View Full Version : The birdīs feather Quill

Alex Timmerman
May-02-2004, 2:42pm
Hello All,

As promised to you, hereby the explanation of how to make your own quill of a birds feather. In this case I have chosen to work with a white (see photo no. 1) and brown goose primary wing feather.

First Iíd like to point out that only the hollow part of the feather pen is used. This is the piece beneath the barbs towards the tip of the shaft. The feather at this particular part is not round but oval.

Something that will prove to be a nice incidental circumstance and, as we shall see, quite an important aspect of feather quill making.

The illustrations show how (in my opinion) a birdís quill - similar to the ones seen in Leoneís Tutor (1767) - was made at the time. Also when going from there, one can easily make quills ŗ la those propagated by Gervasio (1767) or Corrette (1772).

Alex Timmerman
May-02-2004, 2:44pm
But first Iíd like to point out that nowadays the feather quill is simply one that is diagonally cut through from the barbs towards the shaftís point (photo no. 2a).

The difference between the more traditional birds quill is that it is easier to handle because of itís quite flat surface, while the īmodernī one makes an oval hollow pen-quill.

As I have often noticed the diameter of the hollow pen quill shows that itís height is longer than itís width. This does not give the most possible comfort while playing with it. It is unintentionally caused when the feather pen is cut.

It happens as follows; during the process the flattest side of the pen is held between the left handís thumb and the index finger (photo no. 2b).
Than the cut is made over the length of the pen creating a narrow tip at the end. After the filing and polishing the pen-quill is ready to play and it is taken in the right hand. Here it naturally īslipsī or īglidesī in the position where the flatter sides of the oval pen are toughed and held between the thumb and index finger.

Now the following problem occurs: the tip of the pen-quill stands crosswise and therefore touches the strings while playing square (photo no. 2c). Although players will (not wishing to make a new one) shift the thumb and index finger towards- or even over the cutting edge, these pen-quills will never satisfy completely.

Therefore, if a hollow pen-quill is preferred, one must before the cutting process starts remember to turn the left hand (in which the feather pen is held), inwards a bit.

Alex Timmerman
May-02-2004, 2:45pm
For making a more Traditional (Leonť) quill of a birdís feather, here are the steps to follow:

Photo 3a shows both the white and brown feathers lying with their natural seam towards the viewer. This seam is also that what the knife has to follow in order to split the pen in two exact halves.

Photo 3b is taken to show the natural relaxed grip of holding a feather at itís width (showing itís narrow side), while the 3c picture depicts a rather uneasy grip of holding the pen showing itís broadness.

Alex Timmerman
May-02-2004, 2:46pm
Picture 4a to 4d show that when the incision is made the knife slides very easy through the pen.

The splitting goes almost by itself. Something that is best seen in photo 4d.

Alex Timmerman
May-02-2004, 2:50pm
As can be see at photo 5a only the tip of the feather pen has to be split more forcefully.

Picture 5b and 5c show both halves: the hollow- and the convex side(s) and their rough points while the last photo (no.5d) shows the height of the quill.

Note also that it is possible with this splitting manner to make two feather quills!

Alex Timmerman
May-02-2004, 2:51pm
Photo no, 6a points out the feather length, while the next image (no. 6b) indicates where to cut it to have a better grip for filing the quill in the desired shape.

Alex Timmerman
May-02-2004, 2:55pm
As can be seen on photo no. 7a the tools to use are very simple: a sharp surgeonís knife to straighten the edges in the length, a medium- and a near to polishing piece of sand paper and a nail file.

In the next photo there are two quills seen: one in a more filed stadium showing itís hollow side, and a second one of about 6cm lying next to a measuring rod.

Alex Timmerman
May-02-2004, 2:56pm
To finish it all, a last go at the sandpaper (photo no.8a) is made and a quill made from a birdís feather ŗ la Leone is ready.

Picture no 8.b shows the quill lying above one of the same birds material I made in the shape of a Gervasio model. The one seen above the measuring rod is a tortoise shell Ranieri plectrum.

Alex Timmerman
May-02-2004, 2:58pm
Photo no. 9a shows the way how the feather quill is held between the thumb and index finger, while the picture to close this explanation with is made just for fun: both feather quills on a period Neapolitan mandolin.

Alex Timmerman
May-02-2004, 3:01pm
Succes and best to all of you,


May-03-2004, 10:56am
Excellent and thank you! This is actually similar to what I have been executing in goose. Is that an original 18th-c. Fabricatore I see? Mmmm...

Alex Timmerman
May-03-2004, 5:06pm
Hi Eugene,

Yes, it is a 1794 Giovanni Battista Fabricatore Neapolitan mandolin.



Tim Logan
Jan-01-2020, 10:04pm
You know, I study many, many of the threads in the Classical Forum and am constantly astounded at the brilliant, brilliant resource this forum has become. I mean, WOW, just read this thread!!!! Amazing. All you who contribute such great information are most likely helping FAR more budding musicians than you can imagine!

Jan-02-2020, 6:09am
Interesting post

Tim Logan
Jan-02-2020, 8:56am
And to top it off, go to YouTube and listen to Mr. Timmerman play numerous unique stringed instruments! He is a consummate musician! His bio is jaw dropping. Just do a quick read at


I guess the point I am making is that many of the people who post and respond to the classical forum are pretty incredible individuals. And speaking as a musically non-incredible individual I truly appreciate the opportunity to hear the thoughts, resources, and information provided by them.

Jan-02-2020, 2:20pm
If you're curious, here's my backup, harvested from a domesticated Bic.


Jan-02-2020, 2:27pm
If you're curious, here's my backup, harvested from a domesticated Bic.


Free range, I presume.

Jan-02-2020, 5:02pm
The free-est.