Feather – Make a Quill Pen (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , September 22, 2009 2:33 pm

Feather was the theme of this week’s Unplugged Project.  We decided to try making a quill pen out of some big, beautiful turkey feathers that a friend gave us.

I found very detailed instructions here: Cutting Quill Pens from Feathers. This project involves sharp knives, so unless you have older children, you will probably end up doing most of the work like I did.

First temper the quill to toughen it up.  We filled a small, all metal pan with sand from our giant sand pile (you can use a tin can for this part too) and heated it in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes.

Next we stuck our feather tip into the hot sand and left it there until the sand was cool.

Use a sharp kitchen knife to scrape off some of the feathers near the end in order to make a feather-free area to grip.

Find the orientation of your feather.  This will determine which side you are going to cut.  Feathers curve and you want the pen to curve back in your hand as you write.  The feather is top side up in this photo.

The first cut is actually made opposite the way you would think.  Hold the feather pointed away from you and top side up.  Using scissors, cut the tip off the feather at an angle slanting away from you (so more of the top side is gone than the bottom).

The second cut is a long shallow cut along the bottom of the feather.  It should be centered along the top cut and should remove about half the tube.  This opens up the feather and you can dig out any membranes that are inside using tweezers.

The next part is making the slit.  I didn’t really understand this step until I saw how my cuts had shaped the tip, but you will see two little points (the website calls them “horns”) that are formed by the intersection of the two cuts.

Squash the tip of the feather flat so the two points/horns are flat one against the other.  Press hard and this should make a crack in your feather tip halfway between the points.  Ideally it should only be about 1/4″ long.

The final step (and the one I found the most difficult) is shaping the nib.  Look closely at the instructions to determine the proper shape.  I used scissors for my first cuts, and then a sharp kitchen knife to gradually shave the nib to hopefully something like the proper shape!

Clip off any teeny tiny rough bits, dip your nib in some good ink and test your quill on high-quality paper. I used sepia non-waterproof (ie. washable) ink. Obviously washable ink is preferable if kids are going to use it!

I must say, while not perfect, the quill actually did hold ink in the shaft and wrote much better than I expected.  Not too bad for a first try at a lost skill that really requires much practice and patience to learn properly.

If you decide to try this, I urge you to read the much more complete, knowledgeable and well-photographed instructions at Cutting Quill Pens from Feathers.


If you did a feather Unplugged Project this week, then please link to your project post in the linky below.  If you didn’t join in, please do not link, but read more about how to get involved in the Weekly Unplugged Project here.  We’d love to have you!

By the way, sorry I am late with the post this week, but life comes before blogging!


The theme for next week’s Unplugged Project will be very open-ended:

The Letter J



20 Responses to “Feather – Make a Quill Pen (Weekly Unplugged Project)”

  1. Wow! Your project was worth the wait – what a lot of work you went to. The older children, and I considered making a feather quill, after viewing a Lewis and Clark display, but it looked really hard. Glad to see how nicely yours turned out – maybe we’ll try it someday, afterall.
    .-= almost unschoolers´s last blog ..Owl Cookies =-.

  2. Wow! You are quite impressive this week. You’re usually impressive, but this is quite impressive! :) I like it a lot!
    .-= Becky@BoysRuleMyLife´s last blog ..Unplugged Project: Feathers =-.

  3. Mom Unplugged says:

    Thank you! It actually didn’t take very long. There is a real art to it though and I think my nib is a bit too wide. It was fun, but I am glad that nowadays we can just go to the store and buy a pen. :-)

  4. Mom Unplugged says:

    Thank you Becky, you are very sweet! (Blush)

  5. Lymm says:

    Wow, very impressive! I have to remember to do something with the theme this week. We’ve been so bad about it lately.
    .-= Lymm´s last blog ..Give-Away: Poster Print =-.

  6. alecat says:

    That looks like so much fun. I understand it would be fiddly and take some practice, though.
    Turkey feathers, hey? I can’t come by them very often, but they do look very pretty. :) We often get cockatoo feathers from the wild birds, so maybe we’ll practice with them first and work our way to getting something fancier.
    Thanks so much for sharing. :)

  7. Claire in Tasmania says:

    Well, we killed, plucked and roasted our rooster, first time we’ve ever done such a thing, don’t know whether it’ll become a regular thing. Took all of Sunday afternoon. DS saw some of the plucking. We kept a couple of the feathers, which we might use for crafts. Pity my LOs are way too young to bother trying quills with them at this stage, that looks like fun.

  8. Gerky says:

    Can’t believe I forgot to post this until today. Oops! :-)
    .-= Gerky´s last blog ..Rock Flipping =-.

  9. […] year-old daughter using the turkey quill pen and sepia ink. SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: "Quill Pen Art", url: […]

  10. Michelle says:

    What a great project!
    .-= Michelle´s last blog ..Unplugged Project ~ Feathers =-.

  11. Mom Unplugged says:

    It is hard to imagine wild cockatoos here in Arizona! I have two cockatiels and I have heard that they fly wild in Australia too. Amazing! The turkey feathers are very pretty, but wild cockatoo feathers seem so much more exotic to me, plus they would make great quills I am sure. Let me know how it turns out if you try!

  12. Mom Unplugged says:

    I hope he was tasty! I have only had really fresh meat a few times in my life ( I am more of a buy it in the cellophane at the grocery store and forget that it probably ever had a face hypocritical type), and it was unlike any other meat I have ever had! And I have never plucked a bird. Was it difficult?

  13. Mom Unplugged says:

    That’s OK, it was a great post!

  14. Mom Unplugged says:

    Thank you! It turned out surprisingly well in my mind, although Thomas Jefferson would probably not be impressed. :-)

  15. Claire in Tasmania says:

    Plucking was a bit time-consuming but not difficult as we had found good instructions on the web on ‘scalding’ which is the important step to make the feathers just slide out.
    It tasted great! Like turkey, and it looked like turkey, too – red meat. I messed up the roasting, though, it could have been even better if I hadn’t had the oven too hot. :(

  16. Mom Unplugged says:

    I think I remember my mother telling me about plucking a chicken once and she scalded it first too. It sounds delicious despite the hot oven. Yum!

  17. I just found this, so pardon my butting in:
    Making quills gets easier as you keep practicing, and you can get pretty good feathers at craft stores.
    Writing with them is fun too.
    For example:

  18. Mom Unplugged says:

    Oh no, you are not butting in! I appreciate the feedback. It is nice to know that it gets easier. That is a lovely photo by the way. Thanks so much for the comment!

  19. Vlr says:

    Is the tempering process always required or is that process required only for “fresh” feathers? We have a year old turkey fan from which to get our feathers. Will we still need to temper them?

  20. Johannes says:

    Love your blog, am so sorry about you photos. wish you would keep posting

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