Is Iron Gall Safe To Use For Fountain Pens?

Iron gall ink isn’t some new fad or even something that was released within the last decade. In fact, it’s an ancient ink that has been in use since the 5th century AD. So, it can easily be associated with nibs and fountain pens as the two were inevitable for one another over the centuries. But is iron gall good for fountain pens?

Iron gall ink is perfectly fine for fountain pens and much of what the naysayers refer to as negatives about the ink are negatives that can be attributed to iron gall ink before modern times. The chemistry of the ink has changed in recent years, making it a more stable alternative for fountain pens. 

Although iron gall ink has undergone some changes, it’s still not something that you should leave in your fountain pen for really long periods of time. Of course, the same could be said of just about any ink. Put it in your pen and use it, rather than letting it sit on a shelf for years. 

What is Iron Gall Ink?

Iron gall ink is a combination of tannic acid, iron salts, and various pigments or dyes. It’s considered to be a very permanent ink solution and once it’s on the page, it’s not going anywhere. 

When exposed to the air, the iron in the ink oxidizes on the page, which is why iron gall often turns a brownish color over time (rust) and is highly acidic. That level of acidity has long been considered to be very bad for fountain pens, which have more metal and moving parts than most. 

Using iron gall in a fountain pen has always been generally acceptable, however, it also needed to be removed from the fountain pen as soon as possible. 

Rohrer & Klingner 50 ml Bottle Fountain Pen Ink, Iron Gall Nut-Ink, Salix
  • 50ml bottle of classical iron gall writing ink suitable for pens, quills and other calligraphy instruments

Fortunately, as a reaction to the volatility and quick oxidization of iron gall ink, the formulation has changed in recent years, making a more stable ink that is safer to leave in your fountain pen for longer periods of time than the old formula. 

In fact, there are several iron gall inks on the market today that are relatively popular. 

So, it’s not as if iron gall ink is a rare commodity and most fountain pen aficionados want to know if the ink is safe for use in a fountain pen. To address that issue, the chemistry in all of the iron gall ink manufacturers listed above, have made the changes to the iron gall recipe to make it more useful in a fountain pen.

Things to Consider When Using Iron Gall Ink

Despite the fact that iron gall has changed to be more workable in a fountain pen, it still isn’t a long-term answer and there are a few things that you should consider if you want to use iron gall ink in your fountain pen. 

Since iron is a part of the physical makeup of iron gall, it’s important to understand that iron oxidizes over time. It doesn’t just do so when it’s transferred from pen to paper either. It oxidizes inside of your fountain pen. The process is much slower, however, it is still inevitable. 

  • Don’t use iron gall if your fountain pen requires frequent cleaning
  • Increase your fountain pen cleaning routine
  • Never allow iron gall ink to go unused for long periods
  • Wash your fountain pen thoroughly before inserting iron gall
  • Never remove iron gall from your fountain pen and return it directly to the ink bottle
  • Store your pen in a cool and dry place
  • Be sure that you never use iron gall in a fountain pen that has steel parts that are not stainless

Going over the list may make you reconsider using iron gall ink at any point. Ever. You may decide that it isn’t worth the effort, however, its an excellent ink and not one that you should overlook because it requires more preventative maintenance. 

In fact, that’s one of the great things about iron gall ink. Since it requires more preventative maintenance, it makes you more aware of keeping your fountain pen in excellent condition, which you should always do, regardless of what kind of ink you have in there.

Iron gall ink requires that you clean your fountain pen far more frequently. It also requires you to use your fountain pen with far more regularity. If you rarely write with your fountain pen, then iron gall ink is probably something that you should stay away from. 

If you do use your fountain pen frequently, then iron gall ink is an excellent ink choice and one that you should thoughtfully consider. So long as you understand that you will have to clean your pen more often. 

How to Clean Your Fountain Pen 

Knowing how to properly clean your fountain pen is something that you need to know regardless of whether or not you actively use iron gall ink. The fact that you are using iron gall ink only increases the frequency in which you should clean it. 

  • Disassemble the fountain pen completely
  • Thoroughly wash and dry the nib
  • Run fresh water into the converter (if applicable) until the water remains fresh and clear 
  • Use a magnifying glass to ensure that no sediment is left behind

One of the unfortunate byproducts of using iron gall is the fact that it leaves behind some sediment that will build up over time, ultimately clogging up the fountain pen entirely. That sediment is one of the biggest reasons that you should increase your cleaning frequency when using iron gall.

Go over the pen with a fine-tooth comb each and every time that you clean it so that you can avoid any build-up from iron gall byproduct. 

Final Thoughts

Iron gall is perfectly safe for use in fountain pens. The only stipulation that you have when going with iron gall ink, is the requirement for increased cleaning routines. If you use iron gall, you have to keep your fountain pen clean and should never allow it to sit in the pen, unused, for a long time.

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