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Sep 21 / Leigh Reyes

How to find pens with flexible nibs, flexy nibs, flex nibs, wet noodle.

I have been known to deplore SEO-friendly headlines for their lack of style, but I get this search query so often I feel I am performing a public service.

Before anything else, read Antonios’ Short Guide to Flex. It is still the friendliest explanation of flexible nibs I know. A thread he started on the Fountain Pen Network, “What makes a flex nib good?” has people chiming in on nib cross-sections and curvature and such. Save that for when you’ve actually handled a flex nib, because it’s difficult to visualize otherwise.

Many interested in finding flexible nibs don’t know where to start, or have already looked online and don’t know how much to set aside, or how to assess from for-sale posts if a nib will be what they imagine it to be. I’ve been there. Expect to be mildly disappointed just as often as pleasantly surprised. There’s no reassurance that the results I get or a seller gets from using one pen will be the same as yours. We will write differently, hold the pen differently, apply different levels of pressure on downstrokes. If you don’t like the pen you bought, you can always resell it, or donate it to someone who will like it more than you.

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If you’ve yet to try a flexible nib, and don’t want to spend unnecessarily, experiment with steel nibs in a holder. Jetpens carries Zebra G steel nibs, which, like Tachikawa and Nikko G nibs, are slit at the shoulder to allow the working end of the nib to “give” when pressure is applied. This means yes, they are flexible. You can get 10 nibs for USD 12. Add a holder for USD 6, then find ink somewhere. You can also try buying individual steel nibs from John Neal Bookseller. Dip pen nibs don’t have any kind of tipping, the way fountain pen nibs have iridium, so they can snag on paper, especially during upstrokes.

Dip pens need dipping. Dipping can be tedious. Enter the Ackerman Pump Pen, a plastic-bodied pen with a removable feed and section that allows you to use dip pen nibs in a fountain pen setup. (Charles has been hard at work, I see. Now there are versions for Osmiroid removable nibs, brush tips, even double-ended.) The standard pen is USD 12, the others are USD 20.

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You can get a good bargain on eBay if you’re patient, like peering at 100×100 blurred pictures at odd hours, and use a sniping application. Look out for vintage Waterman eyedroppers, Swan by Mabie Todd, early Moore and Wahl. Japanese wartime pens have Shiro (steel) nibs, which are usually flexy, but have a higher risk of not springing back after being flexed. Sometimes you can snag an Eversharp Skyline with a flexible nib. Many second and third-tier pens have flexible Warranted 14k nibs. If the nib has long tines and sloping shoulders, it is likely to be flexible. In the image below, all the nibs have good flex and ink flow.

wpid-vintageflexnibs-2010-09-21-11-29.jpg

The nib on the left is deliberately designed to be stiff and precise. The one on the right has more give.

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Yes, you can find a vintage flex nib pen under USD 100. Try writetime.co.uk, or post a want-to-buy (WTB) ad on the Green Board or the Fountain Pen Network. If you have more spare cash than buying confidence, consider a well-known, reputable (and usually more expensive) seller. There’s vintagepens.com, vintagewriting.com, vintagepen.net and many more.

And then there’s the custom option. I see Mr. Mottishaw’s turnaround time for nib modification is now at 8 months. If you buy a new pen from him and request that the nib be made flexible, the pen does not go into the queue. See here. Richard Binder crafts specialty nibs of all flavors, including flexible. I’m sure there are other experts, but these two remain the most well-known.

I do not recommend the Pilot 742 or 743 FA (falcon) nib in its current incarnation, as it is not a satisfactory flex nib experience. There is simply not enough ink flow to the nib. I also do not recommend an unmodified Namiki/Pilot Falcon/Pilot Falcon Elabo as the nib is barely flexible, and semi-flexible at best. Nakaya’s elastic nibs are soft and springy like a finely-pointed metal brush, not flexible. A flexible nib from Nakaya is semi-flexible by my standards, unless perhaps it is modified by Mr. Mottishaw, in which case most likely it will be full flex.

wpid-nakayavsomas-2010-09-21-11-29.jpg

Danitrio pens are available with flexible nibs, upon order from Kevin Cheng, aka winedoc on the pen boards. The picture below shows a Mikado (long sold off) with a fine flexible nib, and the Ninja pen with an extra extra fine (EEF) flexible nib. These are close to vintage nibs. The rest of the pen can be spendy due to the art and materials that go into its making.

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wpid-P1080032-2010-09-21-11-29.jpg

We’ll do stubs, italics, obliques and flexible stubs in another post.

  • http://lunatic-me.tumblr.com Thao

    My Gosh, that’s so detailed! Thanks a lot for posting this! =D

  • http://sibehzai.blogspot.com/ bengkia

    Great post Leigh. It was probably reading your blog and seeing what you could do with flex that led to my interest in fountain pens, and, more recently, Copperplate calligraphy. Your calligraphic-style writing is, as always, exquisite and a constant inspiration. Thank you for sharing this bit of your world with us.

  • http://jennyo.net JennyO

    This is the post that says it all about flex nibs – fantastic!

  • http://www.bleubug.com TAO

    Excellent post. This will really help those who wish to find and use a flex nib.

  • http://zeroblade.dasaku.net Zeroblade

    And the SEO title should help get this bumped up higher in Google’s search pages soon enough!

  • http://imarriedarunner.blogspot.com fozzy

    i am bookmarking this post! thank you :)

  • http://inkyindi.wordpress.com/ InkyIndi

    Fantastic post! Absolutely gorgeous handwriting too. What ink did you use in the Ackerman Pump Pen sample? Lovely shade!

  • Antonios Z.

    I agree 100%, and thanks for the kind words.
    I enjoy your postings immensely especially now that my job has reduced my pleasure time :(

  • http://inkophile.com Inkophile

    Great info that totally explains why I’ve never found a suitable flex nib. Enjoying your beautiful work is as close as most of us will ever get.

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  • http://leighreyes.com Leigh Reyes

    Inkyindi: The ink, IIRC, is Caran d’Ache Sunset. :)

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  • Matt

    Hi,

    How does the flex work for the Nakaya’s elastic nibs? You are getting variation, just not a lot. Part of the issue, I take it, is that they don’t flex in the right way. Do the flexy Danitrio nibs get up to say Medium Flex when compared to a vintage pen? (I recognize that classifying flex is extremely subjective). By the way, I truly heart (this may be the only time your see me use heart in this way) the flex you get out of your number 7 pink nib.

    I traded my number 5 pink, it was in an inkvue, because I was getting flex out of two 54′s and a number 7 with a red nib. The pink nib was snappy, it just didn’t get much in the way of line variation and felt more like a “soft nib.” So I traded it for an oversize vac with a flexy upturned double broad stub nib. I am a sucker for funky nib.

    Finally, which script are you using?

    No worries if you don’t see the comment and keep up the posting!

  • http://leighreyes.com Leigh Reyes

    Nakaya doesn’t really intent for the elastic nibs to “flex,” the way we think. The shoulder cutouts help the nib bend, but the tines don’t spread as much. Vintage flexible nibs don’t have shoulder cutouts, it’s the steep slope from the tip of the nib to the shoulder that lets the tines open for line variation (plus of course the alloy, and the thickness of the nib metal, are factors). You can coax a lot of flex out of a flexible Danitrio nib (especially the F and EF, not so much the EEF). The issues don’t lie with the nib but with the feed, ink flow and supply.

    I heart my #7 Pink nib, too. :)

    Yes, I read a comment of yours sometime back about your #5 pink. I don’t think nib manufacturers turned out the exact same nib every time. I had a medium Red nib once with more flex than the Pink. Post a writing sample of your flexy double broad! That would be interesting to see.

    I use an idiosyncratic Spencerian, not really copperplate. It took me around 3 months to retrain my handwriting. Have you ever visited iampeth.org? Lots of resources there. :)

  • Matthew Carr

    Hi Leigh,

    I have seen Iampeth and, I think, I am starting to figure out the distinctions between whole-arm, forearm, and finger motions. The Spenser Brothers Practical hand seems relatively doable. Getting proper slant will be a chore. Well that, and sitting properly. Where are the writing teachers with rulers when you need them ;D. However, I will probably avoid trying to be too purist. That’s why there are folks with steadier hands.

    I will try to post a writing sample of the vac with the turned up nib. It has flex, but flexy is probably the wrong adjective. Maybe flexish. Mostly I just like the nib because it is huge, oddball, and on a big green pen. It’s a powerful combo.

    Thanks for the information on the Nakaya elastic nibs. The soft Nakya nibs are nice, but they really aren’t vintage flex at all. They flex, but I don’t think they really want to do it. That is good to know about the Danitrio flex. Someday.

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  • Peter

    Hi,
    May I say that this example of handwriting is exquisite in its complexity and the execution of the strokes outstanding. Could you please tell me what type of nib was used? I have been trying to archive this Spencerian Script with both dipping nibs and fountain pens but with only marginal success. The dipping pen loses its ink quickly plus I have yet to find a fountain pen that can achieve this style of penmanship. So what nib was fitted to the pump pen, this looks like a good buy for me to try. In anticipation of a reply, many thanks & could there be some more examples that we could emulate?
    Regards
    p.s. To Charles, I bow in admiration.

  • http://leighreyes.com Leigh Reyes

    Peter – the nib I used is vintage, the 048 Esterbrook Falcon. I can send you a couple if you like. You can get a similar effect with a G nib (Tachikawa / Zebra / Nikko). You can cannibalize the reservoir from the Tachikawa lettering nibs OR you can make the spiral reservoir from wire, if you have any handy. :)

  • http://leighreyes.com Leigh Reyes

    Peter (part 2) – there are fountain pens that can approximate this. The trick is finding the ones that can make hairlines.

  • Peter

    Hi,
    Thank you for your prompt reply.
    Is this the nib used by Charles to produce that exquisite script in red ink?
    If so, will this nib fit the pump action (Ackerman Pump pen) ?
    If the answer to the above is yes then I would take you up on the offer, what would be the cost for these nibs & how would I pay?
    Regards & Thanks
    Peter

  • Peter

    Hi,
    I apologise, I was taken aback by the beauty of this writing, that I did not see the content. After revisiting and looking at what is written instead of viewing it as a picture, I notice that my question should not have been asked, since the answer is there in the text.
    Thanks for your patience; I will now wipe the egg off my face.
    Regards
    Peter

  • http://catnip-cat.com/ Jeff

    Great post Leigh. I’ll mention that Richard Binder will perform a “flexie” on a Namiki Falcon.

  • http://leighreyes.com Leigh Reyes

    Peter, it’s not a problem. :) And no need to pay me for the nibs. Email me your mailing address?

  • Nigel Jeffares

    Can you give me any info on the following please ?
    E S Perry ” Osmiroid Reservoir 105, reinforced point incorrodible ” ? I have acquired a box of 72 which has never been opened and I’m reluctant to break the seals, so I can’t even look at them. Are they something caliigraphers or other dip pen users would appreciate ? I’d like to dispose of them but cannot find any reference to them on the internet so don’t know how to judge their worth or who might like them.
    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  • leighpod

    Yes, calligraphers and dip pen users would like that. The Osmiroid brand has a long history. Why don’t you try the Fountain Pen Network? 

  • Peter Bull001

    Hi Leigh,

    Do you know if Ackerman Pump Pens are still operating? I
    sent for a pen over three weeks ago to be dispatched to the UK, I have not yet received
    it even after numerous emails.

    Is this Company still in operation and the delay maybe due
    to Holidays or illness or whatever, or has it ceased trading?

    Regards Peter

  • http://twitter.com/CarolinArtARES CarolinArtARES

    Hi,
    I am very new to all of what you are writing on nibs , G or fine etc.
    I was wondering and not knowing much about these pens, my brother gave me a Montblanc
    meisterstuck abd another montblanc fountain pen which the nib is much smaller and fine. How do you know if they have flexible nibs, or can you pruchase one, and if you want the above writing style how do you get to know which one it is?
    I love your work and design on all of the above, I am trying to sort things out up here.
    thank you
    caro

  • David

    Hi I just buy pump pen with G nib What serie of pump pen that you buy?

  • Tony.

    Hello,

    I was wandering how much would one of these pens cost, and would it be a good investment. I see its not only the pen i’ll need to write like this, Does this type of need a more then skill ?

  • Peter

    Hi,

    Flexible pens are great to use but some are very expensive
    to purchase. Every person that has Calligraphy as a hobby or is a Scribe as a
    profession would like to own a wet noodle. These are the pinnacle of the flexible
    fountain pen world, in most instances people have to settle for less.

    I have been trying to find the pot of gold at the end of the
    rainbow, a flexible pen (wet noodle) at a reasonable cost; my quest appears to
    be unsuccessful to date. I have therefor reverted to the old fashioned way of
    penmanship, the dipping pen nib. Get the
    correct nib, ink plus paper and once these obstacles are overcome you will be surprised
    with the results. A suggestion for a nib
    would be one of the Esterbrook 358 or 357, these are from the USA. Excellent
    nibs but in short supply since I believe they are not made now.

    If you like the exotic writing, such as Copperplate or Spencerian
    Scripts, then for a reasonable outlay and a lot of practice, you can active
    what would be possible with a flexible fountain pen. To be honest the results
    are probably better, the only drawback is that you will need to take you utensils
    with you, ie, pen, ink and paper. Still it’s a lot cheaper than a wet noodle.

    Happy Penmanship.

    Peter

  • http://www.facebook.com/tondevilla21 Ton Barra Jerre

    i always envied places/store that has good fountain pens for sale. i wish philippines would have the same. i am very enthusiastic about calligraphy and fountain pens alike especially fountain pens with smooth flexible nibs.

  • leighpod

    We do have Scribe, in Eastwood and now in Shangrila Plaza. They carry calligraphy pens, Sailor, Pelikan and TWSBI.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tondevilla21 Ton Barra Jerre

    really? how did i ever miss those stores!

  • http://www.facebook.com/tondevilla21 Ton Barra Jerre

    do they have flex nibs?

  • http://www.facebook.com/tondevilla21 Ton Barra Jerre

    thanks much leighpod ive already spoken to scribe :)

  • Peter

    Hi,

    I have a question regarding modern flexible nib fountain pens, for producing
    Copperplate and Spencerian Scripts.

    Which from the following do you/readers
    consider the to give the best results for the above.

    Either, Pilot Namiki Falcon Custom 743 or the Pilot Namiki Falcon Elabo
    SM, both as standard with no nib master mods.

    The reason for the question, I live in the
    UK and would need to buy one of these
    from outside the UK, therefore the cost would prohibit both.

    I have been searching for a wet noodle at a
    reasonable cost but it’s like trying to find the elusive pot of gold at the end
    of the rainbow.

    Regards Peter

  • http://leighreyes.com Leigh Reyes

    Does it have to be modern? You can inquire at writetime.co.uk and see if they have a reasonable Swan or Blackbird. The 743 FA is pleasantly flexible but you will encounter flow problems. There are DIY solutions which involve enlarging the feed channel – FPN has a couple of threads about that. The SM is semi-flex, not as much line variation as the FA.

  • http://www.eulasleeps.com/ Eula

    This post is ridiculously helpful, thank you.

  • Roy Villaflores

    do you have any extra nibs miss??
    Can you send me one.
    Heres my email vroyxavier@yahoo.com

  • Josiah Goldsmith

    Hello Miss Reyes,
    I’d like to begin by saying how much I’ve enjoyed your posts, especially your YouTube videos (they’re the main reason I started writing anyway).
    I’ve used a flex nib before in a dip pen, and I’ve just ordered a Noodler’s Creaper. I’d like to get a decent nib to go with the pen (I’m not a complete noob, but I’m a bit strapped for cash) and I’m a bit overwhelmed about what to get and wear from. I’m mostly interested in how smooth the nib writes (my dad’s Noodler’s Ahab is quite scratchy) but I don’t know where to start!
    I’d really appreciate any help you have to offer.
    Many thanks,
    Joe

  • Peter

    Hi,
    I have a Noodler’s Konrad, which I find the
    best of these flexi pens, reason being it holds more ink and covers both
    general writing plus script. The cost, even to ship to the UK still makes it a
    reasonable value pen and a great starting point for Copper Plate and Spencerian
    Script.
    I have more expensive pens but still find
    the old fashion, dripping nib takes some bettering. Once the correct paper and ink is found then you can achieve some stunning characters and experiment only being held back by your own imagination.
    There are some great web sites to steer
    your imagination plus great help if just starting out.
    Hope you enjoy your adventures into the
    great would of Calligraphy.

    Happy New Year, from a fellow scribe and artist.
    Regards Peter
    http://www.peterbull-art.co.uk

  • Josiah Goldsmith

    Thank you for the insightful response. My Noodler’s Creaper turned up today and, I must say, it’s very good! It rail-roads a bit, but I’m using really old cheap ink and printer paper, so I’d imagine it’s better with decent ink/paper (as you said). As it is, I’ve actually managed to tweak it to write quite well, even with less than stellar resources!!!
    Again, thank you for the response,
    Happy new year, I hope it’s a good one for you!
    Joe Goldsmith

  • Peter

    Hi,

    The information regarding ink and paper was
    for dipping nib and using Oak Gall ink. Anyway here’s some info based on my tests

    and experiences with ink and paper;
    Noodler’s flex Pens will work with most

    ordinary inks, I use Parker, both blue and black or any colour which fits the
    occasion.
    Dipping nibs, I use an old fashioned Oak
    Gall based ink, this is corrosive if left on the nib, so please wash after use.
    Alternatives are, Walker’s Copperplate and Higgins inks.
    For a good Black Ink which when dry gives
    a gloss to the written word, can be purchased of eBay; no. 261030734361. This is organic home
    made and I find it very good. (Don’t spill it or any of these Gall inks, they
    are very difficult to remove, be warned)
    The paper I find best practicing on is ;
    Pukka Pad – Vellum A4, ref: VJM/1, for
    more information see item on eBay; no: 131077338099.
    Hot pressed drawing paper is good for
    larger areas of writing since it can be purchased from art suppliers in large
    size sheets. This is used with dipping nibs as the ink will not bleed into the
    paper. Recycled paper is not generally sized and therefore ink bleeds just like
    a spider has walked over the wet ink.
    Sorry about the web site mail not
    working, I will review this, but you can contact me via this site or at peterjb42@yahoo.co.uk
    Hope this helps, enjoy this great but
    possible dying art.

    Keep alive the Pen and Ink

    Regards Peter

  • Pierre

    I’m sorry to hijack your thread, but I didn’t know the best way of contacting you. I’m designing a high performance flex pen, and it would be really helpful to hear your thoughts on flex pens. The survey is here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/10Jki9eZ7A8laJwwySR6brrXXaUO6orYWb0xExMvKTQE/viewform

    Could you take a few minutes and complete it?

  • leighpod

    All done! :)