Tag Archives: Sheaffer pen repair

Shopping for a Sheaffer PFM

The Sheaffer Pen for Men, more commonly known as the Sheaffer PFM, was a luxury fountain pen first released in 1959. Like the Ford Edsel, it wasn’t quite as popular in its time as it should have been and was made for only several years. Years later, it has become an iconic pen for vintage pen collectors.

From left to right are a Sheaffer PFM I, II, III, IV and V. Notice the changes in the caps and nibs.

Keeping a car analogy in mind, PFMs came in 5 trim lines counted out in Roman numerals: I, II, III, IV and V.

• SHEAFFER PFM-I—This was the most basic and inexpensive trim line. It sports the same plastic cap and body as in higher trim lines, but the cap clip and band are steel, instead of gold plate. Its inlaid nib is made of “palladium silver,” which today is likely more valuable a precious metal than gold. All trim lines of the pen filled with a larger version of the Sheaffer Snorkel filler.

• SHEAFFER PFM-II—This pen was identical to the PFM-I except for its cap. The PFM-II cap was made of steel. It also should be noted that the palladium nibs feel much firmer than their 14k counter parts.

• SHEAFFER PFM-III—Some collectors choose to focus the most on these pens, as they were a gold upgrade with a matching plastic cap and barrel. The cap trim was gold plated and the nib was an inlaid 14k gold nib. Many collectors find these nibs to feel a little softer and smoother.

• SHEAFFER PFM-IV—PFM-IVs sport a polished chrome cap with gold plated trim. You also spot a flat gold-plated plate on the back of the blind cap. The rest of the pen remains the same as the III.

• SHEAFFER PFM-V—The pinnacle of the line, Vs were the same as IVs, except they had a completely gold-plated cap that featured an etched pattern reminiscent of the New York skyline.

In addition to the five standard trim lines, Sheaffer made a “Demonstrator” version of the pen so that pen stores and traveling Sheaffer reps could show how these complicated fountain pens worked on the inside. These pens were not for sale to the general public and were made in very small quantities. Worse still, their fragile clear plastics are known to get little cracks in them called “fractals.” The pens, which are effectively PFM-III models that are clear, are valued on clarity, internal ink staining, cracks like a normal pen and these little fractals.

An average to bad PFM Demonstrator might still command more money than a PFM-V, which normally gets more money than the other trim lines. A near perfect Demonstrator can cross into $2,000-plus territory in the year 2023.

In addition to the clear model, PFMs came in black, blue, burgundy, green and grey. Grey seems to be the rarest of the colors and also commands the highest prices. A PFM-III in grey would likely get more money than a grey PFM-V because the grey caps are so hard to find.

Cracks in the pen are the bane of collectors’ everywhere. Sheaffer, and the world, was still experimenting with plastic. The plastic chosen by Sheaffer for the PFMs tends to get increasingly brittle with age. When shopping for a Sheaffer PFM, you want to look very closely for tiny hair-line cracks in both ends of the barrel, at the start of the section nearest the barrel, around the inlaid nib and under the nib around the feed area. A crack in the barrel all but guarantees that the pen won’t fill properly, as there will be too many air leaks for the pneumatic filler to function properly. Cracks around the section and nib might equate to seepage of ink. This bothers some people more than others.

Sometimes, whatever held the inlaid nibs in place to begin with starts to deteriorate, and the nibs can seep through no fault of anyone. Yes, PFMs are a little more high maintenance and problematic than many other vintage pens, but they can also the pen you want to turn to most.

Restoration of these pens is a bit complicated, as are all snorkels. The O-ring and sac replacement are basically the same as the thinner, earlier model Snorkels. However, the PFM requires a special tool to unscrew a part of the section to reveal an inner chamber to replace the point seal. Larger O-rings and Point Seals are required for PFMs compared with standard Sheaffer Snorkels. Replacing the point seal can be challenging and risk cracking the section through no fault of a restorer. Don’t be surprised to see restoration costs span $50 to $75 for a simple overhaul with a new sac, O-ring and point seal. Those 3 parts are cheap, but you are really paying for the extra-time and expertise that go into fixing these pens.

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.