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The Penner
From Scribal Tools

So, a little more detail about the penner I mentioned in the last post. There are a number of different types of penner and inkhorn sets seen in period artwork. I decided to go with the tube-shaped style, made of leather.

I experimented with hardening various types of leather that I had on hand, using hot and/or boiling water. None of them hardened as well as I've seen happen with other leathers, but they all at least shrank and firmed up a little. The undyed elk hide (which is very soft and stretchy in its natural state) seemed to work the best for what I was trying to do, so I decided to start with that. I wanted the overall shape to be slightly tapered, so I got an oak chair leg from Lowe's and cut it down to approximately the right length. I sewed a tapered tube of leather loosely around the wooden form and chucked it into boiling water for a few minutes. It shrank down nicely around the form, and held its shape well one I took it off. It's not exactly rigid, but it's good enough to protect the contents from minor bumps and drops.

Around the elk hide I sewed another layer of thin burgundy leather, which I didn't harden at all, since I didn't want it to shrink. All of this was repeated with the lid. The cords are passed through slits in the outer layer of leather. I had to take the outer shell of burgundy leather off after it was sewn, make the slits, and then wrangle it back on. Not an easy task, but doable.

I wanted to make sure that the inkhorn end of the penner was leak-proof and relatively fool-proof, so instead of making an inkhorn I decided to buy a bottle and attach it to the cords. A little shopping around found the fancy little octagonal glass bottles that Omas uses for its fountain pen inks. It's a nice shape, and not outrageously modern looking, even though it does have a screw cap. After examining the bottle (which was larger in person than I expected), I decided to make a harness for it out of twisted copper wire. It seems solid enough so far, though I went through quite a few prototypes that broke as I was twisting the wire. I don't know if the actual ink will be good for this sort of calligraphy, but it can always be replaced if need be.

For the next version, I want to get some light veg tanned cowhide for the penner body. I've experimented with boiling this sort of leather before for armor applications, and it does shrink up and get quite hard. I'm also considering commissioning an ink pot with attachment points for the cords. Now that I don't have to keep the whole project a secret anymore, this should be much easier. :)


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