So, you’ve just received your first oblique holder and you’re ready to start practicing calligraphy like it’s going out of style? I know firsthand how exciting a new pen can be. Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of writing with pens from many different makers and companies. I’ve written with pens that belong to hundreds of students. I’ve even made several dozen pens myself. The one thing that I’ve noticed about every single one of them is this:
The only ‘good’ pen is the pen that is well adjusted for writing.
From a construction standpoint, the oblique pen holder is a straight-forward design. There’s a stick (the body) with a slit cut into one end of it where a small piece of metal (the flange) is inserted to migrate the replaceable writing tip (the nib) off of the long (rotational) axis of the pen so that it can be better aligned for slanted calligraphic scripts.
Those three elements can work harmoniously together, or they can coalesce into a hulking monstrosity that not even the most skilled penman of the past could convince to make a line. The relationship of the body, flange, and nib is a delicate one, but that does not mean that it is necessarily overcomplicated.
Why the oblique pen?
The oblique flange may have been invented to preserve pen points by allowing for the even wear of both tines for slanted writing, but the actual advantages of this type of writing instrument are far-reaching in the American styles of penmanship. By migrating the replaceable nib outside of the staff, we are about to introduce three new adjustments which can be individually customized to a person’s unique anatomy, writing posture, and aesthetic preferences of script.
These three adjustments are known as the yaw, pitch, and roll of the nib. We’ll cover each adjustment in detail later on down the page.
Building your first flange
To have total control over your oblique pen, you’ll need to first have a body that does not affix the flange inside of the slit with any kind of glue, pin, or permanent wedge. Many makers opt to set up pens and fix them in place prior to delivery to the customer because most penmen aren’t likely to take the time to learn to adjust their pen like you are now. These pens can be hit or miss. If the maker is a competent writer, they may use adjustments that they prefer or figure to be averages of preference for most people. That might be the perfect solution for you.
Giving up that kind of control would never be an acceptable trade-off, for me, and thus I present the following information in the hopes that it will assist you in taking control of your oblique holder and getting it tuned to your hand by making a flange of your very own.
Tools & Materials
Aside from the actual stick — which can be purchased from a number of places — you will need a few semi-specialized tools in your flange-making toolkit.
There are only a handful of steps for making a flange from scratch, and the materials are fairly simple. We will need: .01 sheet brass which will be used as the material for the flange. a set of high-quality brass cutting shears for cutting our brass down to size, and some 400 grit sandpaper which will take off any burrs or sharpness around our cut edges. The process is made much simpler with two specialize pliers as well — one pair with two round jaws which are known as ‘bailing’ pliers and another pair with a wide flat nose which are known as ‘duckbill’ pliers.
Don’t be intimidated. I know this list looks like a lot of information, but cut yourself some slack. It might take you a few times to get one just right. Brass is cheap. Just accept you have a couple ‘practice’ flanges to make first.
- We begin by using a straight edge to mark a line and our brass shears to cut our .01 sheet brass into 10-12mm x 11cm strips.
- Using our 400 grit sandpaper, we can remove the burr from any side of the brass that was made rough during our cutting operation.
- The strip of metal is folded in half with the fingers and pinched at the end so that the bend remains somewhat round.
- The rounded bend is grabbed between the jaws of the 3/5mm Bailing Pliers and using the forefinger and thumb of the hand not holding the pliers we wrap the longer length of the brass around the 3mm (smaller) jaw.
- The flange is opened slightly (with the fingers) and a sacrificial nib (one you don’t mind distorting in the forming process) is inserted into the rounded slit where it would appear to sit in a finished flange.
- The flange is grabbed 1-2mm back from the edge of the nib with the duckbill pliers and is bent (with the fingers of the hand not holding the pliers) towards the top of the arc, creating the traditional flange shape. Picture this shape as being similar to a question mark without the dot.
- The long lengths (wings) of the flange are cut off at a desired length and angle so that they most suitably match the slit and retaining channel in the pen body which the flange is being made for.
- The very ends of the wings (wingtips) are bent outwards so that they can apply retaining pressure on the inside of the retaining channel.
Watch the video
For those of you who are visual learners, I’ve put together a quick video to explain the various steps of creating and installing your first flange. Give it a watch:
In the next addition to this essay, we will discuss the various steps for evaluating and adjusting your new pen flange along three different axis. If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email and I’ll be happy to share additional ideas and information.
- Patents for Inventions. Abridgments of Specifications. Vol. 95. London, 1869.