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The Pen Doctor XIX

(This page revised September 30, 2019)

Reference Info Index | Glossopedia  ]


Lubricating a Pelikan Piston

Q:The piston in my Pelikan is tight, and I’m afraid I’ll break something if I keep using it. Can I lubricate it? How?

℞:If the pen has a plastic piston seal (not a cork), you can lubricate it. You must first find some 100% silicone grease. In the U.S.A., this grease is sold for use by divers (to lubricate scuba gear) and by restaurateurs (to lubricate food processing equipment). Some online pen dealers also carry it. Do not use any silicone grease that contains even the tiniest amount of petroleum distillates!

To lubricate the piston, empty the pen completely and flush it with water until the ejecta are clear. Draw the piston back up, as if filling the pen, and remove the nib unit. Twist the corner of a paper towel into a point (often called a “twizzle”), insert it into the open end of the pen barrel, and use it to absorb any remaining droplets of water from the inside of the barrel. Put a tiny amount of grease on the end of a wooden toothpick or match. Do not use a metal instrument such as a dental pick! Insert the toothpick or match into the open end of the barrel, and apply the grease around the inside of the barrel as close to the piston as you can get it. Now run the piston down and back up a few times. It should move very easily after the first stroke. Reinstall the nib, fill the pen, and write!

Trim Corrosion in Cigar-Box Pen Cases

Q:I just read on one of the pen sites that storing pens in wooden cigar boxes can cause the trim to corrode. Is this true?

℞:It’s not impossible, but I think people may be making too much of this. For the serious “archival storage” people in the crowd, any closed container could be considered a problem for storing vintage pens because celluloid is unstable and releases nitric acid as it decomposes. In a truly airtight space, celluloid pens will therefore eat themselves and each other. The possibility of corrosion also exists in very tight boxes because woods are slightly acidic.

But there’s also a possibility of reductio ad absurdum. Most cigar boxes are made of Spanish cedar. This wood is not the same as the aromatic cedar that’s used for cedar chests; it’s far less dense, and it contains virtually none of the aromatic oils that make cedar chests so good for repelling moths. Well cured Spanish cedar is very dry and remarkably benign; if it weren’t, I wouldn’t expect much from the poor acidified, mothproofed cigars inside the box.

Drippy Bulb Filler

Q:I have recently acquired an Eversharp bulb filler stenographer’s pen. The pen fills OK and writes what I would call a dry fine line. Sometimes, however, ink accumulates at the underside of the nib, between the nib and feed, and so eventually there is a blob of ink on the writing paper. Can I adjust the flow myself? I was told not to mess with the section of such pens…

℞:The problem with a pen like this is almost never related to the flow. It’s far more likely that there’s a leak somewhere, usually a pinhole in the bulb (a truncated sac). These pinholes are so small that ink can’t pass through them, but air can. The first thing to do, therefore, is to replace the bulb, being careful to use enough shellac on the nipple to ensure a good seal.

If replacing the bulb didn’t solve the problem, there could be a leak between the section and the barrel. Remove the section, clean the parts, and reinstall the section, using plenty of rosin-based thread sealant. You can use shellac in a pinch, but non-hardening sealant is better for this application.

If resealing the section joint didn’t do it, either, reseal the insert at the back end of the barrel.


The information in this article is as accurate as possible, but you should not take it as absolutely authoritative or complete. If you have additions or corrections to this page, please consider sharing them with us to improve the accuracy of our information.

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