Smoothing Sketch and Music nibs

It a fact that surprises some people, but paper can wear down metal over continuous use. That’s why fountain pen nibs are tipped with a tough material that hardly wears down. That’s also what makes them expensive.

This is not an issue with dip nibs, which rust or snap before the tip wears down. We are providing an intermediate class of nibs without tipping that last much longer than dip nibs. They won’t rust, snap, or break, but because they last, then tip will wear over time and with use. That’s why we suggest you learn how to polish your nibs. This will keep them in top operating shape, doesn’t take much time or trouble, and helps you pay attention to the fine points of nib care. 

We provide our new Sketch and Music nibs in a polished state, so they should draw smoothly out of the box. They should not catch on paper when you move them in any direction, and the drawn line should be solid and continuous.  

Your Sketch and Music nibs will wear unevenly over time and through use, so we recommend that you polish them from time to time. The lapping paper we provide has a 1 micron surface texture. This is very smooth, so there's no need to worry about removing too much material from the nib as long as you don't press hard when you polish, and you don't polish for more than a few strokes at a time. 

You decide when you're finished by the feel of the nib on paper. You can do this with or without ink. We recommend you test without ink, since you have to dip the nib, then clean it for more polishing. It’s your choice. It depends how involved you want to get with polishing.

You can leave the nib in your pen if you prefer. Just make sure there is no ink in the pen. You can also insert the nib into a nib stick for polishing and testing, which is handier for some people. Make sure the nib is clean and free from dried ink. You can use water to moisten the tip although that’s not necessary. You can fill your pen with water or drip a few drops onto the lapping paper. Finally, make sure the tynes on the nib are aligned correctly and one tyne isn't "cocked" or riding over the other. This occurs more frequently with the Music nib, which has three tynes. 

Start by drawing a few tight circles

Start by drawing a few tight circles on the lapping paper. Five to ten seconds tops. Don't spend half a minute wearing down the nib. Some people prefer drawing figure 8s, but this is not recommended. Your hand tends to roll back and forth at the same spot while drawing the figure 8 and polish the tip unevenly.   

Test your first pass by drawing on paper. If you want to use ink, dip the nib, draw, then wipe the nib clean. Does the nib feel smooth? If not, polish again, just a few more circles. You don’t want to remove more material than you have to. This time roll the nib so you polish all undersides of the tip.

If you feel and scratchiness . . .

If you feel any scratchiness, turn the nib tip in the direction of the scratchiness. Draw a few more circles, then test.

Reshaping vs. smoothing

Smoothing the nib means removing as little of the nib as possible to get a smooth drawing nib. Reshaping means changing the shape of the nib to change the way you draw. Reshaping is a more extreme process. 

Reshaping means removing material from the nib that changes the behavior of the nib, and that takes practice and experience. Remember: You can make broad nibs finer and thick nibs thinner, but you can’t make them broader or fatter. Reshaping a nib can have dramatic effects on the performance of the nib, and not done correctly, mostly bad effects. 

For more information on polishing nib, read Notes for Richard Binder's Nib Smoothing Workshop.