The Biters, The Grippers and the Throwers Away

People do terrible things to fountain pens. When I examine a new arrival, the two things I look for are bite-marks and tool-marks. As a very general rule, with sadly too many exceptions, bite-marks tend to be on cheaper pens, the ones that were bought for school pupils. Chomping pens is a childish habit, though it isn’t entirely confined to children. If it’s no more than very shallow nibbles, I leave it alone. If the indentations are a bit deeper but there’s no savaging of the material, the application of heat can often work wonders. If it’s the “test the strength of my jaw muscles” gnawing, it’s time to look for another barrel.

Tool marks make me see red. They’re such an unnecessary piece of vandalism. If someone has used those old, worn pliers they had lying around, and the section moved easily, then there’s hope that heat will restore the section. That’s hardly ever the case, though. Usually, they seize the brand-new pliers they bought yesterday, the ones with razor-sharp jaws, and apply them with the grip of a demented gorilla. Nothing’s going to repair that, and there are only so many replacement sections. They’re not making them any more, for the pens I work on.

I’ve never used pliers on a section in my life. No, not even section pliers. Fingers are enough. We learn from an early age to control our fingers so as not to break things, but the moment we use something that will grip harder and apply more torque, we risk damage. Persistence, heat and judicious soaking (you don’t want to discolour black hard rubber sections) will eventually loosen all sections – even those glued-in Waterman Taperites or exceptionally-grippy lizard-skin Swans. Lest you imagine I do all this with the mighty power of my massive paws, I’m female, I have small hands and I don’t work out. I just have patience and perseverance. The section that doesn’t come out today will come out tomorrow. Or a week tomorrow. I do have a use for section pliers, but it’s not for sections. I use them to remove clip screws, where the thread is longer and deeper-seated and the part is not so fragile as a barrel. Even then, it’s with much preparation in the way of soaking and heating.

The other thing people will do is dismantle a pen they’re about to sell. That would be OK if they kept all the bits, but I not infrequently get button fillers with no pressure bar, and sometimes with no button either. I can only assume that they don’t like those nasty metal bits and they throw them away. I can usually find another button, but the loss of the pressure bar can be a problem. Modern replacement button-filler pressure bars aren’t very good. They are weak and don’t have the flexibility of the old ones. They have a tendency to stay bent when they should spring back. I’ve tried several sources but I think they must all be made by the same manufacturer. That means replacements have to be salvaged from somewhere else, and you can only do so much robbing Peter to pay Paul before you have a pile of inoperative button-fillers.


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