Ebonite is a synthetic resin created by mixing sulfur with natural rubber using a unique heat treatment. It’s familiar as the material used in a mouthpiece of a clarinet or saxophone. However, plastic alone is unable to produce the right sound. What is needed is the addition of natural rubber, with the flexibility to absorb the excess vibrations. Nevertheless ebonite is hard enough not to attenuate over the years. Even though ebonite is an outstanding material, it’s difficult to process, so other more easily processed synthetic resins have taken its place. Yes, a mastery of skill is required to produce ebonite.
Only a few ebonite factories are left today: two in Germany, one in Japan. Eboya is the one in Japan. Eboya is a factory that has mastered the difficult processing technology of ebonite and handcrafts fountain pens using it. Tomohisa Endo, the president of Eboya says, “Our ebonite is highly rated by our customers such as pen makers, instrument manufactures, and smoking supplies providers. We supply ebonite that contains no foreign bodies, no air bubbles, and has a beautiful gloss after polishing”.
Eboya’s fountain pens are basically custom made. Length and thickness vary slightly even for pens of the same model—and intentionally. This is to accommodate different sized hands, as well as different degrees of pressure applied by different users to the pen when putting nib to paper. These differ by individual, as does the angle at which the pen is held. Some users may hold the pen upright, incline it at a moderate angle, or even use it almost flat. Then there are factors like the stroke of the pen, its barrel length, and nib size, all combining to determine the user’s writing touch.
For example, the Houju model has S, M and L sizes:
S size – Length, 132 mm; length with cap set, 154 mm; barrel diameter 12 mm
M size – Length, 137 mm; length with cap set, 159.5 mm; barrel diameter 13.5 mm
L size – Length, 142 mm; length with cap set, 165 mm; barrel diameter 15 mm
The merely 5 millimeter difference in the length between sizes might arguably be barely noticeable. And the difference in barrel diameter between the small and medium sizes is a miniscule 1.5 mm. However, this slight difference is critical to determining whether or not a particular fountain pen is an easy-to-use writing implement.
A long, large, size L fountain pen may not suit the user with a strong grasp on the pen when writing, who is better served by a smaller fountain pen that fits more snugly in the hand and is thus less likely to tire the hand. For the user with a lighter grasp, a larger fountain pen is more likely to develop into an obedient writing companion. Its shorter length shifts the center of gravity infinitesimally towards the middle, which over extended stints of writing places less stress on the fingers. Having said that, as a user who grips the pen quite tightly, I have found a thin barrel to engender joint pain in both elbow and wrist after a long period of writing; so for more strongly grasping users like me, the medium size would be the proper choice for long hours of writing.
The size selection isn’t over yet. Which part of the pen barrel do you hold? Do you write pushing the pen to paper or rather lifting it from paper? Where you hold the pen and the pressure you exert when writing influence your size selection. A long fountain pen, such as the large size one, is suitable to a person who holds it around center of the barrel. The small or medium sizes are suited to a person who holds the pen barrel by its lower end. Eboya custom manufactures its fountain pens based on these user habits.
Which size suits you? Which nib is for you? How free an ink flow do I want from the nib? A visit to the Eboya website will help answer such questions. There is a chart to work out the ideal pen size for you, simulations that impart a sense of the pen, however specific: such as how a 160 centimeter tall woman would actually feel with the fountain pen in her hand. If you still can’t make your mind up, you can contact Eboya and consult. You may find yourself talking with the Eboya company president (and karate master!) Tomohisa Endo, or a regular staff member who will also proffer good advice.
Noritoshi Kanesaki is a young fountain pen craftsman. Born in April 1978, he turns 37 this year. He became thoroughly versed in the structure of these world famous fountain pens through the experience of repairing fountain pens for his friends and acquaintances. There was no fountain pen he couldn’t repair: Mont Blanc, Pelican, Parker, Waterman, Cross, Caran d’Ache, OMAS, Delta, Aurora, Cartier, Shaeffer, Lamy, ST Du Pont, Ferber Castile, Monte Grappa, Monte Velde, Marlen, Dunhill, Conway Stewart, Pilot, Platinum, Sailor–the list is endless.
Kanesaki trained under an old artisan, an expert in pen-making, and thus made the leap from amateur to professional. He joined Nikko Ebonite Co. Ltd., in 2010, since then has applied himself to all aspects of the fountain pen handcrafting process, from cutting the pen barrel to grinding the nib.
“You cannot redo the finish. In finishing the pen, I cut until the pen cap is an exact fit over the barrel. If you overcut by even 0.01 of a millimeter, the user will feel the difference, even if it does actually fit. I put a lot of care into finishing the parts to tolerances finer than the customer would notice with the naked eye. That’s the kind of work I do.”
Eboya has a brick-and-mortar store to enable direct contact with customers. It is open on Wednesdays and Fridays. This is in consideration of the fact that their fountain pens are not mass produced. For those unable to visit the shop, Eboya has an online store as well. The website introduces the young and very gifted craftsman, Noritoshi Kanesaki, who demonstrates some surprising techniques, and also reveals to the visitor what lies at the heart of Eboya. For more on what kind of company Eboya is, check out Part 3.
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