Removing sections from barrels is one of the more difficult jobs restorers do. More than any other operation, it’s the one where you can ruin a pen in an instant. You have to be careful – you don’t necessarily know how that section is fitted in there. Is it a friction fit or a screw-in? Might it even be a left-hand thread? At the same time, you have to exert a considerable amount of pressure on that delicate joint. And then there are the sections that don’t want to let go, the ones that feel like they’re welded in.
“How do I remove this section?” is a regular enquiry on the fountain pen forums. One of the common responses is to soak the pen at the area of the section/barrel joint. Personally, I would never do this. I have done, in the long ago, and soon learned that it didn’t slacken the joint and, if the section was made of hard rubber as they usually are in pens of the period I deal with, the HR was often faded by the soaking.
What is it that the soaking is supposed to achieve? Is it believed that the water will penetrate the joint and lubricate it? Frankly, it doesn’t. Water isn’t penetrating oil. It doesn’t find its way into every nook and cranny. Perhaps it’s intended to dissolve any adhesives used. Actually, it’s quite uncommon to find sections stuck in with adhesives (1940s Watermans excepted) and where they are, water is unlikely to dissolve most adhesives. How about warm water, then? Well, it might be a little more penetrative, but only marginally, whereas it’s guaranteed to discolour BHR in the worst way. Add a few drops of dish soap, some say. Again, it might make it a little more penetrating but it’s excessively harmful to HR. Try this. Take a piece of scrap BHR and soak it in warm, slightly soapy water for a couple of hours. Dry it with a kitchen towel as best you can. You’ll find that it doesn’t really dry at once, and has a slightly slimy feel for a while. The surface of the BHR has been penetrated by the soap solution, with what long-term effects I know not, but I suspect it ain’t good.
From my own experience over the years, I would say don’t soak sections. There’s no evidence that it does anything useful and it can do harm. Use dry heat instead. It doesn’t take a lot – a hair drier will do. Heat softens the material a little, making it less brittle and so less prone to breakage. Even when both section and barrel are made from the same material, there will be a tiny bit of differential expansion, breaking the seal. On those few occasions when the section is glued in, heat will soften the adhesive. As I always say (and it’s worth repeating again) patience and persistence are the watchwords. Some pens – plastic Watermans, some Wahl-Eversharps and lizard or snakeskin-patterned Swans among them – may take days of repetitions of the application of moderate heat and careful force to separate the barrel and section, but if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes. Impatience will break the barrel.
For sac-filler or eyedropper pens, I’d say soaking should play no part in repair. Plunger filler or piston-filler pens are another matter, but I don’t intend to discuss them today. “How about ink-encrusted cap interiors?” I hear you ask. “Don’t they need soaked?” If they’re hard rubber, black or coloured, absolutely not. Get to work with cotton buds and do the best you can. If they’re plastic, a short spell in the ultrasonic cleaner followed by more cotton bud work will do a great job. In my opinion, it’s best to avoid the soap here, too. Pen caps are designed to handle a certain amount of liquid, but soap will leave a residue that will do no good, especially to metal parts like clip fitments.
Remove the most of the water with the hair drier and leave the cap to air-dry for a few hours.
If you’re going to knock out the feed and nib, it’s essential to get water through the section to dissolve hardened ink deposits. No need for extended soaking here either, though. Run it under the tap until water is passing through the section and that’s all you need. Dry off a hard rubber section at once, before you knock out the feed and nib, to protect the colour.