For me, a huge part of the appeal of fountain pens is the do it yourself experience. I don’t consider myself even close to a journeyman fountain pen tech, as my skills are probably closer to a bumbling hobbyist; but over time I’ve discovered some tools that that I think anyone serious about fountain pens should consider owning. These are the same items I recommend to my friends who I’ve
suckered convinced into using fountain pens. You probably don’t need to own everything in this list, as everything on this list is optional in some way. I’ve tried my best to provide some guidance on where you can buy these items locally, as not all of us can be lucky enough to live in the same area as a fountain pen store or in a country with reasonable shipping costs.
The Essential Beginner’s Kit
Personally, I think every fountain pen owner who is going to be serious enough to own more than one pen should have in their kit.
Whether you use this to flush out some stubborn ink, refill cartridges, or pull out the last few drops of ink from the bottom of the bottle, a syringe is incredibly handy. These can be purchased as blunt syringes or as sharps. I recommend blunt if possible to prevent any accidents, though you can make a blunt out of a sharp syringe with a whetstone. The blunt ones can be purchased for a dollar or two as part of a printer ink refill kit. If you are particularly adventurous and are willing to blunt the needle yourself, you can go to your local pharmacist and ask for a 3 ml syringe with the lowest gauge needle they have. It should only cost a quarter, maybe a little more.
100% Silicone Grease
This was probably my gateway drug into messing with my fountain pens. 100% silicone grease is perfect for making moving parts like pistons glide smoothly or coating the threads of an eyedropper fill pen. If you own a TWSBI pen, you’re in luck, you already have a little bottle of very thin grease. Personally, I prefer having a container of the thicker stuff around. If you need to buy local, see if you can find a shop that sells scuba diving equipment. Unfortunately, this may be one of those things you have to buy online as finding something that is 100% pure silicone without any additives may be quite tricky.
There are oodles of things you can do with these and the best part is one usually comes free with every cartridge/converter pen! If you need to clean a pen quickly, try out Brian Goulet’s trick of cutting off the top and sticking it into the syringe without the needle. I refill these with a syringe quite a bit as they hold more ink than a converter. Additionally, a refilled cartridge can be temporarily resealed with a little bit of hot glue. Personally, I think having a few on hand for emergencies is always a great a idea for the student or the traveller.
The Dabbler’s Kit
This is the perfect addition for people looking to learn how to maintain their pens in prime condition.
Ear Bulb Syringe
Normally these are used to clear wax out of the ears, but they can be re-purposed to flush a lot of water through a pen cartridge/converter in a short period of time. These are normally found at the drug store for a couple of dollars and may need some trimming to fit some pens. I recommend trying to one that is completely made of soft material as they fit in pens better. As an added bonus, you may not have to trim the soft ones at all as they can sometimes attach themselves to the little nub that the cartridge clips onto. If you have to trim to fit, make small cuts and measure constantly. I ruined one by getting a little too excited with my scissors.
If you’re sick of using your cellphone camera and digital zoom, I highly recommend picking up a loupe. It doesn’t have to be an amazing $40 one made by a company that usually makes spy camera lenses. A cheap $5 one from a Chinese free shipping site like DX.com will do for the casual user, too. If you have an old toy microscope laying around gathering dust, consider salvaging the lens from it. It will be very small, but it will do in a pinch. Plus, it’s technically free!
.002″ thick brass sheets for nib flossing is the recommended thickness and material, as brass is soft enough to not damage a nib. I found that my local hobby store that served model train enthusiasts carried a package of assorted brass sheets from K&S Engineering for about $15. It has enough brass sheeting to probably enough to last a life time, but it comes in .001″; .002″; .003″; .005″ thick sheets. I find the .001″ is ideal for regular flossing and the thicker sheets are helpful for spreading really tight tines just a bit more for better flow.
Rubber Shelf Liner/Car Non-Slip Mat/Thick Rubber Band
Some feeds are stubborn and refuse to come out. I found two pieces of rubber shelf liner/car non-slip mat can help a good grip on things. For the REALLY stubborn ones or really small areas to grip really benefit from a thick rubber band being wrapped around it.
I’m awful with pen maintenance when it comes to my cheaper pens. A toothbrush can help clean off dried ink out of the nooks and crannies of an inked pen left to dry.
This is really handle for cleaning out particularly stubborn inks or dried out pens. You don’t really need to buy expensive flush from a shop for the most part, you can make some at home. I used Stephen Brown’s recipe of 1 part household ammonia, 10 parts water (if you have really hard well water, consider distilled or bottled), and a squirt of dish soap. I usually leave mine in a old glass jar and reuse it until the liquid is absolutely gross.
Several Noodler’s Ink formulations stain pens in such a way that the only way to reverse it is a soak in 1 part bleach and 10 parts water. Noodler’s Baystate Blue and North African Voilet comes to mind. Two HUGE warnings:
1. Do not mix bleach with ammonia, ever.
2. Do not let your metal pen parts come in contact with bleach.
If you need to clean a stained metal part, consider rubbing alcohol instead.
These can be purchased from your local hardware store to convert some pens into eyedropper pens.
The Tinker’s Kit
Time to get your feet wet and learn how to smooth your nib, or for the particularly adventurous, grind your nib.
Mylar Lapping Paper/Micro-Mesh/glass sheet
If you’re looking to smooth a nib that is still scratchy after being aligned, then Mylar lapping paper, micro-mesh, and or glass is what you need. Obviously, the glass sheet is the easiest to get, as you can probably borrow a picture frame for this. Personally, between micro-mesh and Mylar, I found Mylar lapping much easier to find as a local fibre optic technician had some to sell, though others may find micro-mesh easier to get a hold of at your local woodworking supply store. The glass option doesn’t seem to be nearly as popular with the fountain pen community these days, but it will work in a pinch. If you had to choose exactly one sheet of Mylar or micro-mesh, I’d recommend the 0.3 micron Mylar paper; it’s the white one. I highly recommend checking out the FPGeeks Tweaks for Geeks video or Richard Binder’s excellent nib smoothing workshop notes to learn how to do this properly.
2000 Grit Wet/Dry Automotive SAndpaper
If you are looking to start grinding your own nibs on a budget, then you can’t go wrong with 2000 grit sandpaper to do the initial grind, followed by some smoothing with the lapping paper. You local automotive supply store will carry some. Fellow Canadians, you can get them at Canadian Tire for $5 plus tax for several sheets.
If you’re going to start smoothing or grinding, I highly recommend getting some cheap practice nibs to experiment with. These days, the best option for cheap practice nibs is buying a pack of cheap Chinese pens only from a Chinese free shipping site like DX.com or Aliexpress.
If you’ve got a little bit of money to burn and you really want to speed up some of the nib grinding, consider getting a cheap knife sharpening kit that comes with a whetstone and an Arkansas stone. You’ll be able to grind down a nib tipping to an appropriate level for stub nibs in a few swipes. Of course, you also have a lot less control on how much tipping you take off.
Another one of those money to burn type purchases, but an incredibly handy one for cleaning in general. A cheap one can be purchased on Amazon for under $50 for occasional use. A little bit of dish soap and water goes a long way for cleaning dried out pens. Around the house, I also use the ultrasonic cleaner to deal with jewellery, eye-glasses, watches, and other small items.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. The possibilities are endless depending on what you want to do with your fountain pens, these are just the tools I’ve used at some point to experiment with grinding, smoothing, and maintenance. There are still tools for pen turning, vintage restoration, and of course professional tools for the budding nib-meister that I am not even qualified to cover. I hope this list sparked some inspiration!