Monday, April 12, 2021

Taking Care of Fountain Pens

 I love to work with a good fountain pen--either a vintage one with a springy nib or a newer one that writes dependably and smoothly.  I also like not adding too much more to the landfill with disposable pens that appear to dry up way too rapidly, but more importantly I like having a relationship with my tools.

Two of the most important ways to keep that relationship a happy one are to clean your pen when needed (probably frequently, depending on the kind of ink you use!), and to match the ink to the pen. Also if you switch inks/brands/types, it's best to clean your pen between fillings, as some formulas may not play well with the residue left behind.

We've all been told that water-resistant inks are not good for vintage pens, and I believe that's sadly true. (Not so great in new ones, either, but for some unknown reason my TWSBI pens seem able to cope.) So it's necessary to be extra vigilant if you insist on using them anyway, which I often do!

Unfortunately one of my favorite techniques is ink and watercolor, so I stubbornly keep trying...



Of course it's fun to use water-soluble ink too, but it's less controllable and often makes your wash colors muddy. 

It can be fun to use a pen with water-soluble ink...makes shading a breeze!  But as you can see the color is a big muddy.

So when my pens need a good spa day, I use Goulet's pen cleaner solution, a soft ear syringe, and finally, an electronic sonic cleaner, if necessary.  Sometimes it's enough to soak and flush, but sometimes you need to take the pen apart, if you're feeling brave (or frustrated enough!)

Sometimes this is enough, if you can unscrew the nib section and flush it with warm water.  You may need to soak it first in pen cleaning solution or water with a bit of ammonia (for anywhere from a few hours to a few days), and use a bristle brush on the nib and feed.  

Surprisingly even after restarting the cleaning several times I may still get ink coming free from the nib.

Water-resistant inks often have some sort of varnish in them...that's why they say never to use India Ink in a fountain pen, but even some of the other inks like Platinum Carbon Black or the DeAtramentis Document inks can cause issues.  The latter was what was in this pen, from Fountain Pen Revolution--happily NOT an expensive vintage pen.

This is what the feed looked like after I pulled the nib...those grooves or vanes are supposed to be clean and open.  The feed section is stuck tight or I would have pulled it, too...I'm sure there's still gunk back in there.  If it acts up too soon, I'll soak this section in pen cleaner for a few days and try again.

The inside of the nib was just gross!  Gritty ink particles where it should be smooth and shiny.

This is the topside of the nib, with the heavy buildup of ink where it fitted the pen body.

After rinsing with hot water...still pretty stuck...

I had to scrape the dried ink off with my thumbnail, then gave the nib and the feed a good brushing with a bristle brush under running water.

This was DeAtramentis Document had dried almost up in the bottom of the closed jar, so just out of curiosity I added warm water and shook it up.  Bits!  No wonder my pens get cranky.  (You don't thin DeAtramentis inks with water, though, but with their dedicated dilution liquid.)

I'm taking a chance and refilling the pens with Noodler's Lexington Grey, which never seemed to give me a problem...I really love a bold black, but I'm not all that fond of needing to clean so often!

I'd be delighted to read your feedback and any thoughts or advice you have to offer! 


  1. I love Noodlers inks, but they do not love my refillable Lamy Safaris. I want to USE them when the inspiration strikes, not minister to them!

    1. I only use their Lexington Grey and Brown #41...what are you using, Karen?

  2. Years ago I bought some pens, inks, etc. since I LOVE to draw. I loved what I drew then but life got in the way and they were set aside to hold babies, fix dinner, and tend the garden. I discovered this little joy again a couple years ago and was shocked at the mess they were. I tried cleaning them but to no avail. Lucky for me they were cheaper items and got tossed. But I actually didn't know I needed to clean between use. Your article was very informative and wish I had seen it 20 years ago. I'm better prepared now if I give it a go again. THANKS

    1. Not necessarily between use, depending on how long that period is...pens like to be USED to keep the ink flowing, and if it has a chance to dry that's when you run into problems. I have too many pens so some tend to sit dormant a while. (And of course if the ink is at fault, that can just happen, whenever, use them or not!) You're welcome and enjoy the journey!

  3. I haven't had issues with the carbon ink in the carbon EF ink pen. Seems to defy logic--LOL! Can have it sit for weeks and pick it up and it writes. Might be a touch magical. ;)

    1. Exactly, Rita! I keep neglecting my pens, and then need to minister to them like Kate described. I was doing a sort out the other day and found both of my Carbon Ink EF pens - and they BOTH wrote without any problem at all! I was amazed - and very happy!

    2. Yes, those pens are miraculous, I swear! I just bought another one since I couldn't find both my old ones...and the one I DID find, untouched for months if not years, still worked perfectly.

    3. I heard a rumor they were discontinuing them so I bought a second one to be on the safe side.


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