Nib Novice, Part 7: Noodler’s Ahab Flex Nib

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


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If you watch a flex nib in action, you’re going to be impressed. It’s not only that they’re commonly used by professional calligraphers, but, due to their softer tines, flex nibs are capable of large variations in both line width and shading. I’d been looking forward to trying one out for a while, even though I already have a calligraphy pen that I rarely use.

Unfortunately, outside of the vintage and high-end fountain pen markets, flex nibs can be hard to find. The popular brands, such as the Pilot Falcon, use gold as the primary nib material, putting them in the $150+ price range. For something less expensive, the only option I’ve found is from Noodler’s Ink, which produces several lines of flex nib pens that cost anywhere from $15 to $75.

So, not knowing if I’d actually enjoy this nib style, I went with something on the cheaper side: the Noodler’s Ahab with the”Bumblebee” barrel design, which cost me about $23. For ink, I went with Thornton’s Orange – a bright color to match the bright barrel – for an extra $9.

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After inking up the pen, I experienced some initial frustration until I found this guide from Goulet Pens, and I realized that operating a flex nib demands a different touch. Typically, fountain pens glide across a piece of paper with very little (or no) need to apply force. Flex nibs, on the other hand, require pressure. The more the nib is pressed down, the more the tines will separate (i.e. “flex”) to allow for greater ink flow.

This line variability allows for some very artistic writing. However, it does take some practice to master. One guide at VintagePen.Net even asserts the importance of proper posture while writing with a flex nib. That may be overkill for a non-professional fountain pen user, but playing around with varying pressures and writing angles is still a lot of fun.

The Noodler’s Ahab – and flex nib fountain pens in general – are definitely not functional. By that I mean to say, you probably wouldn’t want to take notes with it. Flex nibs don’t seem to be very good with the block-style fonts like I typically use either. So, it would be rational to assume that I wouldn’t like this pen, but I do. This flex nib is such an enjoyable writing experience that I’ll find an excuse to use it… even if it’s only for signing holiday cards.

Nib Novice, Part 6 – Vintage Parker 51

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


Meet the Parker 51 fountain pen.

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First produced in 1941, the Parker 51 would go on to sell tens of millions of units before being discontinued in 1972. It’s possibly the most popular fountain pen ever made, and has a long history to show for it. In the vintage pen world, Parker 51s aren’t particularly rare, and their individual values depend greatly on age, condition, and style. But nevertheless, each one is a classic.

This particular Parker 51 was given to me as Christmas gift last year, but was probably originally produced sometime during the 1950s. However, as I’ve gathered from the wonderful resource page at Richard’s Pens, it can be difficult to nail down a specific production date. Regardless of its exact age, this pen has weathered the decades extremely well; it still writes great, despite a bit of leaking around the nib.

The Parker 51 is obviously designed to be a working man’s pen. It has a professional look, a sturdy clip, and the cap pulls off quickly (as opposed to most of my other fountain pens, which have caps that screw on and off). It also has a hooded nib that allows ink to start flowing quickly. But, above all, my favorite feature is the aerometric filling system.

With this filling system there is a flexible ink sac built into the barrel that acts a lot like a pipette bulb. A small cutout inside the barrel will allow you to compress the sac, squeezing air out of it. With the sac still compressed, all you need to do is dip the nib into a bottle of ink and release the sac – ink will be sucked inside. It’s a very simple mechanism, yet one that is rather unique.

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I like this Parker 51. It’s such a classic that every fountain pen enthusiast should probably own one. If it weren’t for that slow nib leak, I’d probably carry this one around with me a lot more. As it stands, I’m a little paranoid about it, but I’m hoping that the problem will be solved by using a different ink. Currently, it’s filled with Noodler’s Black, which looks great but seems a little on the thin side.

Overall, however, I’ve found the vintage fountain pen world to be fairly daunting. There’s really a lot to learn in order to properly become a vintage collector. Still, I’ve had fun getting my feet wet with the Parker 51, and I can easily see myself buying another one someday.

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Nib Novice, Part 5 – The TWSBI Eco & a Zebra V-301 Update

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


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Chalk it up to a bad experience, but I really had no desire to pick up a new fountain pen after putting down my Lamy Safari a few months ago. I’d already purchased a pen – a TWSBI Eco – but I couldn’t bring myself to ink it up. So I decided to let it sit, shrink-wrapped on my desk, for about a month. When curiosity finally drove me to break open the packaging, I realized pretty quickly that my experience with fountain pens was about to change for the better.

Just to look at it, it’s obvious that the Eco is one of the coolest pens I own. In the lingo of the fountain pen world, it’s referred to as a demonstrator pen, a style that indicates a clear-bodied pen that makes all the inner workings visible. Filled with a dark red ink, “Rouge Hematite” by J. Herbin, it’s neat to watch the fluid slosh around the pen’s innards and move through the feed toward the nib. It’s certainly eye-catching. In fact, a co-worker of mine recently mistook the Eco for an e-cigarette and erroneously scolded me for picking up the habit of smoking.

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In addition to its looks, I’m very happy with the way the Eco writes. Various nib styles are available, but I decided to blindly go with a stub nib. Luckily, this turned out to be a great choice, as it seems to give a professionally stylized character to my print handwriting. This has everything to do with the shape of the nib, which looks to my eye like a narrower, rounded-off italic nib. This gives it a vertical/horizontal line variation that is a lot more subtle than what you get from a calligraphy pen.

It’s worth noting, too, that the Eco’s piston filling mechanism holds a lot of ink. A piston mechanism, I’ve learned, works almost exactly like a cartridge converter; simply dip the nib into a bottle of ink, then twist the end to suck the ink up into the reservoir. There’s really only one difference between the two filling systems: instead of the a cartridge being housed inside the pen, the pen’s barrel is the ink cartridge. Yes, I have some anxiety about the pen coming apart and ink spilling everywhere, but it’s something which – knock on wood – hasn’t happened yet.

I’m happy to report that the Eco is the first fountain pen I’ve found myself coming back to again and again. I’ve even considered buying a second one with black trim that I’d fill with a black ink to match, but that’s a little ways down the road. For now, I’m excited again about trying another new fountain pen.

In other news…

Shortly after writing about the Zebra V-301, the fountain pen that barely worked, I received an email from one of Zebra’s product managers. The V-301’s design was in the process of being updated, and I was asked if Zebra could send me one to try out. I agreed, and a few months later, the new V-301 arrived in my mailbox.

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On first inspection, the new V-301 looks practically identical to the older model. Take off the cap, however, and it’s easy to tell that the nib has gone through a bit of an update. A shroud now covers the nib and feed section, and it’s likely that there are more changes underneath. Whatever the case, I can say that the V-301 now works a lot better. The new model writes much more consistently (and right side-up), and the ink flow has been reduced. I’ve also noticed that the cap of the new model posts a lot more securely than the old one did.

It’s still not a particularly smooth fountain pen, and I think the clip could use some beefing up. But for a fountain pen under $5, it’s not bad. At the very least, I’m happy that Zebra listened to their customers and made improvements.

Nib Novice, Part 4: Counterfeit Lamy Safari

Note: this post is the fourth part of a series in which I’m learning about fountain pens. For Part 1, click here. For part 2, click here. For Part 3, click here.


When I first began looking into fountain pens, my eye immediately turned to the Lamy Safari. I love the colorful options and the slick, modern design. So, for a little more than $20, I snagged one from Amazon and looked forward to inking it up. But when I finally broke it out of its packaging, it quickly turned into a frustrating and disappointing experience.

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Instead of an ink cartridge like the Zebra V-301 and Sheaffer Calligrapher, the Lamy Safari came with a cartridge converter, which is basically just the refillable version of a standard ink cartridge. It’s really pretty easy to use: (1.) pop the converter into the pen like you would with a normal cartridge, (2.) dip the pen’s nib into a bottle of ink, then (3.) use use the converter’s plunger to suck the ink up and into the pen. Pen Chalet has a 2-minute video explaining the process.

Unfortunately, when I attempted this simple procedure myself, the ink I used immediately clogged up the pen. I could get no ink to flow at all. So I cleaned the pen and the converter – a tedious process that involves a lot of water rinses – and refilled it with a different ink. This time, instead of clogging up the pen, the new ink began to leak all over the place. Did I do something wrong? Did I choose the wrong ink? Did I break the pen somehow?  I couldn’t understand why I was having so much trouble.

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Before I let my irritation compel me to throw the Safari out the window, I decided to consult with the fountain pen fans at Reddit, who suggested replacing the converter – perhaps the one that came with the pen was faulty. Luckily, I had ordered an extra one, so I tried it. And for a little while the pen seemed to work, but I soon realized that the leaking didn’t actually stop, it just slowed. Whenever I removed the cap, ink still smeared all over the pen and all over my hands. After a couple days of this, I was done with this pen.

So I sat down to write this post, unhappy and exasperated, when I stumbled onto a blog by Goldspot Pens. I was looking to see if others had similarly poor experiences with the Lamy Safari, and it turned out that many indeed had. Only these problems weren’t with real Lamy Safari fountain pens, they were with Safari counterfeits.

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Reading further, my experiences matched closely with a blog by The Desk of Lori and a post on the FPGeeks Forum. Counterfeit Lamy Safari fountain pens seem to be sold through third party sellers on Amazon and eBay, and there are a fair few differences when comparing one to a real Lamy Safari. Small differences are easy to spot with both in hand, but the major difference is that these counterfeits are known to be barely functional. Fortunately and to Amazon’s credit, I was issued a full refund without being asked to return the counterfeit.

When I finally ordered a real Lamy Safari – this time from Goldspot, since their PSA alerted me to the counterfeit issue in the first place – my experience was much better. I chose a limited edition Neon Yellow color with an extra fine nib, and I inked it up with a bottle of Levenger’s Raven Black ink. And though the ink was more gray than I expected and the extra-fine a little too fine for my taste, I’m a lot happier.

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I still have some issues with fountain pens, but they mostly come from still being a newbie. I press down a little too hard on the paper, and I fumble to get the nib turned the correct way. But, hopefully, this will all improve with time.

Nib Novice, Part 3 – The Sheaffer Calligrapher

Note: this post is the third part of a series in which I’m learning about fountain pens. For Part 1, click here. For part 2, click here.

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One bonus that comes from having a blog about pens is that I occasionally get some interesting hand-me-downs. This Sheaffer Caligrapher is a good example. Purchased sometime in the 1980s, it was found by my mom at the bottom of her desk drawer, where it sat in its original packaging, unopened and with two black-ink cartridges.

After my bad experience with the Zebra V-301, I was eager to break open the packaging of a new fountain pen and pop one of the ink cartridges in. I gave the cartridge a squeeze to get the ink flowing, and to my surprise, this 30-year-old pen began to write without any issues (though I did manage to make a small mess).

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italic (calligraphy) nib vs. fine nib

Up until now, I haven’t gotten into much detail about nibs. The nib is the tip of the fountain pen; the part the touches the paper and distributes ink to the page. There are a lot of different nib styles – fine point, medium point, stub, flex, etc. And a fountain pen will produce different line variations, depending on the type of nib being used.

The Shaffer Calligrapher uses an italic nib, which has a tip that flattens out into a broad area. Rather than providing a consistent line width, this nib design is meant to produce broad horizontal lines and thin vertical lines. And If you hadn’t guessed by this pen’s name, it makes an ideal tool for calligraphy.

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As far as I can tell, the Sheaffer Calligrapher is an older model of the Sheaffer Viewpoint, which sells for under $10 and is commonly bundled with special calligraphy sets. The Calligrapher is built nicely for this purpose, too. It has a threaded cap with a flat end that can stand up vertically when posted, making it ideal for longer writing sessions. Surprisingly, it’s also a pretty durable pen. I inadvertently threw it in my backpack where it banged around for a week, and when I took it out to write, it still worked great.

All said and done, It was nice to use the Calligrapher. It’s a good-quality pen at a low price, however, I can also tell that it isn’t the right pen for me. I’d like a pen that’s more practical for every day use and something that fits my block writing style better. In the mean time, the Calligrapher will rest in slot number three on my fountain pen stand, waiting until the next time I need to write a thank you note.

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