What is it about flexible fountain pen nibs that make them so attractive? Perhaps it is the particular sensation we experience when writing with them. It can also be how our everyday penmanship is transformed in varying degrees. When augmented by skill and focus, these versatile nibs can also produce ornate calligraphy or vibrant line art. There is also something so satisfying about seeing those nib tines move as the ink flows on to the paper. I have forgotten how many videos I watched just to appreciate the process.
Among all the possible reasons why flex fountain pens call to us, the most fundamental in my opinion is the line variation that they offer. This added feature gives that extra oomph to the writing experience, and makes our usual scrawl more expressive and interesting to behold.
A Brief Definition of Terms
Not all fountain pen nibs that can flex should be forced to do so. Even though the metals used in the nibs have high tensile strengths, they are not perpetually elastic. Therefore, a light and sensitive hand is required — to balance the pressure needed to bring out the potential of the nib while being mindful of its limits. Here are some descriptive terms to guide us —
This is the tendency of the nib tines to bend upwards or downwards with
the vertical strokes, so that writing has a bouncy feel to it. This is different from a sprung nib which has been bent away from the feed due to excessive pressure.
This refers to nibs that are stiffer than firm — having no give at all, no
flexibility — hence the name. I prefer this kind of nib for faster writing, such as for
This refers to a nib that is springy or bouncy. Writing with it has a
cushioned feel. It allows for a touch of line variation as the nib reacts
to changes in pressure from the different movements of regular handwriting. I like using this kind of nib when I can take my time for more expressive handwriting. The Pilot Falcon is one example of a pen with this kind of nib.
Semi-flex to Flex
Now this is a descriptor that relies heavily on subjective views
and experience. There are no current, universal standards to definitely
differentiate between the two, and opinions vary between fountain pen enthusiasts. What is labeled as a flex pen by modern standards will feel semi-flexible to those who have used vintage flex pens. Generally though, contemporary semi-flex and flex pens are characterized and evaluated by how far their nib tines spread apart given the same pressure applied. As an example: the Pilot Custom Heritage 912 FA (Falcon) is considered by some to be either very soft or semi-flex, while others say that it comes pretty close to the experience of using a vintage flex pen.
A Quick Review
When I had just started my journey into the rabbit hole, I came upon a few articles singing the praises of the Pilot CH 912 FA. Thus, the seed of my first grail pen was sown. I had been eyeing flex nibs for the primary purpose of using them for art. Fine-tipped drawing pens and gel pens did not create the dynamic versatility that I wanted to see in action. Fast forward a few years — I procured my own Pilot CH 912 FA. Among the flex pens that I’ve tried, this one is admittedly my favorite and I will tell you why.
First of all, it evokes elegance with its minimalistic design. The pen is made of black resin with silvery rhodium trim — understated and professional. I was initially drawn to the softer silhouette of the cigar shape of fountain pens. However, the flat ends of the cap and barrel, as well as the gently tapering shape, also reflect its timelessness. I appreciate how the clip looks like a short sword, an appropriate symbol for a pen.
Second, it feels good in my hand. Even though it has more girth than the slimmer pens I usually like, it is lightweight with a comfortable grip. The threads are secure and smooth, and uncapping takes less than 2 turns. The clip stays put but is springy, making the pen easy to access from a shirt pocket or a pen roll slot. The 14K rhodium-plated gold nib — unobtrusively stamped with identifiers — maintains the overall aesthetics of the pen.
Finally, my experience with it underlines its value. The nib performs well and beyond my non-calligrapher needs. Even though it is not as responsive as the vintage flex pens that I have tried during pen meets, it is versatile enough to be used for both everyday journaling and sketching. It also has that pleasant feedback that I look for. Reverse writing is possible, with some scratchiness at certain angles. There has been some railroading during flexing, but I attribute this to drier inks and my own impatient pace. Personally, I consider the Pilot CH 912 FA to be semi-flex, since I already have a baseline established from my own encounters with vintage flex pens. All in all, it is a pleasure to use for my daily requirements.
Food for Thought
Flex fountain pens will continue to entrance us. It is their potential to elevate the total experience that makes them dear to the hearts of fountain pen enthusiasts who have accepted the challenge of wielding them. Whether they be vintage or modern, what essentially matters is the fulfillment and joy that we derive from using them according to our own idiosyncrasies.
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Written by @lekzumali
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