Thursday, May 19, 2011

Nib Grinding Project

In an effort to learn how nib grinding can successfully transform an undesirable nib size into the nib point of one's dreams, I decided to pursue an economical project to gain some experiencing with reshaping nib points. I wasn't about to use pens from my beloved collection, because even my cheaper fountain pens already write well, and I am not ready to risk grinding a nib into oblivion. 

So, I knew Pilot Varsity pens come in a standard medium, allowing me plenty of grinding enjoyment to rework the nib into a fine, extra fine, maybe even a fine Italic. I went to Amazon and was able to find a box of one dozen Varsity pens for $23.83 (U.S.). Yes, this is still nearly 24 bucks, but it is about as cheap as it gets for a dozen, and I get all of the ink inside the pens. As a side note, the Pilot black ink in these pens is very well behaved and nice and dark. It is a great general black ink. 

I didn't have any empty ink bottles, so I went to Goulet Pens and ordered an empty Noodler's Ink bottle for $1.00 in the clearance section. He goes through a ton of ink with Ink Drop and the sales of samples, so if you need extra bottles, you can get them there (no affiliation, yadda yadda). 

What you wind up with is a pile of eyedropper barrels, caps, and medium point nibs/sections. Because the ink inside the pens was black, it took a good deal of rinsing in cold water to get all of the ink out. I then let this mess dry on a few sheets of paper towel overnight. The nibs are somewhat difficult to pull out, so I used a clean washcloth (one that you don't care about ruining) to firmly grab the nib and section, and then I gently pulled these out. They are in there firmly, for obvious reasons, but you just need to pull and twist at the same time. Be careful, they are filled with ink, so do this outside or over a utility sink. Once you've removed a few, it will get easier to use the proper strength/motion to take out the rest. 

For the actual grinding, I have a few different grinding sticks (glorified emery boards/nail files). The larger ones are 200 grit and 400 grit, which my girlfriend acquired from a beauty supply store, and the smaller one (bottom) is a Micro-Mesh Buff Stick from Richard's Pens. The Buff Stick has a 2400 grit portion, a 4000 grit portion, and a the grey side (shown above) is 12,000 grit. Between these sticks, I should pretty much have my bases covered. Another important thing to consider is that the nibs are steel, so it takes a good deal of grinding to bring these down, especially if you want a XXF (extra extra fine). 

I may even end up using a rotary tool on these, but I don't want to cut the pens in half, so I will be starting with the sticks and stepping it up to a rotary tool if I need to. 

So, there you have it. Gathering the materials required three separate orders from online retails and one purchase from a physical store, but this should be a incredibly time-consuming  fun and rewarding project. I will keep everyone posted on the results once I finally start getting some of these to write fine and buttery smooth simultaneously. If you have any questions, let me know. 


  1. I am very much looking forward to how this is turning out. I have a few nibs that don't perform as they should, but have no idea how difficult nib grinding is and what can be achieved with it and hope to see from your posts whether this is something I would like to try out.

  2. Very cool project. Yeah, the Varsity is cheapo but I'd be too chicken to try grinding it. I wouldn't even know where to begin.

    I would suggest trying to grind it into an F or EF. I always maintained that the Varsity could be close to perfect if only it had a finer nib.

  3. I will definitely keep both of you posted on the progress of the project. I have started on one of the Varsity nibs and, upon testing, it is approaching a fine point, however, it is still quite scratchy.

    I have been trying to look at my other fine point nibs under a 20x loupe to determine how the Varsity might be scratchy, and it is difficult to distinguish why one nib might be scratchier than the other.

    For testing I've been using up my Noodler's Baystate Concord Grape and Baystate Blue as I no longer trust using these aggressive inks in my better pens. So, I have one Varsity ground down to a near-fine with Baystate Concord Grape, and it is coming along fairly well for a first attempt.

    Peninkcillin - I completely agree with you. I would love to use Varsity pens more often, but they just dump ink on the page, especially using more fibrous paper while out and about. The Pilot 78g (fine) that I have is practically an XXF, at least compared to a Lamy EF, so that is the goal. I've even seen XXXF on Richard Binder's site, so that would be a fun goal to shoot for.

    If anyone else has some nib grinding advice/sources/experiences, I'd love to hear about it.

  4. This is an interesting project. Prior to finding your blog, I bought two packs of the Pilot Varsity seven pen, multi-color pack with the express purpose of experimenting with the nibs.

    Since the Varsity lays down the ink, I thought a finer nib would serve it well. Has there been any further progress made?

  5. From what I understand, the Varsity pens have folded nibs and so grinding these will not help in teaching on to grind tipped nibs.


  6. Gabriel - They seem to work quite well for learning how to grind nibs. I will say that you want a coarser surface for doing much of the reshaping; the steel is tough, and it will go through finer grades of paper very quickly.

    Adrian - I am curious what you mean by folded nibs. The steel nibs on the varsity seem to be un-tipped steel, and they seem to be adequate in learning how to shape the nib and increase the smoothness once ground. Can you tell me more about this?

  7. Hi,

    My understanding is that modern nibs are tipped with an iridium alloy which is then shaped and ground smooth to provide a smooth writing end.
    Many stainless steel nibs, and the Varsity are a good example of this, achieve the same smooth ball at the end by folding over the end of the nib.

    When grinding a nib that has an iridium tip, you need to be careful not to damage that. You are effectively reshaping and removing some of the iridium allow to create a new writing surface for the nib. Because the iridium tip is added onto the nib, there is (as I understand it) a danger that you can accidentally remove the iridium tip.

    Now, reshaping a steel nib will allow you to practice with getting the shape of the nib and so on. BUt it will be a different thing if you come to shape a tipped nib. You'll have to be a lot more careful and many of the lessons learned with the folded nibs will no longer hold.

    Having aid this, I've only re-ground dip pens (I do calligraphy) and it's something I do all the time in order to keep the nibs sharp so as to get fine hairlines. But that is a very different thing from grinding a fountain pen nib. I have thought about doing the same as you have started to do, but realized that it wouldn't help me a great deal in learning how to grind tipped nibs.

    I hope this helps,


  8. Adrian,

    Thank you for taking the time to share some knowledge about tipped/folded nibs. I guess the best course of action will be practicing on both kinds and applying the two techniques as the situation requires.

    I do have several fountain pens that are not tipped, so maybe the experience with the Varsity pens will only apply to those. I am more fearful of working on my other pens, especially the gold nibs.

    Now I just have to acquire some cheap tipped nibs. Sounds like a job for eBay. Thanks again for the information!

  9. Would anybody in this forum care to volunteer an opinion on what they think might be the pen with the finest driest nib?

    Thanks in anticipation