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Congratulations on purchasing your new fountain pen!

I call this page the Fountain Pen Help Line. Here you will find instructions for refilling a fountain pen, as well as maintenance procedures you should routinely perform on your fountain pen to ensure it works as expected. You’ll find information for filling or re-inking a converter, as well as cleaning the converter and internal inking system. Performing regular maintenance will ensure your pen will perform to your satisfaction.

For continuity, this page now combines information and instructions on cleaning and filling maintenance for any type of fountain pen. Please let me know if you find any incorrect information or think something additional should be added.

Nearly all brands of fountain pen ink sold today are water-based. Therefore, you can use water to clean your pen(s). However, you should avoid using tap water as well as soaps and household cleaners. Standard tap water contains impurities such as calcium that can corrode metal parts and leave residue on plastic parts, so it’s best to use distilled water. However, if distilled water is hard to find or expensive where you live, you can begin with tap water. Then, once all the ink is out, do a final rinse with distilled water. Just be aware that water-based ink will still stain your hands and clothes. So before you begin your maintenance, you may want to take a few precautions to protect surfaces from unwanted ink.

In the strictest sense, an ink reservoir can be any vessel used to hold or store ink. But generally, the term is used when referring to the two standard types of storage systems: disposable cartridges and refillable converters. Although there are several other types of inking systems, these two are considered the standard systems and will be found in the majority of fountain pens. And unless stated otherwise, the two are usually interchangeable and more commonly referred to simply as C/C, which stands for cartridge/converter.

The difference between the two is that cartridges come prefilled with ink, and a converter is basically an empty vessel. So in order to use a converter, you also have to have a bottle of ink. A cartridge is more convenient, but you’ll find a larger selection of ink in bottles than cartridges.

You should be able to find cartridges and bottled ink at your local office supply store or online sites devoted to pens.

Disposable Cartridges:
Again, cartridges are convenient. Standard cartridges look the same but come in different lengths. There’s the common 38 mm standard-length cartridge, officially referred to as the International Standard cartridge. And the 73 mm double-length cartridge. See the examples on the right. In a standard-size C/C pen, you can usually fit two standard-size cartridges inside the barrel: one in use and another as a spare.

Disposable Ink Cartridges

Refillable Converters:
Also referred to as a pump, an ink converter is used with bottled ink. As you can see on the right, they come in a variety of styles, but no matter the style, they all get installed the same way. They use an internal piston to force out air and pull ink into the reservoir. Most converters are removable. On some pen brands, the converter can be a fixed part of the pen. You can fill a converter while still in the pen or after removing it.

Standard Size Piston Ink Converters

Refillable Mini Piston Converters:
These mini piston converters operate the same way as the standard-size converters. The only difference is that they’re shorter and hold a smaller amount of ink. But they’re a little deceiving. Once filled, the plunger sticks out the top, making it twice as long. As a result, the filled mini is actually longer than a cartridge. So there isn’t much of an advantage to using one. So if you have a pen that will only accept a cartridge, you’re better off refilling a disposable.

Mini Piston Ink Converters

Refillable Squeeze Converters: 
The squeeze converter is another type of refillable converter. But instead of using a piston, they use a squeeze bulb. A squeeze bulb converter works much the same way as a bulb filler pen. The most common styles are on the right. The top style (made by Kaweco) has an exposed squeeze bulb. The other two are metal shells with a metal pressure bar across the opening. You press the bar to compress the bulb.

Squeeze Style Ink Converters

The converters shown make up the majority of this type of converter system sold these days. And no matter their size, you could use any one of them instead of the cartridge. But due to the increasing popularity of the fountain pen, the internal inking systems outlined below are making a resurgence, and several pen makers have introduced more of those internal inking systems over the last decade.

There are several styles of internal inking systems. But all fall into one of three categories: bulb, piston, or plunger. A bulb system consists of an external squeeze bulb (like the mini bulb above) and an internal (ink) reservoir. Squeeze the bulb to push out air and draw ink into the reservoir (there is also an internal breather tube that regulates air pressure inside the reservoir). 

Pistons and plungers:
The piston and plunger systems are a confusing pair. A lot of people confuse the piston and plunger systems, but in fairness, it’s not their fault. The companies that created the systems in the first place are actually to blame. But let’s set that issue aside. In today’s pen community, a piston system refers to a piston that uses a screw-type plunger that requires a turning or twisting motion to move the plunger. Whereas a plunger system has a smooth shaft, and you simply depress the shaft to move the plunger.  A standard converter is an example of a piston filling system. In contrast, my vacumatic mechanism is an example of a plunger system. Vacumatic was an inking system developed by the Parker Pen Company.

Button and lever fillers:
Button and lever fillers use an internal ink sac. The ink sac is similar in shape to the bulb on a bulb-filler. You’ll even find them made of the same material. But that’s where the similarities end between bulbs and sacs. Bulbs are mounted on the outside of the pen, whereas sacs are used on the inside. Both button and lever fillers use a sac and a pressure bar and share the same mechanics. The pressure bar compresses the sac, forcing out the air inside. Releasing the button or bar will allow ink to be drawn in. A lever makes direct contact with the pressure bar, whereas a button contact is indirect.

If you have any further questions on this subject, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Please note: Whether you are filling a converter pump or replacing a disposable cartridge, the process is basically the same. If you’re filling a pen that has an internal filling system (and doesn’t come apart), the procedure is similar but requires a few additional steps and precautions. See the note for those at the bottom of the page.

Step 1. First, remove and set the cap aside.

Step 2. Next, grasp the pen barrel with one hand, then the section (the part above the nib) with your other hand. Then rotate the section counter-clockwise (lefty-loosey) until the parts are separated. You should now have the barrel in one hand and the nib, section, and cartridge or converter in the other.

Step 3. The next step depends on whether you’re using a disposable cartridge or a converter (also called a pump or reservoir):

To swap out a disposable cartridge, here are some helpful tips:

1) First, familiarize yourself with the parts. If you look inside the back (threaded) end of the section, you’ll see a round black nipple recessed inside. That’s the nib’s feed nipple, and it will punch a hole in the front of the cartridge.

2) Next, look at the narrow or stepped end of the cartridge. The nipple inside the section will punch a hole into this end. So you want to push the cartridge in firmly in order to punch out the hole.

3) So then, when ready, insert the cartridge into the back of the section and press it firmly. You should be able to feel the nipple breaking the seal. If you find it hard to punch the hole using this method, then stop! Instead, use the end of a large paper clip to punch the hole in the cartridge. Then insert the cartridge.

Other issues: a) Sometimes the hole will open up, but the punch debris will get in the way and not allow the ink to flow onto the feed. b) Other times the hole will open up, but the cartridge will keep popping back up and won’t stay seated. Solution: Both of these will cause the nib to work at first, but then stop working, or dry out. But they have the same solution. Use the end of a large paperclip to ream out or enlarge the hole in the cartridge. Then reseat the cartridge again. That should resolve the issue.

To fill a converter, first ensure you have a bottle of ink on hand. Next, make sure the converter’s piston is moved all the way down. If it’s not at the bottom, twist the top knob counter-clockwise to move it down. The next step will depend on whether you’re filling the converter while it’s still installed in the pen or after removing it:

A. Converter removed:
Simply insert the pump partway into the ink and turn the knob CLOCKWISE to draw ink up into the reservoir. Continue twisting the knob until the converter is full. Once full, pull it out of the ink and wipe the excess from the outside. Next, push the converter into the back of the section and ensure it seats securely. Next, turn the converter’s knob in the opposite direction to force ink down into the feed. Give it at least one full turn, and then set the pen aside for a while to allow the ink to work its way down the feed.

B. Converter installed in the pen:
Insert the entire nib and the front of the section into the ink. Then turn the knob CLOCKWISE to draw ink up into the reservoir. Continue twisting the knob until the converter is full. Once full, remove the nib from the ink and wipe off the excess ink.

NOTE: Filling a converter can be a messy endeavor. So if this is your first time, you may want to wear latex gloves and do the filling over something you don’t mind throwing away afterwards. You also want to have a few paper towels on hand to help with the clean-up.

Step 4. Charge the nib: Before reassembling the pen, you want to ‘charge’ the nib. In this instance, charging simply means getting the ink flowing through the nib and feed. If you’re using a disposable cartridge, squeeze the ink cartridge a few times. This forces some ink into the feed to start the ink flow. If you’re using a converter, turn the top knob counter-clockwise slightly to push ink down into the feed.

CAUTION: Sometimes it takes a while for the ink to flow, so don’t try to hasten the process too quickly by forcing too much ink into the feed. If the pen still doesn’t want to write, then see the Additional Steps below.

Step 5. After you get the ink flowing, reattach the section (with the cartridge or converter pump installed) back onto the barrel and install the cap.

Sometimes the ink works its way down the feed but won’t make it up onto the nib. So if you find your pen doesn’t want to write, or writes for a little while then stops, then try these additional steps:

1. First, make sure the slit in the nib is in line with the center groove in the feed. Using a magnifying glass or ‘loop‘, look into the round peep hole in the nib, and be sure you can see the groove that runs along the top of the feed. If you can’t see it, then you need to shift the feed until the groove lines up with the hole. Do not shift the nib! Use your finger to give the feed a little nudge. Then check the alignment. Repeat until you get them aligned. Sometimes you have to shift it back and forth until it finally lines up correctly. So have some patience. Once the two are lined up, the ink should start to flow.

2. Next, make sure the nib isn’t sitting too high above the feed. If it sits too high, the ink won’t be able to transfer from the feed to the nib. Lastly, you may just have to set the pen aside for a while and give it some time. Then come back later and try writing something.

3. Sometimes I find I can help the process along by softly dabbing the top of the nib (at the hole and slit) with a tissue or paper towel. This will tell me if the ink is making its way to that point. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed to pull the ink up into the nib slit. If the tissue has a little ink on it, then the ink is starting to flow, so just give it a little more time. If no ink is visible, then go to the next step.

4. Another option you can try is to dip the tip of the nib in the ink. This will usually complete the charging process if the ink is not reaching the nib. Afterwards, write several lines to see if the pen will continue to write or run dry.  If it continues to write, then you’re good to go.  If the nib runs dry, then there is still a spot where the ink is getting blocked. So you need to backtrack your steps to find what is blocking the flow.  The worst case is that you have a bad nib, or the tines are misaligned or not set correctly.  But that’s really the worst case. Most times, the issue is something much simpler.

5. If you installed a disposable cartridge, you will need to make sure that when you press it onto the tenon, the tenon penetrates the plastic and the ink flows. After you go through steps 5 & 6, if the pen doesn’t write, you may need to remove the cartridge to check that the seal in the tenon broke through.

A word about nibs from JEB’s Pens… I test the nibs in all my pens before shipping. I test the nib with a full sheet of paper to make sure the ink flows properly and the nib writes without skipping or drying out.

Fountain pens with internal filling mechanisms (bulb, lever, or piston) utilize a slightly different procedure, but it is roughly equivalent to filling a converter. However, instead of disassembling the pen, you dip the nib and part of the section into the ink bottle.

How deep? I frequently receive inquiries from folks who say they have problems filling their pens. Usually, it is because they are not dipping their pens far enough into the ink. To produce suction, you must ensure a portion at the front of the section is also in the ink. If it isn’t, the system will continue to suck air rather than ink.

How long? Once you have started filling the pen, keep pumping (bulb), pushing (button), rotating (piston), or flipping (lever) until air bubbles appear in the ink. When the bubbles stop, the internal reservoir is full.

Cleaning up: Once filled, wipe down the section and nib to remove any remaining ink.

ALTERNATE FILLING METHOD WITH A SYRINGE: Some years ago, I discovered a wonderful method for easily filling a converter or disposable cartridge: use a small syringe. If you search online, you’ll find prices on 5 mm syringes quite reasonable. The syringe is also a useful cleaning tool. You can get them with sharp or blunt tips. Blunt tips are desirable, but if you can’t get them, you can easily blunt the sharp tips with a grinder or piece of sandpaper.

Draining and cleaning your ink system: Regardless of the sort of ink system you use, you should give it a thorough cleaning once a year.

If you use a C/C system, remove the cartridge or converter, and then flush the nib. If you have an internal ink system, drain the remaining ink, then flush the entire system.

Cleaning can be a bit messy, but it’s a very important operation. To prevent ink stains in the sink, use a large plastic bucket and wear plastic or latex gloves to protect your hands.

Dry or clogged pen: Fountain pen ink is water based. Therefore, the feed can be prone to drying out if you only use your pen occasionally. If you find yourself in this scenario, try the following: 1) Moisten a tissue, paper towel, or cotton cloth slightly, but not so much that water spills out when squeezed; 2) Wrap the damp tissue around the nib, then set it aside for a few minutes.

If only the visible areas of the feed have begun to dry out, then this may be all that’s necessary. But if the procedure didn’t work, then it will need a complete drain and cleaning. So work through the Draining and Cleaning steps again. Once the pen is clean, refill it with new ink, following the steps for the specific inking system that you have.

If you use disposable cartridges in your fountain pen, the only cleaning necessary is to flush the nib assembly (nib and feed). All you have to do now is install a new cartridge, and then you are good to go again. However, if you’re using a converter or have an internal inking system (button, lever, etc.), then you have a few more steps to take before you’re done. See the individual section below for the specific system.

Whether you have a button-filler, lever-filler, or internal plunger system, the inside of the pen must be thoroughly cleaned. Button and lever fillers feature identical internal components. They have an ink sac to store ink and a pressure bar that pushes down on the ink sac when the button is pressed or the lever is raised. The ink sac inside is used to store ink in the same way that cartridges are used. However, it is cleaned together with the nib and feed since it cannot be removed. This is referred to as flushing.

Flushing is done in the same way that you would fill the pen with ink. Only use water instead of ink. But you must fill, flush, and repeat the process until only clean water comes out. Once you have clean water, drain the pen as much as possible, then refill it with ink. To get all the residual water out of the system, wrap the nib in a paper towel and then prop the pen upright with the nib down. Then let it sit for a while. The paper towel will wick the remaining water out of the feed.

The internal components of piston and plunger systems differ slightly, but their operation is identical—exactly the same as a converter. The key distinction is that one has a threaded shaft that is twisted to move the plunger. The other has a smooth shaft that merely requires pushing. So, if you have one of these systems, clean it the same way you would with a standard converter (see below). The only other distinction would be with a plunger mechanism. Depending on the style you have, the plunger shaft may require lubrication. Check the instructions that came with your pen or contact the manufacturer to learn more.

Cleaning a Converter: A converter should also be cleaned regularly to prevent dried and/or old ink buildup. Although there are various different types of converters, they all function the same way: A knob twists a screw shaft, which pushes and pulls a gasket. The gasket is self-sealing on the interior, ensuring that the ink remains at the converter’s bottom.

Although they may look a little differently, all converter styles can usually be disassembled. Here are some photos of a typical converter: Photo 1 (from left) depicts an assembled converter with the various pieces indicated. Photo-2 shows the disassembled converter; Photo-3 is a close-up with directions for reassembling this specific style converter.

Piston Converter disassembly_1
Piston Converter disassembly_2
Piston Converter disassembly_3

If you have any further questions on any of these subjects, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Miscellaneous items:
I also offer a variety of hand-made pen-related items. Pen Props, pen cap Buttons, Pen and Ink Trays, Cufflinks, and Button Covers. Use a Pen Props to display a pen or temporarily raise the nib. Order in a pen-matching material or a wooden style in a variety of finishes. Cap Buttons are small pieces of cap jewelry you can add to a clipless pen to keep it from rolling. Use a Pen & Ink Trays to display your favorite pen and ink. Trays are available in several styles and in your choice of natural wood. Cufflinks and Button Covers are timeless favorites that dress up a shirt. Order them in pen-matching material.

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To custom order any of the pens you see on my website for yourself or as a gift, please contact me at jeb<@>

If you need fountain pen maintenance help (cleaning, refilling, or general issues), please visit my “Fountain Pen Help Line” page. If you’re having a problem and can’t find a solution, use the contact form or send an email.

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