Fountain Pen 201: Nib Customization

Welcome back to Fountain Pen 201 and happy Fountain Pen Friday. This week I’ll be covering nib customization including nib tuning and nib grinds.

Nib customization can vary from a simple smoothing or increasing/decreasing flow, to a complete reshaping. Ultimately, though, the reason behind the work is the same: to tailor it to your personal preferences and writing style.

Nib customization makes your pen perfect for you. It’s akin to altering a suit: certainly not a requirement, but worth it if you get it done by someone who knows what they’re doing.

“Simple” nib work, like smoothing and ink flow adjustment, is often referred to as tuning or adjustment. It is the more basic end of nib work, and is something most people could learn to do with some guidance and practice (more on that in Fountain Pen 301).

Custom nib grinds, however, are another story entirely. Nib grinds alter the shape of the nib tip. They are probably not something you want to look into for your entry-level pens. While there isn’t any reason why you can’t get work done on a “cheap” pen, it’s kind of like putting spinners on a VW Beetle; it’s a bit incongruous. But when you get nib work done on a next level or custom pen, it takes it that much further.

As far as I know, there are 7 main types of nib grinds:

  • Needlepoint: A needlepoint grind is basically what it sounds like, the tip is ground to a needle point to allow for super fine writing.
  • Stub: A stub grind provides a thick vertical stroke and a thin horizontal stroke while maintaining the smooth writing feel typical of a standard round nib.
  • Cursive/Cursive Italic: A cursive grind is the same general shape as a stub grind, but the edges are slightly sharper. Cursive nibs gain a thinner horizontal stroke than a stub at the cost of writing smoothness.
  • Italic/Sharp Italic: An italic grind is the same general shape as a stub or cursive nib but the edges are extremely sharp. They have the thinnest horizontal strokes, but also feel quite scratchy when compared to a stub or cursive. Italic nibs are best for calligraphy.
  • Oblique: An oblique grind compensates for a writer who rotates the pen in their grip. There are two types: left foot oblique — so named for the tip shape resembling a left food when viewed with the nib imprint facing the viewer — (aka “oblique”) and right foot oblique (aka “reverse oblique”). Depending on how the pen is held in relation to the paper, oblique grinds can also be used to achieve architect-like or stub-like results.
  • Architect/Hebrew/Arabic: An architect grind is like a stub rotated 90 degrees. It creates thin vertical strokes and thick horizontal strokes. This grind must be adjusted to your writing angle in order for the best performance.
  • Spencerian: A Spencerian grind is a semi-soft 14k nib reground to needlepoint width with extra flex added. As far as I know, this grind is exclusive to Nibs.com. However, Regalia Writing LabsSemiflex nib seems like it’s a good alternative based on writing samples. If I get a chance to try a Spencerian grind, I’ll compare the two, but you may want to check out my review of the Semiflex in the mean time.

If you’d like more detailed information about nib grinds, The Nibsmith and The Gentleman Stationer both have great information.

Did I miss any customizations? Are there any you want to try? Let me know in the comments.

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