More on Reed Pens

August 23, 2011

Above: Reed pen made by Dick at the August 15 meeting of the MCBA Visual Journal Collective. His is more elegantly carved than mine—he's got skills! You can put a hole in the top at the split using an awl (this keeps the split from growing), but we didn't have awls (there was a class in the other room I couldn't disturb).

I mentioned in my report on the Reed Pen meeting of the Collective that I would post again with images of the pen. I haven't had a chance to draw anything using my pen (I have been running out and about getting ready for the Fair and can't risk spilling ink all over myself!) but I did take some photos of the tip of the pen Dick made so that you can see what we are all wild about.



Left: Side view, with the top side of the pen resting on the table and the underside facing upwards. You can see the lovely gentle slope of the two curving cuts down the length of the pen tip.

I'm not one for shaving or cutting wood. I do have to use an X-Acto in my work and when I collage. In general I tend to stay away from sharp objects.

If you are similarly disinclined to use sharp blades I have to urge you to still try this because it is very simple to cut through the reeds—simple in the sense that you can make a clean stroke and cut. Success will of course come with some practice—but then the reeds can be found anywhere.

You can also do this with bamboo stakes—the type sold at the gardening supply store, but you have to saw those down to size. They are also thicker and I imagine they are harder to cut through. I didn't try one.

(Note: when you are cutting your reed down to the size you want you simply put your knife edge at 90 degrees to the reed and rotate the reed so that you score the entire circumference. Then you simply snap it off! Quick and clean.)

Thanks again to Tom Winterstein for showing us such a great toolmaking technique.

Above and Below: These last two images are of the underside of the tip. They show the very fine point that is possible, and also show the metal reservoirs that Tom showed us how to make. (In Dick's pen I can see that he used the pop can. I found the pop can too bendy and went with the catfood can lid.) The reservoir point doesn't have to sit right at the center of the tip, it still works well if it shifts over a bit as you can see in the last photo. The next photo below shows the same side of the pen, but from a different angle. I thought it would be useful for you to see both.


  1. Reply

    Right now I really wish I lived where you are – both because I would love to learn to make reed pens, and because it’s cooler there.

    There’s something so romantic and yet practical in being able to make a pen of your own in a design that reaches back thousands of years.

    • karen
    • August 23, 2011

    I think, Roz, you neglected to mention that Dick’s pen is the ultimate, exquisite result of Tom’s instruction. It is flawless. You are fortunate to have it in your house. Steal it from him.

  2. Reply

    This looks really cool. I’d love to make one and try it out. Looking forward to seeing your sketches with this pen.

    I know I’ve thanked you already, but I have to say it again…THANK YOU for keeping this amazing, informative blog. Since I only started reading recently, I’ve spent a lot of time reading your old posts and I get so incredibly inspired when I do! I did a quick sketch of my cat this morning (with the Pentel brush pen I had to buy thanks to your posts on it!). He had this slightly annoyed, peevish expression on his face and I had to capture it while I could. The page looked a little unfinished to me, but I just left it.

    I was reading old posts on here, and came across the one where you write about using a watercolor pencil to create a quick background. I had to try it out, and it worked beautifully! (Not perfectly, as my current book doesn’t take watercolor as nicely as it could, but I’m trying to use it up so I can move on to the next! lol)

    So thank you. Seriously, I appreciate the tons of information and inspiration I gain from reading this blog. I can’t imagine the time and effort that you must put into it!

  3. Reply

    Karen, what can I say, Dick has skills. I’m fortunate that he spoils me. He actually made the pen for me (I don’t even have to steal it). He only uses medium tip pens. This one is fine enough for me.

  4. Reply

    Arika, thanks for your kind note. I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog! Thanks for reading.

    • Karen
    • September 1, 2011

    Do you think Dick would make me a pen? I have a reed… (can you hear me whining?)

  5. Reply

    Karen, we can add it to his to-do list, but you know how long that is! This weekend he used his vacation to install a new kitchen faucet, move furniture, and do a bunch of sorting and organizing upstairs. He still has 3 ceiling fans to install and then there is all the prep for the new roof?

    Maybe by the time your B-day rolls around? I really don’t want to break his stride on this list.

    • Paul
    • July 30, 2017

    This was written in 2011 and it’s now July 2017. If I were to write a comment or ask a question regarding this article, would I be likely to receive a response from you ?
    AND … even if you did respond how could I access this article again? Or any article – is there an index for your articles by name or date.
    Suppose I wanted to see if you wrote an article about water pens … is there a place where I could type in “water pens” to see if you have written an article?
    Thanks a lot. I love your caring writing.

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