For 1,500 years before the invention of the fountain pen in the twentieth century, writers used quill pens made from feathers. The hollow stem of the feather is cut at the tip to hold some ink and release the ink for writing. The process of making a quill pen is straightforward, and few tools are required. You can make your own quill pen with store-bought feathers or feathers you find in nature.
Using quill pens may leave your fingers stained with ink.
Choosing a Feather
The feather must be a strong flight feather from the wing of a robust bird. These feathers are generally about 12 inches in length with a 1/4-inch tube. You can purchase turkey or goose feathers from a craft store, or you can use a feather that you found in the woods or on a farm. Usable feathers have a section of transparent tubing beneath the plumage. Don't use inexpensive craft feathers that come in large bags, as the tubes on these feathers are usually crushed
Preparing the Feather
To prepare the feather, first temper it to give it resilience. Then strip some of the plume to make more room for the hand.
Things You'll Need
- Clean, dry, empty soup can, 16-ounce
- Toaster oven
- Craft knife
- Fine grit sandpaper
Fill the soup can with sand. Place it in a toaster oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes.
Remove the can from the oven. Stick the tube of the feather into the sand as far as it will go.
Leave the feather in the sand until the sand cools completely. You will notice that the transparent tube shrinks slightly and gets harder, and the color becomes more opaque.
Using the craft knife, scrape some of the plume off of the tip of the feather. Only remove enough to make room for the writer to hold the pen comfortably.
Gently sand the area where you scraped until it is smooth.
Cutting the Nib
Things You'll Need
- Felt-tip marker
- Craft knife
- Cuticle scissors
Hold the feather in your hand and decide where the top of the pen should be. This will depend on the angle and curve of the feather and how it fits most comfortably in your hand. Place a dot in this spot, approximately 1 inch from the tip of the feather.
Lay your feather on your work surface with the tip pointing away from you. Put your craft knife on the dot, and make a steep, angled cut away from you. Make the angle of the cut 45 degrees or less.
Inspect the inside of your tube. If there are any membranes, remove them with the tweezers.
Cut a slit in the bottom center of the opening. Place your craft knife inside the opening, and gently score it a few times until you cut a slit.
Shape the nib. Shave the sides of the opening so that they are slightly curved and the opening tapers towards the tip. Use cuticle scissors to cut a sharp, angled tip that looks like the tip of a fountain pen.
Test Your Point
Dip your pen in some ink and try to write with it. Depending on your results, you may need to fine tune the shaping of your nib.
- If the ink spills out of the pen in messy blobs, then the edges from the outside to the tip haven't been cut properly. They should be gently curved, not straight, creating a flat surface area at the tip. Straight-cuts allow too much ink to cling to the surface area of the tube, releasing a blob when the pen touches the paper.
- If the ink splatters in many different directions, then the shape of the tip is too narrow. Slice a bit off of the tip to make a wider base.
- If the pen doesn't write at all, or the letters fade as you write, check the slit to make sure it is cut properly. Dip the pen in ink and wipe away the excess with a clean cloth. If you can still see some ink where the slit is, then it is fine. But if this area doesn't hold on to some ink, then the slit isn't fully cut. Use your craft knife to fully cut the slit.
- If your pen isn't writing, another possible problem is that the two tines on either side of the slit are not even. Look at them under a magnifying glass, and make sure that they are perfectly even with each other.
Even the best quill pens only last for a few pages. Be prepared to use several quill pens to write a lengthy letter.
Based in Philadelphia, Marybeth Kufen has been teaching since 2007, and has been writing education-related articles since 2013. She holds a master's degree in elementary education and is a certified Reading Specialist. Kufen was named Teacher of the Year for her district in 2014.