Introduction: Create a Custom Medieval-/Fantasy-Style Calligraphy Quill

About: Gian is a computational biologist,maker, author, humorist. He holds degrees in Molecular/Cellular Biology, Biochemistry, Computer Science. He has a collection of 8-bit microcontrollers and a room full of compu…

If you're like me, you have several pen/styli and a toolbox full of various nibs that allows you to experiment and get creative with your calligraphy. Lately, I've needed something slightly different than what my nibs could provide, and in a similar tradition to the great scribes who illuminated the great medieval manuscripts, I created a hardwood quill with wonderful writing characteristics that gives me just what I'm looking for.

This instructable is short-and-sweet, and will walk you through creating your own hardwood quill out of items you may already have laying about your house. This quill provides an excellent tactile feel, controlled ink flow, and is orders of magnitudes sturdier and more durable than traditional medieval quills made from goose feathers. If this sort of thing interests you, then join me and turn the page!

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

As mentioned, this instructable is very straightforward and easy to complete. If you go with a straight hardwood-type quill, you could be finished in five minutes. Using the bamboo rod as a stylus with the hardwood portion as an affixed nib only adds maybe five more minutes to the total process.

To get things rolling, rummage through your utensils drawers and gather up any chopsticks you might have. They'll need to be wooden (the composite or plastic kind won't do) and ideally should be made of a hardwood. If you don't have any of these lying about, you can pick them up all over the place for maybe no more than $5 or less. Make sure you get good hardwood chopsticks. It's needed to keep the crisp edge on the quill and doesn't soak up and hold as much ink in the wood itself.

If you're going for the bamboo stylus, I picked up a bag of bamboo sticks/rods from Home Depot for a few bucks. They're used to stake plants and small trees in a garden, so I'd guess any place that sells that sort of thing might have this. I went with bamboo for a couple of reasons:
  • it's light and easy on the hands
  • it has an ideal circumference for a comfortable grasp when doing detailed script work
  • it's already hollow
Ok, once you have your things in order, proceed to the next step.

Step 2: Sizing Up and Cutting

You'll want to have decided on which route you want to take on your quill: the full wooden jobby or the bamboo styles thingo. This decision determines the measurements for your hardwood nib or quill. I happened to have two hardwood chopsticks handy (they come in pairs!), so I made both.

The Hardwood Quill

You'll want to measure and cut the chopstick from the small end (the eating end). This end will be the top of your quill with the thicker portion lower down being used for the nib. You'll have to play around with the measurements to find what works with your hands best. For me, I found that I liked a quill of total length 15cm; that's shy of 6 inches for you imperial measurement folks. Hold it in your hand, turn it around back and forth. Feel free to mark the chopstick with a pen or marker to try out different lengths before you cut.

Cut your chopsticks with either a fine-toothed saw of some sort or your handy dremel. You want a clean cut on this hardwood.

The Bamboo Stylus

For the bamboo stylus, the hardwood portion from the chopstick is decidedly shorter. The circumference of your bamboo stylus might determine, to an extent, the length you'll need to cut in order to fit snugly inside the bamboo handle. I measured and cut a bit longer than I knew I'd need just to have a little room to play with when I fitted it into the handle and worked the nib with a blade.

At this point, you may want to take a look at your bamboo rod. The annulus may not be completely open and could require you to hollow it out as mine did. For this task (as with any task that gives me an excuse), I whipped out my handy dremel, attached a routing tip, and opened up both ends of the bamboo rod. I did this so that I could cut the rod in half and have the choice of a thicker handle or a thinner handle, as well as to give me another option on width of the chopstick end that I can take. When you're done, it should look something like the bamboo rod in the pictures.

Fit your cut hardwood pieces into either or both ends of your bamboo rod to get an idea of snugness of fit. Now, just as you did with your hardwood chopsticks, go ahead and cut your bamboo rod in half. You will most likely have to hollow out each end of the cut. I further ran a sanding attachment over each end to smooth everything out and give it a more polished look while also stripping off any dark, burned wood caused by the high-speed dremel cutter.

Step 3: Cut Down the Nib

Whether you're creating the wooden quill or the nib, the instructions here are the same.

You'll want to get a sharp knife and create the edge you want for your targeted desired calligraphic effect. For me, I went with a mostly traditional medieval style. You will probably be wanting some variation on this theme, widening or narrowing the edge to your specific needs.

Front Edge

This edge will need the most pared away from it. It should also be longer than the back side of the nib and curved inward (concave). Eyeball the tip and decide where you want to start cutting. Hardwood cuts nicely but may not be as smooth as you're used to if you're used to working with softer woods like pine. Try to avoid short strokes and use full-length cuts down the length you desire, adding more pressure in the middle of the cut and less at the edge.

For me, I created a stroke to create the concave under surface that measures 1cm. Stop paring away material before you reach the desired thickness of your nib edge. See the pictures for details on how this looks.

Obverse Edge

Before you are quite finished removing material from your nib, flip it over on the back side and make a short, direct, and firm cut at a very slight angle to remove any roundness (or squareness) left over from the original shape of the chopstick. This should remove only very little material. Use a light stroke. You can always use more strokes if you need to to get it down to the angle you would like. See the pictures here for how that looks.

Bamboo Stylus

If you are making the wooden quill, congratulations, you're done! If you are making the bamboo stylus, you only have one or two more steps before completion. First, you may need to remeasure and recut your hardwood portion to get the right length on the nib. Ideally, I wouldn't think you'd want more than 1-1.5cm protruding from the bamboo handle. That would seem a little clunky and hard to handle, to me, but as always you're free and encouraged to experiment and find out what works best for you.

Once you have the desired length, drop in a few drops of wood glue into the hollow bamboo handle and slide in the nib until its seated firmly. Make sure you pay attention to any curves of the handle as this is important to achieving a good technique and is dependent on whether you write left or right handed. Give it a go.

Step 4: Test Drive


Congratulations! You've made your own calligraphic quill worthy of illuminating the finest of medieval manuscripts. Give it a try. I prefer archival quality liquid acrylic ink as this works nicely with the porosity of the wood quill/nib. If you use carbon-type ink your mileage may vary.

I hope you enjoyed this instructable and had fun creating your own writing quill. As always, I welcome any comments or suggestions you may have about this or any of my other instructables.

Have fun!