The Pensmith
Technical Articles


We frequently receive ballpoints of various brands and persuasions where the refill has leaked or exploded inside the barrel and mechanism causing considerable and more often than not, irrepairable damage to the cap, mechanism and barrel.  Ballpoint refills either leak or explode due to being exposed to heat or, old age.  Ballpoint ink causes permanent staining to modern acrylics and penetrates them.  It also ruins most ballpoint mechanisms and caps.   Regardless of brand, most ballpoint refills are manufactured by Schmidt of Germany who recommend a shelf and usage life of 12 months.  Remove refills from ballpoints which are stored for any period of time and don't leave ballpoints in the sun or otherwise exposed to heat.  In most cases, a  ballpoint affected by a leaking or exploding refill can never be restored to its prior condition.  So serious is the effect of ballpoint ink, removal of all ink staining and residue is simply not possible and when we receive affected ballpoints, often recommend their entire replacement


"Onoto Man" (for want of a better name), was acquired as part of a pen collection from the descendants of a pen shop proprietor, well known in Hobart, Tasmania.  It is extremely rare and a similar figurine has not been seen by the world's Onoto expert, Stephen Hull.  Made of solid plaster and standing around 600 mm tall, the figurine is believed to date from 1925. Searches don't reveal a similar figurine although Stephen Hull's excellent book "Onoto the Pen" contains images of other Onoto advertising figurines, this one is not featured.


After scores of nib repairs from dropped pens over many years, we now have a very clear picture of the "ladder leaders".  The most frequently dropped - the Lamy 2000 closely followed by Aurora 88 and then Visconti Homo Sapiens.  Says something about the popularity of these pens or, is it their barrel finishes which contribute to the phenomena?  Thankfully, in all cases we have been able to save the nibs' owners from the expense of nib replacement by far more economical repair.


We have tried for some time to avoid writing this article as it will doubtless, raise controversy and further issues, some of which we can and cannot answer.  However, constant questions demand some answers.

The fundamental (at least in our view), is preservation of the pen, its nib, mechanism and cosmetic parts.  If we accept that as a basic proposition, why do we see pens that have been filled with indian ink, white (and other coloured) drawing ink, paint, specialist calligraphic inks, heavily dyed and saturated inks and astonishingly, ink made for an inkjet printer!  Stupidity or, ignorance - perhaps the latter.

In our view, inks fall in to four categories:

1. Good, basic fountain pen ink - the well known and trusted brands of basic ink.  What is basic ink?  Simple - water, colour (containing no sediments) and often, a little glycol (to prevent it freezing in Northern countries), and an anti-fungal additive.  Generally, the major ink brands conform to this basic specification but vary enormously in flow qualities depending on colour and brand.  What flows well in one pen may not necessarily in another.  There are PH issues and so many other variables that scientific articles of hundreds of pages just don't answer the right questions for writers.  Be aware of PH
 issues as strongly acidic or alkaline ink can destroy metal and cosmetic components.The ideal is to find inks which advertise PH neutral qualities.  Use what you like and what does no harm to the pen so long as it is a well known, tried and trusted brand of ink.  The major brands including Diamine and KWZ standard range inks cause no problems with most pens.

2. Exotic inks - the heavily dyed variety which contains particulates or sediment.  There are four prominent brands of these inks which for the sake of convenience, we will describe as "PR", "N", "PI" and "JH".  The content of these inks has been known to clog pens, decompose latex ink sacs, generate mould and permanently stain pens.  Some other exotic inks are known to destroy pen sacs, mechanisms and metal parts.  If you value your pen, avoid these types of inks.

3. Vintage ink - put simply, avoid it like the plague.  Most vintage inks contain heavy sediments and often, mould. Vintage inks were a simple mixture of water and ochre (colour) which was not properly dissolved.  Two major manufacturers decades ago, developed "ink packs" designed for formulation by sub-contractors.  Simply, they were ink in powder form to which water was added and the product mixed.  Predictably, they today contain huge levels of sediment and as a consequence, high doses of active salts which quickly destroy most pens.

4. Iron gall inks - the safest examples in our experience are Diamine's Registrar's Ink and KWZ's iron gall range. Other brands are, according to our experiments, known to cause damage to both pens and often, paper.  The best advice is that offered by KWZ Inks:

Iron Gall series by KWZ Ink refers to the type of ink used in medieval times for writing manuscripts, but is designed as modern fountain pen friendly ink. It is gaining popularity because the written notes are extremely long lasting on paper, as the colour is darkening over time opposite to some common inks, which tend to fade over years. Writing with it is fun, as the colour is changing immediately just in front of your eyes, for example pink is becoming violet or orange is becoming brown. The written notes are also water resistant to some extent. The dyes can be washed away, but the iron gall component is permanently bonded with paper, so the text is still easy to read even after soaking.

The pen filled with IG inks however needs some special care, similar to when any permanent ink is used. It is recommended not to leave it unused for a long time in order not to let the ink dry out in the pen, otherwise it might be difficult to clean the ink off the pen. If IG inks are used on a daily basis, there are no special requirements.

The range of Iron Gall KWZ Inks includes three types. IG Mandarin and Aztec Gold is Light Iron Gall - it means that the iron gall component concentration is very low and the maintenance doesn't differ from using standard ink. On the contrary, IG Blue-Black is Archive Iron Gall, which means that the concentration of iron gall component is very high, thus it is the most water resistant and the most permanent of the whole IG KWZ Ink range. All the other IG KWZ Inks - blues, greens, violets, reds or brown are the medium type where the iron component concentration is high enough to make the notes everlasting, but low enough to be highly convenient in daily use.

These iron gall notes are courtesy of Agnieszka Zurawski of KWZ Inks

We are always interested to hear the experience of others with various brands and types of ink. Please let us know your views.


If there is one question which we are asked constantly - "Can you tell me which of your pens has a flexible nib and gives good line variation?"  We don't rate pens by nib flexibility.

We deal in thousands of pens annually both on a retail and wholesale basis.  We can't remember which pen has a flexible nib and which does not.  But, if we see a pen with a nib we consider to be flexible, we note it as such in our description of the pen.  As is obvious, we advertise and catalogue pens for retail sale by brand, not by nib flexibility. Pardon us for being old-fashioned but the make, model and condition of a pen is far more important than the seemingly ever-increasing obsession for a flexible nib which will produce a line variation between 0.01 mm and 3.0 mm in one stroke. There is no such nib.

Nib re-tippers and specialist re-grinders (see below), will produce special nib tips and grinds which offer some but, not magic flexibility. Then there is the next problem - what is flexible in one hand is not in another's hand. Sensible nib users don't over-stress a nib in seeking line variation.  Hence, they buy a pen and nib which suits their usual (rather than over-emphasised), writing style.  Others seek magical variation from a stock nib by too much nib pressure, over-stressing a nib to the point where it becomes "sprung", cracks and is either rendered useless or requires expensive annealing and re-soldering by us.

There is also the unfortunate belief that extra fine and fine nibs can be pushed and over-stressed to produce line widths which are three or four times the width of the nib.  Good luck with that as they'll either spring, crack or worse still, fracture completely.

The moral of this short story:
  • If you want the modern, utopian dream of the ultimately flexible nib, forget it.  Every nib has its limits;
  • Some vintage nibs are flexible - not all;
  • The best flexible nib is an old dip pen nib in certain styles;
  • Our customers tell us that the best (reasonably) modern production nibs  which have a good degree of flexibility are Sheaffer conical nibs, especially the Touchdown fine and extra fine nibs.  We have plenty of them at a very reasonable price.

As authorised Sheaffer repairers, we are often asked the question by end-users and retailers - "what about the Sheaffer Lifetime  Warranty as the pen has a White Dot?"  Most Sheaffers have the White Dot but its significance is only as a trade mark.  It is not a representation of a lifetime warranty.  The "Lifetime Warranty" is misunderstood by many, retailers included.  The explanation:
  • W.A. Sheaffer & Co introduced the "Lifetime" model fountain pen in 1920 and guaranteed the pen for the life of the owner provided it carried the "LIFETIME" engraving on the nib;
  • The White Dot was introduced by Sheaffer in 1924 and subsequently trade marked;
  • In 1940, the guarantee was changed to the life of the first user of the fountain pen;
  • In 1950, the Sheaffer Repair Manual reproduced Sheaffer's Lifetime Warranty policy in respect of its "Lifetime" model pens.  It was simple, White Dot or not, if the fountain pen was manufactured pre 1945, a service charge would be applied but, defective parts would be replaced without charge, including the nib.  If manufactured after 1945 and carrying the White Dot,  the same replacement policy was available and charges would be made for postage and insurance;
  • But, all of the above was limited to pens made by W.A.Sheaffer & Co which carried the "LIFETIME" engraving on the nib.  No such engraving, meant no warranty;
  • Sheaffer re-introduced its lifetime warranty in 1963 to just one pen, in releasing a 50th Anniversary "Lifetime" model with "LIFETIME" engraved on the nib but, limited the warranty to pens where a certificate "was furnished for each pen" and confined that warranty to a "registered owner";
  • The succesors to W.A. Sheaffer & Co, Textron, Gefinor, Bic and now Cross, did not offer a lifetime warranty in respect of any pen save for the "Limited Lifetime Warranty" in respect of two models of pen only and as set out below. Otherwise, other Sheaffer pens now carry the Limited Warranty, also set out below.  It should be noted that both versions of warranty reproduced were those offered by Bic's US Division.  Other Sheaffer brand owners may well have had different warranties.

SHEAFFER'S Lifetime Warranty
Sheaffer's Lifetime Warranty guarantees against mechanical failure due to original factory defects in materials and workmanship, for the lifetime of its first owner ... This warranty does not cover loss, accidental damage, misuse or abuse.  This warranty applies to: Sheaffer Legacy® 2 ®and Prelude®.

SHEAFFER Limited Warranty
For a period of one year from the date of purchase, Sheaffer will repair or replace, at its option, the writing instrument, free of charge, if it has a mechanical failure due to defect in material or workmanship. This warranty does not cover loss, accidental damage, reasonable wear and tear, misuse, or abuse such as improper use and care. This warranty gives you specific legal rights. You may also have other rights which may vary from state to state or country to country.

By the way, fair wear and tear and old age are not manufacturing defects in materials or workmanship.  Despite the claims of many to the contrary, there is no "lifetime warranty" in respect of Sheaffer pens just because they carry the White Dot.   Save for the two modern warranties set out above, seems that for any other Sheaffer pen to qualify for the lifetime warranty, it must be a fountain pen, carry the "LIFETIME" imprint on its nib, still be in the hands of its first owner and be manufactured many decades ago.

Nothing of course affects warranties implied by legislation in particular countries.


More than frequently, we deal with "ink flow problems" experienced by our clients which can be easily solved. These are a few tips we are happy to impart:
  • Converters - there are some which have surface tension problems which inhibit proper ink flow.  There is a major European manufacturer which makes converters for most major pen manufacturers.  A number of their converters manufactured between 2013 to 2015 (regardless of brand of pen), used a "new plastic" which was far from surface tension friendly.  Consequently, flow problems developed for users of pens with those converters. There is a simple and inexpensive solution - wind a small spring (preferably stainless steel) in to the converter.  It solves the flow problem.
  • Cartridges - not only they are an expensive way to write, they are counter-intuitive in terms of promoting ink flow. Cartridges flow one-way - they only empty ink (and sediment) out, often clogging the nib feed.  Converters and other filling systems have a two-way flow promoting better flushing and agitation around the nib feed resulting in better ink flow generally.  If you must use cartridges, ensure you buy a rubber bulb (from your local pharmacist) and flush out your pen with it - both ways.  The results will be greatly improved.
  • Nibs - especially modern day ones made by that same European manufacturer who makes nibs for virtually every major pen brand, are manufactured with the tynes virtually squeezed together with too narrow a slit which inhibits good ink flow.  Often, the tynes need to be slightly spread to ensure proper ink flow.  The humble razor blade (a "Gem" hardback blade is our weapon of choice for safety reasons), carefully inserted in between the tynes and a slight wiggle at a 90 degree angle to the nib is usually sufficient to vastly improve ink flow.  Note the need for care - emphasis on "carefully inserted" in order to avoid damage to the tipping and "slight wiggle" to avoid over-widening the tynes.  Don't mess it up.  Remember that if you ruin the tipping, you've ruined the nib which will cost at least $100 AUD to re-tip.  Accordingly, if you adopt this method, you do so at your own risk.
  • Nib feeds - in new pens are often difficult in their early days.  Feeds rely on surface tension to deliver ink to the tip of the nib.  Some new feeds have poor surface tension characteristics.  To improve ink flow, one drop of household dishwashing liquid to a bottle of ink and a gentle shake.  Fill the pen as usual.  Works wonders. Remember - one drop and no more unless you want foaming ink!

We do grind nibs which can sensibly be re-ground as well as smoothing nibs.  We have recently invested in new nib grinding equipment which is equivalent to anything else in  the world.  We also solder nib cracks.  We do not re-tip nibs (as much as we would like to), as the electronic welding equipment necessary is far too expensive to justify in the Australian pen repair environment.  If a nib needs re-tipping, we recommend either of Greg Minuskin (US) or Carlos Garcia (Spain).  See:
Nib grinding is a sensitive art which requires a great deal of time to properly cut and grind a nib to a client's order. Some of our clients expect the impossible.  No, it is not possible to re-grind and extra fine nib to a broad stub. Often, we see brand new nibs, the tipping of which is pitted.  Put another way, it has not been properly finished by the nib manufacturer.  Pitted nib tips are difficult to properly smooth.


A common question - "why are my pens' plated components going brown or black".  Often, the correct  answer is - "they are stored with hard rubber pens or pens with hard rubber components, often a section."

Hard rubber (vulcanite) has a number of components including iron filings and sulphur.  The iron filings aren't too bad but as many of us know, the sulphur component in hard rubber pen components causes rapid fading when exposed to both light and water.  Some forms of hard rubber simply fade with age regardless of light or water exposure. Pens with hard rubber components stored with others will cause rapid oxidisation of plated components, not only on the hard rubber pens but, to others stored adjacent to them.

Whilst there are various forms of hard rubber restoration, some which cosmetically work and others which fail dismally, none of the restoration methods stop the sulphur vapour constantly given off by hard rubber components. Vapour volumes increase with age.  It follows that pens with hard rubber components should be stored separately from others to prevent plating oxidisation of pens which are hard rubber free.  It is the reaction of sulphur with air we are trying to prevent but, wih hard rubber pens, it is virtually impossible because we do not, under any circumstances, store pens in an airtight situation.

The next problem.  When hard rubber gives off vapour, that vapour will oxidise plating in the same "atmosphere" as the hard rubber.  There are two types of oxidisation we need to be concerned with.  Firstly, surface oxidisation if the pen's plated components have been "properly plated".  It is easily removed by light polishing.  Secondly, we need to be concerned with plated pen components which have not been "properly plated" - for instance, a simple, single layer of gold plating over a brass clip - it wont work!  Oxidisation of the brass base of the clip will simply leach through the plated layer causing irreversible brassing.  The basic brass clip needs to be nickel or silver plated prior to the application of the gold plating layer.  We pre-plate with silver before applying the gold plated layer.

Two good rules follow:

1. Store hard rubber pens and pens with hard rubber components away from other pens; and
2. Poor plating will inevitably fail and is exacerbated severely by hard rubber oxidisation.


Put simply, please don't do it.  It is always convenient to put that brand new vintage acquisition in a plastic sleeve, bag or container.  Trouble is that such storage has two fundamental problems.  Firstly, plastic bags and containers emit unfortunate  vapours which over time, do permanent damage to both hard rubber and celluloid pens.   Secondly, plastic (or any other form of airtight storage), attracts condensation which quickly degrades plated surfaces to the point of premature oxidisation, rust and copper leaching.

Two examples we have recently seen:

1. A Melbourne collector recently presented us with 17 reasonably good pens which sadly, had been stored in plastic bags for 10 or more years.  The clips and other plated parts of each of those pens were beyond redemption, re-plating or, any form of restoration; and

2. We restore for a well known Australian museum which, until our intervention, prided itself on its (non-display) storage of its fine collection of vintage pens in plastic tubes.  A number of these fine pieces were made of celluloid caps and barrels and with hard rubber sections.  Not only did hundreds of pens suffer from oxidisation (and rusting) of plated parts, there were in a number of instances, total failure of the celluloid barrel/section joint, resulting in a virtual "melting" of the celluloid.  Much of its "fine collection" was rendered (permanently) useless as a consequence of poor storage techniques.

The lessons learned:

A. No plastic storage of any form for pens;
B. Store pens in a well ventilated situation and;
C. Well away from natural or artificial light.


We hear a lot about these inks.  Just exactly, what is "bullet proof"?  Water proof, fade proof or, fraud proof? Let's face it - how many of us drown our written work, leave it in the sun or, subject our written work to peril from fraudsters?

Be careful of these "magic" inks at least three brands of which are known to constantly clog fountain pens and one brand which "eats through" paper!

There is only one form of permanent ink which has been around for thousands of years - ferro-gallic ink.  The Dead Sea Scrolls were written with it and  many of them still survive today.  Ferro gallic ink (known today as "iron gall"), was once composed of iron sulfate and tannic acid which set up a chemical reaction that causes ink to bite its way into paper as the ink oxidises.  The old forms of ferro gallic ink produced sulfuric acid which over centuries, has eaten in to paper.  The modern form of ferro gallic ink such as Diamine Registrars' Ink eliminates paper corrosion in a more modern formulation which comprises a balanced ratio of ingredients as opposed to the time-honoured, gung-ho recipe of adding excessive amounts of tannic acid, causing an obvious problem. Modern ferro gallic ink increases in indelibility the longer it oxidises.  In its purest form, ferro gallic ink is very pale on paper.  For that reason, a non-indelible dye is added to it so it is visible when writing.  By way of example, Diamine Registrars' Ink writes as blue but, soon oxidises to black.  The non-indelible blue dye may disappear but, the oxidised black ink is so permanent, not even bleach can remove it.

Diamine Registrars' Ink is a very suitable water proof, fade proof and fraud proof ink.  It does not clog fountain pens and can be used with absolute confidence.  Diamine Registrar's Ink is available from us.  See our Diamine page.

We also distribute and highly recommend the KWZ range of iron gall inks which dry true to colour.  See the article above entitled "Inks" for further information.

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