Fountain Pen Design

Function, Development, Construction and Fabrication

2.8 Initial Dry Start.

“How long does it take for a fountain pen to start writing when it is being used for the first time.”  Why is it so important?

This question is inconsequential for fountain pens with a tank – and the feed’s air canal at the nib’s side – because the first thing that happens is: ink gets pulled through the feed into any available space; hence, here and there the feed is soaked with ink. The feed surrenders the ink to the nib when needed for writing or dripping, independent of any involvement of the feed’s function.

The problem of write delay only occurs with fountain pens with cartridges and filling methods where the ink is offered to the feed from the rear (opposite the nib side).


This is the real-life scenario, I have seen it because I had been the innocuous customer … When the inexperienced salesperson demonstrates a fountain pen, they take the one the customer selected, push in the cartridge, and he/she expects, it would write, immediately.  Just like any other pen (ball pen or fibre pen). And since the salesperson expects it, the customer expects it.  All pens do! Why not a fountain pen?

And since this is impossible, the salesperson gets nervous and blames the fountain pen for covering up their own incompetence.  How could they hope, complete this sale?

What happened to marketing’s task of training salespeople?  It happens in many fields of the market. However, since the marketeers of no other company seem to do it, no one wants to make the first step. They believe, it means admitting a blemish of the product if its usage needs explaining.  Sales go down, sure, but it wasn’t them, it’s the ingeneer’s fault!  Whatever happened to cooperation? Those who do nothing cannot be blamed!


Especially marketing people of a company that produces fountain pens should know, and experienced salespeople do know, that no virgin fountain pen (charged from behind) can start immediately.

It is customary for experienced salespeople that from each style of fountain pen in their stock, they have one sample which is well written in, so the customer can try their suitability, compare them and make their purchase decision on ergonomic characteristics and price, most probably.  While inexperienced salespeople stand there, waiting for customers, the experienced occupy themselves with keeping their fountain pens used, cleaned and ready to roll.

And what about consumer education?  Could there not be a small note in the pen box, which explains the process of the initial dry start?  It is not because, again, it sounds as if one has to admit a flaw.

Some salespeople try to sell fountain pens with converters.  Their convincing motto is:  “They are so much more economical.”

Regarding the usage of converters in my fountain pen, marketing had management behind them; thus, halfway down the road, there was another challenge for me.  It was the biggest, and it opened a fascinating can of worms. Since it has nothing to do with the feed, I will write about it somewhere else; I don’t know where, yet.

Ok, enough of my lament and return to the topic, the initial dry start.


I mentioned before that I had been new in the field of pens, hence, had no experience to propose any suggestions on the time delay for the initial dry start.  In order to find my ground and numerical data, I developed a test procedure.  In agreement with marketing, we established the evaluation stages for the dry start:

From the moment of pushing the cartridge in, how long does it take before continuous writing commences?  Does the fountain pen need coercing?  Does it start at all?

What was the test procedure?

The fountain pen was held in a writing test machine (for the cost of a Mercedes) similar to the one in the picture.  I modified it so it, was suitable for testing fountain pens, meaning, the writing angle was shallower and angled towards the direction of writing.Directindustry

At the start of the test, I pushed in the cartridge (no tool) and started the machine.  It had an inbuilt timer.

When the fountain pen did not start writing after one minute (as agreed by marketing) the test was stopped and considered a failure.

From within the six top (as per marketing) and affordable brands (up to $100 in 1978), I tested 12 different fountain pens (6 to 12 each, about 100 altogether) individually.  What a job!


A long story in short:  Not one, NOT ONE fountain pen started writing by itself.  Marketing was greatly astonished and doubted my results.  After spending a nervous half-hour in the lab, they accepted the test procedure, but still disbelieved the results.


What do people do to get their fountain pen started?  Squeezing the cartridge and shaking.  I needed to come up with measurable, reproducible methods simulating these actions.

The process for “the squeezing coercing method” was compressing the cartridge lengthwise by 3%.  After measuring the length of the cartridge, I inserted it into the fountain pen without piercing the membrane.  The barrel had been cut open so that a pneumatic plunger applied force to the end of the cartridge and compressed it by 3%.  During this action, the membrane of the cartridge was pierced, and some ink injected into the pen.

The method enticed none of the fountain pens to start.  I increased the compression to 6% causing problems so that I could not continue this way. Some cartridges kinked even inside the barrel or burst.  Only a few fountain pens started writing this way but stopped after 50 – 100mm without starting again on their own.


The second coercing method was longitudinal shaking.  The rig for simulating this shaking comprised of a metal block of 0.5 kg was mounted on the vertical bar to slide freely.  The maximal drop height was 500 mm.  After the free fall, the metal block was stopped by a pneumatic buffer over a length of 100 mm.  The fountain pens were attached to this metal block.

At a shake length of 100mm I learned that I had to “shake” at least ten times before sufficient ink appeared at the nib to draw a dry line. I increased the fall length to 300mm, even I thought this was unrealistic.  It did not change much.

The best result was a combination of 3% compression and 20 shakes and 2 minutes rest gained the best results. Most fountain pens wrote by then.  I had an inkling that perhaps time was all it needed.  Correct; after a 3% squeeze plus 5 shakes as well as a 2 minutes rest (nib down) about half of the lot started writing. There was no clear demarcation between the brands. Every brand had some starters as well as some that resisted stubbornly.

I understood that after prodding the ink out of the cartridge and make it shake hands with the feed, through squeezing and shaking, some time was needed for the ink to progress along the “uninitiated” walls of the ink capillary.  Once the ink is in the feed, shaking should not make the fountain pen spit, actually, only surplus ink in the front end, the nib area would fall off.

I realised that the most successful step towards shortening the time of the initial dry start was to increase the travel speed in the feed’s main ink capillary. This could be achieved by improving the surface reactance between the ink and the feed’s material.

This is the way, the ingeneer learns and gains confidence in his decisions, through experimenting (including times when things don’t work out), drawing conclusions and applying a lot of mental grease.


Amadeus W.

28 February 2015

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