Fountain pens are amazing creations
Fountain pen nibs are typically made from gold, platinum, titanium or high-alloy steel. Often it is assumed that the only good nib is a gold nib. Not so. The characteristics of gold can be important to how a nib performs, however, there are plenty of very good nibs which are not gold.
With the significant increase in the cost of gold, pen manufacturers have been looking for alternative materials. The use of materials other than gold very prevalent.
Gold Nibs. The nibs on pens today are gold with other metals, gold alloy. That is what the well known 14K or 18K designation on nibs stands It is the percentage of gold used.
Steel nibs. A well made steel nib can provide a very good writing experience.
On the tip of most nibs is a small ball, and the cut of the ball determines the style of the nib (fine, medium, broad, stub, italic etc.). In addition to the bakkm the final cut of the end of the nib itself helps to shape the line. For example, a stub nib may not have a ball on the tip, but it is the cut of the end of the nib that creates the particular shape the the characters written. The small ball is welded to the tip of gold nibs is there because the gold would wear away with use. The small ball is smooth and hard and means the nibs lasts. Steel nibs, may not have a small ball welded on as the steel is hard and there is not the issue of the nib wearing out.
The pen companies make decisions on what will be part of each nib. For example, some pen feeds (the black section on the underside of the nib, may or may not have gills. Some nibs may or may not have an air hole or vents. Some nibs have one or two or even three slits.
There are no universal standard when it comes to the widths of a nib. Pen are typically described as having an Extra Fine, Fine, Medium, Broad or other size. A medium nib, for a pen made in Italy will be different from a medium made in Asia. High end gold nibs have a fair amount of hand work. You will find no two nibs of the same size are actually the same. That is why it is so helpful to buy a pen in a store where you can test it. If you are staying within the same brand, then a medium Waterman nib is fairly consistent across the Waterman lines. Some of the manufacturers use size indications, Leonardo Pen, for example, designates Stub nibs as 1.1 or 1.5 in their steel line, of 1.3 in their gold line.
The part of the nib that is we typically see is called the body of the nib. But for almost as much in length, within the nib section of the pen body is the tail or base of the nib. That part is covered by the nib section of the pen. The body of the nib covers the ink and air channels that allow ink to flow out of, and air into, the ink chamber. The vent or air hole, as well as the gills under the nib, are included on some nibs as a means to help air going back through the feeds into the ink chamber. Not all nibs have gills below the body of the nib, not all nibs have an air hole or vent on the top of the nib.
Writing with the pen nib. It is the end of the nib that touches and guides the ink across the paper. Holding a fountain pen correctly is important. The nib should rest at about a 30% angle to the paper. Holding the pen vertically and trying to write will not allow the nib to properly interact with the paper. OMAS created the 360 a pen with a triangular nib section which in essence forced the writer to hold the pen in a manner would have have the nib sit correctly on the paper.
Once the nib touches down on the paper, then the pressure place on the nib impacts how it writes. Nib have a cut up the middle. This creates two tines. The ink runs underneath, along the sit, towards the tip.
Gold started to be used as a material for nibs. But, because gold is relatively soft and with use, wears down, it was in 1834 that manufacturers started to use use iridium in the form of a small pellet that was added to the tip of the nib. This gave increased life to the nib.
I had the opportunity to watch the entire nib making process when I visited the Waterman pen factory in France.
The metal that is used for the nib is rolled into thin sheets. The rolling, and the pressure in the process, makes the metal stronger.
The sheets of metal are stamped, to cut out the nib blanks, pieces of the metal in the shape of a nib. The pen blanks are heat tempered, again to enhance the strength of the metal. Curving and shaping takes place and this step also adds strength to the metal.
Then the tip is applied to the nib point. An ink canal is cut with and the point is ground, shaped and polished. It is the quality of the tip, the iridium for example, that really in essence makes the writing experience of the nib. The metal of the nib contributes in that it can have give, or spring, or be very stiff. It all impacts the writing experience.
The end of the nib is cut to match the style of the nib. Stub nibs have a squared pellet, and the nibs themselves are squared off. All visually matches and the shape of the nib itself guides the ink.
Some manufactures made many variations that include oblique or italic nibs as well as those than can be slanted for left-hand writing. Pelikan, for example, had at one time ten (10) different nib styles ranging from Extra Fine, Fine, Medium, Broad, Double Broad, a Triple Broad, Oblique Medium, Oblique Broad, Oblique Double Broad and a Triple Oblique Broad. Recently, as a result of the cost of the nibs, Pelikan has cut back on the variations of nib. Extra Fine, Fine, Medium, Broad are the sizes typically found.
Select the pen and the nib that is appropriate to you. I love my SCRIBO FEEL fountain pen. While you will find the pen in stores in Fine, Medium and Broad; you can request a specialized nib for the pen. My most recent SCRIBO pen has a beautiful Stub nib in gold. In this case, Novelli Pen in Rome has the pen fitted the my selected nib.
For some lines of pens, the nibs are heat-sealed into the body and require the manufacturer to make the change. Even if you send you pen to a service centre you will have to send the entire pen back for nib repairs/replacement. That means more time, and just one more reason why you need more than one fountian pen! (You knew I would get that point in!).
A nib can be changed by a craftperson who can grind the nib to alter the shape of the pellet and nib. You can go from a larger nib width to a smaller nib width through this process.
I am often asked that if nibs change according to one's writing, can you let someone write with your pen?
The pen nib, and how it sits on the feed, will change over time depending on how an indivdiual writes. The pressure they use, the slant at which they hold the pen and the nib drags across the paper. So with use, over time, the pen melds to your style. I am often asked, if it is safe to allow someone to sign with your pen. My view on this is not to worry. A change in the alignment of the nib is a result of prolonged use and not the casual writing by another person. Another fountain pen user is a relatively safe experience. I have looked on in horror as someone jammed a pen of mine onto the paper... not it is not a ball point that can take unlimited pressure!
Flexibility of nibs is another point that is discussed often. Is an 18 karat gold nib more flexible than a 14th karate gold nib? Maybe, but not solely based on the quality of the gold. The difference in flexibility based solely on the gold is less of a difference than the constructionof the nib itself. This includes the thickness of the nib metal itself, the length and shape of the nib, the length of the slit and the way the nib is fixed onto the feed mechanism.
Flex Nibs offer a maximum amount of flexibility. As you press down the the nib, on the downward stroke the twines open a bit allowing a maximum amount of ink to flow into the paper. It is common to find flex nib in steel, and where the company has flex nibs in gold, the gold content has a maxiumum of 14 kt gold.
The nib is the pen. One of the advantages of going to a pen store and trying a pen out is that you get a feel of the nib before you buy the pen. You will never know if it is the right pen for you till you dip it in ink and you can experience the moment when the nib starts to glide across the paper.
Greg Minuskin also offers pen re-tipping services. You can read about his services that include regrinds to italic/stub nibs, new sacs, nib crack repair and flow adjustment. His site also has testimonials of his customers (https://gregminuskinpens.com/).
Thinking of trying to grind a nib? A number of years ago Ludwig Tan sent me a copy of an article for this web site. He wrote the article for the Journal of the Society for Italic Handwriting, Writing Matters (August 2000 & Spring 2001). The article provides a very detailed description of the steps involved.