Quill Dipping Pen




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.

My daughter had a large feather that she wanted to make an old fashioned ink-dipping pen with. We could have cut the end of the quill and slotted it to feed ink, but she didn't want to have to slowly whittle away her quill as it wore down with use. So we resolved to make a quill fitted with a metal nib that would last much longer. The idea was inspired by seeing metal tipped quills in the Harry Potter movies.

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Step 1: Materials

* Feather

* Metal Pen Nib

* Heavy Embroidery Thread

* Super-glue

* Dipping ink

The feather came from my daughter's art supply box, though you can find large ones at your local hobby store (often dyed). The metal pen nibs are sold with caligraphy supplies at your local art store; they are designed to be slipped into a pen handle, usually made of wood or plastic. You will find dipping inks in the same area.

Step 2: Slotting the Quill

Using the exacto knife, cut a slot across the base of the quill.

Think about how you are going to hold the pen when you make the slot -- my daughter wanted the top of the nib to be parallel to the face of the feather, so we cut the slot accordingly.

Our nib is scalloped, with a bit meant to be dipped (the writing end) and a bit that is meant to be attached to the pen handle. We cut the length of the slot to fit the piece that joins with the pen handle.

Step 3: Tieing the Nib

We didn't want the metal nib to come out, so we tied it on to the quill with heavy embroidery thread.

Starting above the nib, start with an over-under knot, with equal lengths of the thread on either side.

Wrap the thread around the nib, crossing the left and right threads over each other as you work your way down to the bottom of the quill.

At the bottom of the quill, tie the thread off with a tight square knot. This whole wrapping procedure was easier with two sets of hands, to keep the thread tight as we were wrapping.

Step 4: Glueing the Wrap

We didn't want the thread moving around, nor the nib to fall out, so we resolved to permanently glue it. Place a drop of super-glue on each of the knots, and at the interfaces where the threads crossed over the cut line on the quill.

When the glue is dry, you will be the proud owner of a metal tipped writing quill!

Step 5: Writing

We use calligraphy dipping ink with our pen. Metal nibs hold a small supply of ink by capillary action, between the two tines that form the writing point.

Just dip the writing tip of the nib into the ink, no farther than the top of the slot in your nib. If you go above this, you will get ink on your quill, permanently discoloring it. Additionally, getting ink into the high parts of your nib and quill will make it more likely to cross contaminate colors if you switch inks.

Learning to write with a nib pen takes a bit of practice. If you are used to writing with a regular ball-point pen or pencil, you'll need to practice only using strokes that draw the pen toward you, never away from you. If you try to push the pen away from you, the tines on the nib can catch on the paper, digging into the surface, bleeding ink out of the nib, and possibly damaging the nib. With practice, you'll get used to smooth motions of writing with a nib pen.




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    13 Discussions


    1 year ago

    First off, well done!

    As for writing, fountain pen nibs are tipped, meaning that while the line will not be as thin, the movement will be smoother (though you might as well use a fountain pen, as they are pretty cool by themselves in addition to the easier use). Both types of nibs will benefit from light pressure (just the weight of the pen is enough for good nibs) and a slanted grip (≈45° relative to the page, especially on upstrokes.) This should help with the digging in. I believe there exist nibs which are bent near the top to create the optimal angle without needing to change writing habits, if that is desired. There are also penmanship methods that involve moving the pen entirely with the arm rather than the fingers that can help, but more so for doing calligraphy than writing.

    (Important points: Try a fountain pen nib, use lighter pressure and a shallower angle while writing.)

    The scripts used by scribes generally involve line variation (for which substantial practice is needed to master) or an italic/stub nib (basically a nib that ends in a chisel tip rather than a point). The benefit of stub (which are, in essence, rounded out italics -- Italics are sharp and can create crisp lines for calligraphy) nibs is that it adds line variation to writing and can add a calligraphic appearance to regular writing. However, the resistance on the page changes depending on angle, and that can make it feel slightly strange to write. This is a bigger issue in italics, and the difference in benefit is negligible with normal writing. However, on the topic of italics, Gothic (blackletter) Script is one of the easiest to learn and looks quite nice as well, in addition to fitting in with the medieval theme.

    Creating shaded and italic scripts will use more ink, so to need less redipping, one can create an ink cage (there are multiple ways, such as a spring, or a metal clip that hugs the nib but all use capillary action to hold more ink on the nib. Some pointed calligraphy nibs (though they tend to be more expensive) have ink cages pre made, though it's easy enough to make one. Italic calligraphy nibs usually have one already.

    (Consider an italic/stub nib for a more calligraphic look and an ink cage for easier use.)

    The current nib used appears to be a Hunt (speedball) extra fine bowl pointed, which is not too sharp and relatively inflexible. This makes it good for drawing, where the swells in line width of calligraphy are not required, and for beginner use, since the feel of the nib on paper is more like a traditional pen and less like a wet noodle. There are better options, but the one included is pretty good for the purpose. If it ultimately serves too scratchy, however, a fountain pen nib (stainless steel ranges from ~$1 to over $20, depending on brand and to a much lesser extent, quality) could be of use, assuming the quill is used as a writing utensil rather than a (for lack of a better word in my vernacular) toy. FP nibs do not hold sizable amounts of ink, as in normal use the nib would be constantly supplied, however, so an ink cage would help if one were used. Most fountain pens, and pretty much all stainless ones, are stiff rather than flexible.

    Comment if any questions regarding the above (maybe essay is the right word?) exist.


    2 years ago

    thank you I just got my first quill and had no idea how to attach the nub so glad I found this


    3 years ago

    Been making my own quills for years but never considered doing this. Thank you!


    4 years ago

    I showed my little sisters and they love it.


    4 years ago

    I have always wanted to learn how to make these so thanks soooo much!


    4 years ago

    Sweet!!!!! Now you are an olden day person


    4 years ago on Introduction

    This turned out looking great. My kids would love to have their own feather pen like this. Thanks for sharing how you made yours!

    3 replies