Going inside the Wing Sung 601 fountain pen.

Since buying this pen two years ago, it has stayed inked in my pen cup. There seemed no point in taking it out of service. It has been paired with Pilot Iroshizuku Tsuki-yo ink. It is always ready and never skips or hard-starts. It does not seem to lose any ink to evaporation. With its large ink capacity and light use, it can easily stay inked for six months or more.

The hooded nib of the Wing Sung 601, in Lake Blue.

Yesterday, on finding it almost empty I decided to give it a clean. As it had been so long since since the last clean, I had forgotten the detail of how to do it, although I had a recollection of there being a few points to bear in mind. I had to recall these as I went along. So while the sequence is now fresh, it seems a good time to describe the process. Actually I found it very satisfying.

The Wing Sung 601 in nine pieces.

The Wing Sung 601 is a Chinese homage to the classic but long- discontinued Parker 51 vacumatic but with a few differences such as a stainless steel nib, ink windows and a price tag (in this instance) of around £7.50. It came with a small container of silicone grease, (the container being based, confusingly, on a cartridge- converter which has no place in this pen). I prefer to use a thicker silicone grease, which I purchased from a diving shop. My pen did not come with the necessary wrench to unscrew the plunger, but I received one later with the Wing Sung 601A and it also fits the 601.

Here are the steps to disassemble and reassemble this pen:-

1. Remove the cap…

2. Unscrew the front shell, to expose the ink collector, nib and feed. Put the metal cap-retaining ring aside safely. It does not matter which way round it goes back.

Under the hood.

3. Pull the ink collector out from the barrel. The nib and feed are still inside the ink collector, with a clear plastic breather tube at the back.

Shell, ink collector, nib and feed.

4. Grip the tiny, tubular nib (and the black plastic feed inside) firmly and pull them out of the ink collector. They might be tight and difficult to grip. Be careful not to distort the nib or damage the ink collector. Note: to reduce risk of damage, this stage could be skipped and the assembled nib, feed and ink collector instead be placed in water to soak.

Tiny tubular nib.

5. Now, for the other end: unscrew the blind cap.

6. Use the wrench to unscrew the plunger mechanism and withdraw it from the barrel, which can then be rinsed. Mine has the soft rubber diaphragm but I have a later version too with a hard plunger instead.

Using the wrench to unscrew the plunger mechanism.

When the parts have been rinsed and it is time to reassemble the pen, proceed as follows:-

7. Replace the black plastic feed (and breather tube) back inside the tubular nib, checking that it is centred symmetrically under the nib. It may be loose, until the nib goes back in the ink collector.

8. Apply some silicone grease to the barrel threads if desired and then replace the metal ring. But before pushing the ink collector back into the barrel, first screw on the front shell, to see where the protruding lip (for the hooded nib) finishes up: this is then the top, or 12 o’clock position. Then, keeping the barrel with the 12 c’clock position at the top, remove the shell again and then push the ink collector back into the barrel, with the nib in line with your 12 o’clock position.

9. Now screw the shell back on, over the ink collector. Hopefully, the lip will now line up over the hooded nib. If it is not quite right, just make a mental note of which way to make the adjustment; remove the shell, turn the ink collector a little to one side or the other as necessary and replace shell. Repeat until symmetrical.

10. Replace plunger. First apply a little silicone grease to the threads if you wish. Tighten with wrench but avoid over tightening.

11. Cap pen and you are done.

In between washing the pen parts I took the photos for this post. It was only on looking closely at these after refilling, that I noticed the gap all along one side of the ink collector. I feared that I had damaged it, perhaps by squeezing too hard to pull out the nib. However, I checked my other model 601, (a demonstrator version and so I did not even need to remove the section). I could see the same gap all the way down the ink collector and was relieved that it is meant to be like this and not some damage of my doing.

Oh no! Did I cause that split? No, I think it is meant to be like that.

I have inked my pen up once again with Tsuki-yo. I expect it to keep writing until Christmas. It is a great little pen. It has proved to be a very reliable writer and exceptionally good value, especially once you include the pleasure of cleaning it.

Filling is not required very often.

Another look at the Wing Sung 601 fountain pen.

Here is another pen that I bought while on holiday in Italy. Except that this one was bought on ebay and has just arrived in the post, four weeks later.

“What were you thinking, ordering pens online while away on holiday?” you might ask. I had taken a new Wing Sung 601 demonstrator with me on the trip, and was delighted with it but still had the urge to have one in a colour seen on a friend’s Instagram post (@jonr1971). I think it is called Lake Blue although the names of the colour descriptions can be a bit puzzling.

Appearance and Design.

This is the Wing Sung model that looks very much like the well loved, vintage Parker 51, with a slip-on metal cap with arrow pocket clip and the distinctive hooded nib, but in stainless steel rather than gold.  I will not argue the rights or wrongs of this being a Chinese version of a classic Parker pen. It does not claim to be a Parker and is named Wing Sung (written in Chinese characters) 601 on the front of the cap band, with “Made in China” at the back. Unlike the Parker, it has six ink windows in the barrel, which are hidden when the pen is capped.

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Wing Sung 601 vacumatic fountain pen.

Construction and Quality.

I was very impressed with my first, demonstrator version. The materials and finish all seemed commendable. I recall that the nib needed just a slight tweak to align the tines for smooth writing. On my new one, again the materials and finish all seemed to be to a good standard. There was no issue with the tines being uneven, but the nib was not quite symmetrical with the black plastic feed. As the nib is hooded, this is barely noticeable unless you look closely (which I did).  It does not seem to impair the ink flow, but it would be nice to remove the nib and line it up centered around the feed.

Under the blind cap, you have a metal plunger rod, to operate the vacumatic filling system. At the foot of this rod you have a black, hexagonal nut, which you may unscrew to remove the whole filler unit. The nut looks like black metal but I have heard that it is plastic and therefore gets chewed up and deformed if you use a metal wrench on it. Best to use plastic on plastic. I have not tried removing it yet.

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Blind cap unscrewed to reveal metal push-button plunger for the vacumatic filler unit.

Weight and Dimensions.

I would call this a medium-sized pen and fairly light. Closed, it measures about 138mm. Uncapped, it is about 127mm long, which many would find long enough to use unposted. However, I prefer the look, feel and weight of the pen with the metal cap posted, which increases the length to 147mm. I do not find it to be unbalanced as the cap posts deeply and securely and I then grip the pen a little higher up.

Uncapped the pen weighs around about 12.5 grams (including some ink in mine). The cap alone weighs 7.5 grams and so capped, or posted the total is 20 grams, which is still on the light side.

Nib and Performance.

The nib is a Fine, or possibly Extra Fine. I could not see any marking on the visible part of the nib. Being so small, and with only about 2mm of nib protruding under the shell, it is firm and does not provide any significant line variation. Like a rollerball, it does not give much character to your writing. But on both of mine, the ink flow has been good, giving sufficient lubrication to the nib to allow for effortless writing. Being a Fine nib, it does not have the smoothness of a generously tipped broad nib but it is smooth and also has sufficient “tooth” to enable the pen to cope with ease on smooth papers without any skipping. You might find that you need to rotate the pen a little to find the “sweet spot” and with a hooded nib, it is not so easy to see how your pen is rotated, when you are writing. It helps to post the cap with the arrow clip in line with the nib to see the alignment of nib to paper in the writing position and make adjustments as necessary.

I did test my first nib with Conway Stewart Tavy, blue-black ink by Diamine and was pleased to find that it wrote well in all directions, never skipping and needing no pressure. I had the same success with Waterman Mysterious Blue in my latest pen.

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No skips or hard starts. Waterman Mysterious Blue on smooth Paperchase note book paper.

Filling System and Maintenance.

This is a vacumatic filler; you immerse the nib in ink, press and release the spring-loaded button a few times, expelling air and allowing ink to be drawn into the reservoir. In the demonstrator version you can observe this fascinating process, with the ink level rising a little higher in the reservoir with each press of the button.  “I pressed down down down and the ink went higher” as Johnny Cash might have sung. In the non-demonstrators, it is not so spectacular but you can easily check that you have a good fill using the ink windows.

As for maintenance, the pen is not easy to flush. I experimented first with water and found that pressing the button repeatedly does not expel all the water from the pen. If this were ink, and you were changing colours, you could contaminate a bottle of ink with the ink residue from the pen. So, to clean the pen you therefore need to unscrew the shell, pull out the nib and ink collector unit (which is friction fit) from the barrel and then rinse out any residue.

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Collector, pulled from the barrel. Before you push it back in, you need to mark on the barrel, where the protruding lip of the shell will finish up once screwed back on, and then position the collector so that the nib is in line with this point.

I have not yet found a way to separate the metal nib from the collector unit. I tried pulling it out but it would not budge and I was wary of distorting either the nib or the fins on the collector and so suspended my efforts. The little nib is just too tiny to get a hold of, even with “grippy material”.

When pushing  the collector back into the barrel, it is necessary to line it up so that, when the shell is screwed back on fully, the protruding lip of the shell will end up  precisely in line with the nib. This can be done by marking on the barrel, the position where the nib needs to be, or just by holding the barrel horizontal in one hand imagining that the top is the 12 o’clock position. You soon find out if you have got it wrong;  if the nib is not in the right place, look at which direction it needs to be moved and by roughly what distance. Repeat as necessary.

A little silicone grease on the plastic threads is a good idea. One of my 601’s actually came with a little container of grease and so you are encouraged to disassemble and maintain your pen.

Cost and Value.

These can be found new on ebay for prices of around £10, and so come in well under the price of a Lamy Safari, currently about £17.00 here in the UK. That is excellent value for a vacumatic filler fountain pen.

Conclusion.

I enjoyed my first 601 sufficiently to want to buy another. The familiar design is obviously well-known and loved. It is great that these are now available with a Vacumatic filling system. The fine nib combined with the large ink capacity, mean that you can write for ages on one fill. Whether you chose the demonstrator or ink windows version you can see when you are getting low on ink and top up accordingly.

It is probably best not to change ink colours too frequently unless you are prepared to disassemble the pen for cleaning first. Another option is to decant some ink into a receptacle with a pipette or syringe and to fill from there, rather than from a bottle to avoid the risk of contaminating the rest of the bottle.

As a smart, classic and reliable pen, light enough to carry in a shirt pocket, I can see how it can become the daily writer of choice. This is a pen that you will want to show people.

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The Wing Sung 601 would grace any table. Seen here on a train.

Travelling with ink: pen shopping in Lake Garda.

Once again it has been holiday time and an opportunity to visit a beautiful part of the world, that is northern Italy. My wife and I and mother-in-law were to spend a week at Garda Town, on the eastern side of Lake Garda (or Lago di Garda).

My forward planning had consisted of chosing what pens to bring for journaling and deciding upon a Wing Sung 601 (clear demonstrator, vacumatic filler), plus a Kaweco Dia 2 and a Perkeo. Rather than bring bottled ink this time I brought some cartridges for the Kawecos. I also packed a WH Smith exercise book. However, at the last minute, at Stanstead airport, I spotted a soft cover Leuchtturm plain paper journal with elastic loop closure. I stuffed it in my bag and took to the skies feeling like an Ernest Hemingway.

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Wing Sung 601, vac filler.

I had also googled “pen shop Verona” and jotted down the name of a shop on the via Mazzini called Manella, to check out when we got there.

Lake Garda, set among the spectacular backdrop of the Dolomites, has a perimeter of 158km (98 miles). Early in our holiday, we joined a coach tour to go all the way round, visiting four of the lakeside towns, Sirmione, Limone, Riva and Malcesine.

Sirmione is located at the tip of a narrow peninsula, on the southern banks of the lake, and famed for its thermal baths, a medieval castle and the remains of a Roman villa. We arrived via a motor launch for the short journey to the tip of the peninsula and cruised into the castle, which was very cool. Busy with tourists on this hot June day, I did stumble across a stationery shop with some attractive fountain pens in the window and went to investigate. I did not recognise any of the brands on display but was drawn to a red resin pen with shiny chrome lattice work around the cap, sold with a converter and a bottle of black ink and one standard cartridge. The brand was La Kaligrafica and at under 30 euros and with a nice steel nib it seemed like a good buy.

Later, inking the pen up with the supplied cartridge, I was quite content with the nib (the ubiquitous “Iridium point, Germany”) but found that the pen was a little short to use unposted. It was clearly designed to have the cap posted, where it sits flush with the barrel. But the problems were (a) the metal furniture on the cap makes the pen a bit top heavy and (b) the cap does not grip securely on the barrel and very easily works loose as you write, which is very irritating. There is a risk of it falling onto a hard floor and breaking or disappearing over a balcony. I tried wedging a scrap of paper under the cap but this did not seem to help. I think this pen is destined for someone with smaller hands who will not need to post the cap.

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La Kaligrafica, Italian cartridge-converter fountain pen.

We travelled up the west side of the lake by coach, passing through many tunnels, built in the 1930s by Mussolini. Lunch was at another pretty town, Limone, before taking a ferry up to Riva on the northern bank, from where there were marvellous views down the lake. Having some free time to explore Riva, I found another stationery shop, selling leather bound journals, ornate glass handled dip pens (with steel nibs) for calligraphy or for display and a few inexpensive Italian fountain pens geared for the tourist trade at between 20 to 30 euros. I was able to resist these.

The final visit on the lake tour was Malcesine on the eastern side, with another castle and also boasting a cable car to the top of Mount Baldo. The cable car gondola is round and actually revolves very slowly as it ascends. (We returned to do the cable car trip another day).

The lake tour was a very good start to our holiday, giving a good introduction and a taster, to plan trips by ferry during the rest of the week.

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Typical scene on Lake Garda

Later in the week we took a bus to Verona which is only an hour away. The bus terminates in the centre of the city right next to the impressive arena, a Roman amphitheatre, still used as a venue for opera. The scenery for a performance of Aida was laid out in the square.

We walked down the via Mazzini, the pedestrian shopping street which takes you from the arena to the piazza delle Erbe, a beautiful square with a bustling market.

I found the Manella pen shop, under a Pelikan sign! Unfortunately it was closed so I was resigned to missing it this time. I had to content myself with pressing my nose up to the windows and taking a few photos (marred by reflections from the busy street) of the displays of Pelikans, Auroras, Delta, Montegrappa and other delights.

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Manella, fountain pen shop, Via Mazzini 5, Verona.

However, after spending some time exploring Verona, including a visit to the casa di Giuletta (the “house” of Shakespeare’s Juliet) and the impressive Cathedral, we passed the pen shop again and this time it was open! The very cordial proprietor told me that this shop had been here since 1940 and run by his father before him. On telling him that I was keen on fountain pens he kept getting things out to show me,such as a Montegrappa Fortuna although I had to tell him that I had one already.

I was interested to try an Aurora, not having owned one and he showed me the Aurora Ipsilon Deluxe, in red resin with a gold nib. However, he had some more colours and models in his other, larger shop, literally just around the corner and together we walked around to look at some more pens.

There he also had an Aurora Ipsilon Lacca, the metal lacquer version, in a new dark blue and black finish and also with a gold nib, which looked to be rhodium plated with matching furniture. This I chose as my souvenir from Verona. Oh, and I spotted a display of “Pelikano Up” pens and one of those went home with me as well.

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Aurora Ipsilon Lacca.

Back in London, I filled the Aurora, rather unimaginatively with Aurora blue. It is a smallish pen but weighs a solid 31.5g. It is short when uncapped, at around 118mm, but the cap posts well with a secure click.

My Fine nib version wrote well. But the nib is small and firm without much give. I was also a bit troubled by what looked like rows of tiny mysterious scratches right across the mid part of the nib, from edge to edge, although only visible with a loupe. Also the nib was not precisely centred over the feed and I have not yet figured out how to remove the nib and line it up more symmetrically. However neither of these issues affects writing performance.

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Detail of the Fine, 14k gold nib, Aurora Ipsilon Lacca.

I must confess, that I did find the pen a bit bland, particularly matched with royal blue ink. I then flushed it and refilled it with Monteverde Napa Burgundy, which has injected some more life into it. I think it is a decent pen but on reflection, I enjoyed the buying experience more than the pen itself. Perhaps it is just that I am “penned out” at the moment and spoilt from a surfeit of other very satisfying aquisitions in recent weeks. I had been happier with the Montegrappa Fortuna and Pineider Avatar pens bought earlier this year, two Italian pens which both have steel nibs.

Finally, the modest Wing Sung 601 served me well on the trip, as did the Leuchtturm journal. After about 35 pages the Wing Sung (with its fine nib) still had half a fill of ink remaining and I had no need of my two Kawecos or spare cartridges which came to Italy for the ride.

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View of Lake Garda, from Riva on the north bank.

Inky Pursuits: a recent round-up.

Time for another episode of Inky Pursuits, an occasional series of round-ups of my fountain pen related news. I have had an eventful week pen-wise, including the arrival of five more fountain pens.

Last weekend, I had the task of registering a marriage in our local church in Golders Green, at which I am the “Authorised Person” for such duties. This means having a fountain pen inked with the regulation Registrar’s Blue Black iron gall ink from ESS (Ecclesiastical Stationery Supplies). I chose to use my TWSBI Classic in white with medium nib to complete the register and for the signing. The ink comes in 110 ml bottles and now needs to be used up within about 18 months of first opening, before it starts to lose its properties of darkening to a rich near black shade.

On Tuesday, I had the excitement of a New Pen Day, with the arrival of a Wing Sung 601 that I had ordered from China a couple of weeks earlier. This is the one that is based upon the Parker 51, with a hooded nib (although in stainless steel) with a stainless steel cap, but with a clear demonstrator body and section and a vacumatic filling system. There is a metal filling button, visible under the blind cap.

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Wing Sung 601, clear demonstrator, vacumatic. View from the 32nd floor of the Shard, London.

I am embarrassed to admit that I was stumped at first, on unboxing the pen, by something which looked like a red plastic converter, but which was filled with a clear liquid. Where does this go? Is it part of the vacumatic filling mechanism? No, it turned out to be a useful container of silicone grease for when you come to disassemble and clean the pen.

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The Wing Sung 601 partly disassembled. Oh no, where does the red bit go? (It is a container of silicone grease, confusingly supplied in a converter that a vac filler does not need).

I played around with the pen at first, examining the nib under a loupe. The nib needed a little help to align the tines but this was fairly easily remedied, the only challenge being that the accessible part of nib is so tiny to hold. I then tried disassembling the section and learned that, when screwing it back on again, you need to remember to keep the nib so that it lines up, centred under the long lip of the section.

On inking the pen for the first time, I was surprised to see just how quick and efficient the filling system is. You just immerse the nib in the ink, give the button a few presses and the demonstrator body enables you to watch ink come rushing into the barrel. With each press of the button, the ink level rises higher. I gave it about seven presses by which time I had a really good fill, with far less air space remaining than I have ever achieved with a TWSBI Vac 700 (although I know that there is a technique for that, if you are feeling brave).

The pen then wrote pretty well. I was very pleasantly surprised. I had filled it with Conway Stewart Tavy, by Diamine (my go-to blue black ink) and was delighted with the wet, fine line that it produced. No skips or hard starts. I squiggled in all directions and was unable to get it to miss a beat. The nib is pleasantly feedbacky and copes well with smooth papers. It is firm though, and does not give any significant line width variation. But I love the look and feel of the pen and am really pleased with it. It is amazingly good value.

Later this week I met up for a coffee with one of the readers of my blog, who brought along a wonderful selection of his fountain pens to show me, gathered over years of travel to Germany, Singapore, Japan and other places. Now preparing to move to Australia in a few months and wishing to pass on some of the pens that he no longer uses regularly, he had been giving many away to pen enthusiasts.  He offered me three of his Pilots and very generously, gave me a Custom 74, a Custom Heritage 92 and a third pen that I did not know, called the Pilot Elite, – a stylish pocket pen that becomes full length when posted and has an elegant 18k gold nib.

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Pilot Custom 74, Pilot Custom Heritage 92 and a Pilot Elite pocket pen.

You can imagine my delight! I had never owned any of these models before, although I have long been interested in the C74 and CH92. Both had medium 14k gold nibs and were inked with Pilot Iroshizuku tsuki-yo, a lovely blue black. I have been much enjoying them both all weekend, slightly more so the CH92 as I prefer the shape and the nib is particularly wonderful. Meanwhile I have flushed the Elite and am taking a pause to enjoy pondering what ink to try in it!

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My friend also gave me the bottle of tsuki-yo plus a bottle of Diamine Sargasso Sea, a Schneider Rave XB retractable ball point pen and a few interesting Lamy fineliners which I had never seen in this country.

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Everything you could ask for in a nib. The Pilot Custom Heritage 92, 14 gold, medium, and rhodium plated

Finally, as if that was not enough fountain pen action for one week, I happened to find the Lamy Safari All Black, 2018 special edition today, in a blister pack with a box of black cartridges. I have been looking out for one in our local stationery shops ever since about February and despite searching in all the usual places, this was the first one that I had actually seen in the wild. It came with a medium nib, in black. I plan to keep it for use as a black ink pen, which is always useful to have. I do like the black-everything look, including the textured matte black body and black clip. Even the threads are jet black. A good stealthy pen to use in jungle warfare. Or in my office.

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My current Safari and AL-Star stash. The new Safari All Black is ninth from the left.