Author Topic: How long are dip pen nibs meant to last?  (Read 600 times)

Offline Chessie

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How long are dip pen nibs meant to last?
« on: April 16, 2023, 06:11:39 PM »
I felt certain someone must have answered this before me, but I couldn't find the specific question anywhere. 

In the months I've been learning (about four months), I've gone through about six metal dip pen nibs.  They've become too warped to use, rusted, bent out of shape, or ended up with one tine that wouldn't quite collect ink properly.  While that is really only about $6 worth of nibs, it feels like I shouldn't be damaging quite so many with just daily practice.  A few hours a day isn't that much mileage, right?  Am I being silly and worrying about nothing?  I've just dobbed another one into the bin after the left tine ended up slightly higher than the right and I couldn't fix it.

I'm using Mitchell round-hand nibs sans reservoir, incidentally. 

Offline Erica McPhee

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Re: How long are dip pen nibs meant to last?
« Reply #1 on: April 16, 2023, 09:23:17 PM »
That would be about right for pointed pen nibs but not broad pens. Broad pen nibs tend to last quite a long time and they get better with use (the opposite of pointed pens). There’s a sweet spot in there where they are well broken in and just sing. But it takes a bit to get there. Then they last quite some time and then wear out. But I have some broad nibs I have had a really long time.

What ink are you using? It could be possible the ink is corroding the nib and making it less sturdy. Or, what method are you using to prepare the nib? Perhaps it is too caustic?
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Offline K-2

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Re: How long are dip pen nibs meant to last?
« Reply #2 on: April 17, 2023, 01:10:42 AM »
@Chessie - There are various factors affecting how much use you can get out of a broad edge nib. (As @Erica McPhee notes: pointed pen nibs don't last as long, because you stress them more by flexing).

The main three variables are:

How heavy your hand is. If you have a very heavy hand, you can splay/"spring" the nibs - especially very flexible, relatively delicate nibs like the Mitchells. A while ago you mentioned railroading with the Mitchells - that's a sign that you could lighten up the pressure.

What kind of ink you're using. Heavily lacquered sumi inks or acidic iron gall inks will corrode nibs pretty fast. When I use really heavily lacquered sumi inks (which are beautiful and shiny), I can see the bronze coating on the nib get stripped off after just a few hours.

How you're cleaning, drying, and storing your nibs. If you're using a straight holder (especially one with "universal/adjustable" internal metal flanges that grip the base of the nib), a little bit of water in there can cause a lot of corrosion and rust. I always take my nibs out of the holder, clean them thoroughly, wipe them dry, and store them in a separate tin to keep track of which nibs are in current use (I try to only have one or two active nibs of each size in use at one time). If I'm using sumi ink, gouache, metallics, or that Dr. Martin's bleed-proof white, I also give my nibs a whirl in the ultra-sonic bath at the end of the day.

A few other troubleshooting reminders:
* Sometimes you have to re-prep nibs if you get oils on them from your hands.
* When you remove a nib from a straight holder, pull it straight out. Try to avoid twisting it, because you can damage the alignment of the tines. (maybe that's how yours warped/bent?)
* You can sharpen broad edge nibs when they start to go dull (very much like a knife! hey, your knife sharpening skills might provide a great transition to nib tuning)

As a point of comparison, I often use a #2 or #1.5 Mitchell broad edge nib for years at a time before it goes bad. And even then, sometimes I give it a few passes over some 2400 grit sandpaper to tune it up and keep it going for another stretch. #2 and #1.5 are the ones I use most too. The more delicate #4, #5 and #6 nibs don't last quite as long, but I still use them for a year or two a time. And come to think of it, I can't even remember the last time I needed to bring out a new #2.5 or #3.

A few things allow for the preservation of my nibs: I have a very light hand from working with quills and brushes; I practice and layout with walnut ink and/or dye based fountain pen inks, which are very mild on nibs; I'm an absolute fanatic about cleaning and drying my equipment (seriously, not too long ago we had a discussion on the Forum about how to keep nibs from rusting, and everyone thought that I was a total weirdo for the lengths I go to clean and dry my nibs & holders every time I even pause for a little break).
* In contrast my students treat their nibs like garbage, and they hardly last through the semester.

Maybe if it's bothering you to go through $20-worth of nibs a year, try adjusting your pressure or cleaning regimen. But really, even though you're going through kind of a lot of nibs, do not worry that you're doing anything "wrong" as such, especially not at this stage of your development. You're pretty devoted to your ink sticks, so even if you clean and dry your nibs every day, they'll corrode faster. (Just a reminder that those ink sticks were originally designed with brushes in mind, not metal nibs).
--yours, K

Offline Chessie

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Re: How long are dip pen nibs meant to last?
« Reply #3 on: April 17, 2023, 09:21:08 AM »
Interesting.  I wonder if I can make my inks a little less caustic with a bit of sodium bicarbonate.  I do love inksticks. 

Offline K-2

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Re: How long are dip pen nibs meant to last?
« Reply #4 on: April 17, 2023, 08:48:27 PM »
@Chessie - I wouldn't try to mess with the ink chemistry. I'm going to get a little bit technical about sumi ink. If you're not that interested in the composition of the ink, just skip to the last paragraph.

[Hey @Zivio - pedantry spill in Aisle 2]

Sumi (and it's western "lamp black" and "India ink" cousins) is comprised of soot (which makes it black; or some other pigment for other colors) mixed with a binder (lacquer or shellac) and sometimes scent, but the resins themselves have a distinctive scent. Lacquer is made from a tree resin; shellac is made from the secretions of lac insects scraped off the bark of trees. Chemically, the resins are mainly composed of aleuritic acid, jalaric acid, shellolic acid, and other natural waxes. In either case, you need to dissolve the lacquer or shellac in a solvent (often alcohol of one sort or another). So sumi's corrosive qualities come from both the solvent and also the acids in the resins themselves.

When they make ink sticks, they mix the dissolved lacquer/shellac with the soot, and then pour it into moulds, and bake it until it's hard. When you grind it up with water, you're reactivating and emulsifying the resins that hold the soot together, so it forms a creamy liquid. Liquid sumi skips the dehydrating process and just gets bottled as the creamy liquid.

The lacquer is how your ink sticks hold themselves together, and how the liquid ink then sticks to the page. Without it, you'd just have a pile of loose soot once everything dried. It's also why you can't just mix soot with water and have ink - you always need a binder. That binder is why you don't use India ink in fountain pens - it clots up the gills of the feed. Most pigmented inks are kind of hard on fountain pens, even if they're formulated for them, because they have particles and binders; shimmer inks work on the same principle.

If you try to denature the acids in the resins/solvents with bicarb, I'm not sure how you achieve the emulsion. You might just get the waxy bit clumping up. Combined with the abrasive particles of the bicarb mixed in with the carbon soot, you stand to really scour the finish off the nib too. But I'm not sure it would even flow off a nib or hold its suspension. Maybe I'll have my students study it in the lab to see what actually happens.... We make sumi, so we can unmake it too, I guess.

/pedantry

Anyway -- I do use sumi inks too (even the notoriously corrosive, highly lacquered, beautifully shiny ones; and I think that liquid sumis are more corrosive than sticks because they skip the part where you evaporate the solvent) - but I still manage to make my nibs last longer by really careful cleaning (When using sumi, I actually use two jars of rinse water - one to get the ink off, with a toothbrush head glued on to help; and then a "clean water" rinse to clean off the acids that end up in the inky water with all the ink). If I were only using sumi, maybe I'd go through two a year instead of one every other year? Since you love your ink sticks so much, just replace the nibs more often - as you note, they're pretty cheap. Maybe if you lighten your hand and take extra care in cleaning/drying, you get to where you're only using four or six nibs a year instead of the 18 you're on track for at the moment?

--yours, K

Offline Zivio

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Re: How long are dip pen nibs meant to last?
« Reply #5 on: April 17, 2023, 11:03:56 PM »
@Chessie -

… [Hey @Zivio - pedantry spill in Aisle 2] …


Ah, thanks for the spill alert! Totally lapped it up!  ;D

I like how you described the how and why of the inks and the chemistry. As a young boy, I was pretty sure I’d be pursuing a career in biochemistry. Not the first thing I got wrong.
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Offline Erica McPhee

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Re: How long are dip pen nibs meant to last?
« Reply #6 on: April 18, 2023, 10:02:21 AM »
@K-2  That is absolutely fascinating! We are so lucky to have you here at Flourish!  :)
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Erica
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