Fountain Pen Design

Function, Development, Construction and Fabrication

1.3 Components of a Fountain Pen

It’s always good to start with definitions; it assures us that we find ourselves on firm and common grounds. Having built my fountain pen in Germany where it is called Füllfederhalter, a long, good, reliable word, meaning a fillable nib holder.  In German, the most significant component of a collated word is always the one at the end, namely the holder.  In other words, I want to say that English terms for several components were unfamiliar to me, but either way, I still did not always agree with the definitions and translations, but here we go.

These are several definitions I discovered:

A fountain pen is:

– A pen with a reservoir filled with ink that automatically feeds the writing point.

– A pen that is supplied with ink from a reservoir in its barrel.

– A mechanism that is composed of three main parts. The nib, which is in contact with the paper. The feed or black part under the nib controls the ink flow from the reservoir to the nib. The barrel holds the nib, and the feed on the writing end protects the ink reservoir internally. The part close to the nib is the part that you grip while writing.

– A pen that contains an internal reservoir for ink.

Believing strongly that you expect more than these brief statements, rest assured, I will write about the fountain pen and its components more in-depth.  The focus will be on the function of the components, the underlying mechanics, physics and a subtle smell of chemistry, the manufacture, and their testing. The explanations will remain as general as possible so that you can apply your gained knowledge to explain the specific execution of a component you may find in your fountain pen.

The chapters for the components with the blue titles are completed.  Clicking on the title takes you to the introductory chapter of that topic.  The other topics are in various stages of being written up or still clutter up my head.

             The visible components of a Fountain Pen –                                   Invisible, are the Care of the Ingeneer,                             the Quality of the Maker, and the Joy while writing


In my early days of trying to work out the feed’s purpose, I drew up a flowchart of its functions, interactions, and feedback loops.

This I considered being very sensible because, after my graduation in 1970, I had worked in the field of designing computers.   At uni, computers had been dinosaurs, taking up a whole floor, but now I was faced with forefront technology aimed to build the first mobile computer based on semiconductor integrated circuit technology.  Then, I built a basic calculator as a hobby (1970!) applying this technology.

From this time on, my way of thinking adhered to this genre.  Hence, inevitably, I concluded, that the complex task of this small piece of plastic could only be fulfilled through the control of a microprocessor.  Innocently I suggested my idea to management (I had not learned to know them), they looked at me as if I had teleported from Mars to Earth, this very moment.

With a bit of help from miracles, I managed to develop a feed without a microprocessor.  Last but not least, I had to because at that time, 1978, they had been still too large to fit inside a pen.

Seriously, today (2014), with microchips being so tiny and being cheap as chips, as well as with nanotechnology around, I wonder why no one has taken on the task to integrate a processor into a feed.


It is probably the most significant part of a fountain pen. It is here, where it all happens. The ink is transferred to the paper. The style of nib determines the characteristics of writing when the width of line alters in response to the writing pressure the writer applies, providing the writer with an opportunity to form an expression, only surpassed by the brush.


Although, along with paper and pen, it is one of the significant constituents of writing, designers and ingeneers usually neglect it.

I invested some time studying rheology, fluid statics and dynamics.  After building rigs for standard test methods, I developed several reliable test methods, particularly for the realm of ink and pens. This allowed me to brew my own ink to specifications much narrower than standard inks. After this, my early studies on surface actions between ink and plastic became reliable and the test results predictable.

Through this dependable ink, the research, and design of my feed were based on reproducible tests, it achieved a reliable function, permitting my fountain pen to time-tested quality performance. Otherwise, it would have been long forgotten. Time weeds without attachment.

Section Assembly

The main components of a fountain pen are contained in the section assembly, namely: The grip itself, the feed and the nib.  Once these components are assembled the testing of a fountain pen’s function can begin.  In this chapter, I also will write about the aspects of ergonomics.


The holder or barrel as it is called in New German, sorry, English, is also the largest part. At the front end, the grip section is attached which houses the ink feed with the nib.  Right behind it, further towards the other end of and inside the barrel, is the location of the tank or cartridge.

In the case of a tank version, there is a moveable component at the side or back of the barrel, assisting in filling the tank. In a cartridge design, the barrel can be taken off, usually just behind the grip section, to gain access to the cartridge for its replacement.  And, there are numerous other versions of reservoirs with their particular filling methods.


A component much undervalued because most of the time, it only clutters your desk space. It has several important functions. Firstly and obviously, it protects the nib from damage as well as your clothes from being soiled by ink while the fountain pen is carried around.

It also reduces the rate of drying out the nib, which prolongs the time for the pen to be available for writing after some time of rest. Referring to the latter in particular, the cap contains an inner, softer part that seals the area around the nib from the atmosphere around, thus, lessening drying of the ink on the nib.

Some caps are screwed on some others clipped on, on some you may find a small hole hidden under the clip. Unfortunately, clip-on caps have become more fashionable. Why do I say, unfortunately? I will tell you more in the specific chapter.

The clip is attached to a cap. When attached to a fountain pen – via the cap – it can hold the pen in a pocket, and it prevents the pen from rolling off a slanted (clean) desk.  Both functions are quite superfluous to me.  Moreover, this attachment is quite superficial (almost any clip can be connected with almost any cap because there is no deep and meaningful relationship).  In its chapter, I talk about the different ingeneering principles such as: the hinged metal clip, the preloaded plastic clip and the elastic clip.  There is also a discussion on the various forces applied to the clip and the dilemma this can cause.

Ink Reservoir

It contains ink. It sounds very simple, and therefore it is an undervalued, ignored component with a significant impact on the feed and nib design, consequently, the overall quality of function of the fountain pen.

There are several styles of reservoirs. In this paragraph, I only add them up without going into much detail. The oldest version is the bladder, with various forms of filling it.  Fountain pen history shows the next design to be the tank with a piston.  Finally, the cheapest version, the cartridge, was invented by marketing, because it gave them a reason to sell ink at an exorbitant price, furthermore, it reduces the number of parts thus the cost of the fountain pen significantly.

The converter is an unfortunate afterthought because it is filled through the feed neither of which had been designed for this function.  In contrast, the piston/tank version forms a purpose-oriented permanent unit with the feed and section.  Preferably, the converter is filled after being taken off the rear end of the section.

Marketing’s excuse was to give people who do not have access to buying cartridges still the opportunity to use a cartridge fountain pen. No one had ever asked the ingeneer about looming consequences, never ever. But if something goes wrong, who is the one to be blamed?

The Fountain Pen in total

An article about the fountain pen, looking at it from the outside, its handling and ergonomics and aspects on manufacturing, assembly and maintenance.

Quality Control

An attitude

Above all: Enjoy!


Amadeus W.

11 October 2014

Considering research, ingeneering and production, the feed is the most demanding amongst the essential parts of a fountain pen. Therefore, I recommend you start with exploring this chapter The Feed’s Function

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