April 11, 2019

 

Writing with a fountain pen should be a wonderful experience. The elegant look and the sophisticated pen work and design should at least provide you that. However, there is no perfect fountain pen. Time will always come when you’ll encounter an issue or two when using it.

Many fountain pen issues can be solved with cleaning, but some will require a slightly more advanced solution. Say for example when it is scratchy or when it does not write consistently. If cleaning hasn’t solved these kinds of issues, then you might want to look into some of the issues and fixes below to help you out.

Important Note

Some of these strategies might damage your fountain pen when done improperly most especially when you have the fine nibs like those that are installed on the Dryden Designs fountain pens. When it happens, it can void your warranty so be careful when performing them.

Also, put in mind that the nibs of your fountain pens are delicate instruments. Even the slightest adjustment you’ll make can bring significant changes in the performance of your fountain pen.

  1. Dried Out Fountain Pen

A couple of pen experts advise soaking the nib and feeder in cool water for a day or so to remove old dried ink from the ink flow path or capillary system. Actually, good flushing of the capillary system like this is advised every month.

Another good practice is to add a little moisture to ink held in the nib and feeder that may be partially evaporated after a few days of non-use. Here’s how you can do it:

  • Get a drop of water on your fingertip and touch it to the slit between the nib's tines. 
  • If the pen has been sitting unused for more than a few days, add two or three drops of water. 
  • Let it soak in.

If you do not write with the pen immediately, the water can mix with the ink under the nib more thoroughly. Do this once a week and as necessary.

In more severe cases, when the ink has been left in a pen for several weeks of non-use, cup your hand under a faucet and fill the nib with water. Quickly dip the whole section into the water in your hand and remove it. Cap the pen and carry it in your pocket for an hour or so before using. If the writing is light in color, touch a facial tissue to the nib and feeder a few times to remove excess water or watery ink.

Fountain pens like to be used regularly.  If you’re not going to use a pen for a while, empty the ink from it and flush the pen with water until no discoloration from ink appears.

  1. Scratchy Fountain Pen

A magnifying glass of about 3x to 5x is a big help when tuning up a fountain pen. Here’s how to tune your fountain pen:

  • With your fingernails press down on the high side and upward on the low side.
  • Check your progress often with your magnifying glass.
  • If the nib is stamped from steel, it should respond well to pressure from your fingernails.
  • If it is a springy steel, it is designed to flex with varying pressures from your hand and add expression to the varying width of your strokes. Springy steel is also more difficult to press into a new shape.

Any fountain pen will write more smoothly as you use it and the nib becomes more polished through contact with the paper. Exceptions are attempts to write on paper ill-suited for a fountain pen. Some cheap pens with poorly constructed nibs are also exemptions.

  1. Incorrect Tine Alignment and Gap

This issue could also cause a scratchy feeling when writing. The first thing to do is see if the tines of the nib are properly aligned. A magnifying glass or loupe will make this much easier and is highly recommended.

The most common form of misaligned tines is when one tine is higher or lower than the other. To correct this issue, use the following steps:

  • With a fingertip placed on the top side of the nib, press the tip of nib down gently but firmly against a hard surface, like a sheet of paper on a table.
  • Rock the nib from side to side for 5–10 seconds.
  • Check the nib to see if the tines are still misaligned.
  • Doing this may have caused the tips to become bent up slightly. If so, turn the nib over and, with a fingertip on the underside of the feed, press down briefly several times in a row, repeating if necessary.

You might also want to check the gap between the tines. The proper distance between the tines depends somewhat on the viscosity of the ink you’re using.

Different pen makers specify different inks because they design their pens for a certain viscosity of the ink. Some inks may be too thick to work properly in some pens. Some would add a little water to thin the ink so it flows better in a particular pen.

The proper distance between the tines is about the thickness of a piece of copy paper. If you use a feeler gauge, 0.003 of an inch is about right.

  1. Incorrect Feeder to Nib Clearance

Fountain pens operate on the basis of a controlled leak. Key to this is the right amount of contact or clearance between the nib and the feeder. You should be able to pull a piece of copy paper between the nib and the feeder while feeling a fair amount of drag on the paper.

When the nib and the feeder do not properly fit one another, several problems occur. Either the ink does not flow, or the pen leaks.

Feeders are usually made of plastic. In vintage fountain pens from the 1920s and before, they were often made of hard rubber. The good news is that both of these can easily be reshaped with heat. Some use an alcohol burner. To fix:

  • Fill a measuring cup with a couple of inches of water.
  • Place the cup into your microwave and heat the water until it begins to boil.
  • Remove the cup and hold the nib and feeder in the water for 15 seconds.
  • Remove the pen from the water and press the feeder against the nib. Use moderate pressure.
  • Hold the pressure on the feeder until you are certain it has cooled. This could be about 15 more seconds. If you do not get it right the first time, you can repeat this process as many times as needed.
  1. Damaged Fountain Pen Tip

If the tines are properly aligned and the nib is still scratchy, use a loupe or magnifying glass to examine the tips of the nib. The surface of the tips should be perfectly smooth.

If there are any visible nicks, spurs, or other surface irregularities, contact the retailer or manufacturer for a replacement nib or pen. These are defects that cannot easily be fixed and might rather require replacement.

Polish Nib

Scratchiness can also occur if the surface of the tips is a little too rough, or if the inside edges of the tips are a little too sharp. In this case, you can try to make the nib smoother by lightly polishing it. Do not do this unless you have already done the previous steps.

Trying to polish a nib with damaged tips or misaligned tines will only make the problem worse. Polishing can be done with very fine grit buff sticks, Mylar, or micro-mesh. However, doing so is a very advanced procedure and is not recommended without first doing extensive research and preparation.

One polishing technique that is relatively safe to perform and does not require any special equipment is to use a paper bag. Here’s what to do:

  • Find a paper bag or other rough paper surface.
  • With ink installed in the pen, draw figure 8s on the paper using your normal writing angle and pressure.
  • Test the pen on regular paper every few minutes or so. This method can take a while to give noticeable results and might not work with all nibs. Stop if you notice that your nib is digging up paper fibers from the bag. The nib is probably too scratchy to fix using this method, and the paper fibers may clog and damage the nib.
  1. Poor Ink Flow

"Flow" refers to how quickly a pen puts ink onto the paper. Dry or inconsistent flow can cause the ink to skip or appear washed out. It can also cause "hard starts"—small skips at the beginning of a pen stroke.

Here are the steps you can take to address a nib with poor ink flow:

  • Check nib-feed alignment
  • The nib should sit on the feed so that the nib slit lines up with the ink channel on the top of the feed. If the nib slit does not line up with the feed's ink channel, try to manually adjust the nib and feed so that they do.
  • The nib should also sit firmly against the entire top surface of the feed. If there is a gap between the nib and feed, use the following steps to correct it:
  • With a fingertip on the underside of the feed, press the top of the nib gently but firmly against the edge of a hard surface.
  • Slowly, roll the nib from base to tip against the surface.
  • Repeat this process, checking every few times to see if the gap is still present.

Doing this may have caused the tips to become bent down slightly. If so, turn the nib over and, with a fingertip on the top side of the nib, press down briefly several times in a row, repeating if necessary.

  1. Excessive Ink Flow

When a fountain pen puts ink down too quickly, it will create wide, wet lines that can be difficult to control and take a long time to dry. It also increases the likelihood of the ink feathering or bleeding through the paper. In extreme cases, ink might even drip or leak from the nib.

Here are the steps you can take to address a nib with excessive ink flow:

  • Stay Cool

Heat can cause the air inside a pen to expand and force ink out through the nib. If the leaking or wet writing occurs when it gets hot out or when you've been carrying the pen close to your body, this may be the cause.

  • Check for an Air Leak

Excessive ink flow can indicate an air leak somewhere in the pen. Leaks most often occur when the opening of an ink cartridge or converter does not form an airtight seal with the nib section. If possible, try installing a different cartridge or converter in the pen and see if it resolves the issue.

  • Tighten Tines

You can also try to reduce ink flow by squeezing the tines tighter together. Grip the sides of the tines with your fingertips and squeeze them for 5–10 seconds, repeating as necessary. As mentioned above, this can be uncomfortable, so we recommend using a thin cloth or piece of rubber to cushion your fingertips.

If you don't mind a little work and some inky fingers, it is often possible to fix and even fine-tune a fountain pen to write the way you want.


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