FPN’s founding father WimG showed me how he does it. After that I took it further myself. I do lots of work on my own nibs, from smoothing to total re-grinds, using only various grit sizes, a set of shims, a hand lens and a stereo microscope. I never work on other people’s nibs (except close family and friends) and I’m hesitant to provide tips here because I would not want someone to try my suggestions and ruin a priceless nib the process. So I’ll just share some general points:
-I completely agree with Minddance’s excellent post above.
-On the one hand, four big groups: (1) rigid gold nib, (2) soft gold nib, (3) rigid steel nib, (4) soft steel nib. On the other hand you have a plethora of nib sizes and shapes, ranging from EF to OBBB and from needlepoints to big, fat stubs, and then you have things like architect grinds. Each combination may or may not require a different approach. Generally speaking, soft is much more difficult than rigid, for reasons that Minddance described (soft exposes the inner tines to the paper). Steel and gold each respond in a different way to smoothing. People expect gold to be malleable and steel to be tough, but we’re talking about tipping material here and I’ve seen steel tips disappear like snow before the sun whereas the tips of some gold nibs proved to be very resilient.
-The original shape of the nib’s tip matters a lot. Brands tend to have their own approach to shaping the tips of their nibs: some use miniature tennis balls stuck on the end of the tines, some use more elaborate shapes. If you just want to smooth a nib (i.e. there are no other issues with the nib), then maintain its original shape as much as possible. Take a good look at it, photograph it, draw it, whatever. Frequently compare what you have to what you had. Go slow. What’s gone, is gone forever.
-As Minddance has pointed out, the inner tines matter. Smooth them too much, you might get a nice case of baby’s bottom and/or an overly smooth nib without tactile response. How much smoothing the inner tines need, does not only depend on the nib but also on the way you write, as an individual. Do you have a light touch or do you press down? Do you rotate your pen when writing? People with a feathery touch who don’t rotate their pens will be happy with less smoothing than some others.
-Few activities inspire people to chase their own tail like nib smoothing does. Two main warnings: (1) Don’t do long sessions! Work in 20 minute intervals or so and take breaks. If you’re not making progess, put it away and try again the next day, week or even month. (2) Know when to stop!! How do you know? Always, always, always compare to another pen. You need an unchanging point of reference. Smoothing makes you extremely susceptible to remaining feedback; you might have smoothed a nib almost to perfection but there’s this one tiny little trace of what might conceivably be called feedback... direct comparison will tell you when to stop.
-Stay away from specialty nibs like architects unless you’re willing to ruin it as part of your learning curve.
-There seems to be a notion that stubs are easy. Personally I think that’s a misconception. I find stubs hard to do. Yes, it’s easy to get it in the ballpark, to create a shape that resembles a stub, or to remove some roughness from a stub or an italic. The first challenge is in the sidestroke, which needs to be as thin as possible. This requires a concave writing area (basically a half-cylinder) where the point of contact with the paper is exactly in the same spot of the concave curve all along the width of the nib. The second challenge is smoothness versus crispness; finding the right balance can be maddening (not in the least because the smoothing might undo your achievements with the first challenge).
I find nib work to be extremely rewarding when it turns out the way I’d hoped it would, but part of it is accepting that some nibs are beyond your abilities. Last week I did a complex re-grind of an expensive nib and was done within 30 minutes with excellent results, yet today I worked on a simple steel nib that I normally would have smoothed within minutes, but it resisted every effort and I had to accept defeat, at least for now.