The simple joy of mucking about with pens

I had a joyous, pen-heavy day today. I joined a few folks for a beer at my local pen meet (and got to play with a 1.9mm F-C music nib!)


…reinked a couple of pens with fresh beautiful inks, did my version of adult colouring by writing up a Currently Inked on an A3 sheet of Tomoe River, and journalled for a while. It was good. It was very good.


And then I started digging about in my parts bin. (We’ve all got one, right? Boxes of old converters, Bock and JoWo nib units, retired or broken pens, cartridges and the like…) I don’t do it often, and sometimes I cause more harm than good, but today I was on a roll.

I took my long-retired brass Tactile Turn Gist, an ancient 1.5mm Edison stub nib that I remember being dry and finicky, and a Bock feed and housing. I shimmed the nib, razored the hell out of the feed, assembled everything, and stuck a Waterman blue cartridge in it because I couldn’t find a converter. The result is an absolute joy: one of the smoothest pens I’ve ever used, laying down a nice wet HUGE line. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed the Gist back in the day. It’s compact, great long section, ludicrously good grip. This is my new (old) fun pen.


Then I picked up the Muji aluminium fountain pen that I’d reviewed a while back. I didn’t like it much, because it wrote an incredibly dry fine line. With abandon I pulled the friction-fit nib assembly, shimmed the nib, razored the feed, and spread the tines with a little pressure. Reassembled it, stuck another Waterman cartridge in, smoothed the tip on a nail buffer, and suddenly I had a great writer.

Honestly each of these projects took less than ten minutes and gave me effectively a new pen, for zero cost. And with zero stress, because I was playing with bits that I’d already mentally written off.

(Incidentally, I also swapped over the nib in my Conid Regular, which took about two minutes all told, and gave me another new pen).

The moral of the story? If you have a pen that you’re not getting on with, and for whatever reason can’t or don’t want to sell it, you don’t just have to leave it gathering dust at the bottom of a drawer. Fountain pens aren’t complex: they’re a controlled leak, governed by some plastic and metal with a slit in it. We shouldn’t be afraid of a little experimentation to see what we can achieve.

And the tools you need are refreshingly simple. Here’s my kit:

  • A Belomo loupe, so I can see just how much I’ve fucked up the tine alignment with my clumsy paws.
  • A set of brass sheets to serve as shims. Amazon or eBay.
  • Some old fashioned safety razor blades. Careful with these, kids.
  • A multi-sided nail buffing stick. A couple of quid.
  • Some micromesh for when I’m feeling fancy.
  • A ton of kitchen roll, paper, time, and inky fingers.
  • An ink that you know fairly well (so you can judge when a pen is wet and smooth enough)

For me, after a few months of refining a collection of really rather expensive pens, it was really fun and refreshing today to sit down and muck about with some cheap stuff — and doubly so to produce some results that actually worked.

What’s in your parts bin? What can you create?



4 thoughts on “The simple joy of mucking about with pens

  1. I agree about the enjoyment of tinkering with pens, and the satisfaction of tuning a nib so that it writes *exactly* the way you want it to.

    I’m not, however, convinced about using razor blades on nibs, particularly gold ones. The potential for damage is (to nibs or fingers) is just too great. For working on opening or closing the tines, I prefer just fingers…


    • Oooh, no no no you misread me — razor blades for working on *feeds*. Useful for deepening, widening and adding ink channels. Brass shims for steel nibs. Fingers only for gold ones.


  2. Pingback: Fountain Pen Quest Trail Log -July 14, 2019 | Fountain Pen Quest

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