Fountain Pen Guide Series, Session 3: How to Maintain Your Pens

CONTENTS
OVERVIEW  |  GENERAL MAINTENANCE  |  FLOW FIXERS  |  NIB GRINDING/SMOOTHNESS

MAINTENANCE STEPS: NIB GRINDING & SMOOTHING

These steps will certainly alter your pen. If you are not careful and don’t take your time, you could irreparably damage your nib and make the whole pen useless. However, these steps are still fairly easy to do with a couple of necessary tools. Just remember to go light and check the nib often to see your progress. It does take quite a lot of serious grinding to wear away a nib’s tipping material completely, so don’t get too worried about that.

SEE THIS BRIEF VIDEO FOR TIPS ON GRINDING TECHNIQUES


1. Baby’s Bottom Grinding

This is a relatively complicated procedure that carries high risk. If you are not at all comfortable with grinding nibs, then send it back to the manufacturer or get it professionally fixed. This may permanently affect the way your pen writes, as it involves flattening out the tip of the nib, so the tip makes full contact with the paper.

Tools Checklist

  • A set of Micromesh pads
  • Microfibre cloth
  • Loupe (10x-30x)
  • Brass shim
  • Cup of clean water
  • Notepad
  • 10-30 minutes time

Steps

1. Lay out your work area and make sure your pen is inked for this process (the ink helps to wash away impurities). Place your microfibre cloth down and set everything else on top.

2. Start by looking at the nib tip under the loupe to check for any alignment issues.

3. Once your nib is fully aligned, write on the pad. If it doesn’t write well, try applying some small pressure to the nib as you write (this will spread the tines temporarily to increase flow). If it still doesn’t write, then not enough ink is getting to the nib in the first place. Try a different flow-fixing procedure to this one before you try a nib grind!

4. If your pen writes well under pressure, then the nib tip is the issue. A baby’s bottom is when the tines look like a lower case ‘w’ when viewed straight down, in that the middle of the nib, where the ink comes out, is not actually touching the paper when you write. Look at the tip and confirm that this is the case, even if it’s slight.

5. Start by getting a middle-roughness micromesh pad, such as 4000 grit, and run the tip of the nib down the pad. Start with the nib at a low angle, and as you run the tip down, bring it slowly to an upright position, as shown below.

Fountain Pen Guide Session 3 Grinding Photo

6. After doing this 2-3 times, check the tip again under the loupe. If the baby’s bottom is still apparent, repeat step 5, however every 3 repeats write with the pen to check for flow. The tip may feel rough, but we will fix that later. Flow is the main concern now!

7. After you have sufficiently ground out the baby’s bottom, take your brass shim (if you have one) and run it from the breather hole to the tip of the nib to clean out the slit of any junk. Then, run it under a tap for a second or two and dry it off.

8. Try using the pen, and if the flow is good, move on to the nib smoothing guide to smooth out and round the tip.


2. General nib grinding/SMOOTHING

This section will show you how to get a nice even surface on your nib, which can solve many problems. Note that this is also a risky process and there is of course the possibility that your pen will write wider/narrower than usual. Exercise caution and you should be fine! 

Fountain Pen Guide Session 3 Grinding Photo

Tools Checklist

  • A set of Micromesh pads
  • Microfibre cloth
  • Loupe (10x-30x)
  • Brass shim
  • Cup of clean water
  • Notepad
  • 10-30 minutes time

Steps

1. As with the baby’s bottom guide, set everything out and have all your tools neat and accessible. Have your notepad on a blank page, and your pen inked. Place your microfibre cloth down and put all your tools, etc. on top of it to protect your surface.

2. Begin by testing the pen. If you have an angled “foot” to the nib, you’ll want to grind the tine that is opposite to the direction you tilt, that is if you have to tilt your pen to right, you want to grind the left tine, and vice versa.

3. Make sure your pen’s alignment is A-OK! If it isn’t you will seriously harm the nib.

4.  Start by getting a middle-roughness micromesh pad, such as 4000 grit, and run the tip of the nib down the pad. Start with the nib at a low angle, and as you run the tip down, bring it slowly to an upright position (see the guide above for an image). Pay extra attention to the left or right tine if you’re working on an angled nib by slightly tilting the tip of your pen whilst doing this.

5. Smooth out the surface slightly by doing left/right strokes. Start with your pen tilted to the left, with the tip on the right edge of the micromesh pad. As you run the tip from right to left, tilt the tip so that halfway through the stroke your tip is flat against the pad, and the proceed to tilt it to the right. Think of it as grinding a semicircular shape to the nib. Do the opposite as well, this time going from left to right. See the video at the top of this page for a demonstration.

6. Check the nib under your loupe, and also test the pen by writing in different directions in your preferred grip. Repeat Steps 4 and 5 until the pen’s tip has a “neutral” shape to it, both tines are aligned, and the same shape.

7. Once you’re satisfied, clean up the nib by running the brass shim from the breather hole, and along the slit all the way to the end. Wash the nib for a few seconds and dry it off. Repeat step 5 using a finer grit micromesh pad (higher number, eg 8,000 or 12,000) in order to make the nib smoother.


3. Changing the nib’s shape/size

For those ballsy enough to do it, this process will make your nib flatter or narrower to change the line width. The most drastic nib grind I have ever done was on a pen where I stripped away all of the tipping material to make it into a super crisp italic. It worked, and the pen is very smooth when used properly. I recommend trying this on a cheap pen or one with cheaper, replaceable nibs to get your skill level up. The easiest grind is making your nib wider, into a stub or italic. This is largely a learning-by-doing exercise, and there is no standard way to grind a nib, only different techniques. I practised using cheap Lamy nibs on a Safari before having a go at more expensive pens.

THIS WILL COMPLETELY DESTROY YOUR NIB IF DONE IMPROPERLY, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Fountain Pen Guide Session 3 Micromesh

Tools Checklist

  • A set of Micromesh pads
  • Pen (inked)
  • Microfibre cloth
  • Loupe (10x-30x)
  • Brass shim
  • Cup of clean water
  • Notepad
  • 10-30 minutes time

Steps

1. As with the baby’s bottom guide, set everything out and have all your tools neat and accessible. Have your notepad on a blank page. Place your microfibre cloth down and put all your tools, etc. on top of it to protect your surface. Make sure your pen is inked as the ink helps to flush out some of the gunk as you are sanding it.

2. Begin by testing the pen and seeing how the line width changes with the angle that your write. See if it writes wider vertically than horizontally. Memorise the way the nib writes. You could try looking at the shape of another nib similar to how you want yours to write. You’ll want to emulate that shape!

3. Make sure your pen’s alignment is A-OK!

4.  You’ll want to get some pretty rough grade of micromesh, like the third or fourth roughest grit you have. These ones will feel like sandpaper, and they will have the most significant effect on the nib’s shape.

5. Begin roughly shaping your nib. If you want the tip to be narrower, try turning the tip on its side and scraping away the tipping to make the nib more like an upside-down triangle. The point of the triangle is the writing surface, so the pointier it is, the smaller the line width. Ensure both sides are worn away equally by checking with your loupe. If you want to make it wider, just scrape downwards to wear away the point on the triangle, flattening the nib out. ONLY scrape it a couple of times before checking! The rougher micromesh wears the tip down very quickly!

6. Check the nib under your loupe, and also test the pen by writing in different directions in your preferred grip. Repeat step 5 until the pen’s tip is uniform. The tip will be very rough and/or sharp, but we will smooth it out in the later steps.

7. Once you’re happy with the line width, increase the grit of the micromesh by a few levels (increase the number) and repeat, smoothing out those areas that you wore down. It is important to pay attention to any sharp corners that result. Make your nib more rounded, less polygonal in shape.

8. Smooth out your nib using the guides above, and you should be done!

CONTENTS
OVERVIEW  |  GENERAL MAINTENANCE  |  FLOW FIXERS  |  NIB GRINDING/SMOOTHNESS