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The Pen Doctor XXXVII

(This page published April 1, 2021)

Reference Info Index | Glossopedia  ]


Inky Fingers from Touching a Feed

Q:I have found that once a pen is filled, I never find ink emerging from the comb (the “fins”) under the the feeder of the pen. I never SEE ink “in” the fins themselves. This is the case with Pelikan, Mont Blanc and so on.

However, I have several Aurora pens where I find that even after I have filled and cleaned the pen, when I stroke the comb I have ink on my hands. I also have noticed this with my OMAS pens, which have a flat feeder, with tiny fins on its side that are almost covered by the overlapping sides of the nib, that when I touch that area, the feeder seems to bleed, as if the material was “sweating” ink.

Ink does not drip out of these pens, and they write quite well.

℞:What you are seeing is a manifestation of the difference between plastic feeds and ebonite feeds. Plastics are hydrophobic, with poor wettability; that is, the surface of a plastic feed generally repels water. This means that ink, when it does collect in the feed fins, will stay in the crannies where capillary action holds it. Ebonite, on the other hand, is hydrophilic, with excellent wettability; it likes water. Ink can (and does) spread out across the surface. Typically, the ink won’t flow around corners to leave the spaces between the fins, but since it’s spread out over the entire surface in that area, wiping across the feed with your fingers will result in inky fingers.

Aurora’s response is like the old joke:

“Doctor, it hurts when I do this.”

“Well, then, don’t do that.”

The problem has been around for as long as there have been fountain pens. In 1898, Lewis E. Waterman received U.S. Patent No 625,722 for a feed designed to reduce the likelihood that a user’s fingers might contact surfaces where ink might be.

Disassembling a Filcao Columbia

Q:My Filcao Columbia needs a new sac, but I can’t get the pen apart. Could you tell me how to get into a Columbia to replace the sac?

℞:The Columbia was the first of a series of excellent Filcao pens. As such, it had a little teething issue. The gripping section is a resin sleeve that fits over a threaded brass connector and is held in place by the nib unit housing. The brass part is secured into the barrel with an adhesive that will soften with heat. Filcao learned quickly from this pen, and all the rest of the series have one-piece resin sections with the nib housing screwed into place in the usual fashion.

Fountain pen

The best way to get into the pen is to put it in the freezer for about an hour. Take it out, and apply gentle heat with a crafter’s “embossing” heat gun like the one shown below. Apply the heat to the barrel only, protecting the section from the hot air blast. The freezer will have caused everything to contract slightly, and the heat will cause the barrel to expand, at the same time softening whatever adhesive is there. Monitor the temperature by using the “lip test”: stop frequently and touch the heated area to your lower lip. If it’s too hot, let it cool a bit; the ideal temperature is when it’s just bearable. At that point, you should be able to unscrew the section from the barrel using section pliers with a good squeeze.

Heat gun

Replacing the Retainer Strip in a Vacumatic Filler

Q:I took my Speedline Vacumatic Maxima’s filler apart to clean out most of a century’s worth of gunk, and my cat chose the wrong time to go dancing across my workbench. I picked up the pieces, but when I started to put the filler back together, I discovered that the little piece of metal that holds the filler together was gone. Can you sell me a replacement part?

℞:I checked with Richard and with Mike Kennedy, and neither of them has a retainer strip to sell. (Parker’s patent calls this part the “pin.”) With that idea down the tubes, it turns out that you can make one very easily, and Mike told me how he makes them. Here’s a 3-D cutaway drawing of the filler:

Speedline Filler

Good hobby shops carry metal strips, sheets, rods, and tubes made by K&S Precision Metals, and you can also find K&S materials online. What you need is a stainless steel strip " (12.7 mm) wide by 12" (30.5 cm) long, 0.012" (0.3 mm) thick. The K&S stock number is 87151.

Cut a small sliver from the strip 0.068” (1.6 mm) wide and long enough to extend all the way through the slot in the inner collar. The best way to do this is to cut the strip crosswise at one end, and the best tool to use is an old-fashioned Ingento or Premier heavy-duty paper cutter, the kind you might find in a school or a printing shop. The X-acto paper cutters you can buy at Staples are not adequately sturdy for this kind of work. Tinsnips, or even a good set of heavy sewing shears (your own, not the ones that belong to your spouse or significant other!), will work in a pinch, but either of these tools wil cause the sliver to curl badly, making more work for you. The sliver needs to be straight and flat. Once you have your sliver, trim it to length so that the inner collar with the strip installed will fit easily into the retaining collar. Don’t cut it so short that it can slip out of the slot at one end. If it does slip out, the filler will fall apart in your hand.


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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