Welcome to my Custom Fountain Pen website/blog. I put this site together a while ago so that I could let some of my fellow pen enthusiasts and penmakers, as well as my customers, see what I have been up to lately in the workshop. I don't publish all of my pens here, but good percentage of them.

A Little About My Pens: I love doing fine work on the lathe, which is what got me into this work. That is, I enjoy the focus on the details of a project - the material and colour selection, the form, the fit and finish of the pen. I also test all of the my nibs before shipping. I fill the converter, run ink through the nib and feed, and write with it. I spend a significant amount of time smoothing and adjusting the nib of every pen that I sell. My goal, with each pen that I make, is to create a writing piece whose fit and finish will impress you when you first pull it out of the packing, and that will serve you well as a great writer when you fill it up with your favourite ink.

Have a look at my posts to see some of the work I am doing lately, or see my pricing guide in the link below to the right, or check the link to my current inventory of already-made pens (usually small, as most of my work is by commissions/orders).

Or, if you are interested, you can see some of the work I have done previously in my Custom Pen Gallery on Photobucket!

If you have a Twitter account, I am @drgoretex

If any of my posts generate particular interest, I will pin them as links on the right (eg 'Basic Nib Adjusting 101').

* ORDERS: Please contact me at kencavers@gmail.com to place an order.

* PRICES: Please see the link on the right side of the screen 'Pricing Guide' for an idea as to the cost of a pen.

Have a look at the bottom of this page for some reviews done by previous buyers!


IMPORTANT NOTICE: I am happily overwhelmed with pen orders. This gives me great joy in that my work is so well received, but saddens me that I cannot fill orders anywhere near as quickly as I would like. I am still trying to work through back orders, but if you have ordered from me and heard nothing for some time, feel free to email me and ask how things are going.
I still only make these pens in my spare time, when work and family time permit, and even then the productivity slows down during the coldest winter months thanks to my unheated workshop.
Given that I make these pens primarily as a hobby, I also reserve the right to pursue some other interesting pen projects in between filling orders.
I apologize for long delays in order fulfillment, which may in some case be over a year and a half. In the meantime, you are welcome to contact me to inquire about new pen orders, or to check up on a previously submitted order.

-Ken Cavers

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Basic Fountain Pen Nib Adjustment 101

When you buy a custom fountain pen, you can usually expect that the nib has been tested and adjusted to work reasonably well right out of the box.  However, this is certainly not the case with many, if not most brand name pens (unless you buy from a proprietor that offers such service).  It is not uncommon to find oneself a bit disappointed with a nib on a brand new pen, as it is a bit 'scratchy' or perhaps too dry or too wet.  To make matters worse, even a nib that is working beautifully can change - get clogged up, go out of alignment from poor use or twisting a nib unit, etc.

For this reason I believe it is a very useful thing for all fountain pen aficionados to make themselves familiar with the basics of cleaning, adjusting/tuning and smoothing of nibs.  With a basic skill set, you can fairly easily turn most 'lemons' that you avoid using into star pens that are always in your rotation.

NB:  As you read this (assuming of course, that you do), bear in mind that I am writing on what I have found works very well for me, and that as there are many fountain pen users, there are many, many opinions on how things 'ought' to be done, and many of these opinions are as strong as they are utterly unfounded (and beware of those who tell you that a technique is terrible and will only destroy your nibs, and then proceed to offer to fix your nib for profit using a 'special technique' that they will not reveal :-)).  In any case, others may disagree on technique, and that's absolutely OK.  If you hear of, or find a better way to do things, then by all means do them that way - but please share your tips with your fellow pen lovers rather than just profiting from them!

Tools you will need:

-cheap loupe/magnification system (essential!  You must be able to see the tines and tipping very well)  You can pick up a cheap loupe many places.  I got this one for under $30 at Lee Valley
 -Micromesh paper - very, very fine polishing cloth.  I use almost entirely 12,000 grit, only rarely (and only with steel nibs) will I use 8,000.  You can also get that many places, but I got these MM discs again, at LV.  I cut them into strips (like the ink stained one above)
-brown bag paper - well, that's pretty much anywhere. The pic shows envelope paper cuz my wife threw out my brown bag paper.  See also my comment in 'Fourth' below about brown bag paper.
-paper to test the nib on!  Cheapo paper, good paper (useful to see how it performs on both)

First - cleaning:  I guess it's kind of a no-brainer that old, used FPs may need some cleaning to work well, but the reality is that even brand new, high end expensive FPs may also need some cleaning in order to work well (may have debris from production or oils etc in the nib/feed assembly).

Most of the time, using a simple weak solution of room-temp water with a bit of dishsoap will do the trick.  running this solution through the nib is optimal, using either the converter, or piston, depending on the fill system.  In cartridge-only  fillers, I often use an empty old cartridge to fill with the soapy water and squeeze it through the nib assembly.  In the case of piston fillers, you will need to rinse very well with soapless water afterward to ensure all soap is out of the ink chambre (except Pelikans, whose nib units can easily be unscrewed to facilitate rinsing the ink chambre).   Regardless of the fill system, if you fill and empty the pen several times with the soapy water, then with clean water until the soap is gone, you will come out with a clean nib and feed.  In the case of old nibs in vintage pens, if this doesn't work, you may need ultrasonic cleaning.

Second - adjusting the flow:  This is a little more delicate, and for this, you will need to use the loupe I mentioned above, or whatever other magnification system you can get your hands on.  Have a look at the tips of the tines using the loupe, make sure they are more or less reasonably aligned first (Fig.3 shows end-on view of the tipping, while Fig.4 and 5 show the 'writing surface' view (see below)).  We'll detail them later.  If they are, and the pen is clean, ink it up!  Use some kleenex or TP to wick as much ink as possible out of the nib and feed, to make sure that the ink you are working with is flowing from the reservoir (cart/converter/chambre/sac, whatever), and not just residual ink in the feed from filling the nib.  This will allow you to assess the flow of ink to the nib and tipping.

Now, try writing with a medium-flow ink (any ink not known to be super-watery or super-dry) on both the cheap and the good paper.  If the flow is OK, this part is done.  If the flow is too dry, see below.  If too wet, see below.

Too dry? (see Fig.1)  Carefully use the edge of your thumbnail to gently pry one tine back, away from the feed (though not actually off the feed, only move it a mm or so) then relax.  It is important that the point of contact with your nail be a at least a couple of mm back from the tipping itself, so that you are bending the whole tine, not just the tip).  Then, do the same with the other tine.  Write a few inches of line on paper (see Fig 2 - starting at '1' in the figure) to allow the tines to settle into their new positions, and have a look with the loupe (see Fig.6) .  If the tines are grossly out of alignment, adjust them as below.  If still too dry, do it gain.  If now too wet, see below.

Too wet?  (see Fig.1)  Carefully use the edge of your thumbnail to gently push one of the tines downward (against the feed by a mm or so), and relax.  As above, the point of contact with your nail is at least 2-3mm from the tip.  Then, same with the other tine.  write an inch or two of ink line to settle the tines (Fig.2 - starting at '1' in the figure), then check with the loupe for approximate alignment (Fig.6).  If badly out of alignment, see below.  If OK, write a few lines of writing.  If too wet, repeat the above.  If too dry, see above. 

Third - Aligning the tips:  This of course, will require the use of magnification.  Here, you must realize that the tipping is not usually just a round ball.  It most often has a writing surface at an angle to the axis of the pen (see Fig.7).  You can see this under magnification looking at the tip of the nib when held sideways.  This is the surface that is in contact with the paper when you are writing, and is really the most important surface to assess for alignment.  The way to do this is, holding the loupe to your eye, look at the tip of the nib with the nib pointing toward your forehead, feed side up (see Fig.6).  This should allow you to see across the writing surface of the tipping, with one tine on the left, the other on the right (see Fig.4 and 5).  If they are perfectly aligned here (Fig 5), you are done.  If one surface sits higher than the other (Fig.4), you need to adjust the nib.  This you can do as described above (adjusting the flow), but with more gentle adjustments, settling the tines each time with a few inches of line on paper (Fig. 2 - but start at '3' in the Figure), rechecking with the loupe each time until the two surfaces are utterly flush, making one writing surface (as in Fig.5).

Fourth - smoothing the tip:  Here's where the micromesh comes in.  If you have found any scratchiness when writing, it is often because the tips are out of alignment.  You may be able to fix this without any smoothing at all - just follow the instructions above.  If the tips are aligned, yet the pen is still scratchy (bearing in mind that the finer the pen, the scratchier it will feel, even at its best), then you need to smooth.  This is done simply by gently writing (circles, figure eights etc) on a piece of 8,000 or 12,000 micromesh.  It should not take long (especially with gold nibs!) - a few seconds at it is usually all it takes.  Very poor steel nibs may take longer.  Try not to overdo it, as this will then leave sharp edges where the tips meet, potentially making it scratchy again (sorry, but true).  The most important surface to work on is the writing surface of the tipping, so hold the nib as though you are writing when you smooth.  However, the tipping may benefit from gentle polishing over the surfaces beyond the writing surface too.   If the nib is a special nib eg oblique, stub, etc, well... easy enough to figure out where the 'writing surface' is, and smooth that as described above.

* I have revised this post to remove a note about using envelope or brown paper to help smooth the nib, mostly because I just don't bother with that - I haven't found it to be particularly helpful, and the nib will be plenty smooth after using the micro mesh, which is much better material.  There are some who have made the rather silly claim that doing circles or figure-eights on brown paper can 'destroy a nib'.  This is of course, ludicrous.  The worst that it could do it maybe catch some fibre in the nib tip, which is quite easy to remove.   Actually, the ones who have made such claims also say such things as "you should never do your own nib work, as you will destroy the nib.  Send it to me instead, and I will fix it for a price, but I won't tell you how to do it".  Not particularly helpful, to be sure...

NOW - do some writing!  - That covers the very basics.  Maybe I will go into some of the special situations later (eg 'baby bum' on the tip, causing poor starting...)

I hope that this has been useful to some!


PS Figures done using my 1945 Parker vacumatic filled with Pilot Blue :-))


  1. My pleasure! Thanks for looking!

  2. Great! Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I looked it up very vividly. But sure, I'll make a detailed reading.

    Thanks again

  3. I wrote with a $400 Diplomat Excellence at a pen show and it was wonderful. Ordered one a few weeks later, and the one that arrived was terrible. The nib actually SQUEAKED as I wrote, it was scratchy, dry, awful! All I managed to do trying to fix it myself was to scratch it. But that was before I saw this post. I've already had the Diplomat adjusted by a nibmeister, but this post could still come in handy in the future.

  4. I find the basic adjustment skill absolutely essential. I have had very few pens (even, as you mentioned, the very expensive ones) work beautifully smooth without some adjusting and smoothing. Not only that, but one that IS very smooth can easily become scratchy if the tines become just a bit misaligned. all that takes is a little twist on the nib, or someone 'borrowing' the pen and putting too much pressure on the nib, etc.

  5. Thanks for this. I have a Parker that needs some adjustment.

  6. Great article and very helpful. I have a couple of Cross pens and the older one was too dry and was much improved by this. The new one is a cheaper, modern version with some scratchiness. But here's where I differ with most opinions.
    There's a degree of scratchiness that I really like in a pen. It gives a quill-like feel to writing, like feeling a car gripping on the road (called feedback). Too smooth and I feel remote somehow from the action. It's a pen that I will never adjust, and the flow is perfect. Sometimes, I like a good scratch.

  7. Excellent article, Ken - one of the clearest I've found. I have a Conway Stewart that, when it came back from being routinely serviced, was running a bit drier than when I sent it off. I should have returned it but thought I'd just try a bit of gentle adjustment as per your guide and, hey-presto!, its original wetness was restored. Thank-you. Mike.

  8. This was the first hit when I Googled "how to adjust a fountain pen nib". Exactly what I was looking for. Thanks for blogging these instructions. It's a great service to the fountain pen community.

  9. You have saved some of my pens from being abandoned in the back of a bathroom drawer! I have a a couple of nice used pens that needed adjustment. I thought that I would have to send them to a "pen doctor." I followed your instructions and, hot damn, they are working like Champs now! You da' man, dude!

  10. Very clear, helpful, and useful. Thanks so much.

  11. you are a life saver, your blog is the only one that worked for me I tried almost everything

  12. I bought two Baoer Chinese pens from Amazon, $2.57 and $3.03 respectively. Shipping from China included! Actually I bought four, two of each figuring that I might get one or two good ones. One was way too dry, and I found this site and followed the instructions. Works like a charm now. Now I have four perfectly functioning pens. Well, two for me and two for the wife. :)

    1. I'm glad this helped, Lee! I find that it is rare to get a new pen that doesn't need a bit of nib work - even the very expensive ones. If you know how to work on a nib, you can make most cheap ones write like the best pens.

  13. I was able to reduce the flow from my nib using your method - very nice! thanks! Mine was a Baoer from Ebay as well, but way too wet!

  14. Thank you for this! This was entirely helpful and gave 3 of my dry-writing pens a new lease on life. I can finally bring them back into my regular rotation.

  15. Used this method to adjust an expensive Aurora 88 with an 18K gold nib that was too dry. Pen writes perfectly now, and is smoother. The diagrams and descriptions were very helpful. I did not want to use the brass shim gapping method, which to me does not make as much sense as simply lifting the tines since the nib is curved and lifting will increase the channel gap with less risk of inducing other problems. Thanks for taking the time to post this page. I also used the 15x lighted loupe you recommended, it is a nice tool for the job.

    1. Thanks for the feedback! Glad your pen is improved!
      I personally never use the brass shims. I often just 'floss' between the tines with the edge of a piece of quality paper (clairefontaine etc), works well for me.

  16. I need to to thank you for this wonderful read!!
    I absolutely loved every bit of it. I've got you book marked to check
    out new stuff you post…