Category Archives: Notes from the Work Bench

How Do I Restore a Conklin Crescent

We are by no means done with the Decameron 2020 Project. However, I felt like getting back to pens for a posting. If you’ve been mostly coming for the storytelling, who knows, maybe you’ll get a kick out of a deeper dive into old fountain pens.

Here is a Conklin Crescent 2NL fountain pen in need of restoration.

Let’s look at one of the oldest “self-filling” fountain pen filling systems. In the earliest days of fillable fountain pens, any pen with a bladder or ink sac was considered self-filling. Before that you had dips and eyedroppers. Conklin invented the crescent filler in 1898. For as cumbersome as it looks, it was an insanely simple design. The pen is hollow like an eyedropper, but there is a rubber ink sac affixed to the nipple of the section. A crescent is fitted to a flat steel bar, and when the safety ring is rotated into the proper position, the crescent can be depressed, flattening the rubber ink sac within. The rubber ink sac wants to re-inflate, which fills the sac with ink and pushes the crescent back out of the barrel. Way less messy than an eyedropper, it was an instant hit. Even the famed American author Mark Twain was hired to be an advertising spokesman for the pen.

Don’t soak a Conklin hard rubber pen for very long, as it will discolor the old hard rubber. Be sure to get the water over the end of the section and on to the barrel threads.

If you already read our “How Do I Re-Sac a Vintage Pen” article, this isn’t very different. However, most of these pens are made from black hard rubber more than 100 years ago, and they are very brittle. You want to make sure you are pretty comfortable with restoring plastic/celluloid pens first. These early Conklins are getting much older and harder to find, and they break much more easily.

As with before, you will need some ink sacs, a pair of spark-plug/section pliers, a long dental pick, sac shellac or rubber cement, scissors that can cut through rubber ink sacs, a jar or cup, clean water, polish, a cloth rag, paper towels, a hairdryer, a razor blade and an ultra-sonic cleaner.

  1. Always start by soaking the nib in room temperature water over the threads of the barrel. Now the trick with old hard rubber is that water discolors it quickly. A shiny black will quickly turn to a chocolate brown haze. Don’t soak it for long, just enough to start to leech out old ink and maybe lubricate the friction fit of the section into the barrel. I certainly wouldn’t soak it for more than an hour. I’d probably soak it for much shorter a time.
  2. Next, remove the nib and section from the water and dry them off.
  3. Warm them up just a little with the hair dryer or heat gun. You only want them to be warm to the touch. Heat will also discolor the hard rubber. Plus, it can melt it.
  4. Scrape the dead ink sac out of the barrel. Be sure to be especially careful shaving the ink sac remains off the section nipple.

    Using your section pliers, gently grip and twist the section counter clockwise in an unscrewing motion. Sometimes it takes nerves of steel, patience and experience to discern the difference between the old ink sac inside the pen cracking and the barrel of the pen cracking. If the barrel cracks, you’ve likely killed the pen and made it nothing more than a parts donor.

  5. Once you get the section to start coming out, gentle, small wiggles can work it out without further stressing it from twisting. Very small wiggles. You can easily break the barrel, especially when the section looks as if it is almost out of the barrel. The more the section wiggles, the more it can act as a lever to crack the barrel. Some people choose the give the nib and section a sonic cleaning and others don’t. The sonic action can destroy the part if there is a crack already starting in it. More than 30 seconds to a minute will start discoloring the rubber. However, I’ve also found that pens this old often are filled with sediment-based inks that need something special like a sonic cleaning to remove the caked-in old ink.
  6. After the section is out, the rest is fairly easy. Scrape out all of the old ink sac from inside the barrel and very gently shave off the remaining sac on the nipple. Your razor can easily cut the nipple or cave in a wall of the nipple. Go super slow and easy with only small motions.
  7. Polishing old hard rubber is difficult. You can wear away a lot of rubber very quickly, ruining imprints and chasing.

    With everything cleaned out and disassembled, that is when I like to polish the pen and parts. You cannot go as rough on century-old hard rubber as you can plastics. I like to use MAAS metal polish on a soft terry cloth rag. Mostly I just give a light going over of the pen and cap with the polish and rag because both strip away the top layers of the rubber and can remove chasing and other imprints. It also removes some of the chocolate hazing. Using a Q-tip, I also polish the nib and crescent.

  8. Reinstall the crescent filler and lock it in place with the safety ring.
  9. Dust the ink sac in talcum power to help preserve it.

    Size and trim an ink sac that isn’t too snug inside the barrel. If you don’t have the crescent filler with the bar reinstalled first, you won’t get the proper fit.

  10. Use orange shellac to attach the sac to the section nipple.
  11. Dust the sac in pure talcum powder
  12. Very gently and slowly reinstall the sac and section into the barrel. This is another high-risk move that can crack the barrel so take it easy. You might even want to warm-up the barrel a bit.

Wait 24 hours for the shellac to dry before filling the pen. Then you are ready to write.

The finished pen should look much cleaner and be ready to write.

How Do I Re-Sac a Vintage Pen

You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, the old saying goes, and it is true for learning how to fix vintage pens. Today, we are going to learn how to restore a lever-filling fountain pen…or re-sac it, as they say. But first, you are going to have to get used to the concept that you’re going to destroy a few pens along the way—even if you’re careful.

Find a few good, cheap vintage pens to practice restoring before experimenting with more expensive models. This deformed Sheaffer Balance 350 is a great starter pen.

When you are starting out, don’t begin with an unrestored version of your grail pen. Find some broken-down cheap pens such as Wearevers, Esterbrooks or even this banana’d Sheaffer 350 Balance. The longer you are on the hunt, the more you will find vintage pens that turn into the shape of bananas. The deformation happens when the pen is left in the sun or near a heater for too long, which warps the plastic/celluloid.

In addition to a good practice pen, you will need some ink sacs, a pair of spark-plug/section pliers, a long dental pick, sac shellac or rubber cement, scissors that can cut through rubber ink sacs, a jar or cup, clean water, polish, a cloth rag, paper towels, a hairdryer, a razor blade and, if at all possible, an ultra-sonic cleaner. You can get most of these items pretty cheaply. One trick of the professionals is to buy a pair of rubber coated spark-plug pliers, instead of formal “section pliers” that you can find on many pen restoration sites. Why? Spark-plug pliers can be had for less than $10 at most auto parts stores. Section pliers are almost always the same, exact pliers but marked up to $20 or $30. In the early days of pen restoration as a hobby in the 1970s and ’80s, a lot of guys used regular pliers and cut off two one-inch sections of hose to cover the teeth of their normal pliers. That’s how I was first taught.

Attempting to keep this simple, I’m going to break this down into what I hope are very simple steps to make this as fun and easy an experience as possible.

  1. I like small mustard or baby food jars to use for filling with just enough water to get the pen wet from the tip of the nib to just over the threads of the barrel.

    Fill a cup with just enough room-temperature water that you can stick your pen in and go just a little bit over the section and past the cap threads. (Sections are the writing grip into which the nib and feed are inserted in one end.) Let it soak for at least an hour. (Never use hot water.) This leaches out a lot of the dried old ink in the nib and inkfeed, while also potentially softening any glue or shellac used to hold the section tightly into the barrel. Many of the old factory repair manuals encouraged repairmen to use a dab of sac shellac to hold the sometimes loose pressure-fit sections into the barrel. WARNING: Water is necessary, but it also isn’t your friend. Black hard rubbers turn chocolatey brown in water fairly quickly. (An hour might be too long for some rubbers.) Some celluloids get more brittle or discolored when in water too long. Be sure to dry off the pen as soon as you remove it from the water.

2. Use the hairdryer to warm up the space where the section and barrel meet. DO NOT melt the plastic or set the celluloid on fire. All you need is a little warm to the touch. Until you get comfortable, keep the heat to barely noticeable to the touch. Grip the section, and only the section, with your rubber coated pliers. Very gently and slowly begin to twist counter clockwise as you hold the barrel in your other hand. It is common to hear some very scary cracking sounds. Usually, that sound is the petrified rubber ink sac in the pen breaking apart as you open. Sometimes it is the pen barrel breaking. Experience will teach you the difference. If you feel the section coming loose,

Grip only the section with rubber coated pliers, such as these spark-plug pliers. Don’t grip too tightly, just enough not to let go.

keep twisting slowly and gently. If you do not feel it turning or you feel it actively resisting, stop twisting. Some sections—especially Parker Duofolds and Vacumatics—were threaded into the pen barrels, which is why we usually start with a twist. Most pens of all brands were straight pressure-fit sections. HOWEVER, some brands—especially Wahl-Eversharp, although they were extremely inconsistent—used little pins in the barrel or section to hold the section firmly in place. You CANNOT twist those sections without destroying the barrel or section. If a section resists twisting, hit it with a little more heat and very gently start trying to wiggle it in teeny, tiny side-to-side motions while pulling straight out.

This is the most dangerous part of the entire restoration job. This is where probably 80% of all pens break, if they are going to break. ALSO, celluloid is insanely flammable. DO NOT get it hot. If it catches fire, it burns like a magnesium flare. It is an extremely hot burning flame that burns extremely quickly. Early on, I accidentally set a Vacumatic on fire. It scared the hell out of me, and it was a miracle I didn’t burn down my house. Even after getting it under running water it didn’t go out right away. I had to drop it in the steel sink and flood it to put the fire out. In about 10 seconds, it burned away the majority of the barrel. Be careful with the heat.

Use a razor to scrape the old sac pieces off the section nipple.

3. Once the section is free, scoop out the old sac guts from inside the barrel with the dental pick. Sometimes those guts stick pretty good to the inside of the barrel. A flashlight or gun light can help you see in to make sure you got it all. Do not put water in the barrel to clean out the sac or old ink. This will likely ruin and rust-out the pressure-bar assembly.

4. Use the razor to scrape the remnants of the old ink sac from the nipple of the section. Be careful not to cut yourself or split open the nipple.

5. Fill your ultra-sonic cleaner with clean, room-temperature water. Sometimes a drop or two of ammonia will help badly clogged pens. Put enough water in to completely submerge the cap and section assembly. Before you turn it on, let the cap soak for a minute or so. This allows the water to penetrate the inner cap, where a lot of old ink is usually trapped. After the cap and section have had a minute to soak, turn on the ultra-sonic cleaner for no more than 2 minutes.

If feasible, an ultra-sonic cleaner is the easiest way to remove old ink.

You might not see a lot of “action” with your eyes, but the vibrations are practically violent to the parts that are submerged. It can shake free most of the old ink in two minutes or less. If a cap lip is cracked, I’ve seen some caps crumble in the ultra sonic cleaner. That’s how powerful it is.

NEVER stick your fingers in the ultra-sonic cleaner when it is turned on. It can damage your fingers and their joints. Also, don’t leave your parts in for much longer than two minutes because the cleaner will get hot and potentially damage or discolor your parts.

Turn off the ultra-sonic cleaner, collect your parts and drain the old dirty water. Then rinse the parts under the faucet with room temperature water for a few seconds. Shake the parts dry, and then dry them with a paper towel on the outside. Q-tips are perfect for drying and removing the remaining ink from inside the cap.

6. I like to polish the pen next, especially the nib. It allows me to see any major flaws I might need to work on, such as replacing the nib while the section is exposed. I use a pin-head dollop of MAAS metal polish on a Q-tip to get the nib shining like new. I use the clean side of the Q-tip to wipe off the remaining polish. Then I dip the nib in water and dry it with a clean rag to get off the remaining, invisible polish remnants. I repeat the process with a pea-size drop of MAAS metal polish on the rag and polish up the rest of the pen, rubbing it down several times with the clean parts of the rag…avoiding water.

Every repairman I know seems to have a different process for polishing a pen. The method above is adequate for most pens. Yet, if you’re a detail-oriented person, there are myriad methods of multiple polishes or wet sanding that do a much more factory-fresh looking job. Yet, those methods take up to an hour and are worthy of their own article.

This photo illustrates how to eyeball the spot you need to trim the ink sac.

7. Sizing an ink sac. How detail oriented are you? You can easily research what size sacs went into what pens. You can measure the nipple with a fine ruler using increments of 1/64th of an inch, the way old pen repair manuals did to find the right aperture width of the ink sac. Or, you can eyeball it.

The real trick to eyeballing it isn’t fitting the sac to the nipple but finding the right sac to fit inside the barrel. You do not want the edges of the sac to snug against the inside of the barrel. It is best if the sac can easily slide in and out of the barrel, preferably with a little space all around the sac. If one is to carry a pen in their shirt pocket, the goal is not to transfer body heat through the barrel to the sac and ink, which might effect the interior pressure of the ink in the pen and have it leak a bit on you with a full pen.

Regardless of how you choose the sac size, you will likely need to trim the ink sac before installing it. Most ink sacs are longer than the pen barrels. My rule of thumb is quite literally a rule of thumb. I stick the sac in the barrel as far as it will go. I then pinch the end of the barrel at the threads, with my thumb having just enough reach to go past the threads. Pinching awkwardly down on the sac, right where it exits the barrel, I remove the sac. Gaging where my thumb tip is, I trim the sac at the tip of my thumb. Usually, this allows just enough room for the section and nipple inside the pen so that the sac can be as long as it needs to be. You can double check the length by putting the section and sac next to the empty barrel, as they would fit inside it.

Use Talc to powder and preserve your new ink sac before final re-assembly.

8. Most modern pen restorers use orange shellac to affix the sac to the nipple. Before most of us learned how to make or knew where to find orange shellac for sale, rubber cement was the go-to adhesive. Orange shellac is nearly perfect, as it can harden and still be water soluble. Rubber cement forms a good seal at first but can be more easily effected by heat and aging. Yet, it better fills-in tiny hairline cracks in the nipple, hopefully extending the functional life of the pen. (NEVER use super glues of any kind. The rubber ink sacs will give out long before the super glue ever does and you can ruin the pen by forever getting the section stuck in the barrel…or sticking other wrong parts together.)

On this pen, we painted only the nipple with a thin layer of shellac. Then we slipped the sac over it. After that, we dusted the sac with pure talcum powder, which helps to extend the life of the sac.

9. Fitting the section back into the barrel is the second most dangerous part of the restoration process. Sometimes the barrel opening shrinks while the section is out and cracks open if you put the section back in too quickly or roughly. If the section feels like it is having difficulty going back in, maybe warm up the barrel end a little and gently wiggle the section back into place. Although it doesn’t really matter, I like twist the section into place where the top of the nib is even with the lever on the pen.

Congrats! Your pen is fully restored, looking beautiful and ready to write.

If the section is too loose, you can tighten it up with a tiny cut out of a piece of onion-skin paper. Or, like the old repair manuals, you can use a small drop or two of shellac on the section. Just wipe off the excess shellac and keep it out of the threads.

10. Let the shellac dry. As the shellac is water soluble, I wait about 24 hours before I test the pen with water or ink. Once the shellac is dry and the pen tests well, you’re all done. Congrats!

It took longer to read this article than it likely will take you to restore a pen—at least once you get used to the process. Fixing and writing with vintage pens is my favorite part of the hobby. If you like seeing how things work and getting your hands dirty, you’ll love pen repair. The only thing that improves it for me might be repairing pens while listening to a Cubs game on the radio and nursing a cold beer.

Always feel free to write in with questions. And always remember to go slowly and take your time. It isn’t a race. Enjoy the zen of pen repair, and best of luck to your future projects!

How Do I Replace a Lamy Nib?

(There is risk in doing any repair. We will not be held liable for what happens to your pen if you break it while trying the following advice.)

Changing a nib on a Lamy Safari or AL-Star is easy. All you need is the pen, tape and a replacement nib.

Changing a nib on a Lamy Safari or AL-Star is easy. All you need is the pen, tape and a replacement nib.

Lamy Safari and AL-Star pens are among the most popular pens on the market today. Bright, modern, affordable and made to work well under the most trying conditions, what is not to love? Many people’s favorite feature is that the nib is easily changed.

The genius German engineers and designers behind this pen put the nib on a pressure-fit track system for easy assembly and repair.

How easy is it? The only tool you need is a piece of tape. Go ahead. Get your tape, and I’ll teach you how it is done.

Place your index finger on the inkfeed to stabilize and support the fragile feed when you change a nib.

Place your index finger on the inkfeed to stabilize and support the fragile feed when you change a nib.

First, it helps if your pen is empty and dry.

Next, gently grip the section (writing grip) of your pen and place your index finger gently on the plastic inkfeed under the nib to brace it.

With the top of the nib facing you, place a piece of tape on the entire nib. Be careful as the plastic inkfeed under the nib is easily broken if you are not careful, and those are much more difficult to replace, as Lamy doesn’t give out those parts.

Put your other index finger on top of the tape and nib. Using your thumb, grip the ball of the nib from underneath it.

 

 

 

 

Tape helps your fingers gain added traction to slip off the nib.

Tape helps your fingers gain added traction to slip off the nib.

Pull, gently and straight out, on the tape and nib tipping. The nib should slide right off the inkfeed.

Turn the pen over, with the bottom of the inkfeed facing you. Turn your replacement nib upside down and align the little runners with the tracks of the inkfeed.

Slide it into place until it stops. Turn it over again to see the top of the nib. There should only be about a millimeter or so of inkfeed visible.

Voila! You have successfully changed the nib. Congratulations!

 

Turn the inkfeed upside down where you can see the tracks for the runners of the nib to slide into place. Gently pinch the side of the Lamy replacement nib and slowly slide or wiggle the nib into place.

Turn the inkfeed upside down where you can see the tracks for the runners of the nib to slide into place. Gently pinch the side of the Lamy replacement nib and slowly slide or wiggle the nib into place.

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.