How to Maintain your Fountain Pen

How to Maintain your Fountain Pen

Fountain pens have always been an attraction for everyone, be it middle school kids just starting to use them or antique collectors with a passion for fountain pens. Why use a writing instrument that is quite obsolete? Here are some of our reasons in descending order of importance. You judge whether our reasons make sense to you.
A good fountain pen is the smoothest writing instrument, as there is almost no friction. The feather "floats" on a layer of liquid, and no pressure is needed; touch it.
It's fun to deal with a pen that works according to such basic physical principles as capillarity and surface tension. Disassembling, washing, dealing with paint, getting your fingers dirty, etc., makes the pen a pet.
There is an almost infinite variety of colors, and it is possible to manufacture your color through mixtures. The variety of internal construction is also attractive. It is an ecological instrument because, in theory, it is made to work "forever." Even in case of damage, some parts of the damaged pen may still fit in others.
It makes an elegant and durable gift. Even a well-used pen makes a good gift if it's rare, valuable, or sentimentally important. It is one of the few objects in which there is still some tradition of craftsmanship and traditional methods, such as the pens decorated with Urushi from Japan, or the Ranga pens from India, the latter extremely cheap in their category.

Cartridges and Ink Storage Methods

The stain of the fountain pen universe is the incompatibility of disposable cartridges. Unfortunately, selling ink cartridges was big business before printers. Many manufacturers use proprietary formats.
The incompatibility affects the converters (refillable cartridges with plunger). If the cartridge is proprietary, so is the converter. It often doesn't come with the pen and will be an extra expense. Converters are the most "breakable" components and, therefore, will be a recurring expense. The alternative is to fill empty cartridges with an injection syringe.
Fortunately, many other manufacturers adopt a standard format, "international, " and several ink manufacturers also supply cartridges in this format. If you don't want to risk getting your hands dirty, stick with the cartridges. Likewise, international converters are compatible with all pens that accept international cartridges. The only thing to watch out for is the length: the cartridges have both a short and a long version, and naturally, a short pen won't accommodate a long cartridge.
At the other extreme, there are the dropper-powered pens. There is nothing inside the pen body, which is filled with ink. Some ink bottles have a dropper in the lid to make your job easier. The downside of this system is the high chance of making a mess. If someone unscrews the pen barrel, he will paint the whole world.
The converter and the dropper allow you to charge the pen without dipping the nib in ink. Whether the ink bottle is shallow or almost empty is a significant advantage.
Another old system is the bladder reservoir. Opening the pen, there is a little rubber balloon. Press to expel air, and release with a feather dipped in ink to inflate. Some pens even have a window in the body to press on the bladder without opening it. The big problem is that every bladder breaks down sooner or later, and it can be challenging to find replacement parts.
A system often found in more expensive pens is the built-in piston, which works similarly to the converter but is an integral part of the pen body. It is robust and holds a lot of ink. The only possible downside is the difficulty of filling the pen from an almost empty cartridge. A very interesting variant is the vacuum pump.


The heart of the fountain pen is the feather. The smooth running and smoothness of the pen are almost a direct function of the nib quality. The nib also dictates the thickness of the stroke; the rest of the pen is the same whether it's a thin or thick stroke version.
The first choice is between fine, medium, or coarse feathers. It depends on your preference and the use you will put the pen to. But generally, starting with a medium nib is safe because it's "wetter," has a rounder nib, and writes smoother than a fine nib. In addition to the three or four basic sizes, there are flat, italic, thicker than 1mm, and "flex" pens (which provide easy width variation).
Historically, feathers were made of gold because it was corrosion-resistant and easy to work with. However, the advancement of technology provides us with excellent stainless steel nibs. A gold nib tends to be best, but this has a prosaic reason: it's only fitted to more expensive pens, which have their nibs tested and adjusted by hand.

Pen Upgrade

An advanced aspect of the hobby is replacing the quill with a better specimen. Finding a beautiful pen that works well but with a mediocre nib is common. Many Chinese and Indian pens suffer from this problem. In theory, all feathers work according to the same principles and can be changed at will. Unfortunately, there are two hitches.

  1. The feathers' size, shape, and thickness do not follow a pattern. Changing a pen involves research, comparing the original pen, and function testing. There is a mock pattern in the format "#n," for example, feathers #5, #6, and #5.5. If you know a pen has a #5 nib, naturally, the search starts with #5 nibs; a #6 feather would certainly not fit. Even so, it may happen that the new pen does not fit or needs a minor modification.
  2. It isn't easy to get feathers. The easiest way to get feathers, practiced by more advanced hobbyists, is to buy old pens to reuse the feathers.

Paints and Inks: 

As commonly known, paints easily found in the national market are bad. After a while, you'll want better inks and different colors.
If you insist on buying from local markets, be careful to avoid buying calligraphy ink. Out of ignorance, some sellers offer calligraphy inks, saying it is for the fountain pen. To make matters worse, they tend to be cheaper and with a greater variety of colors. However, they are made for those pen and ink pens that are always washed at the end of the work. It's not hard to imagine the damage done once the paint dries.
Resist the temptation to buy a paint bottle because you like the advertised color. Buy a sample first. First, because each ink flows differently, you must test it with your pens. Second, real-world colors are always different from the advertisement. You will find that your monitor needs to reproduce all colors.
If you are concerned about security, use the ink cartridge to sign important documents, etc., look for permanent inks advertised under terms like "Document," "Permanent," "Bulletproof," "Register," or "Iron Gall." They react with the cellulose in the paper, and at least part of the pigments resist water and even solvents. The chemistry of these inks is more aggressive; it can stain clothes and affect the pen itself. It is also dangerous to mix it with other paints. It's best to reserve a cheap plastic pen for this type of ink.
Some defects like feathering, ghosting, and spreading will be mentioned in the next section on papers as they depend more on them. But good quality paint helps a lot; if you write a lot on mediocre paper, if you tend to sign or annotate printed or photocopied pages (whose paper is a variable beyond your control), compensate for this with the best ink you can buy.
Shading is the tonality variation as some stroke stretches accumulate more paint. For some, this is a defect; for others, it is the great charm of writing with an inkwell. Each ink is different in this respect as well. All the more reason to buy samples and test them!

Paper Quality

Almost all "writing" paper is intended for ballpoint pens. A good inkwell paper should be as smooth as possible so the feather glides smoothly. It should also be low absorbent so that the ink dries "on" the paper or doesn't cross over to the other side (bleeding).
It must have a suitable thickness so it does not wrinkle even when saturated with paint. The line must not expand in width (spreading) and must not form those "hairs" by capillarity of the fibers of the paper (feathering).
The trick is to experiment with papers available on the market and find the "least bad" ink cartridges. The search has to start with good-quality papers.

How to maintain your fountain pen? 

The primary maintenance tool for a fountain pen is simply water. It could even be tap water. If you live in an area with "hard water," which leaves a lot of residues, you may want to use distilled water.
All fountain pen inks are water-based, completely water-soluble, and almost always free of solid residues. (If you have any ink other than this, it's probably for calligraphy and not ink.) Fountain pens are washed and uncooled with cold or lukewarm water, nothing else. Soak for three days, if necessary. If you are a cleaning freak, you can use an ultrasonic cleaner.
Some cleaning solutions have a little ammonia, which should be rinsed immediately. Solvents such as alcohol, candida (hypochlorite), isopropyl alcohol, acetone, etc., will destroy the pen as they attack plastics and rubber. Hot water can distort some plastics, particularly the celluloid of a rare and expensive pen. 
Some pharmacy implements can be helpful in cleaning and dealing with inks: injection syringes with "blunt" tips to avoid injury, rubber bulbs, absorbent paper, etc.
Trimming and polishing the nib can destroy the nib, so you should practice a lot on cheap pens before thinking about doing this with expensive pens. On the other hand, costly pens probably won't need tweaking, while every cheap one you buy will need tweaking. Below are some tips and tricks you can use:

  1. The most important tool is a magnifying glass, which you may already have. Adjusting the alignment and width of the ink channel can be done by hand, gently forcing the metal into the desired position, but not to the point where it bends and distorts. A piece of thin brass or aluminum (between 0.06mm and 0.12mm) can be useful to insert between the feather halves and twist slightly to open a channel that closes towards the tip—no need to use tweezers, knife tips or pliers because they are all too thick.
  2. Once the ink flow and alignment are perfect, the nib tip can be polished. It is necessary to use very fine sandpaper with numbers above 3000. There are 12000 sandpaper and pieces of mylar of 1µm and 0.3µm suitable for this. Good sandpaper does not have a sandpaper texture but leather.
  3. A humble nail file might do just as well if you want to avoid splurging. But it has to be a smooth nail file, not the kind that looks like sand stuck on a popsicle stick. Usually, good nail files come with three or four textures. You should only use the softest one, which doesn't even feel abrasive and gives the nails the final shine.
  4. Regular use of the pen is advised. In case of non-continuous use for a long time, remove the cartridge and clean the pen. This prevents the ink from drying out and causing the pen to clog.
  5. After use, always protect the pen with the cap. This prevents smudges that can cause a total or partial loss of writing, as well as slight ink evaporation. The guard must be in an appropriate case to protect it from friction. Close the pen in a vertical position with the pen facing upwards to avoid accidental leaks. The same goes for those who keep it in their pocket or bag.

Sanding and polishing a pen tip removes material from the tip, so it's a destructive, one-way process. It must be done gradually and carefully, testing the pen on the paper all the time, making strokes of all kinds and in all directions to identify in which direction the point still needs treatment. The pen must be charged as the ink lubricates the process.

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