My pen is very scratchy - what can I do about it?
FAQ 24.0 -24.2 by Burt Janz
  Article # 242 Article Type: FAQ


24.0 My pen is very scratchy - what can I do about it?

First, check the nib tines for alignment. Get a high-power loupe (magnifying glass) of 8x or higher, so that when you look at the tip of the nib, the iridium pellet seems to be as big as a golf ball. Now, look at the nib straight-on: point the nib at the loupe so you're looking directly at the ball. You should see two hemispheres, one on each tine. Do they seem to be unevenly aligned? If so, they're out of alignment (hmmm... maybe that's why they call it "tine alignment"!)

24.1 How do I adjust the tines?

Note: Before you try any of the next techniques, go down to your local Walgreen or CVS (or wherever fine drugs are sold) and get a disposable pen to practice with. Both Parker and Sheaffer make fountain pens that cost less than $10.00 each, and make good pens on which to practice your nib adjustment techniques. Remember: practice on "junkers" before you work on your favorite pen, ëcuz, as always, there are no guarantees.

Using your fingernails, gently (GENTLY!!!) tweak the nib near its base (or as far down the split you can get) until the alignment seems better. Dip the pen and try it on a piece of paper. Better?

Or, you can try "rolling" the nib into alignment. Look at the bottom of the nib and you'll see that the nib seems to extend past the feed just a tiny bit. Hold the pen upside down, and lay the nib flat on a flat piece of paper which is sitting on a piece of cardboard. Begin rolling the nib back and forth gently, applying slight pressure, and lifting the pen gently, until you see that you've begun to lift the back of the nib off the paper (only slightly - the bottom of the nib should be only 2 or 3 sheets of paper in the air. Continue to roll the nib slowly back and forth. Finish rolling the pen on the side that seemed to be out of alignment.

If you've bent the nib, you've applied too much pressure. If not, you may find that the pen writes much better.

24.2 It is aligned, but is still scratchy. How can I "smooth" the nib?

Well, you'll need some tools. Here's the list of tools I have at my work

  • 2000 grit paper
  • nib disk (5000 grit or better)
  • multi-speed Dremel and polishing kit, polishing cloth
  • .001 and.002 feeler gauges
  • 5x, 10x, and 15x loupes of various mounting methods
  • lots of ink (I use Sheaffer or Waterman blue while grinding)
  • plenty of courage and patience....
  • Start with a junk nib! This sequence can *DESTROY* the tip of a nib, so get yourself a *few* cheap "Iridium Nib - Germany"-tipped pens. They are fine for practice purposes, even though the tip may not really be Iridium.

    Before you start, read this entire sequence before doing anything!

    First, examine the nib using the loupe and make sure the tines are properly aligned all the way to the tip. The tip's slit should be absolutely vertical, the bottom of the tip should be absolutely even (even the smallest offset can be felt), and the front (have to look down at it) should be level. Along with this, the nib should be set properly over the feed: misalignment causes ink misfeed.

    Adjust the tines with your fingernail (gently!) until they're as good as you can get 'em. Mostly, you'll adjust one tine to the other. Feel free to dip, test, and rinse each time you adjust 'em. This sequence may just make the pen write well enough for you.

    Not good enough? Ok. Carefully -- very carefully -- gently give the nib one stroke down the mylar sheet, holding the pen near horizontal and moving it to vertical while you stroke it. The goal here is to get a perfectly shaped "roundness" from the bottom of the tip to the front of the tip. A "sweet spot" is nice if you like it... but it means that you have to hold the pen perfectly. I go for a nicely rounded tip: no sweet spot, usable however I happen to hold it.

    One stroke. Gently.

    Examine the nib under the loupe again. You should see the slightest difference in the shape of the nib. Yes, it'll be hard to see, and may be nothing more than a "dullness" on the tip where you rubbed it on the nib disk. That's ok - that's just what you want. Dip, test, and rinse.

    Not satisfied? Do the rub and test again. And again. And again. Spend plenty of time on this step. Each rub will cause the nib to be a bit less scratchy, but also a bit less "buttery" on the paper. That's ok. First we'll treat the scratchiness.

    Smooth enough? Scratch mostly gone? You happy so far? Ok.

    Working from the top of the nib, take the.001 feeler gauge and carefully -- carefully-- slip it between the tines at the back (bottom) of the nib and slide it toward and through the tip. You may see a bunch of gunk cleaned out from the tip. This is good: you're removing some of the abrasive and metal deposit left behind from the nib disk.

    Now, this takes real courage: use the.002 gauge and gently "burnish" the gap between the tines at the tip. Don't widen the gap! To burnish, you gently rub the feeler gauge back and forth between the tip very gently.

    Dip, test, and rinse. How's it feel? It may be a bit rougher now, mainly 'cuz you may have brought a burr from between the tines to the outside. No problem. Try another rub on the nib disk - just one - and then clean again with the burnishing tools.

    By now, the nib should be feeling much better on the paper. Now we'll add the "butter".

    Something else first: Ink doesn't travel well across a perfectly smooth piece of metal. Ink is mostly water, and will tend to "pool" in low points. If the tip is perfectly smooth, there won't be any "tooth" for the ink to grab onto... and make the tip tend to skip on paper. So, in the next step, we don't want the tip too polished. Leave a bit of "tooth" on the tip to assist in ink travel up the slit and to the tip.

    Grab the Dremel. Load the polishing wheel with some compound and, using about 30% speed, gently touch the nib to the wheel so that the wheel is polishing from the back of the tip to the top - never across. One or two rubs... then dip and test again.

    ...and polish, dip, test......again and again...

    Don't overdo it.

    Eventually you should have a nib that feels better.

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