Friday, June 19, 2015

The Retro INK – Modern Design and Durability Meets Vintage Elegance and Performance

The idea to do some nib swaps with my INK came about after reading through INK Kickstarter comments and further readings on Fountain Pen Network were a large group of fountain pen enthusiasts complained about the size of the actual nib, tip size availability, or the quality of Schmidt nibs in general. Having never tried a Schmidt nib until I got my INK, I wasn’t overly impressed nor was I dismayed in the way mine wrote. It functioned well right out of the box. My wife’s INK required nib tuning several times due to flow and hard start issues. And while I would have liked a “finer” point the German fine on the Schmidt worked good enough. I didn’t mess with my INK due to it being a daily user, so while I had a list of nibs I intended to eventually swap into my INK I never attempted it. Until I got a little more adventurous. 
First off you are going to require a clean tabletop or desk area that is relatively well lit. At home I have a dedicated pen repair table but my desk at work is adequate. I would suggest a two foot by two foot clean space just so you can set stuff aside without knocking anything on the ground. 

You need some source material. A Karas Kustoms INK is a good place to start, plus a few extra Schmidt nibs. Along with that you will want to have sourced a decent vintage nib. Here’s the tricky part, vintage nib sizes were not standardized. So a Waterman’s 5 and a Sheaffer’s 5 were not the same size, and even on nibs that are the same size the curvature of the nib itself is often different from manufacturer to manufacturer. Lucky for you I have found a few vintage nibs that work. 

By far the easiest to source and therefore cheapest nibs that work in the Schmidt #5 nib/feed/collar unit  are either the Sheaffer’s TD 14K, Sheaffer’s Feathertouch 5, and Sheaffer’s 33 nibs.
The Sheaffer’s TD nib can be sourced from Sheaffer’s TM Touchdown filling fountain pens from the 1940’s, either the Statesman, Sovereign, or Admiral Models. The nib itself sometimes says Sheaffer’s 14K 5 or Sheaffer’s 14K. They range in nib size from XF – B and can be found in some “custom” types like stub, italic, etc, though those are quite a bit more expensive. 

The Sheaffer’s Feathertouch 5 was a duo-point nib that Sheaffer’s began using in it’s non-Lifetime line of pens after 1931. The slit plating was purported to increase ink flow, which was why the nib was deemed the “Feathertouch” as it would write with a feather touch to the paper. 

The final option is the Sheaffer’s No 33 nib from a Sheaffer’s Craftsman or Balance. This nib also comes in XF-B, with F and M being the easiest to find, and there are some “custom” types available but again the prices for those nibs will be quite a bit more. 

Pens with these nibs can be found on Ebay for as low as 5-10 dollars if they are missing parts, i.e. caps or levers, or have barrel damage. Ensure you check out all the pictures for potential nib damage, if it looks broke don’t buy it. Also and most importantly, if there aren’t any pictures or the seller won’t send you any extra pictures, STAY AWAY! You can get clean examples of complete pens with either nib for 15-25 dollars easily, and this is what a Schmidt nib will run you anyway. Another place to look is a store that sells vintage fountain pen nibs. His prices are a little higher but he provides quality inspected nibs that are free of any damage and he provides awesome photos for reference.

One thing to note is that even though these nibs are somewhat standard, most of them have sat in a pen for years and the metal has changed shape some, getting one that is a “perfect” fit might be a tad bit difficult, however, the first nib of either that I grabbed work quite well in my INKs.

Another item that comes in handy for this nib swap is a small piece of rubber “grip”. Some pen repair sites or even online pen stores are now carrying their own versions of this tool. However, a three inch by one inch piece of bicycle tire will work just as well. A small glass container of water is helpful, one that is about the same size and shape of a cup of yogurt works best I have found. And last a few microfiber cloths come in handy to ensure you don’t go crazy with ink or water spills.

If you have purchased just a nib, then you can skip a few of these next steps. But if you purchased a complete or semi-complete pen you are going to need to remove the nib from the pen. Just yanking on it rarely works, even when you use a “grip” the nib is usually crusted by ink and basically stuck. If you don’t intend on keeping the pen parts for use later, then you can aggressively soak the nib and feed with water to loosen it up. Put the pen, nib down, in your glass container and fill the container with water up to the barrel threads. I use distilled or filtered water for this, but tap water is ok if you are tossing the pen. This may take 24 hours to really get the nib loose enough to pull free, but once it’s soaked for a few hours, remove it from the glass. Dry off the nib with your cloth, it’s way too hard to pull a nib free when it’s all wet with water and ink residue. I always attempt to pull the nib free with just my fingers first, I advise wearing latex or thin rubber gloves unless you enjoy inky fingers. Firmly grab the nib and feed between your thumb and index finger and pull directly out. Do not twist the nib and feed as this can do damage to the nib tines that might require professional repair. If the nib comes out then toss the nib back in the water for a bit to soak. If not grab your rubber grip and try it again. Rarely have I had a nib and feed that won’t come out after 24 hours of soaking while using a rubber grip. In the even that happens using a hairdryer on a low setting and gently applying heat to the nib, feed and section should loosen it up enough to pull the nib and feed out.

Once you have the nib out, let it soak for a bit, I usually add some Dawn dish soap to the water and give it a few hours. After a bit remove the nib from the glass. Dry it off with your cloth and use a Q-tip to get any leftover ink off the nib. Very rarely you will run across a nib that has ink “caked” on the nib even after soaking. Chances are someone used a “permanent” or Iron Gall ink in it and it has adhered to the nib. In extreme cases the nib may have taken damage from corrosion or just have persistent ink residue, getting this cleared up is a step-by-step process where each step uses a slightly more aggressive cleaning agent. 

First use one part 100% unscented ammonia and nine parts water and soak the nib. After soaking use an old toothbrush and attempt to brush off the offending substance. If this doesn’t work, you can purchase Simichrome or Flitz from Amazon or other online retailers (some hardware stores still carry tubes of Flitz check the ones in your area). These are metal polishes and use abrazives and chemicals, so glove up and be careful. Apply a dab of either to a Q-tip and start on the underside of the nib working the substance in with firm, even pressure. You should see it shine the metal immediately and after some passes you should be able to pull of all the leftover ink and expose any potential corrosive pitting if there is any. Be careful on the top side of the nib as two tones nibs will not react well with either Simichrome or Flitz. They will strip away the “chrome” plating and leave the nib all gold. If that’s ok with you then clean away like you did on the underside. If not then only clean off the gold portion, most times the corrosion is limited to this area and the underside so you should be good. In the event you still have some substance remaining, you can purchase Micromesh sheets from Amazon or pen stores make sure to get a sheet of 12000 grit micromesh. No matter what other grits you get, you want to start with the least aggressive grit first and 12000 is the least aggressive. Use the Micromesh as you would sandpaper, to get the underside of the nib, I use a Q-tip to really press it in. This should remove any of the last of the substance and leave you with a bright and shiny nib.
Now that you have your reclaimed nib ready to go, it’s time to get out your Schmidt nib unit. I have found it easiest to pull out the Schmidt nib with it screwed into the section and the section attached to the INK barrel. There is just more to hold on to and you don’t have to apply any crazy pressure or strain, it’s just a natural pulling motion and the nib and feed should slip right free from the collar. Having done this set aside the nib and grab your Sheaffer’s nib.

Aligning a nib to a feed can be somewhat tedious, and there are different depths to “set the nib” for different styles of nibs. I err on the side of aligning the “wings” of the nib with the “slopes” of the feed (see image). This way you have a feed that is generally set far enough forward to maintain ink flow and maximize the writing ability of the nib. But with a vintage nib being applied to a modern feed and collar system you might have to fiddle around with the depth of the nib on the feed. I usually dip test the nib at this time just to see if there are any major issues with the nib/feed set up, but you can’t rely on just a dip test to ensure the ink is flowing correctly. After a dip test if you feel the nib is performing as it should and there are no visible issues with the performance or fit of the nib in the collar, then it’s time to move to filling the pen and writing a true writing sample. 

I advise filling a converter through the nib and feed rather than using a cartridge or filling the converter by itself with it detached from the pen. As this will allow you to observe ink entering the filling system and could clue you in to possible issues prior to writing. Once you have the converter filled, I encourage a good page worth of words. But don’t be disturbed if your pen stops writing or gushes ink onto the page. Adjustments to the nib and feed will likely need to be made. That’s why we stayed “gloved up”. When you run into an inkflow issue proper diagnosing is key to fixing the problem in the quickest amount of time. If you don’t have to pull the nib and feed, then don’t. You might have a misaligned tine or it could be that you didn’t seat the nib and feed all the way into the collar. The Schmidt feed when spun in the collar and pushed inwards will “fit” into place at one spot. This will optimize your nib and feed in the collar itself and I advise trying this first if you have flow issues.

In the event that you need to pull the nib and feed, remove the converter first and set it aside. Then pull the nib and feed. You are going to get ink all over the place, use your microfiber cloth to protect anything of value. Reinsert the nib and feed changing the alignment of the two. Then insert the converter. Sometimes you will run into a nib that looks like it will work but no matter how hard you try it just won’t write. It happens and it sucks. But I have found quite a few of my vintage nibs after a bit of tweaking on how they sit on the feed and the depth with which they are in the collar, will indeed write and write well.

Hopefully, you got one to work. Don’t be discouraged if you didn’t. If you are attempting this, you are likely in the 10% of people brave enough to want to tinker with your fountain pen. I applaud you for at least attempting. If you succeeded on your first try that’s an even greater success. I got lucky on my first nib swap, then promptly failed on the next seven until I went back to another Sheaffer’s nib and gave it a try. As I said, not all nibs will work, but it is likely you will find one that will work if you follow my instructions. 

If you run into questions, concerns or problems leave a comment and I will get back to you. I also have a list of nibs that I have found don’t work but I won’t list them here, you can obtain them from me via a message here or sent to my email

DISCLAIMER: Removing and replacing nibs and feeds is done with the knowledge that we cannot replace any damaged parts due to changes made by the consumer. This article is informational only and the author conducted all changes to his pens knowing that it could potentially result in damage to the nib, feed, or collar assembly and potentially the pen itself. Changes and repairs to our pens will not be covered under our normal customer service and repair/replacement policy. 

Karas Kustoms does not recommend you conduct these changes on their pens. These are aftermarket “modifications” that are being done by the customer. Karas Kustoms is not related to Sheaffer’s Pens or its parent company A.T. Cross Company. These modifications were done without the knowledge of Sheaffer’s or A.T. Cross Company with vintage Sheaffer’s parts purchased and sourced by the author.

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