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Making a Real Crow Quill

For years I had thought it would be cool to make a crow quill pen out of a real crow feather. As it turns out, one of my neighbors takes a walk every early morning and feeds the local crows. My wife told him about my interest in pen-and-ink and my desire to try out some crow feathers. So this man very kindly collected feathers as he made his morning rounds. Every week or so another package of two or three feathers would be left on my porch. In a short time, I had a tidy little collection.

I have been holding onto this collection for a few months now, continually telling myself that I should get to making some pens. Well, the holiday season gave me the proper impetus and I finally got around to making some.

The instructions I followed came from here and here. According to these directions, the first step was to prep the shaft. To do that I had to scrape off some of the loose detritus and strip off some of the lowest barbs. At first, I tried scraping off the barbs with my knife, but I found that wasn’t very effective. I discovered that I could simply pull the barbs off with my fingers.

After the feathers were cleaned and stripped, they were ready to be tempered.

I tempered my feathers in an old cookie tin filled with sand that I heated in my oven. I think now that a deeper tin, such as a coffee can, wold probably be better.

After the sand cooled down, the feathers were ready to be cut. I ran into a lot of problems at this stage. The shaft was easy to crack and sometimes slits cut into it would run in odd directions. I found that I couldn’t cut perpendicular to the shaft with any downward pressure or the shaft would crack. I also discovered that I had to use the sharpest knife possible. So I cracked off the old edge to my utility knife and continued with a fresh blade. This made things proceed a lot more smoothly.

A cracked shaft on an early attempt.

By about the third feather, things started to come together and I wasn’t simply mutilating the shafts. Finally, I was able to get something that resembled a quill.

I still have some more feathers to cut and give as gifts. Still, drawing with some of the ones I made hasn’t convinced me to shift from metal nibs. The metal nibs are just some much stronger and more reliable. Still, using a real feather quill is fun and there is something romantic about it. Almost everyone who sees one wants to use it.

(written December 27, 2015)