Hack Idea: A Traveling Dip Pen

Dip pens are priceless when it comes to swatching inks, enabling the user to quickly and completely clean the nib between ink changes. There’s no other way to test several inks in a row. A great place to participate in such serial-ink-swatching is at pen meet-ups, either local or at more distant pen shows.

Below are several tools I use on a regular basis for ink testing, but only one is suitable for the travel involved with pen meet-ups and pen shows.

If you are a regular reader of Well-Appointed Desk, you may remember a recent post where I spoke about my travel kit. One item in the larger kit is a Nock pouch that fits Col-o-Ring cards, a travel paint brush, and a travel dip pen.

Today I wanted to show how to assemble the travel dip pen!

This pen started life as a Traveller’s ballpoint pen, but you can also start with a Traveller’s pencil. The Traveller’s fountain pen or rollerball pen will not work.

These are fairly easy to find at retailers that carry Traveller’s products, and they can be found in a few different finishes (typically special editions). The pen (or pencil) consists of the body (brass in this case) and a steel insert. This insert is what holds the ballpoint or pencil – pull the insert from the body, remove the ballpoint or pencil, and throw it away. No one wants a ballpoint or pencil around here.

The only mysterious portion of this setup is how to keep the nib in the insert.

A great many dip pens consist only of a shaped rod of some type of material – wood, plastic, metal, or, in the case below, ebonite. A small plug of the material is removed from one end and a ferrule is inserted. This is holds the nib firmly in place while in use, but still allows the nib to be removed when desired.

These are ferrules. I purchased a large quantity of these several years ago – they consist of an outer tube of metal that is adjustable and an inner tube that breaks into four fingers (that is not a technical term – they just look like fingers to me) that hold the nib in place. The ferrule is forced into the hole in a nib holder and the nib is inserted between the outer and inner tube.

Here is a slightly over-zoomed photo so you can see the ferrule inside the Traveller’s pen insert. You can see how the fingers fold together once the nib is inserted.

That’s it! Any nib can be used in this dip pen, as long as it can fit in between the two tubes in the ferrule. Mapping nibs and crow quill nibs are too small for this setup. I’ve never run into other nibs that wouldn’t fit, though.

When traveling, simply remove the insert from the brass holder of the pen, flip it around and place it back into the brass holder – the nib is protected during travel and your hands are protected from being stabbed by a nib!

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13 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Thanks for this! I am a member of the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) and am a scribe (illuminator/calligrapher) making historically inspired award scrolls. At times scrolls need to be created at events, and this a great solutions for “battle scribes”. I have shared your post with our scribal community!

  2. They wouldn’t fit in your Nock, but there are a couple dip pens available with a cap. I got mine at JetPens.

    I, too, am interested in the answer to that first question about where you obtained the inserts.

  3. Brilliant! Thank you for the breakdown of your travel dip pen. Where is a source for the ferrules you mentioned?
    Always enjoy your posts!

  4. Hello. I bought everything you suggested in this post. However, the ferrule I bought from the Yoke pen company simply falls out of the gun metal insert. Can you kindly explain further what this ebonite plug material? Clearly, that’s key to the ferrule fitting firmly (as opposed to loosely and falling out). Any further explanation would be great. Thanks!

    1. I wrap a little bit of washi tape around the ferrule until it fits properly.

      Jesi’s description about the ebonite was specific to a vintage nib holder which uses ebonite, instead of metal, to hold the dip nibs in place. Most of the modern ferrules are all metal.

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