Introduction: Dip Pen Nib Holders

About: I'm a professor of physics and astronomy at Northwestern University. I do a lot of hobbies, including amateur astronomy, woodworking, and Lego modeling among many others.

I'm a fountain pen aficionado -- I like them better than ball points because I like big bold lines, and I like the style of them. I have a fair number of pens, but I don't like to have pens just for show -- I try to use them all.

Hand-in-hand with fountain pens is a healthy love of the many colors of inks that one can use with their pens. More and more, there are fantastic assortments of colors and sheens. It's fun to use different colors when writing letters to friends, or when journalling, or making idle sketches in my idea notebook. However, I hate to ink a pen if I'm not going to use the entire converter of ink -- that's just a waste of ink!

So I was looking for a solution to let me use any ink on a whim without being wasteful. Then one day I was talking to my dad, and he was telling me how in the olden days they had inkwells in their desks and practiced handwriting with dip pens in school. Dip pens! Of course!

There are glass dip pens, though they don't have nice tips like fountain pens. There are lots of dip pens targeting artists and calligraphers, but I couldn't find any general writing tips like a fountain pen -- the nibs are all sharp pointed (like the one we used on our Quill Dipping Pen Instructable). So I put the question to Ana at The Well-Appointed Desk (a favorite blog of mine), questing to find one of those old school dip pens. Ana did not let me down, pointing to the fact that there is not an inconsiderable amount of "old new stock" of replacement nibs that can be found from the hey-day of dip pens.

Step 1: Finding Nibs

I went questing and found a great collection of Esterbrook Renew-point nibs from the fine folks at Anderson Pens. I acquired a couple of medium points (my preferred fountain pen point). The question now was what to do about a nib holder? Ana had noted that there are many custom pen turners who can make nib holders (like Shawn Newton, an excellent custom pen artist in Arkansas), but I also wanted to try my hand and making my own. The result is the instructable you have in your hands!

I don't have a lathe, and I wanted to use the tools I already have at my disposal in my shop, so normal pen-turning from blanks wasn't in the cards. I opted to start with dowels.

Measuring the diameter of my Esterbrook nibs with a caliper, I get the thread diameter of 9/32". Doing some searching of the online fountain pen community revealed that the threads on these nibs are close to but not exactly 9/32-36.

I couldn't find a 9/32-36 tap in any event, so decided on a different strategy -- pressure fitting. I'm going to use these as dip pens, not daily pens I carry around; a pressure fitting ought to work just fine for use at my desk. I settled on 1/2" diameter dowels, cut to a length of 6 inches to make them comfortable to write with.

Step 2: Nib Holder Drilling Jig

I have a drill press, so I used it to drill the holding well in the dowel. To hold it vertical and steady, I had to build a jig. I started by drilling a vertical hole with a Forstner bit in a 2x4, which I then clamped to the table of my drill press.

I wrapped the end of my dowel in painters tape to make sure it would sit firmly in the jig. Putting it on the drill press table, I can drill stright down into the end of the dowel.

Step 3: Drilling the Nib Well

My plan then was to end drill a well for the pen nib in the dowel using a 9/32" drill bit. Using the 1/2" dowels, this insures there was a wall left around the drilled well to hold the nib.

I set the jigged dowel under the drill bit, and drilled a 1/2" deep hole in the end. The nibs drop into the hole, rattling loosely around -- we'll come back to that.

Step 4: Shaping the Nib Holder

At this point you could just say you're done, but I wanted my holders to at least be a little stylish, so I decided to put a little shape on them. But remember I don't have a lathe? Well I do have a drill press.

Removing the drill bit from the press, I put the dowel in its place; I wrapped the end of the dowel in painters tape to protect it from the jaws of the drill-press spindle when I tightened it down.

Turning on the drill press, I shaped the spinning dowel with a bit of sandpaper and a rat-tail file. I rounded the back end to make it gentle and domed, and put a bit of a waist just above the nib to make it comfortable to hold the pen.

Step 5: Nib Holder Finishing

I played around with finishing -- on two of my nib holders, I did a two-tone staining, and the third (an oak dowel) I left the wood natural. Since these are dip pens, I wanted to be able to clean them completely when I switched inks, so I also gave all three of them multiple coats of Helmsman spar urethane.

Step 6: Nib Pressure Fitting

Now, the crux of my plan -- the nib is to be held in with a pressure fitting.

To fill the excess space between the nib and the wall of the holder well, I use a piece of paper cut from and index card or cardstock. For the nibs I'm using, a piece of cardstock 0.5"x1.5" was perfect.

Wrapping it tightly around the base of the nib, it is then pushed into the nib holder where it is held tightly. You can use a longer or shorter piece of paper to insure that your nib is held firmly -- just add or remove a bit of the wrap around.

The disadvantage of using paper is it is stained by the ink and degrades after being wetted, so has to be replaced every time I use it. Not a bad trade for being able to use my Esterbrook nibs. :-) I just keep a stack of the little paper wraps in my ink box.

Step 7: Final Nib Holders

I'm very pleased with the way it turned out! The nibs are held firmly in place, even when writing an entire page, and the holders are as comfortable as any of my fountain pens. The waist is a definite plus, making the holders easier to grip than just a straight dowel.

The most serious flaw in this attempt to make nib holders was the centering of the well drilled to hold the nibs. You can see in several of the pictures it is slightly off center. Not so bad that it prevents the nib holder from being useable, but something to work on improving.

I'm looking forward to exploiting my ink collection now! I hope you enjoy the instructable, and perhaps try your own hand at adding a dip pen to your writing habit! Happy writing!