Starting out with a fountain pen

The past few days I’ve spent off the blog have been whiled away reading Neil Peart’s Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road. It’s a long depressing, repetitive book I won’t recommend, but to be fair it was likely a long, depressing and repetitive chapter in Mr. Peart’s life. I’m determined to finish it, but then also start something fun and frivolous immediately after to keep the spark alive for my love of reading. I remember all too well how Neil Gaiman’s American Gods killed my desire to read novels for about a year…

But the other thing I’ve been doing is keeping up with writing my wife a letter a day (mostly) and filling out my journal with stories of the things I’ve seen on this trip. Thanks to Goulet Pens I’ve got a great assortment of ink samples, a few new pens, and three tablets of different stationery and matching envelopes to keep her letters varying and always something new. But it struck me that while I posted about my Lamy 2000 love previously, that’s not what I write to her using. While changing out my ink every three days I use two different pens for a better idea of how good a job I do cleaning them, and avoiding color contamination for each new vial of ink.

So here are the two pens I’ve been using most lately- and they’re much more affordable than a 2000.

Image used without permission from Rick Conner at penspotters. Note the red cap of the Z24 filler.

Image used without permission from Rick Conner at penspotters. Note the red cap of the Z24 filler.

The first is a Lamy Vista, which can usually be had for around thirty bucks. It’s got a triangular section for your fingers to grip toward the nib as you write, and I really like its physical profile. They’ve also got some flat edges to the round profile so they won’t roll off a desk. The Vista, Safari, and Al-Star pens all share the same profile, and are more budget priced to keep them affordable and friendly to students (apparently they find a lot of use in the hands of European kids, opposed to the disposable Bics most American children know and, well, probably loathe). The Safaris are plastic and come in different colors whereas the Vista is clear and the Al-Stars are aluminum bodied. Safaris are Al-Stars also release a limited edition color each year, for those of you who care. They come with a stainless steel nib that I don’t like as much as the 14k gold nib of my 2000, and I’ve heard Lamy nibs can be inconsistent (read a better review here). It’s designed to be used with a replaceable cartridge, which makes inking these clean and easy, but there’s also a Z24 piston converter for using with conventional inkwells. I like the converter in the Vista for a couple of reasons:

  • I love Lamy’s ink bottles, but I’m not really in love with any of their actual ink.
  • The red knob on the Z24 adds internal color to the translucent body.
  • Filling from an inkwell makes it easier to change colors day-to-day.
  • The piston facilitates flushing water in and out of the pen when cleaning.

And it’s this last point that brings me to recommending clear pens for a beginner.

Fountain pens work through a combination of gravity and capillary action, so to really get it clean between different inks you have to flush out the feed (the perpendicular cuts in the internal structure that control the flow). Once I push the remaining ink back into its respective jar, vial, or wherever I got it from it’s time to flush it with water. I just fill a glass (or here, a paper cup) with water, then draw it into the reservoir and flush it back into the cup. Repeat three times, then dump the glass out and refill it with fresh water. I do this for about 3 different clean glasses of water, but between each glass of water I get all the moisture out of the feed that I can. A bunch of nice absorbent toilet paper and a clear body make this part easy.

You can actually watch the feed empty into the absorbent paper.

You can actually watch the feed empty into the absorbent paper.

The other pen I just started using today and now see why people love it is the TWSBI mini. It’s a short barrel, so to write comfortably I have to post the cap on the end, but it was designed to do so and the cap actually screws on both ends of the barrel. How cool is that?!?! Mine is also completely clear, and the huge internal reservoir looks really cool when showing off your ink’s hue. And it’s got a more traditional exposed nib and feed. I haven’t changed out the ink or cleaned it yet, but it writes really nicely (maybe because the stainless steel nib is longer, allowing it to flex more?) and is just plain good-looking. Also a bargain, it can be had for $50-$60 USD and so far appears to be much nicer than its price would suggest. This may be my new favorite pen and warranting another write-up here in the future after more use.

9 thoughts on “Starting out with a fountain pen

  1. For writing as art, these make pefect sense. They have an aura of romanticism to them.

    Alas, I see very few students wanting to use them here in the U.S.. I’d wager they’d rather “text” everything.

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