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Picture of Quill Pen & Ink
One of the most practical, prevalent and beautiful art forms in the world, calligraphy has been used throughout human history as a form of expression. And until the mid- to late Nineteenth Century, most of this writing was done with a quill pen. Although today, much calligraphic art is done on a computer, there is nothing more satisfying than creating written works of art by hand. To get started learning this craft, follow the steps in this tutorial to make your own quill pen and ink.
 
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Step 1: What You'll Need

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Ink:
-Measuring cup
-Water
-Dish soap
-White glue
-A small stoppered jar or vial to store the ink
-White vinegar
-10 nails
-Wooden spoon
-4 bags of black tea
-Small bowl
-Plastic wrap

Quill Pen:
-Feather*
-Very sharp, small knife
-Long, thin, strong piece of wire
-Glass jar or soup can
-Hot ashes or sand

*Selecting a good feather is vital. The best kind of feather is 10-12" long, and a primary flight feather from a goose (these can be found easily during molting season in early to mid- summer around any body of fresh water) or a turkey tail feather purchased from a craft store

Step 2: The Ink - Cleaning the Nails

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Pour 1/4 cup of dish soap into the bowl with 2 cups of water. Soak the nails in the soapy water for half an hour

Step 3: The Ink - Mixing Nails & Vinegar

Picture of The Ink - Mixing Nails & Vinegar
Drain soapy water. Dry the bowl and nails, replacing the clean nails in the bowl. Pour enough white vinegar over the nails to cover them, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Allow to soak for two days.

Step 4: The Ink - Bringing It All Together

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Boil the bags of black tea in a cup of water for ten minutes. Allow the water to cool. Mix equal parts of tea and the nail-vinegar liquid (with nails removed) into the vial. The exact amount will vary; use enough to fill your jar or vial to 3/4 full. Mix in glue until the ink is thick enough to write with.
The ink will turn black when it dries on paper.
Nimrodel6261 month ago

Thank you so much! I look forward to making it, as my store-bought in has some how become mixed with water, and all it does is make grey blobs. :( Anyway, I'll get started on the nail part right away! Thanks!

Mig Welder3 months ago

Great 'ible!

Minor question though; is the "nail juice" from uncoated steel nails (so a solution of rust) or from galvanized nails (a solution of zinc)?

This is a great article and I thought I'd make it even better by sharing some hints about making the quill:

1.) Removing barbs: If you grasp the barbs firmly and pull toward the tip, they'll peel off smoothly.

2.) Tempering: Soak the quills overnight in water before using the hot sand. This results in more flexibility but same amount of strength.

3.) When making the tip: Make the first cut as noted, but very shallow. THEN: Turn quill over and make a second shallow cut on the opposite side of the first cut. If you've done this correctly, you'll now have a tip that has two little horns. Gently press the horns together, pressing a little more firmly on the side you want the point to be on. A natural split will happen. Now make the point as described, but integrate the split into the point.

4.) Because you've made a split, the point is now a little trickier to shape (but ink flow will be WAY better). What I like to do is NOT use a knife to shape the point. So, after step 3, above, I use an emery board to shape the tip. Keep going until you like the shape, then get yourself some 800-1000 sandpaper and smooth it (having a little square of this handy will also help when the tip wears down, as it will).

5.) Last step: Look at the split, which should now open into the tip. At the top of the split, you want a tiny hole. Get a needle or a straight pin, hold it over a flame until it's red hot, then put it through the quill at the top of the split. This will hold a little reservoir of ink.

6.) Don't press down very hard when using a quill pen. You don't need to, and you'll save the tip by being gentle.

Love, KK

Mielameri (author)  theodore.elperro5 months ago
Thanks so much for the advice! Very solid, and I didn't know about soaking it in water before the tempering. Plus, I really like the idea of using an emery board to shape the tip; that would definitely allow for more precision, and is a little more forgiving than using a knife
SirTeddyI7 months ago

Very good job explaining. Thank you very much. I have wanted to learn how to do this for a while, and now I know.

Nick Waszak8 months ago

How long does it typically take for the ink to dry?

Mielameri (author)  Nick Waszak8 months ago

It only takes a few minutes (or less) to dry on the page, depending on how absorbent the paper you're writing on is, and how much ink you deposited on the page when writing (thicker, chisel-cut tips generally leave more ink, and thus the ink will take longer to dry). If you want to speed up the drying process, you could also invest in blotting paper or pounce (which is a very fine sand that is cheap and easy to use for drying ink more quickly).

As for how long it will keep in the inkwell before drying out? As long as the container used is air tight, it can keep for a very long time--I don't know exactly because I use it pretty quickly, but I would guess upwards of a year. You'll just have to stir it up to take care of the settling that occurs after it's not been in use for a while.

BeccaF11 months ago

I tried doing this and the ink won't work, the glue doesn't make it thick enough (I have over half of it glue) and the more glue I use the lighter the ink. Help?

Mielameri (author)  BeccaF11 months ago
Hi! A few things that may help:
-Are you using black tea with only a small amount of water? The higher tea-to-water ratio, the greater the color intensity
-Making it in small batches work better. It's easier to thicken a smaller amount of ink
-What kind of glue are you using? White school glue is best
-The ink appears grey when wet and in its container, but will darken to black as it dries
-It should still be fairly liquid; you don't want the ink to be too sluggish
Hope this helps! Let me know if you have any other questions
Mielameri (author) 1 year ago
@HannahN
Coffee is much trickier to use in ink making. It has a lot of compounds that don't make it ideal for use with, say, metal dip or fountain pens, and you have to use a lot more of it to gain the same color intensity as tea
HannahN1 year ago

Can you use coffee instead of black tea, its just to make the black right, so whats the dif.

sunshiine1 year ago

Love the quill pen. I will share this with my daughter. I think she would like to make one. Have a great day!

sunshiine

Thanks for following! Your quill pen and ink tutorial is very cool!

Jayefuu1 year ago

Great instructions! I thought it would be as easy as just cutting it right. Really interesting.

Mielameri (author)  Jayefuu1 year ago
Thanks :). There's definitely an art to it, though if you're in a pinch (not that I can imagine what kind of pinch would involve making quills...), the cuts are really the most important part to get right

that would be cool though, just go to my history class and be like" Hey Mr. S! like my new pencil?"

Mielameri (author)  talarasdourian1 year ago
Lol! Yeah, or better yet, start using one and don't say anything about it, just act like it's completely normal. That would be pretty hilarious
thehbird1 year ago

nice

jddelta1 year ago

Very nice instructable Mielameri, I like to write freehand, it has become a thing of the past with computer generated fonts. Thanks for the idea and how to.

Mielameri (author) 1 year ago
@ meganst thanks! Yep, if you want authenticity for a vintage art project, the quill is the perfect tool :)
meganst1 year ago
What a wonderful instructable. I love wall art DIY projects and have always wanted to make something with vintage handwriting. Maybe this will help me :)
That's awesome!!!
Mielameri (author) 1 year ago
@ absolute zero I've only used this ink in nib pens and quills, so I'm not sure if it would gum up the feed on a fountain pen
Do you think this would work in fountain pens without gumming up the feed?
Mielameri (author) 1 year ago
@ Uncle Kudzu Thanks! The white glue thickens the ink.
There is an excellent tutorial on making ink with oak galls on this site; the recipe used here is an alternative to that
Well done!

What's the white glue for? I collected some oak galls recently and have been wanting to try making some ink. This instructable lays it out nicely!
nnygamer1 year ago
I guess I don't have to finish my version of this. Only thing I did different was using Gum Arabic instead of glue in the ink.
Mielameri (author) 1 year ago
Yup! Oak gall ink is a bit better, but this ink is a nice alternative, as I think it uses more common household ingredients :)
omnibot1 year ago
mole1 >> Oak gall apples. there's an instructable somewhere.
mole11 year ago
Thanks for posting this! I never thought of using tea for the tannin... this is much easier than trying to figure out how to use oak.