Tips on How to Solve Common Fountain Pen Problems | EndlessPens

Fortunate are those whose favored writing instruments always work well right out of the box. There’s nothing more off-putting than excitedly opening that long-awaited parcel and inking up your new fountain pen, only to find that… it would not write, or the experience itself is unpleasant.

Aside from the process of breaking in your new fountain pen which has been discussed in a previous post, we at EndlessPens would like to help you enjoy your writing experience by discussing a few common problems encountered with using fountain pens, as well as some tips on how to solve them yourself.

FAIR WARNING : You will need patience, a light hand, and a discerning eye (and a loupe, when necessary). Background knowledge of the parts of a fountain pen and how they work will likewise help you pinpoint the source of the problem and focus your attention. In addition, even though most fountain pens are built to last, some of their components are still delicate enough that you might damage them if careful handling isn’t employed. Furthermore, the smallest adjustment can yield significant results. Take note as well that some fountain pens do come with a warranty from the manufacturer, and tinkering with your pen might void said guarantee.

REMEMBER : Check the results each and every time before repeating the steps. Evaluate your progress after each step and repeat only if necessary. Some methods have potential risks for further damage, therefore always proceed with caution. If you are not comfortable with the method suggested, do not attempt it. That being said, let us now tackle these issues one by one.


Problem 1 : Scratchy Nib

Nothing goes against the grain for a fountain pen user quite like a nib that drags on paper. Scratchiness is that sensation you get when the nib of your pen, instead of dancing across the page, seems to stumble and trip along the way. There is that sharp feeling of the tip catching on the paper, and quite possibly also damaging its surface. This is different from feedback, which is the satisfying experience of the fountain pen nib skating across the page and working with the paper’s texture, each loop and swirl of your handwriting relayed back to your fingertips without a hitch. Feedback is typically experienced with finer nib widths. A properly tuned nib should not leave marks on the paper.

You will need a loupe or magnifying glass, about 5X - 10x magnification at least to zoom in on that fountain pen nib. There are several causes of a scratchy nib:

Cause #1 : MISALIGNED NIB TINES

Look through the loupe to examine the nib, with the point towards you, and then view from the opposite sides. If one tine is higher than the other, there is misalignment. This can also be felt when you run your fingernail across the top of the nib from one tine to the other. Another tactile clue pointing to misaligned nib tines is by making diagonal lines on paper in different directions. If there is more drag on the paper in one direction compared to the others, then one nib tine is lower. Take note, however, that upward strokes are naturally not as smooth as downward ones.

Solution #1

Use your fingernail to GENTLY push down on the higher nib tine, pressing down on a spot a bit farther from the nib point, and checking each time visually and through writing to see if this has solved the issue. Remember, tiny adjustments can yield significant results.

Solution #2

Place a piece of paper on a hard, flat surface, like a desk or table. Put the nib point down on the paper at a slight angle, with a fingernail on the top side of the nib. GENTLY but firmly, rock the nib from side to side for about 5 - 10 seconds. Take note, this method might make the nib turn up slightly away from the feed. If so, turn the pen over, put your fingertip on the underside of the feed, and GENTLY and briefly press down a few times, with the top of the nib touching the paper at a slight angle.

Cause #2 : DAMAGED or DEFECTIVE NIB POINT

If the fountain pen nib tines are aligned yet the nib feels scratchy, use your loupe to check if the nib point is smooth. It does happen that new nibs have dents or surface irregularities such as burrs that catch on the paper surface.

Solution #1

If the surface irregularity is miniscule, then doing figure eights on textured paper might be enough to remedy the scratchiness.

Solution #2

In cases where the irregularity is more substantial, it would be better to make use of that warranty and send it back to the manufacturer for repair or replacement. You can also opt to send it to a nibmeister instead for more advanced polishing.


Problem 2 : Inconsistent or Dry Ink Flow

Flow in fountain pen parlance pertains to the movement of ink through the pen. Hard start refers to the difficulty of getting the fountain pen to begin writing immediately. Skipping is when the pen does write, but with missing or partial strokes. Fountain pens and inks work together primarily through capillary action and gravity. Proper air flow is likewise needed in order to displace the ink and help it move through the feed channels and nib. Adequate contact between the nib point and the surface of the paper should also be taken into account. Other elements in play include the nature of the ink and quality of the paper being used. If any of these factors are affected or deficient, hard starts, skipping, or a too-thin and muted line of ink is experienced. Check the ink supply and attachment of the cartridge or converter to the section as well. These are the common factors leading to insufficient ink flow:

Cause #1 : BLOCKED NIB and/or FEED

Anything that impedes the movement of ink through the pen, as well as the air needed to displace it, will hamper proper flow.

Solution #1

For new pens, sometimes sediments or machining oils are still present after the manufacturing process. A quick flush of the nib and feed with clean water can help clear these out.

Solution #2

For inked pens, there can be dried up ink clogging the nib and/or feed if the pen has been left unused for a long time, or left uncapped. You can either swipe the nib with a wet fingertip, immerse it for a moment in clean water, or wet the nib slit with a waterbrush. Let the moisture activate the dried up ink for a while, then proceed to write. The ink will be diluted at first, but touching the nib tip to any kind of blotting paper or cloth will remedy that. If shimmering ink has been used in the pen, the particles might have collected in the nib and feed fins, and a more thorough cleansing with a soft-bristled toothbrush is required. If these measures do not solve the issue, there might be another cause for the scanty ink flow.

Solution #3

Using a brass shim to floss between the tines will help clear up the space enough for you to examine it. Alternatively, there might be paper fibers or other debris caught between the tines, and this simple procedure might help by improving ink flow. Take note of how the shim moves along the space between the tines and through the nib point, whether the space feels too tight or too loose. (Note : NIB SLIT ISSUES)

Solution #4

Force ink through the nib and/or feed. You can tap the pen with the nib pointing downwards above a paper towel or a scrap of paper without touching the nib point to the hard surface. You can also use the pen’s reservoir mechanism to pump more ink into the feed.

Cause #2 : MISALIGNED NIB and FEED

As mentioned previously, anything that impedes the mechanics of capillary action and air movement through the nib and feed will cause deficient ink flow.

Solution #1

Take a look at the nib and its position relative to the feed under it. The nib should sit on the feed with the slit aligned with the ink channel of the feed below it. If there is a dislocation noted, manually reposition the two components. Take care to do this GENTLY, so as not to damage the nib collar.

Solution #2

Also note the space between the underside of the nib and the top surface of the feed. The underside of the nib should be flush against the top side of the feed. If there is a wide gap, then ink flow is compromised. To correct this, place a piece of paper over the edge of a hard and flat surface, then position the top of the nib onto the paper covering the edge. With your fingertip on the underside of the feed, GENTLY but firmly press on the feed and pull the pen towards you, from the base of the nib to the tip, a few times. Check if the gap has been lessened, and try writing with the pen. If the nib point has been bent down slightly due to the pressure, turn the nib over, and place at a slight angle on a flat surface, press on the nib with your fingertip on the top side GENTLY for a brief period.

Cause #3 : NIB SLIT ISSUES

Proper capillary action requires a narrow enough space for the ink to flow adequately, not too tight and not too wide. Check the nib once it is clean and dry by holding it up against a light source and examine the slit. The nib slit should narrow towards the nib point, but the tips of the tines should not be touching each other, allowing for ink to flow through. If the tips of the tines are too tight or the space between them is wider than that near the breather hole, then ink cannot flow naturally. In reality, these differences can be quite subtle, so a loupe might be needed for better visualization.

Solution #1

For tines that are too tight, you can insert a brass shim between them and let it stay there for a while. This will take some time, but this is the gentler and safer method. As you remove the shim, note how it feels moving between the tines and through the nib point. If there is still some resistance, repeat as necessary.

Solution #2

For tight tines, an alternative measure is to place the nib top side up at a slight angle on a piece of paper laid down on a flat surface. With your fingertip on the top side of the nib, GENTLY press down until the nib tines are 1 - 2 mm apart, hold for a few seconds, then release. DO NOT attempt to press down for longer periods or harder as there is the risk of splaying the tines or springing the nib. This method truly requires patience and a light touch, and is not usually recommended.

Solution #3

If the tines are splayed, place the nib top side down on paper placed on a flat surface. With your fingertip pressing GENTLY on the underside of the feed, roll the nib from side to side for about 5 - 10 seconds.

Solution #4

As an adjunct to Method 3, place the tip of the nib sideways on paper laid down on a flat surface. Press down GENTLY with your fingertip on the opposite side and hold for a few seconds. Do this as well for the opposite side.

Solution #5

Grip the sides of the nib tines and hold for 5 - 10 seconds. Use a rubber grip or a thin, smooth fabric to cushion your fingers. This is a gentler alternative to Methods 3 and 4.

Cause #4 : BABY’S BOTTOM

This issue (so named as the shape of the nib point resembles a baby’s bottom, slightly rounded in between the nib tines’ inner edges) points to a hindrance to adequate ink flow from the nib point to the surface of the paper. As capillary action dictates that a liquid can reach only up to the narrowest point of a channel, any gap between the surface of the nib as it touches the paper will prevent the ink from naturally flowing out onto the surface. Once the ink molecules manage to reach the paper’s surface, the absorbency of the paper fibers coupled with the ink’s surface tension allows the ink to eventually flow. However, once the nib point is lifted off the paper for a few moments and put down once again, the ink would have retreated back upwards from the tips of the tines, resulting in a skip on the next pen stroke.

It is still possible to solve this problem. However, the process entails more advanced techniques that might require the skills of a nibmeister. These are the temporary solutions for baby’s bottom that you can try for the meantime:

Temporary Solution #1

Write with greater pressure. Maintaining firmer contact between the ink and surface of the paper will help decrease the skips in your writing.

Temporary Solution #2

Use a wetter ink. - The ink’s increased flow will enable it to bridge the gap between the nib tines’ inner edges and make contact with the paper’s surface.

Temporary Solution #3

Use more textured and absorbent paper. - The smoother, less absorbent, and optimal kind of fountain pen friendly paper will only add to the difficulty of writing with a pen with a baby’s bottom nib.


Problem 3 : Leaky Pen or Excessive Ink Flow

When the flow of ink is not regulated properly, the results include wetter and wider lines that take too long to dry, increased feathering or bleedthrough on the paper, burping, and leaking into the cap and barrel itself. Here are the usual causes of leaks and excessive ink flow:

Cause #1 : HEAT

This is often overlooked since it isn’t readily noticeable. Temperature affects the air inside the fountain pen at any given time. The warmth from our hand, as it continues to hold the pen, prompts the air to expand within the reservoir and channels of the feed. You might notice that as you use your pen, the ink flows better, but it can reach a point when it starts leaking, since the increasing air pressure within the pen is pushing the ink out. Holding your pen upright will allow the excess pressure to escape. For eyedropper fountain pens, and those with built-in piston and vacuum-filling mechanisms, topping up the ink to minimize air pockets can also help prevent leaks and burping.

Cause #2 : SPLAYED OR LOOSE TINES

See NIB SLIT ISSUES above.

Cause #3 : TOO WET INK

Knowing your fountain pen’s particular quirks is part and parcel of your journey. At times, two pens of the same model and same nib width will give you different experiences. Therefore, knowing how wet a specific fountain pen writes will help in matching it with an appropriately drier ink. It will entail some trial-and-error but that is part of the charm of these writing instruments.

Cause #4 : AIR LEAK

Unrestricted ink flow from an air leak within the fountain pen’s system can be attributed to several factors that are tied to its components. These include the nib and feed, as well as the reservoir.

Solution #1

Check the seal between the filling mechanism and the feed. Examine the ink cartridge or ink converter, and look for any cracks or looseness of fit. Either replace as needed, or tighten the connection. For fountain pens with built-in reservoirs such as piston-type or vacuum-fillers, check for any compromise in the airtight seals. If the pen is easy to dismantle and reassemble, a little silicone grease might do the trick. If there is evident damage however, sending it back to the manufacturer for repair or replacement would be the better option.

Solution #2

Check the nib and feed for fit. If any of these components are loose, pushing them all the way into their proper position can help solve the problem. The same goes for the nib-and-feed housing, just tighten it if needed. Send for a replacement or send out for repair if there is any damage noted.

We hope these suggestions will be helpful as you try and tweak your fountain pen to your satisfaction. Just keep in mind that caution is always paramount.

 

Watch out for our upcoming tutorial video on YouTube!

 

 

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Written by @lekzumali
Check out her musings on Instagram!

Author: Lekz

2 comments

Lekz

Hello Jay. There have been anecdotes of fountain pen users adding a tiny bit of dishwashing liquid to a small amount of ink before loading into their pens. I’m not familiar with the ratios though. You can also try commercially available ink lubricants.

Jay

Well timed. I’m having poor flow that is true in two different pens and I suspect the ink (which is known to be ‘dry’).

Any ideas on ink remedies?

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