Taking the plunge into custom nib work
I’ve used many different kinds of nibs over the years, from lots of different manufacturers. But I’ve never had a nib tuned or reground — until now.
Don’t get me wrong, I had been thinking about it for a while. There are certain grinds that you just don’t get in the standard manufacturer lineups (even when they venture beyond F, M and B), and a couple of my nibs didn’t perform quite as I liked. If I could have made it to a pen show, I’m sure I would have sprung for a grind by Oxonian or whoever else might have been on site. But the idea of paying to send a pen away, paying megabucks to a nibmeister to tune it, and then waiting months to get it back… that just didn’t appeal.
Then I discovered FPnibs. It’s a site based in Spain that sells nibs, inks, pens and paper — but what’s unique is that you can order nibs and complete nib-units that are pre-ground to your specifications and shipped to you. You can order everything from obliques to Waverleys, posting to fude, stubs to architects. The actual customisation is super cheap, the nibs are good value (including very competitive prices on gold nibs) and by all accounts the turnaround times are pretty quick. So I pulled the trigger.
Placing the order
I opted for two complete nib units, which I could simply screw into two of my existing pens:
- A medium cursive italic for my TWSBI Vac Mini, to replace a standard, quite decent medium.
- An architect (aka Arabic, Hebrew) for my Kaweco Al Sport, ground from a bold nib and replacing a truly hideous bold with a bad case of hard starting due to baby’s bottom.
Ordering was simple online — I just had to choose the pen, the starting nib, and the grind I wanted doing, then add to basket. I used a text box to tell FPnibs the angle that I hold my pen so they could grind the architect nib correctly. I also let them know that I was a lefty and like my nibs on the wet side.
After ordering I changed my mind about the colour of the Kaweco nib I wanted — silver, not gold-coloured. I sent a quick email and got a reply the next morning saying “no problem”.
Fast, cheap, good — pick three?!
I placed the order on the evening of 10th January; it arrived in the UK on the 21st January, but most of that was shipping — FPnibs sent the order out on the 12th. So much for the big queues for nibmeisters.
The total cost of both nib units, custom grinding and international shipping? €62, about £54. Just the nib units alone from Cult Pens would have been £34. An absolute bargain — as long as the nibs work as well as I hoped.
Fortunately, they’re absolutely bloody brilliant. Both pens are now in my all-time faves, simply on the strength of the writing experience.
Cursive italic: smoother than expected
Let’s start with the cursive italic.
As you can see from the written review at the end of this post, there’s a lot of line variation. The line is super crisp, yet even with my all-over-the-shop lefty grip there’s no scratchiness, no catching on the paper, no hard starts, no skipping. It works just fine with the pen laid down all the way to 30° from the page, and just as well near vertical at about 85° to the page. The thin line encourages me to write quite small and slow, but the nib has no problem keeping up with a bit of scribbling. And for all you lefties out there, it copes just as well overwriting, sidewriting and underwriting.
What more can I say? This grind has great personality and shows off the ink (in this case, Sailor Oku Yama). It’s practical for everyday use. It’s small enough for journalling. And, of course, it’s great value.
Architect: interesting but demanding
What about that architect grind? Well, I should start by explaining what this grind is — and looking at a photo can really help.
A stub’s tip forms a line across, perpendicular to the pen. A typical right-handed grip will write a very thin line in a cross-stroke, and a very fat downstroke. The architect is the opposite. The line of tipping runs in line with the barrel. The average grip produces a fat horizontal line and a fine downstroke. For me, as a lefty using a sidewriter grip, I get fat downstrokes and fine horizontals — meaning that the architect is a good way for me to emulate what “normal” people can do with a stub.
The challenge with an architect nib is that you have to hold the pen at the right angle to the paper. I had mine ground to 60°. If you deviate too far from this angle, only part of the tipping touches down, and you get a very thin, very scratchy line.
I, and I imagine most people, vary the angle of the pen as they change grips to relieve aches and pains, or even as they extend or contract their fingers while moving the pen across the page (for left or right writers). That won’t work with an architect grind. The pen must stay at the same angle the whole time, which means you need to move your hand along the line continually. It means relearning how to write, just a little bit, if you’re to get the best results.
The other challenge is that this thing is really broad. It’s hard to stay within the lines, even in the generous dot grid of my Rhodia. So, for both those reasons, this nib is not as scribble friendly as your common-or-garden round medium. If you lapse into poor form, it will squeak at you and skip without a moment’s hesitation.
Like the cursive italic, the architect has been ground to be wet — it gets decent saturation from Caran d’Ache Infinite Grey, which can be quite pale in drier nibs.
And unlike the stock Kaweco nib it’s replacing, there’s no baby’s bottom and not a hard start in sight.
First of many
By now, I hope it’s pretty obvious — I’m a huge fan of what Pablo and FPnibs has been able to wring out of these stock nibs, particularly given that they’re steel and I’ve now become a huge gold nib snob. The architect grind is really unusual and certainly not for everyone, but I’m finding it rewarding. The cursive italic is a real home run, delivering not only a line stuffed with personality, but really easy handling.
I’ll definitely be buying from FPnibs again — probably for a Waverley, or maybe a needlepoint. For the price, there’s very little risk in trying something a bit different.