My Penmaker’s Workshop

My Penmaker’s Workshop

By Lynn Vanderpool

I stumbled on to pen making seven years ago, while scouring
through my husband Jerry’s woodworking
magazines and catalogs,
looking for a special Christmas gift
for him. I came across a mini lathe
that was advertised as the perfect
tool for making custom pens … and I
knew I was hooked.

I envisioned myself sitting at a little
student-sized workbench with my
new mini lathe, diligently working
away on tiny projects. I ordered the
lathe and lobbied Jerry for space in
his basement workshop, assuring
him that I would only need a teeny
bit of room. I had no woodworking
experience, so I bought some books
about turning pens. When my lathe
arrived, Jerry showed me how to
hold a gouge and a skew.

As my interest in pen turning grew, my notion of adequate space
changed. Jerry and I now share the
basement, with my area having grown
into a full-fledged 12′ x 12′ pen turning
shop. It accommodates everything
I need to make a pen—a large 8′
workbench and four other smaller
work surfaces, 24 drawers and 18 cabinets.
Jerry custom-built them all for
me—a great reward for all those years
of woodworking-oriented Christmas
presents!

The workbenches, shelves and cabinets
support the scaled-down tools
of my “five inch” turning trade: three
mini lathes, a mini drill press, a mini
disk sander, a mini shaper (for the pen
boxes), a mini air filter, a mini metal
cut-off saw (for the brass tubes), a mini
duplicator, mini air compressors and a
mini vacuum. Following my theme of
small-scale tools, I cut my pen blanks
to length with a fine-cut power handsaw,
instead of a using a miter saw. In
fact, the only full-size tools in my area
are my turning tools.

In addition to pens, I now make a
host of other five inch projects,
including letter openers, wine bottle
stoppers, fishing lures and game
calls. These small projects don’t
throw a lot of sawdust around, so my
shop is easy to keep clean and neat. I
store my respirators, face protection,
project hardware, bits, calipers, rulers,
files, glues, gloves, and sanding and
finishing supplies inside cabinets and
drawers, where they stay dust free
and easily accessible.

My projects don’t require a lot of
material (I can get up to 12 blanks
out of a small piece of turning stock),
so storage space isn’t an issue. I’ve
accumulated over a hundred different
local and exotic hardwood turning
blanks. I study books and articles
about their origins and the legends
that surround some of them, and
wherever Jerry and I go, I watch for
anecdotes about how they have
been or are being used. I write that
information on cards that accompany
my pens. I get teased about the 144
square feet of space that I “need” to
make a pen, but sharing woodworking
with Jerry is one of the high
points of our 40 years together.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker June/July 2009, issue #142.

Purchase this back issue.

Click any image to view a larger version.

My husband, Jerry, built the cabinets and helped me set up my 12’ x 12’ shop. All of my power tools are scaled for making pens and other small projects, such as fishing lures, wine bottle stoppers and game calls.

I store all of my pen-turning
blanks in a special cabinet. The
variety of colors and grain patterns
is amazing, and I love the
symmetry of these little stacks
of wood.