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(This page published March 1, 2021)
I’m replacing the bladder on my Vacumatic. My problem is the pump’s tapered inner collar has separated from filler pump’s threaded retaining collar. What would you recommend to glue the two pieces back together?
The two collars should never, repeat NEVER, be glued together. They must be separate and able to turn freely against each other for assembly so that the tapered collar will not rotate in the barrel as the threaded collar is screwed down on it. If it does, it can twist the diaphragm into a hopeless mess. I find the collars glued together on occasion, but that situation makes things very difficult for the repairer, and it also makes it likely that one or both collars will be damaged when the repairer separates them for reassembly.
Likewise, you should never use adhesive anywhere else on either collar. Some repairers shellac the diaphragm to the tapered collar, but according to original Parker repair manuals, Parker never did that. Similarly, some people glue the threaded collar into the barrel. Parker used a special Vacumatic adhesive at this joint, but it’s important to remember that (1) unlike the Parker factory, you do not have an unlimited supply of replacement filler pumps or barrels, and (2) it’s not necessary; the threaded joint is not a leakage point, and so long as you do not make the mistake of lubricating the threads, it will stay together perfectly well without any adhesive.
To put it plainly, using any adhesive anywhere on the filler pump will not make things work better, but it will make it more difficult for future repairers to work on the pen, and it can destroy the pump or the pen’s barrel.
I loaned my Parker 51 to my girlfriend and she dropped it. It landed on the end of the cap and now the cap is stuck on. How can I get it off?
As a professional repairer, I’ve often gotten to work on “51”s with stuck caps after what my clients tried didn’t work. A little thinking outside the box produced a reliable and elegant solution. Put the pen in your kitchen freezer, and leave it there for at least an hour. The reduced temperature will cause the cap and barrel to shrink a tiny bit.
At the end of the hour, turn on the kitchen faucet, set it to as hot as it will go, and let the water run until it’s hot. Take the pen out of the freezer. Holding it by the barrel with the cap downward, hold the cap under the stream of water so that the water flows all the way along the cap without running onto the barrel. This will cause the metal cap to expand slightly, but the barrel won’t get a chance to expand with it.
Rotate the pen to heat the metal all the way around. After about 30 seconds, turn off the water, grasp the cap with a dry towel, and pull the cap and barrel in opposite directions while trying to turn the cap as if it were screwed on. I’ve never had this one fail.
I just bought a vintage pen, and I don’t know what it is made of. How can I find out?
Determining what a pen is made of requires a little ingenuity and sometimes a little experience, but it is in general not difficult. You can often identify the material of which a pen is made by smelling it. Here are some of the most common pen materials, the trade names under which they were (or are) sold, and the odors they produce:
Hard rubber (Ebonite, Vulcanite) gives off a sulfurous, burning rubber smell when warmed by being rubbed briskly with a thumb.
Cellulose nitrate (Celluloid, Xylonite; called Radite, Permanite, and Stonite by pen makers) gives off a smell of camphor when sanded or filed, and sometimes smells even without being disturbed.
Casein (Erinoid, Galalith) smells like burned milk when warmed by being rubbed briskly with a thumb.
Phenolic resin (Bakelite, Catalin) smells like carbolic acid (a fishy odor) when warmed by being rubbed briskly with a thumb.
Cellulose acetate (Acetate, Bexoid; sometimes incorrectly called celluloid) smells like vinegar when warmed by being rubbed briskly briskly with a thumb.
Acrylic resin (Lucite, Plexiglas) gives off an acrid smell when new. After some time, the smell dissipates and does not return.
Polystyrene (Styrene, used for cheap pens) has no discernible smell.
There is some additional useful information, about pens that might be made of something other than what you would expect, in Chapter 2 of the Pen Detective’s Guide.