Nib Novice, Part 9: Pen Cleaning & Retro 51

This is the ninth part in a series in which I’m learning to use fountain pens. For all the previous installments, click here.


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It’s probably an understatement to say that I have a fondness for the Retro 51 Tornado. Not only do I have an embarrassingly large collection myself, I’ve also given away many of them as gifts, hoping that others will appreciate the pen as I do. Of course I’ve been aware for a while that Retro 51 offers a fountain pen version of the Tornado. I even ordered one a few months ago, but it has been sitting, unopened, on my desk. Before cracking the packaging open, I promised myself that I’d do something I’ve been putting off: fountain pen cleaning.

While I like the fountain pen collection I’ve built up over the course of writing this blog series, the simple fact is that I just don’t consistently use all of them. For example, my Parker 51 is great, but I feel guilty letting ink just sit inside a vintage pen. And I think it’s neat to have that counterfeit Lamy Safari in my collection, but I’m never going to actually use that piece of junk ever again.

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The good news is that Goulet Pens has a wonderful guide to pen cleaning. The bad news is that it is tedious as hell. The procedure goes like this: fill a cup with room temperature water in a sink, then pull the water into your pen (via whatever filling system the pen happens to have), then flush the water back out. Keep doing this over and over, replacing the water every once in a while, until the water being flushed out of the pen comes clean. Wiping the nib down with a paper towel after a few flushes can speed the process up, but the whole thing still feels endless.

The Parker 51, with its aerometric filling system, was pretty easy to clean. The counterfeit Lamy, on the other hand, required quite a lot of clockwise and counterclockwise twisting of the cartridge-converter. I have a couple more pens that I should probably clean, but, in all honesty, I currently lack the patience. So while letting the pens dry out overnight, I decided it was time to finally break out the Retro 51 Tornado Fountain Pen.

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In typical Retro 51 fashion, the Tornado fountain pen is available in a bunch of styles. My choice was The Lincoln,  a vintage-looking pen with a shiny, copper-colored coating. It’s got some weight to it, and it feels like a substantial pen. It uses a medium Schmidt nib and comes with both a cartridge-converter and a generic ink-filled cartridge.

Initially, I was going to use the cartridge converter, and I even started filling the pen with some bottled ink. Then I remembered all the tedious cleaning I’d just finished, so I did an on-the-fly switch to the pre-filled cartridge. That probably wasn’t my best idea, as it caused a bit of a mess.

After using the Tornado fountain pen for a few days, I’m sad to say that I grew a little tired of it. I had some trouble with ink flow, particularly whenever I’d set the pen down for a few hours. But mostly, it worked just fine. I guess this one just didn’t blow me away in the same way that the TWSBI Eco did. It’s almost as if this Tornado fountain pen is one I’d rather look at than use – or maybe I’d rather just buy the rollberball version of the Lincoln instead.

As someone who collects Retro 51 Tornado pens, that’s fine. I’m glad I have this pen. However, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to anyone else. Hopefully my next fountain pen pen – the final one I’ll be purchasing for this series – will leave more of an impression.

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3 thoughts on “Nib Novice, Part 9: Pen Cleaning & Retro 51

  1. Ooh, I love my Tornado fountain pen! I have the plain black one, which I won in a contest, and for ages it was my go-to pen. Then again, if I leave it sitting unused for very long, I have to work to get the ink flowing again. Like you, I’m madly in love with almost all of my TWSBI pens, and they’ve become my EDC pens. (I have a TWSBI vac that I don’t love, but I think it’s mostly because I haven’t had the patience to figure out all the ins and outs of a vac-filler.)

    Do you have the Goulet pen flush? I HATED cleaning my pens until I got some Goulet pen flush. That makes the tedious process WAY less tedious. 🙂

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  2. Just a tip to make cleaning fountain pens MUCH easier: go to gouletpens.com and buy you two things: a syringe and a bulb cleaner. Now: open the pen, including removing the cartridge or converter. If you want to clean those out, just use the syringe to quickly flush out the cartridge/converter with water (hold the cartridge/converter inverted over the sink while you do this to let the colored water run out). I often fill cartridges using this method for my mini fountain pens that can’t take converters. That way I can use any color/brand of ink I want. Anyway, using the syringe, you’ll have a clean cartridge/converter in seconds.

    Now, as for the nib and section: take the bulb cleaner and squeeze it in a bowl of water to partially fill it. Insert it gently but firmly into the back, open end of the section and hold over the sink. Squeeze the bulb and flush the old ink outta the pen! Repeat a couple of times till water runs clear. Just use both of these methods, and you’ll have a clean pen in under a minute. MUCH LESS TEDIOUS.

    Now, as for the water you’ve collected in drops all inside your cartridge/converter and nib/section: first shake them out over the sink. You can be vigorous. Next, to get the last few drops so you don’t dilute the ink you’re about to put in there, hold them in your cupped hand with the open ends surrounded by a folded paper towel. Then close your hand gently around that little package and swing your arms quickly and vigorously, shaking the leftover water out. It will collect on the paper towel. After doing this a couple of times, your pen will be virtually dry and ready to re-ink.

    Good luck!

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  3. Thanks for the read Andrew. Some good tips above to relieve some of the pain of fountain pen cleaning. I use the two solo cup method. One for the clean water to suck in and the other solo cup for the expended inky water.

    On your Retro 51 sounds like you got a bum nib. Unfortunately it happens alot in that price range. If you really like the pen you might consider a nibmeister’s services to tune it. Yes proportionate to the price of the pen it’s alot of money to make a pen right for what should have been done at the factor but your other choice is try your luck at buying another one. I skip the aggravation of the hit and miss. I would rather enjoy a $50 pen that cost me $85 with nib tuning than cuss at the $50 pen every time I see it and never use it. Just my approach for thought.

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