If your ballpoint stops working, you throw it away.

If your fountain pen stops working, you: check if the converter has worked loose; calculate the viscosity of the ink; flush the nib and feed with a 1/10th solution of ammonia in tepid water; use a syringe to force water through the feed; inspect tine alignment; wiggle a sheet of paper in between the nib and the feed to see if there’s too much of a gap; email the seller to demand a refund; bring it to a nibmeister.

I met Yukio Nagahara, son of Nobuyoshi Nagahara, in the Sailor Pen Clinic sponsored by Aesthetic Bay in Singapore. The elder Nagahara is a legend in the fountain pen world, as is his son. Their exacting attention to the creation, production and tuning of specialty nibs ensures a flock of fans at every pen show they attend. This clinic was no exception. I was lucky to have enough free time to hang around and wait my turn.

Aesthetic Bay facade

Many customers weren’t there, but had their pens waiting in line. Nagahara-san worked on nib after nib. He would flush the feed, work the nib and feed out from their collar (if there was a colllar), assessed what could be done, and got to work. (His grinding machine is bespoke. He uses a camera lens blower to flush sections.)

Yukio Nagahara

They handed out a quick guide to the specialty Nagahara nibs. These were all available on the other counter for customers to experience.

Nagahara specialty nibs

He told Mr. Tan, the shop owner, that nothing was impossible. A lady came in on the first day with a request: could the nibmeister make her nib a comfortable writer for both English and Hindi? He solved it by grinding the left and right sides of the nib differently – one angled for Western letters, the other for Hindi. He did raise his eyebrow at one request to grind a zoom nib into a cursive italic. I saw the request and said, oh no, don’t! (If you want a cursive italic, have it done from a Sailor broad or music nib instead.)

A nibmeister's tools

The large disc in the foreground is a very fine abrasive disc that Nagahara-san uses to floss between the tines. The black burnisher on the right seems to be just the thing for straightening bent nibs.

Nib mockup

Yes, he really does have a giant wooden nib mock-up. It’s made of painted wood. Inside, there are magnets.

Nib mockup, open

I expect he uses this to explain writing angle, how the nib is supposed to come into contact with paper, and all of that, but I can’t take a nib as humongous as this with any level of seriousness.

Writing with nib mockup

I met a lot of wonderful fountain pen fans, and if ever a trip of mine coincides with a Singapore pen meet, I’m crashing it. 🙂 For more on the Sailor Pen Clinic (including video!), drop by the Fountain Pen Network thread.

While waiting, I couldn’t help but gawk at all the other pens. That’s for another blog entry.