Pelikan Nib Swapping: A Primer

Ive run out of pens to review (hopefully only for the short term) so Im turning to writing articles about the things I’ve picked up over these years of being in the hobby. I hope you’ll find these as fun and informative as the reviews have been!

And thus, the first of these how-tos:

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Warning: vintage flex.

There are several sizes of Pelikan nibs available, spanning different model sizes. The M2xx/4xx/6xx/7xx nibs are interchangeable, though you might need to be careful with the M6xx ones in smaller pens so that the cap doesn’t hit the nib when closing the pen. The M3xx is a smaller size and not exchangeable with the older M1xx series. The M8xx and M9xx nibs are swappable, and the flagship M10xx nibs stand alone.

But that isn’t really what this post is about. What’s covered here is a different level of tinkering: I take nibs apart in this post, with plenty of photos to illustrate how.

First off, I unscrewed a nib from my M200 Demonstrator.

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Components of a Pelikan nib.

An M2xx nib should cost less than £20, and that’s what I started with. This nib is most similar to the #5 standard size, which made it a good candidate for messing about with. Conversely, I’ve also managed to put Pelikan nibs into my Faber-Castell Loom and even the Muji fountain pen for a bit of a laugh. 

The nib and feed are held together into a single nib unit by the nib collar, which serves the same purpose as the nib housing does in other pens — it keeps swapping nibs easy and helps facilitate cleaning. In Pelikan’s pens this allows users to flush out the barrel and re-grease the piston; and is also the top reason why my Pelikans stay inked while my most expensive pen has been left cleaned and unused for months. 

Pelikan’s old nibs are also compatible with newer models. The nibs from the old 400/500s have the same screw pitch, and will fit into a modern pen with no trouble.

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Left: modern M200 nib; right: vintage 400NN flexible EF.

The feed construction is different, however: Pelikan’s modern feeds are horizontally-finned and plastic, while the older ones have vertical fins and are made out of ebonite. The feed channels are constructed differently as well; the far wider and deeper channels in the vintage pens cater to flexible nibs.

The range of nibs that can fit into a modern Pelikan feed is pretty wide as well:

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A range of roughly #5-sized nibs. L to R: Mabie Todd Swan #2 flex, modern Pelikan M200 EF, vintage Pelikan 400NN DF.

The nibs in the above picture can all fit into the nib housing, though the vintage nibs present different challenges due to their size. The manifold nib from my 400NN Brown Tortoise is especially interesting for how dry it needs to write, and would also require sanding down the inside of the nib collar to accommodate its thickness; Mabie Todd’s Swan pens used a smaller diameter and different type of feed and required a lot of work before it would sit well on the larger M200 feed.

Having obtained some loose nibs, let’s progress on to dismantling the nib unit.

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It’s not as easy as it looks. 

Pelikan’s nib units are friction-fit and thus require a knock-out block at most. But I found it easier to stand the nib straight up on a table and push down on the nib collar (as shown above) with the thumbs of both hands. The photo above is merely an illustration — I never managed to get it out with just one hand. 

Here are the individual components:

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Top to bottom: feed, nib collar, nib.

Now compare the size of the nib you want to fit in with the stock nib. I wanted to slot the Mabie Todd flex nib into a modern pen, but it was a shorter nib and thus required seating higher up the feed. This process also required some very careful flattening out so that the nib would fit the curvature of the plastic feed, as well as some more tweaking so that the flex would work properly.

To get the nib into the collar, all you need to do is hold the nib and feed tightly together, and twist them into the nib collar. Be careful that the nib and feed twist as a single object, otherwise you’ll end up with a misaligned nib; this happened to me quite a lot when trying to reassemble the now-Mabie Todd unit.

Since the Mabie Todd sits further up the feed, the nib collar has to be pushed in the corresponding amount to keep the nib securely in place.

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Comparison of nib collars: M200 on left, Mabie Todd on right.

From the back, it can be seen that the same length of nib is peeking over the feed, while the nib collar is significantly higher up the whole assembly.

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Back view of the two nibs: Mabie Todd on left, M200 on right. 

Since the tines of the Mabie Todd were no longer parallel to each other along the nib slit, I had to smoothen the bottom edge so that the nib did not cut into paper. Some tweaking was also required to get the required flow, especially some judicious mucking about with the feed channel. (It’s the same process as the one detailed in my review of the Pilot Custom FA nib.)

Slotting the customised nib unit back into the pen, the nib looks shorter than a stock nib would, due to the differing position of the nib collar. Two pictures in the album below:

For the purposes of this article I’d undone the above nib work and recreated the process. This time, I didn’t want to wait for ink to flow through, and so I primed the feed to obtain this writing sample:

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M200 EF vs Mabie Todd Swan #2!

It’s a troublesome process, but definitely worth the trouble if done right. The loss of an M200 nib isn’t so bad either, if a feed is broken, but a vintage nib is irreplaceable. Be careful!

A similar process with the DF nib in my old 400NN after I bought a loose 1950s EF nib resulted in this beauty (two pictures in album):

The main thing to remember, as with any such delicate work, is to have tons of spare time and patience. Feel free to ask me questions in the comments, and I’ll try to answer as best as I can!

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