Tinkering with the Wing Sung 601A fountain pen.

The moral of today’s tale is that things can go wrong quite quickly when you try to improve a fountain pen nib, if you are not an experienced nibmeister.

I am a fan of Chinese fountain pens. I was thrilled when I first discovered the Wing Sung 601, a pen in the classic style of the Parker 51 but with a steel nib and costing just a few pounds. Not long after that, in December 2018 I learned that there was a model 601A, similar on the outside but featuring a conical nib, in the style of some vintage Sheaffers. I simply had to try it and ordered three of these online.

A pair of Wing Sung 601A fountain pens.

Last month, I got one of these out to ink up again. Lately I have been copying the book “Meditations”, by Marcus Aurelius, with fountain pens, in a slow and laborious print style like a type face, or Times New Roman font. This was not an original idea but inspired by Kimberly, of @allthehobbies on Instagram after seeing her updates of attractive page spreads written with a different pen and ink combo each time.

Some days, it can be soothing to unwind with a fountain pen and ink and to write someone else’s words without having to think too much. And so it was in such a state of mind that I found myself late yesterday evening, using a Wing Sung 601A, inked with the lovely Graf von Faber-Castell Garnet Red.

Unfortunately, this combo with its fine nib was not the best of matches for my notebook paper and after a couple of paragraphs, I put the pen down and reached for the brass shims.

It is simple enough to floss the nib a few times with the thinnest grade and then examine it again with a loupe. I was hoping to open up the tine gap just enough to increase ink flow and lubrication and to get a slightly wider line in the process.

The steel nib proved quite stubborn to adjust. I shifted up a grade with my brass shims, poking a corner into the breather hole and drawing it down to the tip a few times. When this did not seem to be making much impression, I lowered a blade into the tine gap to wriggle gently from side to side, with a confidence born of recent success with my Aurora 88.

However, when I next examined the Wing Sung’s conical nib, the tines had separated rather too much and the pen looked unlikely to write at all. A Wing Sung is not an expensive pen but I was determined to fix it and set about trying to push the tines back together again.

“It was the best of tines, it was the worst of tines.”

This, it turns out, is harder than separating them. Even if you can push them back together, hurting your thumbs and fingers in the process, the tines simply spring back again when you let go.

By this time a fair bit of Garnet Red had transferred to my fingers and it seemed sensible to flush the pen. Also I thought that it would be easier to adjust the nib if I could detach it from the pen.

I was not sure how to disassemble the nib section on this pen. I tried pulling the nib off but instead, just the feed and breather tube came out. Then, with the feed removed, I was pleased to find that the conical nib simply unscrews from the section.

At the other end of the pen, I used the supplied Wing Sung wrench to unscrew the plunger and remove it, then unscrewed the barrel so that it could be flushed through.

With nib and feed removed. Nib is threaded.

Then with the pen cleaned and dried and in bits, I looked again at the nib with the loupe. The tines were still woefully far apart and the pen did not look usable.

I found that one way to try to narrow the tine gap, was to push one tine both upwards and across, so that there was bit more space for it to move before springing back – and then repeating with the other tine. However my finger tip efforts were not having much effect.

I then remembered SBRE Brown’s tip of bending the tines downwards against a surface. This did work better and, as the tines bent down slightly, so the gap narrowed.

Disassembled.

I then re-assembled the pen. Doing this for the first time involved a bit of trial and error. If you place the feed into the section before putting the nib on, you need to align it with the position in which the nib will be once it is screwed back on. Alternatively, it seems easier to screw the nib on first and then push the feed through the nib and into the section taking care not to break it.

Once reassembled, I tried dipping the pen in Garnet Red. It wrote! It was not the smoothest experience as the tine gap was still a bit too wide, but at least it wrote and just needed careful handling to keep to the sweet spot, with both tines in even contact with the paper.

Nib and feed re-assembled.

Having established that the pen had been brought back from the brink, I then inked it fully and finished my two page spread of Meditations in my A4 notebook. The pen holds a massive amount of ink and this Garnet Red will be with me for a while. I was pleased that the line was wetter and wider than those first two paragraphs, although I had forfeited some smoothness in the process.

I am still learning. Nib-tinkering needs a certain amount of courage and confidence and a willingness to take risks. But over confidence is dangerous and this was a timely reminder that care, caution and patience are key to success. I like to think that Marcus Aurelius would have approved of my tenacity.

An extract from Book 6, paragraph 30 of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.

Bath time for the Wing Sung 601A fountain pen.

It has been over a year since I bought my first Wing Sung 601, a clear demonstrator, in June 2018. I swiftly bought another in Lake Blue. They have both been inked ever since. My review of this inexpensive Chinese pen can be found here: Another look at the Wing Sung 601 fountain pen.

In December 2018 I added a pair of Wing Sung 601A pens, which looked similar on the outside, but had a totally different, large tubular nib unit, rather like a Sheaffer Triumph and with a large, cut ebonite feed. Again, these arrived in simple cardboard packaging and with a container of silicone grease. However there was one more welcome extra – a tubular plastic hexagonal wrench for the filling mechanism. This also fits the 601, making it very simple to remove and re-grease the plunger or diaphragm unit, on either version.

Credit is due to the informative Youtube reviews of these pens, in Pen Talk by Chrisrap52. I learned that there are different types of filling mechanism, although both are operated in the same way by unscrewing a blind cap and pressing on a sprung metal rod a few times, whilst holding the pen with the nib immersed in ink. I gather that the older versions of the 601 (first generation) have a soft rubber bladder inside. These can be identified by a metal conical finial on the cap. The second generation (which I am looking at today) have a hard rubber plunger inside and are identified by a plastic jewel finial in the cap.

As it was high time my 601A’s had a bath, I took the opportunity to try out the wrench and disassemble the pens for a clean. The nib section unscrews easily enough and there is a black rubber o-ring to help prevent leaks. The threads are quite fine and on reassembling, it helps to begin by turning gently in the wrong direction, to correctly align the threads.

The tubular nib unit of the Wing Sung 601A.

The filling mechanism, accessed by removing the blind cap, is unscrewed with the wrench. One was quite stiff the first time. The unit is then withdrawn from the back of the barrel.

Plunger unit, removed by means of the supplied hexagonal wrench.

The Chinese instruction sheet supplied with the pen does not discuss removing the filling mechanism, (despite providing a wrench for this purpose) but recommends leaving the nib unit to soak in water for 12 hours if changing ink colour and then flushing it with running water until the water runs clear.

After removing the filling mechanism, I was a little worried that I could not see a spring anywhere and feared that I might have lost it. However there is no need to worry as it is hidden underneath the rubber plug. You can find it by separating the two plugs with your finger nail. Once screwed in place on the barrel, you can press the plunger rod and feel the resistance of the spring. It works very well and serves to fill the pen within a few presses. The first generation (diaphragm) needed more presses, maybe 10, not that this was any hardship.

Black plastic wrench for removing filling mechanism.

According to the instructions, you immerse the nib in the ink, press the button and release, fairly quickly, within a second, and repeat about 5 – 6 times. On the last press, you keep the button pressed down while you withdraw the pen from the ink; let go of the button and then eject about 5 – 8 drops. Presumably this clears excess ink from the feed so that the pen does not leak or write too wet straight after filling.

The instructions also recommend keeping the pen filled, to guard against leaks from temperature or pressure changes.

The pen holds a whopping 2ml of ink which, combined with its fine nib, makes for long intervals between fills. The push on cap, makes a good seal and I have had no problems of hard starts or skips, even after months of infrequent use.

This is a very enjoyable pen to use and to tinker with. It is satisfying to be able to disassemble and clean the pen so easily, now with a wrench that is made for the job and to spread a little grease on the threads and plunger. I must admit though, that I still prefer the look of the 601 with its hooded nib to the 601A, even though in use, it is more difficult to see exactly where the nib point is. I also found that mine benefited from a little nib smoothing with micromesh, to turn it into a super smooth, wet fine. It is hard to beat one of these pens, for value for money.

A pair of Wing Sung 601A’s. Lake Blue and Beige Grey.