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The Cardinal Rules for Pen Repairers

(This page published January 1, 2024)

Reference Info Index | Glossopedia  ]

There are lots of ways to ruin pens. Follow these basic rules to avoid finding new ones.

Repairing your pens can save you money, and using the repair skills you’ve learned can feel remarkably rewarding: “I did it! It works!” It can even be fun, maybe even a hobby alongside your collecting bug. But there are some basic rules that every would-be pen repairer should take to heart but might not think of until it’s too late. Here, in the hope of saving you some grief, I present the cardinal rules for pen repairers.

  1. Do not learn on pens you care about. To understand why, refer to Rule 2.

  2. Nobody who works on pens isn’t going to break some. Including you.

  3. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Duh.

  4. Never use open flame. Vac flambé might be interesting to watch, but it doesn’t write very well.

  5. If a lever won’t open, don’t force it. In a fight between an ossified sac and a lever, the sac will win every time.

  6. Patience is better than power. Unless you like mashing sections, barrels, and other miscellaneous parts.

  7. Know the limits of your tools. Melting a pen is best done on a junker so that you will know what it takes.

  8. The amount of hair you will tear out is inversely proportional to the quality of your tools. Ditto for parts.

  9. Take photos as you disassemble an unfamiliar pen. Forgetting how to reassemble a pen is tacky.

  10. When in doubt, seek professional assistance. People who won’t help you aren’t professionals.

Thou shalt not learn pen repair by watching YouTube videos. There are some very good videos on YouTube, but there are more bad ones than good. Many videos have been posted by people with a good helping of self-confidence but without the necessary experience to back it up, and those videos can be deadly for your pens. Unless you are already skilled at repairing pens, you have no way to tell which videos are good and which are not. Spend the time (and the money, if necessary) to read books and articles written by recognized experts with decades of experience under their belts.


The rules above, while true and valid, have been written somewhat lightheartedly in the hope that you’ll internalize them. Let’s get serious for a moment. Think of repairing a pen as a lot of little things that might individually seem pretty meaningless, but when combined they contribute to making a great thing. For example, Rule 6 says that patience is better than power. Usually, it is. But sometimes there’s no option other than the use of force. The skill comes in knowing when to work gently and when to use force. Depending on the circumstances, either method could be the right one. If a pen is worth restoring, then it’s worth not risking its destruction by using scrounged tools that might work. Sometimes, even with guidance from a legendary professional, things can go wrong. Let Rule 2 help you in making any such decision.

  1. About Rule 8. Price is not a metric for quality. You can construct a high-quality knockout set by drilling an assortment of holes through a block cut from a 2×4 and making punches from a couple of appropriately sized brass tubes with their ends smoothed and squared. (Or just buy a good set of brass-tube knockout punches.) Whatever you do, do it carefully. Take the chips off the edges of the holes and sand down the roughness on the block. The goal is to have tools that work, not tools that make you work.  Return

  2. Rule 10 requires some explanation. Sometimes a professional will help you by telling you that the repair in question is too involved or too risky for a hobbyist; or that you just don’t have the right tools; or that the repair, in the person’s professional judgment, is simply not possible. See Rule 2.  Return

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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