How To: Quill Cutting

HOW TO: Cut Quills for Calligraphy


  • Feather – Preferably one of the first five flight (longest) feathers of a wing — goose, turkey, swan, large bird. Feather taken from the left wing of the bird fit the right hand best. Conversely, feathers taken from the right wing are better for left-handers.
  • Sharpened pen knife
  • crochet hook or wire for removal of membranes
  • 300 mil brass sheeting for cutting a reservoir


  1. Shorten the plume to the point that pen rests easily in hand with curve of feather following the natural bend of the wrist. Pull off the barb (feathery bits) that get in the way of the hand’s natural grip. The stripping of this feathering varies with some scribes leaving only a small tuft at the top of the pen.
  2. Cut away the tip of the barrel at a steep angle Remove dried sinewy membrane from inside the feather by twisting the crochet or wire hook inside the shaft of the cut quill
  3. Slice a scoop from the underside of the pen to about half its diameter, centered on the slit.
  4. Shape the nib on one side of the slit, then on opposite side, making sure the two halves match
  5. If the underside of the nib is too concave, scrape it flat with a clean scooping cut, removing as little quill as possible
  6. Slit the top centre of the barrel. The best way to do this is to place the point of the knife inside the barrel, and lever the knife blade gently upwards, releasing pressure as soon as a crack occurs.
  7. Cut the “nib” of the pen by resting the underside of the point on a smooth, hard surface. Thin the tip from the top side by ‘scraping’ the blade forward at a shallow angle; then making a vertical cut, either at right angles to the slit or obliquely. On a very strong feather the last cut can be repeated to remove a very fine sliver, avoiding a rough underside on the tip of the nib.

To add a reservoir:
Adding a reservoir will minimise the time between reloading the quill with ink. They are not necessary, but useful.

  1. Cut a thin, straight bit of brass from the 300mil sheet (or from an aluminum drink can). Size will vary with the diameter of the quill barrel.
  2. Bend it into the curved shape as in example
  3. Gently slide the form into the pen, aligning the end with the nib of the pen