probably experienced the frustration of doing a CA finish and then trying to separate the bushing from the pen barrel. More times than not, the CA chips or cracks right at the union of the bushing and the barrel. To combat this, you have to try to cut a line between the two before separation. This can also be very frustrating. But when you finish between centers, there will be a definite “step down” from the wood to the metal center because the center is cone-shaped. So when you complete the CA finish, you simply have to pull the barrel away from the center, and you will never have trouble with chipping on the ends of your barrels again.

3. Quick pen barrel mounting and removal

When you turn and finish pens on a mandrel, mounting and removing the pens from the lathe can be a bit time-consuming. If you turn alot of pens, time becomes very important. But mount between centers, all you have to do is slide the tailstock back and the barrel is instantly loose. Reverse the process and the barrel is mounted and ready to turn. You can literally mount or remove a pen barrel in 1-2 seconds! Time is money!

What you need to turn between centers
All you need to start turning pens between centers is a dead center and a live center. Both of these centers need to have 60 degree tapers on them. The dead center is a solid piece of metal that will go in the headstock of the lathe and drive the pen barrel. The live center has ball bearings that allow it rotate as the pen barrel turns.

To turn a pen between centers, it is best to use the bushings that fit the pen kit you are using. The cone-shaped tip of the live and dead centers will be fitted into the holes in the bushings, pinning the pen barrel between them. You can turn without bushings but the friction required to keep the barrel from spinning as you turn can wear down the inside edges of the brass tube.

Once the pen is turned down to the bushings, you can remove the bushing and insert the tips of the centers into the ends of the pen tube and again pin the barrel between them. Then you can proceed with the finishing process.

I will try to put up some pictures and a much better description of the process of turning pens between centers soon.

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