Making Quill Pens

Why are quill pens so interesting? A regular pen is much easier to use. Perhaps making quill pens is part of the appeal.

Then again this is fun to do as part of colonial history. All of our country’s founding documents were written with quill pens. They look so elegant in the portraits.

The first requirement for making quill pens are the quills. These are feathers, but not just any feathers. Birds are covered with feathers of many kinds doing different things for the bird. A quill is a large wing feather.

choosing a quill for a pen
These two quills have the large shaft needed. One is from the left wing and the other from the right wing so they curve in opposite directions.

Birds have wings on both sides. The quills on one side curve to the left and on the other side to the right. Most people are right handed so the left curve was preferable as it curved away from the hand.

Another requirement was size. Bigger quills held more ink and wrote better. Goose quills were the most common as geese were raised for feathers and food. The best ones came from swans.

Making quill pens involves trimming the quill point
This was an older quill so the shaft was very hard. It tried to shatter, but a sharp knife did shave it down into a rounded point.

According to the 1912 Encyclopedia Britannica making quill pens was quite an industry. The quills were obtained and heated to a specific temperature. There was organic matter inside the quills and the heat made it easy to remove this. Then the points were cut at various angles depending on how the quill was to be used.

For “The City Water Project” activity making quill pens, the special heating and cutting are dispensed with. The quill is found, cleaned off and the end shaved or cut at some angle. Food coloring can be used in place of ink, although real ink is much better as it is thicker.

I’ve used vulture wing feathers and wild turkey feathers I’ve found on the hills or in the pastures. Both work well. This time a friend gave me a peacock feather to try. It worked well too. The main thing is to have a large quill.

Making quill pens is tested by writing with one
The quill pen was easy to write with. The line was a little uneven. It did leave a small blot. I didn’t dip it very far into the ink so I couldn’t write much each time.

This time too I had real ink. It worked very well even with the crude point I managed to cut. Making quill pens is a fun activity, but I prefer my ball point pens, an invention that appeared for sale in the late 1950’s.