Improving a bamboo dip pen

My current favourite mark-maker is a bamboo dip pen.

I love the free-flowing lines that can wander around the page, and it’s great for ‘blind drawing’ of foliage, clouds etc. It delivers big juicy lines that can merge into forms if you want (see the brown and blue leaves below), but also fine lines when reversed and running dry. The amount of ink from each dip gradually runs out adding a further level of line variation, and the need to dip the nib adds a degree of deliberation and commitment to every line drawn.

The ones I buy are cheap (about £4) but benefit from a bit of tinkering to make the most of their potential, improving their ink-flow and nib feel. Here’s one straight from the shop next to one I’ve tinkered with.


I widen the ink slit and add a twisted wire reservoir, ensuring that the nib can both hold more ink, and deliver it consistently to a smoother tip. Here’s how to do it…

1 – First I use a small knife to open the ‘breather’ hole, and then ensure the nib slit runs all the way back to the hole. Then I use very fine wet/dry sandpaper to widen the slit, running the edge of a unfolded single sheet back and forth within the slit on both sides.

2 – You’ve now got a slit that’ll deliver lots of ink, but it’s too wide at the tip! So notch the two sides and use a short piece of fine wire to pull the sides together, twisting the wire on the reverse of the nib until the slit is closed at the tip.

3 – This length of wound wire then becomes the extra reservoir for the ink. Tuck the twisted length of wire back up into the nib’s ‘breather’ hole. Here’s the view from underneath…


The wire twist holds a larger drop of ink, in the way that the reservoirs below do on metal dip pens.

4 – Finally I use some extra fine grit paper (or a piece of cardboard, surprisingly abrasive!) to ‘run in’ the  nib tip. I run it back and forth, round and round, upside down etc, until I’m happy it’s smooth in all directions, and that it’s producing the width of line I’m after (fat and juicy the right way up, much finer when reversed)..

Here’s the newly adapted bamboo pen next to the previous one I did. And a test sheet showing how long it will write on a single dip of ink.



About Ed Mostly

Enthusiastic daily sketcher based in Bath Uk
This entry was posted in bamboo dip pen, blind drawing, dip pen, kit, technique, urban, urban sketching and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Improving a bamboo dip pen

  1. rosjenke says:

    Wow, that’s pretty impressive. You are very creative in more ways than one.

  2. miatagrrl says:

    I love your hacks! You’re a genius!

    – Tina

  3. Arthur says:

    Ever thought of fitting one of the metal reservoirs on the tip if the bamboo pen?

  4. Woo, tinkering! I still have (and use!) the one I got from the Manchester Symposium. For one pound it was a hell of a bargain. I’ve heard you can “draw” directly with watercolour if you make enough of a wash to dip the pen on it. One question, how do you clean the pens?

    • Ed Mostly says:

      Bargain! I’ve tried a watercolour wash, but it takes a while to mix, and my palette wells aren’t deep enough to get a good dip, so it wouldn’t work for sketching ‘out and about’. Also, the ink’s waterproof which makes further washes a bit easier.

  5. Viktoria says:

    Very clever. I can hardly believe the length of line you get from one dip!

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  8. Arton says:

    Love the images & tweaks. £4/£1? Couldn’t you just cut your own pens out of piece garden bamboo? We have some bamboo growing in the garden – perhaps I should try it! And feather quills.

    • Ed Mostly says:

      Hi Tony, I’ve tried with garden bamboo but it wasn’t as dense/hard and the nibs split too far… I’ve had success with a goose quill, but that’s a much more flexible nib. Well worth having a go though, with either. Let me know how you get on. There’s nothing to lose, except possible ink stains!

  9. Johnny Gnash says:

    That an amazing length of line! I live near a dense canebrake with plenty of suitable reeds from which to make pens (which I sometimes do); I’ll have to try your resevoir mod.
    I’ve elsewhere seen a skinny strip of aluminum shaped into an “s” and fitted into the hollow of the reed with the other end near the nib. Have you ever tried that arrangement?

  10. Pallavi says:

    Very Useful tip.. Thank you for sharing.

  11. Diana says:

    Hi, I loved your video! One question, how do you clean the bamboo pens?

  12. Harmesh Kumar says:


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