A Southpaw's Experiments with Fountain Pens

The first time Doug posted an article on fountain pens, I felt a familiar urge creep up my back. It entered my "office supply junkie" nerve and made me drool. Fountain pens are the ultimate in writing shiny. A delicate balance of elegance and environmental reuse. I recall dabbling with cartridge-style calligraphy pens back in high school and how fun it was to write with them. Thanks to Doug's article, I knew that I wanted to give them a second chance. So a few months ago, I decided to hop onto the enabler bandwagon. I started researching fountain pens and what types would work for me. At this point, you're probably wondering why I said research. You'd think I'd have just gone and ordered the best looking pen right away. However, I'm a left-hander, a southpaw, and not all fountain pens work for us. Therefore, I've written this for those left handers out there who want to give fountain pens a shot. This article sums up what I know and have experimented with.

Fountain pens are not created equally for both right and left-handers. Fountain pens work different than modern pens; they are made to drip ink across a piece of paper when a hand pulls the nib across the page. Whereas a right-hander pulls a pen across the page, lefties drag the pen as our hand moves rapidly across and occasionally into the paper (depending on how hard one presses the pen on the paper). Dragging a pen makes the ink skip out so not all the letters get formed correctly. It can also gunk up the tip of the nib with tiny paper fibers because we have scratched the pen's nib deep into the paper itself. So, not only must the pen we use be a bit more rugged but it also needs to be designed to allow the ink to flow smoothly when the nib drags across the paper. Many manufacturers make special left-handed nibs, often referred to as oblique nibs, that are like a right-hander's pen but offset so that we can write with them. However, the most popular solution I've seen is to get a pen that contains a small rounded ball on the end of the nib. This ball allows the pen to flow when writing at any angle and solves the issue of malformed characters when writing with a standard fountain pen.

In addition to general writing issues, left handers also smudge the ink on the page as we write. While this isn't really the pen's fault, it does tend to put a damper on the romance of using a fountain pen. No one wants to use a pen that's going to coat their fingers and wrist in a layer of brightly colored ink. Once again there are several ways to circumvent this problem. We can learn to write so our hand does not touch the paper as we're laying down the ink. Or we can use a Fine-width nib that lays down less ink onto the page so it dries faster. The last thing we can do, is to use a quick-drying ink, such as Private Reserve's Fast Dry Inks (scroll halfway down this page, or search the page text for "Fast Dry").

Experiments Using a Right-handed Pen
A friend of mine gifted me a Levenger True Writer Fountain Pen. It's a wonderful starter pen, comes in 3 nib varieties (i have a fine width nib), and got me excited to throw out all my other pens and convert solely to being a fountain pen snob. The pen's body is a bit wider than what I am used to and I soon discovered that I'd need to get used to holding a wider pen. I also had to retrain myself on how to hold the pen properly. I grip a pen really tight, always have. Not sure why I do this but when you use a fountain pen, gripping the barrel of the pen super tight hinders the flow of ink. It also covers a writer's bump (if you have one) in ink as well. Once I got the hang of holding the pen looser than I'd normally do, I discovered that a second modification to be made. Yep, the dreaded drag issue. It was time to figure out how to get the ink to flow correctly onto the page in a single pass.

When you first use a right-handed fountain pen, you'll notice that it takes a bit longer for the ink to flow. I found myself having to constantly redraw lines or loops on my pages. I found that it slows down the writing process so much that it gets in the way of really being able to focus on what was spilling out from my mind and landing on the page. I could've tried to slow my thought process down so I could take more time in drawing and retracing the letters and numbers; but by the time I'd get things down just right, I'd have lost half of what I wanted to put down on the page. So I tried something completely different. What I did next, may cause some of you fountain pen aficionados to squirm, so I'll understand if you need to look away. Just remember, this was all done in the name of science and finding out what the best way for a lefty to use a right-handed pen.

I flipped the pen over so that I saw the underside of the nib, rather than the pretty silver side. And then, I started writing my notes with the pen in my hand this way. Now, I know nothing about the way a nib is made, so I'm not sure if they're actually made to do this. But I found that flipping a pen over this way seemed to help lesson the amount of retracing on my writing I was doing. I have seen that over time (I wrote about a month's worth of entries this way) (ab)using the fountain pen as such does put a bend or crease in the tip of the nib. So I'm not sure if this is the best thing to do. It may not write normally after having been bent in this fashion. And honestly, I haven't attempted to write with this pen the correct way because I started using a different pen.

The Lefty Answer
Working with the True Writer made me wonder where (or if) I could find a true left-handed fountain pen. Research on fountain pens told me that lefty nibs are sometimes called "oblique" and account for the dragging motion of how our hands get the pen to spill ink across the page. A search on google showed me this site: Anything Left Handed. It's a site/shop located in the UK that sells all sorts of left-handed products. Even pens. They have a wide variety of pen styles to choose from and the prices vary from $20 USD up to $100 USD.

I settled on a Tombow cartridge pen, in black. Mostly because I liked the way the pen looked, but it seemed like a good middle range pen to start with. I didn't want something too cheep and I wasn't about to spend more than $100 on this experiment for a totally customized solution. It took a week or two to get from the UK to my home in Washington State but the wait was worth it. The pen comes with a few cartridges of ink and a some freebies (a pencil and a left-handed pad). The pen's nib is silver and seems to accept the same standard sized cartridges and converters that you can get for the True Writer. After I used up all the cartridges I had between my True Writer and the Tombow, I switched to the converter. I filled my Levenger convert up with some Smokey ink and plugged the converter into my Tombow. So far, so good-- no leaks, no messes. Smooth sailing. I do know that Anything Left Handed does sell converters separately for a modest $8 USD if your pen does not come with one. This standard size converter can be used with all the pens carried through the Anything Left Handed storefront.

The Tombow writes great. The ink flows out as if I were using one of my trusty gel pens and I have really yet to have to go over any lines as I did with the True Writer. However, I have found a few nit-picky things about this pen. First, the cap does not always want to rest on the backside of the pen. It slips off often and I have to search for it in my comfy chair. Second, you can only get the nib in a wide line width. In fact, that's the biggest issue I have with any lefty fountain pen; I have yet to really find a manufacturer that produces a fine or very fine line width. If anyone knows of any pen manufacturers who make lefty pen nibs in fine to very fine widths, please let me know! I even brought up the lack of lefty pen nibs to Levenger, so who knows, maybe they'll start producing a lefty nib soon.

Lefties have the right to enjoy fountain pens just as our right-handed brethren. However, it takes time, a little bit of research and a lot of experimentation, to discover which pen and nib you'll want to covet for the rest of your life. It's my hope that I've been able to help out some of you southpaws who have, like me, drooled over the plethora of fountain pens and reviews and resources out on the internet these days but were afraid to jump into the mix. Here's your permission to go for it. Start slow and cheep. Get yourself a decent medium nib pen and start writing. Figure out what works for you and then, when you're ready, contact your favorite fountain pen manufacturers to see if they make left handed nibs. Feel free to share your results here in the comments or post over in the forum thread that has been going on for a few months.

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It's the nib

You can have the nib of most any fountain pen custom-ground to make it easier for one of us southpaws to use. The place I use, and have been very pleased with, is

  • www.pendemonium.com

The sell fountain pens (and associated office p0rn :-), and will custom-grind the nib of any pen you purchase as you want it. They also do custom-grinding of your pens - ship 'em the pen, and you get it back in better shape than it was.

A fellow fountain-pen southpaw

Left handed fountain pens

I've been using a left handed calligraphy pen for years - what's amusing is that right-handed people can't get a single line out of it (!) BTW, you can buy a range of left handed pens here: http://www.thelefthandedsite.com/articles/pens_anything_left...

I Only Know From Watching

My Dad, a lefty, used a fountain pen for all his writing. I'm sure he must have used a ballpoint sometimes, but all his letters, office work and even lists were done in FP. The pen was in a pocket next to his glasses case. Because of when he was born, 1910's, he was taught to write.. not over the top, and with a fountain pen. The pen he used for more than 35 years was a Sheaffer Snorkel with a Fine nib (and good old Sheaffer Blue-Black ink). I doubt he had any special grinding as we couldn't afford anything like that. He just used it and it quickly conformed to his hand/writing. You can still get the older snorkels, many hardly used for $30-35, but most need the ink sac replaced. Or you can get a daily user, rebuilt from a restorer for $65-90. The silver nib writes as well as the gold, the tipping where you write is the same material, and the pen is cheaper.

Most pens will write turned over, the writing is finer, but your pen should write upright just was well.

Keep your new relaxed grip on your pen. It will allow your hand to move easier and write faster. Many people are coming back to FPs as they are easier to hold than the tight grip we put on a ballpoint or gel pen.

Once you get several pens... you can fill them with different colored ink. What visual fun.

You don't always need a special FP.

I'm a lefty, and I use regular fountain pens with no problems. I just hold my hand beneath the line I'm writing on so the ink doesn't smear. I started writing with cheap calligraphy pens as a kid, and figured out how to hold my hand so the ink didn't get on it. The same hand position works for FPs, too.

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Lefties & fountain pens

I'm skeptical that we lefties need specially-conformed pens. I have an older standard Waterman that works fine for me, and for daily use, disposable Varsity fountain pens are a guilty pleasure. I had similar problems with ink flow on the Levenger: I think it's basicaly a crummy pen, made more for signing checks than functional writing.

I'm left handed, have over

I'm left handed, have over 60 fountain pens, modern and vintage, and have no trouble writing with any of them. I have only encountered a couple of ink that didn't dry quickly enough to prevent smearing. I know of plenty of other left handed fountain pen users who would agree with me

All fountain pen nibs

All fountain pen nibs designed for normal writing contain the ball of material—usually iridium for it's hardness—at the end. The only nibs that don't have one are calligraphy nibs.


I'm also a leftie, but my first ink pen was a fountain pen back in the early 60's, when I was in the 4th grade. My only problem was that the ink didn't dry fast enough and wound up smeared up my arm and all over my white uniform sleeves! Use of an old fashioned ink blotter helps. I find that if I avoid using too much pressure on the pen as I write (which I tend to do) I can write quite well with any fountain pen. I am a backhanded slant underline writer, a technique that I developed in self defense after turning in one too many smeary essays to perfectionistic nuns.
Now that I'm in my middle age (ahem), I am quite enjoying buying and using any pen that I like, without going through the hassle of getting specially ground nibs. I do find however, that my writing is clearest when using an italic or broad nib.
I recently purchased a Japanese calligraphy fountain pen on Ebay, and it is the best pen that I've ever used. It has a nib that at first appeared to be damaged because of the curled tip, but once I figured out the pictures (I don't read Japanese), I filled it and have loved it. Needless to say this has further fueled my pen obsession.

The real technique for

The real technique for southpaws in writing with a fountain pen or any other pen is to orientate the paper correctly. If your writing over the top a.k.a pushing up hill or hooking it's an indication that the page is orientated for a right hander.

I always check by ensuring that the top left hand side of the page is higher than the right. Thus my hand and pen fall under the line [allowing me to writing down hill] plus I avoid the issue of ink on sleeve etc.

The trouble here comes when

The trouble here comes when you haven't any room to turn the paper that way. It's ideal for a right-hander to give themselves space while writing as well, but it isn't quite as crucial for their ability to form letters properly. When there isn't room, it's much more uncomfortable for us, unfortunately!

I'm personally just

I'm personally just wondering if there is any way that a lefty in this world can use everyday products without having to fork out a bundle of cash in the process, or risk damaging them in a way no righty every would, and needing to replace them (again, forking out a ton of cash in the long run)... I know my family personally doesn't have a problem that I'm left-handed, but is continuously bothered by my requests for specialized (and hard-to-find) products, though I don't ask for much, since they seem completely uneccessary. And then there's the issue of not even knowing whether they would fully fix anything, or whether I would use it enough to be worth the money... I really just wish more stores would sell the products. Or more companies would produce them, readily available like everybody else's products...

The irony is that I do a lot of things with my right hand anyway...

Life isn't fair

I used to be upset by this. Like the desks at school that were designed for right-handed people, doors with handles on the wrong side, scissors, rulers that are hard for us to use. Coffee cups with logos or other decorations on just one side face the wrong way for us. Watches aren't designed to be worn on the left wrist. I still get the letters "b" and "d" confused. And if "q" were more common I'd confuse it with "g." And I still get left and right confused all the time. Maybe that's not so surprising since I have to deal with a world that was designed by righties. I tell myself that right-handed people are like us, but backwards, but sometimes I feel that they might be space aliens, since there are so many differences.

After so many years maybe I've made little adjustments I'm not even aware of; maybe with these difficulties I should be surprised my brain isn't more messed up. Perhaps when you're younger you're still working out your adaptations to a world that is backwards in some ways. But have patience and don't get annoyed with yourself or with the world -- it will get easier.

It's best to try to deal with the normal things you find around you, like regular rulers and scissors. You will likely work out your own ways of using them. The annoyance of keeping special scissors and other products on hand will outweigh the annoyance of learning to use the righty products. With luck you'll be able to deal with it all. I'm sure there are people who never learn to use righty tools, but let's hope you manage it. I know that whenever I get really fond of anything, like a particular brand of pencil or calculator or whatever, it gets lost or broken and then I find that it's gone out of production so I can't replace it. So overall it's better not to get too attached to a particular kind of tool and just try to adjust to the good old standard ones.

Sorry to go on and on, but your comment really touched a nerve! That's my take on the problem. It is a problem, and one that righties don't realize is so annoying. I'm sure you'll work it out and find a way to deal with things. Good luck!

Another leftie!

I am also left-handed and I haven't really found any problems with writing with a fountain pen, my ultimate favourite is a Waterman Phileas that I bought off Ebay. My next favourite is a Parker 51. I have found that really cheap ones are more difficult to write with and a bit 'scratchy'. I am an 'under' writer so I don't have the smearing ink problem. I also write with a back slant too. I love calligraphy writing but it feels so alien and the letters don't form properly with the pen nib being at the wrong angle, I've tried to adapt but it doesn't work. I did get a book on left handed calligraphy and compared to 'normal' calligraphy, it's rubbish!! so now I have taught myself to write right handed when doing calligraphy.

I have adapted to most things right handed, I use scissors right handed for example. I peel potatoes with my right hand but then have to swap to my left hand to chip them - something that always amuses my hubby!

I have bought things from that lefthanded place you mentioned. I bought myself a ruler because I have always wondered what it would be like to use a ruler the 'right' way round - I can't use it! To me it is natural that 30 to 24cm would be 6cm.....I found it really difficult to see it the other way round!

I've also got a left handed chequebook - and I constantly open it upside down!

My son is also left handed but in this day and age it is considered to be 'against his human rights' to make/show him how to use right handed everyday implements, like scissors. Now he has to have his own 'special' scissors that no-one else can use - including me! I don't really agree with it, allowances like that shouldn't be made when society really is a right handed one. Unless he carries his own, he's going to struggle cutting something in the real world!!

I agree...to a point

with your comments on lefties fitting in with society. It wouldn't be fun to have to carry your own tools everywhere. But the old way was somewhat like torture.

When I came through the public school system they had all kinds of studies "proving" that lefties are mentally "off" and close to insanity. I remember hearing a lot that a majority of murders and psychopaths are left-handed. Therefore, the thing I remember most about 2nd Grade is being made to sit by myself for an hour every day, in a desk facing the corner, to write with my right hand. The teacher decorated my papers with little frowny stamps because I didn't do it neatly enough. Since sitting in the corner was normally reserved for those who were in trouble for something, and since the rest of the class went on with something else, while I was in my lonely corner facing the wall, it caused my classmates to see me as weird and made many problems for me. By the way, it didn't work--I never learned to write right-handed, but I DID start having migraines that year.

When I had my daughter, it was apparent practically from birth that she was a leftie. I determined that she should be allowed to use whichever hand she used naturally for each task. It turns out that she writes leftie and does most everything else rightie. She started out preferring left-handed scissors, but didn't like the ugly grips they had (so they could easily be distinguished in a classroom box of many pairs). She decided to try it the other way so she could just pick any pair and the rest is history. I suspect many left-handed childeren would do this with activities other than writing if they weren't pushed one way or the other.

Wow, writing all this was somewhat cathartic. Thanks for listening! I wonder if someone with bad experiences such as I had started all this about their human rights, which is probably a classic example of society swinging from one bad extreme to the other bad extreme (and aren't extremes USUALLY bad?).

OMG! The dark ages aren't

OMG! The dark ages aren't so long gone, are they? It's bad enough to have to deal with a backwards world without people doing things like that to you. I wonder if those teachers had ever tried writing with their left hands to see how hard it is, or if they had left-handed kids how they would have dealt with it.

Really, when you think about it, I wonder if we do things nowadays that we think are for someone's best interests that are that awful, that we don't realize are so bad? It makes me wonder.

Anyway, I'm glad you came through and survived it. I agree that there are probably plenty of people who need the left-handed things, and am glad they're out there for them.

Left-Hand Fountain Pens

I'm left handed and I think writing in Roman characters (like we do) is right handed since it goes from left to right. I used to write backwards and from right to left when I was just learning writing because my hand would smudge the ink etc. I used a fountain pen when I was, um, seven...I went home and I was an absolute mess! LOL!

I do some calligraphy and I use those traditional speedballs and nibs. Although I do not write *BACKWARDS*, I do write from right to left again to avoid smudging the ink. As well as to 'pull' the nib and not 'push' it.

Lefties can use regular fountain pens

Although some fountain pens may be marketed as "left-handed fountain pens", there are more myth than reality. Lefties can use garden variety fountain pens just fine, and do not require a special left-handed model. Being both left handed and a fountain pen user, I speak from experience. If anyone wants more information about fountain pens, I highly recommend The Fountain Pen Network forum (www.fountainpennetwork.com). The lefties there must number in the hundreds, if not the thousands, and are very forthcoming with helpful advice.

maybe you'll fall deeper in love with your chosen pen...?

just a quick note from a fellow (er, gal) lefty...

when discussing the glorious fountain pen you ended up with, you noted that its cap doesn't stay lodged on the end of the pen while you write, which is a minor pet peeve of yours...

i read somewhere recently that fountain pens aren't made to bear the weight of the cap while in the act of writing. the added weight of a cap on the end slows down the liveliness of a fountain pen's inking style and asks the writer to focus overmuch on forming letters because of the shifting weight. rather, the pen's cap is to be splayed out somewhere nearby as your pen dances across the page at hand.

go lefties!!!