The anatomy of fountain pens

The mechanics of a fountain pen may be broken down into three general categories:

  • The reservoir,
  • The feed system
  • The nib.

THE RESERVOIR

  • The reservoir or ink storage mechanism of most modern fountain pens stores ink three ways. One way to fill a fountain pen is to simply plug in the appropriate cartridge. The advantage to using cartridges is convenience.
  • The other way to fill a fountain pen is to plug in a piston converter (The converter is a closed container with a threaded rod running down the center and a plunger at the end. With the plunger in the downward position, closest to the nib section of the pen, twisting a knob on the top of the converter siphons the ink into the container when the nib section is immersed in a bottle of ink). The advantage to filling the pen via converter is access to fresh bottled inks.
  • Finally, the third way of filling a fountain pen is via a piston (plunger). The piston is inbuilt into the pen’s barrel and the nib is immersed into the ink bottle . This system is found in most traditional expensive pens. Though this is a little messy ( it is always advisable to keep a tissue close by to absorb the extra ink close by). The biggest advantage of this type of filling is that the reservoir hold three times the ink than the modern converter. Most large sized pen have this type of filling. Another advantage is that the ink flow is consistent till the last drop.

THE FEED

The feed system regulates the flow of ink to the nib by means of a series of canals and grooves.. Mold injected synthetic resins, and in finer pens ebonite make up the materials of feeds (these materials resist the corrosive agents present in inks).

THE NIB – The soul of the fountain pen

The fountain pen nib not only carries a unique look to itself but it does something no other writing instrument does, feeds information to the writer during the process of writing. In ball-point pens and rollerballs the contact point on the paper is symmetrical, thereby always creating a line of unvarying width regardless of changes in angle. A fountain pen creates lines of varying thickness relative to changes in the writer’s hand pressure, angle of the pen to the paper, and rotations on the nibs axis. Precious metals play an important role relative to the nibs performance and longevity. The least expensive fountain pens tend to have stainless steel or gold plated stainless steel nibs.
The absence of precious metals in significant quantities or at all make a fountain pen easily affordable. Stainless steel is a rigid material. Gold maintains a position of dominance as the metal of choice for several reasons. For one, gold resists the effect of corrosion due to contact with inks. Gold’s malleability perfectly suits the function of providing the nib with flexibility. Most commonly used are 14 karat and 18 karat.

The very tip of the nib, the point, cannot be gold because it would wear down in a matter of weeks. For this area nib crafters solder a hard substance for the point of contact, most commonly iridium or rhodium. This provides the writer with a lifetime of writing. In time the nib wears just enough to the way the writer holds the pen relative to the paper to create a custom point unique to the individual owner.

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