Adventures in Nib Grinding – Lessons Learned in The Pursuit of the XXF Needlepoint

I love extra fine pens. The finer the better! I absolutely adore my extra fine Pilot Penmanship (XXF by Western standards)  as it is incredibly comfortable to hold and lays down a very fine line. However, in the search of something finer, I have begun grinding my own nibs. It started with nib smoothing and grinding stubs, but now my quest for knowledge has turned to creating needle point nibs.

There are plenty of tutorials teaching how to grind stubs and how to smooth nibs, but the information gets a little… thin (my apologies) when it comes to grinding needle points. When I grind my needle points, I try my best to replicate few pictures of needle points I have found online and my Pilot Penmanship XF nib.  This post is a compilation of lessons learned so far and my current method of grinding a Western XXF. I won’t go so far to call it a tutorial quite yet as I think I have a lot of practice left before I would be so confident. However, I hope this article may provide a starting point for my fellow nib grinding novices!

Obligatory Warnings

1. I am a complete novice at nib grinding. The information contained in this article could be totally the wrong way of doing this. I have been doing this by trial and error. I do not claim to be any where near an expert at this topic. In fact, it might even be generous to call me a novice at nib grinding.
2. Practice nib grinding on nibs you are willing to destroy. Nib grinding most definitely voids all manufacturer warranty, so practicing on your antique pen handed down three generations is probably a bad idea. 

The Tools

For the main grind, I’ve been using a cheap knife grinding set I picked up at Canadian Tire. It contains a big coarse stone and a small Arkansas stone. I’ve been using water and ink to lubricate the stone as I don’t really know how well the honing oil the kit comes with reacts to fountain pen bodies and nibs. I keep some ink that I only use when grinding nibs in a sample vial because I don’t want to contaminate a bottle of ink with any metal shavings from the nib. Usually I just dip the nib and feed into the vial so I can see how the nib is coming along as I grind. I use a bit of 2000 grit automotive sand paper to floss the tines to smooth the inside of the tines, a trick I learned from watching John Mottishaw at work. Finally, I am using some 1 and .3 micron lapping film to do final smoothing.

The Original Nib Shape Matters… a bit

I found some nibs are easier to grind into a needle point than others. I have been using Fountain Pen Revolution nibs for practice. I found the wider flare of the more expensive FPR Fine nibs were harder to grind down into the point I wanted. Surprisingly, I found the easiest to grind down into the right shape is the silver coloured $1.25 nibs. The angle is already very tight, so it was easier to grind the tipping at the right angle.

Positioning the Nib

I find keeping my fingers as close to the tipping as I dared gave me great control as I am trying to just grinding the tipping material. I can adjust the angle if need be, but so far I have been trying my best to grind the sides of the nib in as straight as possible. You can see a picture of how I did it below, just pardon the inky fingers.

Reminder: Go Slow

Since I use the grinding stones to do my grinding. I found the difference between a Western XXF and no tipping at all can be a couple of passes on the stone. I try to examine the nib with a loupe every 2-3 passes until I get a handle on how much material I am removing every pass. Every once in a while, I dip the nib and feed in ink and see how the line width is progressing. I go back to checking with a loupe after every pass or two once I get close to my desired line width.

What I’ve been Aiming for

Excuse my terrible  drawing skills, but I found grinding the tip into this shape worked the best for me. My photography skills extend only to cellphone photographer level, so I can’t provide any stunning macro shots. My finest grind so far is only a bit thicker than an .3mm Pilot Hi Tec C Coleto. For the best result, I had to grind the sides of the tipping and the bottom of the tipping, similar to how a stub nib is ground.

Things I’m Working On

I’m trying to improve the smoothing. Although a Western XXF will never be buttery smooth, my Japanese XF Penmanship nib is definitely smoother than my attempts so far. My most recent needle point attempt is the thinnest yet, but it has a bit of a noticeable catch on the side strokes that I can’t seem to get rid of. Since there is so little tipping left, I’m afraid to make any more changes to this nib.

I’m also trying to improve the flow of the nib. I think I may have to tune for flow and do some basic smoothing first then grind it down to a Western XXF.

Hopefully this has been helpful. If you have had some success at grinding Western XXF or Japanese XF nibs, I would happily take any advice you can give!

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