Please enjoy the original writing, Christian travel journal, and photography by a hapa haole named Gail Rhea.

Original Writing & Photography

by Gail Rhea

 

 

 

FEEDING & CARING FOR A FOUNTAIN PEN

 

At last! Your new pen is home with you and you're excited about embarking on a wonderful journey of writing pleasure. But, first, you need to fill your pen and although instructions came with it, there are some tips that are unwritten yet indispensable. Please note that these instructions are general in nature, written with the modern fountain pen in mind. They do not necessarily apply to vintage pens specifically because of the various materials and filling mechanisms employed.

1. You shouldn't have to do this step for a new pen, but sometimes it's necessary to get a new pen to work because manufacturing dust may be impeding the flow of ink and needs to be flushed away. Some people do it anyway, before filling a new pen for the first time, to avoid the disappointment of it not writing within a reasonable length of time. Other than that, this step is good for general maintenance. 

What you'll need to do is get a bulb syringe like those sold for washing babies' ears or a converter and, unscrewing the nib section from the barrel if you can as with cartridge/converter pens, use it to gently flush the section, feed, and nib a few times with plain, cool water. 

Shake the section vigorously to remove excess water as though you're shaking down a mercury thermometer (ask Mom how she used to do it), then gently touch the nib to a paper towel to wick out the rest of the water before filling with fountain pen ink according to the directions that came with your pen. 

Don't use hot water or water that's really cold because doing so is one of the easiest ways to damage your pen. Tepid water is the only kind you'll ever need for any fountain pen.

2. If your ink flow seems sluggish or skips at indeterminate intervals, empty the ink and flush the pen out several times with tepid water with a couple of drops of dishwashing detergent added. Rinse well, wick out the excess water, and refill with ink. This is because some pens may have residual manufacturing oils. 

Do not use soap because soap builds up and will eventually clog a fountain pen. If the ink does not flow well after this, there may be problems with the feed and the pen should be returned to the seller or manufacturer.

3. Repeat Step 1 until the water runs clear each time you change ink colors or brands.

4. For general maintenance, perform Step 1 every month or two if you use cartridges or Noodler's bulletproof inks and twice or more times a year if you fill the pen from other bottles of fountain pen ink. 

You have to do it more often when you use cartridges because there's no back and forth flow of ink that acts as a gentle flushing action like there is when pens are filled directly from a bottle. You should do it more often for the Noodler's bulletproof inks than with others or a film may result that requires much more time than you're willing to spend on soaking and rinsing it away. Don't worry. It will come off with water, and distilled water is better if you let maintenance wait longer than the advised month or two. It's just that you don't need to do without your favorite pen for as long as it might take if you neglect regular maintenance like I did, once.

For converters, fill and flush the converters, as well as the nib and feed section, several times with cool water until the water runs clear.

If you refill cartridges, don't forget to flush them out, too.

For piston-fillers that don't allow you to unscrew the nib and feed, fill with cool water as though you're refilling the pen with ink and empty it several times until the water runs clear. If you can remove the nib and feed from the barrel by gently unscrewing the nib, such as with post-1980 Pelikans and certain modern models of Stipula and Omas pens, the job goes a lot faster. All you have to do is rinse the nib and attached feed under tepid running tap water or rinse and set them in a glass of water to soak while you rinse out the barrel through the hole the nib and feed were in. Shake out the water, reassemble, and refill with ink. It doesn't have to be absolutely dry before refilling because fountain pen ink is not much more than colored water and a slight bit of additional moisture is okay.

With piston-fillers, every once in a long while, you may begin noticing that the piston doesn't slide as easily as it used to. If you can remove the nib and feed from the barrel by gently unscrewing the nib, you can perform this bit of maintenance yourself. Using a tiny dab of 100% pure silicone grease spread thinly and evenly around a swab, insert the swab into the empty, freshly rinsed and shaken dry, barrel of the pen and gently wipe all the way around the inside of the barrel up next to the fully retracted piston. For those pens having nibs that aren't removable, you may use Noodler's line of Eel lubricating inks to do the job for you.

Whatever you do, do NOT use an ultrasonic cleaner unless you know how to use one because it's too easy to damage a pen this way. It's best to leave ultrasonic cleaning to a professional fountain pen repairman which you won't have to do if you simply flush your pen occasionally as described above and don't allow ink to dry up inside your pen. Note that sonic cleaners are not the same thing as ultrasonic cleaners. Sonic cleaners are safer, but aren't worth the expense because they provide not much more to the cleaning process than merely vibrating the water which you can do yourself by shaking the container of water in which your pen parts are soaking to dissolve any ink that you let dry inside your pen. Really, you can avoid all this, and it's so much easier, if you simply flush your pen with tepid water every so often like you're supposed to do.

5. Do not shake a bottle of fountain pen ink before filling a pen because doing so stirs up any particulates that may clog your pen. If the color seems darker at the bottom of the bottle, it may be because water evaporated and dye has fallen out of suspension. Add a little distilled water, mix, and set it aside to rest. Repeat until the color appears uniform after it's been sitting awhile to ensure there's enough water to keep the dye from falling out of suspension again.

6. After filling from a bottle, clean off the ink remaining on the nib by merely touching the nib with a paper towel and letting it wick away. Do not wipe because doing so will gradually wear away the gold or other plating. It's best to not use facial tissue because it will wick more ink away and fibers usually get caught in the tines somehow to make a mess of your writing. 

7. Often, the neatest and most economical way to fill a pen is to remove the cartridge or converter and refill it from a bottle of fountain pen ink by using a glass or plastic eyedropper, a pipette, or the syringe that came with your inkjet printer refill kit. If you explain what you're doing, your pharmacist will likely sell you a syringe for about US$0.25. It will be safer for you to file down the point of the accompanying needle so you don't stick yourself.

8. Holding the pen horizontally or vertically with the nib up, cap the pen. Store it horizontally or vertically with the nib up and uncap it while holding it in these positions, also, so that gravity doesn't cause ink to go into the cap to get flung all over everything when you uncap the pen.

9. If you won't be using a pen for several weeks or longer, avoid the problem of letting ink dry inside the pen by flushing it out until the water runs clear, wicking out the excess, and storing it with the cap loosened because it will take several weeks for the feed to completely air-dry. If it's a pen that you're retiring in favor of another, the final flush may be with distilled water to rinse out whatever crud would otherwise remain after your local tap water evaporates.

If you accidentally(!) permit ink to dry up inside your pen, simply soaking it in tap water for several hours, or days for really hard-to-dissolve ink, will get it clean again. Since distilled water is a more effective solvent than is plain water, it should speed the process somewhat. If your pen has casein or is an older pen that has rubber parts inside, it will be best for you to pay to have it cleaned professionally rather than risk permanent damage.

10. To clean the outside of your pen, use a non-abrasive cleaner and a soft cotton cloth. Many times, a cloth dampened with a little water is all that's necessary followed by polishing with a dry soft cloth. Don't use synthetic material or an abrasive cleaner because they'll scratch the finish. Be very careful with other cleaners as well. Acetone, for example, because acetone will dissolve pens made of celluloid. If your pen is made of casein, you may wipe it gently with a slightly damp cloth and dry it immediately after with another cloth that's dry. You'll never soak a pen made of casein or with casein parts in water to remove dried ink because casein is water-soluble milk protein and will swell and then dissolve if left in water long enough.

11. For air travel, fill the pen completely and be sure to hold it vertically with the nib up as you uncap it slowly after the plane has attained cruising altitude. Some recommend emptying the pen before the flight and refilling it afterwards, but what's the point of carrying a pen you can't use? Simply remember not to uncap your pen while the plane is ascending or descending and you should be fine.

12. Since part of the fun of using a fountain pen is all the different shades of ink, eventually, you'll want to buy another bottle or two or... (ahem!). Anyway, please feel free to use any ink designated as fountain pen ink. Do not, under any circumstances whatsoever, ever use India ink or white-out correction fluid such as Liquid Paper because they will permanently gum up the feed. 

Beware of scented ink, also, because the fragrance is carried by oil and petroleum products damage the inner works of fountain pens. Such inks should be used only with dip pens. 

If you want a waterproof ink, Noodler's has an excellent line of "bulletproof" inks safe for use in fountain pens. While Black is available from all vendors that sell Noodler's, some waterproof colors are available from only certain vendors. Check Swisher Pens, Pendemonium, and Art Brown, to see which waterproof colors they have. 

If you write with your left hand, Swisher's fast-dry ink made by Noodler's may help eliminate smearing as well as covering the previously written lines with blotting paper and resting your hand on the blotting paper to protect them.

Something else you'll notice is that some inks make a pen write differently. The effects may include a broader or finer, wetter or drier, line and a smoother or less smooth sensation during writing. This is mostly because of the amount of wetting agent that the different manufacturers use. 

For example, Parker Quink, Sheaffer Skrip, and Waterman are free-flowing inks while Private Reserve inks are drier with some Montblanc inks even drier still. When a pen is sent in for repair, the first thing the technician does is fill it with blue or black Quink or Skrip or Waterman's. If the pen works fine, it's returned to the owner without any further work being done with a note to switch to a different ink. If you have problems with ink flow, save yourself some time by testing the pen with one of these inks yourself before sending it off to be adjusted.

Final notes about inks: 

1. Parker Quink comes in permanent black and washable blue, among other colors. The "permanent" in this usage means only that it won't wash out of your clothing very easily while the "washable" blue, will. It has nothing to do with how permanent the ink is on paper.

2. The Noodler's inks designated as bulletproof, waterproof, or contract will wash off of anything that's not cellulose-based. This means that once it's dry on paper or your clothing(!), only fire will be able to obliterate it. Noodler's bulletproof inks are the only permanent inks that are safe for fountain pens and are the inks to use to prevent fraud such as check-washing.

3. Montblanc's Blue-Black ink contains iron gall which will eventually eat holes into the paper on which it's used. As a result, it's not the ink to use for any writing that you intend for posterity. 

4. Montblanc has wonderful ink bottles, so much so that people often buy them, dump the ink down the drain, and refill the bottles with their favorite inks after washing them out and drying them.

5. Be careful about mixing inks because some will interact with others and gum up your pen. Check with the ink manufacturer for cautions regarding mixing inks before you start.

6. If you get a demonstrator pen, that is, a transparent or translucent pen that lets you see the ink working its way down inside through the feed to the nib, please be aware that ink colors ranging from pink to red to violet and purple are much more likely to permanently stain the inside of the pen and cap. Stick to the other colors, particularly blue, if you want to be able to rinse out the color without leaving a stain behind.

7. For ink that's too dark or saturated, add a few drops of distilled water until the desired shade is attained. Don't use tap water for this because it may take several years to use up all the ink and you don't want to contaminate the whole bottle with whatever's in your tap water and have it sitting around all that time. 

Don't try to evaporate the water out should you have a bottle of ink which color isn't as dark or saturated as you'd like because you'll end up with more dye than water. Upsetting the balance in that direction may result in the dye falling out of the solution and clogging your pen. 

 

That's it!

 

Return to top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read the next page

Return to the table of contents for The Newbie's Guide to Fountain (and Other) Pens

 

 

 

 

 

Main Entrance Projection Room Reading Room Information Desk

Janitor's Closet

 

 

Copyright 1993- Gail Rhea.

All rights reserved.