Ask John #1

This week, we're kicking off our "Ask John" series. Have a question for John regarding pens and nibs? Send in your inquiries to!

1. Do both tines have to be perfectly equal in order to have a smooth writing feel?  It seems the pen feels so much smoother on the paper when the tines are perfectly equal but once in a while I write with a pen that has somewhat uneven times but it is still pretty smooth … but usually still not as smooth as my other pens where the tines are perfectly even. 


Hi Bob,

Thanks for this question. The short answer is yes, balanced tines optimize a good feel on fountain pens. There are several factors that contribute to a smooth writing pen and tips that both touch the paper at the same time not only are smoother, but are much less likely to skip. 

All things being equal, firm, wet, and broad nibs are smoother than flexible, dry, and fine points. Firm nibs, if properly balanced are less likely to move out of alignment when pressure is applied. Flexible nibs, on the other hand, by their nature, open, revealing the inner margins of the tips to the paper, giving the nib more feedback. The amount of ink that a nib puts down also plays a big part in the sensation of smoothness. More ink means a lighter pressure is necessary and as well ads lubrication to the tips. Needle point pens are scratchier than broad points and of course there is everything in between. 

We can make nibs more flexible, not less. We can adjust the ink flow between very dry (and scratchy) and as wet as the feed will allow. And we can make a tip finer and only by re-tipping can we make it broader. 

2. What tools would you use to tighten the clip on a Nakaya pen so it will stay put in a shirt pocket? How can this be accomplished without denting the clip and making it worse?


Hi Frank, 

This is an easy one.  If the pocket clip has been sprung it is relatively easy to remove the clip, tighten it and reset the clip. All you need is good light, an appropriate size screw driver, and a pair of pliers with some soft padding on the jaws. (See photo below)  If you feel uncertain about this, though, we can do it for you. 

Carefully find the slot of the slotted screw inside the cap. There is a danger of breaking the cap if you twist the screwdriver when it is not in the cap but along side the screw. So be sure you are in the slot of the screw. That is what the light is for, finding the slot. Unscrew the the screw while holding the top crown with your hand. You may want to use a small piece of tape to locate the top cap in relationship to the whole cap. Remove the top cap and lift off the clip.  Hold the top bend of the clip with a padded pair of pliers and bend down the clip until it is slightly tighter. You will want to change the angle by a degree or two in order to tighten it. This should take some force. Try the clip back on the cap to see that it is now tighter than before.  If you are satisfied that it is in the right position, put it all back together with the screwdriver. 

You can test the spring against the cap with your finger nails. It should hold on to your shirt pocket firmly so that when you tie your shoes or pick up that spare penny from the ground it does not slip out. 

Good luck!









(Note that the pen pictured above is a pre-lacquered hard rubber Naka-ai, not available)

3. Do you have a King of Pen Nagahara cross point nib available?  If so, what is the price?

- Dennis

Hi Dennis,

Unfortunately, the Sailor factory has stopped producing any of the specialty nibs at this time.  For this reason we have not been able to provide the cross point or any of the other laminated nibs. We are probably as unhappy as you are about this situation as these are the most innovative nibs that have been produced in the world. We look forward to the day when they will again be available.

4. I would appreciate knowing how best to take care of the ebonite Sailor king of pen I have just ordered.  In addition, how does one best take care of ebonite pens with an Urushi finish.  To me, care includes not only matters of handling and storing, but also guidelines for cleaning.  Thanks.

- Michael

Hi Michael,

If the pen is ebonite, hard rubber, and has no lacquer coating, it should be kept out of the sun. The sun can lighten a black pen to a grey or greenish tone after some time. Some people find that “patina” agreeable and a reflection of the time that the pen has been in use. Others can vigorously polish the hard rubber until it comes back to the original black color. Products like Simichrome or Wenol, which contain mild abrasives, can help with this. Pastes can get into cracks and imprints though and be hard to remove. 

On the other hand this question gives me the opportunity to extol the virtues of Urushi lacquer. This material, if it is genuine urushi lacquer, is extremely durable and requires very little care. Wiping it with a soft cotton cloth should suffice. A damp cloth can be used to remove any grime. I would avoid harsh abrasives as they could dull the finish. Some urushi surfaces are intentionally matte and should not be polished with any vigor or they will loose their matte quality. They can be lightly wiped with the damp cloth to clean. 

Hope this works for you.

5. What is the best way to lightly polish up and “wax” a pen barrel? What products please by name. What is the best way to make a nib shine up one that may have a light haze from age please be specific which products what to use is it is gold?  What to use if rhodium/silver colored nib?

- Mike

Hi Mike,

I do not use wax on my pens as I prefer the feel of the body material, whether it is hard rubber, celluloid or resin.  I can understand how you might want to “brighten up” a pen with wax, much like you would wax your car, but I have to admit this is not an area that I have given much thought. I often see gold nibs with tarnish, especially some vintage nibs of unknown alloy. The tarnish comes not from the gold but from the other elements in the alloy, such as silver and copper. The lower the karat count the more likely the nib is to tarnish. This does not mean that the nib is of lesser quality, however, as some of the very best nibs, especially vintage nibs, in my view, are of lower count. We use a polishing cloth carefully to remove the tarnish. We have this cloth on our site which has two kinds of polishing fabric.

We do not use the red on nibs as it contains some wax which can cause a problem with ink flow if it gets into the slit. The yellow side works but should also be used carefully avoiding wiping across the slit. Only wipe down the tines. Use a toothpick to get the cloth close to the gripping section. Just a few strokes with this will brighten a dull nib. Too much polishing on some plated nibs, especially rose gold can remove the plating. Rhodium is tougher and can be polished a little more aggressively. 

Publish Date: 
Friday, November 30, 2018

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