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article by Ludwig Tan, first published in the journal of the Society for Italic Handwriting, Writing Matters, autumn 2000 & Spring 2001.
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»Read the article on Glenn Marcus' site
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The 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.
 
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WHAT 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., 33/4) 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.
 
Procedure
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).
 
STEP 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.
 
STEP 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.
 
Grind 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.
 
Aim to grind both tines equally: a shiny, symmetrical shape (akin to a tooth) should begin to appear on the underside.
 
STEP 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.

Holding 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.
 
STEP 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 jeweller’s loupe.
 
Then rub the corners of the nib lightly to remove the sharpness.
 
STEP 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.

Next, 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
most probably an upstroke 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
this burns/melts 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.
 
Ludwig Tan, Singapore
January 7, 2004
E-mail: lakt2@cam.ac.uk
 
NOTE
An article by Ludwig Tan on grinding fountain pen nibs may be found on the web at: www.marcuslink.com/pens/nibs.html
 
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