email inbox gets a plethora of interesting pen related questions, and I
spend a good deal of time crafting thoughtful responses to each person
who writes to me. A lot of times, the questions I get are good ones that
I feel are worth sharing with you! I’ll be posting highlights of some
of my more interesting email questions every Mailbox Monday. These are
some emails of mine from the past week or so:

I saw you using some silicone grease in one of your videos. I have some plumbing silicone grease and was wondering if I could use that, or if there’s something special about the grease made for pens?

As long as what you’re using is 100% silicone, you should be just fine. The stuff we get is ‘food grade’, but that shouldn’t make a difference for use in a pen. The main idea is that you was a silicone grease that is inert and won’t react with any of the inks that you use. You just want to make sure you’re not using silicone caulk, that’s a whole different situation!

Right now I have the Lamy Safari, and while I love having a basic fountain pen, I can see some areas for improvement. I hate the triangle grip, and upon some research, it seems I’m not alone. Also, I’m a sweaty dude, and my hand slips on the resin body, making the grip problem worse. Lastly, I think the Safari is ridiculously light. So I’m looking for something heavier with a more normal grip shape. I had my eyes on the stainless steel Lamy Studio, which is heavier. Is that a rubber grip on there? Alternatively, could you make recommendations for a nice go-to pen under, say, $150?

The Safari’s a pretty rocksteady pen, I use several even though I have many more expensive pens. They’re the ‘old faithfuls’, and I end up bringing them places where I think they might get lost/stolen/broken, rather than nicer pens. I completely hear where you’re coming from about the grip thing, I have huge hands and the triangular grip gets old after a little while. I don’t like to use the Safari continuously for too long.

The Stainless Steel Studio would be a nice upgrade. It’s heftier (31g to the Safari’s 19g) for sure, and that black grip section is indeed rubber. It’s awesome! The other Studios aren’t as ideal because the smooth metal grip section gets hard to hold after a while, but the rubber one is glorious. Plus, the brushed stainless steel gives a really cool kind of reflective effect, it’s just to look at if you like shiny things :) Other pens that might be worth considering (especially taking the grip section into consideration) would be the TWSBI 540, TWSBI VAC-700, Monteverde Invincia/Invincia Deluxe/ColorFusion, Sheaffer Prelude, and Sheaffer 300. I highly recommend playing around with all of these in our new Pen Plaza!

I have used cartridges in all of my pens instead of converters and I will be saving my empty cartridges from here on out to fill as I saw demonstrated in your video – when using the converter, is it necessary to have to twist it down to ensure inkflow or is it typical to just fill the converter and write as with a cartridge until it is empty? My reason for asking is that I have placed a converter in one of my Monteverde pens and it seems like I have to adjust the converter every few minutes while writing. Am I doing something wrong?

I wouldn’t say it’s ‘necessary’ to twist down the converter to keep a pen going, though sometimes this may be the case. In most pens, this shouldn’t have to happen, the ink should draw through the pen by capillary action on its own, without needing any ‘help’ from you or the converter. This means that it shouldn’t make a difference one way or another whether you use a cartridge or converter. However, it’s not always the case. Is the problem that the pen is stopping writing completely, or is it just that it writes lighter and without as much color as you’d like? Depending on which situation you have means different things. It also helps to know what ink you’re using. What have you tried?

If you have a pen that doesn’t stop completely but just writes very weak, there could be a couple of things going on:

1) The pen could be clogging a bit due to it needing to be cleaned, try giving it a thorough cleaning if it’s been more than a month since you’ve last done it. Here’s my video on pen maintenance.

2) The pen could just write dry. Some pens flow wetter or drier than others, and sometimes you may just want a pen to write wetter than it does. Forcing the ink down gets it to write wet for a little while as you’re flooding the feed, but it’ll go back to ‘normal’ shortly. If what you truly want is a wetter writing pen, you can try using a wetter ink (especially a lubricated ink such as the Noodler’s American Eel series inks), or have the pen adjusted by a nibmesiter, though this is usually a last resort as it’s somewhat costly and takes a while.

3) The ink you’re using may just write dry. The pen might be fine, but the ink itself may just tend to be stingy in general, or with the particular pen/feed design. Trying different inks will tell you if you have a pen or ink issue.

If your pen is stopping completely:

1) Try a thorough cleaning, as that’s usually the cause.

2) If that doesn’t work, try a different ink (after cleaning it out) to see if that changes anything. If every ink you’re using dries up and the pen won’t write, that’s a pen issue and it needs to be fixed. Return the pen or have it adjusted by a pro.

(response back) Brian – thanks for the fast response my friend! The pen is a Monteverde Catalina with a stub nib and I’m using Monteverde Blue/Black. It starts out “wet” and then gets lighter. I have only tried the converter – have not tried a cartridge on it yet. The pen is new so I don’t think it needs to be cleaned. I am not familiar enough with various inks to know if that may be the problem. I have a bottle of Waterman Blue Black that I could try. Have heard of Noodler’s (from your website) – just not sure if that is the problem. I do have some Pelikan, MontBlanc, Waterman, and Private Reserve cartridges so I can try different inks. I realize the stub nib may also tend to write “wetter” than a fine or medium nib – I’m still learning how it writes. Am wondering if perhaps switching to a cartridge won’t improve the situation?

(my response) The main difference you’re going to see with the cartridge and converter is that when you’re filling a pen with a converter, the feed will be saturated and will write a bit wetter at first…then it will equalize to it’s natural flow once the excess ink is worked through the feed from the filling process. A cartridge is kind of the opposite, because when you’re starting a pen with a cartridge, the feed is dry and all of the ink is coming from behind it. So when you’re starting out with a cartridge, it’ll write dry and eventually come into it’s natural flow. But, whether you’re using a cartridge or converter, the ink and the pen are the same, and they should flow the same once you’ve gotten through the initially first few lines. 

What I’m betting is that you like the way that your pen writes while the ink is very saturated in the feed, and so you keep saturating it to give it that volume of ink. I think that going to a cartridge you’ll be disappointed, as it’ll write essentially the same as the converter when you would want to flood the feed (except you won’t be able to flood it!). So basically there are two ways around it…you can either have the pen modified by a nibmeister to increase the ink flow (which can be done, but may not be worth the cost to you), or you can switch to a more saturated ink color. In my experience, Monteverde’s Blue Black is not very saturated in color, I think there are a lot of other blue blacks that would be more pleasing to your eye ;) 

I would try playing around in the Swab Shop and see what Blue Blacks are more appealing to you, then consider getting some samples of those. Some off the top of my head that you’ll probably like: Noodler’s Blue Black, Noodler’s Air Corps Blue Black, Diamine Twilight, Waterman Blue Black (now called Mysterious Blue), Noodler’s Navy, Diamine Denim.

While shopping around on your site, I’ve been considering picking up either a Sheaffer Prelude or a Sheaffer 300. Both in black GT.
Besides the discrepancy in the gloss vs. matte, weight (300 being cap heavy), and [although relatively small difference in] length, what’s the difference between these pens?

Aside from the weight and just general design of the pens, the Prelude and 300 are pretty similar. They have the same nib and feed, so write nearly identical. It’s just the size, weight, and style that differentiate them. The 300 is pretty cap-heavy when posted, so unless you have large hands or plan to use the pen unposted, the Prelude is usually the preferred choice.

I was wondering if I will have a problem taking my Lamy Safaris filled with ink on an 8 hour flight. Will they get messed up or leak?

When flying with a fountain pen, it’s really all about the volume of ink and the orientation of the pen. It doesn’t have too much to do with where or how long you’re flying, or the brand of pen. The pressure changing in the cabin affects the pens, especially during takeoff and landing so during those times you’ll definitely not want to be using them! There are a few pieces of advice I can give when flying with pens:

1) If you can, just clean them and keep them empty before flying, it’s the only 100% guaranteed way to avoid an ink spill ;) 

2) If you fly with your pens, keep them stored with the nib pointed up, as any air in the ink chamber will remain near the nib this way. The reason ink spills during flight is because the pressure in the airplane cabin is only pressurized to maintain what you’d normally feel around 6,000 feet (or 8,000, I’ve been told both) elevation, so the pressure in the cabin decreases as you go up in the air (compared to the ground). This means the pressure in your pen is higher than the surrounding environment, and when that happens…it wants to equalize. There’s only one place for the air to go, and that’s through the nib. And if there’s ink between the air in the ink chamber and the nib, then the ink is going out! So if you keep your pens pointed nib up while flying, this keeps the air bubble in the pens at the nib. 

3) Keep your pens as full as you can if you keep them inked. Where you get into trouble is when you have some ink and a lot of air, as the more air there is in the ink chamber, the more likely it is to leak (for the reasons in #2).

So there you go, keep them either full or empty, and keep the nib pointed up and you’ll be okay :) And if you want to be really safe, put them in a ziploc bag that way if the worst happens and you do get a leak, it’s contained :)

I’ve been reading alot to try and find it then I realized it might be easier to just ask you guys! I am looking for an inexpensive fountain pen (<$30) that is easy to clean and completely disassemble. I want to be able to completely remove the collector/feed and nib. I can’t seem to get at the collector in the Lamy vista or Platinum preppy and always seem to see ink stuck in there.
Is there such a beast?

The thing about fountain pens under $30 is that most of them are assembled by machines and not necessarily designed to be taken apart on a regular basis…so there are a few pens but not a vast collection of them. The feed on the Lamy can come out, but it’s not necessarily easy to do or recommended because it’s easy to put it back in incorrectly which can damage it. The Noodler’s pens all come apart completely, The Monteverde Artista Crystal does (though it’s $36), Kawecos do, so does the Pilot Parallel and Pilot Plumix, those are both italic nibs. And that’s it for pens under $30 that disassemble, at least that I know! 

I loaded a Lamy Vista with baystate blue as soon as I purchased it. I then saw your video on how the Lamy’s come with a little bit of ink still in them. I also heard that mixing baystate blue with any other ink will cause a black hole to open to an alternate universe!
If it was going to clog, it would happen right away right? it’s not something that would take a while to happen? I’ve since flushed everything out with JB Pen flush, but I can see a little blue in the collector. Just wondering if I should really make the effort and pull the collector or if I don’t really have anything to worry about. 

If Baystate Blue was going to react with an ink, it would happen pretty much within an hour or two. And since you’ve thoroughly cleaned out the pen since then anyway, I’d say you’re in the clear :) You’re not the first person to load up a new Lamy with Baystate Blue, and I’ve never heard of it being an issue. The reason I made the video about cleaning a new Lamy pen was more because some people using lighter (yellow) inks in a new pen would get something that looked more green…

for taking the time to read my emails! I’d love to hear what you think
in the comments. I’ll be compiling this coming week’s emails into next
week’s Mailbox Monday post!