FP Notes 001 (2/8/16)

Updated 2/9/16, 2/11/16, 2/12/16
In periodic “Notes,” I’ll be summarizing my developing thoughts and preferences re fountain pens (FPs). I’m sure these will change over time, so consider them tentative. Will be using an outline format, and the bulleted numbered items will be listed in no particular order. All FPs mentioned in my first and subsequent orders of Chinese pens and most in this blog have arrived. After working hands on with many different pens, I’m beginning to understand the world of FPs and my preferences. However, I still have a lot more to learn, and the journey is the real fascination.

1. Convinced that many of the under-$50 pens that I’m focusing on are excellent in construction, aesthetics, and writing performance. However, this is based on references that fall within this price range. Will need to explore pens in the midrange $50-100. Ordered a Pilot Namiki Custom 74 demonstrator ($72+13) on 2/7/16 for this purpose.
Definitely drawn to demonstrators. Future purchases will probably favor these clear plastic models.

2. Prefer nibs that are somewhere between medium and fine, or ideally a fine that’s slightly wet. Definitely don’t like the extremes: extra fine nibs that are bone dry or thick wet nibs that hemorrhage ink so quickly that I have to frequently refill the pen.

3. First attracted to buttery smooth nibs but now tending toward some feedback from the paper grain. By feedback, I don’t mean scratchiness that tears the fibers. Assuming that the smoothness may be due to excessive wetness, and the problem with wetness is feathering and bleeding on certain types of paper as well as the need to frequently refill the ink reservoir. With the high cost of and limited access to bottled ink, wet nibs are a problem.  

4. Don’t like pencil-thin pens and really fat ones like the Jinhao 159 (Montblanc 149 clone).

5. Don’t like hooded nibs. Need to see the full nib and feed.

6. First attracted to heavy metal pens, but shifting to lighter models, such as demonstrators. But still enjoy the serious heft of the Nemosine Fission, Jinhao X450s and x750s as well as others. Increasingly, heavy is equating to hand fatigue and lack of mobility.

7. Preference is for screw-on caps and screw-on posting features, like the Nemosine Fission. However, most screw-ons are limited to the nib end of the barrel and don’t extend to the closed end.

8. Prefer writing unposted unless the pen is too short, like the Pilot Petit1 and Kaweco Classic Sport. Posting that overextends the top of the pen is unsightly. It also affects balance and could scratch the barrel.

9. Fascinated by eyedropper (ED) pen conversions but not having much success. Also, the fact that the ink will eventually stain the inner surface of demonstrators is a turn-off. My only ED for now is Noodler’s Charlie. It has a fatal problem with leaking through the feed, but I found a workaround. More on this in a later post.

10. Like the Lamy Safari and Vista but can’t seem to get past the huge clip, which seems ugly. Maybe it’ll grown on me. The EF is way too dry and scratchy. The M is a bit too wet. The F ought to be ideal, but it was just as wet as the M if not moreso. Ordered two replacement F nibs to replace the EF and the F. Assuming that the first F was defective. Probably won’t pursue the Lamy if the replacement nibs don’t make a dramatic difference.

11. Like the fact that nibs are available for purchase, providing infinite modification and repair possibilities. Awed by the way a change in nib can totally change the quality of a pen from poor to excellent. For example, switched the Nemosine Fission (black) from EF to M and really like the results. Also switched the Nemosine Singularity from F to M. All three of my Nemosines are now Ms.

12. Would like to learn more about tweaking nibs to my liking. Need to tread lightly here since this is an area that requires a lot of skill and knowledge. Caveat: proceed in micro increments since it’s all too easy to ruin a nib, and in most cases, ruining a nib means ruining a pen.

13. Had not anticipated the high cost of bottled ink. Noodler’s seems to offer the best bang for the buck.

14. Prefer cartridges over converters. Refilling them with bottled ink is easy and efficient. A lot simpler to stick a syringe needle in a bottle of ink instead of a nib and grip. When the level of ink remaining in a bottle drops too low to cover the entire nib, a needle works just fine. A syringe is less messy and wastes less ink. With no moving parts, a cartridge is less prone to breakdowns.

15. Department and office supply stores in my area don’t carry fountain pens or bottled ink. The exception was a chain store that’s going out of business. It had a few Cross and Sheaffer FPs along with some cartridges. That’s it. No bottled ink, converters, etc.

16. Ordered spark plug pliers to remove stubborn sections from old Esterbrook and Sheaffer FPs. They are the same as those advertised as “section pliers” and cost much less.

17. YouTube is a gold mine for information about nearly everything associated with FPs. It’s the nexus for this hobby, sustaining a network that reaches around the world.

18. On YouTube, the best pen reviewer and all-around guru re FPs is Stephen B.R.E. Brown. His username is sbrebrown. Watch his videos. There are others, just as good, such as Brian Goulet. More on them in future notes.

19. The Fountain Pen Network is the best online forum about anything to do with FPs.

20. The best FP bargain is the Pilot Petit1 with an F nib. It’s a demonstrator, under $4.00, and I haven’t been able to find a single flaw. It’s my choice for carry-around. In a shirt pocket, it’s so light and small that I forget it’s there. Wide range of nibs and inks available. JetPens1 provides quick, courteous service and excellent prices.

21. Evaluating and rating a FP is difficult if not impossible because of three factors: paper stock, ink, and quality control. A pen’s rating could vary widely depending on type of ink or paper used. Of these two, paper quality is the most critical. A pen that performs well on a wide range of stock is rare. Quality control is usually the difference between unbelievably cheap (<$5) pens and more expensive (>$20) ones. However, there are exceptions, cheap pens that are excellent and more expensive ones that are crap. Also, with some tweaking or replacement parts, nearly all pens can be improved. This is perhaps the challenge and hands-on enjoyment of cheap pens.

22. This hobby is being fueled by the web. The small but growing number of small online businesses that cater to hobbyists are the heart and soul of this renaissance of FPs. Will be mentioning more of them in future notes.

23. Europe, especially Germany, and Asia, especially Japan, are the leaders in FP innovation and quality. The U.S. is somewhere in that mix. China is quickly catching up.

24. The medium is the message, and I’ve yet to figure out the message in the FP medium. It seems to be different from other media such as ballpoints and rollerballs. It’s definitely different from computers.

25. The most innovative FP in my collection and in my research is the Twsbi Eco semi-demonstrator. It’s a piston filler, which is basically a large and sturdy converter that’s screwed on to a section assembly. But it has a serious design flaw — an ugly cap and piston screw. Both of these are also opaque and hexagonal in shape — in contrast to the round, clear barrel. The cap design seems to have been inspired by the screw, at the end of the barrel, that operates the piston. The screw could have been round and “hidden” under a tiny transparent end cap, and the main cap could have been designed to match.

26. The FP that intrigues me the most is the Pilot Varsity. It’s basically an ED with a decent nib for $3.00. It’s reliable, consistent, and holds a ton of ink. But it’s designed as a throw-away once the ink is gone. This piques my interest. Why throw away a good pen because it’s not designed to be refilled? Obviously, many have wondered the same, and some have invented ingenious but messy strategies to refill it.  A couple of tweaks — a transparent barrel and cap and a screw-on clear section — would turn it into a refillable ED and demonstrator. These improvements could drive the price up by a buck or two, but $4-5 is still a bargain.

27. The Pilot Varsity also flies against conventional wisdom re EDs. It obviously works well until it’s completely dry, debunking the notion that EDs need to be kept a third to a half full to avoid heating the trapped gases in the reservoir and causing ink to blob on the bottom of the feed and drip onto a writing surface. It’s a design issue, and the Varsity designers appear to have solved it.

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1Disclaimer: I’m an amateur hobbyist and in no way associated with or related to any of the companies or sellers mentioned in this blog.

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