Craft a Quill Pen and Ink

Fashion a feather into a custom quill pen that’s perfect for dipping in homemade ink.

| October/November 2019

quill-pen-ink
Quill pens, such as these made from turkey feathers, are classic tools that date back centuries.

Quill pens have been used as writing implements for centuries, the number of which isn’t definitively known, though there are accounts of their use as early as the sixth century A.D. Compared with reed pens, quill pens are flexible and responsive to light variations of touch and pressure. They have a gliding action when drawn across paper, creating lines that are smooth, fluid, and flexible. This responsiveness gives you the ability to control the width of a line by varying downward pressure. The harder you push down, the wider the line becomes.

Artists took notice of these favorable properties in the 12th century, when quills became preferred over reeds for drawing as well as writing. This was the case for most of the old masters, even as steel-nib pens became widely available in the 19th century. These days, quill pens get most of their action in the hands of illustrators and cartoonists.

Quill pens are fun to make and even more satisfying to use. They’re crafted from the shafts of primary feathers (the outermost wing feathers) from large birds, such as turkeys, geese, and swans.



Feather is a unique material to work with, and it requires you to spend some time getting acquainted with its distinctive characteristics. You’ll certainly learn of these properties as you gain experience working with feathers as raw materials for your projects. Even so, set aside any damaged or less-than-ideal feathers to practice on. After shredding a few of these into smaller pieces, you’ll be ready to make your first quill pen.

Quill Pen Tutorial

Tools and Materials:

  • Primary feather from turkey, goose, or other large bird
  • Scissors
  • Sharp pocketknife or utility knife
  • Paper clip
  • Small metal bread loaf pan or tall metal can
  • Fine sand
  • Hot plate or stovetop burner
  • Superfine sandpaper

As you’re reading these directions, keep in mind that the “calamus” is the thickest part of the quill, where the feather was originally attached to the bird. The calamus will become the “nib” of your homemade pen, or the part that comes into contact with, and deposits ink on, the paper. 






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