What Does Break-In Mean?
Break-in is essentially defined as a process of change that can be applied to several situations. To break-in an object means to overcome the newness of it with first usage. Breaking-in when applied to a person denotes beginning and getting accustomed to a new activity or position. Either way, it is a period of evaluation and adjustment that signifies an adaptive and dynamic relationship.
Now, when you drop the term “break-in” within a gathering of fountain pen enthusiasts, you’re sure to start a lively discussion. This is mainly due to the many perspectives this expression gives rise to.
Breaking-In Fountain Pens As Fact
One side says YES, there is definitely truth behind the break-in period for new fountain pens or those that have been newly acquired, referring to previously owned or vintage pens. They say that it is a necessary period for the new fountain pen nib to smoothen and/or for the metal of the nib to become softer with regular use. Another aspect of this is that the tipping material of the fountain pen nib will ultimately conform to the writing style of the user. The reasoning behind this point of view is that fountain pens as manufactured instruments, particularly nibs which are ground by hand, may have miniscule defects that can be eventually removed using friction from the surface of the paper. In addition, the weight and movements of the fountain pen user’s hand will manage to lessen the stiffness of the metal and shape the nib point to the individual’s own idiosyncrasies. Some even mention a time interval of a few weeks of use, or a certain amount of pages to be written for a fountain pen nib to have been properly broken-in.
Breaking-In Fountain Pens As Fiction
Another standpoint says NO, there should definitely not be a break-in period at all. The fountain pen with its nib either works well out of the box or it does not. And if not, then the pen is defective, and should be returned, replaced, or sent to a nibmeister for repairs. This outlook is understandable from a consumer’s point of view. You should receive a product with the level of quality that is commensurate with what you paid for it, especially if it is considered a high-end item. A certain level of performance is to be expected at the outset. However, before resigning yourself to having received a non-functioning pen, another option would be to take a look for yourself using a loupe. You can check for any minor irregularities that might only need just a bit of nib tuning; and you're good to go.
Breaking-In Fountain Pens in a Different Light
Another position proposes MAYBE... BUT not in the ways that have been suggested. The “break-in” initially thought to be the fountain pen nib becoming smoother and more springy actually involves two factors. The first is the fountain pen’s feed working with the nib. From first to continuous use, the feed in due course becomes saturated with ink. The machining oils and other residue from the manufacturing process are flushed out in time, enabling better movement of ink. This more efficient flow to the fountain pen nib point allows for additional lubrication, which in turn makes the writing experience smoother. The second factor is the fountain pen user. As you continue to use that new pen, you discover the subtle ways of holding it that yield better results. Over time, these nuances of hand position, grip, and angle of writing become second nature; and the pen’s performance is enhanced. Becoming familiar with that sweet spot on your fountain pen’s nib is a classic example of this adjustment. Therefore, it is the user that learns to adapt to the pen’s variations, and not the other way around.
Furthermore, the durable metal of the fountain pen nib, as well as the additional tipping, would take years of repeated regular use before a significant physical change could be seen. Thus, that fear of drastically changing your nib’s “molding” to your hand by letting another person use it once or twice would be more applicable to softer gold nibs, flex nibs, and vintage nibs, combined with someone who has no idea how to properly use a fountain pen. The potential for a sprung nib is real, but several factors would have to be in play before that can happen.
First Steps with a New Fountain Pen
Whichever school of thought you hold to, here are some practical pointers to keep in mind when you receive that new, or new-old fountain pen:
- Examine your pen for completeness. - Does it have all its requisite parts to function properly? Also check for any easily visible defects or signs of damage.
- Clean it (or not). - It’s your choice, really. Some fountain pens are well-known to perform well just out of the box. You can opt to ink it up at the onset; then let the ink do the subsequent flushing as it flows through the feed outwards. To expel whatever residue is left behind, a good flush with clean water can help as well.
- Use that pen, and keep on using it. - This is one of the essential ways of “breaking-in” your fountain pen. At the start, this alerts you to any defects or damage that may have been missed by inspection. It also enables you to discover those features peculiar to that pen; and use that insight to make it write better for you.
Fact or Fiction: Final Thoughts on Breaking-In Fountain Pens
This question has been brought up before; and whole threads in different fountain pen forums are dedicated to discussing it. Personally, I think that breaking-in a fountain pen is a process that involves multiple elements. Yes, it is a combination of mechanical effects on the metal and fountain pen nib point that occur with time and use, the dynamics of ink and feed, and lastly, the user aspect. For me, being involved in the optimal performance of the pen is significant, and adds to the fascination of using fountain pens in the first place. These instruments, as their very nature dictates, are designed to work with us (barring inherent deficiencies, of course). The variable experiences that can be had from using pens in distinct styles or from different brands help shape us as well. A key ingredient in the allure of fountain pens is the delight and gratification we receive from using one in fine form whenever it is within our hand.
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Written by Lekz Umali
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