Calligraphy Pen Holder Selection and Adjustment

Aug 15, 2023

Francisco and I know a holder can be your best friend or it can cause the nib to work against you - something none of us need! We have made thousands of handmade straight and oblique INKMETHIS calligraphy pen holders since 2013 and want to make sure you have a successful experience selecting and using your holder. 

Right-handed obliques:  Right-handed obliques have the flange offset to the left, putting the nib on the thumb side of the grip for a right-handed calligrapher and on the finger side of the grip for a left-handed calligrapher.

Left-handed obliques: Left-handed obliques have the flange on the right side of the holder, placing the nib on the thumb side of the grip for a left-handed calligrapher.

Straight holders: Straight holders have a ferrule which places the nib in line with the holder itself.

For our straight holders, we use a metal universal ferrule. The nib is inserted between the outer ring of the ferrule and the inner metal petals. When dipping and rinsing, avoid getting moisture in the ferrule as they can corrode over time. If ever needed, we are happy to send you a new ferrule. For this reason, we strongly believe that ferrules should not be glued into straight holders.

To insert the nib in an oblique flange, the nib is placed between the two layers of metal. Our oblique flanges are permanently fixed in the holder to ensure they don't move while writing. Although brass is a non-corrosive metal, you still want to avoid getting ink in the flange as dried ink will gunk up the flange and moisture will cause the nib itself to rust.

The oblique flanges we make are also universal. You can adjust them as needed to fit different nibs. Before explaining how to adjust the flange, it’s important to understand how a flange should be aligned when the holder is made.

Each flange needs to be fitted for the specific holder. After Francisco carves the holder on the lathe, he passes it to me. I cut a slit in the holder, make the brass flange, and insert it into the slit. I bend the flange to rotate the nib towards the holder. This assists in tine manipulation (like for achieving the squared off tops to Copperplate and the bulging Spencerian capital stem swell). From a side view, the slit is cut such that the flange is angled upward. This is to assist in the upward gliding of the nib for smoother hairlines.

The flange is then horizontally angled to the holder such that the tip of the nib is aligned to the center axis of the holder. If this is properly achieved, you will have enough nib exposed to dip and rinse without getting ink on your nib. If the angle is too obtuse, the nib will not meet the center axis. If the angle is too acute, the nib will cross the center axis. This is the most important part of flange adjustment as it cannot be adjusted later and it’s something that some pen makers unfortunately don’t understand. If the flange is not set correctly, the nib won’t function the way it was designed to work and pointed pen is already hard enough without using tools that work against us.

Once the flange is properly in place, I glue the and pass it back to Francisco. He inserts two small brass pins and uses a second epoxy for additional reinforcement.

Once secured in place, you are able to adjust three things about the flange: the shaft rotation, the vertical angle, and the curvature of the arch. If you prefer to flatten the rotation, simply grip the holder with one hand to support the slit end and then use your other hand to bend the flange downward. Similarly, if you want to adjust the vertical angle of the flange, grip the holder with one hand and twist the flange up or down according to your preference.

Both of those adjustments are things you may want to do to your new holder to fit your personal preferences. Typically, we’ll then leave those things alone once we have them to our liking.

Adjusting the curvature of the flange is something you may need to do when you switch between nib types. I have here a random bunch of vintage and modern nibs. As we can easily see, there is great variety in the size and curvature of the shaft. If we insert this Brause 361 to proper alignment, the end of the shaft is exposed. If we insert this tiny EF66, to proper alignment, the shaft is barely inserted. If it is very difficult to remove a nib, use a cloth or a paper towel to grip it and press on the side of the flange with your other thumb.

If a nib is very loose, then you will need to adjust the curvature of the flange itself. When the curvature of the flange and the curvature of the nib match perfectly, there is no tension created and the nib will slip. Turn the holder over and use your thumbs to apply pressure to flatten the arch. You may not be able to visually see that you have changed the flange, but a slight difference will create tension and the nib will fit securely. Alternatively, if you want to steepen the curvature, press on the outer edge of the flange with your thumb. I never use pliers to adjust my flanges as that will mark up the brass and leave it chewed up looking over time.

Let’s talk a little more about lefties. You all are a mixed group with so many grip styles. Your preference of holder is going to depend greatly on your particular grip. What you want to test is how the nib aligns to the slant of your writing when holding different flange placements. Depending on your grip, you may prefer a right handed oblique or a straight holder to achieve alignment to your writing while in a comfortable arm position. It may be surprising, but it’s much less common for a lefty to prefer a left-handed oblique. This is something that each lefty will need to test for.

Just like we all have our personal preferences for nibs, we all have holder preferences too. Bottom line is that the holder should be comfortable to you. To that end, I’ll just share some pointers to consider.

To achieve tine manipulation, you want to have space between your thumb and fingers. If you don’t have a gap there, your holder is likely too thin for your grip. This has little to do with your hand size and more to do with the way you hold a pen. Notice that I have very small hands yet need a thicker holder. My longest finger is under 3 inches or under 8 centimeters long.

While some people prefer very thin holders, many people find that a thicker holder reduces hand cramping. This can be especially helpful if you have arthritis or experience hand fatigue as a thicker grip is physically more difficult to clench.

The tail end of the holder is pretty much purely aesthetic. Just make sure it’s not too large or it can create a counterbalance.

The rest is aesthetics. So, select a penholder that you find beautiful to inspire your beautiful creations!


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