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The Pen Doctor XXVIII

Reference Info Index | Glossopedia  ]

Crystallized Pen — What to Do?

Q:I have a beautiful Doric in Morocco, with a roller clip. The end of the cap appears to have crystallized, and a chunk of it has fallen out. I would either like to replace it or fill the defect in to stop further deterioration.

℞x:It’s not possible to stop further deterioration, I’m afraid. Celluloid is nitrated cellulose that has been stabilized with camphor. It is inherently unstable, and it will all decompose over time. (Thicker parts go faster than thinner parts, and clear parts go faster than colored parts.) The only way to preserve the pen in usable condition is to replace the cap entirely with one that has not yet begun to decompose. Also, do not keep the pen in a tightly closed space, or in any space with other celluloid pens, because the nitric acid that the celluloid gives off as it decomposes will hasten the decomposition of any other celluloid objects that are exposed.

Aurora 88 Flow Issue

Q:My vintage Aurora 88 has developed a strange problem with flow through its section (or maybe it’s always been there and I’ve only recently noticed as I went to use it more often). Sometimes it flows, sometimes it doesn’t. After filling, I can usually get a page or two before the problem arises.

℞x:The most likely problem is that the nib has scraped paper fibers from the paper as you write, and these fibers have collected between the nib and the feed, or inside the feed itself, to form a plug. To solve a problem like this, you need to drive out the feed and clean it thoroughly. If you’re inexperienced, this is a job for a qualified repairer. If you have a fair amount of experience at pen repair, you should be able to do the job.

With the section unscrewed from the barrel, wiggle the nib out from the front. The nib has tabs, or wings, that wrap around the edges of the feed to clamp the nib and feed together. Unlike most nibs, it doesn’t extend far into the section, and it should wiggle off fairly easily. If it doesn’t, soak the section assembly in Rapido-Eze for a few minute and then try again.

88 nib removed

With the nib out, cut a piece of ” styrene tubing about 1” long and split it lengthwise. Wrap it around the section to protect the section’s surface, and slip the wrapped section, nose downward, into the proper hole in a knockout block. Take note of how close the feed’s back end is to the back end of the section, and then use a tubular knockout punch to knock the feed out.

Knocking the feed out

Carefully remove the small spiral from the back of the feed.

88 feed

Clean all the parts thoroughly, making sure to floss the slot in the feed, and then use a rubber ear syringe to force water through the feed from the front in order to push out any “stuff” that might be hiding in the interior of the feed. Reassemble the feed and reinstall it into the section, making sure to align the top of the feed with the top of the section. Reinstall the nib. Reassemble the pen using a rosin-based thread sealant between the section and the barrel.

Pelikan Piston Unit Adjustment

Q:I just bought on Ebay an older, all black Pelikan (maybe a 1950/60s plain black 400?) and when it arrived the filler cap was partially unscrewed and wouldn’t screw back in completely (there was a gap of about " between the bottom of the cap and the end of the barrel). I disassembled and cleaned the pen thinking that the piston might have been stuck. However that was not the case. No matter what I do I can’t seem to get the two parts of the piston screw mechanism together AND have the cap screwed on flush with the back of the barrel. There must be an assembly trick, but I haven’t figured it out. Do you have any tips on the re-assembly of the piston filling mechanism?

℞x:This happens when the last person who worked on the pen did not assemble the piston unit correctly. If the piston shaft is not set correctly to the piston knob screw, the knob can bottom out on the end of the barrel before the piston is fully retracted, resulting in an incomplete fill; or the knob can stop before it is screwed down all the way, giving you a complete fill but leaving the knob hanging out where it can be damaged. In either case, repair requires removal of the piston unit, which entails a certain amount of risk to the pen.

If you can remove the piston unit safely, the solution is quite simple.

These piston units are friction fit, and they can be very difficult to remove. If this is a repair you’re not familiar with, you should contact an experienced restorer or return the pen for a refund.

The trick is to install the piston knob and screw it down a couple of turns before you assemble the unit, as shown in the first photo here (illustrated with an M200; the 400 is essentially similar).

Piston housing with knob partway on

Then put the rest of the parts together. Screw the piston knob down until either the knob or the piston itself stops. In this photo, the piston and knob have stopped exactly in the right positions:

Piston unit

If the knob stops first, unscrew things carefully until the knob just barely disengages from the piston shaft. Unscrew the knob turn further, then push the piston in to engage the knob and screw it all together again. If the piston stops first, unscrew things until the knob just barely disengages, pull the piston away a little, screw the knob down turn, then push the piston back in and screw it all together again. Repeat this process as necessary until the knob and piston stop together, or as close as you can get it with the piston stopping first. Finally, reinstall the unit in the barrel.

With a modern M200, M400, and others of that size, it’s even easier. There is a collar at the front end of the piston housing. (In standard pens, the collar is probably brown; in clear or transparent colored pens, it is clear or some other color.) This collar has a slot in it to prevent the piston from rotating. The collar comes out of the housing, as shown here:

Modern puston unit with collar out

Assemble the pieces without worrying whether they’re adjusted right or not. With the collar out of the housing as shown above, screw the knob in until it stops, allowing the piston to turn with the knob. Now hold the knob still and screw the piston in until it stops. Seat the collar back into the housing, and you’re done.

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