The feel of nib on paper

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In this day of laptops, tablets and smartphones there would be some that may argue that there is no place for fountain pens. It could be said that they are inconvenient, old fashioned and outdated. But there are those of us who know that this is far from the truth.

Yes, we might be writing fewer letters, but even in todays technology driven lives there is something really nice about using a fountain pen. If you scratch the surface you will soon realise that the fountain pen has a very strong following and seems to be seeing a bit of a resurgence in recent times. There is a whole world of fountain pen collectors who are enjoying using and collecting their pens. These collectors revel the tactile nature of fountain pens, and enjoy the feel of nib against paper and the smell of high quality ink.

For this article we shall use my every day pen. A TWSBI Micarta which I have customised with an Edison F two tone nib. It is a cartridge converter pen which means that it has a refillable cartridge that holds the ink. This type of pen is the simplest to maintain and to dismantle and rebuild so is a great type of pen to start experimenting with.

Pens are fundamentally simple machines and as such with a little knowledge the maintenance should be something that can be done at home. So first we need to understand the component parts.

exploded-viewwebThe Cap may or may not have a clip. Caps have an inner cap permanently fixed inside the outer cap. The purpose is to seal up to the flat front part of the section and create an airtight seal to prevent the nib drying out when the cap is on.

The section is the part that you typically hold when you are writing and it is in important part of the pen. It is basically a tube section which houses the feed and the nib. The feed and the nib are held in place in the section by friction and they are carefully positioned against each other. They are tapered in shape to that when they are pushed into the section they are squeezed together with just the right pressure. The Cartridge Converter holds the reservoir of ink and attaches to the other end of the section and feed.

The feed has a groove along its length (the feed channel) and the purpose of this is to transport the ink, by capillary action, from the cartridge converter to the writing end of the pen. You will see fins all over the feed and these act to hold ink so that the nib can be continuously supplied with ink so that the pen writes with an uninterrupted flow of ink.

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The nib itself is one piece of metal, sometimes steel, sometimes gold or other precious metal and sometimes a mixture of both. It has a slit from the tip backwards down the middle and this allows ink to flow to the tip where it is needed. At the end of the slit is a breather hole which allows air to enter the system to prevent a vacuum being created or no ink would be released from the cartridge converter.

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The barrel screws over the cartridge converter and keeps everything safe. It also provides the thread that is used to screw the cap on.

How to clean the pen

Fountain pens need regular cleaning. This is because the ink, which is water based, can dry as the water media of the ink evaporates and leaves solid components in the feed which start to cause blockages. So if you plan on leaving your pen, without using it for any period of time it is worthwhile cleaning it out. Also it is good practice to clean your pen if changing to another colour ink. Other than that the pen should probably be routinely cleaned every 2 to 3 weeks.

Cleaning a pen is easy and so cleaning more often than less is best.

So how should it be done? The quick and easy way is to remove the cartridge converter from the pen and empty the ink from it by rotating the end to push the piston inside it down. I empty mine into the drain in the kitchen sink but i am careful to clean up afterwards as not to incur the wrath of my beloved. Clean up after yourself and nobody will be the wiser! Put the converter back on the pen and get a bowl of clean tepid water (water too hot can damage some pen materials so best not used). The purists will tell you that demineralised water is best to use as you won’t get mineral deposits in your pen. But in reality as long as your water is not too hard you will see no problem at all with regular tap water. Dip the nib in the bowl of clean water and twist the end of the cartridge converter to draw water up through the nib and feed into the converter itself. Then empty the water out by twisting the opposite direction again. Repeat this filling and emptying over and over until the water runs clean (you may have to change the water in the bowl for fresh water). Drain all the water of and let the pen dry thoroughly in a warm place before refilling with fresh ink.

For a more thorough clean I dismantle the pen completely and clean the nib and feed in an ultrasonic bath. Leave them to dry and then reassemble the pen and fill with new ink.

So ditch that grotty old pen that was liberated from Barclays bank. The banks are in enough problems without you stealing their ball point pens! Take pride in your writing instrument and get yourself a fountain pen. They say that the pen is mightier than the sword and by that thinking the fountain pen must be to the bic biro what the Samurai sword is to the butter knife.