One of the most important tools for Arabic calligraphy is the the pen you use. The most readily available pen for purchase is the bamboo pen.
I had to invest in quite a few tools in order to make a bamboo pen
In this article I’ll share with you the tools I use, and the method that I use to make the pens.
If learning how to make your own bamboo pen takes too much time and skill, we sell ready made bamboo pens for Arabic calligraphy.
The tools I use are:
The tools you’ll find listed below are not the first tools I used in making my first bamboo pen. I must have spent some CHF 200 before I found that the below tools work for me. I started off with cheaper tools, which in all honesty were a waste of money, and dangerous. Don’t buy cheap tools, especially not cheap knives. You need a good, sharp and safe knife. In my first attempts I had bamboo splinters dig into under my thumb nail, knives snap and fly into my face, brittle handles crack. Let me save you losing an eye, and please, please, please buy quality tools.
Merox Exacto Knife
I think this is the most important tool. I chose a knife with a rubber grip that helps against sweating hands. It can also carry several blades inside it, meaning changing blades is a piece of cake. But the main reason I chose this knife, is that it has a wide point where the blade comes out. This gives me a wider surface to put my left thumb, this lets me push harder and it hurts less. Finally, it has a dial that allows me to screw the blade in place, or safely inside the knife. This helps keep the knife steady as I slice the bamboo.
Victorinox Swiss Army Knife
A Swiss Army Knife is all around useful. I use it in particular to create the ink reservoir hole in the pens. It’s a resilient tool and just handy. I also use it to etch the colour that the pen is used for onto the pens shaft.
I use a 34mm pruner to shorten the long reeds of bamboo to size. I also use them to cut the edge of the nib in one clean and straight cut. The particular pruner that I use is not a top of the range model, but gets the job done. I think that with time, I’ll invest in better and bigger pruners with an assisting mechanism.
I use both P120 grit and P600 grit paper. I use the sandpaper to clean up the cut to the nib.
Flat wooden board
I use this as a makeshift Makta. This is a flat surface used to punch the ink reservoir hole into the bamboo pen. I think that this is the next tool that I need to be upgrade. Because I find, even after a year of practice, that I’m splitting the nib quite often.
Of course, bamboo is the raw material. Without this, it’s not possible to make any pens. I’m very picky about the bamboo I use.
How to make an Arabic Calligraphy Bamboo Pen
Sizing the bamboo reed
The very first step is to cut the bamboo reed to size using the pruners. I usually cut the reed to be about 25-30 cm long. This length allows me to then comfortably work on the nib.
I then use the exacto knife to cut the end of the bamboo reed into a pen nib. I try to do this in 3 to 5 cuts. The first two cuts are usually to reach the cavity in the reed. Once I reach the cavity, I clean out the bamboo fibres. The second two cuts are to remove the cavity and reach the other side of the reed. The final cut is cut a very thin layer on the opposite side of the reed.
I then flip the pen over and cut a thin indent till the end of the reed, removing the outside curve of the reed.
At this point, I lay the pen on the wooden board, and using the Swiss army knife I puncture a hole for the ink reservoir.
Shaping the nib
I then go back to the backside of the reed, and gently shave another layer of the nib in order make the nib slightly more supple and square.
In the next step I use the pruners to cut a the nib of pen into the right angle with the pruners. I use a previous pen to help me get the angle right.
Finally, I use the Swiss army knife to trim the sides of the pen.
Making the pen pretty
The very last step, I use a thin wooden utensil to clean out the bamboo fibres from inside the bamboo reed. I do this to make it fully hollow. This helps keep your work clean, and avoids having flakes from inside the pen sprinkle on your work from the first use.
There are of course a lot of other details involved with making a bamboo pen. But these are the main steps I follow.
It does hurt. Learning hurts, because of the mistakes you make, and once you get good at it, it still hurts your thumb. It can also be quiet messy and dusty. But I believe that it is an essential skill for a calligrapher.
No matter how good your pen is, eventually it will need sharpened. With practice and the right tools it’s possible to sharpen your own pens.
If you use, or have come across, a different method, let me know in the comments.
If you want to get started right away then you can buy some bamboo pens that I have made.