Every year on Veterans Day, some of the Turning Arts Group and the Northeast Florida Woodturning Association members get together at our local Woodcraft store to turn pens for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Actually, we don’t turn that many pens, but focus on teaching anybody who is interested in how to turn a pen.
This morning we had people ready to learn as soon as we arrived. The people that show up do so for all the right motives, helping the troops, willing to risk trying something new and ready to learn. Most of the people that came had never had a woodturning tool in their hands before, or at best, had a shop course in middle school where they had tried out a lathe once or twice.
Woodcraft has been great in supporting this cause. They supply all the pen kits for free and prepare the pen blanks ahead of time so that we can hit the ground running. They also have a classroom area where we had five lathes set up – and we needed them all.
The teaching process for one of these events is totally different than doing a demo or teaching a class for a woodturning club. Those folks at least have a basic understanding of how the tools work and how to hold the tools. When we Turn for the Troops we need to start with the real basics and help people feel comfortable with the proper way to hold the tools and how to make them cut.
We start simply with the use of a spindle roughing gouge and some people use this to turn the pen from beginning to end. I tend to have them rough out with the spindle roughing gouge and then finish with a skew. It’s really funny. The skew is probably the most feared tool for a beginning woodturner to try. Many never even use their skew enough to have to resharpen it and mainly use it to open old paint cans. However, these turning newbees that showed up today did not know they should be afraid of the skew and you know, I never told them. Without this anxiety, all of the folks I taught today used the skew without problems and created some great pens.
Creating a pen does get a little tricky at the ends of each piece of the blank, where you need to turn to the same diameter as the adjacent steel bushings. This insures that all the pen parts fit together well. Step by gingerly step they approach the right diameter with light cuts with the skew until their fingers tell tem that there are no more ridges and the transition is smooth. We then sand and finish and you can just see them get excited when the wax or polish delivers a shiny, smooth surface. Pride in their accomplishment begins to ooze out. However, the proudest moment is the next one, where we assemble the pens. The golden pen tips, the mechanism, the decorative band and then the clip go on and eyes get wide when it all slips together to create their “first pen”.
They are rightfully proud, both for their accomplishment and the fact that they were motivated to do something good for our soldiers in harm’s way. Most write a note with their wishes for the soldier that receives the pen, often starting with “This is my first pen…”
Some of them have caught the bug though and you can be sure it won’t be their last pen.