Bulb Syringe: Essential Tool for All Fountain Pen Users

The blue bulb syringe is a little under 5" in length.

The blue bulb syringe is a little under 5″ in length. The blue is for wider section openings. Together, they cover my small fountain pen collection.

If you’re using or planning to use a fountain pen, a bulb syringe is an essential tool for unclogging the section unit, which includes the nib and feed. They can be found in drug stores and usually sold for irrigating the ear or clearing the nasal passage for around $5-10 U.S.

You’ll need to cut off the tip to get it to fit snugly in the section opening. Cut back in very small increments until it fits snugly. If you have a lot of fountain pens, then I’d suggest at least 2 syringes. One for narrow and another for wide section openings. See the photo above.

A single load of water is more than sufficient to flush out the gunk and run clear. Be sure to keep the fit snug to avoid spraying water and ink all over the place.

You could use a converter to flush the nib unit, but the process is slow, time consuming, and not very effective if the gunk build-up is thick, wedged in, or dry. The advantage of the syringe is the large amount of water and pressure that’s forced through the nib unit. It quickly clears the channels.

If the water from the syringe doesn’t penetrate through the nib unit or dribbles instead of gushes, then the gunk has probably solidified, and you’ll need to either soak the unit for a  day or more or pull the nib/feed from the section and manually floss the channel with a brass shim. You could then follow up with a syringe flush.

After flushing, to quickly dry the nib unit, empty the syringe and use it to blow air through the section unit. Do this a few times and the water will be expelled.

Most pens will need to be flushed at some point, but the fact that a particular pen has to be flushed often is a sign that it’s a poor pen. In general, most of my cheap China pens fall in this category. The nib/feed dries up regularly after a day or two and won’t write. Only a flush will get it flowing.

In my modest collection, the best pens in terms of quick starting are the Japanese pens Sailor and Pilot. Across the board, from medium- to low-priced (I don’t have any high-priced pens), they start immediately even after days or weeks of sitting idle. German pens, in general, are excellent starters, too. The Lamy Safari is fine, but the Vista is a hardstarter.

Other popular pens in my collection such as Monteverde Artista, Nemosine Fission and Singularity, Waterman Kultur, and Twsbi (Eco, Diamond Mini, Vac-Mini) are in-between. They tend to hardstart after sitting idle for a few days.

A fountain pen that can’t be relied upon to write on demand is basically useless. Thus, at this point in time, my recommendation for a reliable fountain pen would be Sailor or Pilot.

The Sailor Lecoule reminds me of an old Esterbrook in appearance. At $26, it outperforms nearly all my other pens in the same price range and higher. It’s always started instantly with a steady ink flow.

The Pilot Metropolitan, at almost half the price ($14.50 U.S.), is just as reliable. However, it’s bigger and heavier than the Lecoule, limiting its mobility.

Interestingly, both the Lecoule and the Metropolitan are opaque and unlike the clear demonstrators that I prefer in terms of looks. The opaque pens don’t have the same visual wow appeal. However, they seem to have an advantage in preventing drying. Then again, the China pens are nearly all opaque and still dry out quickly.

Apparently, the design and engineering of the nib/feed/section unit is the key to a good pen, and the best manufacturers stand far above the rest.

If you own or plan to buy a Japanese or German fountain pen, you should probably still have a bulb syringe handy to flush the nib section since all pens will eventually dry up if left unused for a long enough.

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