I can stop. Anytime I like.

15 01 2022

Habits come in many forms.

Some are good habits, like automatically washing your hands when you’ve been to the loo or, just as importantly – in the COVID times – as soon as you re-enter your home.

Some are bad habits, like smoking or incessantly tapping on the edge of your desk when you’re working at home (according to the lovely Mrs E.).

Some are fashionably very questionable in the 21st century.

The thing habits have in common (unless they’re the scratchy wool kind) is that they’re automatic subconscious actions or processes and very hard to unlearn. No. 3 offspring educated me to the unsupported “fact” that it’s of the order of 3 months to “unlearn” a habit. He read it on the interwebs, so it must be true.

Smokers are often heard stating some variation of “I’m not addicted – I can stop any time I want.” It’s the sufficiently wanting to that is often the crux of the issue, though even with that firmly in one’s sight, a true habit still takes much breaking and all too often is readily reacquired. The share-holders of Weight Watchers International bank on it in fact. Literally.

So – enter fountain pens. As a school kid somehow earning a local government scholarship to a grammar school (now a private school beyond the reach of many – yay capitalism), I was required to use a fountain pen. A few came and went – either through the natural rigours of teenage schooling, or occasionally from poor manufacture (looking at you Platignum… just sayin’).

As I grew older though, and entered the sixth form, I acquired a “proper” pen – a Parker 45 – and that saw me through the rest of my formal educational years including university. Being subsequently employed in the newly minted dark arts of computer programming (AKA “the 80’s” for those studying modern history) I had less and less need of an analogue writing stick.

I did occasionally reach for a disposable fountain pen – mainly for the chance to use outlandish colours like green or purple. These were still the days of sedentary Blue/Black Quink ink for fountain pens, but the wily Japanese were busily cross pollinating what they’d learnt from gel pens into more exciting alternatives (if not entirely environmentally sound ones) for fountain pens. It was literally decades before I realised one could refill/reuse a “disposable” fountain pen.

Then the years passed, as they always have. Mortgages got signed. Children got born. Continents got moved. Not in the tectonic way (though that happened a bit too), but in the BA flight 85 kind of way. Somewhere along the passage of time my wonderful father-in-law bought me a new fountain pen (Sheaffer Sagaris), which I religiously used every day for work notes.

Recently, COVID entered our vocabulary, and in a lot of tragic cases, our lives.

Working from home happened.

Profound grumpiness occurred.

A chance re-discovery of my old Parker 45 at the back of a drawer also occurred (distractions had been actively sought… even to the extent of tidying rarely visited backwaters of the newly emptied nest). This was pivotal. I now had TWO fountain pens at the same time. Two is a collection. So is more than two, it turned out. That was 18 months ago.

Today I have around 60 fountain pens. Some are relatively expensive ($250 in my case – though for some collectors that counts merely as entry level), but most are not. I do however use all of them, though obviously not all at the same time!

That many pens could consume a lot of ink, you might think. Well… let’s just say I have that covered too.

But of course if you’ve got a lot of pens and a lot of ink to go in the pens, you’d need a lot of paper to write on wouldn’t you? Well… so you’re getting the idea now why this began as a piece on addiction?

But I’m getting better. Honest I am.

I try not to buy pens now just because I like the look of them. I try and leave those for my family to get for birthdays and Christmas. But it’s not perfect. Without meaning to trivialise the situation of any reader struggling with a health-impacting addiction, I am, nevertheless still drawn to the “add to cart” button on many stationery web sites.

I try very hard to limit myself to one new pen a month, and thankfully my tastes are rarely expensive. But all-metal pens (what Parker terms “Flighter”), or all black pens (AKA “stealth”, especially if the nib itself is coated black) are a particular weakness.

In October, I read the often informative “mnmlscholar” blog, and he described a new pen he’d just acquired. This was the Jinhao 9035, a mid-sized pen made of wood. Neither stealth or metal, but… interesting! Jinhao is a Chinese brand, but I have to say that I now own several different models from their stable, and have found the ones I have acquired to be very well made and reliable. I do tend to go for their metal bodied options which may improve the leeway for higher build quality, but I also own no less than four of their 992 model which are clear plastic and just as reliable.

Whilst innocently investigating the 9035 pen on AliExpress, I discovered another new-to-me Jinhao model, the “Stealth” styled Jinhao 95. The pair of them came to a little over $12 shipped to Canada, and the compulsion was strong with me that day…

Well that was back in late October 2021, and much has happened since then. Including ordering one of a new 200 pen limited release of an all-copper Italia from Ensso, which may well be documented in a later blog post.

Source: ENSSO

Hopefully the delivery isn’t impacted by the recent train robberies in California, from whence it is coming!

Fast forward 2½ months, and on Friday the Chinese pens appeared in my post box.

Wooden Jinhao 9035 and “Stealth” Jinhao 95

To ease my (not very prominent) guilt a little then, I thought I’d share my early impressions of these newcomers to my collection. Maybe someone will find it useful, and at the very least it’s keeping me out of Mrs E’s way for a while as I write this.

Firstly the Jinhao 9035…

I opted for the walnut finish (on some sellers’ sites it’s referred to as specifically American walnut), though it does seem to be available in rosewood too. I’m no wood expert and can’t really comment, beyond a general statement that it’s a lovely colour and seems well finished with no scratches, gaping “pores” or other irritations. There’s also no evidence of what must surely have been a mechanical turning process, so kudos to the QA folks at Jinhao. It seems well smoothed, but not obviously varnished. It may have been treated with Danish oil or something, but has no obvious smell, and I fully expect it to “weather” as the grease from my fingers impact the wood over time.

As you may be able to see from the photograph above, the cap has a pretty standard Jinhao steel clip. It has a springiness strong enough to cause the ball end (formed from the plate steel) to scratch the wood underneath slightly. The clip is adorned with the company’s logo of a horse and chariot. I note that it is the right way round when the pen is held in the left hand… something I appreciate!

The lip of the cap is protected by a metallic ring, though the cap threads behind it are plastic and are part of the seal lining within the cap to prevent the nib drying out. This extends up to hide the inside fixing of the clip, which enters through a simple well-formed cut in the wooden cap. The metal lip of the cap provides a neat IKEA-style wood/chrome finish to the pen when the cap is closed and the cap extends around the barrel by a good millimetre or so giving a vaguely mushroom appearance when closed.

The business end of the pen is a standard Jinhao No. 6 steel nib, which is marked with a border pattern, their chariot logo, their brand name and a claim of being 18KGP, or 18 karat gold plated (carats are for diamonds if you were wondering).

I’m no metallurgist, so I’ll leave that one just hanging there, but I will say that I have used several of these nibs on Jinhao X750s and even bought the simple nibs to replace other No 6 nibs on Moonman, Noodler’s and Narwhal pens. I find them slightly springy, wet and generous and suit my writing well. I have yet to struggle with a single Jinhao nib – though I do tend to avoid their lower end Lamy knock-offs and most of their plastic offerings. I find these No 6 nibs particularly reliable and though I’m sure statistically there must be some duds out there, I’ve yet to get one that needed anything special before using it “out of the box”.

Though I inked up the pen with Lamy Turmaline before checking (my bad… too excited) I’m pretty sure the nib isn’t in a screw-out nib unit, and would require pulling from the section housing along with the feed. I’ll try and remember to confirm that once I dismantle it for cleaning.

The section itself is a little shy of 2cm in length and is bookended by chromed rings. It’s very similar in style and feel to the X750 section, but not the same. The metal ring at the barrel end of the section hides the join and merges with the threading on the barrel to engage the cap. The cap closes in 1¾ turns for those who are particular about those things. The metal here engages with the aforementioned plastic cap threads and gives a firm closure and no noticeable play in the cap once closed. The threads are square cut and unobtrusive when gripping the pen for writing. They also form a transition to the step-up of the barrel, which might be seen in the above photograph.

The pen comes provided with a standard Jinhao converter. Again – apologies for inking it up before checking whether the nipple is of the narrow or broader “standard”. Though both will take arbitrary International Standard cartridges, there is a little less forgiveness when using a third party converter. I believe the difference is 2.6 mm or 3.4mm. Not a lot, but enough to cause leaks with some converters. Again – I’ll try to remember to update this post when I dismantle the pen.

The collar by which the section screws to the barrel is metal and seems well made with no sharp edges. It is engraved with the brand JINHAO in capitals and model 9035 in italics. The collar is around 12mm in length and securely holds the converter in place. About 5mm of the collar are threads to engage the barrel and are finer than those holding the cap in place.

The wooden barrel itself is unlined, save for the metal insert which is threaded to receive the section and engage with the cap. It seems roomy and well finished on the inside, with no visible splinters or cracks.

All in all, the example I received seems well finished, with no rough edges or bad joints. This has been my typical experience with Jinhao, and I am amazed they can make them for the price they are sold.

I don’t post my pens, but the inner threads of the cap – even though they’re plastic – would not be kind on the wood of the barrel over time, I suspect. I briefly tried though, and the cap seems to be firmly held by the friction, if that’s your thing.

OK, so to illustrate my assertion that I can indeed stop any time I like, I’ll call that it for this post and talk about the Jinhao 95 in a separate outing to the keyboard. Until next time…





51 Clones

4 11 2020

Not unlike many fountain pen users I have acquired a couple of examples of the classic Parker 51 along the way. One I paid for, one I inherited. I love both, but not in any particularly sentimental way – they just write really well.

I’m not a complete philistine though – I acknowledge their age and look after them as well as I am able. That means no fancy inks that might damage their innards, and being careful they get no more scratches than their lives thus far have bestowed.

My “Made in USA” teal P51 has a barrel stamp declaring “51” which though coincidental actually indicates it was manufactured in 1951, according to the awesome Parker dating references at ParkerPens.net. It has a fine nib and is a lovely smooth writer.

1951 Parker 51 – Made in U.S.A.

My other – black – P51 is Made in England and dates from the second quarter of 1942, as indicated by the older dating system of “2.”. The nib on this is more medium and is really smooth on most writing surfaces. It was originally owned by a lady before it came to my father, and it’s in better condition than the one made almost a decade later.

Q2 1942 Parker 51 – Made in England

I do enjoy using these venerable old stylos, but feel restricted by the need to treat them with a modicum of reverence. They are, after all, 70+ years old!

Two old dears waiting for a hand

I read somewhere of Parker’s brief flirt with potentially manufacturing Parker 45s in China with the HERO company. Indeed, there was totally legitimate transfer of intellectual property from Parker – these were no mere “cheap knock-offs”. It ultimately stalled, but I was left to ponder whether a HERO clone of the Parker 51 might give me a route to using a pen with a similar feel to my two lovable old dears but with modern materials and a price I could afford to replace if things went horribly wrong with some dodgy ink or other (I’m looking at you, Noodler’s!).

A few minutes with Aunty Google and I discovered the HERO 616, for the princely sum of $1.42. Canadian! What could possibly go wrong?!

OK – so (very) superficial evidence to the contrary… this is no Parker 51. The pen feels very light – 12g versus the genuine 20g, and looks very much like the $1.42 it cost was mostly spent on sandwiches rather than manufacturing.

There is a sharp, catchy burr on the “jewel” – which looks more like a piece of pressed or even poured aluminium. Unusual for these days, it has an aeromatic filler rather than a converter/cartridge. On arrival however, the outer squeeze tube wasn’t even properly in place. An easy fix, but what turned out to be an indication of the general build quality. I’m trying to be objective, and please remember this only cost $1.42. The fit of the cap seems secure enough, but as you may be able to see in the photo below, there is a lot of space around the opening with the pen inserted, and the cap lip itself is quite thin, if not actually sharp. The cap is firmly held though – the clutch is deep inside and holds the section firmly in place.

The clip is a poor copy of the Parker arrow and is cheaply pressed steel. The sharp “jewel” turns out to be a simple bolt and the clip can be easily removed and replaced if you’d like to greatly increase the value of the pen with something more aesthetic from say Beaufort Ink.

Metal shroud wasn’t properly pressed over the sac on arrival
Catchy molding on “jewel” – the bolt holding the clip on, and poor clip alignment
A poorly stamped, fake arrow
Poor fit of cap showing square-cut opening and uneven loose fit

OK – enough grumbling. At the end of the day, a pen is a way of delivering ink to a page. What kind of a job does the HERO 616 do for it’s sub-Biro price?

My particular HERO 616 was a horribly scratchy writer

Well – I tried to be as kind as possible and filled it with blue Quink – a very reliable and forgiving ink. The nib is nominally EF with a stated width of 0.38mm. I may have got unlucky, but my pen was unusable! It was so scratchy it gouged up the Fabriano paper I was using and got paper fibres stuck between the tines. I pulled out the tubular nib and did some judicious flossing and tweaking, but to no avail. Later I might try swapping in a Jinhao nib – I’ve had a lot of success with them in the past. For now though – this pen is barely worth the $1.42 for a spare sac!

Next, I’ll move up to a pen worth twice as much! Yup… a whole $2.80 Canadian.

I have many vices, but if we focus for a moment on those related to fountain pens I have 3 primary ones. Well 2½. I love utilitarian “tool-like” pens, typically all in metal. Steel, aluminium, brass, etc. Related to that, I have a soft spot for Parker’s so-called “Flighter” offerings which are all-steel (or more properly “Lustraloy”) and began with the Parker 45 in the 60s I believe. Finally, I have a thing for “stealth” pens – all matte black, preferably including the nib.

So while I was checking out the HERO 616, I came across the Jinhao 911. At 19g it’s slightly lighter than a real Parker 51, despite its metal barrel. Now Jinhao occupy a slightly higher perch in Chinese pen making, and I’ve had great success with several of their offerings in the past, as well as using their easily obtainable nibs to resurrect some otherwise defunct old pens.

Jinhao 911 with grandad Parker 51

Despite their Jinhao 75 model sporting a decidedly Parker-esque arrow clip, and more than a passing resemblance to a Sonnet, they are confident enough in their own identity to proudly brand their pens with their name.

The Jinhao 911 is a slimmer pen than the Parker 51 and does not sport a Parker-like clip. It seems well-finished and has nicely machined “jewels” in steel at both cap and barrel end.

Nicely finished steel “jewels”

The cap fits snuggly and as mentioned, proudly declares both the Jinhao brand and the 911 model.

Proudly branded Jinhao

The section is slightly longer and slimmer than a Parker 51, but the styling is obviously heavily influenced. There are steel threads on the section making for a pleasingly solid connection with the barrel, unlike the vaguely uncommitted plastic threads of the HERO 616. The 911 comes with a standard international converter of Jinhao’s own making and unfussily gets the job done. Actually – there are TWO “standard” converter widths. This is the wider 3.4mm opening. There’s a 2.6mm one as well. Most of the time it doesn’t matter. Occasionally it does!

Seems well made with good fit and finish

Not a lot more to say really. It looks handsome, well-made and could easily have come from Parker’s own stable. As I’ve come to expect from Jinhao EF/0.38mm nibs, it wrote perfectly straight out of the bubble-wrap (AliExpress vendors aren’t big on packaging!) If you’re not a pen-snob, this is a very capable solidly built pen with a few design nods thrown towards Parker’s 51, but plenty of its own style.

No messing – writes smoothly, straight out of the envelope

One final pen that caught my eye on AliExpress was another Jinhao. Another hike in price and a bit more blatant of a clone. The Jinhao 51A (Yup – they went there) comes in at $4.32 Canadian – still less than a latte at several well-known coffee chains I refuse to mention. Remove the cap, and this could almost be a Parker 51… with a wooden barrel! The attraction for me was the rosewood barrel, so I paid the extra few dollars to see if it looked as good in the flesh. It does. It’s also available in maple, ebony, peach and tiger wood. Possibly others too.

Again, I wasn’t expecting much for less than $5, but this is as well made as the 911. The wooden barrel has a brass insert to provide a good solid screw connection to the section. The section itself is almost identical to that of the Parker 51, save that the hood is slightly more rounded than the original.

Parker 51 (left) with newcomer Jinhao 51A

Despite the wooden barrel, it actually comes in slightly heavier than the original at 21g.

Hard to see in the photo above, but the Jinhao 51A cap is much more like the Parker 51’s except for a distinctly different clip. Again proudly stamped with Jinhao and 51A, but also with the Parker 51’s band etched a couple of millimetres from the cap opening. The steel jewel much more closely echoes the Parker 51 than did the 911 because the cap and entire pen is slightly fatter to match the original.

Another smooth writing experience. This time from the Jinhao 51A… likely with the same nib as the 911

So – conclusions? Well there’s no denying the Parker 51 spawned many lookalikes and even bare-faced clones over its illustrious career. Parker themselves are even re-releasing a lookalike at a laughably high price point.

Family resemblance? Jinhao 51A, Jinhao 911, HERO 616, a brace of Parker 51s

The HERO 616 unashamedly attempts to copy a Parker 51. It’s an aeromatic-like filler and even has an arrow clip. But it uses cheap components and is poorly finished. I could even forgive all that if it had a half decent nib and at least put ink on paper. It does not, and though I have had similarly poor performance from pens costing very much more, this is unforgivable in a pen. Its sole job is to write, and if it can not perform that task, it is of no use no matter its price or prettiness. The HERO 616 is not pretty, despite its pretensions, and though this particular specimen may be saved at some future date if I ever bother swapping the nib, it is not high on my priorities!

I hesitate before commenting on the Jinhao 911. I think I might argue that it is not so much a copy of the Parker 51 than it is heavily influenced by it. It is slimmer, echoes some of the later model Parkers, has a bit of the “Flighter” vibe about it, but is undeniably a Jinhao. It doesn’t pull the old arrow clip trick (though they’re not above it on other models), but it does use higher quality materials, and the attention to fit and finish is noticeably higher than the HERO 616. And for a mere $2.80 Canadian, I think you’d be hard pushed to find a similarly smooth writer with a metal body and decent build quality. I bought disposable plastic Pilot V-pens on clearance at Walmart for more! (Though I re-use them as eye-droppers rather than dispose of them).

The Jinhao 51A is different again. This treads an interesting path between copy and homage. Remove the cap and it could easily be a Parker 51 “lunchtime project”. The dimensions of barrel and section are identical and it’s as if the Parker marketing team had said “make them out of other materials and see what you can do”.

Of course, it’s a steel nib rather than gold… but it cost less than $5 Canadian, and it still writes remarkably well. It’s a handsome pen and I look forward to seeing how the wood changes over time with oil from my fingers.

But I said homage as much as copy. Plainly Jinhao have the capability to copy as close to the original as they choose, and with the 51A they choose to go pretty close. But they do draw a line. They use their own branding prominently and use a drastically different clip stamped with their chariot logo. Just for shits and giggles, I tried one of the genuine caps and it fitted perfectly, so obviously they could have gone the whole hog if they’d chosen to. The 51A barrel won’t fit your old Parker 51 though, so this isn’t a way to give your old pen new wood. As it were.

I’d like to think they drew the line as a professional courtesy. Almost as if to demonstrate how the venerable old Parker 51 still had some steam in it and could have moved into other materials to keep itself fresh and interesting even to today’s new pen buyers. The Jinhao steel 0.38mm nib is used in several of their offerings (599, 992, 911 to name three). It’s nothing special, but I have now used 4 without incident and much pleasure.

Bottom line? Ignore the HERO 616, primarily because the nib was diabolical, but even if you were lucky enough to get a good one… the build quality is terrible. This proves “you get what you pay for”.

Consider the Jinhao 911 on its own merits as a sturdy capable inexpensive pen, and a counterexample that sometimes “you get a lot more than what you pay for”.

The Jinhao 51A is a modern copy, without the Parker gold nib. It’s own is a capable enough nib though and if you’ve got a thing for hooded nibs and wood – for $5 Canadian you’d be greedy to expect much more than this.





Lessons learnt

18 07 2020

This tale spans several years, and at least tentatively seems to have a happy ending.

Years ago, I was in Vicotria on the island, and perusing an art shop. I forget the name, but they had all manner of pens, inks, papers and other goodies. At that time I was dabbling in calligraphy (one of many times I’ve dabbled in it but never got above ankle-depth unfortunately). With dip pens I’d acquired somewhere in life’s great meanderings and some bold calligraphy inks from J. Herbin I’d picked up at Paper-ya on Granville Island.

Image Source: J. Herbin

These were naïve days, well before the only slightly more educated days I now pass, with respect to fountain pens, dip pens and inks. My calligraphy dabblings with dip pens weren’t “bringing me joy”, and I saw a relatively cheap fountain pen in the shop that offered a broad (B) nib. It was a brand I’d never heard of – “Pen & Ink”, and the pen was simply called “Sketch”. It was aimed at pen illustrators and there were various nib widths available. Looking back, I possibly over-paid at what I recall was around CAD $30. The other day I saw my local art shop stocks the same pen for CAD$23, several years later. No matter – it was what I wanted at the time (cheap access to a B nib) and it was there when I wanted it. I’ve since learnt that the brand is from “Art Alternatives” and is actually an employee-owned company distributed exclusively by MacPherson’s. The current packaging brands it more forcefully as Art Alternatives, and downplays the “Sketch” model which is etched into the pen lid.

Pen & Ink Sketching Fountain Pens – Rileystreet Art Supply

Image Source: Riley Street (not where I bought it)

It came with a cartridge, a converter (branded oddly Faber-Castell) and a cute faux-leather wrap to store it in. So back to the naïveté …

I had calligraphy inks, a fountain pen which I was much more accustomed to using, and we were now off to the races… I’d found dip pens fraught with usage issues and scratchiness and figured that a B nib in a fountain pen might at least let me continue to explore “fancy writing”.

So innevitably I got bored with quick foxes and “Happy Birthday”, let alone the EXTRA pain there was in swapping inks with the converter over just cleaning a dip pen nib. Bored at last, I gave the pen a last clean out and put it away.

Fast forward a decade or thereabouts and my love of fountain pens resurrects (can’t attest to whether there was a full moon). I recall I had one pen with a B nib, and dug it out of the drawer. I inked it up with FOUNTAIN PEN INK (note the subtle emphasis?!) and found it to be less than stellar at writing.

So I started to educate myself with such weightly and knowledgable sources as YouTube and various Google discoveries. Ouch! So though it is not 100% – by and large, if an ink is pigmented (i.e .has solid colour particles – like paint) it should not be used in a fountain pen. There are a few notable exceptions, such as “shimmer” inks, but even these come with dire warnings about vintage pens and recommendations of fastidious cleaning.

What we normally think of as fountain pen inks use competely soluble dyes for their colour, which is why they can sometimes have issues with saturation. The light passes through a dye/ink, bounces off the underlying paper and comes back to us as a composite of the filtering effects of the ink, its thickness and the colour of the paper. A pigmented ink (or paint) is more opaque and reflects directly. Its perceived colour then is less impacted by the colour of the underlying paper.

So – calligraphy inks are typically pigmented, and can have rich colours (or even textures) because they are largely independent of the underlying medium. These pigments though… are not water soluble. Instead, they are held in suspension (in the UK, water based house paints are generically called emulsion which is actually the technical term for these suspensions). Unless you’re very careful (and I would add – lucky!) at least some of the pigment particles will remain behind after even the most thorough of pen cleanings. These may then dry to a pretty hard-wearing solid. If it’s in the converter, it may be reasonably benign. Most of us don’t have that kind of luck, and there’s a high likelihood you’ll end up with deposits left behind in the feed (the plastic/ebonite bit that manages ink flow to the nib), which these days typically has lots of tiny little fins that can catch the particles and allow them to dry… and be hard to shift. Particles may also settle/dry on the nib itself.

Pretty much any of these places will modify the physics of the flow of any subsequent ink to the nib… and basically bugger things up. The general advice to remedy the situation is lots of patience (“does not compute”) and lots of luke warm water and washing up liquid – specifically “blue Dawn”, because it’s gentle on baby ducks if nothing else. I’m beginning to think Dawn sponsor all these pen DIY sites.

So I began. Sure enough, over the space of a few hours/days, first the recent “proper” ink flushed out of the pen, and then gradually I began to see remnants of the bright orange J. Herbin calligraphy ink I’d used all those years ago. One of those (typically blue for some reason – Dawn influence?) ear cleaning bulbs is a great aid, and can really get some water pressure through the pen section, feed and nib, to safely dislodge loosened particles.

Image Source: Amazon

With seemingly no end to the slow expulsion of orange pigmented particles, I got more bold. I read that often the nib/feed could actually be removed from the section for additional cleaning (or indeed to swap the nib for a different width). This isn’t recommended generally, but since this was a cheap pen, and plainly didn’t work anyway, I had little to lose.

The little I lost first was a couple of the fins on the feed. These got bent as I struggled to free up the feed/nib. Then I read that gentle heat could help loosen components up. I didn’t feel comfortable using a hair-dryer (the most common recommendation), so I opted for hotter water than I’d been using thus far. This worked and I managed to removed the nib and feed… and a substantial amount of yet more orange pigment. I could now see that the feed was indeed covered in dried-on orange pigment and as well as the fins, the very fine channel along the top of the feed was clogged, essentially guaranteeing the nib would get no ink.

More soaking, but no improvement. I read that a weak solution of household ammonia can help dislodge ink too. The only thing I could find in my local supermarkets was window cleaner (also blue… hm, trend now firmly established). This had no noticeably better effect than warm soapy water… and on reflection may have made the plastic feed more brittle.

I don’t possess an ultra-sonic cleaner – often used for jewellery, rings and the like – so I went to the next best thing… a toothbrush.

You remember the “does not compute” comment above? Yeah, patience and me are not well acquainted. One brush too hard, and I snapped off the thin plastic tube at the rear of the feed which brings the ink initially from the ink reservoir to the feed’s many intricate fins and channels. This may not actually have been fatal, but it was excuse enough to draw a line under my attempts and change tack.

As a side-effect, all the hot water baths had dislodged whatever adhesives were used in the pen’s manufacture and I could now totally disassemble it, right down to the trim pieces which I discovered now unscrewed.

I carefully dried all the pieces and put them in a used Altoids tin, labelled “needs fixing”, and began looking online.

img_1688

Fully disassembled – note remaining stubborn orange stain on trim and broken feed

I discovered an online shop in the UK called Loft Pens. They make hand-turned beautiful, reasonably priced fountain pens, but also sell Jinhao brand fountain pens… and several accoutrements such as converters, replacement nibs… and feeds! I pulled out my broken feed and sure enough, it looked like a close fit for a “Jinhao number 6”. Given the price of the pen, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if it wasn’t actually a Jinhao or similar component anyway. I ordered the feed and a couple of other odds and sods… and waited. And waited.

And waited.

In the end, I contacted Loft Pens who very quickly refunded me, and suggested I re-ordered since it would seem the order had fallen into the COVID mail void. This I duly did, and reset the wait clock. A couple of weeks later, the original order turned up! I contacted the customer-caring folks at Loft Pens and offered to refund them back for the refund (if you see what I mean), but have yet to hear their preference. I underline that the delay was not of their making, and they behaved impeccably throughout.

So… now I theoretically had all the bits to rebuild Steve Austin my pen.

img_1689

Broken feed and new feed from Loft Pens

img_1690

Re-assembled, ready to ink up and try…

First attempt was a little unsteady, if I’m totally honest. I’d foolishly “gone for gold” and tried it with some Noodler’s Pushkin. It’s a lovely green colour, but I’m discovering, can be a bit temperamental. It’s supposed to be one of their forgery-resistant inks so I think it’s got odd things in it. It began well, a lovely so called “wet” line and quite happily wrote a side of my notebook without issue. I was right on the verge of declaring problem solved when I got a series of “hard starts”. A quick check showed there was still ink in the converter, so I was back to failure mode. Oddly, the pen still wrote “reversed” (nib upside down), so I had a pleasantly diverting hour or two tuning my nib as the tines weren’t quite aligned and I vaguely suspected this might be the issue (ignoring the fact it had written perfectly well for a full page of writing to that point). Eventually the converter ran dry, so I cleaned everything (lesson learnt for sure! I do this every ink refill in every pen now), and tried a bit of Parker Quink.

This is well known as a lubricated quick-drying trouble-free (if slightly boring) ink. I actually quite like the shade of Quink blue and was very relieved to drain out the fill onto a couple of pages with no issues at all. I really do think the issue is now resolved (essentially by replacing the clogged feed), and I’ve regained another fountain pen to the stable.

So – what did I learn in all this?

  • Not to use pigmented inks in a fountain pen!
    • India ink is a big no-no, by the way: it’s essentially a suspension of soot in water.
    • Iron gall inks can corrode the metal parts of a pen even though they say they’re for use in fountain pens, by the way – different issue.
    • Winsor & Newton inks contain Shellac which is similarly death (or at least a solid wounding) to fountain pens.
  • J. Herbin make lovely inks (including a scented range safe for fountain pens) – but be sure to get the ones for the writing tool you intend to use. They do ranges of metallics and shimmer inks, but not all are suitable for fountain pens.
  • Modern mass produced pens have a lot of plastic components and can often be disassembled right to the ground with patience and a little gentle heat.
    • I wouldn’t recommend this for vintage or expensive pens, but it can be educational if you have a pen you don’t mind risking.
    • Even so-called disposable fountain pens like Pilot’s V-pen (currently CAD$3 at Walmart) can be disassembled when empty and refilled with an ink of your choice. There are others like Zebra and Uni-ball. Cheap but quite servicable steel nibs from these Japanese vendors.
    • Another little “hack” – you can gently wipe the plastic barrel of these cheap pens with acetone/nailpolish remover and the printing will come off, leaving you a clear view of the ink level inside… basically a cheap demonstrator eye-dropper.
  • Cheaper pens likely have Chinese components and you may be able to find replacement parts from generic sources.
  • Not all fountain pen inks behave the same – try Parker Blue/Blue-black/Black Quink or a similarly old/boring ink such as Waterman’s or Pelikan 4001 to make sure it really is the pen and not the ink before you start taking things apart. Modern inks have way more complex chemistry than blue/black from older brands.
  • If you find yourself cleaning pens often, consider a cheap ultra-sonic cleaner. They dislodge the most stubborn of ink by creating minute bubbles to “scrub” the inaccessible parts of the pen.
    • Too much, too long can damage some components and materials, so be mindful of this if dealing with delicate or vintage pens.