Fountain pens are the most customizable writing instruments on the market. Styles and shapes are endless, and mix in a range of nib sizes and thousands of inks on top of that and there is infinite choice. I love choice, but it can be overwhelming for those just starting in this hobby. So, I want to elaborate on one topic that all beginner, and some experienced, fountain pen users can think about when making their next buying decision: Steel nibs are awesome.
The perception in the community is that gold nibs are the ultimate fountain pen writing experience. If by ultimate you mean most expensive, then yes they are amazing! And I’m not here to poo-poo gold nibs. I love them. I own four Nakayas and I wouldn’t think of having anything but a gold nib in any of them. But when choosing a fountain pen and nib combination that will give you a great writing experience, steel nibs are a fantastic option.
The first thing you should be aware of with steel nibs is that, in general, they are stiffer than their gold counterparts. Makes sense, right? Gold is a softer material, so that translates to a softer nib. Standard gold nibs have some bounce or springiness when writing. Steel nibs are firm without much give. This holds true for the full range of nib sizes too. Extra fine to broad all exhibit the same general behavior.
My handwriting style is fast block printing, so firm nibs work well for me. Slow cursive writers may prefer the softness and flexibility of gold, but steel nibs, especially wider ones, are no issue. They are as smooth as you would expect from gold nibs and keep up the writing pace just fine.
While firm, clean lines are a big selling point for steel nibs, the reason why I love them the most is the price. Specifically, I can have more than one steel nib for the same pen with different nib grinds for different writing situations. All for less than the cost of an unmodified gold nib.
I have a handful of Kaweco pens I use for pocket carry, but only two nibs rotate through them: A stock EF and a cursvie italic nib done by Shawn Newton . I have several Franklin-Christoph pens that have gold nib options, but I have only purchased steel. I rotate between a Masuyama grind UEF nib, a cursive italic, and M stub nib. All steel, all easily swappable between my F-C pens (and other pens too). All for cheaper than a single gold nib unit would cost me. And they perform better for me and my writing style than gold does.
The list goes on and on. I do the same thing with my Edison Pens, choosing steel nibs with different grinds for the two Menlos I own, and several steel options for my other Edison pens. In fact, it was Brian Gray from Edison Pens who wrote “In Praise Of Steel Nibs” several years ago that got me thinking about this topic.
You should think about it too. I have nothing against gold nibs – I own dozens and they are fantastic. But I use my steel nibs the most. They fit my style of writing and provide a better experience overall. That I can mix and match them with ease is an added bonus.
Steel nibs have always been, and will continue to be, a great option for any level of fountain pen user. Do your homework and find the ones that work best for your style. You may be surprised at the results on the page.