Tools: The Knock-Out Block.

Pen restorers have a tools problem in the way others might have a drinking problem or a heroin problem, and sometimes family interventions become necessary as the furtively-purchased tools continue to multiply. You can never have enough pliers, for instance, or angled dental probes. Faced with the array of tools on display in a hardware store, most restorers could find a use for them all. Every one.

There are some standbys that are unique to the pen mechanic, though, and the knock-out block is one of them. Over the years I’ve had three. The first one was a simple wood block with a metal top and various sizes of holes drilled through. It worked but it wasn’t very stable. I then got one of the cylindrical metal type. Better, but still not what I wanted – it was too small and fussy. Then an older restorer retired from the craft and sold off a mountain of tools and spares which I managed to snag. Among them was this knock-out block:

It’s stable, roomy and holds a range of punches at the sides. It has good open clearance underneath to let the nib and feed drop clear. Perfect!

At least two-thirds of my pens never touch the knock-out block, though. Some restorers will proudly tell you that they totally disassemble all the pens that they repair but that’s not my way. Fitting a nib and feed accurately is no trivial matter. Unless it’s essential it’s better not to have to do it. After all, despite their age, most old pens have retained their original factory settings. If the nib and feed are in good order and well aligned, it’s best to leave them alone. Flushing them with a lot of water clears dried-ink blockages and ensures good future ink flow. On those rare occasions when that’s not enough, or when the nib is damaged and needs to be worked on or replaced, or when a nib is stuck in a rotated position, that’s when the knock-out block comes into its own.

Red And Black Hard Rubber

This is my current daily user.  I keep a pen for a few weeks until something even better comes along, but I’m really enjoying this one.  It’s one of those well-made no-name mottled hard rubber pens that turn up fairly frequently, probably dating to the early thirties.  All these years later, it’s impossible to guess who made it, with any degree of certainty.  The machining is good, the parts fit together very well and it’s a very useable pen.  On the other hand, the plating on the metal parts is little more than a gold wash, and the nib it had when  it came to me was an un-tipped steel one which had worn down to a paper-cutter edge.  I replaced it with a Swan No2 from the parts box as a temporary measure until a suitable warranted nib comes along.

As you might guess from my eBay account name, I’m fond of red and black hard rubber, whether in the Waterman Ripple style, or in this very pleasing woodgrain.  Though I suppose they might have been a little brighter when the pen was new, the colours are mellow and the material is warm to the touch and pleasant to handle.  I have seen red and black hard rubber described as fragile and I suppose it may be where the pen parts are delicate, but in general I’ve found it pretty robust – more so than some of the celluloids that Waterman and Eversharp used a few years later.

The pen is quite substantial and thick enough to give a comfortable grip.  The nib is semi-flexible and the line variation is easily invoked.  I keep a full flex pen for those special jobs like invitations and place-settings, but for everyday use a semi-flex suits me better.

The Swan Metal Pocket

The first fountain pens just weren’t portable, unless you liked ink-stained clothes, but soon after the turn of the twentieth century improvements to feeds, screw-on caps and safety pens meant that they could be carried, provided they were kept upright.  As fixed clips hadn’t arrived on the scene, pen and accessory manufacturers tried various solutions.  In many ways, the removable accommodation clip was the most successful, but it did have a tendency to scratch caps.

Mabie Todd’s answer was the Swan Metal Pocket:

At first glance it seems like an unnecessarily clunky solution but actually it’s eminently practical.  Though well made it is light.  The clip will attach firmly to any thickness of material from cotton shirt to tweed jacket and the pen is held securely but lightly, with no risk of marking it.

The clip is stamped with a beautiful Swan emblem; as this part would be visible, Mabie Todd wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to advertise their products.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating.  These accessories sold in huge numbers, many of them still around today.  The proof that this one was well used is on the back, where it has been rubbed down to the bare metal with years of use.

Though almost completely superseded by the modern fixed clip, the Swan metal pocket will still provide a means of carrying our clipless pens today.

Welcome!

I restore fountain pens, and this blog will be about all aspects of the fountain pen hobby.  While I know how to bring a pen back to working life, I’m no expert on the history of the pens I work with and it may well be that you will know more than I do about many pens.  I’m learning as I go, mostly from the pens themselves.

A lot of pens pass through my hands – around sixty in the average month, so I should be able to find quite a few subjects to post about.  I hope to post fairly frequently.  Not every day, because of constraints of work, but often enough, I hope, to get some good discussion going on our favourite subject – fountain pens!