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Thread: Considerations of dimension

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    Senior Member Empty_of_Clouds's Avatar
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    Default Considerations of dimension

    Does your pen size matter?


    Fountain pens, both modern and vintage, are made in a assortment of sizes. Slender and long, fat and short, every combination you can think of. Why is this? After all, a standard pencil is, what, 6mm diameter and approx 170mm long. Most of us have used pencils to either write or draw or doodle, and many of us still do. Outside of lead holders or mechanical pencils though there doesn't seem to be any clamour for pencils in the variety of sizes that are either accepted or demanded of fountain pens.

    So, what is it about the fountain pen that distinguishes it from a standard pencil with regards to the general fit to hand?



    For me, short pens (barrel length of 100mm or less) run the risk of not sitting on the thumb-forefinger web and dropping into the palm of the hand. However, a lot of pens fall into a relatively narrow range of lengths that I would consider short, and often these pens are unbalanced when posted, with the weight of the cap subtly lifting the nib from the page.

    Then there is girth. My fattest pen (custom made) is about 15mm diameter at the section. The thinnest (a Waterman 52 currently) is around 8mm diameter on the section. Lots of pens fall within this range, but does a single millimetre really make that much of a difference?

    Here's a (bad) photo that shows the extreme range in my "collection".




    In my very limited experience of using any kind of writing tool (pencils, ballpoints, fountain pens, brushes and so on) my observation is that if the tool is held correctly then the girth where the fingers rest is really not that critical (within certain parameters of course, a foot wide section is obviously only going to be suitable for the Hulk!).

    Whether this observation can be generalised to the writing community is unclear, because an informal search around the internet reveals a lot of "incorrect" grips out there. However, if an "incorrect" grip allows a person to make a satisfactory mark on the paper, can it be considered "incorrect"? Perhaps that is a question for another time.

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    Default Re: Considerations of dimension

    I expect that everyone will have a different answer for what are the best pen dimensions... In my case, after trying a fair few pens, I've come to the conclusion that the designs I prefer are standard size pens, not too heavy, without the military style high-mount clip. Some good examples are Sheaffer Balance standard, Sailor 1911 standard, Sheaffer Imperial, Platinum 3776. I'm not too picky about colors or filling systems. I've got big pens and pocket pens. But, I find that the ones I reach for again and again are the boring basic average size plastic pens that do everything well and don't have any bad habits... I'm just a boring person at heart

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    Senior Member KBeezie's Avatar
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    Default Re: Considerations of dimension

    Depends for me, it's more about the balance or the length with me. I've enjoyed both tiny little pens like my old Wahl #2 self filler, but also had larger pens around the Pelikan M800 kind of size and up.

    There's a lot of trade off stuff in my mind. Like you mentioned, if the pen is very skinny then it needs to have a longer section and body for easier holding, or at least post very well. With a thicker pen, it needs to be balanced well from the front and back or it's not as enjoyable.

    For example, I like my Pelikan M640 more than the M805 I had, the M640 is a tad heavier and thicker (at the barrel), but the length is shorter with a smaller nib size. But it feels more balanced in the hand with the thicker barrel bulge resting comfortably in my palm. (A Faber-Castell BASIC had a similar weight and length, but the balance was too back-heavy)

    Another example that comes to mind is the Platinum PTL-5,000 and PTL-10,000, it's rather interesting what a difference a tiny bit of extra thickness does between those two models (But also they have different nibs).

    You may have also noticed the Sailor 1911L and Platinum Century 3776 appear very similar in size capped, nearly the same thickness, but shorter at the nib and section on the Platinum enough so that the 1911L feels nicer in the long run.

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    Default Re: Considerations of dimension

    Actually, you've raised another very interesting aspect. Nibs vary quite considerably in length. In my pictures above you can see a Jowo #6 and a Waterman #2 nib. The Jowo is considerably longer than the Waterman. The upshot of this is that the fingers of the writing hand are going to be further away from the paper when using the Jowo. How does this affect the overall ergonomics of the pen? And how does this impact on how the writing hand addresses the paper? This latter may be important because if you have a big nib you will have to cant your hand upward at the fingertip end, and this puts extra stress on the wrist which could lead to increased fatigue.

    As I understand it, and I am very short on knowledge in this, there are some very small vintage nibs (like a #0 size) and some simply enormous modern nibs (like the Namiki #50).

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    Default Re: Considerations of dimension

    For me, size matters and size doesn't matter.

    What I mean by that is that I can see the coolness and be able to enjoy writing (mostly sketching really) with fountain pens of various sizes.



    I do tend to prefer chunky barrel than slim ones. For example I cannot enjoy writing with a Sailor Chalana, but I know a lot of people love them and some with larger hands than mine (medium sized).
    - Will
    Sketches with restored vintage fountain pens: Redeem Pens

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    Default Re: Considerations of dimension

    Fat pens dont sit well in my hands, but large nibs (6) in pens like Bexley are just fine

    It is more a balance thing than anything.. top heavy pens are bad and lately I enjoy lighter pens
    Last edited by titrisol; November 14th, 2018 at 12:26 PM.
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    Default Re: Considerations of dimension

    I find that I can get my hands accustomed to any pen, more or less. I use a standard sized Sheaffer Admiral for most work related writing and have no real issue. At home, I use a Visconti Voyager and a Montblanc 146 predominantly. It does take a few minutes (or paragraphs) of writing before my hand "remembers" how to use a pen of a different length/girth, but it always figures it out.

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    Default Re: Considerations of dimension

    It's interesting, isn't it?

    For me the length of the pen has greater impact than the girth.

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    Default Re: Considerations of dimension

    I have recently been pondering girth and length and weight parameters. Curious to see if I could discern any patterns, I measured my pens.

    I started this effort as I began having hand cramping pain writing with one of my pens. The grip seemed "too small".

    My pens range from 7.3mm (Sheaffer Balance) to 11.7mm (Kakunos). My favorite pens have a girth of 9.0-10.5mm.

    I don't seem to notice pens unless the grip is outside my preferred range by 2mm or so.

    For me, besides portability, length doesn't matter so long as the pen is supported on web of my thumb.

    Weight isn't a huge deal; my favorite pens weigh 6-17g, body only. But I almost never write with my 30g Jinhaos. They feel "too heavy." My Metro (17g) and Stargazer (16g) are at on the upper end of tolerable heft.

    Balance matters. I currently prefer to write without posting the cap because usually the balance is too far off otherwise.

    I used these parameters when shopping for my latest pen, a Pilot Stargazer which falls within the ballpark of these ranges.

    I am happy, but not surprised, to find it is an absolutely comfortable joy to use.
    Last edited by azkid; November 15th, 2018 at 01:17 PM.

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    Default Re: Considerations of dimension

    I find I like to hold a pen in different locations at different times, but commonly quite aways from the nib. I like a smooth feel and no thread or step. My favorite three pens fit into that category and the rest have either a thread or small step that I deal with.

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    Default Re: Considerations of dimension

    Though you ever wonder, other than short of being a designer/creator, if a lot of the overstimulation is simply thinking about the details too much and wondering what is the perfect formula for the best pen?

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    Default Re: Considerations of dimension

    A reasonable point, but most of the variation in designs happened during the "golden age", so the overstimulation is not new (I think).

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    Default Re: Considerations of dimension

    Quote Originally Posted by Empty_of_Clouds View Post
    A reasonable point, but most of the variation in designs happened during the "golden age", so the overstimulation is not new (I think).
    Of course, but it's new to some of us. Especially with so many choices to pick from in our quest to find our best.

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    Default Re: Considerations of dimension

    I find grip more important than girth for anything other than long writing sessions.

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    Default Re: Considerations of dimension

    Quote Originally Posted by Empty_of_Clouds View Post
    ... After all, a standard pencil is, what, 6mm diameter and approx 170mm long. Most of us have used pencils to either write or draw or doodle, and many of us still do. Outside of lead holders or mechanical pencils though there doesn't seem to be any clamour for pencils in the variety of sizes that are either accepted or demanded of fountain pens.

    So, what is it about the fountain pen that distinguishes it from a standard pencil [I]with regards to the general fit to hand?
    Interesting point about pencils. I used to break mine in half, preferring a stubbier length.

    My most comfortable pens are also on the shorter side: 110–130mm uncapped (I don’t post). I like a pen that reaches the web of my hand but doesn't project very far beyond the back of my hand, if at all.
    Preferred girth at section: 9–11mm.
    Weight is more of deal-breaker. Beyond, say, 25g (probably less) gets fatiguing.


    Quote Originally Posted by Empty_of_Clouds View Post
    Actually, you've raised another very interesting aspect. Nibs vary quite considerably in length. In my pictures above you can see a Jowo #6 and a Waterman #2 nib. The Jowo is considerably longer than the Waterman. The upshot of this is that the fingers of the writing hand are going to be further away from the paper when using the Jowo. How does this affect the overall ergonomics of the pen? And how does this impact on how the writing hand addresses the paper? This latter may be important because if you have a big nib you will have to cant your hand upward at the fingertip end, and this puts extra stress on the wrist which could lead to increased fatigue.

    As I understand it, and I am very short on knowledge in this, there are some very small vintage nibs (like a #0 size) and some simply enormous modern nibs (like the Namiki #50).
    Re nib length: with a forefinger-up grip (forefinger lies on top of the section at about 1 o’clock as viewed from behind the pen) the distance from the tip of the forefinger to the tip of the nib is usually around 20-30mm, regardless of nib size. No experience with outlandishly big nibs, though.

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    Default Re: Considerations of dimension

    If you're going to the SF pen show, you should be able to try a Nakaya desk pen. They are long but beautifully balanced. My hands are large for a woman my size, and I adore the feel of my desk pen, but it's plenty long even for the hands you describe - and I didn't dare buy till I actually tried one at a show. To me it would be worth far more than I paid, and I paid John M.'s price. I also strongly recommend the trumpet stand if you buy a Nakaya (not the 17mm, that doesn't fit) - I use my pen even more now that I can just place it in its stand rather than screwing the top on. YMMV, as always.

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    Default Re: Considerations of dimension

    I'll second the Nakaya Desk Pen. I've persuaded plenty of people with various hand sizes to try mine, and all have attested to its comfortable weight and balance.
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    Default Re: Considerations of dimension

    Appreciate the suggestion, but to pay such a large amount of money for a pen that has a nib normally used on a sub $100 pen... I don't consider that to be good value. Besides which, in my case, the whole desk pen approach doesn't really address the need to carry a pen. (I'm not carrying a desk pen around with me )

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    Default Re: Considerations of dimension

    For me, two things to avoid; pens that are too thin (Chalana, Sheaffer Targa slim, are quite painful after a while) and pens that are too heavy (too much brass, usually). Otherwise I can adapt to most sizes and styles. I do prefer a concave section with a flare to stop my fingers slipping.

    As for desk pens - that's really tempting. I pretty much only use my FPs at my desk, and if I'm taking them anywhere they go in a wrap. I've been very tempted by the Sailor desk pen in blackwood - Nibs.com used to have some; but they are kind of expensive, like the Nakayas. My four Auroras, Waterman and Edacoto desk pens will just have to do for now :-)

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    Default Re: Considerations of dimension

    Quote Originally Posted by amk View Post
    As for desk pens - that's really tempting. I pretty much only use my FPs at my desk, and if I'm taking them anywhere they go in a wrap. I've been very tempted by the Sailor desk pen in blackwood - Nibs.com used to have some; but they are kind of expensive, like the Nakayas. My four Auroras, Waterman and Edacoto desk pens will just have to do for now :-)
    There are hundreds of undervalued vintage desk pens out there. For ease of use and "modern" convenience, I would suggest Sheaffer Imperial with inlaid nib desk pens that accept modern Sheaffer cartridges and converters.

    Another good option is to go with Esterbrook desk pens such as this one:

    - Will
    Sketches with restored vintage fountain pens: Redeem Pens

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