I love fountain pens but they haven’t loved me. As I writer, pens are one of my primary tools. While I refuse to freeze in a garret, writing with a fountain pen has always appealed to me. The flow of fountain pen ink is deeply satisfying. Over the years, I’ve collected at least seven. Whenever I buy one, I’m always thinking how cool it would be to use one while completely forgetting all the problems I have had with them in the past.

My favorite fountain pen is my Yoda-themed Sheaffer with an M nib. You can tell the Force is with it from the way it writes.

My main problem is ink not flowing. When my pens wouldn’t write (which was most of the time), I would wet the nib and shake the pen, keeping at it until ink was flowing, but the results were always imperfect. My letters were incomplete or missing altogether. I just limped along, assuming this was how these pens worked. After all, they were all inexpensive, $25 tops. I would set them aside in frustration and forget about them.

I’m not sure what made me think of my fountain pens this week — probably getting ready for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I recently saw an interview with Neil Gaiman where he talked about writing drafts long hand with a fountain pen and it made me wonder if I could do the same thing this November. But it meant getting my pens up and running smoothly. I knew I couldn’t hack it if the pen wasn’t reliable.

I have wondered in the past if part of my pen problem might be climate. I live near the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and it is dry here. When crafters complain about waiting for things to dry, I am always grateful that it’s nearly the opposite problem for me. If I don’t work quickly enough, the glue will dry before I can put the pieces together.

So I finally decided to educate myself on fountain pens and I am still laughing at myself. In fifteen minutes, the internet taught me that yes, my dry climate is an issue. I should find a way to store my pens to keep them in a more humid environment. Also, that weird thing in my drawer is ITL a converter for my Lamy pen, so I could fill it from the bottle of ink I bought with the pen. (I hadn’t tried it before because I didn’t know how to. Now I do. It’s embarrassingly simple.)

The silicon food pouch I bought to keep my pens from drying out.
There’s a damp paper towel under a piece of plastic to help fight the dry Colorado air.

But the most startling thing I learned was that my pens needed serious cleaning.

Initially, I scoffed at this idea. Every time I’ve tried to get a pen working again, I’ve run the nib under lots of water to get the ink flowing. My nibs have been cleaned plenty, or so I thought.

Following advice from a video (that I can’t find now), I rinsed all my nibs, then put them in a bowl of water to soak. They suggested overnight, which I thought would be overkill, but I could take my time. I wasn’t going to fill any of them until I’d bought myself a case to solve my low humidity problem, so why not?

Within an hour of soaking, I had a bowl of purple water. I changed out the water every time it got dark, I thought I was done after bath number three, when I set the bowl up for overnight, but it was dark again by morning.

Some of the many baths I subjected my pen nibs to. They were really dirty.

After 36 hours and six baths, I actively flushed the nibs with a bulb syringe until the water ran clear. I inked up my pens, finally using the converter and bottled ink I bought back when I purchased my Lamy Safari. Then the testing began.

I quickly discovered that the problem wasn’t my pens.

It was me and my ignorance.

My failure to learn how to take care of the pens kept them from working the way they were meant to. With the dried ink cleared out of the nibs, they all write beautifully. Sure, some nibs are easier for me than others, but they all work just fine now that they are clean.

Now that I am no longer the problem, I can whole-heartedly love my fountain pens. Right now, they love me back. I am going to write my NaNoWriMo draft long hand this year and I’m going to enjoy it because my fountain pens are so fun to write with.

Ready to write!

Note to self: if your tools are giving you problems, make sure that the problem isn’t you.

Have you ever had a tool that didn’t work as you expected? What was your solution?

2 thoughts on “Why My Fountain Pens Hated Me”

  1. This is great advice, Kit. I feel the same as you do about fountain pens. I love using them, but they frustrate me with all their blobbing and drying up and spotting and getting ink on my fingers. But soaking the nibs? Why didn’t I think of that!? I’ll have to get busy and clean my pens.

    1. The advice I’m finding all says to clean often. Some people clean whenever they refill or change inks. Some clean weekly, regardless of ink usage (often they put the extra ink back in the bottle). Make sure you don’t use anything that’s bad for your pens. Some cleaning agents are bad for them. Plain distilled water worked just fine for me. I don’t seem to have the ink-on-the-fingers problem except when I’m refilling or cleaning the pens, but how frustrating is it to have them dry up? So far, my keep-them-wet pouch seems to be doing the trick. But I do think I will take the time to really clean them regularly just in case. There was so much dried ink in my nibs!!!

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