Ink Flow And The Unanswerable Question

Occasionally, looking at one of my listings, an eBay member will ask, “How wet is this pen?” That’s an impossible question to answer well, for a couple of reasons. One is that, simply, there are no adequate standards of comparison. I can’t say, “It’s as wet as a…… “ or “It’s as dry as a……” because there are no recognised standards of wetness in the pen world. Nor is there ever likely to be. I can refer him or her to my writing sample but he or she has already seen that. The result is that we both end up a little frustrated, due to the impossibility of conveying the information.

Secondly, in a sense, it’s the wrong question. No pen is (barring a fault) intrinsically either dry or a gusher. Ink flow is a setting. Particularly with traditional pens with a simple feed like the Mabie Todd ladder feed or the Waterman spoon feed, there are a number of ways to adjust flow. As part of testing and adjusting a pen, I set the flow to provide an unbroken line in which the ink shows its natural colour, in other words, not paler than usual, which would indicate that the flow is too dry. The line should not be raised, nor should it spread or feather on my testing paper. If it meets those tests, the flow is right for the pen, allowing for whichever nib size it – fine, medium or broad.

Those pens that have more complicated feeds, like the Sheaffer multi-finned feed, the Parker 51 collector or the complex feeds that Waterman made in the late forties, can also have flow adjustments made but – again barring faults – it’s rarely required. Those feeds were designed to deliver exactly the amount of ink the nib needs, and they do it very well.

Any pen that flexes, whether semi-flex or super-flex, makes special demands on flow. If it’s set to deliver the correct amount of ink in an unflexed state, it may rapidly run dry when the much greater demands of flexing are applied. Conversely, if it’s set to handle maximum flex, it will be too wet in an unflexed state. I try for the best compromise. It usually works, provided the user slows for the flexed lines and allows the flow to keep up.

After the pens are restored, I test them, but only for about half a page or so. That’s enough to use up the residual ink in the feed and test the actual flow. All being well, I flush the pen, give it a final wipe clean and I’m done. Flow’s a funny thing, though, and if you buy a pen from me and find that after a few pages of writing the flow is clearly wrong, either gushing or not giving an unbroken line, I’ll take the pen back and put it right at no expense to you. I’ll pay postage both ways, as I would with any fault that’s my responsibility. If, on the other hand, the pen that you bought from me writes properly, but you would like the flow increased or decreased, send it back to me and I’ll alter it to suit you, but you pay the postage in that case. The adjustment, however, is free.

One final thing. Don’t perform surgery on a feed. The well-known pen makers knew what they were doing when they made those feeds. They had infinitely more experience than any of us can ever have. Gouging deeper channels is not the way to increase flow.

2 thoughts on “Ink Flow And The Unanswerable Question

  1. Well, looking at your pictures I can roughly guess that you are redripple52 on ebay?
    If so, then it means I’ve just asked you this question not long ago 😛

    Well, what I consider a wet pen is when it is literally a firehose when using a standard free-flowing ink such as waterman inks, and must be subdued using a drier ink, such as the pelikan 4001. I do like gushers, they lay down a beautiful line, but burns through ink too fast for any serious work to be done.

    I do agree that modifying the feed is not the answer to a wetter flow – in my experience the flow instead becomes too much. But sometimes, adjusting the nib alone is not enough to increase or decrease flow. In that case, what do you prefer to do?

    1. Hi,

      You’re right. That’s me.

      I get asked that question a lot – most weeks, in fact.

      The actual fire-hose effect isn’t possible with every pen, but most will give strong flow with a little encouragement. As you seem to be aware, widening the gap between the tines will increase flow – but at the cost of widening the footprint of the nib, so caution is required if you like a fine. Pens of the age I handle invariably have black hard rubber feeds, and they can be adjusted in to maximise flow. Just immerse the nib and feed in boiling water for a count of ten, pinch them together with your fingers and hold till it cools – or dip in cold water, still holding it. Again, don’t overdo it. For a stiff nib, creeping the feed forward a millimeter or two will help but only at the margins. There’s very limited room for movement or the feed will bottom out. The feed will be sure to hit the paper with a flex nib, so that solution won’t work. In some cases, such as super-flex nibs that get ink-starved, changing the feed may be the answer but you need a lot of spare feeds and time for trial and error.

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