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The Pen Doctor XXXVI

(This page published April 21, 2021)

Reference Info Index | Glossopedia  ]

Black Rod Fell Out of Snorkel Tube

Q:I was cleaning the snorkel tube and a black rod came out. Can I re-insert this? What is its function?

℞x:That black rod is part of the feed system. If you look at it closely, you will see that it is grooved along the flat surface; that’s an ink channel that conveys the ink from the sac to the outer feed, which in turn feeds the ink to the nib. At one end of the rod, there is a slit that allows the ink from the channel to flow to the rounded outside surface so that it can get to the outer feed. At the exposed end of the Snorkel tube is a matching slit.

You can reinsert the rod by aligning it, un-slit end first, with the flat (grooved) surface downward (away from the nib) and the slit at the end perfectly in line with the slit in the Snorkel tube, then pushing it gently in — it’s made of hard rubber and is very easy to break, so treat it with extra care. Push it in all the way. If your pen has an open nib, the rod should seat flush with the end of the Snorkel tube. If it has a “TRIUMPH” point, the rod is slightly beveled at the exposed end, and you need to push it in just far enough that the bevel matches the bevel on the Snorkel tube. Here is an animated GIF showing the alignment in a pen with a “TRIUMPH” point:

Fountain pen nib and Snorkel tube

Ink Bleeds When Applied Over Watercolor

Q:I am an artist of more than 38 years’ experience with technical pens/rapidographs. I like thin lines pad4x0 or 1.0–1.5 in fountain pen. UEF platinum century is my preferred nib.

I’ve recently switched over to fountain pens because I go through even the jewel nibs of the rapidographs on my drawings rather quickly. Thinking fountain pen nibs might be more durable. I draw on Fabriano printmaking paper. First I watercolor then ink on top.

I have to use workable spray fix after I watercolor in order for the fountain pen ink (dye based) not to bleed when I make my ultra extra fine marks. Spray fix is the only way as it provides a “seal” over the watercolor.


My question: am I doing harm or damage to my fountain pen nibs?

℞x:I can’t deny that workable spray fixative is one solution to the problem of bleeding, but I’m concerned that the fixative might be abrasive in order to achieve the matte, toothy texture that allows you to use pastels and other media over it. This would explain why you go through technical pen points so rapidly, and it also means that your fountain pen nibs might well wear quickly.

I think there’s a better and easier solution, but it would require an alteration to your technique. Most of my artist clients who use a similar technique use Platinum Carbon Black for their inkline art, and they do the ink work first. Once the ink is dry, it’s waterproof, and the watercolor can be applied over it without causing it to bleed. The piece to the right was done in this manner. I understand that this method is “backwards” from the way you are used to working, but it might be the only realistic solution to the bleeding problem.

Because Carbon Black is a “nanoparticle” ink, the particles of colorant (lampblack) are small enough that they will remain in suspension much better than the particles of ordinary pigments. However, I still advise cleaning a pen thoroughly about once a fortnight if you’re using it with Carbon Black or any other nanoparticle ink; the results in your art will be worth the additional hassle.

Cleaning a Moldy Pen

Q:I am writing because I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind me asking a question. I have recently noticed mold on one of my Nakaya nibs. I have already disassembled it and applied ketoconazole. My question is, for how long should I keep it wet with the antifungal?

℞x:For many people, disinfecting a moldy pen is a task better left to a professional. If you really want to do it yourself, however, here is what you need to know.

Ketoconazole is not suitable for removing mold from a pen; nor is any other product that can be used safely as an internal medication for humans. The best readily available fungicide for this job is a product called Basic-G, distributed by a company called Shaklee.

Basic-G is corrosive and can do you serious harm. Avoid getting it on your skin or in your eyes. If it gets on your skin, immediately flush the affected area with cool water; if it gets in your eyes, flush for 15 minutes under low pressure. If ingested, Basic-G can kill you. Treat by drinking several glasses of water and calling a physician.

When you disassemble the pen, you must disassemble it completely, and you must disinfect not only the nib, but also every other part that can possibly come into contact with ink, including the inside of the cap.

The instructions on the Basic-G bottle say to mix the product 1:256 with water, but for this purpose you should mix it 1:128. Then you can clean the pen:

Afterwards, use a small brush made with real animal bristle, such as a nail brush (example below), to scrub away all traces of the mold, especially on the feed, and then rinse every part thoroughly. Let the parts dry, and then reassemble the pen.

Nail brush
Do not use a brush with bristles of Nylon, acrylic, or other synthetic. These materials can be harder than animal bristle, and they can scratch some pen materials.

Next, and this is critical, dispose of any ink or inks that you have used in the moldy pen, and disinfect every other pen that you have used with those inks. Mold is insidious. It spreads quickly, and if you don’t get it all, it will just keep coming back. When you have finished disinfecting a pen, don’t forget to clean the vessel in which you soaked the pen parts.

EXTRA: Questions About Ink Composition

nk variety

An email dropped into the Nashua Pen Spa’s inbox recently that brings up some good questions about inks. It seems appropriate to share the answers with the wider community.

What is the range of viscosity for ink? I’ll assume water is the reference.

Viscosity isn’t the question, really. Viscosity is the “thickness” or fluidity of a liquid: water, motor oil, and honey have different viscosities. Dye-based fountain pen inks all have essentially the same viscosity as water. Stray very far from the viscosity of water, and you have a fluid that will run out of the pen (thinner) or not flow at at all (thicker).

For the technically minded, viscosity is the resistance of a fluid to gradual deformation by shear stress or tensile stress. Water at 20.2° C (68.4° F) has an absolute viscosity of 1.0 centiPoise (cP). 1 cP = 0.01 g/(cm sec).

What matters is the ink’s surface tension, or “wetness,” and this is where inks do vary, although again not by much. Inks with a lower surface tension (wetter) dry more rapidly, but they are more likely to bleed and feather as they are absorbed into the paper, while inks with a higher surface tension (drier) will give a much better line because they sit on the surface of the paper — but they stay wet longer. Like viscosity, surface tension also affects how easily an ink will flow, and an ink that is too wet will flow too well while one that is too dry won't flow well. It’s all a careful balancing act.

Are there are oil based inks for nibs?

No. Even a very small amount of oil will cause a fountain pen to skip or have trouble starting. The so-called “lubricated” inks must use water-based lubricants. Ballpoint pens use an oil-based ink. It’s sticky, and the rotation of the ball carries it from the interior of the refill around through the ball cavity and onto the paper, where the user’s writing pressure then presses it into the paper in the same manner as with the ink in a letterpress printing press.

Is there a limit on dye content?

Yes, there is a finite limit, although it varies with the different kinds of dye and also with the kinds and amounts of other solutes in the ink. The limit is the amount that will remain in solution under the range of atmospheric conditions (temperature, pressure, humidity) that the ink is designed for. If there is too much dye, then varying conditions can allow some of the dye to precipitate out of solution and form a solid layer in the bottom of the bottle (or in the pen!). Any ink that must be shaken before filling a pen with it is potentially a problem because of the precipitated solutes or, in the case of Noodler’s Bulletproof inks, because the component that makes the dye bond chemically with the paper is not a solute. It’s a particulate substance that is in suspension.

Where do I find information like this?

All of this information can be extrapolated from the contents of physics and chemistry textbooks; and individual patents for inks will contain some of it in a digested form. So far as I know, there is no generally available published reference work devoted to fountain pen inks. Information like this, and much more, can be found in my books. This page contains direct links to Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble, where you can find all of my books.

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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