Quill pens are the perfect writing tool if you’re looking to write with an unmatched stroke and greater flexibility. Quill pens were used long before dip pens, and have lasted the test of time because of their unique writing abilities. Find out how you can make your own quill pen below!
If you find quill pens interesting, read Introduction to Quill Pens for more information on how to care for your quill pen and so on!
Parts of a feather
Identifying the different parts of a feather is helpful to better understand how to make a quill pen. Take a look at this feather and it’s labeled parts so you can make your own pen like a pro!
What type of feather to use
The most common feathers used for quill pens are goose or turkey feathers. These are popular for their large size making them stronger and longer lasting. If you’re looking to write in larger print, swan feathers, though a bit more expensive and scarce, are ideal for their larger shafts. Depending on other hand-writing preferences will determine the feather that will best match your desired outcome. In general, the larger the bird, the stronger the shaft of the feather and the better it will be for quill writing.
How to prepare the feather
Making a quill pen is quick, simple and only requires a few supplies. Before getting started, make sure you have the following:
- Cup of water (optional)
- Sand (optional)
- Burner and pan (optional)
- Sharp knife (an Xacto knife works well)
- Nail clippers
- Cutting board
Traditionally, when getting started on creating a quill pen, soaking the feather shaft overnight in water and then placing the feather shaft in hot sand for a minute was the way to go. This process is called clarification and is said to help harden the shaft. There is some discussion about whether or not this actually helps to condition the pen for the trimming process or not. Some people believe there is no difference, so it’s up to you to decide if you’d like to clarify the quill or not.
Clarification is simple. Place the quill shaft in water overnight. In the morning, remove the feather, and place the shaft in hot sand for about one minute. Unless you live somewhere really hot, the easiest way to heat the sand is in a pan on a burner. You can fill the shaft with the sand, then dump it out to make sure the whole shaft gets heated. Be careful not to burn yourself!
Strip the membrane
After clarification, take a sharp knife or sandpaper to carefully strip the wispy membrane from the outside of the bottom of the shaft. This produces a nice, smooth shaft. Feel free to go as high up as you’d like in removing any feather hairs (downy barbs, afterfeathers, or barbs) so that your hand can sit comfortably on the shaft.
Making the nib-like end
To create the nib-like end of the quill, place the quill on a cutting board, and remove some shaft material from one side of the end of the quill. When removing this material, make sure you do so at just less than a 45-degree angle and about half an inch from the end of the quill. The diagram below does a better job explaining this step. Essentially this step is creating the point at the end of the quill that you’ll be writing with later.
Once you’ve created the nib-like shape, you’ll trim the tip of the quill with nail clippers just barely to make it flat on the end. This is the way most metal nibs are made to produce the calligraphic abilities once you get to writing.
Next, you’ll be creating a slit in the middle of the tip so that the ink has a track to run down. Quill pens hold the ink until you press them on the paper when the slit slightly separates and allows the ink to run down. To create the slit, you’ll take your sharp knife and make a divet from where you cut the shaft off (about half an inch up) to the end of the shaft. Careful not to go all the way through to the outside of the shaft. You’re just making a mini canal for the ink to come down.
Clean up the shaft
Finish up your quill pen by cleaning up the edges with a knife or sandpaper and cleaning out the inside of the shaft of any leftover pieces.