Category Archives: Notes from the Work Bench

Fun Pen Repair Help

Not too long ago we were approached by a radio restoration expert named Jaime A. for help on his special 1938 Detrola radio desk set. One of the two Parker Vacumatic trumpets had broken and he needed a replacement. We just so happened to be lucky enough to have a replacement trumpet set.

Photo shows a 1938 Parker Vacumatic desk set that features a clock, weather station and Detrola radio.

A fully restored Detrola radio makes up the centerpiece of this nearly perfect Parker 1938 desk set!

The set fits perfectly, but he wants to get one of the rarer chrome-based, ribbed trumpets to better match what originally came with the set. He also wants matching Parker Vacumatic desk pens (or a matching pen and pencil for such a desk set.). If you can help him out, please reach out to us in the comments, and we will hook you guys up.

In the meantime, feast your eyes on this set. Jaime completely refinished the wood and stain, replaced the vacuum tubes in the radio and got the clock and weather station portions working. That’s a lighter in the center of the wooden base!

If any body has a chrome-base and ribbed Parker Vacumatic trumpet they would like to sell, please let us know so we can help Jaime A. finish the final touches on his Detrol Radio and Parker Vacumatic desk set.

If any body has a chrome-base and ribbed Parker Vacumatic trumpet they would like to sell, please let us know so we can help Jaime A. finish the final touches on his Detrol Radio and Parker Vacumatic desk set.

Clearly, those Sheaffers are not the original pens for the set. They are just temporary place holders until he can find the right set of Vacs.

Still, it is one of the rarest and most handsome desk sets we’ve ever seen!

When Nipples Go Bad…Section Nipples, That Is

Once in a rare while, I find that the section of a pen has lost its nipple to attach an ink sac. Sometimes, an old nipple is just too heavily damaged to patch together or seat a bladder. On the vintage Wahl fountain pen below from the 1920s, the nipple actually was still attached to the remnants of the old ink sac but cleanly detached from the section.

A piece of copper tubing has been fit into a vintage fountain pen section to serve as a nipple, to which you can attach a fresh ink sac.

A piece of copper tubing has been fit into a vintage fountain pen section to serve as a nipple, to which you can attach a fresh ink sac.

As Wahl sections from the 1920s aren’t easy replacement parts to find, I find it is best to jury rig a solution. This means it is time for a trip to McDonald’s or the local hardware store.

I have used a variety of objects such as straws (from McDonald’s) to metal pipes over the years. All it needs to be is strong enough to hold a shellacked ink sac.

In this case, the hardware store had a small copper pipe that fit perfectly. Luckily for the pen, the section hole was deep enough to accommodate the inkfeed at proper depth while allowing enough room for the  pipe to hold tight. If the feed rested above the hole, then I would have been out of luck.

To get started, use a rotary tool or hacksaw to cut the pipe to the proper length. Use said rotary tool or some heavy sand paper to smooth the newly cut piece. This keeps it from not fitting or from leaving sharp pieces to hurt the ink sac. Remember to keep the replacement nipple fairly short to avoid it coming into contact with the inner pressure bar or spring. If it is too long, it might trap the filling mechanism and not allow you to fill the pen.

Coat the outside of the tube with some rubber cement, before setting it down in the section. This will seal the microscopic gap between the section and tube if you have a good fit. Plus, rubber cement won’t harm the plastic or hard rubber. Nor will it stick so tightly that you cannot remove the new nipple for any reason.

Make sure no rubber cement is clogging the inkfeed channel, preventing you from using the pen you have worked so hard to restore.

After everything is clear, use a little more rubber cement to affix the new ink sac. As long as you keep the pen away from heat, which you should always do anyway, the rubber cement makes for a good seal for the bladder. Until orange shellac became more available to pen collectors in recent years, rubber cement had been the go-to sealant for putting on new ink sacs. As I wasn’t sure how much I could trust the shellac between metal and rubber surfaces, I went with the old standby that I knew I could trust.

Upon completing this. let everything set and dry for 24-hours. Test it with water or ink to make sure the seals are good. If the pen goes for another 24-hours on its side without any leaks in the nipple, section or sac, you are good to go.

If the sac will fill but cannot retain any fluid, then there is an air leak you will need to find and seal. It might be a well hidden hairline crack elsewhere in the section. It also could be a hole in the ink sac, which is unlikely. Mostly it will be a gap somewhere between the section and the new nipple.

Once everything is tested and holding, put the rest of the pen together as you would any other repair job.

SPECIAL REMINDER: DO NOT force a piece of metal tubing into the remaining hole. Metal tubes are stronger than old hard rubber or plastic. It will crack your remaining part if forced into place.. If that happens, it is time to find a new pen to work on. Be careful.

Slaying the Snorkel Siren

If you have been following these Drippy Musings for some time now, you know that the Sheaffer Snorkel fountain pen has been the bane of my existence for the past decade. I love these pens in all of their complicated filling mechanism glory, but I could never tame those very filling systems.

Here are the magnificent seven! In other words, they are my first graduating class of Sheaffer Snorkel repair pens. Included are two Sheaffer Crests, a Sheaffer Sovereign, two Sheaffer Saratogas and two Sheaffer Statesmen.

Here are the magnificent seven! In other words, they are my first graduating class of Sheaffer Snorkel repairs. Included are two Sheaffer Crests, a Sheaffer Sovereign, two Sheaffer Saratogas and two Sheaffer Statesmen.

Until now…

After getting tons of great advice from readers and other repairmen, I finally dove into a Sheaffer Statesman in grey before the Chicago Pen Show got underway. After carefully deconstructing it, I completely reassembled it almost too easily. It worked as if I had be overhauling them for years.

Since then I have fixed 6 more. A 7th didn’t survive after I cleverly sliced my thumb open with its greased up razor-sharp snorkel. Ow! At least now I can say I have bled for my art.

Here is the first Sheaffer Snorkel repair to survive my workbench. It's snorkel is extended beneath its palladium silver nib.

Here is the first Sheaffer Snorkel repair to survive my workbench. Its snorkel is extended beneath its palladium silver nib.




Yet, with a total of 7 successful restorations, I feel confident enough to offer repair services for Sheaffer Snorkels and PFMs. I also am interested in buying old dead ones with hopes of bringing them back to life. The more colorful they are, the better.

Painting A Parker Vacumatic Blue Diamond

Use Testor's paints to fill in the blue diamond of your Parker Vacumatic clips. Some clips have old paint that tells how dark you should repaint it. Testor's 1111 Dark Blue paint is good for darker blue diamonds and 1110 is good for lighter blue diamonds. I used the 1110 Blue on the Vac Major you see in this photo. Also shown is a toothpick I use for the painting process.

Use Testors paints to fill in the blue diamond of your Parker Vacumatic clips. Some clips have old paint that tells how dark you should repaint it. Testors 1111 Dark Blue paint is good for darker blue diamonds and 1110 Blue is good for lighter blue diamonds. I used the 1110 Blue on the Vac Major you see in this photo. Also shown is a toothpick I use for the painting process.

You have successfully put a new diaphragm into your Parker Vacumatic. The celluloid and gold trim gleam from expert polishing. Now, how do you go about making the finishing touch and repainting the old blue diamond in the clip?

Some clips still have their enamel…or at least some of it. Most these days, do not have it.

Some purists say you should never paint in the blue diamond. Other experts say it is no big deal.

Me, I like finishing the look of the pen as close to factory fresh as I can make it. If you have an ultra rare model with partial paint, perhaps you should leave it as is. But for most of the working pens I deal with, fresh paint won’t effect the value.

The big trick is finding the right color paint to get the blue diamond as close to accurate as possible.

Having spent all of my teen years as an avid model airplane builder, I ran straight to the nearest hobby shop to turn to trusty Testors paints. I took a handful of clips with me and began comparing and contrasting the paint options.

That is when I noticed not all blue diamonds in the Parker Vacumatic clips were the same. Some were lighter and some were darker blue. I let the remnant paint/enamel in the old diamond guide me. I finally settled on two Testors blue paints from their myriad shades.

If you look on the bar code sticker on the back of the paint bottle, you will notice the name of the color and a number. That color number should be universal in any Testors paint display.

For the lighter blue diamonds, I found that the 1110 Blue by Testors is a near perfect match. The next shade darker  is the 1111 Dark Blue, which is a near perfect match for the darker blue diamonds. It sounds intuitive, but there are so many blues from which to pick.

Painting the diamond takes a steady hand and only a teeny-tiny amount paint. You can use a single-hair brush, but I find I prefer using a toothpick that I’ve whittled to an extra-fine point.

Dab in the paint until you have filled in the diamond. Use a magnifying glass to make sure you have filled in the corners. There is bound to be some spillage outside the raised lines of the diamond. I try to clean it up with the dry edges of the toothpick by rubbing a clean, dry edge of the toothpick along the edge of the diamond. If the paint gets down into the feathers of the arrow logo, a little paint thinner on a Q-tip can help get it out before it sets. Remember to make sure the Q-tip is not sopping wet with thinner, as spilling the thinner into the wet paint of the diamond can mess things up, too.

Best of luck on painting your diamonds blue!

Fix Scratchy Nibs

WARNING: The following repair advice can easily mess up your favorite nib if you aren’t careful and experienced.

You think you’ve found the perfect pen at a show, estate sale or antique store. The color is good. The filling system still works. And then you try to write with it. Although the nib looks good, it is a very scratchy writer.

Learn how to fix a scratchy nib with only a little water and some ultra-fine grit sandpaper.

Learn how to fix a scratchy nib with only a little water and some ultra-fine grit sandpaper.

You can fix that scratchy nib with some patience and nerves of steel.

It doesn’t take much effort to ruin or at least alter the width of your nib with the accidental flick of the wrist. DO NOT try this on your favorite pen that has just picked up a hint of a scratch. Get some junkers with which you can build up some experience.

Get to know your nib before you attempt anything. Is it gold? Is it tipped with irridium? Is it a steel nib? Look very closely at the nib. Use a loupe or magnifying glass. Are the tines even? Is the tip bent?

If the tines are slightly misaligned, you can push them back into place with just your thumb nail. Be careful, as misaligned tines often snap very easily. Often, I prefer to raise the lower tine to be even with the upper tine. To do this, push directly up on the single lower tine with your thumb nail to a position just above the other tine. Hold it for a second and then relax it. Check it, and repeat the process as needed. Sometimes, I push the upper tine down. Learning which to redirect really just comes with experience.

If the tip is bent, forget about it. We’ll save that for a different article.

If the tines are even but just scratchy…

Check to see if the tip is gold, gold with a metal (usually irridium) tip or steel. If it is plain gold, which is rare, the sanding process will weardown the nib super quickly. If it is tipped, check to see if the tipping material is still complete. If it isn’t, you’ll need to get it retipped. If the tipping metal is still there, then you will be safer to try to sand the nib into submission. The steel nibs are also pretty safe to try to smooth, although by their nature, they generally won’t smooth as well as the gold nibs. It is rare to find a truely smooth steel nib on a vintage pen, unless it is from the Esterbrook 9000s line.

If you are into freakishly extra-fine nibs, send your pen to a nib expert (and I am not that type of nib expert). If you aren’t so picky as long as you can have a smooth writer…continue reading.

To try to sand the nib into a sweet spot, you will need a small glass of water, a clean sheet of your normal writing paper and some very fine-grit sandpaper. I recommend 2500 grit or finer. You also will want a tissue or paper towel.

Set up on a hard-topped desk or table. A cushioned writing surface will have you putting holes in the sandpaper with the nib and putting odd edges on the nib.

To get started, I like to make sure the pen is full. Then spread a little water on the sandpaper. Next write a figure 8 with the scratchy pen on the watered sandpaper. The water helps to lubricate the sandpaper so that you don’t take off too much from the nib. Your figure 8 should be about the size of your normal letters when writing…maybe a little bigger. Don’t worry about the ink on the sandpaper. And don’t think that the ink will naturally lube the paper enough without water. It won’t.

I like to have the pen full of ink, so I can immediately test the nib on a clean sheet of paper. After your first figure 8, shake the pen in the glass of water and dry off the tip. This just clears the tip of any sand, as you don’t want to keep sanding the nib when you don’t want to sand it. Test the nib on the clean sheet of paper and see how it feels. Patiently repeat one or two 8’s at a time on the sandpaper and repeat the process.

If you find that you need more than a couple figure 8’s, start writing 8’s from different angles, as you don’t want to flatten out the nib in your normal writing position.

If everything is almost perfect but you are still having scratches at the top or bottom of your loops, try to work out those parts of the letter on the sandpaper.

REMEMBER, every time that nib touches the sandpaper, it is going to get wider. Often, it only takes an 8 or two. It is not uncommon for your fine nib to become a medium or a medium a bold nib while trying this repair. If you want to be assured perfection with little change to your nib’s writing characteristics, it is best to find an expert.

J-Pressure Bar Repair Update

A friend and reader of “Drippy Musings” named Harv S. from Palatine, IL, reached out to me this past May to thank me for last November’s piece about making your own J-springs (pressure bars) at home.

Not only did he find the article helpful, he shared with me his own modification to duplicate the action of other pressure bars with an extra “leg” that helps to squeeze out a few extra drops of ink. Below are his photo and advice.

 

Reader Harv S. from Palatine showed us not only the J-spring pressure bar he made after reading our column, he gives his own advice for adding a second leg to the spring to make it perform like some other vintage J-springs.

Reader Harv S. from Palatine, IL,  showed us not only the J-spring pressure bar he made after reading our column, he gives his own advice for adding a second leg to the spring to make it perform like some other vintage J-springs.

“Here’s a picture of the original, weakened, corroded spring and the one I made to replace it.  I couldn’t find brass flashing material so I went with galvanized steel, which should be fairly resistant to rusting though not so much as non-ferrous metal, agreed.  Although the picture doesn’t show it well, I folded over the material so that there’s a secondary leg of the spring just like the original riveted one.  I have some diamond grit files that I de-burred the new spring with and it seems to work well.” — Harv S.

What I love about the fountain pen community is how much we help each other out with this hobby and occassional obsession.

Thank you, Harv. I look forward to seeing more of your’s and other reader’s projects. Please let me know how I can help.

Esterbrook Nibs: It’s Time for a Change

The Esterbrook pen company made myriad nib sizes and styles to customize each of the pens they made to the needs of their users. Best of all, they did it with an easy twist out nib assembly anybody could manipulate.

The Esterbrook pen company made myriad nib sizes and styles to customize each of the pens they made to the needs of their users. Best of all, they did it with an easy twist out nib assembly anybody could manipulate.

Although every fountain pen manufacturer for the past 100 years has made specialized nibs for almost every occasion, only Esterbrook and Pelikan have made it easy to exchange nibs on one pen you already love.

Both companies have made simple complete nib unit assemblies that are easily screwed into and out of the section (grip) of every one of their fountain pens. Esterbrook was the most famous for doing this in the United States from the 1940s into the 1960s. Their line up of nibs included dozens of different sizes and strengths for different jobs.

Whether you wanted to switch from a fine point to a stub for caligraphy or you stabbed your nib into the desk top out of anger or frustration, all you had to do was unscrew the old nib and replace it with a new one.

Each Esterbrook nib had a model number that indicated what type of nib it was. A 1550 was an extra fine “Durachrome” (aka thin steel) nib intended for bookkeeping. A 9314F was a “Master Durachrome” (aka a much thicker smoother writing steel) nib that wrote a fine stub line for a fancy writing effect or caligraphy.

The 9000 series of Master Durachrome nibs was the very best Esterbrook had to offer, and now we offer nearly 100 replacement nibs spanning 7 different models on our Inkwells & Blotters pages. We only show 1 of each of the 7 different models, but you can order several of each.

These 9000 series nibs are getting increasingly rare. Once we run out, we don’t know how soon we will be able to find more.

Make Your Own ‘J’ Pressure Bars

See how the needle nose pliers have started making a box in the end of the brass flashing as I restored this Sheaffer 5-30.

See how the needle nose pliers have started making a box in the end of the brass flashing as I restored this Sheaffer 5-30.

When I first learned the art of fountain pen restoration, there weren’t as many readily available modern replacement “J” pressure bars to fix most standard lever-filling vintage pens. You could try to scavenge J-bars, but they were so old and brittle, they were prone to breaking.

Fortunately, the man who taught me the art of pen repair was a master of improvising repair work. He taught me a lot about do-it-yourself repairs and engineering. As our goal was fully restored pens that worked as good as new, instead of featuring only all original parts, we had a lot of leeway.

Probably the best and cheapest trick he taught me was to fashion a J-bar out of brass flashing that sells for about a dollar a foot at your local hardware store.

Insert the new pressure bar J first, and make certain the length of the new spring is resting on the lever. Pulling out the new J-bar can risk damaging the lever-filler assembly, so try never to pull the new J-bar if possible.

Insert the new pressure bar J first, and make certain the length of the new spring is resting on the lever. Pulling out the new J-bar can risk damaging the lever-filler assembly, so try never to pull the new J-bar if possible.

I suppose you could use steel flashing, but brass has the advantage of not rusting. Either way, be sure to select a very thin piece that has a lot of flexibility. You will also need scissors that can cut it and a pair of needle nose pliers. Once you get everything together at your work bench, follow these steps.

1. Cut the flashing to be the same length as the barrel of the pen you are restoring.

2. Trim the edge of the flashing along its length to get it to fit in the pen barrel. Remember, keep it wide enough to be engaged by the pen’s lever. Some levers don’t push straight down. Some slip to either side. Make sure you cut the flashing so it is wide enough to accomodate this deviation.

3. Test the flashing by inserting it–still straight/unbent–into the barrel to see if it fits well and gives the lever enough space to manuver.

4. Slip the flashing back out of the barrel.

5. Using your needle nose pliers bend one end of the flashing into an arc. You will only want to bend the last 1/4 inch to 1/2. I like to bend the flashing into 2 90-degree angles. This makes a boxy J. It is perfectly fine to make an arched J.

6.  Test to make sure the J is just wide enough to slide into the barrel, while also providing enough resistance against the barrel walls to anchor it.

7. MOST IMPORTANT: Before final installation, remember to line up the J-bar J first into the barrel with the outside portion of the pressure bar against the lever.

8. Insert the new pressure bar assembly into the pen with your needle nose pliers. Push it all the way into the tail. Be careful not to push the pliers deeper than they are meant to go into the pen. They can easily split or shatter the barrel.

9. Insert the resac’d section, and make sure it all fits okay. If it doesn’t you can either trim down the sac or pull out the new J-bar with care and trim it to make room. *** It is important to note that many lever fillers have a pin or pin-ring that holds the lever in place. Pulling out the new J-bar can snap or ruin that thin piece of metal holding in the lever, and that is a lot harder to fix.

It is always best to make sure you got all of your cuts measured correctly the first time.

Your new J-bar will likely never be as effective as the old one, but it will fill your pen reasonably well. Plus it will also have saved you plenty in parts and labor. Believe it or not, you’ll feel a lot closer to your pen once you’ve restored its guts on your own.

When Hard Rubber Misbehaves

A Waterman's #15 eyedropper soaks in water to help loosen the old ink sealing its threads.

A Waterman’s #15 eyedropper soaks in water to help loosen the old ink sealing its threads.

Old hard rubber pens, especially eyedroppers, can be a difficult repair because the pens are so old and frail. It is very easy to overtorque them and crack or crush them.

The problem, especially in eyedroppers, is that old ink effectively turns into glue on these old pens. Eyedroppers are so problematic because the ink always seeped into the threads that held the section to the hollow barrel that served as the pen’s ink reservoir. Other pens with ink sacs get ink-glued when the old sac gave out flooding the inner barrel with ink.

Lucky for you, the solution is really simple. Once again H2O comes to the rescue. Fill a cup with room-temperature water and soak the pen over the line separating the section from the barrel. Let it soak for 12 to 48 hours. This is usually enough time to loosen the old ink and allow the pen to open the way it should.

Sometimes it takes a little heat. Heat is the enemy of your old hard rubber pens. Open flames will melt or burn the pen very quickly. Hot water will discolor the pen, too. If you need the heat, just hold the pen briefly under warm to hot water flowing from your kitchen tap. Don’t expose the pen to the heat for more than a couple seconds, and keep an eye out for discoloration. It doesn’t take a lot of time or heat to start the discoloration process.

My Battle with Snorkels Advances, Stymies

Two Snorkel filling units mock me from my work bench, as I try to sort out the final mysterious reasons they won't draw ink.

Two Snorkel filling units mock me from my work bench, as I try to sort out the final mysterious reasons they won’t draw ink.

For roughly 10 years, I have struggled to find a way to fix the beautiful and brilliant Sheaffer Snorkel. Years ago I saw a poll that asked pen collectors what they prefered: the Parker 51 or the Sheaffer Snorkel. I sided with the 25% that preferred the Snorkel.

Among other things, I am a clean freak. Snorkels are the most mess-free pens of the vintage era. The Parker 61 was/is mess-free, too, but it is static and just aborbs ink. There is no Rube Goldberg intricacy.

The Snorkel satisfies my need for cleanliness and order as well as my need for complicated and elaborate. When they work, they are wonderful pens.

However, in my effort to learn to restore these beautiful devils, I have littered the junkyard with the corpses of those steel filler units.

The reason there was a delay in updating this blog or the vintage pens in the past week was because I had made not one but two restoration breakthroughs with the Snorkel fountain pen. ONE: I finally found a way to remove the plug that holds the ink sac and seals the pneumatic casing without damaging anything. TWO: I found a way to insert a new ink sac and that plug back into said casing.

I already know how to restore the touchdown filler O-rings and assembly. I even know how to replace the Snorkel tube’s gasket between the nib and the section.

All done. Right! NO! Frustratingly, miserably no. I have an air leak or blockage somewhere that won’t allow the pen to fill. Whatever the problem is, I know it is a simple small easy little tweak that is likely staring right at me. I just don’t see it. That is all that is standing between me and finishing about a dozen classic Sheaffer Snorkels that are just dying for the opportunity to work again and be sold into loving homes that will use them and cherish them.

If you know the secret inner psychology of what it takes to fix a Snorkel, please let me know.