Nib Straightening Tools

Bent and buckled nibs are a problem.  I can usually get them back into working condition but often they don’t look as good as they once did.  Part of the reason for that is the tools that I’ve been using – a hardwood pen rest with a good concave area and a somewhat spoon-shaped dental pick that I have ground and polished into the shape that I want.  These just aren’t good enough!
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I had a look around online for tools and settled on Laurence Oldfield’s (Penpractice) full set of nib straightening tools in a wooden block.  It’s not cheap but it is the business!  It arrived yesterday and I’ve done some work with it already.  It makes a tremendous difference to this difficult task.  Also, I have to say, I spent quite a bit of time just looking at it.  It really is a work of art.  I do love handmade tools!

If you do a search online you’ll find several solutions to the problem of nib straightening.  I have no doubt that they all have their advantages but I must say that I am very satisfied with this one.

Sacs

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Have you seen a sac like that before?  It came from a Waterman 52 that clearly hadn’t been used for a long time.  I’m not sure why it should be ridged in that way.  Perhaps it helped to ensure that the sac did not stick to the pressure bar or the inside of the barrel.  Strange that I shouldn’t have come across one of these before but I don’t remember doing so.

Sacs are quite confusing these days.  There is the basic latex sac that we’ve used for most repairs for a long time.  Then there are the sacs that we thought were silicone but turned out not to be, and there are David Nishimura’s true silicone sacs.

For me, the latex sac remains the default.  Unless the pen is one of those colours that are greatly at risk of deterioration when latex sacs begin to decompose, I see no reason to use anything other than a latex sac.  Latex sacs are by far the most flexible and therefore cause least stress on the filling system.  Those sacs that we once believed to be silicone but have proved not to be don’t seem to have a place in pen repair any more, so far as I can see.  Their place has been taken by Nishimura’s silicone sacs.

We are very fortunate that today’s sac manufacturers were able to resuscitate the process.  Without sacs – and for a time their production had ceased worldwide – pen repair becomes very limited.  Lever fillers, button fillers, Vacumatics, Touchdowns, Bulb fillers, Crescent fillers and a host more – most pens, in fact, would be unrepairable.  Competition would be quite stiff for Onotos, Fords, Sheaffer plunger fillers and the like.  Many of us might be limited to (shudder) the cartridge/converter!

The Yaltec Flashlight

I’ve employed a wide variety of flashlights and penlights to peer into the barrel of pens in search of dislodged pressure bars and sacs that have turned to a particularly repulsive version of chewing gum.  I haven’t been especially pleased with any of them, and about a month ago I went trawling the internet for something better.

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I found that a whole new generation of flashlights had grown up while I was looking the other way, probably missing this event through lack of light.  I picked out the Yaltec because it wasn’t too wildly expensive and the copy wasn’t as melodramatic as some of the others.  Two of the things that  were said are that it is “The Brightest Pocket Sized Torch in the UK “ and that it produces “1300 Lumens per square metre (at one metre) CREE XM-L U2 LED”.  I confess I have no idea what the second boast means but the first one may well be true.  It’s certainly BRIGHT!  Scary bright, like if you shone it upon yourself it might drill right through you.  Peering into fountain pen barrels has never been easier.

It uses those stocky little CR123A batteries, and though it’s not as demanding as I had anticipated, it does scamper through them quite quickly.  However, you can get rechargeable ones, though you’d almost certainly have to buy yet another charger, as I did.  I have chargers for two different types of camera batteries, a supposedly universal charger (hah!) and two other chargers for our ebooks.  That’s not counting the dedicated chargers for hedge trimmers, screwdrivers and so on through an interminable list.

All that aside, though, my life has definitely become a little brighter.  And when I sit in this room (which is north-facing and quite dim) staring hopelessly at all those Parker and Swan pens in very, very dark blues and greens and reds which look black in any but the strongest light, I only have to flick the switch on my Yaltec and all is revealed.  Oh, the sense of power!

The Section And Nib Flushing Bulb

My last puzzle didn’t trouble anyone very much, though no-one guessed what I actually use it for, as opposed to what it was intended for. I might now and again blow the odd stray speck off the lens of my camera with it, but the real bane of my life is lint on dark pens and the little bellows makes a fine job of blowing that away.

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It somewhat resembles this thing, which is a very useful and time-saving tool. I don’t believe in knocking out nibs and feeds unless there’s a very good reason to do so. It’s never easy to re-seat a nib precisely as it should be, and some nibs – Parker Duofolds for instance, and some all-metals Wahls – can make your life quite a trial when you come to refit them. Best to leave them where they are except in cases of absolute necessity. After all, they were probably factory-fitted and those guys had the tools and the experience to do it right.

The cases of absolute necessity for me were where nib repair necessitates removal, where the nib and/or feed have become seriously displaced, or where old dried ink has totally clogged the feed. This little nib and feed flushing bulb removes the latter necessity in almost every case. A little gentle pumping gets the water moving through the feed and soon the assembly is as clean as a new pin.

Once you’ve done it a few times, knocking out a nib is an easy procedure, but as with any procedure with old pens, there’s a risk of damage, however small. Anything that minimises that risk is a bonus and it saves the time that would be spent resetting the nib too. It’s all good!

A Useful Tool

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I bought this thing to help me with my pen work, and it does a good job.

What does it do?

A Basic Pen Repair Tool-Kit

In recent days I’ve twice seen people asking for advice on restoring pens without any tools whatsoever. Really, that’s not going to fly. You have to have a basic tool-kit or you’re going to break pens.

If repairing a pen is something you’re going to do once in a blue moon, it’s probably cheaper and better to send it to a good repairer. If, however, you have an interest in bringing old pens back to life, your initial outlay is likely to be quite modest.

First you’ll need to examine the pen. A 30x21mm  jeweller’s loupe is adequate and can be had for three or four pounds. If, as time goes on, you get deeper into repair and restoration, this is one of the areas you can spend quite a bit of money on as you acquire bench magnifiers and Donegan headsets, but an ordinary loupe is all you’ll really need for inspection.

Next you have to get the pen apart. Though there are occasions when there’s no alternative, such as with Lucky Curve Parkers and some old eyedroppers, it’s not good practice to try to pull the nib and/or feed out of a pen with your fingers. The likelihood of damaging the nib and even breaking the feed is quite high. Get a knock-out block. You can pay quite a bit of money for these but Penworkshop and Cathedral Pens both have them for under £20.00. Or you can make one to Ron Zorn’s plan: http://mainstreetpens.com/articles/cheaptools_1.htm In practice, it’s often unnecessary to remove the nib and feed from the section. Why do it unless you must?

Before you can get to the back of the feed, though, you have to separate the barrel and section. Some soak them, I use dry heat. A hair dryer will be enough and if you don’t have one (if you’re bald, f’rinstance) you can buy a perfectly good little travel hair drier for under a fiver! Even if you have soaked the barrel and section (and I would suggest that you don’t bother) always apply heat. It reduces the brittleness of the materials and makes breaking much less likely. For actually pulling them apart I generally say if you can’t do it with your fingers you shouldn’t be repairing pens, but that’s just me. You can improve your grip with latex gloves or rubber bicycle inner tubing. If you must be a wuss, you can buy section pliers. Personally, I never use them for this purpose and in the wrong hands they’re the worst pen-breakers of all, but with gentle heat and a lot of caution, they can do a good job. Caution really is the watchword here: between the squeezing action of the pliers and the greatly increased torque that the leverage of the handles gives you, you can break a pen surprisingly easily until you get a feel for the force you need to employ.

Another warning: even a hair drier can destroy a pen if it isn’t used with caution. It’s unlikely to set celluloid alight as a heat gun can do, but it can certainly apply enough heat to irreparably distort a barrel. A little practice will tell you how close to hold the nozzle and how long to apply the heat to free up a tight section or soften shellac.

So the section and barrel have been pulled apart. First thing you’ll see on the sort of pen you’re likely to tackle as a beginner is a perished sac. A pocket knife is good for scraping the remains of the sac off the nipple. Inside the barrel, the sac may have attached itself to the barrel and the pressure bar, and will need to be scraped out. A dental pick will do the job. A good 6-piece set of these with the various bends and twists that will let you get anywhere in the barrel will cost a fiver or less in eBay. Sometimes the sac has become very sticky and forceps are good for getting that out. Curved, angled or straight four or six-inch forceps cost very little – often only a couple of pounds.

For fitting a new sac you’ll need shellac. The eBay seller chillipea (among others) sells small bottles of shellac with a brush for around £6.00 in eBay. Pricey, perhaps, but convenient and the little bottle will fix hundreds of pens. If you want to be more economical, you can buy shellac in larger quantities or make it up yourself.

You’ve got the pen apart, removed the old sac and dealt with the nib and feed if it was necessary. Time to fit a new sac. How do you know which sac to fit? Penworkshop provide a sac gauge for £9.00. Seems a bit expensive for all it is, and there’s more to choosing a sac than determining which size of sac fits the nipple best. You want the biggest sac size that will not touch the sides of the barrel. Don’t buy sacs one at a time. Given today’s postage costs that’s fiendishly expensive. Buy one of the kits of several popular sac sizes that many vendors offer. You’ll soon work out which sacs you use most, given the type of pen that you collect. Sometimes the correct size of sac can be a little difficult to fit on the nipple. Some vendors (Ian Williamson of Cathedral Pens is one) provide a sac fitting tool. Myself, I use a set of dividers with the sharp points ground down and rounded off.

Apply some talc or French chalk to the sac, fit, and reassemble the pen. That’s about it for the most straightforward repair, sac replacement. You might want to brighten up your pen a bit. The Novus polishes are excellent, with No 1 being all you need for most pens. Jeweller’s rouge will shine the metalwork without being too abrasive.

You can buy a pen repair kit which includes all you’ll need for a start from Penworkshop for £45.00 which isn’t a bad price, but you might do better picking up the various tools wherever they’re cheapest. As you become more ambitious, you’ll want other things. There’s a variety of types of pliers that are useful in pen repair. Needle-nosed pliers are pretty much essential and you don’t want to scrimp on them. Get good quality, as the cheap ones don’t grip well. Your ultimate tool-kit is limited only by the repair jobs you’re prepared to tackle. You’ll begin to haunt the aisles of DIY shops.

Then there are the specialist tools, some of which you can buy. They’re not cheap, because the market is so small. Others you may make yourself, if you’re knacky that way, like a spanning screwdriver for Conway Stewart clip fixings, or a tool to remove the pressure bar from Swan Leverless pens.

Then there’s a vice, power tools, a workshop and …

You get the idea.

This ‘n’ That…

My apologies for the continuing neglect of this blog. It’s unavoidable. As I work towards going retail, the day just doesn’t have enough hours. All I can say is that once that’s over, the blog will return to normal.

I’ve been looking through the queries that brought people to my blog. One querier wanted to know what the name of the person was who started Mentmore Pens. That one’s easy to answer: nobody knows! The longer answer is that the company seems to have begun in a couple of back garden sheds in 1919. By 1928 we know that the managing director was A. Gilbert and other directors were M. Pollack, P. Leaver, A. Leaver and Arthur Harris. Later, the company was managed by Arthur Andrews.*

Another person wanted to know how to polish a nib with jeweller’s rouge.  Jeweller’s rouge comes in solid, paste or powdered form or in impregnated cloths. I use the solid form. A 500g bar costs about £6.00 nowadays and it will last you all your life and your children can pass it down to your grandchildren. Chemically, it’s ferric oxide. It’s gentler than most metal polishes but it’s still a pretty effective abrasive, so don’t get too enthusiastic on two-tone nibs or it may eventually remove the plating. Liquids and pastes can dry between the tines of nibs and even get into the channels of the feeds, causing flow problems, hence the use of dry rouge or an impregnated cloth. There really is no technique. Apply rouge to cloth. Rub nib. Admire your reflection in the nib. Jeweller’s rouge gives gold a slightly reddish tint. If you don’t like that, a quick swirl in the ultrasonic cleaner will remove it.

*With thanks to Stephen Hull for this information, from his excellent The English Fountain Pen Industry 1875 – 1975.