This episode is a discussion about pen restoration and nib grinding with Kirk Speer, of PenRealm.com.
Different types of nib grinds
Better QA/QC fountain pen brands
Fountain Pen Brands with QA/QC issues
Chatelain pens- eyedroppers worn around the neck
Geha Fountain Pens - German
You can also write to me at:
Attn: John West
P.O. Box 621
Golden, CO 80402
Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/stationeryorbit?fan_landing=true)
SO ep 12 tk 1.sesx_mixdown
[00:00:00] John: [00:00:00] Welcome to episode 12 of stationery orbit. I'm your host Sean West and today's episode is a discussion about Penn restoration and nib grinding with Kirk Spiro, Ben around.com. So Kurt good morning. So this'll be a pretty free-flowing conversation. Uh, wanted to start out with just the basics. How did you get into professional pen work?
Kirk: [00:00:20] You know, I started about four years ago, I was working in construction and stumbled across antique store that had a vintage fountain pen for five bucks. And I'd never had a fountain pen before, but I knew about him. So I had a curiosity. I bought it and researched it. And it turned out to be a Parker 51, and I was able to get a working relatively easy.
And then, so that kind of got me started with the bug. And then I started buying up pins off of eBay and everywhere else that I could find them for cheap to see if I could fix them up as well. And so that kind of just got me. Got me going. And then eventually I came across some pens that had been nibs and stuff.
And so I went ahead and learned how to repair the nibs as I [00:01:00] showed some of my work on Reddit and everywhere else, people start asking me, well, you know, I see that you can fix them. Can you also grind them? And.
John: [00:01:06] Where we all started, I'm guessing was working in construction that you're already very used to working with your hands free doing work, carpentry
Kirk: [00:01:14] work.
Actually, I was a project manager, so I didn't do any hands-on.
John: [00:01:19] Ah, there's a bad assumption on my part.
Kirk: [00:01:24] It's actually quite common. So my father was a very hands-on guy and just, it wasn't nothing he couldn't fix. And from a very early age, she, no, he had me doing, doing stuff to help him, you know, anything needed, required to Hanzy needed my hand.
And he got me involved early on, fixed some things from cars to. So woodworking and everything else. So that kind of translated into where I am now.
John: [00:01:49] Okay. Very good. So you were mentioning that you were doing them grinds and do you have a favorite grind?
Kirk: [00:01:57] You know, probably my favorite grind is the [00:02:00] architect grind and I think.
What appeals to me about it is that it's such a departure from the expected that you can, you can buy in the store. You know, most nibs are either a ball around ball or they're a stub like, and so this takes that and flips it on sale. And so that, that just makes it unique to me. And a lot of my customers really love it as well.
So I, I think that that's probably my
John: [00:02:26] favorite one. And you can count me in on the customers that love that grind. You did an architect on a Pelican and 1000 for me, and with that soft nib, uh, with a little bit of a bounce to it, that is an amazing architect grind. And like you said, it's something that your main manufacturers just do not put pens out to have architect crimes on them.
So yeah, it is a real departure. Yeah. I'd like to ask you since I've got somebody on that, does the pen grinding or the nib grinding, what are some of the [00:03:00] more popular grinds that are done and how are those actually performed on a nib? And what does it do to the pen stroke? Yeah, so, I mean,
Kirk: [00:03:09] we'll start with the architect.
The architect is, so what you do is you're actually narrowing the sides of the nib. So the. So then what it creates is a, uh, very narrow downstroke. And then, uh, and then a broad cross stroke, which is good for Hebrew writing and architect style writing. And, and then, and then you have things like stubs, cursive, curses, smooth taluks SIGs.
What I call an Imperial. Those are all kind of in the stub by Telic family. Those you're you're narrowing the top and bottom, or either both or one or the other. And by doing that, you're, you're creating a narrow cross stroke and a broad, broader downstroke typically. And then there's, there's hybrid versions of these styles.
Um, you know, I have what's called a spear point, [00:04:00] which is a, a type of needle point on the, on the forward end and then on the reverse. And it's kind of like a broad stub.
John: [00:04:07] Okay. When you're talking about some of the curse of metallics and the sub prions, where they just flatten out the, well, I guess to me, it flattens out the cross strokes on it and then emphasizes the downstroke.
Right. Okay. You also do a lot of vintage pen restoration, and as I understand it, that was actually where you got your start on this whole thing. Is that a large part of your business? You
Kirk: [00:04:36] know, it's, it's actually not a large part of my business. I think nib, grinding and accessory pin cells to nib grinding is the overwhelming majority of my business.
I think a lot of people know that there's, there's other, other sources there. I mean, there's a lot of other sources to buy pans, but there's not a lot of sources to buy pins with custom grinds. And so that, that's kind of where the niche that I
John: [00:04:59] feel.
[00:05:00] Kirk: [00:05:02] Yeah, well, I'm not the first one, but then there's some other great ones out there.
Like the nip Smith, you know, he he's does it, uh, nims.com John motor Shaw. So there's, there's a few other competitors. So to speak that, that do this style of, uh, sales and service.
John: [00:05:19] Yep. But it's definitely as it's still a small niche.
Kirk: [00:05:23] Yeah.
John: [00:05:25] But with all of the vintage work that you've done, do you have a favorite vintage pants?
Kirk: [00:05:31] know, I came across the Waterman 12 eyedropper, which has just been one of my favorite pens, a nice vintage, flexible nib. It's not a super flexor or a wet noodle, but it has got a nice flex to it. And just, it just writes
John: [00:05:47] beautifully. That's very cool. Yeah, the Waterman's, as I understand it, that they kind of fit that same category as cross paths with Waterman where they've been bought by large [00:06:00] conglomerates.
So they're not doing any new advertising. They're not really doing a lot of new pens, so they don't really get a lot of. Talk out of the Penn community, the fountain Penn community, but there's still a lot of very solid pens coming out of those two companies. You just don't care about them.
Kirk: [00:06:19] The watermen and cross both make very high quality pens that write well as well as just about any other brand, but because of the lack of innovation and really any effort to produce new stuff that excites people that kind of put to the wayside.
John: [00:06:37] Yeah. I was kind of trashed by all the shiny yeah. Ask you about something. I had heard CYA mentioned on the Tokyo inklings podcast and he was talking about some of the really significant QA problems are quality assurance problems that platinum is having with their nibs. Have you run into similar [00:07:00] problems with Putnam NIMS?
Kirk: [00:07:01] A little bit, one thing I've found with all pen manufacturers is that there are some QA or QC issues with the nibs. To some extent, some of them are, do a little bit better job than others, but there is definitely some inconsistencies in all NABS. And I think that's, you'll see that in when somebody does a custom grind on, on a nib in particular.
That, uh, the results aren't always the same. And, and, and that is fleshed out because of the variances in the nibs themselves. So you're starting with something that's not consistent. And so then whenever you try to customize it, you can't always have the same repeatability.
John: [00:07:41] You really have to look at what you're starting with and adjust.
Yes as appropriate that's where that, that tire idea of doing the nip grinds. Isn't a, it's not a technical field as much as it is an art. Yes, very much so. [00:08:00] Very much. So. So on a, like a running scale, do you have pen manufacturers that. You've seen really good QA from versus some of the manufacturers that you've really seen more problems with.
Kirk: [00:08:15] I would say that, you know, some of the better way would be from brands like pilot, sailor, Joe nibs B does a great job. Even narwhal does a really good job nibs that you have to pay attention to typically come from Bach platinum was mentioned already. Those are the two that really stand out, but. You know, Pelican makes really great nibs, you know, but I do see variation in all of them.
I don't see any of them that are perfect. Mom block tends to have a baby's bottom. And I, and I think that that actually is related to the paper more so than, than the nib, even though, I mean, the NYP has the baby's bottom, but I think it has to do with. With the mom blogs choice of [00:09:00] paper when tuning their nibs.
John: [00:09:01] Oh, really? That's an interesting, yeah, so
Kirk: [00:09:04] that's a theory. That's not any hard facts, but, but I I've noticed that they're pretty consistent with their baby's bottom. And I noticed that there, the pads that they use in their boutique stores have a, have a lot of fibers to grab the ink. And so, so it overcomes the baby's bottom very well.
So that's my theory.
John: [00:09:26] Maybe as a recommendation, then if you've got a Mont block, you'd need to go find a paper that has a little more texture to it.
Kirk: [00:09:33] Yeah. You could definitely that's one way to do it or you could have it too now, right?
John: [00:09:37] Yeah. Well that would be the civilized way of doing it versus just a me, me write with pen, me, write with texture.
Have you seen it with the COVID crisis that we're dealing with right now? Have you seen an increase in interest in fountain pens and analog writing?
Kirk: [00:09:54] I think there is, uh, an increase. I, you know, I've been watching, I got started on Reddit and that [00:10:00] seemed like it was about 80,000 people, about four years ago.
And now it's about 140,000 people, or even more than that, I think now listed as followers on the, on the platform and just in the everyday. Just, I just seem to see it more and more often, I would definitely say that there seems to be an increase in
John: [00:10:20] interest. Okay. One of the ways I found you was actually you have your own website, round.com.
How did you work your way into having an online store? I'm guessing that this was a process.
Kirk: [00:10:32] I definitely was, you know, I started, I started tuning and pairing and immediately, and then probably about a year in, I had customers who were actively asking me to do, do stuff for them. And it just got. Kept going to a point where I, I had to make a decision that felt like I couldn't both maintain my regular job and the side business together.
And so in March of this year, I went ahead and [00:11:00] made the jump and went full-time with this. I opened my website about a year before
John: [00:11:05] that. Wow. That's pretty accelerated from the way I understand some of the other journeys, but at the same time, The grinding is a very popular thing to do with pens right now.
So I guess I'm not entirely surprised.
Kirk: [00:11:20] Yeah. I think that definitely being so specialized in something that is just not offered that widespread yet. That, that, that really helps speed the process.
John: [00:11:32] Very good. I think we've hinted at it before, but I'd like to ask with your jump over to. Being a hundred percent self-employed with Penner on.com.
What kind of construction project management did you do before?
Kirk: [00:11:48] So, before I was a, uh, project manager for a heavy highway contractor. And so we, we built a concrete roads for instance, Highway [00:12:00] 85 flats, uh, highways mainly here in Colorado, some in Wyoming. And even as far North, as North Dakota, you've dealt
John: [00:12:08] a lot with so compaction and concrete testing.
Kirk: [00:12:13] Yep. For sure. And, and angry drivers.
John: [00:12:16] Oh, um, not only that, but all the safety that you guys have to have in place. If you don't have a complete road closure.
Kirk: [00:12:26] Yes. Yeah. There's, there's a lot of safety involved and, and a lot of environmental impact and pressures to contend with them in these projects nowadays.
John: [00:12:36] So you're, are you a cloud to be out of that world?
Kirk: [00:12:41] It definitely wasn't. It wasn't a lot of fun anymore. Whenever
John: [00:12:44] I, that technical part of the world just keeps getting more and more competitive and yeah, definitely not any fun anymore. Yeah. All right. So I wanted to get back into the fountain pens. Do you have a favorite pen or a [00:13:00] favorite pen in general?
Kirk: [00:13:01] Probably my favorite fountain pen that I recently acquired, it was actually a gift to me was a platinum three seven, seven, six 70th anniversary, which is a piston filler, the only person filler platinum ever made. So that one is. Very near and dear to me right now, some of the other pens I personally like to actually try to find the unknown and unheard of, and heralded pens have a decent collection of channeling pins, which are little tiny.
Ben's typically eye droppers that a women wore around their neck.
John: [00:13:37] Well, that's an exercise in trust. Yeah,
Kirk: [00:13:40] they're only about two or three inches long there. They're typically really tiny and they're, so I enjoy fixing those up and I don't write what the much, because they are very, very small and I don't post pens, even that smaller pens.
So they're not the most friendliest to write with, but they do have some nice writing [00:14:00] ability. Others are like a European pens from like gay hall and brows and tos. I'm really a big fan of. Piston fillers and I love to restore those. So those are always on my, on my two hot list. So with
John: [00:14:16] some of the European manufacturers that you were mentioning with GEHA, are they historic, uh, vintage brands or are these still in production?
You know, some of them,
Kirk: [00:14:28] I believe are still in production. Uh, Senator is one that comes to mind that I believe is still in production. That, that has been making pins that often mimic Pelican ans gay high. I think that they've been out of business probably for at least 20 years now. I'm guessing.
John: [00:14:45] Yeah.
You've rolled those names out. I have no idea.
Kirk: [00:14:51] Yeah. Yeah, Senator I think is actually really known for being like a catalog. And nowadays, similar to that, people will [00:15:00] send you in the mail with your business name on it, you know, buy these
John: [00:15:03] so kind of a white brand or white label. Okay. You do have various paper manufacturers on your website for sale.
Do you have a favorite paper?
Kirk: [00:15:15] Yeah. You know, the paper I think I use probably the most is a Mormon and then a cacao are, are both two of my favorites. One thing that I like is it's a spiral bound notebook and there's not a ton of options for those. So cacao and Marmon both make those really nicely.
Another brand called Clyde. I use, uh, if you watch them Instagram, you'll see that I actually use a rodeo. For all of my nip writing the
John: [00:15:45] examples. Okay. Just because that's such a common paper, right.
Kirk: [00:15:50] Because it's such a common paper, so everybody has it and can kind of get an idea and it's, it's very consistent for holding the line.
I found that [00:16:00] the brands like Tomo a river with a really wedding can, can spread a little bit, even though it holds the holds a clean line. It doesn't restrain the ink as well as rodeo tends to do it. Yeah, and that, that might be some of it. So I feel like the, the rodeo gives the, the end user, the best insight into what.
What they're using though. It isn't, isn't actually my favorite paper to write right on.
John: [00:16:25] Yeah. Well, I've had, I've actually gotten a ream of the cacao printer paper on a recommendation. And it was because before I was trying to use, there was a wheat straw paper that was produced for staples and they've since discontinued that we straw paper.
So, um, I was back to looking for another fountain pen friendly. Printer paper and came across to Cleo for that. Okay.
Kirk: [00:16:52] Yeah. That's that's great. And I, yeah, cacao makes just great little notebooks and, and I liked the, they have [00:17:00] a smaller grid. I think it's a three millimeter grid. Yeah.
John: [00:17:05] Yeah. I think that was the one thing that I disliked about Tamara Mon is just how I, just, to me, how weird some of their grids are and the way that their books were formatted.
And it's all a personal style saying, I know that. Other folks out there that absolutely adore Mara men and that yeah. Their paper quality is fantastic, but I just couldn't get over some of the form factors, I guess.
Kirk: [00:17:31] Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Yeah. And then one other brand I'd like to mention as a Pika, it seems to be if you like smooth paper, I think that that's probably one of the best smooth papers out there that doesn't get a lot of mention.
John: [00:17:46] Yeah, I agree. That is, it's a great little note book. Yeah. The paper on those are pottery Smith actually. And it's an interesting thing to think about is [00:18:00] I've actually run into a problem with one of the trio. There college paths that I actually think the paper on that is actually a little too smooth because I've actually had a problem with pens skipping on that paper that normally write just fine on other kinds of paper.
I don't know if that's something that is from the paper or maybe it is. My pins are just skipping too much, but it was something that I noted that I was having a hard time with.
Kirk: [00:18:29] Hmm. I haven't used their college pad site. I'd have to look into that, but yeah, definitely. If you have a really smooth bin and sometimes smooth pan and smooth paper, just don't meet up well.
John: [00:18:43] You were mentioning your testing pads and the Rhodia one thing that always really struck me is how good your handwriting is. I'm one of these chicken scratch printers that I, I love your architect around because it makes my [00:19:00] handwriting look like I almost know what I'm doing, but your handwriting is just awesome.
Do you practice your handwriting?
Kirk: [00:19:08] I do practice. I don't practice as much as I probably should. It's a little bit difficult on the, in the videos. Cause I try to write enough content quickly and you're, you know, Instagram only gives you a one minute video. So I try to make. Make enough there that people can really see what, what the pin's going to behave for.
Like, uh, so my, my writing gets a little sloppy as I go faster for sure. But if I can take my time and write slow, I tend to write much nicer wife might like to
John: [00:19:38] disagree, but do you have a favorite, a favorite letter and a not so
Kirk: [00:19:43] favorite letter? No. My middle name is Jean and the, the letter G used to be my, one of my least favorite letters until I learned a different way to write it.
Completely. And now it's one of my favorites, which is kind of odd. And then the cursive Z, I don't [00:20:00] think I even know what that looks like.
John: [00:20:03] Yeah. And I I'm actually thinking exactly about the cursive G that I was taught and I can see why that would have been an absolute stumper for you for a long time.
It's a hard shape. And for me, especially, actually, especially after having gotten the architect grind done, my favorite letter now is the letters Y and J where they've got that swoop on the end. And those just come out so beautifully now.
Kirk: [00:20:29] Right. Yep. Yeah. Swoopy letters are, are fun.
John: [00:20:33] You do your, some of your handwriting for your samples, but do you write snail mail?
Kirk: [00:20:39] I don't actually write any snail mail, but I do whenever I, every single buyer, I try to write them a small letter in the package. So in a, in a way. Yes. And definitely, definitely not in the traditional sense. It's actually something I want to try to get into. At some point I'm a little afraid that I don't know what to write.
That's [00:21:00] probably the biggest thing stopping me from, from doing that.
John: [00:21:03] It's a big temper for everybody actually, brat daddy, just put out a, a pen attic newsletter today and. That was his top thing was I'd love to get into writing more letters, but what exactly do you write? And you had some advice in there that he put a great big, like crap stamp on top of it.
And it's like, no, that doesn't really work for me. But, uh, talking to other folks that are in the pen habit and the pen hobby. It's a lot easier to, to, to write, write a Sam L out to those folks, because you get to talk about what kind of pens you're using, what kind of ink you're using the paper using. And it's, at least to me, it's a lot easier to talk to folks who are in the hall, right?
Yeah, definitely. That's
Kirk: [00:21:51] something that you can add to it, for
John: [00:21:54] sure. Something that I was actually talking with Jen Hinchcliffe on my last [00:22:00] interview and we were talking mostly about. Male art and male arts, uh, not entirely a different genre, but it's definitely something that you're, you're putting more effort into it.
It's a little more physical and mental trying to put together that artwork and getting it out versus putting pen to paper sometimes. But, and so you don't necessarily want that, that effort to go to waste. And she, we were talking about trying to find your tribe or trying to find a group. That really appreciates what you're doing.
So you're not just sending stuff out into the void. All right. So I do have a couple of relatively standard questions that I have toward the end of the interview. And so what is the one thing you wish people knew more about nip grinding?
Kirk: [00:22:50] Probably there's a couple of things, I guess, as far as sending the pinned in.
I think one thing that is really helpful is if you clean the pen before sending it in, that makes [00:23:00] this process a lot faster and more efficient for the grinder. And then also, if you can send the complete pen, a lot of people want to send them just a nib, just a nib unit. You can most often do pretty good job with that.
You know, the, the converter, the feed, the nib, the pen, all work together as a unit and to get the best results. I feel that you, if you can send the complete and you're gonna, you're gonna end up a lot happier. What the results. And then also, if you're not happy with the results, don't be afraid to, to contact the grinder.
I know myself, Mark Baucus and genus Loreno. Um, so many of us are more than happy to, to rectify any situation that that's not ideal on your nib. Uh, nib grind is, is very personal. It's, you know, everybody has a different writing angle, a different writing style, different hands that they write with. Um, different [00:24:00] amounts of pressure and so many things.
And it's with the questionnaires that we usually have. You fill out, it covers a lot of bases, but sometimes it misses something here or there, or even in testing, you know, we, we can miss a spot and it's, you know, so don't be afraid to, to ask the nip grinder, to look it over again, or, or, or ask them about it.
Different inks have impact different papers, have an impact.
John: [00:24:29] Yeah. And I know it's really hard to do in this day and age with all the COVID shutdowns and all the Penn shows being canceled this year. But for me, I would highly recommend anybody who wants to get an in prime. To get themselves to a pen show and sit down face to face with the nip grinder and let them work on the pen while you're there.
I'd like I said, I know it's hard to do, and it's even harder to do now, but if that's a possibility for you, [00:25:00] that should be your first choice, in my opinion.
Kirk: [00:25:04] Yeah. And surprisingly at the show, it does, it is even faster for the nib grinder because you know, for me personally, I know that I obsess over every angle whenever there's probably nothing wrong with it.
And if I'd have handed it to the person across the table from me, they would have loved it. But I, you know, I spend another 10 minutes or 20 minutes obsessing over every, every detail that may not affect the end user at all. So that's definitely a benefit and probably just a small plug here. I'm actually going to be in Dallas in two weeks for the drum goals show.
So if anybody happens to be in Dallas and wants to get an in-person grind, you can find me there.
John: [00:25:46] Very good. Yeah. It's nice to see that we've had some folks finally kind of opening stuff up as I understand that they're limiting the attendance for that.
Kirk: [00:25:56] Yeah. There will be a limited attendance and all [00:26:00] kinds of COVID preparations are set up.
So try to keep this safe and clean and hopefully it's a, it's a good, a big success and a step in the right
John: [00:26:10] direction. Oh yeah. It it's, it's definitely a step in. That was the right direction, in my opinion, I'm sure I'm like a lot of other folks I'm really, really sick of this COVID isolation and how much of an impact it's had on our society.
Yeah. Yeah. It's definitely not been fun. All right. So are there any artists out there that are doing amazing work in the stationery world that stationery lovers need to know
Kirk: [00:26:37] about? Two that come to my mind right away is her name's Ava bender, right? Installed of Adams. Uh, if you've seen any of my stickers or anything that comes from me, often, her art is behind me.
John: [00:26:50] I'll have to have you send me a link for her if you've got something. Yup.
Kirk: [00:26:55] She's gestalt of Adams on Instagram and Reddit. [00:27:00] Another one is Ms. Pellerito. She goes by inking experiments. And I think naps for life, I think is her other. Her other name. And she does like swirl art with letters and words. She actually writes on these huge sheets of Tomo river.
And then sometimes she'll even intentionally damage it with water and stuff. It's just some really neat
John: [00:27:21] art. Oh, that's awesome. I had a feeling talking about the other pens and some of the other stuff that you've seen in your experience that. Talking to you about some of the artists you going to blow my mind.
You, you completely left up to my expectations because I've never heard of either of those. And I'm totally looking forward to going in and looking at their work. What is your favorite purchase stationery or not in the last six months?
Kirk: [00:27:47] I think going back to the vintage, I picked up a gay ha piston filler that just, it needed very little you're sitting for probably 40 years.
Just came to life real easy and [00:28:00] was, it's been a fun, little pen to write with. Lately. I don't really make a lot of purchases outside of stationery.
John: [00:28:08] That's fair enough
Kirk: [00:28:11] to
John: [00:28:11] list on that, just so I have it. Right. And just because it's not a friend that I've, I've heard of. And I don't know if my listeners have heard of, could you spell Geha for me it's G E H A.
And where are they? I'm guessing India.
Kirk: [00:28:29] Actually they're made in Germany.
John: [00:28:31] Very good. All right. Well, thank you very much, Kurt. That was a great interview. I got a lot of great information out of it. In case there are folks that are still looking for more information from you, where can they find you out on the internet?
Kirk: [00:28:46] So you can find firstname.lastname@example.org and then I'm probably most active currently on Instagram, which is also at Penn realm. And then you can, you can also find me on Facebook, under my actual name, Kirk spear and Penn [00:29:00] realm. Although I, I don't, I'm not as easy as to reach there and then you can find me at Reddit.
I have a page and a username, both our Penn realm or U Penn realm. You can find me at those. All right.
John: [00:29:12] Very good.