One of the highlights of the Ohio Pen Show for me was a nib smoothing workshop given by Richard Binder, with help from Linda Kennedy of Indy-Pen-Dance and Brian Gray of Edison Pens.
I pre-registered and paid $20 for the materials, shown above, and for the workshop. There were probably about 18 slots for paid participants, but Richard let anyone else audit the class from seats in the back.
It was really worth it, and I highly recommend it. According to Richard Binder’s website, the next show he and Barbara will attend is Baltimore on March 3 through 5. If I were in the area, I’d keep checking Baltimore and other upcoming shows for the seminar.
Richard also has a wonderful website, and I’ve spent a lot of time over the years looking through the reference pages and the blog. You can find the reference pages here. A lot of what Richard talked about in the seminar can be found in his writings about nibs, just organized differently.
I can’t teach anything about nib work, myself, but I thought I’d share a few of the workshop’s biggest lightbulb moments for me, in hopes of helping someone else.
The workshop covered the basics of nib alignment, tip shapes and nib smoothing. Richard talked about the principles, then had us practice, while Richard, Linda and Brian walked around giving individual instruction.
I learned some interesting things about loupes. For basic nib adjustment and smoothing, Richard recommends a loupe between 7x and 12x. He emphasized that an unlighted loupe is better for nib evaluation and adjustment, to avoid reflections. If, like me, you already have a lighted loupe, just keep the light off when working on nibs.
The first step is to hold the loupe and pen in the right orientation. That’s basic, but believe it or not, it was also the hardest for me and the people around me to do consistently. Richard counsels that you should hold the loupe up to your eye and look straight ahead, at the wall essentially. Then you hold the pen in your other hand, at a 45 degree angle, nib toward the ceiling (at that 45 degree angle), with the top surface of the nib facing toward you and the feed side facing away. You move the nib in that position toward the loupe until the nib tip is in focus.
That was hard, for this rank amateur, because it felt odd: you’re only seeing a very small portion of the nib tipping. My instinct, and that of most of us, if we weren’t being conscious of following the directions, was instead to hold the nib more straight on, so we saw more of the tipping material. Or even to bend our necks and look down at the nib from above, again seeing more of the tipping material. Before the class, I would have held the nib pointing straight up and with the feed directly facing me — which lets you see a lot of tipping material, but is pretty much the opposite of what Richard counsels.
Richard explained his reasoning: when you hold the nib at a 45 degree angle, with the feed facing away, and look across the top, what you are seeing is the part of the nib that touches the paper when a person writes with the pen at a 45 degree angle. You are forcing your perspective to be that of the paper. And that makes perfect sense. It was an aha moment. This way, you are checking that the nib is perfectly aligned where it hits the paper.
As an aside, not everyone holds a pen at a 45 degree angle — I for one write at a steeper angle. So keep that in mind. (It’s also really important to mention your writing angle when you’re asking for nib work, or buying a new pen from someone who’ll adjust it to your preferences.)
Another key lesson, that was helpful right away, because I bought something at the pen show, is to know that modern, newly manufactured nibs can frequently have issues out of the box. After the workshop, I knew enough to look at my new nib before trying it, and sure enough, it needed a slight adjustment in the slit alignment.
What is slit alignment? The slit in the nib should be tapered from the breather hole to the tipping, so that the slit is wider at the breather hole and narrower at the tip. And you should be able to hold the uninked nib up a light source, look through your loupe and see light through the (hopefully tapered) slit all the way along. If the slit alignment is not correct, you can adjust it by moving the tines gently with your finger nails. That’s fairly easy to fix, but I hadn’t really been conscious that I should check for it on new pens.
And that’s a key word: conscious. I think after taking the seminar I have a better sense of the nib and how so many little things come together in the writing experience.
Back at the workshop, we also practiced gently adjusting tines if they are out of alignment at the tip, by moving one of the tines. My practice pen gave me a run for my money there. It kept jumping back out of alignment when I smoothed the nib on the buff stick or the mylar sheet. In a way, that was frustrating, but in a way helpful, because I started to be able to tell right away when the nib was out of alignment again. There’s a distinct kind of scratch when one tip is above the other.
And that brings up another critical lesson: whatever you are doing on a nib, keep double-checking that the step you just took didn’t undo a previous step. For example, if you spread the tines for a wetter flow, make sure you didn’t misalign the tines accidentally. If you did, realign, then go back and double-check the flow. And so on.
Nibwork is clearly one of those things you learn, and improve, by doing. But I feel like having Richard Binder’s instruction gives me a solid base from which to go forward. It was very gracious of Richard, Linda and Brian to share their knowledge and time in this way. I think that’s the spirit that represents the best of the pen community.