Medieval Writing Tools

Written by jessica sharpe
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Medieval Writing Tools
The main tools of medieval writing are shown in a historical setting. (book, bell and candle image by Graham Lumsden from

During the Medieval period, writers were called scribes, and they wrote mainly for papal or legal purposes. Scribes consistently relied on pen and ink for all their writing activities, which included copying manuscripts and church documents, and transcribing legal documents. The main tools of medieval writing were a writing instrument such as a quill pen, ink, parchment, a desk and a small knife.

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Writing Instruments

Scribes of the medieval period wrote with a quill pen. The quill was made from the feather plume of a large bird such as a goose. Most of the feathers on the plume were cut off, and the shaft was smoothed, making the quill more effective and comfortable for writing. The tip of the quill was cut on an angle and shaped to create a tip small and sharp enough to write with ink.

The quill is an essential writing tool for the medieval scribe.
The quill is an essential writing tool for the medieval scribe. (quill pen image by Stephen Jacoby from


To create words on a page, the quill was dipped into ink. The ink used for writing was commonly dark brown or black. It was contained in an inkwell within the scribe’s reach. The quill pen would be repeatedly dipped into the inkwell as the ink on the pen dried or was spent on the scribe’s page.

Medieval Writing Tools
Dark ink is an essential part of medieval writing equipment. (writing feather with inkwell on blue image by Roman Barelko from

Membrane to Write On

Parchment or vellum was used as a writing surface; paper was less commonly used. Both parchment and vellum were made from the stretched skin of a lamb, goat or calf, pulled and sanded so thin and smooth that it became a translucent, papery material. By the end of the 14th century, paper was becoming more common as writing equipment and began to be used alongside parchment and vellum.

Medieval Writing Tools
Parchment looks like paper but is made from animal hide. (stained image by Allyson Ricketts from

Desk or Table

A table or desk was used to hold the scribe’s writing equipment, and to steady large pieces of parchment and the books being copied or referenced.

Medieval Writing Tools
A large table keeps writing tools within reach. (inkwell, pen and press-papier image by Victor M. from

Maintenance Tools

A small knife was part of the writing equipment, used to sharpen a dull quill. It was also used as an eraser to scratch inked errors off of the parchment.

Medieval Writing Tools
A simple knife kept quills sharp. (knife from Philippines, isolated on white image by Vladimir Melnik from

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