Oiling quills

A question for those who oil their quills: on which side do you apply
the oil? Top , underside, both? I’ve seen both recommended.


both sides and particularily see that the “front” gets a bit, because the quill sort of soaks like the endgrain of wood. Maybe once a year or so and only so little, more like a very thin film, -make sure to wipe of any access. I’ve had to repair a lot of jacks because the tongues were soaked with oil, -terrible! Just imagine how little the feather receives from its bird during lifetime…

John PHillips, who made my Italian and quilled it, told me the underside only–and only a tiny bit. Have fun! Quill is wonderful!

I have nil experience with quilled harpsichords, having always used Delrin. But I just wanted to add that a lot of posts on various lists in the past mention an oil called Ballistol as being ideal in every way. This lubricant is commonly used for firearms I understand, but it has plenty of other applications.

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That’s the oil John Phillips told me to use. It’s easy to find. I probably got it on Amazon. I use a tiny artist’s brush to apply just a touch.

Best wishes,

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Ballistol is a German made oil developed for use on firearms, but it is evidently used as the “WD-40” of Germany.

Denzil Wraight wrote an article comparing various oils and lubricants for quill, and is perhaps the first to mention Ballistol for harpsichord use, back in 2012. (Please correct me if that is wrong.) At that time, one of the oils of choice was Emu oil, which I think has not had a great record since then.

Both John Phillips and Owen Daly in the USA have used Ballistol with great success on both their new instruments, and on restored antiques. The antique harpsichords of the Flint Collection, the majority of which were restored by John Phillips, all use Ballistol on the quills, and anyone who knows that collection knows the harpsichords work fantastically there! I use it personally and professionally; bird quills treated with Ballistol work well, sound good, and last much longer than with other oils I’ve tried. I also do the pre-soaking technique that John Phillips describes very clearly in his article about bird quill. Download PDF here:

Most people recommend only oiling the bottoms of the quills. I find no harm in oiling both tops and bottoms, but one must wipe off any excess after a short soaking period. And one must be careful not to get ANY oil of any kind on the jack tongues because there’s nothing I hate more than having to take jacks apart to clean up oil gumming up the jack action!


Dear All

Although many have written about the use of real quill, yes, Denzil’s detailed article, “Bird quill plectra, their performance and maintenance”, was really the first to methodically examine quill durability. He eschewed the traditional olive oil and proposed Ballistol on the underside as the most effective oiling treatment.

Readers might like to study my quill page, where I also compare use of feathers from corvids (crows & ravens) with waterfowl (Canada goose…):



Dear All,
I am using real quill for over four years now in 4 instruments. Of course there is a bit more maintenance since the durability is less than with delrin, but the sound as well as playing quality of my instruments makes it worth the trouble. I pre-soak the Canadian goose feathers in Ballistol. The only worry I have is that remnants of the oil get pressed into the tongue when squeezing the feather into the slot. I guess it’s just very little but in fact l do see some discoloration around the slot when putting the feather in. Does anyone, with more experience than me reassuring words that it is such a tiny bit of oil that it doesn’t harm at the long term? Thanks, Pieter Jan

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By the way, Ballistol also sells a felt tip pen, which is ideal for applying a film of oil at the bottom tip of the quill. I sharpened the tip of the pen to apply it even more precisely to be able not to touch the tongue.

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Carey Beebe’s quill page is the most well-written, understandable technical sharing I’ve ever read. His videos showing how to trim and insert the quills are also the best teaching videos I’ve seen. Not to mention, of course, the rest of his generous web site.
I’ve spent a lot of time making and editing piano technology teaching videos, and never came close to the focused communication of Carey’s videos.
Carey has the gift of making things possible for others. I am grateful.