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September 2020 Musings

Repair Bench Notes

Aspiring Nib Tech or Restorer?

Each month we will share some of the nib and restoration issues that we frequently see.

Linda's Bench:
I received a nib in for tuning that had a very broad flat spot on the tip. The owner’s note asked me to tune the nib because “no matter how hard I try I just can’t get this thing smooth.” I asked the owner what they were using to make this attempt at tuning and was told “a brown paper sack.”

This “method” of tuning has been on the internet for YEARS, and has been passed around from user to user over the course of time as being “tried and true.” Unfortunately, it is a terrible way to attempt to smooth your nib and often has disastrous results.

All paper has fibers in it. A brown paper sack is essentially really low-end paper. The fibers are not small and compact like we see in some of the better writing paper. This coarse fiber of the brown paper sack wears down the tipping material much faster than one might think and before you know it your tipping material is damaged to a point of no return, as was the case with the nib in question. The tipping material had been worn so thin that it was almost gone and there was not enough left to repair the nib.

Additionally, when you attempt to use a brown paper bag for smoothing a nib, these fibers get lodged in the nib (and often the feed). This may make the nib feel smoother for a minute, but when they wash out with ink or flushing the nib feels terrible again. If they don’t wash out, the pen becomes clogged and there is poor or no ink flow. This often ends with having to send the pen to a repair person.

I assist Richard Binder with a nib smoothing class at certain pen shows. I highly recommend Richard’s class for those who want to learn the proper way to tune a nib. In the meantime, with COVID having shut down pen shows for a bit, if any of you want to learn to smooth a nib properly we have materials that are appropriate for nib tuning. Keep in mind that without proper instruction, one can still damage a nib even using the proper materials. If you want to teach yourself, or practice what you may have learned in one of the classes, please don’t use your favorite Pelikan M800. Cheap pens such as JINHAO are great for learning and practicing. Using a cheap pen means if you mess up (and anyone working on pens WILL mess some up over time) you can toss it in the bin without feeling a severe loss either to your wallet or your sentimental attachments.

Mike's Bench:
The retaining ring on a Waterman Ink-Vue was pretty chewed up making it almost impossible to remove.

Using a Jeweler's narrow pillar file that has teeth on all four edges, I cleaned up the slot giving straight edges and a flat bottom. Once it was cleaned up, the spanner wrench could then grip and be used to insert and remove the retaining ring. These rings are made of hard rubber and can be quite brittle. They can also be filed too far, so care should be given to not be too aggressive. Also, use care when you remove the retaining ring so you can work on it without damaging it further.

Pro Tip:
Dirt and grime can often be difficult to remove from imprints and the grooves and flutes of a blind cap such as on a Sheaffer Snorkel. Invest in an extra soft toothbrush and cleaning these troubled spot will be a breeze. Water and a mild detergent will work wonders. For extra tough spots you can also use flush or Rapido-Eze. This is not recommended for hard rubber or casein.

Mail Bag:
How often do you guys recommend cleaning/flushing the fountain pen. Love the job you did on my Pelikan!

Thank you for such a wonderful question. We believe there are three major factors in how often you should clean/flush your pen: the type of ink you use, the type of paper you use, and how often you fill/use your pen. There are some inks, particularly boutique inks, that use heavy pigments or dyes to achieve their vibrant colors. The suspended particles in the heavily pigmented ink can get trapped in the pen causing diminished ink flow. The dissolved dyes in dye- based inks can become particles due to humidity and temperate changes. Paper consists of fiber, and some types of paper that are not fountain pen friendly can build up torn fibers in the nib slit and in the feed channel. The photo below shows a feed that has a blocked feed channel from paper fibers.

Pens that receive heavy use can have issues due to both ink and paper. The more you fill your pen, the more suspended particles can get trapped. The more you write, the more paper fibers can get trapped. In an ideal world, we would like to see pens cleaned and flushed twice monthly should any of these be a factor. Under normal use and fountain pen friendly ink, once a month is fine. Of course, if you change ink brands or colors, you should thoroughly clean the pen, making sure the flush runs clear before filling with the new ink. Pens that don’t receive a lot of use should be cleaned as well because the ink can begin to dry and become thicker as the liquids begin to evaporate. A pen that is not cleaned, even with mild use, can become ink locked.

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