Archive for November, 2011

The most dangerous moment…..

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

I’ve had people suggest that I hire someone to help me with pen repairs.  “Let them do the easy stuff like recacing pens,” they say.   But there’s one thing that I have to do, and  until they’re really skilled it’s too dangerous to just hand them the pen and tell them to go at it.  So three guesses.  What’s the most dangerous moment in pen repair?

Knocking out the nib and feed?


Resetting the nib after cleaning?


Taking the filler out of a Parker 51?  Close.

The single most dangerous moment in pen repair is opening the pen to restore it, across the board, without exception.

Sometimes a lever filler will almost fall apart for you.  Sometimes it does fall apart, but that’s another thread.  Even so when parts are loose there are risks because there may be a surprise lurking before the section comes out.  But when a pen is really stuck together, you start sweating bullets, antennas go up, and your fingers go to maximum sensitivity.  It’s the first moment of your journey in restoring the pen, when you and the pen test each other and get to know what the issues are.  It’s the moment of the great unveiling of surprises, and the one moment when you are inclined to be the most hasty (thank you Treebeard).

The inclination is to think “but I have to get the pen apart if I’m going to repair it!…”  and then we start to crank on the section. True, you do have to open the pen, but if you try too hard the barrel can crack, it can sheer off, it can distort, the section can snap off….   I’ve done it all.

SO, how do we avoid breaking the pen?  Start with gentle, dry heat applied by a heat gun.  I like the craft embossing guns with the 1/2″ or so opening.  Warm gently, twist, wiggle a bit, warm gently, twist, wiggle a bit,  repeat, becoming ever so slightly more aggressive.  Been at five 5 minutes?  What,  you expect to beat a 60 year old pen that quickly?  Maybe ten minutes?  Getting better.  Take whatever amount of time it takes to open the pen.  You can be a little more aggressive with the heat on hard rubber, a little less on 40’s Sheaffer plunger fillers.  Just take your time.

I won’t say that the problems are over once the pen is open, but that’s what I consider to be the critical, the most dangerous moment in pen repair.  The second – putting it back together.  Again, heat is your friend.  But that’s yet another whole post.

Bad repairs bug me.

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

There’s a reason why I say  that professional pen repair involves a lot more than knowing how to replace a sac.

Repairing pens as I do, I see a lot of repairs that are done by what I’m not sure,  but repair mechanic doesn’t apply.  Sometimes I think that a monkey could have done a better job, but those are the extreme cases.  Often the repairs are a bit more “creative” than they should be, and at other times whomever worked on the pen just didn’t have their thinking cap on.

Two cases today.  Pen #1 was a Parker 51 aerometric with the early “press 6 times” sac guard, and a chrome, polished cap with a black jewel.  I don’t know if the owner knows that the cap is from a 51 Special or not.  I decided not to bring it up since they seemed to be content with it. If someone sends a 51 aerometric to me to restore, I check the plyglass sac, but don’t routinely replace them.  I believe that nothing that we have today is better than an intact, properly functioning plyglass sac.  Maybe a silicone sac will last longer, but I doubt it.

So problem #1 – replacing a plyglass sac with a latex sac, which of course had failed.   Plyglass sacs should be replaced only under two conditions; a punctured sac (it happens) or a damaged/soft sac nipple.  If the later, the connector has to be replaced or repaired (new sac nipple installed) and a new sac installed.

Problem #2 was that the sterling silver breather tube had been replaced with (this is creative) 1/2 WD-40 spray tubing, and 1/2 original celluloid tubing, glued and jammed together, which didn’t hold together.  On top of that they had bored out the feed to take the larger tubing, which meant that the hole in the end of the feed was now oversize.  There is a way to sleeve a feed to take the standard size stainless replacements that I make, but we could have ended up replacing that too.  The right breather tube does make a difference.

The second pen was a Conway Stewart.  Pretty pen, but it didn’t fill right, and of course didn’t write well.  When I opened the pen I was surprised to find that the sac was good, and relatively new.  But there was something rather hard inside inside the sac.  I pulled it off, and found the problem.    The feed was a replacement feed, I assume installed at the last repair.  It stuck out about 1/2″ beyond the end of the sac nipple, instead of being flush or below the edge, which was why the pen wouldn’t fill.  Sticking out that far it slipped under the end of the J bar and interfered with it’s operation.  The lever might flex the J bar a bit.  But the sac wasn’t compress enough if at all, and the pen couldn’t fill.  I knocked out the nib and feed to make sure that they were clean and clear. I then reassembled to mark the feed, knocked it out to cut it to the right length, and assembled again.  The pen fills just fine, and writes nicely.

“So,” you’re asking, “where are we going with this?”  Two things, maybe three.

First is that if you are going to repair pens you should have some idea how they are designed, and an understanding of why they were made the way that they were.  Sometimes we have to be creative with our repairs.  But often procedures are followed, and materials used simply because they are expedient.  “Fix it” and get it out the door instead of making sure that the repair is as close to the original configuration as possible and that it is done right.

Second,  we need to think about what we’re doing.  If the person who put that feed in the Conway  Stewart had simply observed (thank you Sherlock) they would have known that the pen wouldn’t work, that it couldn’t possibly fill properly with the feed that long.  But they didn’t change the length of the feed.  They weren’t thinking.

Third, a pen should always be tested, i.e filled and written with, before it goes out the door.  ALWAYS.   I can’t believe that whomever worked on the pen  had tested it before sending it out.  If they had, they would have known that the pen wasn’t working.

All a little more than just replacing a sac, don’t you think?

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.