Tips for turning Sweet Gum Pod Pen Blanks
First, it is important to note that sweet gum pods are full of natural gaps that can cause air pockets in your blank even when stabilized, placed in resin, and when a pressure pot is used. The pressure pot is meant to help eliminate air bubbles and squeeze the liquid resin into as many of the gaps as possible. That being said, your blanks may, and likely will, still have air pockets inside. This is normal and not a defect, but it is something you’ll need to be aware of and workaround. Here are some tips.
Paint your tubes
It’s a good idea to paint your tubes something that matches the color, relatively, of the blank you are turning. The reason for this suggestion relates to the air bubbles that can still be in the blank, even though a pressure pot was used to cast it. When these bubbles are found during the turning process, you’ll want to use CA or 5-minute epoxy to fill them in. Depending on how close you are to your tube at that point, you may be able to see the brass through the clear CA you’ve placed in the bubble. Having a somewhat closely matched tube color under will help prevent a spot on your tube showing through as a brass shiny zone.
Have CA on hand
Because sweet gum pods have air pockets despite the caster’s best efforts to remove all of them, it is a very good idea to have medium CA on hand. After turning the blank down a bit, stop your lathe and look for air pockets that may have been revealed. You’ll be able to drop some CA in those pockets, hit it with activator, and then keep turning. Some turners also like to use thin CA to coat the entire blank every minute or two of turning just to ensure that they don’t get a blow-out. Also, using thin CA in this way can allow the watery CA to penetrate down into the fibers of the sweet gum pod below the surface you’ve exposed when turning, which can help “stabilize” the remaining blank a bit as that thin CA hardens.
While it does add time to the overall turning process, the results of a nice sweet gum pod pen blank that didn’t blow up on you are often a reward in and of itself. If possible, you can also add coloring to the CA, such as dye, mica powders, or anything else that can turn the clear CA into something that would better match any voids you run into.
Turn with sharp tools
Sweet Gum pods are rather brittle and it is important to have nice, sharp tools. I have used carbide tools to successfully turn many sweet gum and resin hybrid blanks, though I’m sure you can use standard HSS tools provided they are sharp and your touch is light.
Take. It. Slow.
When you get a majority of the unwanted resin meat off your blank bone, start to take things slow. Don’t try to do deep cuts because you’re likely to hit a pocket and blow half your blank right off the tube. I’ve done it too many times to count. So slow, light passes with sharp tools is key. As you approach the right size and shape for your pen blank, consider switching over to sanding to take the final bits off. Please keep in mind, though, that sanding creates heat and heat can have a negative impact on a resin or hybrid resin/wood blank. Too much heat is bad, avoid it if you can by taking it slow with the sandpaper as well.