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This article was published in the Winter 2004 edition of Woodturning Design.


Snowman Pendant Pen as 3 page pdf


Yes, he’s cute.  Almost too cute.  The Snowman Pendant Pen makes a great gift or seasonal accessory (did I really write that?  Been talking to my Sister too much.).  But it’s an easy to obtain cuteness; all you need are basic turning skills, a pen and keychain kit, a simple jig to tilt the hat, and some 3D paint.  This project is derived remotely from Nick Cook’s Snowman Icicle Ornament.


  The completed Snowman Pendant Pen.


Stock Preparation

I started by finding some light colored wood.  A snowman can’t have too skinny a belly so I picked some 1 inch square maple.  I used some masking tape to mark the stock so I could get the grain lined up right at assembly and cut the stock to length.  I cut the lower piece slightly longer than the twist pen tube length to allow for any minor drilling misadventures and trimming.  The top piece, however, I cut longer, an extra 1/8” or so, because I didn’t use the center band.  Without a little extra length, the refill might not be able to retract fully.


I drilled holes for the tubes and glued them in.  The top tube should be almost flush with the top of the stock.  After the glue cured I used a trimmer to square up the ends, leaving a center band width or so extra at the bottom of the top tube.

Turning the Hat

The hat needs to be tilted on the snowman’s head.  It’s just too static if it’s straight—loses a lot of cuteness.  I tried several different ways to do this, including an angled, tapered V-block jig for drilling after turning, but pre-drilling and using a tilted mandrel turned out to be simpler.  Walnut seems to be the obvious wood for a top hat.  I cut a 7/8” long piece from a 1 ¼ x 1 ¼” turning square and drilled through it lengthwise with a 13/32” drill bit.  For the mandrel I cut a piece 1 ¼” long from some scrap 1” square stock.


I mounted the mandrel stock on the lathe using a two-prong drive center.  It really needs to be a two-prong center, as it’s too hard to tilt the stock with a four-prong center.  I roughed the mandrel round, cut a 13/32” tenon 7/8” long, and tapered the base end a bit.  After checking for snug fit in the hat, I removed the mandrel from the lathe.

Fig01:  The completed Hat Mandrel.  Note that the base is partially tapered to give access to the Hat, but still has a flat spot at the top of the base.



I put a few drops of hot-melt glue on the base of the mandrel (just the base, or it won’t come off easily) and glued on the hat blank.  My mandrel was a bit long so I trimmed it flush.  Then I mounted the assembly on the lathe, using the original center at the base of the mandrel, but putting the tailstock near the rim of the mandrel.


Fig02 : Putting a few drops of hot-melt glue on the Mandrel Base to fasten to the Hat Blank.


Fig03:  The Hat and Mandrel mounted on the lathe.  In this picture you can see that the tailstock is engaged off center, but still in the Mandrel.


Fig04:  The Hat and Mandrel from the front of the lathe.


After first making sure that the hat blank would clear the tool rest, I turned the lathe on and rounded the blank using a roughing gouge.  Then I used a skew (a spindle gouge would also work) to shape the brim and body of the hat.  I turned the lathe off a couple of times to make sure I wasn’t about to cut into the mandrel.  Then I used the skew to clean up the top of the hat and the bottom of the hat a little deeper than the brim.


After I was satisfied with the shape of the hat I sanded it smooth with progressively finer grit sandpaper.  Then I burned in the hat band by holding a trimmed piece of particle board (scrap wood would also work) against the hat and pushing in until it smoked nicely.  After checking the appearance of the hat again, I applied a friction polish.

Fig05:  Burning the band into the Hat.  Do this after sanding but before finishing.



To allow the hat to tilt on the Snowman’s head and still snuggle down all the way, the hat needs to be undercut or countersunk.  I did this by undercutting the rim with a thin parting tool until the hat spun free of the mandrel.  Then I removed the hat and mandrel from the lathe.  The countersink wasn’t complete, as a partial rim was left in the bottom due to the mandrel tilt.  I cleaned this up easily with a knife.  If you like you can sand and finish the countersunk area, but it doesn’t show.

Turning the Body

To start turning the Snowman’s body I mounted the blanks on a mandrel.  I used bushings at both ends, but not in the middle.  The bushing at the Snowman’s head is only to allow the mandrel to clamp the blanks, not to size the end.  I turned the lathe on and rounded the blanks and started narrowing the lower body of the Snowman with my roughing gouge.  As even the ¾” barrel trimmer wouldn’t face the entire 1” wide blank, when I turned smaller than the un-faced corners the blank started to slip.  I could have temporarily used a bushing in the middle until the un-faced portion was turned away, but the bushing might indent the top piece as the tube doesn’t come all the way down.  I just stopped the lathe and tightened the mandrel.


Fig06:  The Snowman blanks mounted on the pen mandrel before turning.


Fig07:  The Snowman after roughing to round and preliminary tapering of the lower body.


Before starting the shape the head I turned a tenon for the hat.  Obviously the tenon should be 13/32” in diameter, but the length is less obvious.  I measured the depth of the un-countersunk portion of the hole in the hat (about ¾”) and subtracted the height of the fixed portion of the detachable keychain mechanism (just under ½”).  I wanted this part of the mechanism hidden, so I made the tenon a little longer than ¼”.  Don’t be overly concerned about this, as there’s wiggle room for a functional pen.  If the tenon is a little short a little of the lower part of the mechanism will show, and it’s unlikely to be so overly long that you can’t get your fingers on the top part of the mechanism.


Fig08:  The Snowman after turning the tenon for mounting the Hat.


After shaping the tenon I used the skew to make a V-cut ¾” below the tenon to mark the neck.  Then I reduced the diameter of the head to about ¾” and rounded it into the tenon and the V-cut.  I’m sorry to admit that, having a fair amount of time invested by now, I used a spindle gouge instead of a skew to do this.  Next I rounded over the Snowman’s body, and tapered the lower part in a broad ogee curve, matching the bushing diameter at the foot.


Fig09:  In this photo the Snowman has been turned to final shape.


After turning to shape I removed the nut and bushing from the top and checked to make sure the hat fit okay.  Then I replaced the bushing and nut, sanded the Snowman with progressively finer grit, and applied a friction polish.

Fig10:  Testing to make sure the Hat fits.



After removing the Snowman from the lathe I pressed the detachable keychain mechanism into his head and the tip and twist mechanism into the lower piece.  Then I used thick CA glue to attach the hat, aligning the hat so that maximum tilt was evident when the body was held so that the grain lines appeared as circles.


The face, of course, is the most important aspect of the snowman, probably even greater than the hat.  So it makes sense to pencil in the features before painting them.  I drew one dot for the nose, a dot for each eye, four dots for the mouth, and added three dots on his belly for buttons.  Then I got out a bottle of orange (or other carrot-like) and black 3-D paint and made sure the tips weren’t clogged.  First I applied orange paint to the nose.  I tried to draw it out into a carrot like peak a little bit.  Then I applied a dot of black paint for the eyes, mouth, and buttons.  Then I set the Snowman aside to dry overnight.  His hat will tend to make him roll in an unbalanced fashion, so to avoid smearing the paint either set him upright or in a V-block. 


Fig11:  I’ve used a pencil to layout the face and buttons.  It’s a lot easier to erase pencil than paint…


Fig12:  The face after painting.


After the paint was dry I finished assembling the pen, twisting the body so that the grain lined up when the tip was retracted.  I attached the top of the retractable mechanism and a cord for a lanyard.  I had a black cord lying about, but some red nylon cord might be more seasonal.  There’s nothing left to do now but show him off.  If you give the Snowman away, be sure to show the recipient how the detachable mechanism works.  Once you know how it works it seems intuitively obvious, but some people who have never seen one are mystified.

Materials and Supplies

Twist Pen kit

Detachable Keychain kit

Turning Square, 1 x 1 x 4 ½”, maple or other light wood

Turning Square, 1 ¼ x 1 ¼ x 7/8”, walnut

Scrap wood for mandrel, 1 x 1x 1 ¼”

Black and Orange 3D paint

Various grits sandpaper

Friction polish or other finish

Lathe, mandrel, and tools appropriate for pen turning.

13/32 drill bit


3D paint is available at most craft stores or departments.  Twist Pen and Detachable Keychain kits are available at most turning suppliers.



David Reed Smith lives in Hampstead , Maryland .  David took a weekend turning class with Russ Zimmerman in 1984 and has been pursuing an eclectic series of turning projects as a variably serious hobbyist ever since.  He welcomes questions, comments and suggestions via email at