Monday, October 28, 2013

Flexed Up

Now you may have been wondering why I mentioned butchering tools in my previous post about flexibility in pen nibs. This is why.

You see I really don't want to go down the "Bought a tool chest, er, writing case full of fountain pens, and in another five years I'll have cleaned and restored them all and decided which ones to keep and maybe sold some of the others and then I'll get back to actually using them" route. Because you may have noticed that I Have Been There, Am Still Doing That, And Have More T-Shirts Than I Can Handle Attesting To It. So, no. My first thought on deciding I needed something both flexible and fountain in my life was to look at the brand new purchasing options.

I glanced at the customised nib possibility, blenched at the three figure prices involved, and moved on. It's not that I don't want to drop three figures on the right tool for the job, because, well, I Have Been There, Am Still... etc etc. It's more that I am nowhere near a state where I'd feel comfortable using a pen costing many hundreds of Earth Currency; I'd worry.

Thus I turned my attention to the new but cheap options; there are two. One is from the USA but is made in India as far as I'm aware; the other is from India but with an American twist. Bit of a trend going on there, huh? But we'll focus on the 'Murrican company one, because that's the one that I butchered. I'll talk Indian pens another time though, because they're rather good.

So it's called an "Ahab" by Noodler's Ink, and yes, they do the whole whaling thing and stuff with the marketing and such. Some people hate them; some people love them. Pretty much everyone agrees they're not an outta-da-box pen using experience. One of the pluses is that you can take the thing apart completely, even unto removing the piston from the ink reservoir - so cleaning it is easy-peasy.

One of the minuses is that cleaning it thoroughly is essential - and you might find yourself doing it several times and still it might not work. It's a pretty good way to learn all about the bits of a fountain pen and how they effect each other though, and as I'm busy slogging up that particular learning curve, it seemed ideal. (Incidentally, discovering you're supposed to "flush" a pen before using it was rather like someone finding out you're expected to sharpen the blade of a new plane. You get several flashback "Whoops" experiences in quick succession.)

Now this thing is marketed as having a flex nib. Which... it doesn't. Well, no, that's not strictly true. If you press really hard (and my thumb was starting to make some serious Ow-ing noises to get it to do this much) it does slightly flex. But try writing any length of time like that, and unless you're a professional bear wrestler or something, you're going to be suffering a world of hurt in your writing hand.

This is a recognised problem with these cheaper "flex" pens, and a lot of people just give up and put a regular nib in it instead and forget the whole thing. But some people look at the nib and say "Hey, genuine flex nibs have a more streamlined shape. How about...?" And others look and say "Hey, there's a nib style referred to as "falcon" which makes everything bend a little easier. How about...?"

I took option two. Because I think it looks cooler.

Here's the nib as it comes. (Sorry for the dodginess of some of the pics in this post, by the way. I'm trying to get this typed up before the on-coming storm hits and almost inevitably takes out our electricity, so re-takes are not happening.)

These crazy fountain pen types apparently think nothing of taking a Dremel to a piece of metal this small and grinding the bejesus out of it. I'm a faint-hearted woodworker who doesn't like grinding when a file will work just as well and three times more safely. So ten minutes with a needle file and some deburring with a slip stone and I had this:

The other side's the same, in case you wondered. That's where half the ten minutes went; checking symmetry. Yes, that's it, that little semi-circular cut out in the side. Wow, I hear you gasp. Or maybe not. I was entirely convinced either, but with less violence inflicted on my poor thumb nail look what you get from the nib now:



(It's ink, not blood - promise. I'm really not pressing half as much and getting double the tine spread.)

Anyway, it's an annoyingly difficult thing to convey over the interweb, but it really does make a huge improvement. It's like cambering the iron of your jack plane and discovering what a jack plane can really do.
(As a result it becomes considerably easier to incorporate some line variation. The limitation now is the less than hair-like quality of the unflexed lines. Mainly because they keep drowning the loops of my pathetic little Es. But that kind of nib grinding is another art entirely.)

Of course, another limitation is the input from the operator. Viz: My handwriting. That's a very good example of what happens when you go from nought to flexy; warm-up to get some flow to the hand is more sensible. But hey, it's all practice.

It remains to be seen if removing material from the nib like this will have negative consequences down the line. It's a small bit of metal under some tension, and upsetting its structure could irrevocably alter that for the worse. Time will tell, although no-one's reported any trouble yet as far as I'm aware.

Naturally, after all that, I did still take a Dremel to a fountain pen; when in Rome and so forth. But maybe I'll tell you about that another time.

1 comment:

  1. Sort of like changing the tote on a Veritas hand plane, or drilling and tapping the side of such - if it makes it work better, go for it


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