Cleaning fountain pens
The fountain pen has come a long way from the eyedropper designs of the vintage fountain pens, today various modern filling systems are available that offer the user ease of maintenance as well as longevity of their instrument.
Most modern fountain pens are made of acrylic, plastic, or celluloid bodies. Unless heavily soiled, these can be cleaned sufficiently using a damp soft cloth. For more serious stains, the pen may need to be professionally serviced.
However cleaning the internal mechanisms of the fountain pen requires a little more effort.
Cartridge convertor pens (or C/C)
These usually consist of a cartridge that contains ink, and a convertor for those who prefer to use bottled ink. This is the most common mechanism of all the modern fountain pens available today.
This can be cleaned by using the convertor to fill the pen with water and flush the pen multiple times until the water runs clear. Usually plain water suffices, however in case stubborn inks are used, a few drop of dish washing soap help.
Alternatively, a syringe may be used to flush the pen section containing the nib and feed with water, although in this case the convertor does have to be cleaned separately.
Once the water from the nib and feed run clear, the section should be stored vertically, nib down in a small tissue paper and left to dry.
Piston filler pens
Many of the more premium pens (and of late some entry level pens) use an inbuilt convertor, known as a piston in order to fill and store ink in the pen.
These pens usually cannot be taken apart by the novice user and should never be attempted without accepting the risk of voiding the warranty. Many pens have been ruined because parts have been lost, pens disassembled, only to realize that they cannot be put together again.
To clean your piston filler fountain pen, once it is devoid of ink, immerse in a bowl of water, and activate the piston by turning the piston turning knob anti-clockwise till any remnants of ink are expelled and then clockwise to fill with water. The pen should be filled and expelled of water multiple times till the water runs clear.
Usually for pens using plastic feeds, 5-7 cycles is sufficient to clean out all ink from the pen. However for some pens that use ebonite feeds, 10-15 cycles are a safer option, as ebonite tends to absorb more ink than plastic.
Once the water runs clear, the pen is placed vertically nib down in a small tissue, with the piston head extended by rotating the piston turning knob anticlockwise.
Lever fillers use a lever assembly to squeeze a sac housed in the pen body. This is an older filling mechanism and is rarely seen on modern pens. These mechanisms are tedious to flush cleanly, thus the advent of modern filling systems made them redundant.
To clean a lever filler, immerse the pen in water making sure that the section is also immersed completely, the lever is then activated, by pulling it away from the pen, this compresses the sac and flushes out any ink, it is then released while making sure that the entire section is still under water, the sac inflates and is filled with water. Usually it is recommended to wait for 10 seconds to allow the sac to fill completely, after which the lever is again pulled away from the body of the pen.
The process is repeated till the water runs clear. As with all pens, its stored nib down vertically in a small tissue that helps to wick out the water.
For the sake of brevity, this post shall discuss only the modern vacuum fillers, and not the parker vacumatic pens. The modern vac fillers are the Twisbi Vac 700/700R, Visconti Homo Sapiens line which uses the misnomer “power filler” and the Pilot Custom Heritage 823.
These pens use a filling system that uses a rod along the center of the pen body which uses rubber seals and the differential internal diameter in order to create a vacuum which forces ink into the pen. The main advantage of this filling system is that its arguably the highest capacity filling system, if one can obtain a full fill.
Cleaning these pens are usually as easy as filling them, following the same principle.
When its time to clean your vac filling pen, immerse the section in water and activate the filling system, this involves unscrewing the blind cap and pulling the filling rod out of the pen body, it is then pushed back which creates a vacuum that fills the pen with water. This is repeated multiple times, taking care to turn the pen upside down to ensure that the water reaches all parts of the pen body. Cleaning it fully may involve a few cycles of filling and flushing. BE PATIENT!! ALWAYS WORTH IT.
A revolutionary filling system developed by Mr Francis Goosens at Conid, the bulkfiller is a filling system available exclusively on the Conid pens. For those looking for a truly special pen, I recommend the Conid Monarch, the combination of the engraved clip, orange ebonite and the superb titanium nib is just perfect, of course one can also upgrade to a gold nib later if desired. This is a special collaboration between Fontoplumo and Conid and is available for sale only at Conid.
The bulkfiller works by using the entire length of the pen barrel as the distance of the piston travel, thus increasing the amount of ink that can be stored. This is done by creating a detachable piston seal which can be engaged and disengaged as and when required.
To clean the bulkfiller, unscrew the piston knob at the back of the pen, pull out the piston knob and turn left till the piston seal has been engaged,(when the knob cannot be turned anymore to the left, it’s time to stop). Push down on the piston knob inserting it the piston rod into the body of the pen. Immerse the nib and feed into a bowl of clean water making sure that part of the section is also immersed, pull back on the piston knob, drawing water into the pen body, then push it back again, what’s important to know here is that the bulkfiller fills on the upstroke rather than the downstroke in case of the vacfillers. Repeat the filling and flushing till the water runs clear, for Kingsize models I recommend filling and flushing a little more due to the high ink capacity and ebonite feeds on these models.
Store nib down in a tissue to wick out all the moisture and dry the pen completely. The piston knob is then pulled out again, turned to the right to disengage the piston seal and then pushed down into the body of the pen and screwed into place.
Eyedropper filled pens are rather rare today due to the advent of modern filling systems. I am unaware of any modern European manufacturer of eyedropper pens, of course the Japanese use an eyedropper with a shut off valve and these are made by Danitrio and Namiki.
However most c/c pens with a ebonite/plastic/acrylic barrel can be eyedroppered with some silicon grease and this exponentially increases the ink capacity. However this also makes the pens susceptible to leaking and burping which may hamper writing experience.
Cleaning an eyedropper pen is very simple, the ink reservoir (in this case the barrel) should be held below running water until all the ink is flushed out. The section can be cleaned in the same way as done for c/c pens.
In 99.999999 % of the cases, the above procedures for cleaning and maintenance of your fountain pen should suffice however there may be times where a little more needs to be done. This applies if you use highly saturated inks such as Noodlers, private reserve or even certain iron gall inks.
PLEASE BEAR IN MIND THAT ANY DISASSEMBLY VOIDS WARRANTY AND THIS SHOULD BE DONE AT YOUR OWN RISK
Most problems related to flow can be addressed at the nib and feed. This may need to be disassembled.
Screw in nib units
Most modern pens use a screwable nib unit that consists of a nib, feed and a housing which encloses the two and is screwed into the section. Usually this can be easily unscrewed by rotating anti clockwise. However if ink has caked and glued into the housing then the section should be soaked in soapy water to loosen the caked/dried ink, alternatively an ultrasonic cleaner may be used as well to loosen up ink deposits.
Once the nib unit can be unscrewed from the pen, it should be soaked in a diluted solution of soapy water to remove the ink deposits, the feed can cleaned using a soft toothbrush to remove hardened ink from the feed channels. Sometimes in cases of iron gall ink, prolonged soaking may be required.
For users who like using saturated inks and iron gall inks, I would recommend investing in a ultrasonic cleaner, cleaning by ultrasonic vibrations is 16 times more efficient than manual cleaning. Definitely less laborious!!.
Ultrasonic cleaners have various settings for cleaning various instruments, be sure to follow manufacturer instructions for the same. If in doubt use the lowest power setting and the shortest cycle, repeat if needed.
Friction fit nib units
Some modern pen companies like Lamy make friction fit nib units. In these cases the nib and feed just slide out of the section. Of course, care should be taken to not apply excessive force.
Once the nib and feed are out, the remainder of the cleaning process remains the same as described above.
Some pens may require a knock out block to remove the nib and feed from the section. These are available online. Gentle taps though, we don’t want to destroy our precious pens.