Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bean Tip #2: If Your Fountain Pen Writes too Wide, too Wet, too Thin, too Dry...

Sailor 1911 Fountain Pen

I often hear from people about how a particular fountain pen isn't performing the way they would like. Here are several things to consider before ditching that pen:

If it's a new pen and it's writing thin, did you flush the pen before inking it for the first time? I'm one of those people that inks a pen without flushing and I've definitely noticed a "break-in" period in this situation. My Pelikan M200 is the perfect example. It was a super dry, thin writer until I worked through a number of pages with it.

If you are using an ink converter in your pen and it's writing dry,
try twisting the converter a wee bit until you see ink appear at the feed. This is known as "priming." I notice that this often happens as the ink starts to run low in the pen.

Consider your ink. Now that I've had the opportunity to try about a hundred different bottles of ink, I've noticed that some flow more freely than others and that some even have a lubricating quality about them. Sailor Jentle inks (though a bit on the smelly side) are very lubricating and seem to make most any pen write smoother. If you don't want to spend a fortune buying bottles of ink that you may not like, I suggest trying Pear Tree Pens Ink Sampling System.

Consider your paper. Some paper is more absorbent than others, period. The more absorbent the paper, the greater the chance it will pull more ink from your nib and make it appear to be writing wider than normal. Clairefontaine 90g paper products seem to be the least prone to this "spreading." It might not be a bad investment to try a small tablet of Clairefontaine to use as a baseline for testing pens and inks.

Send it to a nibmeister. Yes, there are people that specialize in getting your fountain pen nibs to flow to your liking. Richard Binder is probably one of the best known, but there are many others out there.

Some pen companies nibs just ARE thinner/wider than others.
Consider before purchasing - Japanese pen nibs are typically thinner than those of Western manufacturers. Lamy nibs are known to run a little wide.

Try the Fountain Pen Network. If all else fails, try posting on the FPN with questions, or if you've really just had enough, offer the pen for sale or trade in their Marketplace.


Marsha said...

Great advice. When writing with a fountain pen, I use only Clairefontaine paper. Conversely, if I am writing on Clairfontaine paper I will not use a ballpoint on it. I can't pretend to know how these personal rules get set in stone!

Mr. Guilt said...

Great post!

One other observation: older pens tend to write dryer than modern pens. As with most things, there is no one hard and fast rule, and it varies from pen to pen, but my vintage pieces--especially the ones from the fourties and fifties--seem to be that way.

In my head--and no reference to cite whatsoever--is that before about 1970, fountain pens were the primary writing instrument (and, prior to 1995, people wrote more in general). Having a pen that was stingy with ink (and thus could go longer between fills) was desirable. Contemporary pens, while functional, favor the experience of use as an end to itself, and encourages the dramatic display of ink.

Everyone may prove me wrong with specific examples (Lamy's Safari jumps to mind as an efficient writer) or in general. It's just my experience.

John Johnston said...

This is very helpful! Good tips for FP users.

Stephanie said...

Thanks for the tips! I'm new to fountain pens and trying to understand my own, and this helps quite a bit.

Wordherder said...

My vintage pens are among my best flowing, wettest writers. What tends to be the case with vintage pens is that the fines are true fines and the mediums are true mediums. In modern pens the case tends to be more that a fine is a medium and a medium is nigh on to a broad. Unless, of course, you're talking about Japanese nibs. The fine nibs on the Parker Vacumatics I've had were true fines. Why I don't have them. I write with broad and stub nibs and many of my favorite vintage pens (My Sheaffer PFM with factory stub) lay down an oil slick! I love it. What I do find with vintage pens is that regular use keeps those ebonite feeds wet and they flow efficiently if they've been nicely adjusted to write well. A skilled nib expert like John Mottishaw ( will make sure that the nib's flow is to your liking as well as other features of how it writes. John has done excellent work for me, as has Richard Binder, etc. By the way, there is no magic in nib meisters, per se. A skilled pen repair person can get the nibs right if you're not looking for a changed nib profile. Among the best in my opinion are Joel Hamilton and Sherrell Tyree of Joel's work comes with a feed and flow guarantee. And I've never used it.

Pens, inks, papers all vary widely and some pens work better with some inks and papers than others do. It's what makes fountain pens fun. And the death of the FP era was really by the 1960s when those cheap BiCs became so widely available and reliable--if not exactly great to write with. I think you see the fountain pen era go out with the Parker 75 and Sheaffer Targa models as things started to change radically after that here in the U.S. Both of those are 1960s, early 1970s pens.

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