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Article: Cutting a Quill Pen

Cutting a Quill Pen -
arts and crafts

Cutting a Quill Pen

"I am afraid you do not like your pen. Let me mend it for you. I mend pens remarkably well." Caroline Bingley, Pride and Prejudice

Though made of a humble feather, Quill pens are perhaps the most widely used writing instrument throughout history. Certainly none of Jane Austen's novels would be possible without them! To actually cut a quill pen , a sharp 'pen-'knife and much patient practice are needed. Select the feather from one of the first five flight feathers of any large bird such as a Goose, Swan or even a Peacock. Interestingly enough, feathers from the left wing fit the right hand best, and vice versa. Soak the feather in hot water until it is soft, harden it by pushing it into hot sand, then proceed as follows:

1: First shorten the plume (amount of shortening is optional). Then strip away the barb (which would otherwise rest uncomfortably against the knuckle of the index finger).

2: Cut away the tip of the barrel at a steep angle. Remove the membrane from inside the feather.

3: Make a slit in 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.

4: Slice a scoop from the underside of the pen, to about half its diameter, and centred on the slit.

5: Shape the nib on one side of the slit.

6: Shape the nib on the opposite side, making sure the two halves match. 7: If the underside of the nib is too concave, scrape it flat with a clean scooping cut, removing as little quill as possible. 8: To "nib" the pen, rest 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 make 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.

Naturally, you will want ink for your pen as well, and Martha Lloyd, Jane Austen's Sister-in-law has just the recipe:

Quill Set Take 4 ozs of blue gauls [gallic acid, made from oak apples], 2 ozs of green copperas [iron sulphate], 1 1/2 ozs of gum arabic. Break the gauls. The gum and copperas must be beaten in a mortar and put into a pint of strong stale beer; with a pint of small beer. Put in a little refin'd sugar. It must stand in the chimney corner fourteen days and be shaken two or three times a day.

Of course, if this sounds like too much work, you can always buy a precut Plume pen and ink from our gift shop Quill instructions taken from


I taught school children to write with quill pens at a National Trust property for 13 years as part of their studies of Tudor history.
The quill pens Jane Austen wrote with had a tuft of feathers left at the top of the pen ONLY so that the writer would not accidentally prod themselves in the eye. The rest of the shaft was trimmed bare as the nib was cut.

Depictions of a full feather being wafted around in films and tv productions get it wrong.

The proposed new statue of Ms Austen (due to be erected outside the offices of Winchester Cathedral ) includes a fully fledged “feather” alongside an inkwell – arranged neatly on her famous writing table. (

But hush! Can that soft whirring noise we hear from the great church over the way be the sound of Ms Austen rotating in her grave? .


I would like to buy a ready cut quill how can I do that.
Many thanks
Leslie Reid

Leslie Reid

[…] Cutting a quill pen took a great deal of skill. The nib had to be carefully shaped in order for the hollow core to hold the correct amount of ink, and then be released smoothly as the writer pressed on it. I found detailed instructions about how to sharpen a quill here. […]

Regency Writing, Quills and the Indispensable Pen Knife – Front Porch Romance Book Review Blog

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