New Calligraphy Kit? New Pens/Nibs? Some tips on how to get started and a reminder for the rest of us.

This will be a series of blog posts aimed to help the newly starting calligrapher.  I won’t cover every detail as beginners tend to get overwhelmed by all the details.  This is about how to get started and then improve from there.

Christmas time is often when people are gifted their first calligraphy kit(s).  They get a pen holder.


Different kinds of pen holders.  (Not including offset pen holders)

Some pens, usually called nibs

Dip Pens - Cropped

Different kinds of pens also called nibs, used for dip pen calligraphy

And a bottle of ink.


Ink bottles! Containing a calligraphers best friend and biggest challenge all in the same bottle.

Maybe even a book on how to do calligraphy.  (The link is a google search not an endorsement of any given calligraphy book.)

So now what?

First things first.  Take care of your new toys.  Proper care and maintenance is super important.

Your new pen holders shouldn’t need much if anything done to them.  So we are going to focus on those new nibs.  Shiny, pretty and deceptively simple to use.

You need to clean them.  I hear you through the internet ether… “WHAT?!  I haven’t even used them!  Why on earth would I need to clean them?”  Nibs are made of metal and in order to keep them from oxidizing (rusting, but for all metals) the manufacturers tend to put a thin layer of oil on the nibs for shipping.  The stores leave that oil on because they don’t want the nibs to oxidize either.  After all a rusty nib is one that won’t sell.  So that oil stays on when you buy them or they are gifted to you.  And as you likely know, oil and water don’t like each other.  And your ink, most likely water based, won’t like the oil either.

Without cleaning your nibs the ink tend to run fast off the nib, creat blobs of ink on whatever your writing.  And generally make the new calligraphers joy of their new hobby turn to immediate frustration.  Clean your nibs before you do anything else with your new kit.

“Okay,” *grumble grumble* “How?”  Hey, I get you, I’ve been doing this for 15 years now.  I still grumble at having to clean new nibs.  It is however a part of doing calligraphy.  There are several ways you can clean your nibs.  Here are three ways.  This is not a complete list.

1) Get an unused toothbrush and dedicate it to cleaning your nibs.  If you don’t have it already in your home, some kind of liquid soap.  I tend to use liquid hand soap but dish detergent or other liquid soaps work. Do not use a gritty soap as they can cause problems later on.  For how to clean your nibs using a toothbrush and soap enjoy this blog post.  It works for getting the manufacturing oil off and for getting ink off your nibs.

But I don’t want to spend all that time cleaning every single nib I just received.  If you have less than a dozen of them, I recommend using the tootbhrush and soap method.

If you have more than a dozen, I don’t blame you.  Professional calligraphers often by nibs by the dozen or even by the grosse.  And I don’t know a one who buys in bulk that washes every single nib by hand when they first get them.

2) Lemon juice.  Yes, lemon juice.  Put some lemon juice into a container and dump your nibs into the lemon juice.  “But lemon juice is acidic and can eat the metal.”  Yes, that’s true.  So don’t forget your nibs are in lemon juice.  I lost a lot of nibs making that mistake once.  It can and will put pits in your nibs making them unusable if left in for too long.

Take the nibs out of the lemon juice after an hour.  Don’t leave them in for more than a few hours.  Put the nibs in a strainers of some sort and rinse them thoroughly with water.  Yes, water.  Then using paper towels or a fabric cloth dab them dry.  Make sure not to leave any water on the nibs.

3) Potato.  Yes a potato.  I have only used this method a few times myself.  And I have used it only on broad tip nibs. One recommendation is to only use this method on G nibs, which are pointed nibs.  It was brought to my attention that this method can alter the nibs making fine lines more difficult to achieve.  I haven’t had this happen in my experience, probably because of how I alter my broad tip metal nibs after cleaning and before using them.   That however is another blog post on its own.

One thing to remember if you do use this method is to remove the reservoir on the nib first.  A reservoir is an attachment to the nib that helps hold extra ink.  If your nibs have a reservoir on them that doesn’t come off, DO NOT  use this method.  Once the reservoir is removed simply stick the nib, point first into a raw potato.  Make sure to push straight in and pull straight out in order to not damage the nib.  Leave the nibs in up to overnight but for at least a couple of hours.  You will need to rinse them as above with the lemon juice.

Congratulations you now have brand new nibs free and clean of the headaches that the protective oil layer.


3 responses to “New Calligraphy Kit? New Pens/Nibs? Some tips on how to get started and a reminder for the rest of us.

  1. Pingback: New Calligraphy Kit? Dipping your nibs | scribescribbling·

  2. Pingback: New Calligraphy Kit? Putting the Nib (pen) into the Nib Holder | scribescribbling·

  3. Reblogged this on An Itinerant Scribe and commented:
    The Honorable Lord Ian the Green, CE, CSO, APF, CCK, AoA from the
    Barony of Namron, Kingdom of Ansteorra has an incredible blog you simply must check out. Here’s his recent post on his scribal kit. Please check out his other posts..

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