Archive for the ‘Random stuff’ Category

What, no refill? …or how to revive a Pentel Clicroller.

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016



I really don’t repair ballpoint pens, but a second post about something that isn’t a fountain pen is going to make it hard to convince people.  But really, don’t ask.  I won’t fix one for you…..


There are occasions where I need to carry a roller ball pen.  Ballpoints  (shudder) aren’t on my radar, but a RB is necessary on occasions, and they roll easily enough that I’ll use one.  My usual choice is a Retro 51 Tornado.  Somehow I’ve accumulated a few.  They have cool designs, nice feel, but the truth is that  most of the time they sit in the turret next to my “office” chair.

Twenty or more years ago Pentel made a pen called the Clicroller. Not too thin, not too fat, the clip is similar to a Sheaffer reminder clip in that you can’t clip it in your pocket with the refill extended.  That’s important if you (like me) are prone to forgetting to turn the knob to retract the point.  The only time I’ve ruined a shirt was with a rollerball in my pocket, never a fountain pen!

Pentel quit making the refills years ago, but the pens are still around.  Some were anodized aluminum, some slim and striped with a matching watch (lost that one), some lacquer with gold plated trim.  Robyn lost the green and gold one that we had…  or one of the boys swiped it.   Not that it matters.  The point is that I went looking for it one day, couldn’t find it,  and never did see the thing again.

To give you an idea what I’m talking about, here are a couple that I picked up at the Chicago show….


A number of years ago I got to thinking, and pulled out my Clicroller with its dried out refill and a pair of calipers, and started noodling around.  It didn’t take long before I figured out that I could fit a short Schmidt refill into the pen, and that it would fit through the cone in front, but it was too short, and didn’t fit into the end of the barrel.  So I made a widget, or adapter if you will, that lets me use the short Schmidt refill in the pen.  V1.0 worked perfectly.  The button on the end of the refill fits into the widget, the long rod on the other end mimics the over all length of the Pentel 8126 and fits into the barrel perfectly. Note in the picture above, that the point of the refill extends just the right distance from the cone.

I was going cheap and quick,  and wanted to see the how the button on the end of the refill fit inside for this one, so  I made it out of acrylic.  Since all of the stress is axial, it worked.

But then I recently picked up the two in the picture, both new, in the box.     So I decided to make a couple more widgets so that the pens can be used again.

At the moment, I have no intention of making these for sale.  I’d have to charge as much for the widget as you are likely to pay for the pens.  So here’s what you need to know if you want to make one yourself.

Use 1/4″ rod stock.  Brass or aluminum will be easy to machine.  You can use Delrin too – I just like the idea of a metal widget.   Overall length is 0.745″  A little shorter is OK, but I wouldn’t go under 0.735″   The length of the narrow end is 0.415″, and its OD is 0.120″, though this isn’t critical.  You can safely go to 0.125″  The hole in the wide end is drilled with a #8 drill, which is 0.199″  There is just enough grip that the widget doesn’t fall off of the end of the refill.   It should be 3/16″ deep not including the tip of the drill.   I drill into the end until the shoulder is even with the end of the work piece, reset to zero, and then drill in 3/16″ using the scale on the tail stock.  Round off the corners with a mill bastard file, and you’re done.  Total time, maybe 10 minutes.

Here’s the Schmidt refill next to the original Pentel refill.  The tip of the orignal Pentel refills and the Schmidt refills are within a thousandths of an inch of each other:

…and a close up of the brass widget, showing the open end:


It should be possible to make a widget so that you use a DIN/Parker refill.  The difference is that instead of a hole for the end of the refill, you have to make it shorter, and with a pin that will fit in the end of the Parker refill.  The Parker will fit in and through the cone on the front of the pen, though you may want to change the spring.  V3 for the Parker is still in process at this writing, though I can tell you that you need to have at least part of it the full 1/4″.   Smaller,  and the clip can’t latch with the mechanism in the forward position.

The porch swing is up…..

Monday, May 7th, 2012

This may not seem like a big deal, but it is.   One of the first things that we bought when we bought our house 24 years ago was a swing to hang on the front porch.    You may find us there on a warm summer morning soaking up the eastern sun, or late on a hot evening just sitting and talking as we watch the traffic go by.   We read books to our sons sitting here, had many talks with our friends and family members over the years.  Kids waiting for the bus out in front of the house have given in to the temptation to sit and swing on it many times.

In a way it’s a sign of the seasons.    It’s the “hello” to spring, and anticipation of all that summer holds.  In October, it goes down in the middle of the month as I say goodbye to lawn mowing,  burgers on the grill and camping.  A little ahead of putting the snow tires on the car, I always think of it as one of the last steps in battening down the hatches in anticipation of another Syracuse winter.  It has been known to snow on Halloween.

We’re late in putting it out this year because of the weather – it’s usually out by mid April, but we’ve had snow and cold later than usual after the fake spring in early March.  But over the weekend I pulled the swing down from it’s winter home, hanging from the ceiling in the garage, dusted it off, then sanded away a number of years of wear and roughness, and put on a fresh coat of  varnish.  The chains got a coat of paint to hide the rust of the last 24 seasons.  This morning I greased the bushings on the hangers  (silicone grease of course)  and put the swing out. I’m sitting on it now, parked in my usual spot on the left end as I write.  Emails are done and I’ll have to head inside in a few moments to start the days work repairing pens.

But it’s going to be raining for the next few days, so I think that I’ll just sit and enjoy the sun and my old friend for a bit before I do…..




The Pen That Started it All…

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

OK, almost started it all.

Back in the late 80s a co-worker gave a couple of pens to me.  They had been her mothers, and she knew that I liked fountain pens.  A simple Esterbrook SJ, and a Parker Parkette Deluxe.  Nothing big but to a neophyte,  exciting.  Both needed to be repaired, but I had no idea how to do it. BUT, I had heard about this guy in Center City Philadelphia who “could repair any pen made, going back to 1900.”  So I tracked the shop down, and sent my pens off to Mr Russel at Tuckers Pen Hospital down on Chestnut street, near I. Goldbergs, just a couple blocks west of Independence Mall.  We won’t discuss my impatience to have the pen repaired.

The pen needed a nib, needed to be resaced, and generally restored.  Total bill when he was done, an astonishing $145 and change.  (For reference, in the late 80s he was charging $90 to restore a Sheaffer Snorkel).  I still have the receipt somewhere, and may even have the shipping tube.  I certainly do have the pen, 23 years or so later.

1st Quarter 1935 Parkette Deluxe

It’s a nice pen, great color, with a medium nib that writes smoothly.  I don’t know where Mr Russel got his sacs, but I would love to know.  I pulled the pen apart the other day, and found that the sac is as clean and fresh and good as it was the day it was installed.  I know it’s the same sac because it’s stamped in bright orange Tuckers Pen Hospital.

The one think that I didn’t like was the treatment of the brassed trim.  Everything was brassed.  Since my parents lived about 30 miles outside of the city at the time, I went down to pick up the pen.  When I commented on the brassed trim, he disappeared with the pen back into the repair area.    My memory is that he appeared a bit later with the pen in hand, the trim shiny and bright.  He said “I put something on it, nobody will ever know.”  Except that I knew, and that the surface of the celluloid now had a slightly stippled look to it.  The lacquer or whatever he sprayed on it eventually wore off, and the brassing was back.   I finally took care of that little issue this past week by cleaning the metal, and then plating it.  Now you can see why these were popular pens.  Thin plating, yes, but still a quality Parker pen, comparable in size to the Challengers and Duofold Jrs of the day.

I sent one or two more little items off to Tuckers, and then quickly learned that if I wanted to collect on my radio engineer’s income, I needed to learn how to repair.  About the same time, I came across repair manuals from the Pen Fancier’s Club and heard about the Pen Sac Co.  The rest, as they say, is history. Within a year or so after receiving the Parkette I was haunting every antique show in town, and buying anything of interest just to be able to repair the pens.  The habits and skills developed over 20 years ago are with me today – I still repair a pen as if it were going into my own collection, not just to push it out the door.  It’s a habit that I don’t intend to change.

A footnote to the story.  Years later David Isaacson called me and told me about a guy from Philadelphia who was selling a bunch of pen stuff.  It seemed that his father had owned a pen repair shop in Philadelphia.  As he rambled on  I got to thinking, and then interrupted.  “Is the guy’s last name Russel?” I asked.  It was.    The elder Mr Russel gone, the shop closed.  But I will never forget visiting that little shop on the second floor down on Chestnut St, and the excitement of being in a pen repair shop, seeing other vintage pens, picking up my repaired Parkette and inking it.

I’m going to keep this pen – if nothing else to remind me of the wonder and excitement of being a new collector, and to get to ink that newly repaired pen for the first time.  I repair pens, but what makes it special is to make the people who own them happy.

Best comeback of the week

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

I rarely watch TV, and watch political pundits even less.  Not worth the time.  But I happened to hear this one when visiting  the other night.  The discussion was about a scandal surrounding a presidential candidate.

One blurted the obligatory line, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

Comeback:  “You ever hear of dry ice?”

Three marks.

Some assembly required….

Monday, October 10th, 2011

I bought a rack with plastic bin boxes to hold a bunch of Sheaffer parts the other day.  I have a bunch of Sheaffer sections and feeds, and some other stuff that came out of the Sheaffer service center that needed to be sorted and stored so that they can breathe, not in closed plastic bags.  Long story there…   I had to put the rack together, and as I did so my mind wandered a bit (it didn’t require a lot of concentration), and I got to thinking about the crummy instructions.  I relied more on the pictures on the box than the instructions or the pictures contained therein.  I think that there is a special purgatory for people who write instructions like that…  or there ought to be.

I concluded that if you’re going to buy something from Harbor Freight (AKA the Toy Store) you need to have at least some level of mechanical skill before you start.  That thought lead me to thinking about a review of a part on the Radio Shack web site.

Before leaving my job of 25 years to repair pens full time, I was a radio engineer.  I built a fair number of translators, and  3 radio stations, engineering the whole project for WMHQ up on the northern border of NY state.   I still go out on the odd service call, just to keep myself up to date.
Broadcast engineers joke about the engineering mantra;  “If all else fails, read the instructions.”  I have to admit that to a certain extent that’s true, and we often get away with it.  The reason is that by the time you get to work on a transmitter or install a system you usually have a fair bit of experience, and have worked with other engineers over many years.   Radio engineers specialize in repairing weird stuff.   Many of the best ones are self taught.   We specialize in walking into what is a baffling situation for everyone else, sorting it out, and making things work, sometimes with little or no documentation to guide us.  BUT, as I said before, we also have a lot of experience with the systems that we encounter, or we know who to ask…  and we do look for manuals.

Back to Radio Shack (engineering joke: “Radio Shack.  You have questions?  We have batteries.”)  I was on  their web site looking for a simple RCA connector, plastic, with solder terminals.  I’ve used the things for almost 30 years.  Why they have “reviews” of basic parts like this I can’t fathom, but they do.  What entertained me though was the whine in a review that “there are no INSTRUCTIONS!”  The response in my head was “well, no, there wouldn’t be.”  The reason is that there are some things that are very basic, and a certain level of  understanding is assumed.  Buy a switch or a connector,  and chances are that you know how to use it and if you don’t,  you know where to find out  (this really was a common-as-dirt part).

Do we really have to spoon feed information to the next generation, especially when there is the Internet and the power of search engines to help us?  Want to know what the pin out for an Apple iPod connector is, it’s out there.  Want to know what the pin out is for a USB connector, and what the standards are for the power supplied?  It’s easy to find.  Need to know the color code and pin-out for a CAT-5 cable?  No problem.  So why are we whining about how to use a simple, common, every day, decades-old-design part?

A young man that I know was complaining that everyone in his Physics course got a 76 or below on the most recent test.  My question was, is it because (as he put it) the instructor didn’t teach the material well enough, or because the student(s) hadn’t even taken the wrapper off of the text book?

Food for thought.

It’s about time!

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

I’ve been threatening to do this for some time now.  Working by yourself at a bench, you have lots of time to think…. and you see a lot of interesting stuff crossing the  bench that sets off a train of thought.  So why not write about it?

There are few moments in a day when I don’t have at least some ink on my fingers.  (I went to a doctors appointment a couple of years ago.  The nurse looked at my hands and said “you have ink on your fingers.”  “Well DUH!  Do you know what I do for a living?” )  The computer is right behind me for easy information research, or writing.

So the “Blue Fingers Blog…”  Ramblings about repairs,  techniques, cool stuff that I’ve discovered or developed,  maybe a political rant after listening to too much NPR, or stuff that I don’t dare say as a moderator on FPN.