Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Fountain Pen Q&A Part #1

 Frequently Asked Fountain Pen Questions

    We get a lot of questions about fountain pens simply because they are less common and a little more complicated than ball-points and rollerballs and this blog is meant to address those lingering questions and give you a better knowledge of how to care for your pens. I have written a couple blogs already aimed at people who are just getting into the hobby so this will be a less in depth look at some other questions rather than focusing only on the beginner topics. 

What are the differences in material other than plastic?

    Fountain pens come in a variety of materials based upon older models because pens were around before the creation of modern plastic and some brands like to either pay homage to these vintage pens or just like the unique materials. The other popular materials outside of modern plastics are ebonite and celluloid, both of which can be seen in a variety of vintage asian and western pen models. Both of these materials are a little more fragile and need a little extra care than plastic pens because the material itself is prone to things like discoloration and warping over time or in the case of celluloid it can start to deteriorate if not cared for correctly.
Celluloid- This is a highly sought after material that can offer some great color combinations and depth due to each rod being unique from the next but it is significantly more difficult to find which makes the cost a little higher. Part of the reason its so elusive is because it's significantly more difficult to make with some variations like Arco being completely outlawed due to the combustible manufacturing process. The material itself is considered a plastic but one that is made out of layers of Camphor. When using a celluloid pen it is very important to make sure that your hands are free of anything like soap or lotion and that they are dry to prolong the body of your pen and ensure it stays free of warped spots. You also should never use any sort of alcohol based cleaner on these pens as that will do nothing but speed up the process of the surface material breaking down. To avoid discoloration of the material it's important to keep to away from UV light when not in use so keeping it on a desk for a long period of time isn't recommended. Now it is almost impossible to avoid some very slight discoloration with prolonged use but by taking these steps you will prolong the lifespan of any celluloid pen in your collection. With that being said, if you buy a vintage celluloid pen that has already started showing signs of discoloration or surface wear it is almost impossible to reverse these things and the only thing that can usually be fixed aesthetically is the clip plating. 
Ebonite- This material was actually being used before celluloid and is a form of harden rubber that they used for a bunch of other products like bowling balls and lining for storage containers. The material really feels like no other and is often described as being softer than plastics and warm to the touch, to be clear, I don't mean that they are so soft they bend or anything but the surface is just a little less dense than plastic. The look of ebonite is something that can change pretty drastically from just a plain black to various colors but one of the most classic combinations is the black and red of the Waterman 52 you see above. A good example of jet black ebonite would be Sailor's King of Pen which also happens to be one of their most popular KOP finishes. It's important to keep ebonite out of the sun and direct sunlight to avoid color fading but just like with celluloid, a little bit of fading is ultimately inevitable. Another problem is that ebonite can react with different chemicals so best to use these with clean lotion-free hands as well, there was an instance of older Parker Duofold changing color because the ink sack on the inside was off gassing sulfur, leading to a lot of discoloration which is why its quite rare to find a very bright vintage duo fold in the vintage market now.

What is Urushi Lacquer?

    When getting into higher price Japanese pens you will often hear the term Urushi thrown around but it can be kind of hard to understand the significance unless you see them in person but I'll try my best to explain the wonderful nature of this material. Urushi is actually concentrated sap from a poisonous tree in Japan that can only be harvested for so much lacquer making it pretty expensive for the raw material cost alone and then it has to be applied to the pen by an artisan that has usually dedicated their whole life to the sole purpose of painting with Urushi. The nature of the material means that artisans have to be extremely careful when applying it if they are allergic to poison ivy because one drop could land a very allergic person in the hospital, the material also takes quite a while to dry which means that pens often have a 3 month minimum production time depending on the details in the pen. Once it dries, Urushi is considered the hardest naturally occurring lacquer which makes it a good option to seal Han painted Maki-e designs with so they don't rub off with continued use. They can also provide very bright colors which is amazing in the case of the Pilot Custom 845 in the Vermilion color. 

What pens can be eyedropper filled 

    A lot of pens can be converted to eyedropper fill but aren't necessarily advertised for it so sometimes people don't always realize that they could be getting a lot more ink capacity from their pens. Eye dropper fills allow you to use the whole barrel as the ink reservoir instead of being limited to just a cartridge or converter. The only pens that can be eyedroppered are ones that take a converter or cartridge because piston filling systems usually can not be removed but this isn't the only qualifier to make sure your pen can be eyedropper filled. There has to be absolutely no metal pieces in the barrel of the pen were ink would touch because this can have a corrosive effect on the metal and irreversible damage or destroy your pens. You also don't want to do it with any sensitive materials like celluloid and while ebonite is usually ok its always best to heir on the side of caution when getting into more expensive pens. There is one last step to ensure that your pen can be safely eye dropper filled and that is to apply pen safe silicone grease to the threads that hold the nib in and the threads where the section and body connect so that ink can't leak out of the cracks there. It can be a little daunting at first but you will soon find out that eye dropper filling pens is really worth it in the long run if you plan on using the pen for longer writing sessions. 

Why use a fountain pen over a ballpoint or rollerball?

    This question is highly subjective but I do get it pretty often so I guess I'll talk about why I use fountain pens and why they've trumped the roller and ball point when I write for myself. The short answer is that they are a lot more customizable and fun than the other two options (again, this is all my opinion) because you can choose your nib size, ink, even the paper changes the characteristics of a pen. Fountain pens also become deeply personal objects the more you write with them, they come in a variety of different nib sizes to fit any writing style and also give your writing a bit more character which is something that can't really be achieved with ballpoints or rollerballs. Yes, its true that BP and RB write and achieve the purpose of a fountain pen in a more convenient way but fountain pens aren't all about convenience and instead, offer a much more personalized writing experience that I feel connects with me more and actually makes me want to write more. 

Feel Free to submit more questions to us and we'd be happy to answer them!

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