Return to Filling a Fountain Pen


Jump to step-by-step instructions

A capillary filler is the most passive means of getting ink into a pen which is possible, and is something of the closing of a circle in the development of pens.  A capillary pen is, in its finest distillation, as easily described by the words “dip pen” as the writing instrument which fountain pens supplanted.

This mode of filling was a sort of desperate final attempt to face ball-point pens on the latter’s own terms, those of raw simplistic convenience.  Doing away with any moving parts whatever, even moreso than vacuum or pneumatic fillers, they come as close to this goal as I think a fountain pen may do while avoiding the cartridge pen’s vicious habit of throw-away components.  This is done by filling the pen with absorbent material; the reservoir is thrust into ink, absorbs a quantity, and gently emits it through the point.  Simple!

It looks silly, but it works

This simplicity comes at a price, though.  It is surpassingly difficult to clean capillary pens.  They absorb, they emit, but they do not flush.  Apart from rigging a special bulb to force water through the reservoir, the only way of moving fluid into it briskly is to fill it as it is designed, and the only way to get it out any more briskly than designed is through centrifugal action, either gripping the pen and flicking it or mounting it in some kind of home-made spinner.

There are only three models of pen with this sort of filler of which I am aware: the Parker 61 (with several variants of trim), the Waterman X-Pen (likewise), and the Platignum 100 (which was based on the Waterman).  This small set of representatives should suggest to you the general popularity of the filler.  For the modern user, I can suggest through having used both the Parker and Waterman types, that this is a reliable system and the pens generally write pleasantly, but it is also one which ties the user to a single ink.  In the era they were designed in, this was not seen as a serious problem, but a lot of modern users like to switch inks frequently.  Caveat scriptor.

Loading a Capillary Pen Step by Step:

  1. Get a paper towel or other pen-wiper.
  2. Remove cap ink bottle, and
    1. cap from pen in the case of Waterman and Platignum, or
    2. barrel in the case of Parker (I’ve not see the 61’s instructions, and adverts of the time show the cap off as well, but the barrel will come away without the cap’s removal, and this seems in the spirit of doing almost nothing to fill).
  3. Place the pen into the ink, entry port first (tail down in the Parker, point down in the others).

    For a Parker, it should look like this

  4. Go away for a bit; perhaps check the weather forecast.  If the pen has been in regular use, this should really only take a few seconds, but if it’s the first use after being laid up for a while, five or even ten minutes wouldn’t be amiss.
  5. Remove pen from ink.
    1. With a Waterman or a Platignum, give a good shake into the ink to remove excess fluid from the point.
  6. Wipe filler to remove surface ink (aren’t you glad you did step 1?); this is technically unnecessary, but apart from things never working quite as they should academically, these pens are a minimum of fifty years old and might not be as slick as they once were.
  7. Replace whatever you removed in step 2.

Permanent link to this article: