Here’s a summary of some tools and supplies I’ve found useful for cleaning and maintaining fountain pens. It’s clearly not exhaustive, but I think it covers what most casual enthusiasts might want.

However, I don’t intend to cover how to use (and how/when not to use these items), and some of them can damage your pens. This is really just to list what’s available, what kind of thing to search for, and roughly how much to expect to pay on eBay for it.

Still, a lot of useful accessories like syringes and vials are sold for inflated prices by perfectly-respectable fountain pen vendors; they’re not in the business of bulk selling repurposed medical supplies, so don’t blame them for overpricing. Instead, look for cheap bulk deals on eBay and Amazon for the ancillary stuff that doesn’t matter, and buy the pens from good pen retailers for the value they add to the service.

However, if you just need a couple of vials or syringes and you’re already putting in an order with a good retailer and you need to jack up the order above the minimum for free shipping, they’re not a bad thing to add to the basket!

Ink syringes and blunt needles

Ink syringes and blunt needles

Sometimes needles won’t fit particular syringes, so it may be better to choose the combined packs… if you look around, it can be cheaper anyway. I use 20-gauge “pink” blunt needles, and 5ml syringes. As you’re not using them medically, they don’t have to be sterile or individually packed, but they usually are anyway.

A really neat idea for pen filling is to skip the syringe and just put a “pink” needle on an International Standard converter! It won’t have the benefit of priming the pen’s feed with ink, so you won’t get as much of a fill, but it does mean you won’t have to wipe the nib and grip.

Disposable pipettes

Disposable pipettes

Don’t worry: the ones you get from eBay aren’t usually as blurry.

A bit wasteful, but with far less risk of cross-contaminating inks than by using reusable syringes and needles.

Ink sample / mixing tubes

Ink sample / mixing tubes

The ubiquitous ink sample vial. 15mm diameter, flat bottom, but with a conical internal base, which makes it easier to get the last few drops out. The cheap ones I see from China usually have blue caps.

Ink sample tube rack

Ink sample tube rack

The artistic crop has nothing to do with the fact that I couldn’t fit the rack into my tiny light-box

As typical ink sample tubes are 15mm plus a label, the 13-18mm sizing is appropriate.

Kresto Kolor Ultra / Reduran Spezial hand cleanser

Reduran Spezial hand cleanser

(Artist’s impression)

I haven’t used this yet, but apparently this is particularly designed for inks and dyes. I’ll report back with a review when it arrives!

I ordered some on eBay on Saturday and it arrived this Monday morning! I’ve written up a review. Suffice to say, it does seem to work. Get some moisturiser too, though.

Bulb (Ear) Syringe

Bulb (Ear) Syringe

These are the easiest way to flush a pen that uses a removable reservoir (eg. cartridge or converter). Take off the cartridge, suck up a full bulb of water or pen flush (ie. water with a drop of liquid detergent and a little household ammonia), press it into the back of the section and blast. It’ll do about 50 fill/flush cycles of the nib and feed in a second.

Brian Goulet explains how to use it here:

On a recent episode of Write Now, Rachel Goulet said that she got them “free” from the hospital after giving birth. Brian choked a bit, pointing out that the hospital probably charged about $400 each on the final bill.

Loose tea infuser(!)

Loose tea infuser(!)

This is a really clever idea I saw on The Pendragons site; it’s an old-style holder for loose tea leaves, but it’s good for cleaning small parts. I’ve lost a few pen parts – most notably Noodler’s Ahab feeder tubes – down the sink when I’m not careful. Now, the one shown here is quite small, but good enough for a nib or a feed or something like that. I’ve ordered a larger “mug sized” tea infuser basket so I can wash a bunch of converters, feeds, etc. at once.

Pipe brushes

Pipe brushes

These can be really handy for cleaning out pen caps, sections, converters and so forth, especially when the parts can be easily disassembled like TWSBI, Noodlers and so on. However, don’t get too hung up on your pens being immaculate. That’s a big problem with Demonstrator pens; I think many beginners (me included) gravitate towards Demonstrator pens because they can understand better, and there’s possibly a fear of not knowing when the ink’s going to run out, or what ink is loaded, but they’re a double-edged sword. (Well, more powerful than a sword, of course, but that’s by-the-by) Thing is, it’s difficult to get and keep a Demonstrator pen perfectly clean and unstained.

Chamois leather / Microfibre

Chamois leather

Now, I can understand many people don’t like using leather and other animal products nowadays, and I can respect that. Chamois leather is, however, pretty much unmatched for soaking up ink and cleaning nibs and stuff. I do all my pen maintenance on a chamois leather whenever I remember to do so, and it’s saved plenty of clothes from staining. P.W. Akkerman makes a great little chamois pen wipe for cleaning nib and section after bottle filling. I hear they can also be made from felt and other materials, but the chamois is perfect for it.

If you do object to the use of animal products, then the next best is a good stack of lint-free microfibre cloths. I don’t wash mine, as they develop some beautiful patterns over time, and it’s really easy to “break” a microfibre cloth by using detergents that permanently impair the microfibre’s absorbency. Saying that, washed microfibre cloths work fine as dusters.

Highway to the Danger Zone

You should be pretty safe with everything above here, unless you manage to stab yourself in the eye with a blunt syringe needle or something like that. Okay, maybe you could use the bulb syringe too hard, blast the nib clean off the pen and end up shooting the cat, but in general you should be fine.

Everything below here, though, is bringing you into the realm of actually breaking your pen(s). I’m not going to try to explain how to use these tools; there are plenty of resources online for that. I recommend Brian Goulet and SBREBrown’s videos on YouTube in particular. And one of the most respected authorities (and best teachers) on fountain pen maintenance, restoration and nib-wizardry is Richard Binder, his excellent site, as well as his books.

“Trying to repair a pen always carries the risk of further damage”

– Richard Binder (via Stephen Brown)

I’d go one step further, and say that unless you really know what you’re doing and you’re also aware of the connotations of the Dunning-Kruger effect (and also understand that Dunning-Kruger is not definitive either!) then you’re probably going to wreck your favourite pen. Use these tools to make cheap crappy pens more bearable, and only on pens you are comfortable destroying.

So, it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: this is entirely your problem, and I will not be held responsible for any damage you do. I’d strongly recommend getting a load of Jinhao pens and spare nibs cheap and practicing on them, and leave gold modification to the experts.



You should have a loupe. Simple as that. Even if it’s a cheap one. 10X is a bit weak, if you ask me, and over 40X they start distorting, unless you pay for a really good one. They’re also harder to use at high magnification. I also have headband magnifiers, which are weaker but more convenient for two-handed work. It’s useful but not vital to get one with an LED light.

Strictly speaking, a loupe isn’t in the Danger Zone, but I just know that once you start looking at your nib through a loupe, the whole “look but don’t touch” thing will go out the window and you’ll start fiddling with it and breaking it. I certainly did.

Anyway, the reason you should have one of these is due to the most common cause of a scratchy or bad writing fountain pen: tine misalignment or spacing. If your pen is scratchy in one direction and smooth in the other, it usually means one of the tines is sitting lower than the other, and its inside edge is scraping on the paper. You can figure out which tine it is just by thinking about it, but with a loupe you can check.

Adjusting the tines is the first step… if you skip it and go straight for the abrasives below – Micro-mesh, whetstone, lapping film, etc. – you can just make the problem worse and end up with tines that are different thicknesses! The aim is to make sure the tines are on the same level above and below, which they should be by default.

Following on from the earlier video about the bulb syringe, Brian talks a bit about tine alignment here…

“Make sure the tines are aligned before you do any type of smoothing – that’s a good general rule.”

– Brian Goulet

Primarily, look through the loupe down the business end of the nib, as if you’re where the writing paper should be… after all, that’s where the configuration of the nib matters! If you look from the top, bottom or side of the nib, you’re not getting the most information.

Stephen Brown has a good video covering basic nib smoothing that’s well worth a watch:

If the tines are misaligned, I tend to just use my fingers to adjust as I get better feedback than using a tool. You can use a thicker brass shim (below) to “twist” the tines and put some preload into them, but it’s a skill that needs to be learned, and well beyond the scope of this article. I do my best to avoid using needlenosed pliers or tweezers, as they’re a bit too brutal and can easily damage the nib. However, if you must, then make sure the jaws are coated with plastic or tape, rather than bare metal, so as not to scratch the nib and wreck the ink flow: I’ve applied heat-shrink tubing to mine.

A quick aside…

Incidentally, the material of the nib – stainless steel, titanium, gold, platinum, etc. – has negligible effect on the smoothness of a nib. It certainly affects the softness of the nib – although I’d say nowadays that nib geometry and modern metallurgy blurs this factor a lot, and softer metals such as gold may “break in” better and compensate for badly-adjusted tines (although I’m not 100% convinced that’s really a thing… I think most of the time it’s the pen owner getting used to the pen rather than the pen actually adjusting to the user. That and a bunch of placebo effect)

The thing is, the actual writing tip of a typical fountain pen nib isn’t gold or stainless-steel; it’s going to be what’s likely to be referred to as “iridium” but is almost certainly an alloy of various very-hard and corrosion-resistant metals, often platinum-group, including osmium, ruthenium, rhodium, rhenium, and tungsten. It might include iridium, but unless it’s vintage, probably not. The idea is to have a very hard metal that won’t corrode or wear out. A nib with a tip made of 14K gold would last no time at all and would act more like a bad felt-tip than a fountain pen. And conversely, a nib made entirely of tipping material (a.k.a “iridium”) would be incredibly hard, unyielding, uncomfortable, probably quite brittle, and unbelievably expensive.

There are stories of ultra-cheap or just plain bad fountain pens that claim to be “iridium tipped” but are actually just the same stainless-steel as the rest of the nib, folded back and melted into a blob… possibly tempered to a different hardness. I’m not sure how common this is, but I’ve certainly had a distinctly-different hard tip of a very cheap Jinhao nib crack away from the rest of the nib, so I believe that one wasn’t plain stainless-steel. However, I’m no metallurgist.

Anyway, there are three confusingly-similar, linked, but distinctly different aspects of a nib: smoothness, softness and flex. It’s far beyond the scope of this post to try to explain the difference, but suffice to say the purpose of the abrasives here are to adjust the smoothness; the softness (primarily just a user experience thing, with no effect on the resulting line) and the flex (tine deflection leading to line variation) have nothing to do with smoothing of the tip.

Micro-mesh (regular) pads

Micro-mesh (regular) pads

Do not use without first making sure the tines are spaced and aligned properly. If you don’t know how to do this, you’re not ready for Micro-mesh!

Note, there are variants of Micro-mesh: “Regular” (recommended here), “AO” (aluminium oxide, like lapping film), “MX” for harder metal, “MXD” diamond for very hard metals, ceramics, etc. They all have different grades, and the particle size is a somewhat-misleading way to compare different abrasives. The most common is “Regular”, and that’s what I’d recommend here.

Colour “grit” (approx.)
Brown 1500
Green 1800
Neutral grey 2400
Khaki 3200
Warmer grey 3600
Teal grey 4000
Purple grey 6000
Turquoise blue 8000
Pink 12000

These are cushioned abrasive pads for progressively smoothing and even shaping nib tips. Should only be used wet, so fill the pen with water, or ink if you don’t mind staining and possibly using up the pads quicker. It’s really easy to over-do it, so less is more. You can ruin a nib really easily with these, and I wouldn’t even consider using them on anything but cheap (ie. stainless-steel) nibs.

They come in various forms: I use the 2” x 2” pads, but you can get sticks, swabs, larger pads, and so on. In fact, you can also use cushioned manicure sticks to improve nibs, although I doubt they’re standardised in any way!

As these pads are cushioned, it’s a bad idea to apply pressure while using them because it’ll increase the chance of overpolishing the inside edges of the tine tips, leading to “baby’s bottom” or other fatal effects. If used correctly, patiently and moderately, it can eliminate this same problem, though.

The 12,000 grade pink pad is very good at an adequate polish, but if you want to go really buttery, the next step is to use lapping film

Lapping film

Lapping film

Do not use without first making sure the tines are spaced and aligned properly. If you don’t know how to do this, you’re not ready for lapping film!

Aluminium oxide abrasive on Mylar/BoPET plastic sheet. Used for (among other things) nib smoothing. This can be used to make a fairly smooth nib into a very smooth nib. It should only be used wet, but a good tip is to fill the pen with water (or ink, but that’ll degrade the film quicker) and draw a few “figure eight” squiggles on it.

Here’s a far younger Brian Goulet (before he acquired his thick “mink-like hair” and his improved waistline) explaining how to use it:

It’s a different type of abrasive, so it’s a bit misleading to compare “grit” values with Micro-mesh or Wet-and-dry emery paper. I’ve seen several different equivalent grit values for these.

Colour micron / µm “grit” (approx.)
Blue 9 1800
Brown 5 4000
Pink 3 8000
Yellowish 1 14000
White 0.3 50000
Cream 0.05 500000



As with the other abrasives, don’t use this unless you’ve aligned the tines first, and done all other corrective steps.

Whetstones / sharpening stones have a few drawbacks, including oil residue that can foul the nib – clean it off before using! The £5 ones you see on eBay are smaller than you’d expect; about the size of a 5-stick pack of chewing gum. Still, they’re good enough.

I find the 3000/10000 grit stones are very useful for a quick polish. Being hard as a rock (duh) it can be used with pressure to really force a change to the nib; or by just gliding the nib over the fine side, it’ll just hone off edge roughness. I’ve seen YouTube videos of wizened Japanese pen craftsmen using such stones with figure-eight/infinity strokes to tune a handmade pen.

Brass shim stock

Brass shim stock

Typically, the 0.001” brass works well to “floss” grot out of the nib slit, and the 0.002” and 0.005” can be used for adjusting tine alignment and spacing – a bit more tricky.

However, I’m not personally convinced brass shims are the best for nib flossing. While brass is very soft, and 14K gold is not as soft as pure gold, I suspect the hardnesses can be comparable, and a brass shim may be capable of scratching gold plating. This could seriously affect ink flow, as gold plating wets better than stainless steel, plus any physical scratch could affect capillary flow.

If you’re careful, yes, it should be fine, but a better material like uncoated non-abrasive BoPET plastic (a.k.a. Mylar, but NOT the “Mylar Paper”, ie. Lapping Film, sold for nib smoothing, which is abrasive!) would definitely be softer than the metal nib and would floss a nib without any risk.

Indeed, Stephen Brown mentioned that Richard Binder recommends burnishing the brass shim to blunt the edges to prevent damage. If you ask me, it’s safer to just choose something far lower on the Mohs scale. It should still be homogenous rather than fibrous or powdery, or it’ll add more fibres or grot exactly when you’re trying to remove fibres and grot. Paper can be surprisingly abrasive, and you don’t want anything waxy like actual dental floss or coated paper. I really do think transparent Mylar/BoPET film would be ideal.

Bad-Hair Brian strikes again:

Anyway, if I ever figure out which grade of transparent Mylar film to buy for good flossing, I’ll update this page. It’s worth noting that some “TV dinner” packaged meals designed for microwaving – particularly the type that tell you to pierce the film several times before nuking – use transparent BoPET film that’s effectively Mylar, as unlike other plastics used for packaging, it won’t soften and gunk all over the food once it gets hot. So, you could just buy a microwave lasagne and see if that’ll do the trick.

What not to buy…

Well, to be honest, if you have a pen, some ink and some paper, all of this is superfluous. On the other hand, some of it can be pretty useful if you don’t mind doing things yourself.

I’d say you don’t need an ultrasonic cleaner unless you’re really serious, and there are some caveats for those anyway: for some particular types of pen, they can actually damage parts beyond repair. The cheap plastic-cased ultrasonic cleaners on eBay are useless anyway. And, many pens – both modern and vintage – aren’t designed to be submerged in water anyway. I can’t remember who said it, but fountain pens are designed to hold liquid, not be immersed in liquid.

What did I miss?

Probably a whole bunch of things. If you have any other useful accessories, please email me and I’ll see about adding them here.

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