Make natural quills and ink very easily

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I've been experimenting with fast an easy methods for making quills and ink with natural materials v. likely in your ecosystem. Here is what I know. I'll start with the simplest possible functional account and provide little elaborations, it is an 80/20 thing, the first part gets you 70% of the way, and additional tweaks take you closer to perfection.


The ink:

  • where
    • In California, oak galls grow everywhere (on oak trees), but particularly in the central valley and places further from air pollution. They look like this. You'll inevitably stuble on some if you ever walk on anything that calls itself a trail.
    • Throughout the Midwest, pick walnut fruit of any variety, pick them whole anywhere from yound to fully rotted and completely gross. Only contraindication to rot is you might see grub crawling if you handle them much. They look like this.
    • Anywhere else, I don't know, hell, you can use coffee. Take the minimal instructions for a pen below and even coffee will work, espresso/turkish are best (darkest/most concentrated). It is actually really pretty.
  • To make more ink than you need take as few as two galls/nuts, soak them for a week in a mason jar or something. You don't even have to slice or cute them. The amount of water you use is the amount of ink you will have, and you don't need as much as you will inevitably make. If you use oak galls, throw in an old nail, pin or anything made of iron, other wise it won't work.
  • pour it into somethin you want to use as a ink well. That is the 70% ink, it sounds in-credibly easy, as in not believable, but that is real ink, that real people used to use. And it is beautiful, both start brown, the oak turns grey over the first two or three months.

AND IT WORKS!!!!!!!!!!!! :)

Next Steps

  • With just two weeks of soak and no boiling it will be on the light side. They next step, if you want to get way 20% closer to real ink, is to make it darker, soak for more than 2 weeks or boil it down. It might seem like wicked stuff, but you can use kitchen pots without worry, they will clean up fine.
  • As for touching up, for that last 10% to real ink, you can do the following:
    • When pouring into an ink well, pour it through an old sock or tshirt to strain out the plant parts, You can use a cheese cloth, if you don't mind it being permanently stained and a little less food-grade than it was when you started.
    • My oak gall ink has molded over before. To fix/prevent that pour in just the smallest dab of rubbing alcohol or any booze over 40 proof (stronger the better). It turns out that the scribes did that too. I think the walnut ink is nasty enough to keep infection out, I hear it is a natural insecticide.
    • You can cut or grind up the galls/fruits, more surface area technically means stronger ink sooner, but really it is a small difference.


Bamboo grows everywhere, lots of landscaping uses it. Just bike around your neighborhood and snip snip the thinnest shoots that are still hoolow inside. The very thinnest shoots won't be hollow, and I don't think branch-shoots are hollow. So as thin as you can get. no less than 5" but start too long, less than a foot, like 8", you can always cut it down.

Inevitably, the prcoess of cutting a quill is something to do with ink and paper, it is iterative and you will learn more by doing it than reading about it, so here is the minimal %70 quill:

  • Get a sharp knife and cut the bamboo stem to a point. That is enough, it will work as a pen. I didn't even tell you how steep to cut it. You will figue out soon enough that too much in either direction is either pointless (in both senses) or too fragile for writing.
  • The next %10: Cut a slit down the middle. Makes the ink draw better. You might cut the slit before sharpening the point on either side of it. The thinner the point the thinner the line.
  • Next %10: you can cut a resovoir, either a nick on the back, or dig a hole out, or even hollow out more of the pith in the hollow center so the ink goes higher up.

This quill works better than any other type i've experimented with. You'll find it slower than a bic pen. If you are writing a letter you find:

  • You can only draw down strokes, this will change your handwriting, but you can indulge and make it classy. My handwriting is like that of a different person when I write with quills.
  • You will dip the pen every line or so.
  • You will sharpen the nib every 4 pages or so. It isn't bad.

Next next steps

I have not learned to make paper yet, but once I've done that, I'll be able to send entirely naturally locally made letters: paper, envelope, ink, quill; all but the stamp. Let me know if any of this works for you. As you can see, all you have to do for ink is pick and soak. All you have to do for pen is pick and cut. How did we ever make this kind of knowledge abstruse and arcane?