Posted in Nibs, Stories

Breathe, just Breathe(r Tube)

I hadn’t given breather tubes a second thought until I unexpectedly ran into one in a 1951 Park Parkette. I got to thinking “what are breather tubes and why are they only in some pens?”

What is a breather tube you ask? Welp, it is added to a filling system whose mechanism will not completely fill the ink reservoir with one cycle of compression and vacuum.

The breather tube is a thin tube inserted into a hole in the back end of the feed and extends into the ink reservoir; it permits complete filling in pens that require multiple operations of the filling mechanism.

They also control the airflow within the barrel, thus immediately balancing the pressure of the air inside the ink reservoir with that of the external air, because the breather tube provides a way for air to transition between inside and outside, thus reducing or eliminating the tendency of leakage at high altitudes, sometimes!

What? How does it work?

When a filler mechanism is engaged, it pushes air out of the reservoir up the ink channel in the feed and out through the breather hole and slit in the nib. The nib of the pen is submerged in ink, as the compression stage ends, a vacuum is created and the evacuated air is replaced with the ink drawn up through the same channel in the feed.

Breather tubes require modification to the feed. A hole is drilled into the reservoir end of the feed, in to which the breather tube is inserted. Perpendicular, a “blowhole” is added via the ink channel or the dorsal side of the feed connecting with the breather tube hole.

Parker Vacumatic feed

A breather tube (26), effectively extends the ink channel deep into the reservoir. Thus, when the filler mechanism is engaged, the air is forced out through the tube and the “blowhole” in the feed (16). The vacuum draws ink up the ink channel into the blowhole. As the blowhole is attached to the breather tube, the distance ink travels is farther so a better vacuum is created. As ink exits the breather tube it fills the reservoir while maintaining a vacuum. Once the ink level in the reservoir reaches the end of the breather tube (A), the vacuum is equalized and the pen is “full.”

From Parker patent 2,400,768

This sounds great – right, well it does come with a significant aggravation. The breather tube makes it difficult to completely empty the pen thus cleaning the reservoir is problematic.

Not all breather tubes address the issue of leakage and excess ink flow associated with high altitudes or air travel. The Parker patent 2,400,768 claims to address this issue. Breather tubes extending to the rear of the ink reservoir are prone to leakage caused by air pressure differential. The aft opening of these excessively long tubes is submerged in ink until the reservoir is almost empty – when carried nib up. The pressure differential associated with altitude changes causes the higher pressure in the reservoir to force ink out through the breather tube. Who knew patent applications could be interesting to read?

Contemporary Pens with Breather Tubes

Basically, any pen with a fixed squeeze filler, which is pretty uncommon, will use a breather tube, such as many of the Hero, the Bahadur, and the Dux models.

Posted in Nibs, Pens

Storing Your Pen Up/Down or Somewhere Between

A topic near and dear to my heart. Mostly I think it is because I use vintage pens and some are in need of heat setting their feeds. My problems started last summer when my vintage Esterbrook and Duofold pens both decided to leak excessively into their caps – within days of each other. I assumed it was weather-related as I live at 7,000 ft (2,100 m) and life is a little different up here, like breathing. As such, I am always playing with how best to lay my pens overnight.

Let’s start with non-fountain pens.

  • Felt tip pens like whiteboard markers, Sharpies, and highlighters are best stored with the tip down so the felt does not dry out.
  • Rollerballs and ballpoints should be stored upright so they don’t leak or get gummy at the point. BIC Cristal pens are the exception, they are indestructible. As a young person mine never had a cap and was always stored point down in my pants pocket. I never had a problem.
  • Gel pens seem to be okay stored either up or down.

As a general rule, never leave a pen tip exposed. Always put the cap on, it doesn’t matter if it is a felt tip, rollerball/ballpoint, or a fountain. Oh yeah if it is a click pen, click it. This helps keep air away from the ink, slowing how fast it dries out. Also, if in doubt, lay the pen horizontal is best. The ink will be evenly distributed in the pen, which should help it return to action more quickly.

Fountain Pens

I normally, leave my vintage pens overnight at a 45-degree upward angle, while the contemporary fountain pens lay horizontally. If an inked vintage pen is going to sit for any length of time I store it straight up. Yes, a nib pointing up will dry out faster because the ink flows back into the cartridge/converter/section, but this works best for me.

Based on what I’ve read, inked fountain pens should be stored horizontal overnight to keep the ink in contact with the feed. This prevents the ink from leaking into the cap while simultaneously keeping the nib wet enough to write when needed. There is a valid argument to be made, that an inked pen should be stored upright to prevent clogging and leakage. I believe if the pen contains quality ink and is used regularly there is no need to worry about clogging and leakage.

If you store a fountain pen with the nib facing down, gravity and capillary action may pull the ink to the nib and feed resulting in a clog or leak.

If your pen will remain inactive for a long period of time, make sure to remove the ink from the pen. It will prevent clogs and dried ink in a fountain pen from creating many problems. Of course, cleaning the nib of ink is vital before storing the fountain pens. And, if the pen is emptied, you can store it with the nib facing any direction.

Posted in Heat Seating, Nibs, Restoration

Heat Setting an Ebonite Feed Without Burning Down the House

Heat setting an ebonite feed is a topic of much conjecture, often viewed as some deep dark secret shrouded in mystery, like the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Addressing ink flow issues is not a rare or uncommon problem for fountain pen users. The cause of flow issues can be attributed to a variety of reasons. Before jumping to costly conclusions and if you have an ebonite feed there is a quick and easy “try this first” option – heat set your nib. Heat setting is a great option when addressing the following issues:

  • Consistent railroading
  • Dry writing
  • Hard starting
  • Dripping
  • Excessive leaking into cap
  • Blobbing
  • Excessively wet writing
  • Swapping nibs

Consulting the Parker Repair Manual 5115 (8th edition), the following guidance is provided. To achieve a consistent, and trouble-free ink flow, the nib must fit snuggly against the feed.

They recommend a process called “heating down” the feed. This is accomplished by lightly rotating the nib and feed through a flame. Then wet your finger in cold water, place the nib dorsal side down against a hard surface, like a table, and rub the feed in a back and forth motion. Pressing it against the nib produces a custom tight fit.

I strongly recommend that you do not use an open flame to heat down a feed. Vintage celluloid pens are highly flammable and there is a much safer alternative.

Let me introduce you to the hot-water-heat-setting method. No special skills required beyond the ability to boil water, and it works great. Using the hot water you can heat set a feed as many times as needed until the desired fit is had and the correct ink flow is achieved.

Begin by boiling water, it needs to be hot. Pour the hot water into a glass or jar, but only enough to immerse the nib up to the section. It is best if the section is not submerged. Leave the nib and feed in the hot water for 30-35 seconds then remove from the hot water. Now, place the feed on your thumb and gently squeeze or pinch the feed and nib together. Holding it for 20 seconds, allowing the ebonite to cool. Ink the pen and evaluate the results. Repeat as needed.

If you are heat-setting a vintage pen with a black ebonite barrel, I would remove the section from the barrel, eliminating any chance the barrel may come into contact with water. I had a very bad experience where my 100-year-old black ebonite pen turned green the instant the barrel got wet….

Thanks for reading, let me know if this has been helpful. It has for me. Until next time.

Posted in Nibs, Stories

Pen Nibs, More than Just A Type, its Geometry

If you have ever used a fountain pen, you know they write in a variety of fashions. Some have firm nibs, they write clean crisp lines while others have flexible nibs, their lines vary in width as the letter is laid down. This is normally attributed to the nib material (gold, steel, titanium, or some alloy), and the width of the tip (fine, medium, broad, etc). However, there are additional factors, time to grab a pen and your high school geometry books.

The nib’s essential functions:

  • Transport of ink
  • Regulate ink flow
  • Start and stop ink flow
  • Vary the line width/style based on the writing

The four essential functions are to control by these actions:

  • Placing the tip of the nib on paper and lifting it
  • Moving the nib across the paper at a varying speed
  • Spreading the tines with varying writing pressure

The line-of-bending is at the back of the nib where the nib extends past the section, which means the tines would never separate when equal pressure is applied (the nib would bend at the section). To address these two things happen, 1) a slit is added to the nib (the breather hole merely allows air displacement and prevents the slit from well … continuing), 2) the nib is arched/bent along the line of the slit. As pressure from writing is applied, the slit widens.

Many contemporary nibs (Namiki or Lam for example) has an arched body around the feed which transitions to flat tines, so how do these nibs work?

As the nib angles inward to form the tines, the line-of-bending moves forward from the junction with the section to the breather hole where the slit ends (X-Y to b1). The bending line b2 will follow the shortest cross-section from the termination of the slit (at the air hole) to the outer edge of the tine.

The red lines illustrate where the bend line is achieved when pressure is applied to the nib. The bend lines b2 enclose an angle with the line of bending b1. As the angle between b1 and b2 increases, together with the flatness of the tines, the nib becomes more responsive to writing pressure and variations. Sounds like a flex-nib to me.

The degree of tine separation depends on several parameters:

  • The angle of the longitudinal bend (along the axis) of the nib
  • The angle between the lines of bending
  • The length of the slit within the area where the tines are able to bend
  • The profile of the tines (thickness and curvature)

A standard nib deflects under normal writing pressure for only a few tenths of a millimeter. In material physics, deflects is a “deformation within the range of elasticity.” After the pressure is taken off the nib, it will return to its original shape, unless too much pressure is applied resulting in the extension of the tines beyond the normal range of elasticity, resulting in a permanent distortion. The nib will not return to its original shape and in layman’s terms is “jacked up,” and rendered useless.

For an amazing dissertation on fountain pen engineering, I recommend the following links, without which this post would not be possible.

Posted in Nibs, Pens, Restoration, Stories

Fountain Pen Primer 104: Cleaning and Care

I personally, clean my pen on the day it runs dry or exits rotation. This is done with cold tap water, I use a nasal aspirator (bulb thingie as it is popularly known) to force water through the feed and nib. The converter is rinsed out and the pen is left to air-dry overnight. Once reassembled, I use an old Sunshine cloth (it has been hand washed once) to remove fingerprints and water spots. All my pens are stored in a dark and dry storage box. I do not expose them to sunlight.

I rarely clean the pen if merely switching inks. I enjoy the blended coloration. I know, probably not the smartest thing in the world but hey, it’s my pen. Back to the topic at hand, as my father would say “don’t do as I do, do as I say,” thus without further ado… Cleaning and Care of your pen,

I opted to crowdsource this topic as I am far from the expert and I have established I may be a danger to some pens. Thus, I consulted with the membership of several groups of pen enthusiasts, what follows is their collective wisdom.

When

  • Don’t – simply keep refilling the same pen.
  • When changing to a different ink.
  • When the pen leaves rotation.
  • Clean the pen on the same day/night they run dry.
  • Within a week of running dry.
  • Every few months when refilling with the same ink.

How

  • Rinse in cold water.
  • Force water through the feed and nib with an ear bulb syringe or nasal aspirator
  • Use a blunt-end syringe to rinse out the converter.
  • Piston fillers take time to flush out, but patience and water will win the day!
  • Rinse the cap/barrel with water, then use cotton swabs to remove ink residue and excess water.
  • Add a drop of dish soap to the water if the pen that’s been sitting for a while, or a poorly behaved ink.
  • Sometimes just swap a cartridge for a new one and enjoy the transition between colors.
  • Allow to air dry on a paper towel.

With What

  • Sunshine cloth to polish and removed finger prints and water marks.
  • Distilled water is recommended but tap water is the choice 99.9 percent of the time.
  • Ultra Sonic cleaner on scruffy eBay purchases, or to remove inks stain be misbehaved inks.
  • Cotton swabs to clean caps and barrels.
  • For vintage or used pen, add a drop or two of dish soap to the water before soaking.
  • Rapidio-Eze pen cleaning solution.
  • Sailor pen cleaning kit.
  • Goulet Pens flush for stains.
  • Clean the converters with blunt-end syringe will save time.
  • Ammonia for stubborn ink stains.
  • Use a cotton towel or a connoisseurs cleaning cloth to remove finger prints etc.

Fears and Concerns

  • Polishing pens with a Sunshine cloth or anything else is too abrasive and may remove gold plating.
  • Infrequent cleaning makes the process much more arduous.
  • Never remove nibs from the unit or section as ebonite sections are heat set and will not fit correctly when reinstalled – causes leaks.

On a Lighter Note

  • Do not wash your pen in the dishwasher
  • Do not use a steel wool pad on your pen
  • Do not soak your pen in bleach to remove stubborn ink stains
  • If interested in applying wax or polish to your pen please read my post on polishing first.
Posted in Nibs, Stories

Nibs, Then and Now

Nibs, the business end of every fountain pen. Contemporary nibs and vintage nibs are cousins, opposed to siblings. The terminology used by one group doesn’t always accurately transfer to the other. Generally speaking, quality vintage nibs are held in high esteem compared to their cousins and there is a trend to add vintage nibs to contemporary pens to enjoy the characteristics and nostalgia of the vintage nibs, not found in contemporary nibs.

Pen markings

Contemporary nibs often have elaborate and intricate scroll work stamped or etched into the nib making that nib a piece of art unto its self. Not functionally necessary but it does provide an “ooh-ahh” moment for the owner.

Photo credit: Nibs.com

These nibs have a writing quality letter stamped on them. Round nibs typically fall into one of four tip sizes: Extra Fine (EF), Fine (F), Medium (M), and Broad (B). Italics or oblique nibs are not round, they have an angled straight writing surface and are often associated with the same quality designation or in mm based on the width of the point.

Vintage nibs usually (Esterbrook being the exception), are imprinted with a single-digit number. This is the case from the 1880s up to WWII. These numbers have nothing to do with the writing quality of the nib, nor the size of tip (fine, medium, broad, etc.), nor the flexibility of the nib. The numbers indicate the size of the nib – not the size of the point.

It gets better, assuming the nib has a number, theses numbers are inconsistent from manufacture to manufacture. A #4 on one nib may equate to a #2 on another nib. Warranted nibs are notoriously inconsistent since they were produced by many different manufacturers.

Material

Early inks tended to corroded steel nibs, then with the introduction of fountain pens gold nibs are adopted as the standard in lieu of steel nibs because gold doesn’t corrode. Vintage gold nibs could be easily manufactured in various degrees of hardness and flexibility.

Gold and most steel nibs are tipped with an alloy, normally using metals from the platinum group to act as a hard, wear resistant, writing surface. Vintage nibs were initially tipped with iridium; however, Tipping alloys have not contained iridium since the mid-1950’s – due to its rarity and high cost. Osmium, rhenium, ruthenium and tungsten are most common in the alloys of today used to tip a nib.

The color of a nib does not indicate whether it is made of gold or steel. Nibs are available in steel, gold, and black colors. Some gold nibs are plated with a silvery metal like rhodium while some steel nibs are gold plated as a cheaper means to prevent corrosion from contact with ink. Real gold nibs will have an imprint specifying its gold content, usually 14K or 18K.

Performance

The primary difference between contemporary steel and gold nibs is the ability to flex. Flexibility occurs while writing, when pressure is applied causing the nib tines to spread, applying more ink to the paper.

The springiness of a gold nib will come down to it’s shape and how the gold was alloyed, more than the amount of gold it contains. Because a gold nib will naturally flex, the nib will have a little more “give” providing minor line variation – flexibility.

The smoothness and feedback associated with a contemporary steel or gold nib is the same because both nibs are using the same tipping material. The difference and cost is based on the material behind the tips.

Bottom Line

In the world of contemporary nibs, gold and steel nibs are readily available. Stainless steel nibs have retained the stigma associated with vintage steel nibs – being inferior and cheap. Those nibs manufactured in Asia (excluding Japan) are often of lessor quality than those manufactured in Germany. Assuming as consumers we purchase quality nibs, the difference between a steel nib and an identical gold nib is a couple hundred dollars due to the price of gold, and as a consumer, if the need or want of a flex nib is not needed then a steel nib is a much more attractive alternative.