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Pencil Holder as 6 page pdf

Pencil Holder


This article shows how to make pencil holders based on a sphere.  Instead of costly and distracting hardware a stepped drilled hole holds the pencil (or pen) and protects the point,  The first pencil holder is a simple one, but it looks complicated due to being turned from a blank of Baltic birch plywood.

One of the nice things about turning spheres is once you have a sphere chuck you can orient them however you like to turn decorative cuts.  The second pencil holder is Maple and has four burned intertwined lines.

 Figure #1

Figure #1:  Two Pencil Holders.

The First Pencil Holder

Prepping the Blank

The first pencil holder has no turned decorations, so it’s better for wood with flashy figure or glued up blanks.  The photos will follow using a blank with four Baltic birch plywood pieces glued around a Baltic birch core.

I think 2-1/2” in diameter is a good size for a pencil holder.  Leaving 1/2” nubs on each end for ease of turning means the blank should be 2-1/2”x2-1/2”x3-1/2”.  If your plywood is 3/4” thick, that means the core will have to be 1”x1”x3-1/2”.  I suggest gluing pieces of plywood together and then cutting the core to size on a table saw.

The side pieces that are glued around the core should be 3-1/2”x1-3/4”x3/4”.  Glue the pieces around the core one at a time in a pinwheel fashion. Take extra care when gluing on the first piece that the edge lines up with the adjacent face of the core.  Figure #2 shows the glued up blank from one end.

 Figure #2

Figure #2:  The Baltic Birch Blank.

Turning the Sphere

Begin by mounting the blank between centers.  If you are using a blank glued up of Baltic birch plywood, or any other glued up pattern, take care to center the blank carefully.  Again, for a Baltic birch plywood blank, orient the blank so that the plywood layers support each other as they are being cut as in Figure #3.

 Figure #3

Figure #3: Orient the blank to best prevent tear out.

Turn the blank round and indicate the center of the blank with a pencil line as in Figure #4.  Despite being glued up from Baltic birch plywood, this is spindle turning so you can use a spindle roughing gauge and other spindle tools.  Then turn the blank into a sphere using your favorite method as in Figure #5.    My favorite method is the Shadow Sphere .  It’s okay to leave the nubs for now as they’ll help orient the sphere for the next steps.

Figure #4 

Figure #4:  Turn the blank to a cylinder.

 Figure #5

Figure #5:  Turn the cylinder into a sphere.

Turn the Top Half

Using your tailstock center and one of the nubs to aid in alignment, mount the sphere in a sphere chuck (Unless you want to have mounts for more than one pencil as you do not need the sliding feature) in Figure #6.  Remove the nub as in Figure #7.

Figure #6 

Figure #6:  Mount the sphere in a sphere chuck.

Figure #7 

Figure #7:  Remove the nub.

Now sand the top half of the sphere.  If desired you can polish the top half with friction polish as in Figure #8.

Figure #8 

Figure #8: Sand the top half and polish if desired.

Turn the Bottom Half

Turn the sphere around and remount it again using the tailstock center and nub for alignment as in Figure #9.  Remove the nub as in Figure #10.

Figure #9 

Figure #9:  Remount the sphere for turning the bottom.

Figure #10 

Figure #10:  Remove the nub.

Turn a slightly concave recess on the bottom to give the pencil holder a base to sit on as in Figure #11.  I used a small bowl gouge for this as it felt more comfortable than using spindle tools.  Sand and optionally friction polish the bottom half as in Figure #12.

Figure #11 

Figure #11:  Turn a concave recess as a base.

Figure #12 

Figure #12:  Sand and optionally polish the base.

Drill a Hole for the Pencil

Remove the sphere from the sphere chuck.  Place a piece of masking tape over the general area you want to drill to hold a pencil. Set the sphere on its base.  Pick up a pencil and use it to mark on the tape where you want it to be as in Figure #13.

Figure #13 

Figure #13:  Mark placement for drilling.

We will use a step-drilling process so that the pencil does not bottom out in the hole and break its point.  A 5/16” hole will be drilled 5/8” deep, measured from the shoulder of the drill, followed by a 7/32” hole 1-1/2” deep.  Figure #14 shows a cut-away block of wood drilled like this and how it protects the pencil point.  This size hole works well for most standard #2 pencils.  If you want to mount something else you can measure the diameters and do some trials in scrap wood.

 Figure #14

Figure #14:  A cut-away step drilling example.

Use an awl to make a dent at the drilling mark.  Then use a cone tailstock center as an alignment aid to mount the sphere in the sphere chuck as in Figure #15.

Figure #15 

Figure #15:  Mount the sphere for drilling.

Now drill the pencil hole in steps.  First use a combined drill and countersink to start the hole as in Figure #16.  Then drill 5/8” deep with a 5/16” drill as in Figure #17.  Then drill 1-1/2” deep with a 7/32” drill as in Figure #18.

Figure #16 

Figure #16:  Start a centered hole with a combined drill and countersink.

 Figure #17

Figure #17:  Drill 5/8” deep with a 5/16” drill.

Figure #18 

Figure #18:  Drill 1-1/2” deep with a 7/32” drill.

You can use abrasive rolled into a steep conical point to debur and chamfer the hole entrance as in Figure #19.  If you wish to avoid exposing the raw wood at the top of the hole you can use a cotton swab to apply some lacquer sanding sealer or other finish inside the hole.  If you used friction polish, touch up the polish around the hole.

Figure #19 

Figure #19:  Chamfer and sand the rim of the hole with abrasives.

The Completed Pencil Holder

Figure #20 shows the completed Baltic birch plywood pencil holder.  Figure #21 shows the pencil holder with a rather decrepit pencil.

Figure #20 

Figure #20:  The completed Pencil Holder.

Figure #21 

Figure #21:  The completed Pencil Holder with a pencil.

The Second Pencil Holder

Planning the Intertwined Circles

The second pencil holder starts with plainer wood and has four intertwined circles perhaps reminiscent of a Celtic knot.  The photos will follow using wire burned lines, but inlaid wire, or colored infill would work the same way.  After some experimentation the best method I found to determine the placement of the lines was to determine the axis the sphere should be mounted on.

The first step is to determine how wide the pattern will be.  As the pattern reminds me of a sine wave I’ve chosen to call this the “amplitude”, as shown in Figure #22.

Figure #22 

Figure #22:  Decide on an “amplitude”, or width, of your pattern.

Turn a sphere with nubs attached.  I usually make (and leave) a line at the middle of the sphere.  If you don’t, measure and make a line at the halfway point between the nubs.  Set calipers to the amplitude you desire and straddle the tailstock nub with the calipers and make a circle.  Use your lathe indexer to make marks on the circles that are 90° apart as in Figure #23.  The marks on the circle at the tailstock end indicate the axis the sphere should be mounted on.  The marks on the equator circle indicate where the line should cross the equator.

 Figure #23

Figure #23:  Make marks on the circles 90° apart.

Figure #24 shows the simple jig I made to mark turnings while using the indexing feature of the lathe.  I used PVC and Masonite, but other materials will work (for instance a partially threaded bolt the diameter of your banjo and plywood).  First I cut a length of PVC rod long enough to reach the center of the lathe.  Check to make sure the post fits in your lathe banjo before going any further.  I cut a 2”x3” rectangle of 1” PVC sheet.  I joined them together with a mortice and tenon which was locked with a wood screw driven in from the nearest side.  I made a locking collar out of PVC.  I made the diameter of the collar big enough to completely engage a 1/4x5/8” set screw.  I cut a rectangle of 1/4” Masonite and drilled a hole in it that matched the post.  I set the locking collar so that the top of the platform was at center lathe height when the Masonite was under the post.  The platform will be at center height with the Masonite under the collar.  Or take the Masonite off the post, and any piece of 1/4” Masonite cut to special shapes will be at center height.  The Masonite in the photos has a concave edge that approximates the diameter of the sphere.

Figure #24 

Figure #24:  A homemade marking platform.

Mount the sphere in a sphere chuck using the tailstock center for removing the nub as in Figure #25.  Turn the nub away.  Mark the axis of the sphere with an easily visible bullseye as in Figure #26.  In Figure #26 you can more clearly see the marks made on the smaller circle to align the axis for the intertwined circle.  I numbered them to avoid remounting the sphere on an already used axis.  Remount the sphere using the tailstock center to remove second nub and again plainly mark the axis.

Figure #25 

Figure #25:  Mount the sphere for nub removal.

Figure #26 

Figure #26:  Plainly mark the lathe axis after removing the nub.

Turn and Burn the Intertwined Circles

Mount the sphere in a sphere chuck aligned with one of the intertwined circle axis marks.  You can use the point of a conical center, or a small drill mounted in a drill chuck to align the sphere.  However the point will dent the wood so it can’t touch to hold the sphere in place while you secure it in the chuck.  To avoid needing three or four hands I made a Sphere Alignment Center  (henceforth SAC).  The end of the SAC is padded with 2mm craft foam and is flat so it won’t dent the wood.  There’s a small axial hole  at the end drilled through to a 1/2” cross-hole.  There’s a 45° beveled and mirrored insert that goes in the cross-hole so you can see through the axial hole to align to the mark as in Figure #27.  You can leave the SAC in to secure the sphere, but remove the mirrored insert before turning the lathe on.

Figure #27 

Figure #27:  Align the sphere using the Sphere Alignment Center.

Mark for the cut using this axis by making a circle that goes through the mark on the equator 90° from the axial mark as shown in Figure #28.  Turn a V-cut or a mini-cove as in Figure #29.  Then use (handled!) steel wire to burn in a line as shown in Figure #30.  It is absolutely necessary that the steel wire be attached to handles and that you only hold on to the handles.  It is nice to have a range of handled wire diameters available as the results look quite different.

Figure #28 

Figure #28:  Mark for the cut.

Figure #29 

Figure #29:  Cut a mini-cove.

 Figure #30

Figure #30:  Burn a line in the cut.

Using the same sequence, mark, turn, and burn the remaining lines as in Figure #31.

 Figure #31

Figure #31:  Mark, turn, and burn the other three lines.

Sand and Finish

Remount the sphere using the mark on original axis that you marked when removing the nub as in Figure #32.  Sand the top half of the pencil holder as in Figure #33.  Optionally apply friction polish to the top half.

Figure #32 

Figure #32:  Remount the sphere on its original axis.

Figure #33 

Figure #33:  Sand the top half of the pencil holder.

Reverse the sphere using the other original axis mark.  Turn a slightly concave recess to give the pencil holder a base to sit on as in Figure #34.  Then sand the bottom half of the pencil holder as in Figure #35, and optionally apply friction polish.  Mark and step-drill a hole for a pencil as was done for the first pencil holder.

 Figure #34

Figure #34:  Turn a base.

 Figure #35

Figure #35:  Sand the bottom half of the pencil holder.

For this pencil holder I used rattle-can spray lacquer.    Sharpen a 1/4” dowel in a pencil sharpener.  Insert the pointed end of the dowel in the hole drilled for the pencil. You can then spray the entire pencil holder while holding on to the dowel as in Figure #36.  Put the other end of the dowel in a hole drilled in a block of wood to hold the pencil holder while the lacquer dries.  Put on several coats.  If you use a 3M #7448 pad on the lacquer and then buff with carnuba wax it yields a finish pleasing to the sight and touch.

Figure #36 

Figure #36:  Use a sharpened dowel to hold the pencil sharpener while spraying lacquer.


The finished pencil holder with burned lines is shown in Figure #37.

Figure #37 

Figure #37:  The second finished pencil holder.