So, fountain pens. Maybe you want yours to glide over paper like it’s on air, maybe the nib is just a little small and scratchy, or maybe you just want to try it out and see what’s going on. In any case, here we’re going to talk about nib smoothing or nib grinding, what it is, and what you need.
This will void your warranty in most cases. If it were me, I’d either practice on a cheap pen (Jinhao X450), or a pen with easily available and replaceable nibs (the Noodler’s Ahab, Konrad, and Nib Creaper pens are good ones for this). Over-smoothing can leave you with less of a “smooth” tip and mote of a pointed metal spear that will seriously injure someone if you stab them with it, or yourself if you’re careless, and that shape is not what makes a good flowing, good feeling, good writing, fountain pen. And unless you’re in prison and making makeshift weaponry, most people want their pens to write, not to kill people.
Be careful, and remember that you can always take more metal off, but you can’t put it back.
What Is Nib Smoothing?
Nib smoothing, or nib grinding, is the process of rubbing a nib on an abrasive surface, to either eliminate defects, or create a smoother writing surface. At the lightest levels, you’re less “abrading” and more just.. polishing the metal. Fountain pens, almost regardless of nib material, will have a ball of a hard iridium alloy on the tip, which makes them “tipped” nibs. These are smoother to write with, and last longer, because iridium is a tougher material than the most common nib materials, usually either stainless steel or gold plated stainless.
To my knowledge, only tipped nibs can be reasonably smoothed, untipped nibs (e.g., italic / stub nibs) cannot. To check, well, look at the tip and see if there’s a ball of metal. If so, you can.
I use Goulet Pens for my supplies (not sponsored, just a fan), and they have three items in two products:
- 12000 grit micro-mesh sandpaper (GP-10014) (USD$5.00)
- 1-micron and 0.3-micron mylar sheets (GP-10015) (USD$5.00)
The micro-mesh paper doesn’t feel that abrasive to your hands but trust me, it is. Just don’t use the back of it, which is much rougher and must more, well, useless. Mylar, same thing. Buying from them, the white sheet is the 0.3 micron one, and they have a perfectly smooth side and a slightly rougher side, you want the rougher one.
Always check for nib defects like misalignments before doing this. If you don’t, you’ll likely make it worse, and ruin the nib. The sandpaper is best used for treating defects, like scratchy nibs. Ones that are smooth but you want smoother, stick to Mylar. Once you have everything, first, ink the pen. The ink not only helps you visualize your stroke pattern, but also provides a tiny bit of lubrication action, so you’re, in essence, performing wet sanding and not dry sanding. You’ll want to hold your pen like you usually write throughout all of this, and preferably at the angle you use the most, since off angles might not feel as good, especially if you over do it.
Fixing With Micro-mesh
First, make some figure-8 shapes on some normal paper to identify which direction causes the most issues. Ideally, go for about 10mm tall, or around there. Once you’ve done this, repeat the motion on the sandpaper, taking very light strokes and press just a little more when you’re going through the same direction where it was scratchy before. Only do a few at a time before going back and checking.
It should soon start to feel better and smooth, but if you want that perfectly smooth, frictionless, glass feel, you’ll need Mylar.
Improving With Mylar
If you can’t feel the difference, hold them up to the light. The perfectly reflective side is the back. The slightly duller one has the abrasive on it.
If you make figure-8s on paper and one part of the stroke has a little more feedback than you’d prefer, use the 1 micron sheet, otherwise, the 0.3 micron can help improve the overall feel if you’re not trying to correct anything. In either case, do the same small, slow, light pressure movements on the Mylar, stopping every few times to check the result.
As I can tell you from personal experience, do not over do it, and it’s better to stop early than stop too late.
No matter which you just did (or both), you should now have a pen that writes to your liking. Just remember that your warranty is probably now scattered among the ink drips and metal filings imbued into your abrasive of choice, so sending it back or getting it first-party repaired is no longer an option.