Ink Notes: Graf von Faber-Castell Stone Grey

Graf von Faber-Castell ink bottle

Graf von Faber-Castell recently updated their line of inks with six new colors in gorgeous new bottles. I’ve only seen the inks available from two places – in the US from Pen Boutique and in the UK from Cult Pens. The ink is $30 per 75ml bottle at Pen Boutique which puts it firmly in the luxury category although it doesn’t seem as bad when priced per milliliter. At 40 cents per ml it’s well below the 64 cents per ml for Caran d’ Ache’s new inks and Pilot Iroshizuku’s 56 cents per ml. Both those inks are even more expensive when comparing their list prices.

The Graf von Faber-Castell Stone Grey ink is “Document Safe” according to Faber-Castell. This means it’s not visible on the back of standard paper, non-correctable, not removable without traces, UV resistant and resistant to water and solvents.

The ink leaves the pen on the black side of grey and lightens a bit as it dries. On white paper, such as the Rhodia Dotpad or my Black and Red Notebook, the ink stays on the black side of grey even after it lightens up. On slightly off-white paper, such as my Doane Paper Jotter, they ink is a more muted grey. It shades a bit and provides some nice variation.

The ink is a little on the dry side, but I like my inks this way so it’s not a problem. In my thin nibs it’s dries fairly fast, about 5 seconds. It can be smudged for 20 seconds or longer with broad nibs. I found it interesting that dry time was about the same on both Rhodia and Doane papers. The ink lives up to it’s waterproof claim and I didn’t detect any show-through on the papers as used.

The ink was easy to flush from my pens although it was only in there for a day so that’s really not a good test. It will be in my Pelikan for awhile (until it runs out) and I’ll update these notes if it’s anything but easy to flush.

I like this ink and it will compete with my Pilot Iroshizuku Fuyu-syogun as a standard grey ink in my rotation.

Pens Used

It wrote well in my TWSBI Vac 700 with extra fine, fine, medium and broad nibs for the writing samples. It was also easy to clean from the nibs and pen.

I used my Pelikan 101N with this ink as my daily writer, mostly as a note taker. As expected, the flow was consistent and problem free. After sitting uncapped and unused for just over six minutes it did write immediately, but with a thin line at first. It wrote normally at the 5 minute mark.

Writing Samples

(Click the images to show full size.)

Nib Notes: Esterbrook #1551 Firm Medium School Nib

Next up for my Esterbrook nibs is the Esterbrook #1551 nib. The Esterbrook 1551 is referred to as a “Firm Med. School” and “Student” nib on the box. It’s typically just referred to as a firm medium. I’ve seen references to it being for general school and clerical use.

The sampled nib was offered as new old stock (NOS) and while the box is well worn, with a missing flap, the nib itself does seem to be NOS. I have a second one that came on a pen, it’s slightly less smooth but otherwise comparable to this one.

This is a fairly common nib, although I have only two. NOS versions of the Esterbrook #1551 lists for about $10 on eBay. Anderson Pens lists then for $8 but they are currently out of stock.

This is another one of Esterbrook’s DuroChrome nibs, made by folding the steel into a ball, so no tipping material.

It’s a pretty straight-forward medium nib. This sample is remarkably smooth so it really was just the box that took the wear-and-tear. It’s got good flow, without any skipping or hard starts. The pen sat for about four days between uses and started right away

Writing Sample

Click the photo to open full size

writing sample of Esterbrook #1551 nib

Writing Until Dry

Kaweco AL Sport Raw Aluminim nib

I hadn’t realized how long it’s been since I used a fountain pen until it went dry. Typically after month or so I flush out a pen and with so many pens inked I rarely wrote one dry. In fact, I can’t remember when that was. That’s been changing recently and for some unknown reason it feels good to empty a pen of ink. In fact, four went empty this past week.

My new policy is that I don’t flush a pen just because a month is up. If it’s not a special ink (like iron gall or highly saturated) I won’t flush it unless the pen is hard to start or has other problems. The ink stays as long as it keeps flowing to my satisfaction. I do use all inked pens at least once a week, if only for a sentence or two.

I always carry my Kaweco AL-Sport although the fact that the cartridge lasted over 3 months means I don’t use it all that often. Seems like I do, but that thin nib conserves ink. I like carrying the pen, so it got a quick cleaning then immediately loaded with a Visconti Brown cartridge.

While the Kaweco stayed inked I have lowered my inked pen count. Of the pens inked last week, shown below, three went dry while I used them and a fourth needed to be flushed as it didn’t seem to like the ink.

Pens inked for the week (and more) ahead

The Sheaffer Balance II Aspen, first on the left, was the first to go. I only filled the converter about half way and once I started writing it was hard to stop.

The second Sheaffer Balance, this one the vintage one in Carmine Red (4th from right), went dry later the same day and know of my pens had Montblanc Bordeaux. I resisted the urge to ink one up.

The Pilot Vanishing Point Maplewood (3rd from right) went dry Saturday, four days short of three months. No problems at all in those three months. The medium nib wrote perfectly every time.

The TWSBI Micarta was the only pen I had to flush vast quantities of ink. The Cult Pens Deep Dark Green didn’t get along with the ultra fine nib. After sitting overnight the pen needed a great deal of coaxing to write. The dried ink was visible at the tip of the nib but it needed more than a little dab of water to get going. I’ll use Waterman next to see if it’s the pen or the ink. If Waterman has the issue then it’s the pen.

The Platinum 3776 Ribbed will probably be next to go, although that ultra fine nib may make what little ink remains last a long time.

Do you usually write your pens dry or do you flush them out after awhile even if they still have ink?

Review: Sheaffer Balance II Aspen SE

The Sheaffer Balance II Aspen Special Edition is a 1999 revival of Sheaffer’s iconic Balance pens of the 30’s. Although these have a more mundane cartridge/converter filling system. PenHero has a good overview of the Aspen Special Edition. From the article:

In 1999, Sheaffer introduced the first of several special edition Balance II pens, these being unnumbered limited production pens with special materials and packaging. The first in the series was the Aspen Special Edition, offered in a special and vivid pearlized blue, gold and brown marbled resin. As with the regular Balance II line, the Aspen Special Editoin was offered as a fountain pen…

Why I Got It

Look at it. ‘Nuff said

Photo of the capped Sheaffer Balance II Aspen LE

It helps that I’m a Sheaffer fan.

I purchased the pen from Franklin-Christoph where it was in their “Stockroom” section.

What I Got

As I said, it’s a Sheaffer Balance II Aspen Special Edition, which I’ll refer to as “Aspen” for brevity. The acrylic is a gorgeous vivid pearlized blue, gold and brown marbled resin. The 18K gold feathertouch nib is a medium that resembles my vintage Sheaffer nibs. The vivid colors also remind me of the the vintage Sheaffer Balances, especially my Marine Green Balance.

The pen has a reputation of having brittle caps and clips. I don’t post my pens so the cap should survive just fine unless I’m careless. I do make use of the clip on my pens, both in my pocket and it my pen cases. But I’ll probably skip using the clip on this one except with the thinnest of material. I have a 1 pen Franklin-Christoph case that I hadn’t particularly liked, but it’s hard shell is perfect for this pen.

Sheaffer Balance II Aspen feed

Early production models also had flow or nib skipping problems. While this was fixed during production it appears my pen was made prior to these changes. The pen wrote great for a about a page at which time the nib was starved for ink which became worse until it become unusable and ink had to be forced into the feed. But that was enough to show me this pen could be a great writer. So I sent it of to Mike Masuyama for adjustment and this review was done after it’s return. The nib is still stock, just adjusted.

Medium nibs aren’t typically my style and even though I sent the pen out to Mike Masuyama who could have turned it into a very nice fine, I kept the stock nib. I’d used it enough to know I liked it and I couldn’t bring myself to modify the pen from stock.The nib was smooth when I got it so I wouldn’t have sent out the pen except for the feed problem.

The Numbers

There’s some wiggle room to avoid scratching the pen.

  • Length Capped:  5.5975″  (147.25 mm)
  • Length Uncapped:  4.9325″  (125.29 mm)
  • Length Posted: I did not measure this myself but PenHero says 6 3/8″ posted
  • Section Length: 0.5900″  (14.98 mm)
  • Section Diameter (narrowest):  0.3815″  (9.69 mm)
  • Section Diameter (near threads)  0.4170″  (10.59 mm)
  • Barrel Diameter:  0.4980″  (12.64 mm)
  • Cap Diameter:  0.5555  (14.11 mm)

Using The Pen

Photo of the Sheaffer Balance II Aspen taken apart

The pen is a cartridge/converter, unlike the vintage pens that the Aspen takes its design queues from. I’m not a fan of the way the converter connects to the section. It slips over a spike that sticks up. This seems fragile to me and far to easy to snap it off, but I haven’t heard of any problems. Still, I’d prefer a metal collar around the converter at the section. It does require I hold the converter itself while filling, otherwise it just spins as I twist the plunger.

The pen is a good size for me, even unposted. It’s light and comfortable to write with. The curve of the section is well-suited to my grip and an unexpected bonus that adds to the comfort of the pen. The 18k gold nib has a bit of spring to it. I’ve written about 8 pages straight and don’t feel a bit fatigued. (Plus no signs of the earlier feed problems – thanks Mike!). All-in-all, a very nice writer.

The two-tone feathertouch nib also hearkens back to the vintage Sheaffers. It’s fun to watch the light reflect off the two-tone nib as I write. Between the writing quality and great looks this pen is hard to put down once I start writing.

The pen isn’t one I’ll use at work for making notes as I work. I cap/uncap/pickup/put down the pen far to frequently and I’d be afraid to damage it. While I don’t abuse my pens this is one I’d want to be extra careful with due to its reputation for being fragile. It’s a pen I will use for long writing sessions, mostly in the safety of my home, and it’s well suited for that.

Cleaning the Pen

The cartridge/converter is easy enough to clean. The spike the converter slide onto sticks up and has me concerned I’ll be careless and break it. So, I tend to use the ultrasonic cleaner rather than the bulb syringe to avoid a careless accident. But a better alternative may be to clean the bulk of the ink out and then refill it and not worry about getting every last bit of ink out.

Inks Used

This is a tough one. The flow problem were unrelated to the ink when I used R & K Scabiosa and Waterman Florida Blue. So as long as the feed stay saturated both inks wrote well without any skipping. Neither was in the pen very long and they were easily flushed from the pen.

I used Montblanc Bordeaux after the pen was adjusted. The flow was consistent without a trace of skipping. There weren’t any false starts although longest this pen sits unused is about a day (put down one night, picked up the next).

Wrapping Up

The Sheaffer Balance II Aspen Special Edition is a finicky, fragile pen. Mine is chip and crack free but some of what I read leads me to believe this pen will crack if I look at it wrong. Plus I had the flow problem that had to be fixed. Is the pen worth it? Absolutely! It will be treated with care, but it will be used. It’s a keeper.

Additional Reading

The Sheaffer Balance II Aspen at PenHero.com

A Aspen Review on FPN

A FPN thread on the Aspen fragility

Sending Out For Nib Work

Nibs worked on by Mike Masuyama

I just received back the pens pens I sent out to Mike Masuyama. This was the first time I’ve sent pens out for work so I figured I’d recap the experience.

I’d recommend having nib work done at a pen show if at all possible before sending any through the mail. Nothing beats experiencing the work first hand and it will help you describe what you want done from long distance. I had several nibs done at shows before sending these out. I learned what types of questions were asked and what my answers should be to get the nib I wanted. It also helped me learn that the flow I liked was drier that any of the nibmeisters considered normal or how they would adjust it left to their own devices. Although this time out I’d be going for a wetter flow than I have in the past.

Since I’m unlikely to get to any pen show this year I decided to send out some pen. here’s the steps I took and these should work for most nibmeisters out there.

Pick the Pens to Send

Not every pen needs nib work. In my case I had three pens that needed adjustment for flow or nib issues. I knew I’d like the pens more after they were adjusted and I didn’t trust myself to do it. I actually also decided to get one of these problem pens ground to an ultra-fine. Another was a nib to which I wanted to add some character. The fifth was a pen I bought knowing I’d probably need to get the nib ground down but it was still worth the price.

Pick a Nibmeister

The website “And All Other Tasks” has a good article about differences in nibmeisters. If you can’t get to a show you can research nibmeisters in forums or on their website. If you’ve never used the specific nibmeister before start of by sending one pen just to be sure their work suits your writing style, even for a top tier nibmeister. When researching your choice, pay attention to the turn-around times. For some they can run into months.

I picked Mike Masuyama for this set of pens. I really liked his thin Franklin-Christoph nibs that I received. He also did a broad stub for me (at the Washington DC show) which I liked. The stub nib is a bit finicky in that it’s less forgiving of rotation or a lazy grip. That said, it’s an extremely nice writer. One of the pens is a broad nib I wanted stubbed. I considered not sending this to Mike and picking someone else to get some variety, but decided he’d get this pen too but it would be a wetter writer than the first one.

Contact The NibMeister

This is just good business practice even if they have a website that answered all your questions. Ask any questions you might have and verify your info such as pricing, turn around time, and shipping address is correct.

In my case Mike had the info on his website but I had a couple questions about the Balance II Aspen to be sure it was something he could look at. He also confirmed that I shouldn’t send the pens to arrive before he returned home.

Instructions

Mike had a form on his website to print and fill out with the pen information and to describe the work. I filled it out and was specific about what I wanted. I wanted these pens to be wetter than I typically want so requested a flow of eight on a scale on one to ten. I also mentioned that I’m a righty with a light touch. For the Aspen I went into the detail and included that the pen would write OK for over a page before having the problem.

Packing

I’m a bit obsessive about packaging. The pens went into some pen cases I had available for protection. I included the converters but nothing else. Then these went into a plastic gallon bag to protect against water, along with a index card with my contact info. I also included a copy of the instructions for Mike in the plastic bag.Then all that went into the shipping box with lots of packing material. That was topped off with another card with my contact information and the instructions for Mike so they would be seen as soon as the box was opened.

Shipping – To Insure or Not

I sent my pens via USPS with signature confirmation so they wouldn’t be left on a porch. I debated insurance and decided to insure 4 of the 5 pens. It was relatively cheap and I figured at the very least they’d get better handling/tracking. I didn’t insure the fifth pen because I didn’t have a receipt for the purchase which would have been needed for a claim.

Arrival – Nib Work – Return

Mike let me know the pens arrived. I inquired about the turn around time. Since he had been traveling I hadn’t asked before shipping them. His estimate was close enough that I never had to follow up. But I’d encourage you to feel free to follow up if the estimates aren’t met.

He sent me the bill and I paid through PayPal and he shipped them back the next day which was just before the LA Pen Show and they arrived on Saturday. naturally, it was late in the day so I waited anxiously so I could sign for them and not have to wait until Tuesday when the post office reopened.

The Results

Despite having an assortment of inked pens I couldn’t resist. I inked them all up to see the results.

Sheaffer Balance II Aspen nib

Sheaffer Balance II Aspen – I had sent this out to fix a flow problem that made the pen unusable. I liked the nib even though it was a medium, so there were no changes beyond the adjustment. The pen was filled with Montblanc Bordeaux ink and was used to write the draft of this article, which is about twice as much as it wrote before being sent off to Mike. So I call this one a success and have been using it enough that it should be my next pen review.

Lamy 2000 nib

Lamy 2000 with a fine nib – This pen was new to me and suffered from a scratchy nib upon arrival. From what I read this isn’t all that uncommon. Rather then send it back I sent it out for adjustment. The result? OMG! The nib is now incredibly smooth and the pen has a nice flow letting me use a light touch. I need some more time with the pen but this could become one of my favorites and a regular in my rotation.

Pelikan M620 Shanghai broad stub nib

Pelikan M620 Shanghai with a broad nib – This was sent in to be stubbed. This is the second Pelikan broad nib that Mike has stubbed for me. I requested a wetter flow for this one. It’s got some nice variation. With a wide nib I’ll need to get used to the wetter flow, but it is what I asked for. Because it is a broad, wet nib it’s not one I’ll use for every day writing but it’s a nice addition to my fountain pen arsenal. As my tastes are changing I suspect this will be a nib I’ll use a lot in the future.

Omas 360 Vintage LE nib

Omas 360 Vintage LE Turquoise – This was sent in to be ground down from a medium to a fine nib. This was a DC Pen Show purchase and a medium was all that I could find. The price was good enough so that even the cost of a nib grind would still make it a fair deal. Some mediums are OK for me but this was much too wet for me. So I had it ground down to a fine nib. There’s some nice flex left in the smooth nib and it’s still a wet writer, but now that it’s a fine it’s a pen I can use.

TWSBI Micarta ultra fine nib

TWSBI Micarta with a medium nib – This pen was ground down to an ultra-fine. I absolutely hated the way this pen wrote, even though I like the industrial look of the Micarta. The result is a nice smooth ultra-fine. Although smooth is relative to the paper since the thin nib can stab the page or catch on fibers. Of all the nib work, this was the most expensive at $40. I’m glad I decided to invest in the pen rather than writing it off.

Wrapping Up

I shipped the pens out January 9th and got them back on February 15th, so they were away just over 5 weeks. It was well worth the wait and the price, in my opinion. I’m extremely happy with the results. The Sheaffer Balance Aspen writes problem free, worthy of its looks. The Lamy 2000 is absolutely incredible compared to how I first got it. Both are thanks to some “simple” adjustments made by an expert which was a bargain at $20 per pen.

The Omas 360 and TWSBI Micarta went from pens I’d rarely use to pens that I’ll use frequently. The Pelikan is another nice broad stub.

Like I said, I really like the results.