Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Quills, part 12

The thing about shaping the nib is it has to be exactly the same every time. If you get it even a little bit different, verse 2 is going to look different from verse 1, and that's bad news. Oh, it doesn't make the Torah non-kosher, it just looks a bit odd, and you don't want a Torah to look odd.

But nibs are very very little. It's hard to get it exactly the same every time. That's why learning to cut them is a skill. A smidge this way, a smidge that way - crucial.

Anyway, when you get it just right, you start writing with it. All is well for a little while - an hour or two if you're lucky - but all the while, the friction between the parchment and the nib is wearing away your carefully-cut edges, wearing and wearing and wearing, until you notice that your perfect pen is no longer perfect.

So you sigh and sharpen, taking off just enough that the nib is newly crisp at the edges, and not so much that it is noticeably changed in size. That's the idea, anyway.

Every time you sharpen, you necessarily cut bits off, and eventually you'll have snibbled away all the usable part of the quill and have to get a new one (once you've gone up into the pith, you've lost the advantages of a feather, and it becomes basically just a fluffy reed).

If someone is super-expert, they might make a quill last five or six months, even using it every day. While you're learning, you might easily destroy two or three in a day, but once you've got the hang of it you can expect a quill to last you a month or so easily enough. I've been using two since August, and one of them is getting to the end of its life. More about that later.

No comments:

Post a Comment