The following notes include procedures that might damage your pen or void its warranty. Also, for a number of different reasons, your results may differ from mine. Thus, proceed at your own risk. Also, some of the notes below are repetitions of ideas covered in earlier notes or blog posts. However, I’m including them to update the earlier information.
1. For problems such as hardstart, skipping, and uneven flow, flushing and flossing (see #2 below) are essential for basic pen care. The vast majority of pens will have these problems even after successful initial testing. The best method for flushing the nib-feed-section is a bulb syringe (idea from Brian Goulet). They can be found in drug stores. Check to see that the insertion end is long enough and tapers sufficiently to allow cutting back to fit the diameter of the section opening. If possible, get two syringes for thinner and wider openings. Cut back in very small increments. This method is superior to flushing with a converter, which exerts very little cleaning force in comparison. Be sure to hang on to the grip when squeezing the bulb. The pressure could shoot the assembly off the syringe.
2. Flossing the nib with a brass shim is also essential to basic pen care. Gradually, in very small increments, cut away the edges and corners as they become warped from use. Cutting diagonally across bent corners creates two corners — extending the use of this critical part of the shim. The easiest way is to stick a corner into the breather hole and slowly work it through the slit toward the point. Move it gently back and forth in the slit a few times after reaching the point.
3. Flossing the feed channel with a brass shim is also essential to basic pen care. Insert a corner into the channel and carefully run it back and forth from bottom to tip.
4. To fix scratchiness due to tip issues, use a rough brown grocery store paper sack first. (Before you begin, make sure that the tines are in alignment.) This often solves the problem. Work with a pen with an ink supply. Isolate the problem part of the stroke and gently repeat it on the paper until the problem disappears. Do this in very small increments, testing the tip on regular writing paper in between.
5. If the paper sack fix doesn’t work, then the next step up is some type of fine abrasive material. I won’t go into these. Google these and you’ll find them. These are drastic measures, so unless you’re willing to risk damaging your point, don’t do it.
6. As mentioned elsewhere on this blog, the paper used for testing impacts writing performance. Rare is the pen that performs well on all types of surfaces. For my primary testing surfaces, I use semi-glossy steno tablet paper and drawing tablet paper. One is pigmented (light green) and very smooth; the other is white, slightly rough, and thicker. Both are nonfeathering.
7. Needless to say, personal preference is also a critical factor in testing. For me, a thin line with a hint of wetness is ideal. This is my reference F (fine) nib. I also like a bit of feedback — not scratchiness but a visceral sense of the point gliding over the paper surface. This means that I use M nibs for tasks other than commenting, note-taking, or extended writing — for tasks usually done with marker or rollerball pens. The exception is an M that leans toward an F (F-M). These become my multi-use pens. In short, in my reviews, I tend to rate F pens higher than Ms, and dryer Ms higher than wetter ones.
8. Price isn’t always correlated with quality. I’ve extended my collection to include reference pens in the $50-100 range. In general, costlier pens perform very well out of the box. Cheaper (< $10) pens don’t. The difference is quality control (QC). The extra cost translates to some form of testing before boxing and shipping. But some of my best performing pens are the Pilot Petit1 and Platinum Preppy, which are under $5.00. These rival pens that cost 10-20 times more in terms of performance. Appearance and construction may be slightly inferior, but the difference may be slight.
9. Some of the best pens are in the $15-35 range. For examples, see some of the pens covered in this blog. Some of the brands are longstanding, but others are newer, adding QC and German-made nibs to partially complete pens made in China.
10. DIY tweaking can turn a barely usable pen into a winner. Thus, a cheap pen from China with hardstarting, scratchiness, and uneven flow can be fixed to perform very well.
11. Testing is a long-term process. A single initial test really doesn’t give a pen a fair chance. I keep a number of pens in a rack on my desk (see photo above) for easy testing. Time will eventually expose strengths and weaknesses.
12. Pens from the same maker and even pens within a model aren’t always equal. There are lemons. The test for a successful pen brand is consistency and reliability. Based on my limited collection and experience, some of the best in this sense are Pilot, Sailor, and Platinum. I haven’t had a lemon yet. I have excellent pens in other brands but not enough samples to reach a generalization.
13. Hardstarting is the critical difference between a good FP and a poor one. The best start immediately, on contact with paper. Others hesitate a bit before starting. And others will start only after shaking or repeated strokes on paper. Pens that require DIY tweaking (see above) may improve for a while, but the problem may recur. This is why long-term testing is necessary. On the one hand, a pen that starts in an initial test won’t necessarily start after sitting idle for a few days. On the other, a pen that hardstarts on day one isn’t necessarily going to remain a hardstarter forever. The bottom line is, if a pen habitually or even intermittently refuses to start, it’s unreliable and, unfortunately, useless. It’s like a car with starting problems. You won’t use it until it’s repaired because you don’t want to have it fail on you at an inopportune time.
14. To clean ink stains from your hands — try a mix of Oxi-clean diluted in water. In a small bottle of water, add some Oxi-clean powder. Cap the bottle and shake until the powder has blended into the water. Pour a little on the stains and work it in. Works when Magic Eraser doesn’t. Traces of some tough stains might remain, but they disappear after a day of routine washing.
15. I’ve been using cartridges instead of converters whenever possible, assuming that they’re a lot more efficient and sustainable. When empty, I can easily refill them with a syringe. Very little mess. With converters, part of the grip get soaked in ink and needs to be cleaned. Messy and a waste of ink. However, I’m finding that some of the cartridges are turning opaque after repeated use. Since I can longer see the amount of ink I’m injecting into the cartridge, I tend to overfill, creating a huge mess. Thus, I’m reluctantly switching to converters.