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Identifying 'flex' Nibs


27 replies to this topic

#1 PF95

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Posted 06 March 2011 - 20:48

Many people keep experimenting to discover a 'flex' nib, the key to exciting writing. However, it is a very common occurrence that people spring their perfectly good Parker Duofold for experiencing the joy of a flexible nib, only to have the pen experience the 'joy' of the Nibmeister's worktable. In this guide, I'll tell you how to identify a flex nib from an ordinary nib.

We all know the good old days are gone, when Fountain Pens were the premier writing mode, manifolding was still uncommon and flex nibs ruled the roost. Now, people switch from Gel to Ballpoint to Fountain Pens, leaving the pen companies no choice but to make hard nibs that will withstand extreme pressure from the writer's hand.

Modern nibs with Flex do exist, like the Pilot Varsity or Vanishing Point. However, these are only semiflex, and only give half the flex than the one most people want, leaving much to be desired. Nibmeisters may make you a flex nib, but 14k Gold, the optimum gold content for flex, is hardly used today, thanks to laws restricting the usage of 'Solid Gold' to 18k and above. Palladium is hardly used, and Steel is already hard to machine, adding flex would make manufacturing ten times worse.

The basic characteristics to spot in a flexible nib are:

1. Thin tines- The tines are thin from the sides, thinner than your average nib. Keep in mind that it may or may not be an indicator of flex.

2. Very thin undersides- The undersides of the nibs are thin and fragile, and not for daily use.

3. Made of 14k Gold- Many metals like palladium or Steel are also used, but Gold of 14 karatage is the optimum metal of the age, as the inks used to be very corrosive those days. Plus, it LOOKS pretty ;)

4. Pretty much plain- As these nibs are of very thin Gold, they do not have much engraved or stamped on them.

That pretty much rules out your big, glowing 18k nibs, as these may offer springiness or tiny line variation but not true flex, being too soft or too hard and being sprung (bent and staying that way) by too much applied pressure.

To test 'flex', you can apply pressure on the nib's front on the underside, applying the slightest of pressure. If it bends, you've got yourself a flex nib! Congrats! :)

Now, you can safely put the nib on paper, and apply more pressure. These are the grades for flexible nibs:

Semiflex- Provide some form of line variation, easy to use. Examples- Parker Sonnet(though be careful with this one!) Namiki VP, Pilot Varsity.

Flex- Provide great line variation. Be careful with these! Example- Parker Jack-Knife, Wahl-Eversharp Skyline.

Wet Noodle- :cloud9: These are the kings of flex. Very fragile, extremee practice required for optimum use. Once you get the hang, though, your mind will be blown away! Example- Many Waterman nibs of the period

Please note, this article is not authoritative, but merely a guideline. More information will be appreciated :happyberet:

Edited by PenFan95, 07 March 2011 - 15:44.

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#2 jBeckett

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Posted 06 March 2011 - 21:18

I can tell by changing what angle I'm holding the pen at. I'm not sure if I'm just used to a more tactile response or if because I naturally hold my pens at a low angle but it does work. While you should be careful with nibs, there is quite a forgiving range of angles you can hold a pen at safely, so using those to determine nib response is fairly safe.

#3 dmuchow

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Posted 06 March 2011 - 21:27

I don't think I'd consider a Pilot Varsity as a 'flex nib', but my standards of flex may be different from yours.

#4 hobobaggins

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Posted 06 March 2011 - 22:02

He does clarify that they are only semiflex.

Thanks for the guidelines!
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#5 rwilsonedn

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Posted 07 March 2011 - 00:28

I can't agree that 14K gold or even the shape of the nib would predict flex. The most flexible nibs are dip-pen nibs, and these are almost all steel. In my limited experience with fountain pens, my best semi-flex nibs have usually been steel rather than gold, also. It may be that gold alloys get associated with flex because many of the best-known flexible fountain pen nibs are vintage nibs that were made in a day when (for other reasons) gold alloys were widely used in every-day pen nibs. But even in vintage pens there are flexible steel nibs.
It seems more reasonable that you could tell a flexible nib by its shape. But, again in my limited experience, this is harder than it sounds. I have some elegantly long, slender-pointed nibs that are nails. I have some rather stubby-looking nibs with a reasonable amount of flex.
Nor can I agree that a flex nib is not for daily use. Vintage pens with flex nibs were made to be used, every day, because the writing style many people used at the beginning of the 20th century required line variation. They are not for careless use, but that is a different thing altogether.
I can only offer a couple of suggestions. If you press the nib gently on your thumbnail and see the tines spread, the nib will probably give you some degree of line-width variation, depending on the feed, ink, and paper. But the only real test is to ink up the pen with the ink you intend to use, sit down in front of the paper you intend to use, and practice with the pen until you know how much variation you can get out of it without gradually deforming the nib, separating it from the feed, or bending the poor thing. Unless you have the touch of a distracted blacksmith, flex is a delicate blend of nib, ink, paper, feed, and--most of all--skill.
ron

#6 SamCapote

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Posted 07 March 2011 - 01:06

Mauricio's page and photos here gives a pretty good representation of nibs, but like Ron said, you have to see how it flexes and keeps up with ink flow on a case by case basis.
With the new FPN rules, now I REALLY don't know what to put in my signature.

#7 Chairman

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Posted 07 March 2011 - 02:49

Modern flexible nibs are few and far between. Even modern nibs that are capable of flexing enough for good line variation are generally not that well-suited for it. Visconti, Omas, Pelikan and some others come to mind as nibs that can often be made to flex, but really are not suitable for it consistently (IMHO). Looking at a nib can give you hints, but you really can't know for sure until you put a little pressure on it.

See the picture below (since I actually have some free time and have vacation tomorrow!) to illustrate the correlation (or lack thereof) of appearance to flex.

Scale:
nail - could probably stab it through a soda can with no ill effects
slight - will flex if you force it, but really not designed to produce meaningful line variation
moderate - IMO, the minimum that could be called a flex nib. Flexy enough to get good variation without worry of damaging the nib.
super - this is where most of the "really flexible" vintage nibs fit in--gives you lots of line variation without much pressure
wet noodle - like super flex, but more!

Posted Image

Pens in the picture, for anyone curious:
Parker 23 1/2 BCHR
Waterman No. 7
Sheaffer 7-30 flat top
Sheaffer OS Balance (yes, a flexible Sheaffer lifetime nib!)
Sheaffer OS Balance
Sheaffer OS flat top
Waterman 0552
No name flat top w/ Warranted #8 nib
Eversharp Skyline
Conklin Endura

Edited by Chairman, 07 March 2011 - 16:45.


#8 PF95

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Posted 07 March 2011 - 14:52

I can tell by changing what angle I'm holding the pen at. I'm not sure if I'm just used to a more tactile response or if because I naturally hold my pens at a low angle but it does work. While you should be careful with nibs, there is quite a forgiving range of angles you can hold a pen at safely, so using those to determine nib response is fairly safe.


Good tip :D
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#9 PF95

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Posted 07 March 2011 - 14:57

I can't agree that 14K gold or even the shape of the nib would predict flex. The most flexible nibs are dip-pen nibs, and these are almost all steel. In my limited experience with fountain pens, my best semi-flex nibs have usually been steel rather than gold, also. It may be that gold alloys get associated with flex because many of the best-known flexible fountain pen nibs are vintage nibs that were made in a day when (for other reasons) gold alloys were widely used in every-day pen nibs. But even in vintage pens there are flexible steel nibs.
It seems more reasonable that you could tell a flexible nib by its shape. But, again in my limited experience, this is harder than it sounds. I have some elegantly long, slender-pointed nibs that are nails. I have some rather stubby-looking nibs with a reasonable amount of flex.
Nor can I agree that a flex nib is not for daily use. Vintage pens with flex nibs were made to be used, every day, because the writing style many people used at the beginning of the 20th century required line variation. They are not for careless use, but that is a different thing altogether.
I can only offer a couple of suggestions. If you press the nib gently on your thumbnail and see the tines spread, the nib will probably give you some degree of line-width variation, depending on the feed, ink, and paper. But the only real test is to ink up the pen with the ink you intend to use, sit down in front of the paper you intend to use, and practice with the pen until you know how much variation you can get out of it without gradually deforming the nib, separating it from the feed, or bending the poor thing. Unless you have the touch of a distracted blacksmith, flex is a delicate blend of nib, ink, paper, feed, and--most of all--skill.
ron


I'd be a first-class IDIOT to say that 14k is a missive for flex. Dip pens were steel and flexy, and the Duofold, if I might add, was a popular 14k pen and a popular nail. Same with most of the "51"s. All I'm saying is that the optimum Gold content is 14k, and was used in most Fountain Pens of the era, steel being an easily corroded metal.

The long and elegant nibs may be nails, but those with thin undersides ARE flexy... :)

Yeah, people used them daily once upon a time. They were taught how to. We are not.

These are, btw, good tips. Thanks for providing them.

Edited by PenFan95, 07 March 2011 - 15:31.

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#10 PF95

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Posted 07 March 2011 - 15:09

Modern flexible nibs are few and far between. Even modern nibs that are capable of flexing enough for good line variation are generally not that well-suited for it. Visconti, Omas, Pelikan and some others come to mind as nibs that can often be made to flex, but really are suitable for it consistently (IMHO). Looking at a nib can give you hints, but you really can't know for sure until you put a little pressure on it.

See the picture below (since I actually have some free time and have vacation tomorrow!) to illustrate the correlation (or lack thereof) of appearance to flex.

Scale:
nail - could probably stab it through a soda can with no ill effects
slight - will flex if you force it, but really not designed to produce meaningful line variation
moderate - IMO, the minimum that could be called a flex nib. Flexy enough to get good variation without worry of damaging the nib.
super - this is where most of the "really flexible" vintage nibs fit in--gives you lots of line variation without much pressure
wet noodle - like super flex, but more!

Posted Image

Pens in the picture, for anyone curious:
Parker 23 1/2 BCHR
Waterman No. 7
Sheaffer 7-30 flat top
Sheaffer OS Balance (yes, a flexible Sheaffer lifetime nib!)
Sheaffer OS Balance
Sheaffer OS flat top
Waterman 0552
No name flat top w/ Warranted #8 nib
Eversharp Skyline
Conklin Endura


Nice collection you have there :puddle: Do you mind if I use your info in my post?
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#11 PF95

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Posted 07 March 2011 - 15:12

He does clarify that they are only semiflex.

Thanks for the guidelines!


You're Welcome :)
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#12 PF95

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Posted 07 March 2011 - 15:15

Thank you all for your replies! :)

Edited by PenFan95, 07 March 2011 - 15:27.

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#13 Hugh200au

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 10:18

For what it's worth, 18ct nibs can also be very flexible. I own an Eversharp Doric with an adjustable 18ct nib (probably for export to France, ended up in Australia) and it can be set for a lot of flex although it's not practical as such.

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#14 Shangas

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 10:58

Vintage and antique pens have wonderful flex, but they require a gentle hand. If you force it...there goes a 100-year-old nib into three pieces.
http://www.throughouthistory.com/ - My Blog on History & Antiques

#15 PF95

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 23:21

For what it's worth, 18ct nibs can also be very flexible. I own an Eversharp Doric with an adjustable 18ct nib (probably for export to France, ended up in Australia) and it can be set for a lot of flex although it's not practical as such.

Regards
Hugh


That's the problem...not Practical.
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#16 PF95

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 23:22

Vintage and antique pens have wonderful flex, but they require a gentle hand. If you force it...there goes a 100-year-old nib into three pieces.


Ouch...graphic image :sick:
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#17 PF95

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 23:28

What do you guys think...should this topic be pinned?
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#18 Bo Bo Olson

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 23:40

Put the nib on your thumbnail and press.

Stiff/manafold/nail-@ 0 flex, stiff regular 1/5, regular 1/4, springy 1/3, semi-flex. 1/2. 0 to 1/2 is easier each step.


Regular flex, springy, semi-flex can be written by ham fisted writers.
Regular flex, will spread hard pressed @ 3 times a light down stroke, springy and semi-flex require less effort.

Flexible nibs.
Slightly flexible (compared to a wet noodle) or what some call 'flexi') This nib spreads only 3 times like a semi-flex but with half the effort. Flex 3/4ths. Slightly ham fisted writers can use this still...as long as one isn't trying to do jack hammer tricks.


These nibs are for those with a light to very light hand and should be worked up too.

Full Flex, easy 1/1 spreads 4-5 X a light down stroke, often half again as easy as a slightly flexible/'flexi' nib.
There are semi-flex full flex nibs, and nail full flex nibs.

Wet Noodle...once you have pressed this baby against your thumb nail...there is never a doubt. It is again a class easier to spread the nib than an Easy Full Flex nib.

Weak Kneed Wet Noodle....if you never had a wet noodle to your thumb, you might mistake it for a regular wet noodle. If you ever had a wet noodle to your thumb, it's a class easier.

Go to Richard's Site and look up how easy it is to spring your nib by always trying to mash it into the splits.

If my regular flex, semi-flex or slightly flexible nib will spread 3 X, I don't want to push it more than twice the spread on the whole.

A Full Flexible nib of 4-5 or Wet Noodles and Weak Kneed Wet Noodles. (most of mine are dip pen nibs...I do not have a Weak Kneed Wet Noodle fountain pen) If you force the nib to the max sooner or later it's going to be OPPPPPSSSS!

Those who write a lot with Full Flex and wet noodles are more interested in how fast the nib returns to a thin line than how wide it spreads.

A sprung full flex nib will never ever be as good as it once was.

If you absolutely need to see how wide can I make the nib do the splits, take both hands and use a Noodler Nail.

After I read the article that said there is semi-flex Full Flex nibs, I checked my vintage nibs and found I have two.

It's a lot of hard work using a semi-flex full flex nib. I don't have the hand for it. I don't know if it has a "quick" return time. So I just keep using them as a semi-flex+ with out trying to work those nibs.

I believe that before buying a real 'easy' full flex nib, one should have grown into it, by having had a semi-flex and a slightly flexible/'flexi' nib.

I also believe that one should have a few calligraphy nibs and a book and learn calligraphy. Those are completely different styles but there are some basic calligraphy strokes that can be use in the more flexible nibs, to fancy up your writing.

Calligraphy helps give you a writing 'hand', that you can develop further with different schools like Copperplate or Spenserian.

I'm a real expert with Calligraphy...I'm up to P. :rolleyes:


You have to gain your own experience.
I inherited a pen; a 1952 Osmia Farber Castell 540. As a noobie I thought it a wet writer that some love and others (who use poor paper) hate. The cork died after 6 weeks.
Later I got my first semi-flex nib a Pelikan 140 OB. That 540 was a semi-flex. :thumbup:
A while later I got my first slightly flexible/'flexi' nib, a Rupp nib It took me a while to understand what I had...at first I thought it a maxi-semi-flex.
That Osmia-Farber-Castell 540 had a slightly flexible/'flexi' nib from the start. :roflmho: I just did not know what to look for. :embarrassed_smile:

After my first semi-flex I have chase that only(@35or so semi-flex nib/pens), and been lucky and have now 7 slightly flexible nibs.
I have grown into the slightly flexible nibs.
Some day when I get a hand, I'll move up to flexible nibs.

I have three (two semi-flex) full flex and a wet noodle. Not counting number of dip pen nibs.

Edited by Bo Bo Olson, 10 March 2011 - 12:28.

German vintage '50-70 semi-flex stubs and those in oblique give the real thing in On Demand line variation. Modern Oblique is a waste of money for a shadow of line variation. Being too lazy to Hunt for affordable vintage oblique pens, lets you 'hunt' for line variation instead of having it.

www.nibs.com/blog/nibster-writes/nibs-germany & https://www.peter-bo...cts/nib-systems,

 

The cheapest lessons are from those who learned expensive lessons. Ignorance is best for learning expensive lessons.

 

 

 


#19 PF95

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Posted 10 March 2011 - 06:42

Put the nib on your thumbnail and press.

Stiff/manafold/nail-@ 0 flex, stiff regular 1/5, regular 1/4, springy 1/3, semi-flex. 1/2. 0 to 1/2 is easier each step.


Regular flex, springy, semi-flex can be written by ham fisted writers.
Regular flex, springy and semi-flex will spread hard pressed @ 3 times a light down stroke.

Flexible nibs.
Slightly flexible (compared to a wet noodle) or what some call 'flexi') This nib spreads only 3 times like a semi-flex but with half the effort. Flex 3/4ths. Slightly ham fisted writers can use this still...as long as one isn't trying to do jack hammer tricks.


These nibs are for those with a light to very light hand and should be worked up too.

Full Flex, easy 1/1 spreads 4-5 X a light down stroke, often half again as easy as a slightly flexible/'flexi' nib.
There are semi-flex full flex nibs, and nail full flex nibs.

Wet Noodle...once you have pressed this baby against your thumb nail...there is never a doubt. It is again a class easier to spread the nib than an Easy Full Flex nib.

Weak Kneed Wet Noodle....if you never had a wet noodle to your thumb, you might mistake it for a regular wet noodle. If you ever had a wet noodle to your thumb, it's a class easier.

Go to Richard's Site and look up how easy it is to spring your nib by always trying to mash it into the splits.

If my regular flex, semi-flex or slightly flexible nib will spread 3 X, I don't want to push it more than twice the spread on the whole.

A Full Flexible nib of 4-5 or Wet Noodles and Weak Kneed Wet Noodles. (most of mine are dip pen nibs...I do not have a Weak Kneed Wet Noodle fountain pen) If you force the nib to the max sooner or later it's going to be OPPPPPSSSS!

Those who write a lot with Full Flex and wet noodles are more interested in how fast the nib returns to a thin line than how wide it spreads.

A sprung full flex nib will never ever be as good as it once was.

If you absolutely need to see how wide can I make the nib do the splits, take both hands and use a Noodler Nail.

After I read the article that said there is semi-flex Full Flex nibs, I checked my vintage nibs and found I have two.

It's a lot of hard work using a semi-flex full flex nib. I don't have the hand for it. I don't know if it has a "quick" return time. So I just keep using them as a semi-flex+ with out trying to work those nibs.

I believe that before buying a real 'easy' full flex nib, one should have grown into it, by having had a semi-flex and a slightly flexible/'flexi' nib.

I also believe that one should have a few calligraphy nibs and a book and learn calligraphy. Those are completely different styles but there are some basic calligraphy strokes that can be use in the more flexible nibs, to fancy up your writing.

Calligraphy helps give you a writing 'hand', that you can develop further with different schools like Copperplate or Spenserian.

I'm a real expert with Calligraphy...I'm up to P. :rolleyes:


You have to gain your own experience.
I inherited a pen; a 1952 Osmia Farber Castell 540. As a noobie I thought it a wet writer that some love and others (who use poor paper) hate. The cork died after 6 weeks.
Later I got my first semi-flex nib a Pelikan 140 OB. That 540 was a semi-flex. :thumbup:
A while later I got my first slightly flexible/'flexi' nib, a Rupp nib It took me a while to understand what I had...at first I thought it a maxi-semi-flex.
That Osmia-Farber-Castell 540 had a slightly flexible/'flexi' nib from the start. :roflmho: I just did not know what to look for. :embarrassed_smile:

After my first semi-flex I have chase that only(@35or so semi-flex nib/pens), and been lucky and have now 7 slightly flexible nibs.
I have grown into the slightly flexible nibs.
Some day when I get a hand, I'll move up to flexible nibs.

I have three (two semi-flex) full flex and a wet noodle. Not counting number of dip pen nibs.


Nyc :D
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#20 SamCapote

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Posted 10 March 2011 - 07:29

This Waterman 52 wet noodle (from Mauricio) with a red keyhole wet noodle has adequate ink flow to keep up with that degree of flex.
(thumbnail image)


Posted Image


Edited by SamCapote, 10 March 2011 - 07:31.

With the new FPN rules, now I REALLY don't know what to put in my signature.



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