article »Recycling Used Copperplate Nibs« by Ludwig Tan
was produced for the UK-based Copperplate Special Interest Group's
Newsletter. I am proud to publish this online version.
DO YOU do with your worn Copperplate
nibs? Or with nibs you have bought to try but found unsuitable? If,
like me, you think it is a terrible waste to throw them away, you
may have considered putting them to other uses.
Framed in an arc or some other pattern on dark-coloured satin, used
nibs make exquisite decorative pieces or gifts, especially if they
are of different colours and shapes.
They may also be given a new lease of life when ground down for Italic
handwriting or edged-pen calligraphy a process I shall
describe in this article. Some Copperplate nibs work very well when
reconditioned for Italic: their inkflow is often vastly superior to
that of purpose-built nibs (e.g., Geo. W. Hughes Flight Commander),
and they take not only ink but also gouache. In addition, customized
nib sizes (e.g., 3)
may be created.
The nibs best suited to this purpose are those: i) of moderate to
high rigidity; ii) of semi-tubular shape; and iii) made of fairly
thick steel; e.g., Hinks, Wells & Co. No. 2528. Less good are highly
flexible nibs of thin steel such
as the Gillott 170
unless one has
a feather-light writing pressure. I often use recycled 170s for everyday
Italic handwriting and looped cursive, and find them especially good
for writing in metallic gouache on dark-coloured card; I imagine the
writing feel is not unlike that of a quill.
|To grind nibs,
the following are essential: i) a straight pen-holder; ii) Arkansas
stone; and iii) crocus paper (or similar, but not crocus cloth).
1. Fit the nib onto the pen-holder.
Holding it vertically, grind on the Arkansas stone in a forwards
movement with moderate to heavy pressure. While doing so, press (with
the middle finger) the underside of the nib till it splays slightly
this makes it easier to grind both tines equally. Check
the results after every few strokes to ensure that the edge is straight
and that the desired angle (straight, oblique) has been achieved.
2. The underside of the nib
closest to the writing edge should now be flattened. This is particularly
important because, the further into the nib one grinds, the more pronounced
the curvature of the nib becomes.
the underside of the nib on the edge of the Arkansas stone with the
pen-holder held up very slightly. Apply downward pressure using
your forefinger. Again, use moderate to hard pressure, checking the
results after every few strokes.
grind both tines equally: a shiny, symmetrical shape (akin to a tooth)
should begin to appear on the underside.
3 (OPTIONAL). Now, the top
edge of the nib needs to be sharpened to create a chisel. This is
necessary only if very fine hairlines are desired, and especially
if the nib is of thick steel.
the nib face-down on the Arkansas stone, and about 30° off the
horizontal, grind with light pressure (applied with the forefinger
on the underside of the nib till it splays slightly) and check the
results after every few strokes.
4. We need now to smooth the
nib before it can be used. Holding the pen vertically on the Arkansas
stone, grind with very light pressure in a sideways, to-and-fro movement.
Be careful to keep a constant angle. After every two or three strokes,
check your results, if possible with a jewellers loupe.
rub the corners of the nib lightly to remove the sharpness.
5. Next, smooth the edge of
the nib on the crocus paper with the swinging motion of a pendulum,
with the nib facing you. Use moderate pressure. Pay special attention
to the corners to ensure they become slightly rounded, but
guard against overdoing this.
repeat the above, this time with the side of the nib facing you. Repeat
as many times as necessary to get a smooth edge. Check your results
by feeling the edge with your fingertip; it should not catch.
STEP 6. Now, we come to the final
stage of polishing. Holding the pen normally, write (dry) some figures-of-eight
on a piece of paper. Note at which points in the figure-of-eight the
nib catches the paper
and trace this
movement very lightly on the crocus paper. Go back to the writing
paper and check whether any roughness remains; if so, repeat the smoothing
process on the crocus paper. When you are satisfied, write (again
dry) a few test words very lightly on the writing paper. (Good words
to write are Egyptologist and haggling.)
Before the nib can be used, we must first remove
oils from the fingers that have been deposited during grinding. I
normally do this by holding the underside of the nib in the blue
section of a flame (from a cigarette lighter) for a second or two
off the oil without leaving any carbon deposits or damaging the nib.
The nib is now ready for use. Write a few test words
and, if the nib is still scratchy, wipe it dry and repeat any of Steps
4-6 as necessary.
An article by Ludwig Tan on grinding fountain pen nibs may be found
on the web at: www.marcuslink.com/pens/nibs.html
Steel Pen Nibs (dip pens, quills)...
links Dip pens, Nibs, Pen points, Collections
and Information, Steel Pens, Vintage nib sources dealers, manufacturers.
Fountain Pens, Pencils, Drafting instruments
My favorite Copperplate Script fonts for mac and pc.
Nib Care Cleaning, Grinding and Sharpening pens.
Links to the masters of the pointed pen.
Sampler Collection of 25 different vintage steel
pen nibs and a wood pen holder »more