Author Topic: When do you know a nib is shot?  (Read 3249 times)

Offline Emilyrose

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When do you know a nib is shot?
« on: September 07, 2015, 02:28:06 PM »
Hello,
Beginner and new member here. I have been working on learning copperplate using Eleanor Winters' book for a couple months. Based on her reccomendations in the book and reading here and blogs I started out using a NikkoG nib in a Ziller oblique 40 holder and a Mitchell Elbow nib in a straight cork Koh-I-noor holder. (Side question - are there any oblique holders with cork?) I switched back and forth between the two, finally settling on the NikkoG/Ziller combo bc it felt smoother and had nicer hairlines. Everything progressed nicely, but then I started noticing I needed to dip my pen more and more often, then lately I can only get about one word out before needing to dip, it feels so much scratcher, I keep picking up fibers, my paper is getting so saturated with ink. It's really frustrating. I thought it was an issue with my pressure and angle on the paper so I've been trying to be really aware and consistent...but in frustration I switched back to the elbow yesterday and it felt soooo smooth and I could write so much more without needing to dip (doesn't look nearly as nice as my writing with NikkoG/Ziller, but that's a different issue). So now I wonder if it's my technique or the nib that is causing my issues with the NikkoG. It looks fine, no space between tines, nothing bent, no rust and I've read they're really long lasting. I really don't know how to tell if nibs need to be replaced. I have another NikkoG I tried it for a while and it seemed to dump ink too, so that made me think it was me not the nib. But after using the elbow again, I'm not sure it's me. I'm using Higgens eternal and a Paper and Ink Arts branded copperplate practice pad, if that matters. Thanks for any insight you can offer! 
« Last Edit: September 07, 2015, 02:45:29 PM by Emilyrose »

Offline AndyT

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Re: When do you know a nib is shot?
« Reply #1 on: September 07, 2015, 05:45:35 PM »
Hello Emily.  :)

The simplest and most helpful answer I can give you is that it's time to replace a nib when it starts misbehaving and is no longer a pleasure to write with.  In practice most of us probably push them for longer than we really should, but the big warning sign is scratchiness, and it would be a good idea to change as soon as is practicable once that's become a noticeable problem.  Nibs are consumables, after all, and whilst they last longer than goose quills (clerks in the nineteenth century could get through three of those in a day), they really can't be expected to last for weeks of practice, even if they're reputed to be long-lasting.  They'll wear more quickly if you are shading heavily, by the way.

The issue of ink dumping might be resolved by cleaning the nib in alcohol, jabbing it harpoon fashion into a raw potato, or by licking it.  Worth a try.

As for an oblique holder with cork, I haven't seen one available commercially, but it's on my list of things to make as part of the ongoing quest for a weightless pen.  :)

Offline Emilyrose

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Re: When do you know a nib is shot?
« Reply #2 on: September 07, 2015, 08:40:18 PM »
Thanks Andy!  Maybe they are shot.  I'll get some new ones and see how that goes. When I say I've been doing this for a couple months, I have a job and a toddler, so it's not like I've been putting hours of use on them every single day. But even with my 5-7 hours a week they are likely at the end of their life. I did clean them with rubbing alcohol when I first got them and put some saliva on them. I wasn't sure if that was something I was supposed to do every single time I used them or just initially. When it started dumping so much ink, I started licking my nib at the beginning of every session or so...I think that might have helped, but not a ton. I've just rinsed well and wiped really well with a clean paper towel when I'm finished for the day. There's so much varying info out there on nib care...not sure if I settled on the best methods.

Offline andy277

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Re: When do you know a nib is shot?
« Reply #3 on: September 08, 2015, 02:32:48 AM »
Ö it's on my list of things to make as part of the ongoing quest for a weightless pen.

The lightest oblique Iíve come across so far are the Zanerian plastic hourglass holders. They are made out of black plastic and have the usual Zanerian Fine Art Holder shape and are extremely light.

Offline AndyT

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Re: When do you know a nib is shot?
« Reply #4 on: September 08, 2015, 05:07:38 AM »
There's so much varying info out there on nib care...not sure if I settled on the best methods.

That's certainly true: I'm sure you'll hit upon something which is convenient and effective soon enough though.  I don't worry much about it - one of the advantages of using a corrosive ink is that flow problems don't seem to arise, and my preferred nibs are cheap enough to change regularly.  If yours has been putting in a five hour week for a couple of months, it's probably time it retired, by the way!

The lightest oblique Iíve come across so far are the Zanerian plastic hourglass holders. They are made out of black plastic and have the usual Zanerian Fine Art Holder shape and are extremely light.

Thanks Andy.  It's more of a frivolous technical challenge, really.  I now have an excellent modellers' shop on my doorstep, so my thoughts are turning to balsa and aluminium to go with the cork.  Before that I had a notion to use yew sapwood for the tail - which was probably over-thinking it.  The chances of this coming to fruition any time soon are, of course, remote.

Offline AAAndrew

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Re: When do you know a nib is shot?
« Reply #5 on: September 08, 2015, 10:53:20 AM »
The dipping problem sounds like the nib needs to be cleaned, probably of oils from your skin or even the ink. A brief 5-second bath in a lighter's flame or wipe with alcohol will set it up nicely.

For scratchiness, first thing I do is check the nib alignment. I may require a magnifying glass and a strong light, depending on how young and sharp-sighted you are. Look carefully end-on at the tips of the tines. Are they aligned, or is one tine higher than the other? a quick and gentle pushing down of the high tine may be all that's needed to fix a scratchy nib. The steel will usually want to spring back into place with a small amount of persuasion with just a fingernail.

This quick trick can save you the cost of a new nib and is the most common reason for scratchiness. Check it first. If that's not the problem, and a quick re-prep of your nib doesn't work, then move on to a new nib.

Some hard-core cheapskates (like myself) have been known to fiddle with super-high-grit polishing sandpaper (like 2000 grit wet-dry automotive sandpaper) or micro mesh to revive a nib. I was able to successfully restore a vintage nib from my Great Aunt's collection of nibs with this. But I may not work on every nib, and it's often more trouble than it's worth. You can also turn an extra fine nib into a medium very quickly if you're not careful. 
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Offline AndyT

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Re: When do you know a nib is shot?
« Reply #6 on: September 08, 2015, 11:32:16 AM »
A brief 5-second bath in a lighter's flame ... will set it up nicely.

Noooooo!!!  Ye gods.  That's like putting a cake in the oven and going away for a fortnight's holiday.  The horror, the horror ...   :o

I assume that I'm the victim of a wind up here?   ;)

Offline AnasaziWrites

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Re: When do you know a nib is shot?
« Reply #7 on: September 08, 2015, 01:40:47 PM »
A brief 5-second bath in a lighter's flame ... will set it up nicely.

Noooooo!!!  Ye gods.  That's like putting a cake in the oven and going away for a fortnight's holiday.  The horror, the horror ...   :o

I assume that I'm the victim of a wind up here?   ;)
I'm not sure what a wind up is, but the next step for the nib after a 5 second lighter flame is the wastebasket.
Take the easy route--put the nib in a little dish or cap of rubbing alcohol, gently spread the tines (like you were making a shade) to get the alcohol between them, and wipe with a paper towel  in which you have put a bit of alcohol, and you are done. No need to rinse with water--the alcohol will evaporate quicker than water.

Offline AAAndrew

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Re: When do you know a nib is shot?
« Reply #8 on: September 08, 2015, 02:20:53 PM »
If you're worried about the temper being ruined by a bit of time in a lighter, let alone a much cooler candle, for a vintage nib made of carbon steel, with a common lighter you won't be able to even begin to get it hot enough to take the temper from the metal. Even for a thin strip of metal like a nib, unless you're focusing great heat in a contained environment, you will do nothing but burn off any surface coatings. In the original manufacturing process it took baking the nibs in a very hot oven for hours  to soften the nib for stamping and shaping. And then more baking and oil quenching to re-temper them.

While butane theoretically burns at about 1000C, a small lighter will struggle to get to that temperature in all but a very small spot in the flame, and there are far too many opportunities for heat dissipation for the nib to retain enough of it to even get close to the "straw yellow" color that indicates you are beginning to affect the temper.

Now, what they make modern nibs out of, I don't know. But tempered steel, even with all of the "A" and "O" and other varieties, still requires significant and surrounding heat to affect temper or grain alignment. I'm in no fear of my nibs being ruined.

But maybe I'm a bit of an old galoot. My knowledge of steel and tempering comes from hand tool woodworking and we have been known to go so far as to lubricate planes, at times, with tallow, and make our own hide glue from animal bits.

To each their own. Alcohol works well to dissolve shellac, and that was the coating on vintage nibs. It doesn't do quite as well with oils, but along with a wiping will suffice for anything short of high viscosity crude oil.  :)

And if you have any fancy nibs you're ready to throw away because they've been near a flame, feel free to toss my way. I won't say nought, as the old galoots might say.

Actually, I might try an experiment with a couple of cheaper nibs I have to see if I can possibly affect the flexibility of a nib by heating it even for a long time in a lighter flame. I'll report back when I get a chance.
Check out my steel pen history blog
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Offline AndyT

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Re: When do you know a nib is shot?
« Reply #9 on: September 08, 2015, 03:58:56 PM »
Galoot - I haven't heard that one in quite a while.  You weren't on the oldtools listserver back in the day by any chance, were you?

Anyway, if you've ground a chisel on a high speed wheel you'll probably know how things can go disastrously wrong in milliseconds.  The situation with nibs is exactly analogous: thin section: takes barely any time at all to draw the temper at the business end ... and the tempering phase might be as low as 300įC anyway.

These, ladies and gentlemen, are my last ever words on this subject.  In future I shall not be drawn!  As Andrew says, to each his or her own.

Offline schin

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Re: When do you know a nib is shot?
« Reply #10 on: September 08, 2015, 05:51:37 PM »
Reading this I wish we could all get together in an old smoky bar room, share some wine and chocolates and just start arguing about nibs, cleaning methods, steel quality, grinding nibs etc...
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Offline AnasaziWrites

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Re: When do you know a nib is shot?
« Reply #11 on: September 08, 2015, 06:28:07 PM »
Reading this I wish we could all get together in an old smoky bar room, share some wine and chocolates and just start arguing about nibs, cleaning methods, steel quality, grinding nibs etc...
Throw in a good single malt whiskey or good bourbon and I'll be there. Heck, I'd bring 'em.

Offline AnasaziWrites

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Re: When do you know a nib is shot?
« Reply #12 on: September 08, 2015, 06:36:09 PM »
Bulk cleaning a box of Principality's.


Offline AndyT

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Re: When do you know a nib is shot?
« Reply #13 on: September 08, 2015, 06:40:40 PM »
That does sound good, Schin; doubly so now the whisky's on the table.  I'd say meet you half way, but that's somewhere off the coast of Newfoundland.  :(  Anyway, you probably have more experience of the Nikko G than the rest of us (definitely more than me) - what sort of lifespan do you reckon on?

Offline schin

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Re: When do you know a nib is shot?
« Reply #14 on: September 08, 2015, 07:13:57 PM »
Bulk cleaning a box of Principality's.

ARGH! That's like a horror movie worse than the Exorcist!

AndyT: Nikko G gets sharp but it does last a while... I usually give it a few months of daily use, which is pretty good. The Zebra G doesn't last as long but the lines keep finer! They're both very good sturdy nibs!
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