Recently, I was asked for advice on nib grinding. Up until now, I have been reluctant to provide information for a few reasons. Some of the techniques I learned from reading on the web, other techniques I figured out on my own, some I picked up from watching videos and still others I have “reverse engineered” by studying the final work of respected nibmeisters. While I understand the concepts of nib grinding and have ground or smoothed many nibs for myself and occasionally for others, I am not a nibmeister, nib technician or nib technician apprentice. I don’t play one on TV either. (Any nibmeisters need an apprentice and have a distance learning program, just let me know. :D) For this reason, if you decide to use techniques described within the next series of posts, you take full responsibility for your own actions. I cannot be held responsible for anything you may do to your pens. There is also a disclaimer in my “about” page but I figure I should be doubly covered with the disclaimer here.
One other reason I have taken a while to do this post is that there is a certain amount of stigma associated with doing your own nib work. I have been admonished before for sharing my methods. Go figure. Then there are the Jedi. As a Fountain Pen Sith Lord, the Jedi nibmeisters look down on my practice of the black arts of DIY nib grinding. You have been forewarned.
With that said, make sure you practice with pens you do not mind irreversibly damaging. (Well, you could reverse the damage but it may cost you A LOT.) When I first started with nib grinding and smoothing I used cheap Chinese fountain pens. If you have some pens you don’t mind practicing on then you just need the tools. This is where you need to decide if you are going to invest in the good stuff or try your hand with the cheap stuff before making a commitment.
The Practice Pen. If you don’t have pens to practice on, browse eBay and get yourself the cheapest Chinese pens you can find. Someone also recommended getting some Pilot Varsity pens that come in the 7–pack. I believe they cost somewhere around $15-$20 per pack on Amazon. Pilot Varsity Disposable Fountain Pens
The advantage of a cheap Chinese pen is that it may have other issues that you can leverage to learn even more and gain more confidence.
The Jewelers Loupe. I will admit that I have cheap eBay LED lighted loupes. One is a 10X, the other a 20X. I hardly ever use the 20X. I found the 20X to have too narrow of a depth of field making it difficultto focus in on the nib. There are better options out there and by all means, use them. If you want to try the cheap option just to see if you can get the hang of things, the eBay option works best. The LED light is nice to have but most of the time I am working under a desk lamp that provides far more light than the LED. Needless to say, I rarely use the built–in LED light on my loupes. A higher grade loupe is in my future, so take that with a grain of salt.
Brass Shim. This will be used to “floss” the nib. When you grind or smooth a nib, some of the grit gets in between the tines and the brass shim helps clear that garbage out. Some well-known shops sell this, but you can also get this from hobby shops in varying thicknesses. I purchased mine from a well-known nibmeister, but I will probably go to a local hobby shop the next time I need some. A small square goes a long way if you can keep it from creasing and deforming. up on you.
Abrasives. This is where things get a little controversial. I understand that when you are working on pen that costs several hundred or thousands of dollars, you want to use an abrasive with a known and controlled grit. I get it. Really, I do. The most expensive pen I have worked on is my Pilot Custom 742 with a 14K nib. I have a Lamy 2000 that needs some long overdue nib work and I will be sending it out. Know your limits. On a cheap steel nib, some wet/dry sand paper in various grits is fine. The infamous “buff sticks” (i.e. finger nail buffers) are fine. Heck, my unknown grit honing stone is fine for that. Just measure the risk you are willing to take. The idea is, you want to start with a rough grit and work your way up to finer and finer grits until you polish out all the unevenness the rougher grits leave behind. I use 600 grit wet/dry paper or my honing stone to rough out the nib geometry I am after, then move to the medium grit of a buff stick to polish it.From here, I move to the finest grit on the buff stick to polish it even further. Lastly, I have 12000 grit mylar film for final polishing, but I use it on very rare occasions. Buff sticks are going to be a bit more forgiving because they have a foam core that keeps you from creating too sharp of an edge. What I don’t like is that it takes forever quite some time to grind a nib on buff sticks alone. If you are after a sharp italic, and all you have are buff sticks, you are going to be working longer than you want.
The Cloth. I have a microfiber cloth I use to wipe the nib down when things get a little messy. I purchased mine from my local dollar store. They are in the reading glass section. I like microfiber because it grabs and holds particles within its fibers, making it vastlyeasier to clean. One thing to note is that you may want to wash your cloth after each use with a mild detergent. As the grit collects on the cloth, it can cause fine scratches on your nib if you don’t wash it.
These are the basic tools you will need. You do also need ink. The ink should be something that flows well and generally does not have any issues. It helps if it is easy to cleanup after too. I personally use Waterman Florida Blue (aka Serenity Blue). There are other tools that I will go into later but to start, this is all you should need. In the next post we will go over some resources to help you understand actual grinding techniques.
Thank you for Reading,
The Fountain Pen Sith Lord
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