Whether you’ve picked up a brand new fountain pen to test out the hype or practice calligraphy, the basics of setting it up are fairly simple. Your fountain pen’s component parts, features, and regular maintenance are all deciding factors on how well the pen will write.
In this guide, we will discuss the importance of the construction materials of the pen. We also will include a step-by-step explanation of how to set up your fountain pen with three expert tips on how to take good care of it.
What is a Fountain Pen Made Of?
Fountain pens have come a long way since their debut in the 19th century. Ink cartridges are simpler, the grips are more ergonomic, but most importantly, the construction is less complex. Here’s a simple rundown of the various parts of a fountain pen:
This is the length of the fountain pen’s body and its main function is to support the nib and provide an ergonomic grip to the user. The barrel also serves as storage for the ink cartridge. Many fountain pens are equipped with a see-through window on the barrel which makes it easy to know when to refill.
The characteristic triangle fitted at the tip of the fountain pen, the nib is the main outlet for ink. The nib is stiff enough to hold its shape but flexible enough to glide on paper. Nibs have a split down the middle of the tip called ‘tines’ and a hole in the middle which serves as a reservoir for the ink.
A long tube of casing situated under the nib, the feeder is prioritised for its ability to act as an ink regulator. It balances the flow of ink from the tank to the nib and maintains a consistent flow so no matter how fast or languid your writing is, the ink flow remains the same.
The section is located where the nib is secured to the barrel or body of the pen. It serves to provide an ergonomic grip to the finger pads and keep the components secured together.
Also known as the cover, the cap of a fountain pen is usually made out of sturdy plastic and serves to protect the nib from damage e.g. if the pen falls from a great height. It also has a liner fitted inside that keeps the nib from drying out.
The clip is a small but sturdy handle on top of the cap. It is used to attach the pen to shirt pockets and keep it steady on the table so it doesn’t roll off.
What Materials are Fountain Pens Made Of?
Now that you have a basic understanding of the various parts of a fountain pen, here’s a general overview of the materials used to construct the barrel and nib – the two most important parts of a fountain pen.
Also known as the body of the fountain pen, the barrel was first constructed out of black hard rubber because it was commonly available, ink-resistant, and easy to engineer.
Then, postwar fountain pens were made out of durable plastic to combat inflation. It was lightweight, available for bulk production, and held ink well.
Modern fountain pens are made of just about anything, from budget-friendly plastic resins and brass to luxurious gold and silver. Some are even handmade out of bone and wood.
Wood and leather barrels in fountain pens are easily engraved, while stainless steel and plastic resin barrels are durable but lightweight. Gold and silver barrels in fountain pens offer a sturdy and luxurious grip.
The details on the barrel may be outfitted with a wide range of materials but its main purpose is to make the grip ergonomic while also being stylish and aesthetically pleasing.
When the fountain pen first came out, the nib was decked out in iridium to advertise rust resistance, durability, and versatility with inks of the time. When the fountain pen came to be symbolized as a ‘luxury’, the nib was constructed out of gold. It was strong, shiny, and super profitable.
Though gold is the best material for the nib, it is simply too expensive to be affordable for most people. Fountain pens are often required in the academic curriculum for many students. They are also enjoyed by sketch artists and prized by ink enthusiasts for their convenience. You will find most modern fountain pen nibs to be made of stainless steel or durable plastic these days.
What Should You Look For in a Fountain Pen Nib?
The fountain pen nib is the main part that must be chosen with careful attention as it determines how the pen is going to act on paper. Here’s what to consider when choosing a fountain pen nib:
Size of the Tip
The tips of fountain pen nibs come in four different sizes: extra fine (EF), fine (F), medium (M), and broad (B). The finer tips are made to write small but legible fonts and impress tiny details in a sketch with a light hand. The wider tips are designed to produce larger fonts, and bigger outlines – these usually work best with a heavy hand.
The Shape of the Tip
The tips of fountain pen nibs are created in two shapes: round and square. Round tips are made for note-taking, grocery lists, and basic everyday tasks. Square tips are made mainly for calligraphers as they vary the thickness of strokes as the pen goes up and down.
The Flexibility of the Tip
The metal tips of fountain pen nibs are split down the middle into ‘tines’. The tines spread apart when you apply pressure on the nib onto the paper.
Because everyone uses a different amount of pressure when writing, the tines are engineered with three different elasticities.
- Low Elastic: made for light-handed pressure, the tines are delicate and split under minute pressure.
- Elastic: made for normal pressure, the tines are soft enough to split and stiff enough to not feel ‘springy’.
- High Elastic: made for heavy-handed pressure, the tines are stiff and need a good amount of pressure to split.
Are There Different Ways to Fill Up Ink in a Fountain Pen?
Yes, there are three different mechanisms available to fill up ink in a fountain pen: the piston, the cartridge, and the converter. Each is used in modern times as has different levels of ease. Here is the complete description of all three mechanisms with their pros and cons.
A product of ancient times, a piston-filler is used for fountain pens equipped with a turning knob at the end of the barrel and a built-in ink reservoir. It uses a simple method to refill the fountain pen: dip the nib directly into the ink just until it covers the section. Then, twist the knob until the reservoir is filled.
Usually found in modern fountain pens, cartridges are also built-in tubes that hold ink in a fountain pen. They are disposable and unlike other ink fillers, cartridges cannot normally be refilled. When the ink cartridge is empty, it is simply disposed of, and a fresh cartridge is installed.
An upgrade of the cartridge ink fillers, the converter in a fountain pen employs the easy refill technique of the piston-filler and the disposable element of the cartridge mechanism, resulting in a synergistic capsule that works with bottled ink of all colours and brands.
How to Set Up a Fountain Pen?
Now that you know the basics of your fountain pen – its features and refill techniques – setting up the fountain pen will be easy. Here’s a comprehensive, step-by-step guide on how to prepare a new fountain pen.
Step 1: Inspect the Fountain Pen
After you’ve unboxed your fountain pen, check out the features. From the tip of the nib to the end of the barrel, it should be sturdy and free of any damage.
Speaking of damage, make sure to check out the gripping section and feeder. If it has nicks and scratches, return it immediately as it will affect the ink flow.
Dry write on a piece of paper and see if the barrel size is comfortable and the nib writes smoothly. Before inking up, detach the barrel to make sure there isn’t a built-in cartridge hiding inside.
Step 2: Clean the Fountain Pen
The next, and arguably the most important step, is to clean off any oily residue from the nib, and dust from the barrel, and flush the ink cartridge out. Here’s how to do it:
- Remove the ink cartridge from the barrel
- Take a compact container and fill it up with cold water
- Dip the fountain nib in the container and draw in water until the ink cartridge is full
- Flush out the water and repeat again
- Blow air through the nib to dry off the inside of the pen
- Wipe off any residual water with a paper towel
Step 3: Ink the Fountain Pen
After the components of the fountain pen are clean, it’s time to add the ink. If you’re using a piston-filler, simply draw up ink using the knob at the end of the barrel.
In case you’re using a disposable cartridge, the ink will already be in the casing so all you have to do is install it and gently squeeze the end so the ink flows easily.
For a converter ink filler, simply draw the up ink up through the nib until the reservoir is full. Then wipe off the excess ink with a paper towel and start writing.
Tips to Prepare a New Fountain Pen
The fountain pen is known to be temperamental when it comes to putting ink to nib to paper. However, if you follow these tips, your fountain pen will glide across the paper like water. Here are a few considerations to help you level up your fountain pen game and reap all the benefits:
Hold it Right
The best way to ensure the fountain pen works well is to position it correctly on your hand. Hold it at a 45 to 50 degree angle with your forefinger and thumb firmly grasping the barrel near the section and the middle finger supporting it below.
Store ‘Write’ Side Up
Efficient storage of fountain pens is key to making sure the nib stays wet. It will also keep the ink from clogging and ensure the barrel is free of nicks and scratches. To properly store your fountain pen, place it capped in a pen holder with the nib facing up or horizontally in a pen case.
As with all appliances, fountain pens also need a good cleaning every now and then. Remove the ink cartridge, fill up the pen with water (as you would with ink), and then flush the water out. If you’re taking a quick break from writing, swirl the nib in cold water and gently wipe it clean.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should you do when you get a new fountain pen?
The very first thing to do when you’ve unboxed a new fountain pen is to clean it thoroughly. The nib will most likely be coated in an oily residue which may affect ink flow. After flushing it out, reattach the ink cartridge – making sure it meets the feeder – then break the seal to allow ink flow.
Do fountain pens need to be broken in?
Generally, a fountain pen should be ready to use out of the box. If it does not feel right or the nib feels ‘scratchy’ on paper, check for misaligned tines. If they are centered, you may be holding the fountain pen improperly. Angle it at 45° and see if that writes better. Fountain pens, however, do improve with age and will meld to your writing style over time.
How long does it take for a new fountain pen to work?
If you position the fountain pen correctly (at a 45° angle) and clean it thoroughly before use, it should work right away. Make sure to test on scrap paper and keep a paper towel handy to catch any accidental spills.
Preparing a new fountain pen is as easy as understanding its component parts and knowing how to set up a fountain pen properly. With the tips above in mind, you can easily make a statement using only ink, paper, and the limits of your imagination.