Monday, October 23, 2017

Fountain Pen Review: Franklin-Christoph Fude Nib

The Franklin-Christoph fude nib
Two-and-a-half years ago, I undertook an epic search for the ideal drawing fountain pen – one that would give me a wide range of line variation and fluidity. Eventually I found my grail: the Sailor Naginata Fude de Mannen, a premium pen in Sailor’s specialty line that is worth every penny. (I like it so much, in fact, that a while later when I had heard that Sailor’s specialty nibs were becoming harder and harder to find, I bought a second so that I could always have one in my bag for waterproof ink and one for water-soluble ink.)

The Sailor Naginata fude has been on my Top 10 list every year since I bought my first, and I’ve been so happy with it that I rarely use other pens. Occasionally I’ll ink up one or another pen from my epic search just for variety, but by the next inking I always go back to a Sailor. I don’t feel a need to keep looking for a possibly better nib, and I don’t mind feeling smug about something that serves me well nearly every day.

However, that doesn’t mean I ignore new nibs that appear on my fountain pen radar. Several months ago, something very interesting caught my attention: the Franklin-Christoph fude nib.

Franklin-Christoph model 20 Marietta pen body
with fude nib
This American pen manufacturer wasn’t new to me; in fact, Franklin-Christoph’s music nib was one I considered during my epic search. An appealing feature of F-C’s designs is that most of its pen bodies are compatible with multiple nibs, so if you own one body, you can buy a variety of nibs, and each would be at a price much lower than buying a whole new pen. When I learned about the Georgia company’s specialty fude nib, I realized I could buy it and pop it onto the Model 20 Marietta pen body I already owned – sweet!

There was one catch: The Franklin-Christoph fude nib was being made on a very limited basis; like Sailor’s fude, it is difficult to obtain (though not nearly as elusive as the Sailor, which seems nearly impossible to find now except on the secondary market).

I put my name on the “interested” list. A couple of months later, I happened to be waiting in the TSA line before boarding my flight to the Chicago Urban Sketchers symposium when I received an e-mail informing me that a very limited number was available for purchase. I knew these would be snapped up quickly, so I ordered my fude nib right then and there while standing in line!

I wanted to try the F-C nib mostly out of curiosity but, I admit, also with a bit of skepticism. Up to that point, all the fude (which means brush in Japanese) nibs that I was aware of were made in either Japan or China. This makes sense because the curved or bent nib is designed to mimic the up-and-down fluid brush strokes of Asian calligraphy. Using a fude nib for western writing isn’t ideal (as much as I love drawing with it, I don’t enjoy writing with it). Since this was the first non-Asian-made fude nib I’d heard of, I couldn’t help looking a bit askance. But after giving the F-C a solid two months of testing, I am happy to say that it’s an excellent fude.

Left: Sailor Naginata fude; right: Franklin-Christoph fude
It’s important to point out that, unlike my Sailor Naginata fude, which is made of 21kt gold, the Franklin-Christoph nib is made of steel. F-C’s nib isn’t quite as smooth and fluid as Sailor’s, but it’s not fair to compare an apple with an orange. The Sailor Naginata also has a gentler curve and a rounded tip that impart an exceptional writing and drawing quality. I love it. That said, if I hadn’t been spoiled by that Sailor for more than two years, I’d say the F-C fude is the smoothest I’ve used. It’s far and away smoother than Sailor’s budget-priced steel fude models (which I had used for years before upgrading to the gold version). I’ve also tried a China-made Duke fude that is remarkably smooth for a steel nib, but it leaks, runs dry and is unreliable in other ways.

The Franklin-Christoph was both smooth and completely reliable right out of the box. It has remained so after several inkings with both waterproof (Platinum Carbon Black) and water-soluble inks.

Line variation comparison
But what about the most important part – its line variability? Compared to my Sailor Naginata, the F-C fude’s range is very similar: Reversed, the nib is a bit finer than the reversed Sailor. It’s also wetter than the Sailor, so when I’ve used its broadest angle, I have to remember to allow extra time for the plentiful outlay of ink to dry. It moves effortlessly and fluidly across the page, whether on toothy Stillman & Birn Nova paper or smooth S&B Epsilon.

While I will not be permanently swapping out one of my Sailors for the Franklin-Christoph anytime soon (those Sailor Naginatas will have to pried from my cold, dead fingers), it is more than a worthy stand-in for the elusive Naginata fude de Mannen (which currently has a multi-year wait in the US). In fact, at $55 for the nib (plus $105 to $175 for a body; you’ll need one that fits a No. 6 nib), it’s a fantastic value – a much better value than the premium-priced Sailor unless its golden smoothness is important to you.
10/20/17 Maple Leaf neighborhood

Every now and then a blog reader who is seeking a Sailor Naginata fude will ask me if I know of a source, and I have to give them the bad news. But now I’m going to suggest that they get a Franklin-Christoph instead of torturing themselves with an indefinite wait for a Sailor. It’s not the same, but it’s pretty dang good.

(All sketches shown here were done with my Franklin-Christoph fude pen and Platinum Carbon Black ink except as noted. I used Field Notes notebooks except as noted. I’ve been doing most of my InkTober sketches with it the past couple weeks, so you’ve seen some of these before.)

8/8/17 Iroshizuku Tsuki-yo ink, S&B Epsilon paper (from photo)
10/11/17 Maple Leaf neighborhood, S&B Nova
8/8/17 Green Lake neighborhood
10/17/17 Montlake neighborhood



  1. Excellent posting and I think I share everything mentioned here! An interesting fact is that when I received the notice about the nibs being in stock, I was in the airport in Sri Lanka and ordered it right there on the spot!
    Thanks for letting me know about this pen! - indeed a little different than the Sailor but it's a pen that feels really nice in the hands!


    1. Happy to return the favor, Mike, since you were the one who turned me on to the Sailor Naginata fude in the first place! :-) So funny that you were at the airport, too! Glad you were able to snag one.

  2. Very interesting and informative. Thanks.

  3. LOVING your blog! Spent the last week going down the rabbit hole and INSPIRED. Your blogs in search for the Grail saved me a lot of time, energy, and $$ in my search for the ideal (& comfy) sketching fountain pen. Thank you so very much! Just ordered my first high quality fountain pen, a F-C #46. Learned that F-C will no longer offer fude nibs but they referred me to Mark Bacas/ because he ground the fude nibs for them. So exciting! Mahalo!!

    1. You're very welcome! I appreciate knowing that it's useful to you! I bet you just saw Mike D.'s Instagram live on fude fountain pens! ;-)


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