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Here’s a 20-minute video of the entire pen-making process — everything from selecting the wood to preparing the blanks, through to turning the pen on the lathe, finishing it to a shine, and assembling it. Virtually none of the process has been left out of this video, so it should give you a good idea of what’s involved in the process.

There’s a scene index after the video on this page.

Handmade pen featured in video

Handmade pen featured in video

In the video I’m working on three different pens, but I’ve edited out the work I did on the other two pens. Here’s a picture of the pen featured in the video. I traded with a friend for some custom artwork. 🙂

  • 00:03 Setup and preparing the blanks
  • 00:57 Power on!
  • 01:05 Drilling the blanks
  • 02:35 Sanding and inserting brass tubes
  • 03:36 Trimming the blanks
  • 04:42 Mounting the blanks onto the lathe
  • 05:15 Rough turning
  • 07:25 Detail turning
  • 08:28 Sanding and finish coat #1
  • 10:41 Sanding and finish coat #2
  • 11:56 Sanding and finish coat #3
  • 13:24 Final sanding and coarse polish
  • 15:30 Final polish
  • 16:24 Removing the work from the lathe
  • 16:57 Getting ready to assemble
  • 17:30 Assembly

Okay, let’s get some parenting concerns out of the way first: I believe that a rubber band gun is probably one of the safest ways to teach a kid a bit about gun safety, partly because it actually shoots something that can sting. It’s a good excuse to explain that bringing a weapon (even a toy one) to school will likely get him kicked out, and it’s also a good way to learn how to be conscious of where it’s pointing — loaded or not. Plus it’s fun for target practice.

That said, here’s a single-shooter rubber band gun that we threw together today using scrap wood. The rubber band is loaded from the front onto the top of the trigger lever, which is also the rear sight. It’s alarmingly accurate; I can hit a quarter-sized bull’s eye from across the room.

(Click on the pictures to view larger versions.)

Rubber Band Gun

Rubber Band Gun

It started off as a bamboo flooring plank cut-off, but it wasn’t very accurate or attractive. It was also very difficult to hold and aim.

Rubber Band Gun Loaded

Rubber Band Gun Loaded

The blue rubber band provides enough tension to hold the trigger in place when loaded. The trigger lever pivots on a brad nail inside of the groove. It took some chisel work to get the slot just right.

Rubber Band Gun Trigger Mechanism

Rubber Band Gun Trigger Mechanism

Here are a few pens that I made for Christmas gifts this year. (I can post them now because everyone’s received them!) Click the image for a larger view.

From left to right, there are two pens turned from holly, then one each from red oak, bloodwood, canarywood, zebrawood, and padauk. The red oak pen was turned from part of a rafter that was cut out of my brother-in-law’s former home in order to make room for an addition. The hardware is either gold, gun metal, or chrome. I have a few more made from rapala lacewood, marblewood, and yew, and I’ll try to post those later.

Turned Wooden Pens

Turned Wooden Pens

Here’s a video that explains how to use the custom branding irons to burn your brand on woodworking projects. The branding irons were originally described in A $6 Custom Branding Iron, and there is a tutorial at Making the $6 Branding Iron, Step-by-Step.

Here’s a spice rack I made to fit on the back of a cabinet door. It really cleans up the spice cabinet, and makes the individual jars a lot easier to find. I had to notch the shelves out a bit in order to make it fit, and it’s built to fit spice jars from Penzeys, which are a pretty standard size.

It’s a little less fancy that the Poplar and Walnut Spice Rack that I made as a gift a few years ago because it’s not intended to be displayed out in the open. It was made almost entirely from recycled maple wainscoting.

Maple spice rack

The maple spice rack mounted on the back of a cabinet door

The shelves are fixed. The fronts are high enough that they will stop the jars from tipping over if the door is slammed, but not so high that they block the name of the spice. The shelves are spaced far enough apart that the jars can be removed by tipping them forward.

Maple spice rack detail

A detail view of one of the shelves

To add the band, I used the $7.40 branding iron that I described in the A $6 Custom Branding Iron post.

The brand on the side of the spice rack

The brand on the side of the spice rack

In the A $6 Custom Branding Iron post, I showed off a branding iron I had “printed” in stainless steel by Shapeways.com for US$6, after using the free vector image editor Inkscape, and parametric modeling software Alibre Design, which also has a free version called Alibre Design Xpress.

This tutorial requires a working knowledge of Alibre Design (or other 3D parametric modeling software) and Inkscape (or other vector graphics editing software).

$6 branding iron

$6 branding iron

Here are the steps I took to make it happen: (I’ll add more detail over time.)

  • Design in Inkscape
    1. Convert all text objects to paths (Path > Object to path)
    2. Convert all stroked lines to paths (Path > Stroke to path)
    3. Ungroup all objects
    4. Union all objects (Path > Union)
    5. Select object
    6. Save As… Type Desktop Cutting Plotter (R13) (*.dfx) – Output will be in mm
  • Import into Alibre Design (File > Import, type DXF)
    1. Select mm for file units
    2. (It imports into a drawing)
    3. Select everything and Explode (Edit > Explode Symbol)
    4. Activate the sketch
    5. Analyze (Sketch > Analyze…)
    6. Heal all problems
    7. While activated, select the figures
  • Copy to a Alibre Design Part
    1. Open a new part
    2. Activate a design plane and Paste (the figure may appear far from center)
    3. Select the curves, shift-left-click to drag to better location
  • Model the branding iron
    1. Extrude sketch 1.25mm — this is the depth of the brand.
    2. Select *top* face and insert a plane. (right-click > Insert Plane…)
    3. Select the new plane, Project to Sketch (if necessary), to create a foundation for the brand.
    4. Extrude 2mm for foundation
    5. Insert another plane on the back of the foundation
    6. Extrude a mounting hole, 4.9mm is 0.1375mm larger than 3/16″
    7. Cut a set screw hole in an accessible location if necessary. 3.048mm is 0.12″, the tap size for #6-40 set screw.
  • Export & Upload
    1. Export as *.STL file
    2. Upload to Shapeways.com
    3. Order in stainless steel
  • Finish
    1. Tap the mounting flange for a 10-32 screw
    2. Thread a 3/8″ steel rod with 10-32 die or use a 10-32 screw
    3. Build a handle
    4. Sand down the surface of the branding iron to make it nice and flat

Some woodworkers like to leave their mark on their work using a branding iron, but at roughly $190 per iron, it can really be quite an investment. I took a less expensive route, using some free software, and a genius 3D printing service  called Shapeways.com.

I started by drawing up a couple of logo ideas in Inkscape, a free vector graphics application. I exported by design from Inkscape and imported it into Alibre Design, which is a fantastic parametric 3D modeling application that happens to be available for free in a feature-limited version. Once I was satisfied with the 3D model, I exported again, uploaded the file to Shapeways, and “printed” it in stainless steel. The total cost for the “AF” design was $6, and only $7.40 for the larger name logo.

I tapped the back of the iron and threaded a short section of 3/16″ steel rod, and inserted it into a little handle that I turned out of some scrap cherry. After a couple of test burns, I was pretty happy with the result. Next I’ll try sanding it down a bit to see if I can make it even cleaner.

Update: I’ve added a step-by-step tutorial on how I made these: Making the $6 Branding Iron, Step-by-Step. There’s also a video on how to use it here: Using the Custom Branding Irons.

I picked up several of these scoop kits at Rockler a couple weeks ago to use as Christmas gifts. I used bubinga and sugar maple, and finished it with tung oil. This handle feels the best so far — both forehand and backhand — so I think this one might stay with me! 🙂


Here’s a great little online app that will test how good you are at “eyeballing” different measurements. Drag a point or line around to make simple geometric figures. After eyeballing seven different ones three times each, you’ll get a score and a chart that compares you against other test-takers.

Very cool. Check it out here: http://woodgears.ca/eyeball/

Every time I opened our entry closet I wanted to scream. I’ve been wanting to re-do it for a long time, and I finally bit the bullet and did it.

Coats, which we accessed most, were often pushed back in the cubbies behind the walls, and the rickety wire shelving in the middle held a bunch of stuff that we hardly ever accessed. So I moved the shelves to the sides, and the hanger rods in the middle. If we need extra hanging space now, we can just take out a couple shelves.

Next comes some paint, a shoe rack, and an umbrella holder. Plus I want to wire up an LED light “fixture” to a reed switch so that the lights come on when you open it up. We’ll see how that one goes…

Before and after: (Click for larger views.)

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