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First Lathe For Absolute Beginner?


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I want to make wooden fountain pens. I don't mean dip pens. I want to make a barrel, so I can use converters, etc.


What is the minimum I can't get a way with. I'm working on a tight budget.


I want to try it, but not sure I want to go all out.


What would I need to do a fountain pen from start to finish?



Edited by abstractsbybrian
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It is a really difficult thing to answer directly as there are a lot of personal and circumstantial choices that need to be made.


Right at the heart of the question is how dexterous are you?

I am hopeless, and cannot use a wood lathe for toffee. I have to use a metal lathe, because that keeps my hands well away from the work.


Then, how much space, what budget, and what else do you expect to do with the lathe?

You can probably make a pen on a 60ft lathe capable of turning battleship gun barrels, but it may not be the best bit of kit to use.


Where do you expect to store and use the lathe? A 160kg lathe won't be suitable for the living room of a 140th floor flat..


What experience do you have?

What type of pen do you want to turn?

You say wooden pens. Now there are wooden pens & wooden pens. If you want to produce wooden kit pens, then a wood lathe is probably perfect. If, instead, you want to make fully custom pens with thread cutting and the like into metal/plastic inserts bonded into the wood (to prevent ink staining the wood from inside the pen), then you may be better off with a metal lathe. There are intermediate stages that may be suitable for a wood lathe - but I have to hold up my hands and admit my ignorance. I am such a klutz with my hands that I haven't investigated the limits of what is possible on a wood lathe.


If you want to make wooden kit pens, then I suggest you look at a small wood lathe like this one: http://www.axminster.co.uk/axminster-hobby-series-ah-1218-woodturning-lathe-starter-package or anything like it.


If a metal lathe starts to look attractive, then something like this one is perfectly adequate: https://www.machinemart.co.uk/shop/product/details/cl300m-metal-lathe . Now, I want to do other things, so I have a differently badged version of this lathe: https://www.machinemart.co.uk/shop/product/details/cl500m-metal-lathemill-drill and only regret spending money on the near useless milling head. It's nice, hefty and precise lathe for all sorts of work. I've had mine for 11 years and am still learning with it.


On the budget side, assume you are going to have to spend the same again on tooling, whatever lathe you get.


Sorry I can't give you a definitive answer straight away, but with more details, maybe we can slowly work towards a solution.





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I have the space, a nice room in the basement.


I'm thinking if I'm going to do this, I might just want to lay down the money and get me a metal lathe.

I would like that.


Couldn't I do rings/jewelry with that if I wanted to?


That would give me the most versatile option?


I would like to stay below $1000USD if I can. Preferably no more than $500 USD - not sure that is possible.

Edited by abstractsbybrian
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I will be following this topic with great interest. Have been investigating mini lathes capable of thread cutting till I saw the video posted by hari317 over at the India forum, which showed pens being made on a simple wooden lathe in Ranga pens. Note am thoroughly confused. Anyway am not on any time limits and will plunge in only if fully prepared and ready (to but a lathe or to buy a MB149, decisions, decisions...)

A lifelong FP user...

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I'd buy a lathe any day over a MB149, but that's just me.


I'm looking into a metal lathe and mill combo at Grizzly's.

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I would buy a metal lathe instead of a wood lathe. If you need to, you can use a metal lathe to turn wood. You can not however turn metal, cut threads, or do any number of the machine operations that you do on a metal lathe on a wood lathe.


Many people have rude comments for the small Chinese lathes from places like Grizzly and Harbor Freight, but I've had my HF lathe for about 12 years now, use it multiple times a day, and it keeps chugging along. You need to do maintenance from time to time, but it has paid for itself many, many times over. A 7X10 is the smallest I would buy. Go for a 7X12, or the 7X16 from Micro Mark if you can afford it. The extra length is handy to have at times.


Plan on buying a 4" 3 jaw scrolling chuck to handle larger stock, and extra bits, and a rocking tool post, and likely a quick change tool post. A cam lock tail stock is nice to have too. Buy a grinder and find a green wheel so that you can sharpen your carbide bits - a regular grinding wheel won't cut it. Also buy a couple of pairs of calipers, (digital and dial), thread gauges, and such. Lots of time is spent measuring. Harbor Freight calipers are just fine, and you can get them at a decent price even without the 20% off coupon.


Then plan on spending a lot of time just learning to use it. There are few things more satisfying than working through the sequence of machine operations, and doing a repair, or turning out something that you thought would be impossible to do.


Two sites to look at:




Little Machine Shop


oh, and digital readouts for the cross feed etc. are nice too.

Visit Main Street Pens
A full service pen shop providing professional, thoughtful vintage pen repair...

Please use email, not a PM for repair and pen purchase inquiries.

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  • 1 month later...

Check Craig's List.


I found my Delta lathe + extension, live centers and Jacob's chucks, 15 tools, NovaChuck, and 15 crates of seasoned cherry and maple turning blanks for $500. It filled up my truck!


There were also many other lathes available at nearly all price points.



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  • 5 years later...
On 10/29/2015 at 12:15 AM, abstractsbybrian said:

I'm looking into a metal lathe and mill combo at Grizzly's.

I also purchased  Grizzly Industrial Combination Gunsmithing Lathe.

This lathe mill combo provides genuinely big machine features such as that of an R-8 mill spindle and D1-5 lathe spindle. 

And i really things that its a good purchase. 

More information about these lathe mill combo you can get from this blog.

Generally it doesn't have any major cons and it's good in its price range. 

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