February 2017



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The Pen Turner's Corner: Closed-End Pens

Turning closed-end pens is usually one of the steps one takes to start getting away from strictly kit pens. Closed-end pens are one way to start modifying kits to make them a bit more unique.

The closed-end pen above was made by Anthony Turchetta.

 A closed-end pen is usually made from those pens that have caps such as the Junior Gentleman or Junior Statesman from Craft Supplies USA (http://www.woodturnerscatalog.com)  or the baron from Arizona Silhouette (http://www.arizonasilhouette.com). There are several other pen kits with caps and all of them are good candidates for close- end pens. Even the slimline can have the top half turned closed-end and made into a unique style or a desk pen.

A closed-end pen is a pen with no terminal hardware on the outside end of either the barrel or the cap, or both.


Figure 1: A double closed-end pen: closed end on both the barrel and the cap.

Closed-end pens have been very popular on the various penturning forums for several years. The challenge of making them lies in holding a pen blank with a blind hole since using a standard mandrel as it is designed to be used will not work. A blind hole does not go completely through the pen blank. Using a standard mandrel will not work since the mandrel, used as intended, has to pass through the pen blank and the blank is held in place by bushings and a brass nut. Making a closed-end pen requires the mandrel to go into the pen blank but not completely through it. I will show several ways to hold the pen blank to make a closed-end pen. These pens have become so popular that one of our suppliers is selling a specialty mandrel for turning closed-end pens. More information on these “expanding” closed-end pen mandrels will come later.

One draw back to using a special mandrel for making closed-end pens is the requirement to have a mandrel for each size of brass tube. Some mandrels are tube size specific, but there is one that works with several tube sizes. True, several pen kits use the same size tube, but even more don’t. I didn’t actually do extensive research but I would guess that it would be necessary to have close to 15 pin chucks or expanding chucks to be able to turn any kits as closed end pens. That gets expensive! Selecting kits that use the same size tubes might allow four or five different kits to be made as closed-end pens using only two or three closed-end pen mandrels. This article will show several ways to hold a pen blank for making this type of pen.

Another draw back in making closed-end pens is holding the actual closed-end pen mandrel. The tool of choice for me, and others, is a collet chuck. The Beall collet chuck uses industry-standard ER32 collets from the metal working industry and make them useable in woodturning. Other similar collet chucks are available from sources such as Penn State Industries and Craft Supplies and their resellers.


Figure 2: Popular collet chucks for wood turners.

The Beall collet chuck is on the left and is made in the USA by J. R. Beall and the Beall Tool Co. The other one is sold by PSI and others and is made in China. The wide range of collets, both ASE and metric, and the large gripping surface, allows wooden and metal parts to be held without marring. Marring often occurs when using a Jacob’s chuck. These special closed-end pen mandrels can also be held using scroll chucks with pin jaws. Other scroll chucks and jaw combinations may also work.


Figure 3: A selection of ER 32 collets.



Pin chucks for turning bowls and other large turnings have been around for some time. A pin chuck is basically a slot cut into a mandrel with a pin dropped into the slot. Someone in the pen turning community adapted that idea, scaled it down and made a closed-end pen with a smaller pin chuck. Pin chucks are tube size specific.


Figure 4: A couple of home made pin chucks.


Figure 5: A machine shop made pin chuck with a bushing.


Place the brass tube over the pin chuck’s slot and pin and then slightly rotate against the rotation of the lathe to lock the pen blank in place and hold it securely.  Pin chucks can be homemade using a metal lathe and mill. Not all of us have those pieces of equipment. Pin chucks can be made at a machine shop but the cost of tooling and computer code writing is often much greater than the cost of the actual chuck. I once checked on having some made and the chuck itself cost $10 each, but the CNC code was going to cost $250…for each different size pin chuck. Ouch! Once in a while members on one of the penturning message boards will offer making pin chucks for a reasonable price. I’ve seen them for sale, ranging from $5 -  $15. This is much more reasonable than using a commercial machine shop. Pen Point: Make friends with someone who has a metal lathe and milling machine.


Figure 6: Pin chuck with brass tube.


Pin chucks can be made using a standard file and/or sandpaper. The only limitation is finding the correct size of rod to use. A pin chuck has to be large enough to just slide inside the tube of the pen being made. The fit of the rod inside the bass tube has to be such that there is as little slack as possible between the OD of the rod and the ID of the tube. Less slack is better and will make a more accurate pen. Drill rod comes in a wide selection of sizes. If luck has it, the exact size will be available. If not, get the smallest available diameter just larger that the ID of the tube. Hold the drill rod with a chuck of some kind and reduce its diameter until the tube will just slide over it. This can be done with sandpaper or file or both. Then the slot for the pin can be made using a grinding wheel and then finished off with a file. When making a pin chuck, I use kits that require little or no sanding on the rod. Drill rod is available from industrial suppliers such as ENCO and MSC DIRECT and can be found on the web at http://www1.mscdirect.com and http://www.use-enco.com . Be sure to order a small diameter rod for making pins. I use 1/8” drill rod for the pens. Small nails can be used on the pin chucks for smaller tubes such as the 7mm pens. Notice in figure 6 that one of the pin chucks was made from a standard bolt, which had to be sanded down just a tiny bit. I used a grade 5 case hardened bolt.

Harbor Freight sells a set of 28 transfer punches that some penturners have used to make pin chucks. These punches have several sizes that just fit into the brass tubes of several popular pen kits. Then, only the slot for the pin has to be formed. Here is a link to the set:  http://www.harborfreight.com/28-piece-transfer-punch-set-3577.html .  These punches are also excellent for disassembling pens. Every size I have ever needed has been included in this set.

I would offer one word of warning and safety. If a Jacob’s chuck is ever used in the headstock without tailstock support, then the use of a draw bar is essential. When purchasing a Jacob’s chuck, a threaded hole in the morse taper arbor should be a requirement. I use an all thread rod, large washer, and wing nut to hold a Jacob’s chuck securely in the headstock taper.

Richard Kleinhenz has an excellent article about using and making pin chucks: http://penmakersguild.com/articles/pinchuck.pdf



Expanding closed-end pen mandrels are basically hollow tubes with a bolt passing through. An integrated bushing is on one end and the other end has a slit and a cone-shaped threaded washer. As the bolt is tightened, the cone-shaped washer pulls the split end apart and holds the brass tube. These expanding mandrels are sold by Arizona Silhouette: http://arizonasilhouette.com/Closed_End_Pen_Mandrel.htm.


Figure 7: Expanding closed-end pen mandrel available from Arizona Silhouette. Picture courtesy of Arizona Silhouette and used with permission.

This mandrel is a clever idea and works great. But, it is a pricey tool and is only useable on one size pen tube. Each different size brass tube requires its own dedicated closed-end pen mandrel of this style.

Penn State Industries has their style of an expanding closed-end pen mandrel. There are two versions. One is for smaller tubes and the other is for larger tubes. Each one works for several sizes, sort of "two sizes fits many", unlike the others that are tube size specific. They are called the Grabber (for smaller tubes) and the Big Grabber (for larger tubes) and come in either #1 or #2 morse taper sizes. I have not used one so I cannot comment on their performance. More information is available from the PSI website or catalog. The website has a short video introducing the two grabbers. The PSI catalog descriptions:


THE GRABBER (for 7mm and 8mm tubes)

Now you can easily turn natural "closed ends" on any 7mm or 8mm pen or project. With our new revolutionary and amazingly simple Closed End Pen Mandrel system you can turn a barrel of virtually endless length and design! Your creative possibilities are endless. Simply twist the mandrel nut; and the silicone rubber on the mandrel expands and "grabs" the project tube internally. The rubber locks and supports the tube as you turn the end. Turn closed ends on nearly any existing 7 and 8mm projects including, pen kits, key chains, letter openers, seam rippers, bottle openers, and more. The patent pending system includes a 7mm sized mandrel shaft with an internal threaded rod, a 1" silicone expansion tube, 6" of extra tubing, 7mm and 8mm internal end bushings and a morse taper headstock mount. Available in #1 and #2 morse taper.




With this system you can mount and turn closed end barrels from 10.5mm to 9/16 in. - virtually any large tube closed end pen style (in addition to the 4 styles we offer). The system includes accessories common to making the 4 dedicated closed end kits (Apollo Infinity, Majestic Jr., Olympian Elite and Tycoon). For #2 morse taper. Included Accessories: End bushings for 10.5mm, 12.5mm and 9/16" tubes; three 6î expansion hose bladders for the 4 projects; Also includes a countersink bushing to providing a recess for the refill end of the closed end pen.


Figure 8: The PSI closed-end pen mandrel. Picture courtesy of PSI and used with permission.

Penn State also sells special closed-end pen kits for several of their fountain pen and rollerball kits. The pens included are Apollo, Infinity, Majestic Jr., Olympian Elite and Tycoon. Although these special kits are not needed to turn a closed-end pen, they do offer a neat style for the clip ends of the caps.


Figure 9: The PSI Olympian Elite closed end pen.  Picture courtesy of PSI and used with permission.



I noticed a post on IAP by Gerry Rhoades and how he uses a wooden homemade jam chuck for turning closed-end pens. Gerry explained to me the idea was shared with him by Mike Vickery. Here is what Gerry had to say about making and using these wooden jam chucks:

“The idea is not mine. I got it from Mike Vickery.  We were corresponding about pin chucks and he told me that he sometimes did this (made his own from wood) if he didn't want to wait for a pin chuck to be made or shipped. I use a Beall collet chuck with a ¾” collet. I've been using a ¾” poplar dowel. I cut a piece of dowel about 6" long and put it in the collet chuck.  I then turn it down until it's close to the inside diameter of the tube. I finish taking it the correct dimension with sandpaper. When the tube will just barely fit, I give it two coats of thin CA and then sand it back down. I also turn a shoulder on it that's about 0.020" larger than the bushing diameter and coat that also with CA. I then force the blank onto it until it meets the shoulder.  I use the tailstock just like I would if I was using a dedicated closed end mandrel.”   -Thanks Gerry and Mike.

Certainly a Jacob’s chuck could be used to hold the ¾” dowel if a Beall collet chuck or other collet chuck were not available. The dowel could even be held in some scroll chucks with regular or pin jaws.

  Figure 10: Wooden jamb chucks as explained above.




Another penturning friend, Ron McIntire, showed me how to use a rather unusual piece of hardware for turning closed-end pens. This piece of hardware is an anchor used in concrete. The anchor is placed into a hole in concrete and as a bolt is turned the anchor expands and holds inside the hole. When using it to hold a pen blank, the hole in the blank and brass tube act as the hole in the concrete and the anchor is expanded holding the pen blank securely. The exposed part of the anchor’s bolt is then held in a Jacob’s chuck or a collet chuck as mentioned earlier. This is a rather unique idea but only works on a few kits because of the limited sizes of these anchors. But, it does work and costs very little. The top image is two anchors. One is 3/8” x 1 7/8” and the second one is 3/8” x 3”. I removed the sleeve from the shorter bolt and placed it on the longer bolt with washer and nut as shown in the third image. This gives more exposed bolt with which to grab with a chuck to hold for turning. The bottom image is a baron cap tube over the sleeve and the nut was turned against the washer enough to lock the brass tube in place. I placed the “anchor mandrel” in a Jacob’s chuck and surprisingly it ran straight and true. I noticed no wobble. I did make a pen or two with this anchor and it worked okay. But, I feel more confident using the expanding pen mandrel from Arizona Silhouette.  Oh, and the two anchors only cost $.87. Thanks, Ron, for sharing this.


Figure 11:  The concrete anchors as described above.

There is a way to turn a close-end pen using a standard mandrel and no other special tooling. It is a very clever way to hold the pen blank and works quite well. When I demo closed-end pens I always show the various methods and tools for making these pens. But, I always turn the demo pen this way to show just how easy they are to turn with no special tooling.



There is an alternative to these special chucks and mandrels. It uses a standard mandrel and one of the kit’s bushing.  Pen Point: Be sure to use the correct bushing for the end of the pen accepting the mandrel. Cut a blank longer than needed for the pen barrel. I usually make it three inches longer than is needed just to be safe. Drill a hole using the suggested bit and make the hole as long as the tube. Making the hole 1/16” longer will give some room to square the end of the blank to the tube. Then, drill another hole, 7/32” in diameter, centered on the first one. The total of the two holes should be long enough to accommodate the rollerball refill and spring, or the ink pump if a fountain pen is being made. Drilling these two holes is easier done on the lathe than on a drill press. The length of the two holes will be different for each pen kit, so take careful measurements.

Once the holes are drilled, slide a spacer onto the mandrel, then the proper bushing, and then the pen blank. The mandrel should screw into the 7/32” hole and the space should take up the extra room between the end of the bushing and the end of the morse taper arbor. Experimenting with this 7/32” diameter hole to get the best fit for screwing the mandrel into it. Bring up the tailstock and tighten the blank and bushing against the spacer. A mandrel whose length is adjustable makes this method much easier. The same spacer can be used on every kit. This is one case where a picture is worth a thousand words.


Figure 12: The “no special tooling” method using a standard mandrel.


Parting off

I have reported on several methods of holding pen blanks for making closed-end pens. In next month’s column I will document the actual making of a closed-end pen. I will show the Arizona Silhouette expanding mandrel, the concrete anchor (just for fun), and the “no special tooling” method. This will allow me to share the nuances of each method and how best to make them work correctly.  I hope several readers will get one of these methods ready, order a kit or two, and prepare to make a pen that will be truly be different than any other pen they’ve made. Closed-end pens are fun, challenging and unique.

I will be demonstrating at the Oregon Woodturning Symposium in March. I encourage any readers in attendance to look me up and let’s get acquainted. I will be demonstrating casting pen blanks and making a special closed-end pen I make: a gavel with a pen in the handle.


Figure 13: Gavel with a double closed end pen in the handle.


Click here to read about the author, Don Ward.