Pilot’s fountain pen expert Atsushi Takizawa shows how key components can affect the instrument’s performance.

Is there still a need for old-school handwriting in the digital age? Let’s face it. Today’s technologies are shaping writing in myriad ways. That is not to say, however, that writing with a pen is lost forever. Call me sentimental but after talking to Atsushi Takizawa from Pilot Corp Japan, my fascination with the fountain pen has been rekindled.

There is a romantic notion associated with the fountain pen. As famous user, Winston Churchill, once wrote: “To sit at one’s table on a sunny morning, with four clear hours of uninterruptible security, plenty of nice white paper and a pen — that is true happiness.”

Takizawa, a certified nib specialist (also known as the Pen Doctor), was in town recently to conduct a Pen Clinic exclusively organised by Pilot Pen Singapore for Namiki and Pilot fountain pen owners.

Namiki, named after Pilot founder Ryosuke Namiki, is highly regarded by collectors for its handcrafted maki-e fountain pen collection. Maki-e is a centuries-old traditional Japanese lacquer technique initially used to design household items favoured by royals and business leaders. Thus, it has become a symbol of power. This technique has been handed down through generations.

No two Namiki fountain pens are exactly alike. Since it was introduced in 1925, each has been individually crafted and hand-painted by Japanese master maki-e artisans, combining flawless lacquer technique with the most advanced pen-making technology.

Not only is the Namiki a work of art, but it is also designed to last a lifetime. As such, nib specialist Takizawa helps ensure that Namiki pens are in tip-top shape and advises owners on proper care and maintenance.

The Namiki range comprises the Emperor, Yukari Royale, Yukari, Capless Nippon Art and Sterling Silver collections. There are more than 80 designs to choose from and prices range from $650 (for the entry level Nippon Art fountain pen) to more than $20,000 (for certain limited edition fountain pens).

Ink spills, blotting, leaking and skipping are common issues fountain pen owners face. These can be avoided with proper care and handling of the nib, says Takizawa as he dismantles a fountain pen to show the key components that affect writing quality.

The reservoir is an internal ink tube. The feeder is a mechanism that allows the ink to flow to the nib. The collector is a set of barely visible grooves — sometimes called fins — just beneath the nib that collects excessive ink flowing from the reservoir caused by expansion of air in the reservoir. Finally, the nib is the pointed metal tip used to write on paper.

The Namiki pen doctor offers tips for optimum writing conditions:

  • Do not leave the pen unused for prolonged periods of time because it can cause ink clogging. Use the pen every day to keep the nib primed. If you are not going to use the pen for a while, empty the ink, flush the pen with plain warm water and dry it well before storing;
  • Do not push the nib when writing. You do not have to press down as hard as you do with a regular ballpoint pen. Choose your nib tip size wisely. The common tip sizes range from extra fine and fine to medium and broad. For example, those with smaller handwriting should get a fine or extra fine nib, while a medium or broad nib may be more suitable for those with larger handwriting;
  • Beware of old dried ink, which usually happens when the pen has not been used for a while. Wash the pen before replacing the ink cartridge. Do not use hot water when washing or flushing; and
  • Choose only high-quality paper with a smooth surface. Linen and other fibrous or pulpy types of paper are not advisable, as tiny grits can get trapped on the nib, causing blotting, skipping or smudging.
If you have thoroughly cleaned the pen but the same problems persist, it may be the nib alignment. It is best to take your pen to an expert like Takizawa, who will be able to provide standard servicing such as nib adjustment in under 10 minutes. He has been travelling extensively to service Namiki and Pilot fountain pens since 2005.

Incidentally, never lend your fountain pen to anyone. Remember, the nib adapts to your writing style. If someone puts heavy pressure on the pen while writing, there is a risk of damaging the nib. There is also a chance that you might lose an expensive pen, especially in places such as airports where strangers are likely to borrow a pen and forget to return it.

My fascination with the fountain pen grows as I watch Takizawa at work. My pre-conception of ink-stained fingers and blotchy blouses slowly vanishes, replaced with thoughts of branching out from my favoured ballpoint pen to a fountain pen.

Singapore-based Debbie Reyes-Coloma is a freelance feature and lifestyle writer for various publications in the region.

This article appeared in the Options of Issue 744 (Sept 5) of The Edge Singapore.