How to instructions for turning a typical nib pen holder into a much more comfortable and customized tool. This is a great modification that will make extended writing/drawing more enjoyable, provides less hand fatigue, and offers better grip/control of the pen.
You should read through the instructions completely first before starting. This is a easy modification – however once the cork is cut or glued it is impossible to make changes. One thing to point out is the cork shape decides the width you cut the cork.
Corked nib holders are hard to find, limited to the standard nib holder size, and often are a sub-par holder. This information can be applied to nib holders you already own, special sizes (such as crow quill or fine point holder (size 100 to 104)), brushes used to ink, or anything else you want (such as a X-Acto hobby knife, pencils, etc)
Go from this..
To something like this..
(See image below)
- Pen holder to modify
- Cork material (I show steps to use “solid” cork blocks (cork stoppers, wine corks) – see top pen above, and cork sheets – see bottom pen above
- A clamp
- Glue (I recommend Gorilla Glue as it expands; however, any strong epoxy should work)
- Something to mix glue on (paper plates work great)
- Something to apply the glue with (toothpicks work the best)
- Drill bit(s) to hollow out the cork center (I get better results using a small drill bit first then using one that is slightly smaller than the nib holder)
- A hobby knife to cut cork (multiple blades too, they can dull quickly cutting the epoxy)
- Cutting mat or an old magazine to cut on (to save your tabletop)
- Metal ruler for straight cuts
- Half-round needle file to clean out drilled holes
- Sandpaper to finish your grip (I use a medium grit 220 sandpaper – to leave enough texture for better grip)
- Drill to make the holes; however, sharp drill bit(s) can be turned without much effort in the cork material by hand
If you need to purchase any supplies I would recommend DickBlick.com art supplies – they have nearly everything to do this project, including the cork, at the best prices.
Before starting remove your pen nib(s) and put it in a safe place away from your construction area.
If using a cork sheet start here; otherwise, “solid” cork skip to Part 2 below
- For Step 1 you will need to cut the cork sheet into a strip (See below image)
- Measure the width of the widest part of your pen nib holder and add some extra width - Mine are 1/2" so I cut strips of 1"
- Cut the strip into squares (See below image)
- Take your newly cut strip and cut it into squares - the same size of the strip
- Glue all the cork squares together (see image below - Step 3)
- You will need to stack the squares and figure out what is the right amount of squares for your nib holder (A layer of ten squares worked for me giving me a bit over a inch of a grip).
- Mix some epoxy onto the paper plate and use a toothpick to spread glue on each layer of the cork stack
- The top and bottom of the stack does not have glue – since it would stick to the plate and clamp
- Align the squares inside the stack
- Put the stack on it's side (See image above – Step 4)
- Carefully press the squares in the stack towards the bottom to align the sides
- Clamp the completed stack (See image above – Step 5)
- Ensure there is no glue on the top or bottom of the stack
- Carefully place the stack into your clamp centered (If you tighten the clamp manually only tighten until the stack is lightly compressed)
- Once the glue is dry, unclamp the stack, and proceed to Part 2
- Draw a circle on the cork block
- Look at both ends of your cork block and find which is the smaller end – place the small end facing up
- Draw the largest circle possible on the cork (I used a USA nickel) – See the circle on the image below.
- The circle must be larger than your nib holder - And large enough for your shape
- Carve/Sand the cork to the circle line (See image below)
- You can use a hobby knife to carefully trim to the circle. Start by cutting off any edges and slowly cutting around it. I used a series of straight cuts from the top to the very bottom, changing my angle to overlap half of the last cut.
- Or you can use a Dremel/Multi-tool with a sanding drum accessory. Simply sand to the circle around the top and then make the rest of the cork match the top diameter. I must point out that using a sander can cause the cork to be misshaped, it is too easy to make divots/gouges, or simply remove too much cork.
- Drill a hole through the cork to fit your nib holder (See image above)
- First, find the widest part of the nib holder (the front end area where the nib goes). Then you will need to use a drill bit that is slightly smaller, for a snug fit. For example my nib holder is 1/2” so I used a 5/16” dill bit.
- Test fit the nib holder into the hole pushing the cork over the end that holds the nib. If you can push the cork over your nib holder with a little pressure go onto Step 4; otherwise, you will need to clean/widen the drilled hole. It's best to use a half-round needle file and take off a little material inside the entire circle of the hole. Test fit the holder again, repeat until it fits snug in the cork.
- Glue the cork to your nib holder (See image below)
- Barely place the end of the cork over the nib holder area on the handle
- Mix some epoxy on the paper plate and put the glue directly on the handle all the way around about 3/4ths of the cork's length.
- Push the entire cork slowly onto the handle leaving a space between the end of the handle and the top of the cork (See image below – Spacing). This allows a place for the glue to expand and dry without interfering with the nibs.
- Wipe off any excess glue with paper towel
- Glue the ends of the cork to the handle(See image above)
- Turn the handle and put glue into the gap between the handle and cork. Use the toothpick to slowly and carefully put the glue into the gap.
- ** Be careful not to let glue drip into the nib holder area on the handle! If you do get glue on the edges wipe clean with a paper towel.
- Let the glue dry completely before going to Step 3.
- Determine the final shape of your grip (See image above)
- You can make this as fancy as you want – as long as you do not cut into the hollow section of the cork, or the design is not taller than what cork is left.
- Also the wider the overall grip is the greater the relief will be to hand fatigue. I have seen some artists use homemade grips nearly two inches in diameter, but they admit it took time and patience to get use to it.
- I would recommend simply doing the tried and true design of the long oval/round-corner rectangle (the first shape in the image above). It is the basic shape that I use personally with great results.
- Carve/Sand the shape of the grip (See image below)
- If you are going to use your hobby knife, the carved cork should cut cleanly, if not replace the blade, as it can start to pull the cork instead of cutting. Simply carve with your final shape in mind, by taking small cuts and working slowly as not to destroy the cork in the last stages.
- If you use a Dremel same warnings apply from Part 2 Step 2. Be careful not to sand too deeply, and wear a mask as this step will get really messy!
- Trim off excess glue
- The best way to do this step is with your hobby knife. Slowly press the blade through the glue around the nib holder, about an 1/16” on either side of the cork. (See image above).
- Cut through just enough to release the glue. Usually when this happens any thin excess glue will be pulled free and removed as well.
- Sand the cork to get rid of edges and give texture
- This is not to alter your shape, but to simply finish the shape by smoothing off edges and allowing you a better grip.
- Use a medium grit sandpaper like 220 grit and lightly sand the cork everywhere to get rid of any divots/bumps/edges. In doing so it will get rid of nearly all lined areas of sheet cork, and give you a nice smooth texture.
- Sand carefully over the edges of the cork and the trimmed glue to help make a smooth transition and get rid of any sharp glue points.
- Fill gaps/holes in the cork grip
- This is if you have to repair any holes or divots in the cork. There are two ways to do this, and both nearly have the same results.
- Fill the gaps/holes with glue and press in pieces of scrap cork from the shaping. Allow the glue to dry and sand the new cork to the same level as the rest.
- The fastest and nearly seamless way is to use a hot glue gun. Fill the gaps/holes with hot glue and with a slightly damp paper towel smear the hot glue flush with the cork. Let the glue harden and sand the glue until level with the cork.
- Seal the cork if you want extra protection
- If you want to protect the cork from discoloring from oil/sweat/dirt from your hand, and possibly ink, you can give it a light seal.
- Use something like linseed oil or a rub-on type sealant/stain. Something like polyurethane or shellack would get rid of the cork/sanded texture, any of the cork cushioning, and pretty much cancel out any benefits of making the grip to start with.
- Final Touches
- Give the entire nib holder a good cleaning to ensure all loose pieces of cork and dust are removed before use.
- Get your favorite pen nib and put it into the holder and try out your accomplishment.
- Sometimes after initial usage you will notice a bump/spot in the cork that needs to be touched up. Simply remove the pen nib and sand the affected area of cork.
After using the modified nib holder I hope that it gives you something extra in your work. Perhaps more hand fatigue-free time to work or better control. I know it has been great for me and thought I'd make this how to guide to share so others can enjoy the results too. I have been using my modified dip pens for over a year and besides some ink they look new.
In the image at the beginning of this article you can see I applied the same technique to my standard nib holders, crow quill holder, fine nib holder, and my brushes I use for inking. I also shortened the length of my tools as I feel that the extra length was a burden – they were too long for my storage containers (So I simply cut the length to size and sanded the cut smooth).
Best of luck with your ink work!
Thomas Cosby Jr