Piston fillers, or piston filled fountain pens, have something of a status in the pen community. There is absolutely something to be said for a fountain pen that comes with its own integrated ink filling system. A piston filler is not as finicky as a vac filler and is considered a step up from cartridge/converter filled fountain pen. In this post I will look into three very different piston fillers: an entry level pen, a design icon and a classic beauty.
As with most fountain pen users, my first fountain pens were all cartridge filled. During secondary school in the eighties, I discovered the delight of the converter and started hoarding those to fill my pens with inks from pots instead of cartridges. Since then, my pen family has grown quite a bit and I have used piston filled fountain pens in different formats for some time. I am certainly not a piston filler expert, but I am very happy to share with you some thoughts on three different piston fillers.
First I have done a very basic “what’s what” for a piston filler, demonstrated by my lovely assistant Aurora below.
As a matter of fact, the innards of the piston filler consist of more parts than described above, but since this is just an introduction and not a “how to dissect your piston” blogpost (and because each brand will have a slightly different piston mechanism) I have limited the above picture to the most basic parts. The piston filler is operated by turning the blind cap or piston knob, which will push down the piston seal towards the nib unit. Holding the nib unit in the ink bottle and twisting the blind cap or piston knob back towards the body, will result in the ink being drawn into the body.
Cleaning the piston filler is done in much the same way. I usually rinse the nib unit first under a dripping tap, expel the final drops of ink and draw up clean water from a cup, expel, rinse, repeat, until the water that comes out of the pen is clear. This is the beauty and much beloved aspect of piston fillers: the draw up loads of ink and clean out pretty easily. I have not yet had the need to take my pistons apart for lubricating the seal, but when I do, I will definitely do a post on that. Not using pen flush or detergent when cleaning your piston filler, will help keep the piston greased up longer. Use it if you absolutely must because of a sticky ink, but with regular inks just plain water will do fine for cleaning. Now, on to the pens!
TWSBI Eco Clear, 1.1 stub
TWSBI has revolutionized piston fillers by bringing very affordable, self-maintenance-friendly piston fillers on the market. And demonstrators to boot! This is very nice, because this allows you to see the mechanism in working order. And look at your ink sloshing around in your pen during meetings. The TWSBI Eco has an ink capacity of a whopping 1.76ml. The pen has a nice range of steel nib options from extra fine through B and a 1.1 stub as shown above. The pen is made of resin, has a screw-on cap which pushes to post very securely on the blind cap. The rubber ring that secures the cap keeps you from operating the piston knob by accident. However, posting the cap will make the pen as long as Harry Potter’s wand. The unposted pen is long enough to be used by hands of any size. A very decent and fun entry piston filler, for around $29-35 depending on where you live.
Lamy 2000, medium nib
The Lamy 2000, or L2K as affectionately dubbed by aficionados, was designed in the mid 60s at the request of Dr. Manfred Lamy, son of Lamy founder C. Josef Lamy, by Gerd Muller, who had previously been an influential designer at Braun. Manfred Lamy wanted to bring an entirely new clear and functional pen design on the market, aimed at “successful middle-aged men… image-conscious but tended toward understatement”, according to the Lamy website. Well, they certainly succeeded in bringing a very successful new design on the market, because more than 50 years later, this design is still much loved and widely coveted. I used to belong to the “nah, I do not care for that boring black pen” school for a long time. Until I took a better look at the zeppelin shaped body. Hmmm, did I actually start to like the pen…? Still there was that cap that did not yet ring my bell. But then again, I was very curious about the Lamy 2000 nib.
At a Pen Show, I got to try The Pencilcase Blog’s Lamy (thank you for trusting me with your pen, Dries) and was sold. The clip is spring-loaded, which I absolutely love. And I finally started to appreciate the contrast of the cap and body combined with the feel of the Makrolon material. The way in which the blind cap fuses seemingly seamlessly with the body. So when I spotted a set of a fountain pen and ballpoint Lamy 2000 at an auction site, I set a limit for myself and even managed to stay under it. Very happy to have taken that step! Now for some statistics: the Lamy holds 1.35ml of ink, it comes with a 14k springy (not flexy, just springy) nib available in EF through OBB. The material is Makrolon, a black fibre-glass, and stainless steel. The L2K has a snap cap and is portable, but I love using it unposted because of the nice body shape. The hooded nib allows for using the pen held close to the nib (not too close though, the pen will then be pushed backwards out of your grip) or anywhere on the body because of its sleek design. A new Lamy 2000 Makrolon will set you back about $150.
Aurora Optima Burgundy, medium nib
I must be honest and tell you up front that this is the darling of my piston fillers. It is such a classic beauty! The nib writes like a pencil and it sings to me when it’s happy with the paper I use her on. And just look at that material… But first things first. Aurora is an Italian pen brand that was founded in 1919 in Turin. Up to today, it is still housed in its original Turin factory. All the parts of this pen are made in the factory; this goes for the nibs as well. The trims are hand-finished, the pen has an ebonite feed which is a lovely dark red and a hidden ink reservoir. Because of the pencil-like feel of the nib, I love using this pen for doodling and faux calligraphy. But this is also the pen I use as my bullet journal pen or when I have to fill in or sign documents. It gives that moment a bit of extra meaning. I love the grip on the section, which surprised me pleasantly because I hold pens pretty close to the nib, but the step between section and nib is so pleasant to the touch, that I can write with this pen for hours without feeling cramped up. And of all the pens dealt with here, this has the most smooth running piston. The pen is cleaned and filled in no time. The nib unit can be screwed out completely for a good rinse. Or for switching up between nib sizes. Which is a very nice aspect of this design.
I find myself staring at the scroll work on the nib when I use the pen, it’s so pretty. Oh yes, back to business, sorry… the 14k nib comes in many options, from EF through OB, plus stub and italic. The piston holds an impressive 1.43ml of ink, and the ink window between section and body allows you to see how much ink you have left. The body is made of Auroloid which contains antique celluloid materials. The depth and colors of this material are notoriously hard to justify in pictures. My friend bought herself an Optima in Nero Perla and that is a very sexy see-through material. You can just see the nib peep at you through the cap… very alluring. The cap screws on the body and can be pushed to post. This will lengthen the pen for people with large hands, although the pen will still rest easily between index finger and thumb when unposted. The Auroloid feels very organic to the touch, it’ll warm up just ever so slightly without becoming slippery.
The Aurora is a staple in my every day carry and as such one of the pens I use on a daily basis. The nib is one of my rare mediums and the one I like using the best. If you get the chance to try one out, by all means do so. The price ranges from $450-495, and there are sellers who are currently having pretty good offers on Optimas… just saying… It is a bit of an investment, I am aware of that, but one that will bring you pleasure every time you use it. So, for a special occasion or just to treat yourself to a beautiful, functional writing instrument, this is definitely a pen I would recommend.
To round up, a couple of side-by-side images.
I hope you enjoyed reading this post. If you have questions about these (or other) pens or pen issues, be sure to let me know. If I do not know the answer, I can usually direct you to someone who can.
Thank you as ever for reading and until the next post!
6 thoughts on “Three very different piston fillers”
Very nice presentation! Piston-Pens surely have an air of special to them. Although “normal” pens usually operate and write as well, it somehow still is something more special to them pistons 😉
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That’s absolutely true, Michael. The c/c has its practical pros, and I love them for that. Next to try is a vac filler. I do not have one yet so it will be some time before I can post on those.
Doing a great job, Janine. Education is important 😉
Lovely photos, too.
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Thank you, Eli. So good to read your feedback, please keep it coming and adding your knowledge. It’s so easy to fall back on insider terminology and thereby excluding a lot of readers new to the game. Plus I keep learning new things each day and each day I am happy to be part of the pen community. And hope to draw new enthusiasts in to keep fountain pen writing alive.
I’ve just discovered your blog, and thank you for the work! I know very well how much effort these things can be to put together. I liked this article, and it hits on a note that has always interested me. I have never completely understood the prestige accredited to piston-filling fountain pens.
Yes, often the most expensive pens are piston-filled, but I have found using them to be irritating more than pleasant… if I am away from home for a while, then a couple of boxes of cartridges are far more convenient to carry. I can swap cartridges out in the middle of a meeting in seconds. And if I take a bottle of ink or two with me (I keep some 10ml Nalgene travel bottles for the purpose), then I would rather the capacity of an eye-dropper filled pen, like my Edison Collier.
Possibly most importantly, I’ve found them “awkward” to clean thoroughly. I’ve been using a Visconti Homo Sapiens Dark Age (oversized) pen for a while, and this takes almost a dark age to clean completely (although I hear that it’s rather notorious in this regard). All those things considered, I would rather have a pen that I can choose to cartridge, converter, or eye-dropper fill, as the situation recommends, than be stuck with just the piston option. I like my TWSBIs, and the Visconti, very much indeed, but I never leave home with them.
Thanks again for the blog!
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I know it’s been over 2 years ago since you wrote your answer to this blog post.
The Visconti Homo Sapians Dark Age is not a piston filler though, it is in fact a vacuum filler. Or as Visconti themselves prefer the name : vacuum power filler. And vacuum fillers in general are known for the more complicated cleaning. A true piston filler like the TWSBI and mentioned Aurora is really easy to clean.
I myself use several TWBI ECO pens and a TWSBI Classic and usually the cleaning per pen takes me about 5 minutes, 10 if it was filled with a ink more prone to staining and/or was a sheening/glitter ink. And the 2 c/c pens I also own take about the same time when cleaning. As I don’t have any hands-on experience with a vacuum filler, I am not able to say what time it would cost me to clean one of those but I’m pretty sure it would take me more time per pen…