Nib Novice, Part 8: Platinum Preppy Conversion

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


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For those interested, fountain pens can provide plenty of “DIY” opportunities. Cleaning, nib swapping, and basic restoration projects seem to be fairly commonplace, for example, but an eyedropper conversion was the one project that really peaked my interested. An “eyedropper” refers to a type of fountain pen filling system (or lack thereof) where all you need do is pour or pipette a load of bottled ink into a pen’s barrel. So an eyedropper conversion is just like it sounds, when you take a pen that doesn’t have an eyedropper filling system and modify it to have one.

There are a couple benefits to having an eyedropper fountain pen. First, with the pen’s entire barrel filled, it holds a maximum amount of ink, significantly reducing refill frequency. And second, an eyedropper is easy to manage and clean, as opposed to filling systems that are a little more complicated (I’m looking at you, Parker 51). Additionally, I’m converting a Platinum Preppy, a pen which uses proprietary ink cartridges. So rather than being forced into using Platinum’s inks, I’ll be able to use any ink I’d like in this pen. Incidentally, I’ve decided to go with the gray-ish colored “Charles Dickens” ink by DeAtramentis.

Now to get started…

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The whole process is actually deceptively simple, and a good guide can be found at the JetPens Blog. The basic procedure is this: First, grab a bottle of ink and buy a Platinum Preppy – these pens are widely available for under $5. Then find a #5 O-ring and a small bit of silicone grease. Both these items can be found at most hardware stores, but I took the lazy way out by ordering a 4-pack of O-rings from Goulet Pens, and I’m using the silicone grease that came with my TWSBI Eco.

From there, you simply  (1) unscrew the barrel of the Preppy, (2) get rid of the proprietary ink cartridge, (3) slip the o-ring over the threads, (4) cover the threads will the silicone grease, (5) pour or pipette ink into the barrel of the Preppy, and (6) screw the pen back together. Give it a few shakes, and you’re good to go. Maybe that sounds complicated, but the whole process really only takes about 5 minutes.

The difficult part is more psychological. Thing is, the drawback to doing this eyedropper conversion is that by getting rid of the ink cartridge, I’ve effectively removed one barrier between the outside world and the ink that’s inside the pen. A cheap, plastic barrel is the only thing preventing an inkpocalypse while writing with it. Or, if the barrel’s threading comes loose while the pen is in my pocket, my pants would basically be done for.

So, though I was slightly terrified to do so, I decided to use this pen for the day. I carried it around at work, praying the whole time that I wouldn’t accidentally drop it or crack the plastic somehow. But in the end, well, it worked great! The Preppy’s fine nib writes clean and consistently, and I love any fountain pen with a pull-off cap. Overall, it’s a bit scratchy, but it’s still very good for such an inexpensive fountain pen. And while my fear of getting ink everywhere hasn’t fully evaporated, it has been significantly diminished.

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It turned out to be a fun project, and something I’d recommend to any fountain pen newbie.

Review: RNG Products SQ1, Pressurized Ballpoint, Fine Point

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Back in August 2016, the SQ1 by RNG (Rise-N-Grind) Products was successfully funded on Kickstarter to the relatively modest tune of $10,299. To be fair, at $25 per pen, it’s probably one of the least expensive Kickstarter pens I own, yet it’s still a pen that I happen to like. And, frankly, there’s a lot to like about the SQ1, not least of which is the “shipwrecked copper” cap.

Though other color options/combinations were made available through the Kickstarter campaign, I chose these weathered ends against an anodized blue barrel. It’s one of the coolest-looking pens I own, and it’s a killer piece for the pen holder on my desk. It’s pleasant to write with too; the grip section is patterned with divots that add a nice visual and practical touch. It’s comfortable to hold, and the included Fisher Space Pen refill is always a great choice.

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Since the SQ1 is made from CNC-machined aluminum, making it durable and slender, it’s tempting to think of it as an “everyday carry” pen – it is, in fact, advertised as such. However, I think this classification is a mistake. For one thing, the cap screws on and off, requiring four full, squeaky rotations. Though there is threading at the top of the pen that allows for posting, it’s still a little tedious – tedious enough, anyway, that you wont want to be using the SQ1 for taking short, frequent notes.

Additionally, the SQ1 has no clip, a trait that has caused me trouble in the past. If you wish to take this pen out into the world, you must be very mindful of it, lest is roll off a table or fly out of a pocket. Instead, this is a pen that would be good for taking long notes during a lecture or meeting. It can bang around a bag without trouble, yet still be fashionable and functional when it’s time to sit down and write.

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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 1 – The Pilot VPen

Fountain pens, frankly, are intimidating. For someone like me who’s never used one, they seem a bit finicky and archaic. Learning to become a fountain pen user seems almost like learning to drive stick or learning how to ferment homemade vinegar. There are fervent advocates for all these practices, but to an outsider, they seem like they might be more trouble than they’re worth. So why bother?

Type “why use a fountain pen?” into Google, and you’ll be met with a host of reasons listed on various websites and blogs.  Unfortunately, most of these reasons just don’t speak to me. For example, a blog at oPENions describes how fountain pens can be great for left-handed writers, but I’m not a lefty. A blog at Writer’s Bloc does a great job of explaining how fountain pens are good for people with weak wrists, carpel tunnel, or hand-cramping issues, but none of these are problems for me. A post at Goulet Pens even mentions that fountain pens can save you money in the long run, though if this were a major concern, it would be cheaper for me just to swipe ballpoints from bank lobbies.

For me, there’s only one reason that makes sense. All of those blogs touch on it in one way or another, but I think blogger Ed Jelly puts it best: “Maybe it’s the inner pen geek speaking, but I find it fascinating that there are several parts and either a steel or gold piece of pointed metal that deliver ink to page. Capillary action draws ink from the internal reservoir through a feed to regulate the flow, all the way to the tip of the pen… Different pens have different filling systems and clear pens (called ‘demonstrators’) let you see all the inner workings. Tell me that isn’t more interesting than your standard ballpoint?!” In other words, fountain pens are just kind of neat.

So, in order to learn about fountain pens and decided for myself whether they’re worth the trouble, I’m starting this new series of posts to explore them. Because fountain pens come in a wide range of varieties – different types of nibs, ink refill systems, barrel materials, etc –  I intend to look at a broad spectrum. And I’m beginning with the simplest fountain pen on the market, the Pilot VPen.

At $2.60, the Vpen is also probably the cheapest fountain pen you’ll find on the market, and it definitely looks the part. Its body is light and made of plastic, It’s non-refillable, and entirely disposable. Still, it was fun to use, and surprisingly smooth.

Of course, nobody would consider this a great pen. The ink flow skips in and out occasionally, and it bleeds through paper fairly easily. A decent gel pen beats it any day, but it nevertheless has me looking forward to trying another fountain pen. And perhaps next time I’ll spend  few more dollars.

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