Custom Nibs And Expectations


Recently, I sent two Levenger True Writer nibs off for modification hoping they would return in time for my birthday yesterday. Mike Masuyama came through with days to spare. That worked out well because it has given me some time to get acquainted. Thank you, Mike!

No complaints about Mike’s work but the truth is that customizing nibs is unpredictable. There is no certainty you will love your newly sculpted mate so be prepared to experience anything from joy to disappointment to any shade in between.

More than thirty reground nibs from nearly a dozen different sources have passed through here in the last few years. That doesn’t make me an expert at custom nibs but it does make me leery of them. I’ve had lousy ones from one of the “best” nibmeisters and fabulous ones from newbies and rank amateurs.

Sound a bit like gambling? Indeed! Still there are a few things that might help you decide whether a custom nib would be right for you.

  • If you like a good bit of tipping material, buy a good quality pen with a stock nib. Any modification to the shape of a nib will reduce its iridium. Even if you buy a broad nib for modification, the original tip may wind up in the trash in order to make a nib that will meet your desired width. Sometimes sacrificing that bit of iridium can leave the nib with a scratchy feeling and a sharp edge. A talented pen person can grind a nib that has neither issue even if the tipping material is removed but that isn’t assured.
  • In my experience an iridium tip has a larger sweet spot than a nib without tipping material. This might be dependent on the skills of the person doing the regrind but even those who are considered to be tops can produce results that don’t suit my nib requirements.
  • Flex and ink flow are interrelated. The rate at which you write makes a difference as well. Making a nib more flexible is as much art as science and it can be a challenge to get a nib just right for you – not impossible – just challenging.
  • Be prepared to practice with your new nib but also stay in touch with the person who did the modification in case your nib needs a bit of tweaking. It can make the difference between loving your pen and tossing it in the pen drawer out of frustration.
  • Stellar reputations aside, if the person modifying the nib won’t back up his/her work, find someone who thinks enough of his customers to make things right.
  • Many fountain pen users adore custom nibs. If you wind up with what to you is a stinker, the next person may think it’s fab so consider selling it. However, do reveal what you perceive as shortcomings. When I hear a nib is juicy (yuck) or free-flowing, I will pass but to others that may make a nib sound delicious. Matching your pen to its new owner will make everyone happy including the pen!

Before you ask me to name names when it comes to nibmeisters, I won’t. Many of you knew some of my pens were spending some quality time with Mike and I am happy with his work, so his name is the only one you will hear from me for now. There are two amateurs whose names I will gladly reveal if they ever turn pro. Promise!


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Margana. Margana said: Custom Nibs And Expectations: http://wp.me/pfSKv-Pc […]


  2. Great advice. Wished I had read this 2 years ago. I spent way too much money on two custom nibs from one of the better known nibmeisters and was very disappointed with the results. I bought on FPN market place a modified nib for Safari and just love it. I would add to you tips above that nothing beats a one-on-one session with a nibmeister at a pen show. If I had tried these custom nibs at a show I would have known in seconds that they would not work for me and saved myself a lot of time and money.


  3. My Montblanc came with a fine nib and I thought it to be closer to a medium so I sent it to Montblanc asking for an “extra-fine” which I found to of very little difference. I have a Cross fine nib that is perfect and which I tend to favor but would love to get more use of the Montblanc. Any suggestions.


    • That’s a tough one, Jo. If anyone besides MB works on the pen, your warranty may become void. I would go back to them again for assistance before considering other options. You could ask one of the nibmeisters at a pen show to give you feedback so you can identify any issues.

      Have you tried a variety of inks? On occasion I will find a nib that works poorly until it gets matched to just the right ink. That might seem to limit the pen’s usefulness but having a great pen/ink match is worth finding.


  4. Thank you for the comment on my blog and the assurance that my new Namiki Falcon nib will become more flexible over time and use.


  5. Thanks for this informative post – I have had the good fortune of running into great “nibmeisters” at pen shows. I brought a pen that had been dropped on the nib to last year’s pen show and Mike Masuyama kindly brought it back to life at a very generous price. Shout out to Mike It Write!
    Someday I will get my dream nib – a soft fine stub kind of nib – on my dream pen. I saved your post from last June where you laid out your criteria in choosing pens. I totally agree with everything you wrote. Nib is primary, then comfort, functionality and appearance.


    • Erin, you were fortunate to meet Mike and get his help with your pen. A soft fine stub would be lovely but more than a mite tricky to find. You might find a vintage Pelikan or Montblanc that would meet your specs. If not, perhaps you could get a Namiki Falcon customized. I’ve considered that option though if you want a really flexible nib, the Falcon might disappoint you. I wonder what Mike would suggest…


  6. Late Happy Birthday!! I hope you are happy with your nibs.

    Mike has done quite a bit of work for me and I’ve always been pleased.


    • Thanks, Julie. It was a very, very, very low key day. My pens even took the day off.😉


  7. Oh, forgive my awkward wording about my dream nib. When I said soft, I really meant smooth. I have italic nibs that are great for doing a specific thing – calligraphy. But, my understanding of what a stub nib is, is that it is an italic with rounded edges. But, a lot of stubs seem to be broad. So, a fine stub that writes smoothly is what I think I’m after.🙂


    • That’s okay, Erin. Still, a fine stub will require modification from the stubs currently on the market. As you have noted, a stub is a broad nib that has been shaped to produce more line contrast between the up and down strokes. A stub will have more definition than a broad nib but less than an italic. It should move smoothly across the paper without catching as an italic nib is prone to do.

      If you want a line width of 0.7mm or less, go for a custom nib. No doubt a nibmeister can make some suggestions and help you find a suitable pen to modify.

      Another option would be something at FPN or on eBay. Depending on your budget, there are Esterbrook nibs that might suit you though not all will be smooth writers. That’s a hit or miss thing whether from age or misuse.

      There may be other vintage pens that came with fine stub nibs but the stubs in my collection are either wide or were custom ground. It has been fun learning to use whatever size comes my way. If you are enjoying calligraphy, I expect any size stub nib will work well for you. The writing is the proof after all.


  8. […] smithing skills – Letters of Note The Inkophile talks about managing you expectations – Inkophile AK gives us a glimpse of Nicole Little’s Moleskine – Notebook loves Pen Kalina Wilson […]


  9. Margana, thank you for your informative reply. I do have a stub-like Esterbrook and love the way it writes so smoothly and showing the shading of ink, but would like a similar experience without such width to the line. That will be my grail nib, lol. And, yes, writing and experimenting with nibs that come our way is half the enjoyment and challenge.
    A belated Happy Birthday to you!


    • Thanks for the birthday wish.🙂

      Which nib do you have on your Estie? There is a 2314-F if memory serves that is rather narrow though flow can make it write a little wider than one might expect. That might work for you. Another option would be a Montblanc from the 1970s or earlier. The 221 has a nice nib and can be found for under $100. My oblique broad has excellent definition and could easily be called a stub. I can’t vouch for a more narrow nib though it does come with a nice tip of iridium should you want to get it slightly modified.

      Another option could be to regrind a pen you already own but gets little use. The two broad nibs Mike modified were ones that didn’t thrill me. Now they are fun to use. Isn’t that just the best form of recycling?


  10. Very belated birthday greetings, Margana! This is a wonderful post. It is difficult for folks who want their first custom nib to know how to proceed. And for some of us a pen show has not been an option.

    I had a couple of good FPN pals who gave lots of advice, but ultimately it was my own experience that mattered. (Sadly there’s a cost there.) I’ve had several customized nibs, mostly good experiences (Mike as one of them) and a couple of horrible ones. Along the way I discovered I didn’t like italics and loved fine-ish stubs. I had a weird experience of taking a medium nib and getting it re-ground to an extra fine. Mike had to fix it and it’s a dream nib now.

    The kicker is with my aggressive downsizing…I’ve no more stubs! I think I’m okay with that.

    I’ve heard that a wet-flowing nib (trying not to use the ‘j’ word) is one of the ways nibsters compensate for smoothness. Dunno. Pondering. I prefer a dry-ish ink flow and a smooth experience.

    Re. vintage stubs…Erin, you might look at vintage oblique nibs. Pelikan and Kaweco have some neat ones when you can find them. These are different than modern oblique nibs. They are generally smooth and give your scrawl a little flair.

    All the best.


    • Thanks for the birthday wishes, Julie.

      Best to win the lottery before attending a pen show. There is only so much temptation one can bear.

      I wonder if a really wet nib can do anything to disguise a sweet spot that is too small or misplaced. Certainly a dry-ish nib won’t. That’s a good reason to test more than one ink when deciding whether a nib is right for you.

      Can’t imagine having no stubs in my rotation. A wide nib reduces cramping over long sessions for me so owning a few is a must. Besides, they make my writing more legible and that’s a very good thing for anyone who has to read it.🙂




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