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Seeing with Your Fingers...

Daniel Kirchheimer came by my table at the 2005 NYC Pen show to chat for a while. Daniel is well known for his excellent metal work and skill in de-denting caps, but he also likes to make “purpose built” tools for pen repair. He had some prototypes of a couple of Vac repair tools along with him that he wanted me to try out. Version A was a simple, straight line type with a handle to turn. Version B was similar but a bit fancier, with a crank to turn instead of a simple handle. It was intended to do the same job, but faster. I tried both, then handed “B” back to Daniel with a simple “I don’t like this one.” Daniel’s reply was “You like the first one because you can feel what’s going on.” Bingo! Got it in one!

That got me to thinking about what we do as pen restorers. When you work on pens, you not only see with your eyes, but you have to see with your fingers. That feedback as you work on the pen tells you more about what’s going on than you get from sight alone.

Maybe the best way to explain what I mean is to walk through a simple Vacumatic repair. I say Vacumatic instead of a sac type of pen because there are a few more things to watch for.

Feeling for a cap lip crack

Here, I’m feeling the cap lip of a very nice Parkette Deluxe to see if it’s cracked.

When you pick up the pen, you’re going to look at it carefully. Of course you’re going to look at the nib; is the iridium all there, is there a crack? You’ll look for cap and barrel damage or a bulge, maybe a bent clip. But then you’ll try to rotate the clip to see if it’s loose or tight. You’ll feel just how tight it is. Then you’ll run your finger nail around the edge of the cap to feel for a crack in the lip. Unscrew the blind cap, and gently press the filler unit. How hard is it to press it down? Does it move at all, or can you press it down? What does it feel like? Is the diaphragm OK, or hard as a rock? Based on what you have seen with your fingers you have a good idea of what the pen is going to need to be properly restored.

Next you take the pen apart. A little twist of the section with the fingers tells you whether or not the section is loose. Most likely not, so you’ll need some heat. You’ll use a heat gun or hair dryer to warm the barrel to loosen the section. I wave my hand over the heat gun just to see how hot it is, and then rotate the barrel over the heat for a few seconds. Before I try to remove the section, I check with my fingers to see how warm the barrel is. Still cool? I warm it some more. Is it too warm? I allow it to cool a bit. If the barrel is too hot to hold for a few sections, the plastic will be fairly soft and the barrel could shear off. (nasty!) On the other hand, if it’s fairly warm but I can still comfortably hold it for a few seconds, I know the temperature is about right, and I go ahead and try to unscrew the section. I’m seeing with my fingers.

Then I unscrew the section. But I don’t just crank away! No way! Using my “Dubiel” section pliers or fuel line hose and pliers (see Pen Repair: Cheap Tools, Part I) I check to see how tight the section is. You’re using the feedback through your fingers to tell you how hard you need to twist the section. Start low, and gently increase the torque. Maybe you need more heat, maybe it’s an easy one to take out. You need to use your fingers to see just how tight things really are!

Removing the filler unit is done in much the same way. Put your Vac wrench or block (see Pen Repair: Cheap Tools, Part II) on the filler unit. Warm the barrel, again checking to see how hot it is before you turn the Vac tool to turn the filler unit out. Does it turn easily, or is there resistance after a couple of seconds? If it turns easily, you can go ahead and remove the filler. But if there’s resistance, maybe you need to warm the barrel again, and a third time, or a fourth time. Taking your time and being aware of what’s happening with your sense of touch can keep that pen from breaking! For instance, you won’t see the corrosion around a filler unit on a Parker 51 Vac filler. But the resistance that you feel after just a little bit of a turn will tell you that something isn’t right! Repeated heating of the barrel and being very aware of how easily the filler is turning can save you from turning too hard and cracking the barrel!

The same heightened awareness of what you’re feeling — really seeing with your fingers — as you put the pen back together applies. Does the diaphragm go into the pellet cup easily, or is it too tight (and would therefore crack). If a Speedline or lockdown filler, is the diaphragm in the pellet cup too loose? How much effort does it take to pull the diaphragm out?

Once the diaphragm is installed on the filler, you have to tighten down the blind cap nipple in the barrel. Pop the filler unit into the pen, and start to tighten down the blind cap nipple on the filler. You can’t see what’s going on with your eyes, but you can see if it’s [1] threaded properly or cross threaded and [2] how easily it’s screwing into the pen by what you feel. If it doesn’t screw in easily (and you’ll feel it before you see it) you need to pull the filler out again and clean the threads. Once it’s in all the way you have to tighten things down, but how tightly? Parker says that it should be seated with “firm pressure,” but what does that mean? No torque specifications are given — you just have to feel when it’s snug, but not tight.

I think you get the idea here. I’ll grant that there is a little bit of a learning curve, but being successful at pen repairs means that you are constantly aware that you have two sets of eyes; the ones in your head, and the ones in your fingers. Use them both and you’ll be successful!

© 2007 Ron Zorn

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