What’s A Scratch Knife Nib?

If you’ve been around kids recently or were ever one yourself I know you’re familiar with scratch knife nibs. For kids they’re just called scratch art nibs because even small knives are considered dangerous.

Scratch nibs are commonly used to scrape through one surface revealing a lower contrasting color layer. But did you know they weren’t intended to be a kid’s toy?

The original intent for scratch nibs was to remove ink from animal skin supports. They looked like small bladed knives with paring-knife handles. Later, dip pen nib manufacturers made them to fit their common pen holders. 

Today scratch knife nibs are a curious commodity made for scratch board artists. But they are my go-to ink eraser.

Scratch nibs easily scrape ink off the surface of pergamenata and vellum with little damage to its surface. You can even use them on paper if your ink purchases on its surface and isn’t absorbed. Its fine sharp blade gently scrapes ink mistakes away sometimes leaving the paper surface usable.

Ampersand and Speedball make professional scratch art nibs that fit common type B dip pen holders. Royal and Lang make a less expensive nickel engraving foil set too.

I prefer scratch nibs to a sharp knife or an x-acto for their smaller sharp blade. The teeny blades easily scrape away ink blobs within letters “a” “s” and others. They are inexpensive, and can be sharpened by a whetstone.

The nibs come in a several shapes, some very broad. I like the pointed #112 and the semi-curved blade. As cheap as they are, if you already have a pen holder I would buy two or three shapes and see what works best for you.

To use it place the nib in a holder, hold the blade at an oblique angle to your support and gently scrape. Remove a little paint or ink as you pull the blade toward you. The more available space or the bigger the oopsie the more swing I get to my strokes.

The trick is to remove only the mistake after your ink or paint is very dry and not bollix the support. I go so far as to make corrected letter(s) over my mistakes before scraping away any unwanted parts. That way I’m sure the ink won’t feather.

I bought my first scratch art knife nibs as a kit 20 years ago. And they are still my favorite way to do corrections, even when I have a whole page to scrape clean. The art isn’t trendy anymore, but its tools are still useful for scribes.

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