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Skeleton of a primer for a budding hobbyist

A Smug Dill




N.B. Seeing as the blogging facility is under-utilised, and this is arguably on-topic for a fountain pen hobbyist forum, I'm going to use this ‘article’ as a place for an openly visible, partial brain dump that I can and will come back to edit from time to time, without being constrained by a narrow and strictly limited window of opportunity after initial posting.


A dear friend of ours, to whom we've made a habit of giving fountain pens, bottled inks, and other paraphernalia over the past couple of years — whenever we had the opportunity to meet up every few months, what with busy lives, lockdown restrictions, and all that — has recently ‘graduated’ in the hobby to ordering pens, ink, and even an inkwell of her own initiative. Bravo! My wife and I are so pleased to see the interest we sparked take hold.


However, not being someone who routinely spends time scouring blogs and forums, or shopping online for the next thing of mild interest to buy, our friend is finding the breadth of the hobby, even just in terms of the nouns and concepts, a little overwhelming to grapple with on her own. (She still refers to an ink converter as the ‘thingie’, trying to explain the differences and difficulty she had filling her new TWSBI, because an integrated piston-filler is still somewhat foreign to her at this point.) She's been looking up some things online on her own; but, of course, there is a steep learning curve that many of us deep in the hobby have long since forgotten.


While I'm more than happy to send her links to articles and discussion threads from time to time all year round, or spend hours discussing various aspects of the hobby when we do meet up every so often, I think it might be helpful for me to send her a logically more organised primer. I may even end up hand-writing it in a fountain pen friendly notebook for her; some things are better illustrated with physical artefacts of ink on paper, instead of digitised images hosted somewhere ‘in the cloud’ and linked to or embedded in posts online. It would also help if there's a single ‘place’ for collecting a bunch of links to online material I'd like to show her as ‘reference’ and/or examples.


So, I'm going to use this space as a whiteboard for planning what I'll cover in the primer.


Just to be clear, while I'd love to see your comments about what you would do or write if you were doing something similar for a personal friend who shows sufficient interest in fountain pens, I don't intend this to be a collaborative effort to produce a (or ‘the’) guide as a common resource to be made readily accessible to everyone online — as a tutorial, reference, or even just entertainment as many of us enjoy seeking out by browsing review sites and such. Nor am I planning on ‘publishing’ my end product; it is being written for my friend (and this particular friend), and so it'll inevitably have my spin on things, as well as take into account what I know of her use cases and preferences. Brands such as Parker will get a ‘good’ kicking; American brands will get no love in particular; Kaweco will get ridiculed for its antics trying to fight Moonman; and ‘vintage’ pens as a subject area will get all the coverage of, ”I avoid them,” (which is a statement of fact of what I do, not a recommendation, if my understanding of English grammar is correct). I know some Internet denizens just love to see that kind of ‘published’ statement of personal opinion or choice as unwelcome provocation, as if what they themselves like ‘deserve’ equal and/or positive representation at every turn by someone else not even writing with them and their ilk remotely in mind.



Major sections: Inks; Pens; Papers; Paraphernalia; Techniques; The Rest



Types: ‘standard’ dyestuff-only inks; iron-gall inks; particle inks (including carbon inks, pigment inks, and shimmer inks); inks that should not be put in fountain pens

Usage and handling: flow (‘wet’ vs ‘dry’); lubrication; drying time; aptness to smear after drying
Intrusive characteristics: feathering; show-through; bleed-through

Permanence: lightfastness (including, counter-intuitively, fading when in a closed book not continuous or continually exposed to light); water resistance (and versus waterproofness); ‘bulletproof’-ness and treatment with alcohol, ammonia, bleach, etc.

Presentation characteristics: spreading; shading; sheen; shimmer (none of which is assumed to be desirable for all unspecified use cases)

Other characteristics: colour-shifting; multi-hued; nib creep; ink crud; pH value; mixing; biocides

Concerns: staining (types; how to remove); SITB



Status: In current production; modern versus ‘vintage’

Names of common parts: essential elements that makes a pen a fountain pen; parts on the cap and barrel

Body materials: resin; celluloid; ebonite; aluminium; brass; sterling silver; wood

Cap types: screw-caps; snap-caps; slip-caps; capless

Sealing effectiveness: porosity of cap material; holes by design and physicals gaps in construction; inner caps

Filling mechanism: cartridge/converter; (integrated) piston-filled; vacuum-filled; eyedropper-filled; captured converter; (note agitators); (note corrosion of exposed metal components, e.g. piston rod); other

Nibs: material; width grades (and ‘Japanese’ versus ‘Western’); open, hooded, semi-hooded ‘fingernail’; types of grinds (nominally round-tipped; Stub; Italic; Zoom; Fude de Mannen; Waverly; Architect; Concord; Posting; Naginata Togi); elasticity (‘nail’; soft; flex); manufacturers (Japanese ‘Big Three’; Lamy; Pelikan; Aurora; JoWo, Bock, and Schmidt; others)

Interchangeability and interoperability: nib sizes (and that the ubiquitous ‘#6’ doesn't actually mean anything); removable, threaded nib units vs friction-fit straight into the gripping section; converter ‘standards’ (‘international standard’; 2.6mm-bore; 3.4mm-bore; Aurora, Parker, and Lamy; Schmidt K1, K2, K5, and K6; Japanese ‘Big Three’; other); how some pens would not accommodate all ‘international standard’ converters with thick rims at the mouth or metal collars

Ergonomic and practical concerns: step-down; weight balance; posting and ‘postability‘ of the cap; burping; faceted gripping section; slippery gripping section; rubberised gripping section; disassembly and servicing



Tomoe River FP (not a recommendation)



Cleaning: bulb syringe; flushing liquids; ultrasonic cleaners; drying aids such as a repurposed salad spinner

Pen storage: boxes, cases, folders; chrome-tanned leather?

blotters and blotting paper







Obtaining line variation

Nib tuning: flow adjustment; tine alignment; smoothing and grinding

Servicing of filling mechanism: flow adjustment; tine alignment; smoothing and grinding


The Rest

Commentary on particular brands: flow adjustment; tine alignment; smoothing and grinding

Commentary on particular retail channels: Amazon; eBay; AliExpress; Taobao; particular independent retailers





Recommended Comments

That looks pretty good. You might want to add wood as a material (with its weakness of staining) and mention urushi. And under ergonomic considerations, the size of section (slender pens vs chunky pens), and shape of section, and 'disturbances' such as the Lamy 2000 'ears' and Pilot Capless clip getting in the way might be worth mentioning.

Also possibly a general section on things you can do yourself with a bit of care, with a bit of practice, and things that are strictly "don't try this at home" and require sending to a repairer or to the manufacturer.


Your friend is lucky. I wish I'd had a guide like that when I started out in the mad world of fountain pens!

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Thanks for your input! Yes, not putting wood in the list of body materials warranting a mention was an oversight. I love pens with wooden bodies, but my main concern, or chagrin, is that I have not come across a wooden-bodied pen with a wooden cap that seals well. Actually, there is one, but it isn't really wood per se: the Pilot Custom Kaede's maple body is resin impregnated. All other wooden pens I have can dry out while capped and undisturbed; that includes several Platinum #3776 models.


The primer is really only meant to help her make sense of some of the things she may come across or read online. If she wants to try a Pilot Capless (Vanishing Point and/or Décimo; I don't have a Fermo) for size, so to speak, or play with a pen of some particular description, she's welcome to borrow some pens from my 300-strong personal fleet. Nothing beats hands-on experience with the actual writing instrument; she just needs to know what interests her, what concerns her, and what to ask for.


As it was, she didn't know about iron-gall ink, or that TWSBI Blue-Black is iron-gall, or that the clear plastic wall of a demonstrator's pen body can get stained or stuck with some rather clingy particulate matter, and so now she isn't quite as thrilled with her first pen purchase (which I didn't know about, until she shared a photo the day she received it). So I do want to arm her with some considerations to keep in mind.

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Hi Smug Dill,


Nice project.  If it were me, I'd cover stuff like:

- nib types available, i.e. styles, materials (SS vs gold), flex vs nails;

- filling systems (I love the "thingie" comment) and how once can use them in practice (e.g. fill cartridges with a syringe);

- pen body materials and their consequences (pen not balanced of too heavy and big for the hand);

- and, whilst you've made it clear that you do not like vintage pens, a discussion of these beyond "I don't use them" is worth mentioning, e.g. different materials no longer in use.  Which ones are available at reasonable cost.  Perils of ageing plastics.


I look forward to following this.


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Dang. You are a great friend!


One comment as a relative newcomer would be within the cleaning section: issues/differences in cleaning vacuum filler, piston filler in addition to cartridge/converter. I just cleaned out my Pilot 823 and while it wasn't particularly difficult I was a little paranoid about the drops of water that I could not get out. Perhaps this is something you are already including.


Anyway, great project and very thoughtful of you. I know it's a project for a friend, but I would love to learn from your experiences and positions. I don't care for politics of the various types; I like to try to read as many positions as possible and then make my own decision, for the good or ill. Ha!

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A Smug Dill


@Texas42 Thank you. I myself have recently had the experience of cleaning out a Wing Sung 699, in which the iron-gall ink has been sitting for six months. No damage to the metal piston rod (whereas, in a Wing Sung 3013 vacuum-filler, it would have been corroded, turned green, and contaminated the ink in mere weeks), but there was a ring of colour at the far end of the barrel that wouldn't budge, and I found it impossible to unscrew the filling mechanism to clean the interior wall of the ink reservoir. I'm not sure whether that is the case in the Pilot Custom 823, but thank heavens the nib unit on the Wing Sung 699 screws out, so after soaking that ring of stubborn stain with a commercial pen cleaning solution, putting that part through an ultrasonic cleaning cycle, then gave the pen a huge amount of physical shaking, most of it came off, and the last little bit of sludge was mopped up with a narrow strip of filter paper (stiff enough to slip through the gap between piston plug rim and reservoir wall, to make it all the way to the end of the barrel, and then slid around the inner perimeter).


Given this friend of ours was a ‘clean freak’ (but I think she's much more relaxed these days), I probably wouldn't recommend to her any demonstrator pens. I think she's learnt a lesson about that with the TWSBI demonstrator she bought anyway; her telling me about the unwelcome surprise of how difficult it is to clean the pen everywhere that she could see, and her questions about the tools and lubricant that came in the pen's retail package, were what prompted me to think she needs a primer of sorts to clue her in on so many bits and pieces of information seasoned hobbyists take for granted.


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