How to Cut A Reed Pen

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A calligrapher is only as good as his tools…

It goes without saying that reed pens or bamboo pens are the traditional go-to pens for Arabic calligraphers. Often, the first lesson a new student learns when joining a class on Arabic calligraphy is how to cut and prepare a reed pen. It certainly isn’t an easy task and I found that it takes a lot of practise before you are confident enough to cut the pen correctly.

Some tips

  • Be careful when trying this at home, and if your under 16, you will need parent supervision in the least.
  • The knife needs to be sharp and the stick easy to cut away at.
  • If your struggling to cut the stick, this will effect the quality of the preparation and your better off trying another stick.
  • Make sure you always cut away from yourself and that your other hand (the one holding the stick) is safely out of the knifes striking path.
  • For a thicker stroke, use thicker sticks and vice versa.

A great video reference

Below is a video by calligrapher Mahmoud Bagdadi (in French) who did a fantastic job of showing the steps in which a pen is prepared for writing. Watch the video in HD to see the extent to which he shaves the pen clearly. Note that Mahmoud began by shaving the top end of the stick to produce a curve which he indicates by placing his thumb against the shaved tip. He also trimmed the sides until the top of the pen resembled a defined nib. Notice the inner hollowness of the stick resembles a tear drop on the inside half of the nib. This indicates the shaving reached into the other side of the inner wall of the stick. He then cut the top of the pen at a suitable angle (some scripts require a sharper angle than others to write correctly). Mahmoud ended by pressing his blade into the middle of the nib in order to create a split which will allow the pen to slowly release the ink it is dipped into when applying to paper.

I could not have done presented it better than Mahmoud. Check out his excellent work on his site too at and if you appreciate his work, let him know! Enjoy!

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