Bead and Cove Turning


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Turning beads and coves onto a pen is sometimes looked down upon by pen-makers, but I've found that besides the obvious design flair and statement these little features often make, there is a very practical side as the pen user some texture to hold on to.

The following photo essay is intended to guide a woodturner through the process of turning small beads and coves onto a Slimline twist pen. Feel free to use the techniques shown here to develop your own designs and unique style in any way you see fit.

All of the photos shown below may be clicked on for a close-up view.

Begin as you normally would, mounting a pair of pen blanks onto a mandrel and then onto your lathe. The example shown here uses Cocobolo wood, which has a nice tight grain, and lends itself to bead tuning very well, allowing the production of very sharp features.


In this example, the pen's lower barrel (tip end) will be on the right and the upper barrel (clip end) will be on the left. Note that the toolrest is about 1/4" below center and as close to the turning as safely possible. Turn the two blanks into cylinders, about 1/16" to 1/8" proud of the bushings.

Next, use a 1/8" wide parting tool to shave off the lower barrel's tip-end so it is almost flush with the bushing. Envision the pen kit's tip and the angle where wood meets metal, with the aim of having a smooth transition.

The parting tool must be very sharp to avoid tear-out and catches. Approach the wood with the parting tool high on the turning, and as you touch the wood, carefully and slowly shave wood off the turning from the top.

Now, use a sharp skew to cut a 30-40 degree angle on the outer right edge of the cylinder, making the first half of your first bead. The skew should be parallel with the floor and approach the turning as if you were gently sticking a knife into a melon. The skew should be held firmly on the toolrest and not allowed to lift or tilt while cutting.

Then moving the skew slightly to the left, gently plunge the skew's point into the wood, making the other half of your first bead. The resulting V-cut should be about 80 to 90 degrees and deep enough to match the depth of the parting tool cut to the right. Your skew must be sharp and the point well defined to make these cuts successfully.

Here you can see that five beads have been uniformly cut into the lower barrel's cylinder. The only way to master this level of uniformity is with a lot of practice, and in my case, with a good pair of glasses.

Switching to a 1/2" round nosed scraper, we'll work on finishing the lower barrel. Again, be sure that your cutting tool sits on the toolrest firmly and is not allowed to lift up or tilt while cutting.

At this point, the design and shape of your pen is completely up to you, but I think a little cove to the left of the beads is an attractive feature.

Now we'll work on the upper barrel turning. Using the skew, make a 30-45 degree cut on both ends of the cylinder.

And as with the lower barrel, finish a bead cut on both ends.

Finish the upper barrel turning with your round nosed scraper, by creating a large cove between the two beads.

Note that up to this point, all of the beads have been left with sharp and un-finished edges. This was done on purpose as its difficult to get nice rounded and uniform features with cuttings this small. I like to use sandpaper to finish and round-over each of the beads, so that the feel of the pen in one's hand is comfortable.

The turnings have been sanded in 80 to 100 grit increments, starting at 180 grit and going up to 600 grit. Now apply one coat of Sanding Sealer. SS tends to dry quickly as the alcohol in it evaporates, so you'll need to move fast and wipe off the excess with a paper towel or cloth before it dries and leaves a clumpy surface. It helps if the room is warm.

Now for a robust Beall buff on the Tripoli and White Diamond wheels with the aim of removing all remaining scratches and scratch-swirls form the turnings.

Carnauba wax comes with the Beall three-wheel buffing system, but I prefer to use Renaissance Wax, as it tends to set much harder and makes the shine last.

Apply a coat of Renaissance wax, wait 30 seconds and buff using the third Beall wheel. Then wait another 15 minutes, and repeat the wax application and third wheel buff process. BTW, if you have a second mandrel, the 15 minutes between wax applications is just enough time to turn a second set of pen blanks.

So here we are...ready to assemble.



And here's the finished product...

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