Fountain Pen Design

Function, Development, Construction and Fabrication

052-6-2 Initial dry Start

The question was asked:

“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?  It is no issue for fountain pens with a tank because the first thing that happens is: ink gets pulled through the feed; therefore, all is soaked in ink.  The problem only occurs with fountain pens with cartridges.


This is the real-life scenario … When the inexperienced salesperson demonstrates a fountain pen, they take the one the customer selected, push in the cartridge and he/she expect, it would write, immediately.  And since the salesperson expects it, the customer expects it.  All other (fibre, ball, etc., ) pens do!

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

What happened to marketing’s task of training salespeople?  None of them seems to do it and since this is the case no marketing person wants to make the first step. They feel it means admitting a blemish.  Sales go down, sure, but it wasn’t them, it’s the ingeneer’s fault!  What ever happened to cooperation?


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

From each style of fountain pen of each of their stock, they have one, well written in, so the customer can try, compare them and make their purchase decision.  Inexperienced salespeople stand there, waiting for customers.  The experienced would keep their fountain pens used and cleaned.

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

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

Marketing had management behind them; thus, there was another challenge for me.  It was the biggest, and it opened a fascinating can of worms.

Ok, enough of my lament.


I had been new in the field and had no experience to propose another point.  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 continues writing commences?  Does the fountain pen need coercing?  Does it start at all?

What was the test procedure?

The fountain pen was held in 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 procedure and 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%.  I measured the length of the cartridge.  I inserted it into the fountain pen without piercing the membrane.  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.

None of the fountain pens started.  I increased the compression to 6% but did not continue this way, some kinked or burst.  Only a few started this way.  None of the continued writing.


The second coercing was longitudinal shaking.  A metal block of 0.5 kg was mounted on the vertical bar to slide freely.  The maximal drop height was 500 mm.  Then the metal block was stopped by a pneumatic buffer over a length of 100 mm.  The fountain pens were attached to this metal block.

I learned that I had to “shake” at least ten times before any significant results.  The shake length was 100 mm.  I increased the travel distance to 300 mm, even I thought this was unrealistic.  It did not change much.

The best result was the combination of compression and shaking.  3% plus 20 shakes.

Most fountain pens wrote by then.  I had an inkling that, perhaps time was all it needed.  Correct; squeeze plus 5 shakes and 2 minutes rest gained the best score.

I understood that after prodding the ink out of the cartridge and make it shake hands with the feed time was needed for the ink to the make its way along the uninitiated walls of the 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.

I realised that improving the surface reactance would be the most successful step.  This is the way, the ingeneer learns and gains confidence in his decisions.


Amadeus W.

28 February 2015

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