Tale of a Vandal Pen User: Reflecting on Eyedroppers

Note: this post has been updated twice since originally posted.

Since 2020, I’ve been writing at my desk. It’s a fine desk in a beautiful space all to myself. But I do miss the ambiance of coffee houses and libraries. Often I leave the door to my room open for the dog to come in and ask me to play or to hear my beloved as she traipses about the house.

In the, uh, old days, I would take my pens and paper to the coffee house or the library where I’d write for hours at a time. For many years, eyedropper fountain pens were essential to me so that there were no worries about running out of ink. A single pen held 3ml of ink. Two gave me 6ml. Plenty for a writing session.

But am I the same obsessive eyedropper barrel-filling fountain pen user I used to be?

From July 2010:  Getting ready to ED the Edison Huron with 3ml of an unidentified Diamine ink.

I don’t know.

The pandemic has changed the way I write.

Or rather, the pandemic has changed how I use my writing tools.

I still draft by hand, but… no ED’ing of pens. Maybe once since 2020.

In the past, I’ve never inked more than two or three pens at one time. Two of those would be an ED’d pen. The third would be a Pilot Decimo or some such “on-the-go” pen.

For the first time in over a decade, there are currently five pens inked. They are sitting on my desk in my original DIY pen box at the ready. Last week, the number in the pen box was eight. But since that time, I’ve written dry an Aurora 88, Edison Huron, and Montegrappa Chile Pepper.

left to right: SchonDSGN Ultem, Leonardo Momento Grande, Platinum #3776 Motosu, Nakaya Chinkin, Aurora 88

It’s been fun having several pens inked up. All my pens see more frequent usage, not just the favored two or three. Fountain pen people know that pens prefer to be inked and used.

Writing at home there’s no worry about running out of ink.

When I’m finally able to return to writing in coffee houses and libraries, I’ll likely go back to the two eyedropper pen self-standard. But when? Dunno.

Why am I writing about my lack of ED’ing pens?

A few days ago a friend gifted me a pen. He thought it was a good pen for me, especially because it could be ED’d. He knew, rightly so, that I’d enjoy the transparent amber color of the pen. Check it out:

SchonDSGN Ultem

It’s a SchonDSGN Natural Ultem, a nice amber color. “Natural”= amber. (The pen also comes in an opaque black (my friend’s favorite). There’s also an opaque pinkish material called Peek.)

Ultem is a new material hitting the pen world. Ultem is a plastic used in medical settings. It’s solid and doesn’t stain. A feature of the Ultem material is that a pen’s walls can be machined quite thin. We’ll likely see pens made from this material from more and more penmakers.

The Ultem came with a broad JOWO steel nib which I’ve replaced with a JOWO 14k custom CI by Deb Kinney.

SchonDSGN uncapped

The pen is small, and I gather that SchonDSGN came on to the scene with cool-looking aluminum pocket pens.

Using my digital caliper: The pen’s 127mm in length, capped. Nib to barrel end, 124mm. You can carry it in your pocket.

Of the pens I own, the Ultem is closest in length to my Newton Gibby (AKA Banana Slug). The Gibby is thicker.

Left to right: Aurora 88, Platinum #3776, SchonDSGN, Newton Gibby (aka Banana Slug)

The SchonDSGN is wearing the Newton’s 14K JOWO nib

The SchonDSGN Ultem’s very lightweight. Inked with a converter, the pen weighs 16 grams, capped or posted; 13 grams without the cap. Generally, an international converter weighs 3 grams; inked, 4 grams.

Lightweight but, truthfully,  not any lighter than, say, an uncapped Pelikan 200, Aurora Optima Mini, Edison Beaumont or Pearlette, Pilot 92 or 98.

The SchonDSGN uses a standard international converter or ink cartridges. I’ve inked my converter with Platinum Mix Free “Olive Oil.”

I haven’t ED’d the pen yet as I’m easing my way into getting to know the pen.

I have measured the barrel capacity with water. The barrel can comfortably hold 4ml up to the bottom of the barrel threads. That’s a lot of ink. The 4ml ink capacity surely is due to the thinness of the barrel walls, giving more room inside the barrel. A pleasant surprise.

Cleaning the SchonDSGN Ultem

My friend had inked the pen with Pilot Blue-Black to test it out, and there was some PBB residue in the converter and feed. The cap had a ring of PBB near where the top of the section would be seen through the cap. The ink wouldn’t wash out with water. Having once scratched up my friend’s demonstrator with my scrub brush, I didn’t want to scrub the PBB out. A soft cloth wasn’t working.

SchonDSGN states that we should not use traditional ammonia-based cleaning methods on Ultem material. From the SchonDSGN website:

What chemicals can I use to clean this pen? Soap and water or Alcohol is fine on this material for deep cleaning (one of the benefits of Ultem and Peek!)

What chemicals should I not use? Windex. Ammonia based chemistry, It has been brought to my attention that some pen flush has ammonia, use that only on the nib/feed. It is easy to unscrew the nib unit and do that, if you need help ill make you a video to show you how.

Ammonia-based fountain pen cleaners are traditional/typical. We generally avoid alcohol-based cleaners. Ask anyone who has had their plastic fountain pen melt, had the pen’s finished ruined, or had their finials separate from pens because of cleaning with alcohol.

HOWEVER, Ultem material can handle alcohol but not ammonia. Makes sense about the alcohol given the material’s medical applications. Easy to sterilize.

I would add, though, don’t use alcohol on your plastic feed. Unscrew the nib unit from the pen if you want to clean the feed with an ammonia-based pen flush.

I’m not sure how well the o-rings will hold up over time against alcohol, so personally, I’d avoid contact with the rubber rings if you can.

That said, I used some cotton swabs soaked in isopropyl alcohol to clean the cap. All the Pilot Blue-Black came off the cap easily. (Forgot to take a “before” photo.)

Cotton swabs soaked with Isopropyl alcohol did the trick removing PBB

Here’s a wonderful, cogent explanation of how eyedropper pens work provided by Ian of ScholDSGN:

I’ve asked SchonDSGN (AKA Ian) if Rapido-Eze can be used to clean the Ultem pens. When I hear back, if I hear back, I’ll post the answer.

Updated 2022-01-03: Ian of SchonDSGN responded that he couldn’t find any test results for one of the chemicals in Rapido-Eze on Polyetherimide (the name for Ultem). He discourages using Rapido-Eze unless other information comes forward. (Thank you, Ian!)

If anyone has other information about the safety of Rapido-Eze and Ultem, I hope you will leave a comment on this post.

☮ → Rapido-Eze is a powerful cleaner that can safely be used to clean nibs. But be aware that even Rapido-Eze may eat glue and shellac. In ancient times, I’ve had Pelikan finials become unmoored using Rapido-Eze on pen caps for deep cleaning.

For the similarly curious, Rapido-Eze contains <1% Potassium Hydroxide, 5-10% Triethanolamine, 85-90% Water (You can read the MDS sheet here.)

Updated 2022-01-04: I also contacted ChartPak who manufactures Rapido-Eze. The laboratory manager wrote me that they do not have any testing information of their product with Rapido-Eze. Makes sense, of course, as I only know of three niche pen makers who have used Ultem at this writing.

I was curious as Rapido-Eze is already in my pen kit, and alcohol is in our medicine cabinet.

Anyhoo

The Ultem material feels nice in the hand. And I like the amber color.

There are a lot of o-rings installed for using the pen eyedropper-style. Typically, o-rings and/or silicone grease will prevent a pen from leaking at the section and oozing ink out the barrel. You can use silicone grease if you want on this pen, alongside the o-rings.

In the photo below, note how long the threads are on the nib section. I LOVE that. All those threads aren’t necessary on an eyedropper pen, but they do give you a sense of security that the ink will have a hard time finding its way out of the barrel.

The plethora of red o-rings is cool-looking. There are four:

lots of o-rings

The o-ring in the cap will prevent leakage should ink burp into the cap. That’s a nice feature. The o-ring above the threads on the section will prevent ink from leaving the barrel.

It’s interesting there are two o-rings in the section where the nib unit sits. These are not on the housing itself but reside in the section where the housing sits. In the past, as an extra precaution, I’ve used a bit of silicone grease in that area to prevent ink from creeping around the housing in the section. (You have to be extremely careful not to put the grease anywhere near the nib and feed.) The two o-rings are an extra touch for sealing the pen in eyedropper mode.

The pen holds the standard JoWo #6 nib unit used by so many fountain pens these days. You can buy a #8 Bock housing for the pen if you have a spare Bock #8 nib.

The SchonDSGN Ultem is the first pen I’ve wanted to install a Flexible Nib Factory Platinum #3776 housing into. I haven’t needed to use an FNF housing before because I’ve had other pens custom fitted with #3776 nibs, long before FNF came into existence. (Yes, very lucky.)

While the #6 JoWo is a great nib, it can be kinda boring to have so many pens using it. It’ll be fun to put a Platinum nib in the Ultem and eyedropper it. Yeah, that’ll happen. Soon.

No conclusions drawn about this pen. I haven’t had it more than a few days. I’m curious about any challenges the barrel’s thin walls may bring, especially as I live at a high altitude.

I like the look of the pen very much. I especially love that my friend sent it to me.

More to be revealed as we write along.

Real Reading

  • Joe, the Gentleman Stationer, loves his Ultem. He has two of them. Read here. (I don’t read many pen blogs, but Joe’s is one of them.)
  • SchonDSGN website
  • Kasama Pens—this Philippine company was the first, I believe, to use the Ultem material for fountain pens. I first heard of these pens and the Ultem material via Leigh Reyes’s Instagram.
  • Writing of Leigh, here’s her last blog post of 2021: My 2021 State of Pens. Leigh and I are totally different kinds of creators. Even so, I resonated strongly with her post.

Take good care, dear friends. Every day is an opportunity to refresh, reflect, rejoice.

Thanks for reading. See you anon.

—JD