My perfect writing instrument is a fountain pen

While tidying up part of my desk yesterday morning I found a couple of Rotring 400 (F) nibs rolling around, along with a rather battered looking cartridge converter. They’d probably been there for years and I had no idea what I’d intended to do with them in the first place, so I just had to flush, soak, clean, dry and install them in a pen and see how they worked.

One of the nibs turned out to be squeaky-clean (at least on the outside), the other had traces of Parker Quink Blue Black in it, and the converter was completely inoperable and a total write-off.

I put the first nib into the pen and installed a full converter. No ink flowed. I shook the pen. No disaster happened. Nothing.

The same thing happened with the other nib.

And then I remembered the disastrous experiment in the early ’90s I had conducted with technical pen ink, when I’d come to the conclusion that while the fountain pen was the perfect writing instrument, the inks available at the time left much to be desired because they were neither saturated nor waterproof — and while Rotring Black technical pen ink was the best thing ever, the pens it lived in were much too fragile and scratchy for daily use. So why not use the Rotring technical pen ink in the Rotring fountain pens?

Well, I soon found out why not. And I’d filled two Graphite 400s which were now clogged. And then I compounded the error by putting the sections into Rotring Technical Pen cleaning fluid. Two badly corroded pen sections later, I wrote to Rotring in Germany with my story of woe, admitting that the screw-up was mine and offering to pay for replacement sections and nibs.

A few weeks later I had a letter from the Rotring agent in Singapore, offering to replace the buggered-up parts for free. I accepted with gratitude, offered to pay again, was refused, and soon had a couple of working pens once more.

I eventually stopped using fountain pens because of the ink issue and switched to using the Pentel Sterling ballpoint pen. The Pentel ballpoint refills were superior, in my view, to the Parkers, and when the Sterling and its refills disappeared off the shelves in Australia I switched to Parker and Penline Gel refills and use them to this day. There is still an ink issue — not waterproof — but these pen-and-ink combinations write pretty well (with other ballpoints my handwriting turns into shaky fowl scratches).

In January this year I discovered a whole new world of “bulletproof” inks when googling “waterproof fountain pen ink” and now I’m come full circle to fountain pens. I use the Rotring 400s and a couple of new black Parker Sonnets with Noodler’s Bulletproof Black, and am waiting for a shipment of Rotring Esprit (Graphite) pens to arrive. The Esprits appear to be the 400’s successor, with harder looking lines.

I like my pens streamlined and unornamented, as you can see.

As for these two nibs? I’ve put them aside for the day I can get them repaired. This may never happen because the nibs look like sealed units, but at least they don’t take up much room. I just wish I could get replacements. I’ve googled the part numbers without success. Here they are, just for reference:
* R700451 for the 400 FH-F
* R700452 for the 400 FH-M

Perhaps the 400 and Esprit nibs are interchangeable. Hmm…


[Edited on 12 May 2010]

It is quite possible that I’ve managed to repair the clogged nibs tonight.

The nibs are indeed sealed units, but it would appear that the worst of the crud had been deposited between the tines and also between the nib and the feed. I ran some waxed dental floss (unwaxed would probably have been better but I didn’t have any in the house) through the aforementioned areas on the dirtiest nib and then tested it in a pen.

I had to force ink through the feed by turning the screw on the cartridge converter, but once the ink got started it seemed to continue flowing without a hitch. I’ll continue using the nib for another three days or so; with any luck my optimism is not misplaced.

[Edited on 13 May 2010]

I can confirm that there is zero ink flow between secondary reservoir and feed in both of the faulty nibs unless fluid pressure is increased by operating the piston in the converter. The nibs are dead, dead, dead.

[Edited on 01 July 2012]

Updated in When you have nothing left to lose (fixing a Rotring 400 nib)


5 Responses to My perfect writing instrument is a fountain pen

  1. ravensmarch says:

    Seek out some Rapido-Eze; it’s a solution meant to clean crusty ink from technical pens, and it may do the business in this situation.

  2. Thanks; I will look into it, if only for the minusicule chance of saving the nibs.

    The problem, of course, is that the nibs are sealed units[*]. There are only two ways to get into, or out of, the secondary reservoir: the nib end and the part which attaches to the cartridge. The larger access point is less than 1mm in diameter. I’ll see if I can post a picture in a day or two.

    [*] That is, I can’t find any way to dismantle them.

  3. Claire says:

    There is a Koh-I-Noor Pen Cleaner that’s basically a suction bulb for pulling solution in and pushing it out of a nib. That might work. And, of course, there are ultrasonic bath cleaners that might work to push the solution around in the nibs and break up any clots.

  4. Sarita Stielau says:

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