Which Lathe is the Best for Pen Turning?

Ok. If you are new to pen turning you have probably asked yourself or someone else “What is the best lathe for pen turning?”  The answer differs depending on who you ask. The reason why is because most lathes are not specifically made to make “only pens”, but have features that enable you to make MORE than just pens.  Not everyone who makes pens only make pens; they make other things like bowls and canes, etc.  That can color their feedback as well.  Also, there are other factors that can go into this decision that may pull you towards different lathes. Factors, such as:

Are you making only pens?

How efficient do you want to be?

Do you want to make lots of money?

If so, how much and how soon after you buy your lathe?

And lastly, how much are you willing to pay for a lathe?

Based on these factors, which will be different for everyone, the best lathe will differ from person to person.  Some pen turners even have more than 1 or 2 lathes.  You might end up getting a recommendation for 20 lathes!  A lathe is a fairly simple tool and if you get one home that works, chances are it will be good enough to make pens.  That is why there are so many that people recommend.  The basic operation of a lathe is this: a spindle on the left-hand side is turned by a motor connected by a belt.  You attach your project to the spindle and hold it in place with the tail stock on the right-hand side.  After that, you are ready to use whatever tools necessary for your project.  That’s it!  If you are considering getting these brands, they are all great pen turning lathes: JET, Rikon, Grizzly, Shop Fox, Harbor Freight, Rockler’s Excelsior, Nova Comet II, Turnmaster, etc.

I will give you my own recommendation.  My recommendation to you if you are just starting out is to get the cheapest one you can find.  Why?  Because you don’t need to invest a ton of money in this hobby right off the bat, and you can always get an upgrade later.  Then you can use your first lathe as a finishing/sanding or buffing lathe (you can never have too many lathes.  Unless you get to 7.  7 lathes is too many!)  So, for example, get the very inexpensive lathe from Harbor Freight first.  With a 20% off coupon, you can get this for around $100 during the holidays.  After a year or so when you’ve fine tuned your technique and made some money off your pens, you can upgrade to pretty much any lathe you want.  You will have been using a lathe that basically has no added features so you will know exactly what is needed to make pens.  Then, you can shop around for a better lathe.

For the higher priced lathes, at this stage, you are mainly paying for added features such as variable speed, work light, forward and reverse functionality, added tool holders, ease of belt changes, etc.  Nothing that is specifically needed for pen turning, but things you will definitely find convenient after using a lathe that has none of these options for a year.  You will then be able to gauge the importance of each of these new features and will be able to make a better and wiser decision than if you wanted to get the perfect lathe the first time.

Another piece of advice is to take advantage of the holiday specials.  You can sometimes get the same thing for cheaper and with bonus accessories for free saving nearly 50%!  For example, in 2016 I went to Rockler and bought their Excelsior lathe. It usually costs $299.99 reg. price.  It was only $250 during the holidays but it also came with Rockler’s 3-Piece Mini Carbide Tool Set for free, which retails for $199.99.  If I had paid retail for those items during the year I would have paid $299 + $199 = $499.98.  Instead, it was a package deal for only $250.  See the value in waiting?

I asked the Pen Turning group page on Facebook which lathes everyone used and I’ll share the results here.  This is not a comprehensive list of the only good lathes for pen turning, just the most commonly used ones.  I will list the lathe, then share the number of people who responded that use that lathe.

                Lathe                 # of Members

  1. Nova Commet II                                     26
  2. Jet 1221-vs                                              24
  3. Rikon 220-VSR                                        10
  4. Turncrafter Commander                      8
  5. Jet 1220                                                    8
  6. Jet1014vs                                                 5
  7. Delta 46-460                                            5
  8. Harbor Freight Lathe                            4
  9. Jet 1015vs                                                4
  10. Rockler Excelsior                                    3

>>Click here to Shop for lathes on Amazon<<

So now you have my recommendation, and you know what others are using to make pens.  I wish you the best of luck and I will see you all later.  Please let me know if you take my advice or if you have anything to add here.  Also, if you feel like I am wrong about something please let me know.  Happy turning!

Mercury Adhesives: Why This Brand is So Popular

     If you’ve spent any time at all in the Pen Turning group on Facebook, chances are you’ve run across somebody posting something about Mercury CA glue by Mercury Adhesives.  I’ve only been a member there for about a year and I can tell that for the majority of its members, Mercury CA is their “go-to” CA glue.

     In this post, I will:

  1.  Cover the basics of Mercury products
  2.  Explain what makes them different and/or better, and
  3.  Tell you where you can get some

     Before we get to these points, though, I want to say “thank you” to Robert Kulp, one of the leading sources for Mercury Product information on the Pen Turning group page.  He has given me a simple to understand breakdown of their product line and I am humbled to be able to share it with you.

Now, let’s get down to it!

Point #1. The Basics of Mercury Products

     Mercury Adhesives products are scientifically engineered specifically for the R/C (Remote Control) industry. It is designed to meet the exact needs of someone who owns a remote controlled car, airplane, Millenium Falcon, etc. Their products are made to bond the R/C unit’s materials together better than any other CA glue in the industry. They will help you build a new model or fix a broken, or “crashed”, one.

     Since the brand was not originally created for pen turners, they offer some other products that we would not normally use while making pens, such as thread locker. Even so, we will take a closer look at only the products that will come in handy for the pen turner, i.e. their CA glue.

     Mercury Adhesives has three primary lines of CA glue:

  1. Original -Thin, Medium, and Thick
  2. Flex – Thin and Medium
  3. Odorless – Thin/Medium and Thick

         As a comparison with BSI, Mercury’s Original is similar to BSI Insta-Cure and Insta-Cure+. Mercury’s Odorless is similar to BSI Super-Gold and Super-Gold+, but Mercury’s Flex is unique.

The Original: M5T, M300M, & M1100G

The purest and is what most people refer to as standard or regular CA. If you click these images you can view more details in Amazon.

The Flex: M20FT and M300FM

The new product that was designed for pen turning and woodworking. It has a longer open time and isn’t brittle like other brands. When dropped, your pen will not crack, but may dent, which is a lot less noticeable.

The Odorless: M100F and M1000F

Non-allergenic and doesn’t produce any odors or vapors. You won’t have to worry about passing out when you apply this glue to your pen when finishing. The thin viscosity is 100 cps and is a cross between thin & medium.

Point #2. What makes Mercury better than the others?

     Mercury Adhesive products have many features that make them stand out among the other brands. I am not getting paid to say this, by the way, I just happened to spend a couple hours on their website researching for this post. I am just going to “copy and paste” these features directly from their website and everything between ()’s is my personal comment:

“1. 99.9% Pure CA

Less fillers means more glue in every drop to bond faster, stronger & longer. (Less is more with these products. One little drop contains more than the other brands. You will end up using less product for superior results and ultimately save money AND frustration!)

2. Non-Toxic

All our adhesives are medical grade quality and scientifically engineered to minimize fumes & odors.  (Each product, however, has its own MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet). Basically, you can look on their website and read on what to do if you accidentally glue your fingers together, or to something else, or get some in your eye, etc.)  

3. Guaranteed Fresh

We never bottle old glue and our innovative cap design guarantees your glue will last longer than any other CA. (They have several videos of woodworkers and other crafters using Mercury bottles and comparing them with other bottles for the same work. After a certain amount of time has passed, the mercury bottle tips are still completely free while others are “clogged” with glue. No clog means no pliers to unscrew glued-on cap.

4. Made in the USA

Using only the highest quality ingredients and manufacturing processes, all our adhesives are made and bottled in the USA.”

     I have to say that I am impressed with Mercury now that I am informed about what it is that makes them different.  I don’t use their products yet since I just recently started thinking about switching, and I’m not making as many pens as I used to. But as soon as I get enough $ from my S’mores App (an advertising and survey android app that gives you $0.10 each day you have it installed on your phone) I know what I’m going to be buying: Medium Flex M300FM.


Point #3: Where can you get Mercury Products?

   There are several pen turning supply businesses that sell Mercury products.






…to name a few.  All of these sites are run by members in the Pen Turning group on Facebook and you will be helping out their businesses by purchasing from them. Also, the pictures I have linked above are my affiliate links with Amazon and I will get a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you go through those links and buy off Amazon. Either way, you are supporting your fellow pen turners and helping grow this fabulous hobby.  Thanks in advance for reading this and for all your support and I hope you learned just as much great stuff as I did.


A Pen Turner’s Best Friend: the IAP Bushing and Tube Dimensions Chart

About once a week someone in the Pen Turning group on Facebook asks if there is a list of kits, tubes, bushings, etc. Something that they can refer to when they need help with a specific kit.  Most people ask, I have noticed, because they find similarities between certain kits.

Take the Wall Street II pen kit from Woodcraft, for example.  Take a good look…


Now take a look at the Manhatten from Rockler.  Do you see any similarities?



Of course, you do.  They’re the same thing!  Actually, there are more than a few kits sold at different retailers with different names that are, for all intents and purposes, the same thing!  Furthermore, Woodcraft has a Wall Street, Wall Street II, and even a Wall Street III.  All of which have slightly different dimensions and therefore require different accessories to make them; replacement tubes and bushings, for example.  Needless to say, when dealing with different kits that are so similar, it can get a little confusing.  You will see Wall Street, Manhattan, Sierra, Gatsby and you may say to yourself, “Well, what’s the difference? Are they all the same thing? Help!”

     Well, you’re in luck!  Over at penturners.org, or IAP (International Association of Penturners) you can hear a small voice saying, “I’m Wayne. I’m here to rescue you.”  At an attempt to avoid any confusion about this pen kit issue, Wayne has put together a “Bushing and Tube Dimensions” chart. It is a comprehensive pen kit list that includes the major and minor suppliers (Rockler, PSI, Woodcraft, Smittys, and more) and each of their pen kits with the specifications listed below:

  1. Category and Size
  2. Kit Style
  3. Replacement Tubes (by model number)
  4. Bushings (also by model number)
  5. Drill bit needed for tube (upper and lower)
  6. Dimensions of tube (upper and lower)
  7. and Dimensions of the bushings (upper and lower)

Here is a preview of what it looks like on penturners.org. They are sorted by the supplier in alphabetical order.

Screenshot (34).png

This amazing guide will answer any question you have about these kits like:

  • “What size tube does this kit have?”


  • “What bushings do I need for this kit?”

You can also see for yourself EXACTLY what the difference between all the “similar” kits is.  There are several downloadable pdf. files.  Wayne has created one for each supplier as well as one for ALL suppliers. Click IAP Pen Tube and Dimensions Chart to view this tool in our “Resources” page.

Along with the downloadable pdf. files, there is also a phone app for iPhone and Android users for only $.99, a small price to pay for such a helpful tool.  The app contains the same information as the pdf. but also has a few features that make it really awesome such as,

  1. It is sortable- you can sort the information however you like; by supplier, by kit, by accessories, etc.
  2. It contains a drill bit converter for converting between inch fractional, inch decimal, metric and gauge drill sizes
  3. A 30-digit, 4-function calculator.  It has several advanced features not found in many simple calculators including a memory cell and the ability to display data in decimal or scientific notation.
  4. Photos
  5. Instructions and Bushing Drawings are available for some of the kits
  6. And lastly, the app will automatically download database updates and the kit reference files from the IAP server.

Needless to say, this resource, whether you use the app or the pdf. file, can help you stay organized and accurate; 2 things that can help you be successful in making your pens.

I want to give a huge shout out to Wayne from IAP. Thank you, Wayne, for allowing me to post this information and I hope we all will find it very helpful.  I know it has helped a lot of people so far including myself.  To everyone reading this, please go to penturners.org and join in on all the cool stuff that’s going on there.  There are forums, contests, and much, much more!

You can also purchase the iPhone app for this resource by clicking here. Or you can just view the Apple App User Guide

Thank you all for visiting this site and for reading this.  Let me know below how this reference tool has helped you.


IAP Pen Tube and Dimensions Charts

IAP Pen Tube and Dimensions Chart Apple App User Guide

Neat, Clean, and Straight: Why Keeping Your Shop Tidy is a “Must”

     I work at Costco full time and we have a knack for keeping things “Neat, Clean, and Straight”.  Not only does it look great when things are that way, but you can find and get to things easier, it’s safer, and you can be more efficient.


     In the shop, it shouldn’t be any different.


     Your work area needs to:

1. Look good (if not for yourself then at least to impress your friends)

2. Be safe to work in, especially when you are working with tools or machines

3. Allow you to be efficient. Let’s face it; the more you can knock out in an hour, the better it is for business.

     Your chances are best when you keep things “neat, clean, and straight”.  Here’s a “Before and After” of a workshop. Which one would you rather do your work in?


     Of course, not everyone can build cabinets like this, but I think you get the idea. Heck, you can even go to garage sales or ReStore: Habitat for Humanity and pick up some cabinets. I’ve even found some on the side of the road with a “FREE” sign on them.  You can pick those up and then just stick a solid-core door slab on top and call it good.

     It’s important to keep your work area Neat, Clean, and Straight, but if you want to get more detailed about your tools and keeping them organized, there’s a great post by Solving Citizen, on a system that does exactly that.  It’s called 5S (Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain).  This system is a perfect way to help maintain order in your shop. Your shop will be the cleanest and the fastest hunk of junk on the block!



Here are some more photos that will hopefully inspire you to tidy up your shop!



Thank you for reading and I’ll catch ya later!


Help for Pen Turners

     Hello. My name is Dustin Barbee and welcome to Pen Turning Help. This site is inspired by and dedicated to the wonderful community of pen turners in the Pen Turning group on Facebook.  You all have created such an awesome community that I cannot help but try and do my part to contribute to the brotherhood I feel so a part of.  I am blessed to call you my friends. If you turn pens and you are NOT a member of the group, please click here to join.

Pen Turning Help is dedicated to providing help for pen turners around the galaxy. If you have questions about turning your pens or need help on a certain issue, then hopefully you will find what you are looking for here. I will try to provide helpful content such as:

Product Reviews

Questions and Answers

Tips and Tricks



Any other content you may find useful

I’m not sure what I will talk about in the next post but that’s ok; I’ve got a few ideas in mind.  Please let me know if you have anything you’d like me to discuss here and I’ll try and post some useful information about it.  If you have any ideas or questions, please click here to contact me and maybe you can help guide this site in a direction that will be the most beneficial.  You can also email me personally at dustin.barbee@yahoo.com.  I will try and have something posted every 2 weeks. I am doing this fairly part time so I won’t be cranking stuff out as much as other websites.

Well, there ya go.  Thanks again for visiting and remember to tell me what topic you wanna talk about for next time. Until then, peace out!