Why Is My Fountain Pen Scratchy?

The feel of a fountain pen flowing on smooth, premium paper, is a luxury that few understand anymore.

It’s a lost art. However, sometimes when writing, there might be a hard, scratchy feeling, perhaps accompanied by a tiny splatter of ink. If this has happened to you and your fountain pen feels “scratchy.” Let us help you diagnose the problem.

The most common reason behind a scratchy fountain pen is a misaligned nib (when the tines are not quite parallel with one another).

You may also experience scratchiness from:

  • dried-out ink
  • poor flow
  • A damaged tip 

Luckily, none of these issues are unfixable. If you’re new to the fountain pen scene, you’ll want to know not only how to fix such an eventuality, but how to practice the kind of preventative maintenance that will sustain your fountain pen in the long run. 

Fountain Pen Tine Alignment Isn’t Right

Unless you have the visual capabilities of an eagle, it’s going to be difficult to see the tines. You will want to use a magnifying glass to clearly see what is going on with the tip of your fountain pen.

While looking at an enlarged view of your pen you may notice:

  • a gap that’s too wide, too narrow
  • that one tine is slightly higher or lower than the other. 
By Mr.checker – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6295282

You have to fix it the old-fashioned way. There’s no tool, no nib adjustment array, no physical manifestation of some newfangled device that will make it all better. You have to do it the same way it’s been done for over a century, by carefully and precisely using force to realign the nibs.

The best way to do this is by laying the pen at a 10° to 15° angle to a hard surface, with the broad side of the nib facing up and the concave side facing down, almost parallel, but for the slight angle. Use your finger (better to use a fingernail if you have any long enough) on the back of the nib.

Touch the nib tines to the desk and roll them left and right, counterclockwise and clockwise, exerting the smallest level of pressure. The idea is to simply roll them back into alignment. If you’ve seen them in a magnifying glass, you know which one is messed up and where to apply the most pressure. 

Ultimately, the tines should be perfectly parallel, with a gap just large enough to slide a piece of notebook paper in between. 

Dried-Out Ink

This happens more commonly than anything else. We get busy in our day-to-day lives and it’s really easy to set a fountain pen down and simply not pick it back up for a few days.

The ink residing on the tines and tip (a line virtually invisible) may dry up, all the way back to the feed. 

That’s not the ideal scenario, of course, and there are a few things that you can do to fix it. If you have an eyedropper, even an empty Visine bottle, this little task becomes infinitely easier. 

  • Place a single drop of water on the tines
  • Allow it to sit for a few minutes
  • Carefully dab it dry with a paper towel

If that doesn’t work, feel free to get a little more aggressive. 

  • Dip the nib/tines in a glass of water 
  • Hold it in there for a few seconds or as long as thirty
  • Dab the tines dry with a paper towel
  • You can also dip it in water then cap the pen, leaving it for a while

Whichever way you decide to go about it, the key is to use water and nothing more. The water is more than enough to dry up the old ink and your fresh flowing ink will replace it quickly.

You can always write on a scrap piece of paper after you dab the nib dry with a paper towel. Simply write on the paper until your fountain pen feels like its old self again. The water is safe and won’t damage the metal of the pen, even over time. 

Try to use your fountain pen more routinely in the future. You may not always have anything worth writing and that’s perfectly fine. Sometimes the muse takes a day off whether we like it or not.

However, it’s still a good idea to take out the fountain pen and scratch a few lines, if nothing else.

The Nib Should Show Some Degree of Flex

You can test your nib out a little bit and you should see that it moves under pressure from your fingers. If it’s stiff as a board, it may be time to get a new nib, or perhaps the existing nib just wasn’t any good, to begin with. 

Grab your magnifying glass or loupe if you have one or zero in on the nib as best you can and start applying slight degrees of pressure on the broad side of the nib. You should see the nib flex, even when you press it somewhat in the middle.

You should certainly see a decent level of springiness when you apply pressure closer to the tip. An absolutely stiff, unyielding nib is not a good nib and you may want to look into purchasing a replacement fountain pen nib if you don’t already have one. 

They’re very easy to replace for the most part.

  • Remove the ink cartridge or empty the converter
  • If you’re using a converter, empty it out and refill it with water
  • Constantly fill it with more water and empty it until it is completely clear.
  • Remove the nib by unscrewing it counterclockwise
  • Replace it with a new nib by screwing it on clockwise

There are several types of nibs, but mostly it comes down to a fine point, medium, and broad. 

Final Thoughts

While those are the primary fixes for a scratchy fountain pen, they’re not the end-all, be-all of scratchy fountain pen fixes. The best offense is a good defense, after all, and preventative maintenance is the best fix before the fix.

Empty your fountain pen when it’s not in use for the long term. Run water through it from time to time. Dip it in water after a full day or two of no use. Your fountain pen should always present you with a smooth and flowing experience. Treat it well and it always will. 

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