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The Pen Doctor XXXV

(This page revised October 13, 2020)

Reference Info Index | Glossopedia  ]

Nib Shifted on Feed

Pilot marks some of its nibs with the letter S, indicating Soft. Examples include the nib in the Falcon, marked <SF>, <SM>, or <SB>, and the “music” nib in pens like the Custom 732, marked <MS>. It is important to realize that these nibs are not flexible. They are soft, to give you a very lively ride as you write. Pressing on them as if they were flexible runs a serious risk of damaging them.

Q:I have a Pilot 74 Music nib (MS) I bought in Japan a couple of years ago. I use it for calligraphy or everyday use and like the flex nib allowing nice capitals. Unfortunately I applied too much pressure and the nib is now slighly bent on one side, not much; but enough to alter its functioning.

℞x:There is a very good chance you can fix your pen yourself. The nib in the Custom 74 is not completely secured against movement in the section, and I suspect that you might have moved it sideways rather than actually bending it. If that is the case, repair is simple. Look at the image here, and you will see that the nib in my Custom 74 has moved sideways. In the image, it has moved to the right, but you are looking at the underside of the feed, so this nib has actually moved to the left if you look at it from the top side of the nib.

If the nib appears to be centered on the feed, DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS REPAIR! You will almosts certainly make things worse.

See how I have positioned a finger on the top of the nib to keep from bending it away from the feed. My thumbnail is pushing on the nib’s shoulder to move it back over the center of the feed. You can try this with your pen, and if the nib moves as I have described, adjust it so that it is perfectly centered on the feed. It should be all right again. (Obviously, if the nib slid the other way, you should switch hands.)


If it doesn’t feel perfect, look at the tip with a magnifying loupe, positioning the pen as shown in the next image. If the two tines are not perfectly aligned, try moving the nib a tiny amount until they are aligned.


This method works for many other pens, too, especially modern ones. Vintage pens tend to have their nibs wedged in place by friction, and they are harder to move; but mot of them will move if you are peristent. Be careful, though. If you push too hard, you can slip, and that could really bend the nib.

Identifying Parker “51” Nib Grades

Q:I’ve been searching and I have not been lucky. I’m trying to define the sizes of the nibs of the 51s. I have a few and I can’t tell, is there such thing?

℞x:Stroke width chartUnfortunately, nearly all vintage nibs, including “51” nibs, lack any sort of marking to identify the grade (point size). Parker graded its nibs by using a small metal gauge, about the size of a credit card, with holes of graduated sizes in it. If a nib’s tip would fit into the M hole easily enough that it extended all the way through the card, but would not go into the F hole far enough to extend all the way through, that nib was a medium. And so on.

There is a problem with that system and any other system that doesn’t involve actually testing the nib in an inked pen. Two nibs of the same nominal size might make strokes of surprisingly different widths, depending on factors like the shapes of their tips, the tine spacing, and so on. As a general rule, I like to tune medium nibs so they produce a stroke 0.6 mm wide with a flow of about 6 on a scale from 1 (Death Valley) to 10 (the Amazon River). Too dry and the nib will skip; too wet and it will not hold prime. Fine is 0.5 mm, and so on down by steps of 0.1 mm. Broad is typically 0.8 mm. Click or tap the image to the right for a handy stroke width chart that you can print out. The pads mentioned in the chart are no longer available, but a reasonably close match is Staples 22-lb 8"×11" Multipurpose Paper.

Pencil Lead Won’t Load

Q:I purchased a turn-of-the-century chatelaine mechanical pencil that looks to be in good shape. I bought a variety of leads made for antique pencils, but can’t seem to get any of them to work. The leads get installed in the front part of the pencils, and I tried unscrewing the tip and inserting the lead from the back of the tip, but although it seems thin enough it won’t go through. This leads me to believe there might be som old lead in the tip obstructing it. Please let me know what you think.

℞x:I don’t claim to be a pencil repairer, but a few pencils have shown up at the Nashua Pen Spa with what sounds like the same problem yours has. If you try to look through the nozzle (the tip) toward a bright light but can’t see anything, you can be sure it’s blocked. The best way to deal with this is to use a very small drill in a pin vise (a hobbyist’s tool) to drill out the broken lead. Drill from the front, not the back, and use the drill sizes listed in this table:

Lead Diameter Drill Size

1.1 mm 58
0.9 mm 65
0.7 mm 71
0.5 mm 77


In the photo above, the left index finger guided the drill into the pencil’s nozzle, and once the drilling has started, it provides a firm rest so that the pencil will not slip out of line.

Many vintage propel-only pencils hold the lead by using a nozzle that has been slit, with the sides pressed slightly together to clamp the lead gently. As you start drilling on a pencil of this type, pause and examine the shavings. If the drill appears to be taking off metal, use a smaller one.

The information in this article is as accurate as possible, but you should not take it as absolutely authoritative or complete. If you have additions or corrections to this page, please consider sharing them with us to improve the accuracy of our information.

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