As pen enthusiasts, many of us are on a journey to find pens, inks, and paper that fit our writing styles and personal tastes. One of the things that I search out are Extra, Extra Fine Nibs. There are a lot of things I have learned in my search to find and acquire pens with these nibs. This article captures some of the things that I have experienced.
What I want is a pen that writes a very, very fine line.
Manufacturers and NibMeisters use different terms to describe the options available. So what terms should we use to describe this capability? Is it Extra, Extra Fine, or Needlepoint, or some other term? Manufactuers use different terms: Ultra Extra Fine for one Japanese company and Extra, Extra Fine for another. Some NibMeisters use Japanese Extra Fine/Needlepoint, and others use terms like Extra Extra Fine/Turk. There seems to be no consensus as to what to call this category of Extra, Extra Fine nibs. Because of this, I will will use the term, More Fine Than Extra Fine (MFTEF) in this article.
Moving to Japanese Extra Fine
A few years ago, when I found myself becoming part of the fountain pen community, I purchased a Pilot Metropolitan as a starter pen. My preference in pens up until then had been Gel pens from Japan in the 0.28 to 0.3 range, like the Zebra Sarasa Clip pen. Not long after acquiring the Pilot Metro, I read about a pen modification for the Pilot Metro that involved taking the nib out of an Extra Fine Pilot Penmanship pen and putting that nib into a Metro. I did that modification and it was very much what I wanted to write with. Both of my Pilot Metros now have this modification.
As I became more interested in using fountain pens, I learned that the prevailing consensus is that Japanese nibs are more fine than European nibs. Some manufacturers make Extra Fine nibs that work well sometimes and sometimes not. Japanese manufacturers are more consistent than others in making Extra Fine nibs. The Japanese companies Sailor and Pilot have been my go-to manufacturers for EF nibbed pens. I have a Sailor 1911 demonstrator that produced a very fine line out of the box. In my Stylo Art Pen there is a Pilot Extra Fine nib that is just wonderful.
Finding MFTEF at Pen Shows
In the San Francisco Bay area where I live, there is a yearly pen show where there has been a great selection of pens from some wonderful makers. For the MFTEF nibbed pens, there seem to be fewer of these nibs in pens at the San Francisco (SF) Pen Show.
Franklin-Christoph offers a wide variety of nibs for their pens and one of their options is a Needlepoint Nib from Mike Masuyama. After buying a pen at the SF Pen Show, Franklin Christoph’s Nibmeister went over the nibs to ensure optimal performance. The two Needlepoint Nibs that I have on my Franklin-Christoph pens are among the best writing nibs that I have. As much as I like the Franklin-Christoph nib options, they are an exception. Few pen manufacturers match the Franklin-Christoph MFTEF options or their exacting standards of nib quality.
I have also found some MFTEF nibs at Peyton Street pens by trying out several of the EF nibs they have at the show. Peyton Street had a selection of Sheaffer nibs one could try and then choose a new pen body to go along with it. With a little time and patience, I was able to find nibs that worked for me.
It is important to note that the absence of Susan Wirth is really felt in this area. Her table had a wide selection of nib styles, from needlepoint to various stub sizes, to try out. At the first two SF Pen Shows that I attended, Susan’s table had a nice selection of MFTEF pens that I was able to sample and I did purchase a couple pens that had been customized to Needlepoint.
Getting a Nib Modified
Because of the challenge of finding MFTEF nibs as a standard option, I have found myself making use of nibmeisters to customize pen nibs. NibSmith, Nib Grinder, and Mike Masuyama are three nibmeisters that I have used and can heartily recommend. Using nibmeisters, I have been able to have pens that I liked, like a Conklin Nighthawk or a Karas Kustom Ink, modified into a MFTEF nib. I have been very happy with the results and have no reservations about considering using their services in the future.
The downside is that one has to buy a pen knowing that it will not write the way you want it to, then send it to a nibmeister and wait until the work is done before using the pen regularly. Expect to spend $50 to $60 for each nib you have ground to MFTEF and the process can take some time depending on the workload of the nibmeister. Although I have had only MFTEF work done, all three nibmeisters do many types of nib modifications, like italic, stub, etc.
Nibmeisters Mike Masuyama and NibSmith usually attend the SF Pen Show. So it is possible to have pens modified at the show and I have taken advantage of those services at the last two SF Pen Shows. There has always been a long queue to sign up for Mike Masayama’s schedule at the SF Pen Show. People start queuing up long before the pen show opens to put their names on the list. This past year, NibSmith allowed sign ups for specific times during a pen show via his web site.
Due to the busy schedules of nibmeisters at pen shows, I have sent several pens to NibSmith and Nib Grinder for work. When doing this, I have always corresponded via email with the nibmeister to talk about the work I want done and ask about their schedule. I make sure to mention I am going for a nib that is more fine than a Japanese Extra Fine Nib. Discussing the details in advance is a prudent strategy. Although you may fill out a form on a nibmeister’s web site when ordering services, I find the email correspondence extremely useful.
One useful part of interacting with some nibmeisters is seeing the results before they are shipped. The Nib Grinder has sent YouTube videos where he writes with the modified nibs before shipping. This enabled me to see the result of the work and allow an opportunity for any corrections. I should state that I was impressed with the work and no additional modifications were required.
Try In Person, If Possible
One of the challenges is being able to try out a nib to determine if it meets the MFTEF goal and if it is pleasurable to write with. I have tried several MFTEF nibs at the SF Pen Show that were far too scratchy feeling when writing. At a pen show, trying out a pen is easy to do. When buying a pen from an online retailer or when having a pen modified, there is a risk.
Over the 2017 holidays, I visited friends in Singapore and this trip gave me the opportunity to visit some very nice pen shops. Singapore has Aesthetic Bay and Fook Hing Trading Co. One of the good things about visiting pen shops in Singapore is the ability to write with several MFTEF nibs from Pilot/Namiki, Platinum/Nakaya, and Sailor.
As a result of being able to try out all these options, I ended up purchasing a Nakaya Piccolo Long Writer Yakomakie. I actually tried several Nakaya nibs at Aesthetic Bay and after I found a nib I liked, the salesperson at Aesthetic Bay put the nib I liked into the Nakaya pen body that I liked. I doubt I would have spent that much money on a Nakaya pen (or any pen) had I not received this excellent personal service and the ability to try the nibs out.
If you have the opportunity to write with a MTEF nib pen before buying, strongly consider bringing along your commonly used paper to try with the pen under consideration. Much of my writing is done in Leuchttrum 1917 journals. When I was trying out pens at the 2017 SF Pen Show, I was able to try a MFTEF nib on the 1917 paper and the writing experience was not good, far too scratchy. The opportunity to test the pen saved me a lot of money and frustration.
It has taken about 3 years to discover what I like to write with and how to find MFTEF pen nibs. I hope you can use this information in your journey to find pens that work for you.
Notes – No manufacturer or pen shop mentioned in this article has compensated me in any way for my opinions. All pens mentioned in this article were purchased by me at full price and all services mentioned where paid for by me.