Introduction: DIY Calligraphy Nibs
This tutorial will explain how to fabricate calligraphy pen nibs from brass stock and simple tools. Total material cost for one nib is less than $1. The most expensive part are probably the tools needed, but who doesn't love tools?
- Flat Brass stock 1/2" to 1" wide x 0.025" and 0.0125" thick
- Brass stock can be found at most hobby supply stores for low cost. It can also be ordered online for significantly more money.
- Round Brass Tubing 1/4" diameter, wall thickness 0.014"
- Anything thicker will have trouble fitting in most calligraphy pen nib holders. Any thinner will probably be too weak.
- Sandpaper 600, 350, 150 grit
- Solder 50/50 tin/lead
- Flux for soldering
- Jeweler Saw blades 4-O and 4 gauge
- Jeweler's Saw
- Bench vise w/ rubber pads
- Keyhole files (optional, but helpful)
- Soldering Iron (50-75w)
- Third-hand Tool
Step 1: Measure and Cut Stock
The nib being made in this tutorial is a dual-line nib, used for drawing parallel lines. This is obviously a more complex nib because of the extra cuts and its functionality is limited in use. Obviously, you do not need to make the extra cut-out and could very well use it as a whole nib.
The stock used for this nib was piece of flat brass stock 1" x 1/2" x 0.025" and 1" x 1/2" x 0.0125". The thicker piece forms the base of the nib and the thinner acts as the reservoir which holds the ink on the nib through surface tension.
Measure and cut the pieces together so that they are the same size. When clamping the stock in the vise keep the working piece outside of the jaws and support it while sawing with your fingers. This will help prevent bending the pieces of brass while sawing. Use the jeweler's saw with a 4 gauge blade to make the cut.
After cutting the pieces off of the base stock it is a good idea to sand off any rough edges. Use each of the three grades of sandpaper to do this. Then measure and mark the small lines at top every 1/16" at a length of 1/8" each. These fine cuts will allow the ink to flow to the tip of the nib when writing. The deeper channel for the is marked at 1/4".
Step 2: Cutting the Grooves
After marking the cuts, clamp both pieces together in the vise. Only the very top parts of the metal should be outside of the jaws to prevent bending. Make the cuts using the 4-O gauge saw blade.
Step 3: Cutting the Post
Gently clamp the entire piece of round brass tubing in the vise. Using the whole piece will make it easier to cut. Make an off-center cut straight down the length of the tube and then begin to turn the saw blade to make the horizontal cut. This will be the end that fits into the calligraphy pen nib holder. The remaining piece of tubing should be about 1/3 of the total circumference. The total length of the cut is about 1/2"
Next measure the tube to a length of 3/4" and cut it off the stock.
Sand all edges with each of the grits of sandpaper.
Step 4: Making the Vertical Cut
Clamp the cut post back in the vise, closing the flat previously cut end in the jaws.
Next, make a cut straight down approximately half of the remaining tube. You may need to make two cuts to provide enough room for the two nib blades. Error on the side of too small and use the 150 grit sand paper to enlarge the gap as needed. Test the fit of the blades as you go. The snugger they fit in this step, the easier it will be to solder them in the next.
Step 5: Soldering It All Together
After fitting the blades (make sure the grooves match and the thinner piece is on top) into the post, mount it in the third-hand tool.
Warning: Brass conducts heat very well and the nib will become very hot during soldering. Do not try to hold it with your fingers.
Warning x2: Wear safety glasses while soldering. Flux can spit hot solder in your eye, no fun.
If your blades fit loosely in the post, you will have to provide additional support to keep them together in the third-hand tool.
Make sure the post is aligned as straight as possible with the nib blades.
Next, dab a very small amount of flux on to the nib on both sides. Ensure that some of the flux is inside the tub where the blades meet.
Note: Flux helps solder spread around and make a clean bond with the metal. This means the solder will typically spread to anywhere the flux is, use it sparingly.
In this example, the bottom was soldered first.
There are many videos on the net concerning soldering. You should use the soldering iron to warm up the metal and lightly dab on some solder. The flux will pull it into place.
When making this nib, the flux pulled the solder to the other side, completing the process. Applying too much solder can easily ruin everything, causing the blades themselves to become fully bonded together. Try not to "fix" anything that isn't broken as it will probably lead to applying too much solder.
Step 6: Washing Up
Allow the nib to cool, it will be very hot after soldering. Laying it on a large metal surface will help it cool faster. Do not run it under water as that will weaken the solder joints.
After it has completely cooled, wash the nib with dish soap to remove the flux.
Step 7: Adding a Bevel
Mount the newly soldered nib in the nib holder and hold it as you normally would.
Place a piece of 150 grit sandpaper flat on the and stroke the nib on the paper in one direction. Make sure the edge you are sanding is the bottom side of the nib, the thicker piece. The angle of the grind should be around 45 degrees. Check your progress grinding every couple of strokes. Continue until you have created a bevel across both blades of the nib.
Once the desired bevel has been obtained, finish with the 350 and 600 grit sandpaper. Also take this time to smooth out any remaining rough patches on the nib. You may also want to clamp it in the vise again to round off the shoulders of the nib as they can be sharp.
Step 8: Final Step
The final step is to microwave some hot water and stir the nib around in it for a short time. This will help clean off any remaining flux and get the sandpaper dust out of the grooves.
Then have fun playing with your new nib.
Some final notes:
This isn't the "right" or "wrong" way to make a nib. You should experiment with what works for you. The thicker brass helps when making larger nibs like the 1" nib in the first photo. Smaller nibs may work better with thinner brass stock. Hopefully, this tutorial has given you some ideas of what is possible.