Lee Valley & Veritas
Woodworking Newsletter
  Volume 11, Issue 6 - July 2017    
Multi-Axial Turnings
Eccentric pen holder

Keep your pen close to hand in an eccentric pen holder.


To turn a pen holder such as the ones shown above, you'll need the following equipment:

- A scroll chuck
- Live center
- Cone for the live center
- Drive center
- Steady rest
- Draw knife
- Assortment of turning tools
- Fine-toothed saw

Project Set-up

Draw a reference line on the blank

Draw a reference line on the blank along the top of the tool rest.


Select a hardwood turning blank of appropriate dimensions. I used a well-cured boxelder limb. Turn a cylinder that is 3" in diameter and 6" long. Place the tool rest against the cylinder and draw a reference line by sliding a pencil along the top of the tool rest. Mark a line around the cylinder at the midpoint. Remove the blank from the lathe. Use a center-finder head on a combination square and on each end of the cylinder, draw a diameter line that joins with the reference line.

Draw a diameter line on the ends

Draw a diameter line on the ends of the blank.


Use an awl to punch a hole 1" from the center on the diameter line of one end. Punch another hole on the diameter line of the other end that is 1" from center, but on the opposite side of center from the first end.


Confused by all the terminology? Refer to this drawing for explanation.


You now have two axes of symmetry one running center-to-center, the other, the eccentric one, running from one offset punch to the other offset punch. These two axes should cross at the midpoint of the cylinder length.

Make saw kerfs for the prongs of the drive center to fit into

Make saw kerfs for the prongs of the drive center to fit into.


Use a mallet to insert the drive center into one of the offset marks. Tilt the drive center so that it approximates the eccentric axis line. When you have a good imprint of the drive center prongs, use a saw to make two kerfs following the prong imprints. This allows the drive center to seat securely and ensures the blank does not fly off the lathe.

Mount the blank with the eccentric axis between centers. Set the tool rest as close as possible to the blank. Check for clearance by turning the blank more than one complete revolution. Set the lathe to its slowest speed and turn it on.

No-wobble zone

The no-wobble zone is the most solid looking part of the spinning blank.


You will see the ghost outline of the wobbling blank and a narrow zone near the center where there is little or no wobble. This no-wobble zone is where the two axes cross. Hold a pencil against the spinning blank to mark it. This is where your eccentric axis will join the on-center axis. Take special care of those ghostly outlines. They may appear unsubstantial, but they can catch a finger, a turning tool or loose clothing. Fingers and clothing should never cross the barrier of the tool rest while the blank is spinning.

Tip for Beginning Turners
Turning a cylinder such as the spout using a gouge does not require any advanced technique. Set your tool rest parallel to the bed. Position the gouge so the tip is cutting a little above the center and the bevel is rubbing, which prevents the gouge from digging in. Slide the gouge slowly along the tool rest. Maintain the angle relative to a vertical plane running through the axis of the blank without changing the amount it projects beyond the tool rest.

Turning a rounded profile is another matter. (The onion-shaped base falls within the definition of rounded.) To produce this shape, begin as though you were turning a cylinder. As you move the gouge along, its orientation must change, however. Twist the gouge so the flute ends up horizontal and the handle becomes nearly perpendicular to the vertical plane and projects further across the tool rest. To illustrate, trap a ball between the headstock spindle and the quill of the tailstock. (They both have holes in their centers and should easily hold a tennis ball or baseball.) Designate the "North Pole" as the part of the ball at the headstock and the equator as the greatest diameter perpendicular to the axis between centers. Position the gouge at the equator so that the tip will be cutting and the bevel rubbing. The flute opens upward and the gouge handle extends directly away from the axis, with the back end of the handle lower than the cutting edge of the tip. Place the gouge at 20 N latitude. To have the tip of the gouge cutting and the bevel rubbing, twist the gouge some, raise the back end of the handle and pull the handle away from the vertical plane. Follow the curve around and see how the gouge orientation changes to keep cutting.

To produce this cut as a smooth surface, you need to know which parts of your body control which part of the gouge. Stand with your feet pointing parallel to the lathe bed (your shoulders will be perpendicular to the lathe bed) and your back toward the headstock end. Move the right foot out a little from the lathe stand and position the left foot back a little. Shift your center of gravity backward to slide the gouge along the tool rest and outward to move the gouge handle away from the vertical plane. Your right hand can raise and lower the handle, and your right wrist can flex upward to change the orientation of the flute. All of these motions work together as you ride on the gouge bevel around the curve.

Cut the base to the midline mark.

Cut the base to the midline mark.


Turn the Base and the Spout
Mount the blank so that the on-center axis is between centers. Turn a depression near the headstock end; this will form the bottom of the base. Leave a spigot you can grab with your scroll chuck later on. Cut the beginning shape of the base, but don't cut past the midpoint line.

Cut the spout back to the join line.

Cut the spout back to the join line.


Mount the blank with the eccentric axis between centers. Use a gouge and begin cutting the spout-like projection. Do not turn away the spot for the live center for the on-center axis. Cut back toward the headstock until you approach the join line. Turn the spout until it is cylindrical, then switch axes and work on the onion-shaped base.

Drill a hole in the spout

Drill a hole in the spout that will accommodate your pen.


Switch back to the eccentric axis. Mount a steady rest to hold the spout. Put a drill chuck in the tailstock. I used a 13/32" bit to drill a 3" deep hole. Adjust the bit size according to the diameter of your pen barrel.

Support the spout end with a cone on the live center and turn the spout down to 1" in diameter. Use the point of a skew chisel to begin cutting off the end of the spout. Finish the cut with a fine-toothed saw and dress with sandpaper. You will now need to use your scroll chuck when you want to turn oriented to the on-center axis.

Ridge of wood

This ridge of wood remains uncut from either axis.

Remove the ridge with a sharp drawknife.

Remove the ridge with a sharp drawknife.


Keep working the two axes, bringing the union closer and closer to a proper join. This will form a ridge of wood on one side of the turning that is uncut from either axis. Use a drawknife to carefully shave away this ridge. If your join is too far from the base, there will be an abrupt change from the base to the spout. Cut the spout deeper into the base. Change axes and reconfigure the profile of the base to meet the spout. Again use the drawknife to remove the ridge of uncut wood.

Cut the spout farther back into the base

Cut the spout farther back into the base to allow the contours to flow together.


Perfect! Don't change anything.


If the join is in the right spot, there will be a smooth interface between the two axes of symmetry.

Cut the holder free from the spigot

Cut the holder free from the spigot


Sand the turning, first on one axis and then on the other axis. Do this while it is spinning slowly in the lathe, which allows you to extend your sanding partway onto the other axis. Begin sanding with 220 grit paper and work your way to your finest grit. Apply the finish of your choice. After the finish has cured, mount the turning in your scroll chuck and cut it free from the base. You are now ready to enjoy your new pen holder.

Finished pen holder

The finished pen holder is ready to lend you a pen whenever you need it.


Text and photos by Ellis Hein

Ellis Hein lives with his family outside Casper, WY. He is the author of
The Woodturner's Project Book (Linden Publishing, 2008). His articles about woodworking and woodturning have appeared in Woodturning Design, Woodturning, and Woodworkers Journal.

His blog on woodturning can be read at www.woodturnedart.wordpress.com. Ellis also writes about the relevance of the faith of the early Quakers to today's world. You can contact Ellis via email at woodturnedart@vcn.com.

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