Drilling Pen Blanks...the ToolPost way.

Accurate drilling every time. No pillar drill. No special jaws. No jigs.
Your lathe is the most accurate drilling machine you own. It has its own built in references for repetitive accuracy and is by design a parallel system - so use it as such.
After all too many conversations on the matter and trying to resolve issues with Pen Jaw users, we felt it was time to share the simple, quick and accurate methods we use for drilling pen blanks.
With a bit of common sense and an understanding of what you’re doing, this is a safe and effective process. As with all work on the lathe, only do so if you are comfortable, proficient and operating within your safe knowledge.

1) Mount a drill chuck in the headstock spindle of your lathe and fit this with the correct sized drill bit for the pen mechanism. (Note this is going into the powered spindle of your lathe, NOT the tailstock).

2) Put a live (rotating) centre in the tailstock of your lathe. This must be sufficiently large that the cone will sit and centre in the hole that you plan to drill in the blank – a standard centre used in any sensible size of pen blank (hole up to 1” in diameter!) will meet this criterion.

3) Mark the centres in the two ends of your pen bank using an awl or other pointed tool to create a little divot.

4) Put your pen blank between the centres of your lathe – the centre mark needs to sit on the point of the drill at the spindle end and the other should sit on the live centre point at the tailstock end.

5) Apply gentle tailstock pressure to the blank to ensure that it is captive between the two centres.

6) Ensuring that the lathe is set to run at its slowest speed and standing clear of the firing line (as always, when starting the lathe) start the lathe. The blank should rotate with the drill point acting as a drive centre.

7) Bring your LEFT hand UP from UNDERNEATH the blank with the palm fully open (fingers down out of the way) and gently bring the palm of your hand up to the blank and grip it so that it no longer rotates. If, at any stage, the timber jams on the drill (which will mean you have not cleared the shavings sufficiently! see below) then LET GO of the blank and allow it to rotate with the drill.

8) The drill will start to make a hole. Now wind the tailstock quill in so that the blank is pressed onto the drill. After each movement of about half an inch (15 mm) unwind the tailstock quill to free the shavings out of the hole you’ve created. (As you unwind the tailstock, pull the blank back towards the tailstock so that it remains centred on the centre mark in the blank and pulls off the drill bit. Once the shavings have cleared, resume the operation. Remember, if the blank jams on the drill, LET GO!!! (For the record, I don't ever recall this being a problem - if you release the shavings.)

9) Continue until you have drilled about half way through the blank and then withdraw the blank from the drill completely and switch the lathe off. (NB: If you are drilling pen blanks, you can make life easier by cutting them close to final length, halving them if that’s what the design calls for, before drilling.)

10) Now remove the blank from the lathe and turn it end for end so that the hole you’ve just drilled is sitting on the live tail centre and the centre mark that was on the live centre end is now resting on the drill point.

11) Repeat the process you just used to drill the first half of the hole to drill the second half. The hole will – as if by magic – meet up precisely in the middle of the blank. Don’t forget to release the shavings as you proceed.

12) Pat yourself on the back and have a cup of tea.

If you’ve followed these steps, you will quickly see that all the issues of alignment and mounting are negated by simply embracing the basic facility which your lathe has always provided.
Now enjoy that cup of tea!

We stock the full range of Planet Manufacturing Pen Kits, so if you’re looking for your next project, give us a call - 01235 511101