Getting a custom nib grind is one of those steps that fountain pen people take that makes normal people question our sanity to the next level.
"You spent how much on that pen? And, now you're going to customize it?!..."
Yes. Yes we are.
So why get a custom nib grind in the first place? What is the big deal? In a way, it is kind of like adding further levels of customization or tuning to a car to change its performance. Frivolous? Maybe a little, but buying a $200-300 stick that puts ink on paper also lends itself to some practicality questions...
I speak in jest mostly during the intro, but I certainly don't want to make the decision to do a custom grind seem like a breeze. There are a lot of considerations to be had AND you did just spend real money on a pen that you want to enjoy for a long time.
The wrong grind can take a pen you love and turn into one you don't.
If you are new to fountain pens, nib grinding is when material from the tip of the nib is altered in shape by removing metal, and by adjusting angles and surfaces, all to achieve a particular way that the letters will appear on the page during writing.
The nibmeister who's work we'll be reviewing today is Dan Smith of The Nibsmith, someone that has been a fountain pen enthusiast serving our community for several years. Dan's work has made an appearance previously here on The Clicky Post when I reviewed the Pilot Vanishing Point he had done for me (still one of my favorite pens because of it). I love his work and I've entrusted several pens to his care.
In addition to his nib grinding and tuning services, Dan also has an online store where he sells a nice collection of popular fountain pens, nibs, and inks.
Dan approached me with an idea recently to do a more comprehensive review by comparing four different versions of the same pen to try and showcase some of the possibilities you can achieve with a nib grind.
The pen chosen for the review is the popular Platinum #3776 Century, a staple in the community and a great first jump into "nicer", gold-nibbed fountain pens. Simultaneously it seemed like a good idea to look at a few color schemes of the #3776. Two for one!
The #3776 Century is a cartridge/converter style fountain pen which comes standard with a 14k gold nib. For right around the $160-220 range, these pens have a great reputation for being reliable and fantastic writers.
For today's "test", we went with all broad nibs with three of the four receiving work from Dan.
Special thanks to him for loaning the pens for the review!
Pen Specimens -
Our four barrel styles: Black Diamond, Chartres Blue, Nice Pur, and Shungyo
Our four nibs: Broad (no grind), Stub, Architect, and Cursive Italic
Also, to maintain consistency I filled them all with Pilot Blue-Black, an ink that has some considerable shading for being a bit of a "sleeper ink". And, it has great flow and consistency in my experience.
Black Diamond - Broad Nib (No Grind)
The Black Diamond edition is one of the more standard looking models, appearing to be your average black barrel with rhodium trim accents (all business). What isn't obvious is that the barrel and cap are actually made from a translucent acrylic which allows for a subtle demonstrator effect in the right lighting.
The broad nib lays down a dark, wet line and has a bit more of a glassy feel with little feedback (almost none though) on the Rhodia dotPad. The nib is definitely more on the springy side.
Being the standard broad nib, nothing fancy to report per se, but it is a wonderful writer that puts down a generous, consistent line.
I'll be referring to the Black Diamond pen in this test as our sort of "control" to hold up against the other pens to show the contrast.
Chartres Blue - Broad Nib with Stub Grind
For some reason I have a hard time writing the name Chartres Blue correctly (as seen in the writing sample)... maybe it is the two R's wrapped around a T which my brain isn't used to...
Nonetheless, this is a lovely pen. The blue is a rich, dark color and the barrel has a slight translucence (much like the Black Diamond) which creates a semi-demonstrator effect.
The blue isn't really one to turn heads, but it is elegant, conservative, and executed well against the rhodium trim.
Dan worked this pen into a broad stub nib which made the flow much more that the others. It is a gusher, but definitely fun to write with.
A stub nib is designed to produce wider vertical strokes and narrow horizontal strokes, but with a softer edge. Think of it like a fun, wet, fountain pen paintbrush designed to give some subtle line variation, but put down a lot of ink.
On the page there is some subtle "stub-ness", but of the three grinds I'll be discussing in the review, this one has the least effect in appearance on the page when compared to our Black Diamond control specimen. This isn't a criticism of Dan's work whatsoever, but just how a broad stub tends to be. If needed, he could make the effect stronger, but that may start drifting into other nib variations altogether.
I found the stub to be a really enjoyable and would definitely consider one in a normal nib size (not really the larger 1.1 or 1.5mm stubs) for an everyday writer due to it's subtlety. A broad like this might be a slight bit wet for taking meeting notes, but sure is fun.
That being said, if someone is wanting a more dramatic effect (which we'll be discussing shortly), another type may be a better fit...
Nice Pur - Broad Nib with Architect Grind
The Nice Pur is a limited edition version of the #3776 that has a sandblasted matte (well, semi-matte) clear barrel with fluted lines around the barrel and cap, and is also garnished with rhodium trim.
I almost always write in all capital letters and tend to have a sort of drafting style to my writing. That being the case, the Architect grind has a special place in my handwriting heart as I feel it accentuates and adds more expression to the way my words hit the page.
The Architect nib is created by bringing the sides of the tip into a sharp "V" shape when looking down, but then also extending that shape downward and maintaining the sharp edge as you head towards the feed.
The result that this type of nib produces are thin and narrow vertical lines, but wide horizontal lines. The contrast is most expressed in letters like "E" or "H" as you get perpendicular representations of both strokes in the same letter, but where it gets really fun are in letters like "B" or "Q" where you have some curves that take interesting, transitional line widths as you write.
I'm bias, but the Architect is definitely my favorite of the group (but keep reading!), mostly due to the way I write though.
In comparison the the glassy broad in the Black Diamond or gushing soft edges of the stub, this particular Architect is a bit on the sharp side while writing. For the most contrast in the lines this is necessary so it maintains the crisp edges. But, when getting a custom nib grind, things can be adjusted for things to be as crisp (sharp edges) or smooth (nicer writing) as you'd like.
Shungyo - Broad Nib with Cursive Italic
The final review specimen is one of Platinums most recent limited editions, the red Shungyo fountain pen.
The Shungyo edition is part of Platinums seasons of Mt. Fuji series, and it is a beautiful pen. As with the others in the test, it is adorned with rhodium trim which contrasts against the ruby red barrel nicely. The barrel of the pen, similar to the Nice Pur, has a uniqure fluted line pattern that ads some visual texture.
It could just be me, but the Shungyo material feels a bit denser in the hand than the other pens in the set.
For this nib, Dan worked up a cursive italic grind which, like the stub, is designed to create wide vertical lines and narrow horizontal lines. The main difference from a stub is that an italic is ground to create sharper, crisper edges to show more variation with each stroke.
Dan's nib certainly delivers on this promise, and with a surprising amount of smoothness. I've used other italic nibs in the past that were a bit uncomfortable, but this one is smooth.
With my all caps writing, the cursive italic (seems like I shouldn't be able to use it!) does give my writing some awesome flair, but for someone that writes in more flowing lettering, these create a more calligraphic appearance (sure to impress your friends).
**Special Promo** - Wanted to make note of this that for a limited time Dan is offering a special promo on the Shungyo model. Through the month of October you can take 10% off the Shungyo advertise price by using the promo code CLICKY10 at checkout.
Closing Thoughts -
I feel like each of these nibs/pens could see their own more extensive review, but I hope this provided a good overview of what is possible and what to expect when working with a nibmeister like Dan.
If you have any additional thoughts or questions about today's topic, feel free to comment below! Or, if you have specific questions about nib grinding services in general, visit nibsmith.com and connect with Dan directly.
One thing that Dan offers is a free grind at the time of purchase on any new pen bought through him which is really awesome. If you were thinking of picking up something new and getting work done, this is probably one of the best ways to do it, so definitely take a look at his selection.
Special thanks again to The Nibsmith!