(This page revised June 28, 2022)
If you’re going to work on fountain pens, you’re going to need some tools and supplies. This article lists and describes many of the essentials, things that you simply cannot do without. The ones you buy might or might not look identical to the ones you see here. in most cases, so long as they’re functionally the same, their appearance doesn’t matter. In a few cases, however, it does matter, and these items are indicated with a red star (⭑) so that you will know they're important.
The items described in this article are listed alphabetically because there is no other reasonable organization that will apply to every repairer’s needs.
NoteIf you are a frequent visitor to the Repairer’s Corner, you will see that some of the information here duplicates information from some of the repair articles themselves. It never hurts to have essential information in more than one place.
Denatured alcohol,, like water, is a general-purpose solvent. You can use it to thin your sac cement when the cement has gotten too syrupy thick, and you can remove all sorts of adhesive or sac-cement residue from your tools and from some pens. It is the ideal cleanser for the rubber stopper you use to install or remove Parker jewels.
CAUTIONDo not use alcohol on pens made of celluloid or other cellulosic resins, or on casein pens; it will damage the material of which the pen is made.
Alligator forceps are long, thin grippy things with handles like a pair of scissors. When you open the jaws, only the very tip, approximately " (13 mm) right at the end of the shaft, spreads. Alligator forceps come in several lengths for use in shallower or deeper recesses. in my experience, the size shown here is the best for working with pens. Longer alligator forceps are cumbersome in the often tight quarters of a hobby bench. (I have a set about three times as long as the one shown here, and the only time I use it is when I’ve mislaid the shorter set.) Longer ones are also more prone to becoming sprung when squeezed too firmly. See also Hemostat.
This design allows you to install or retrieve small parts deep inside caps and barrels; e.g., the pressure bar in the Waterman pen shown here:
A bench knife is a general-purpose cutting and scraping implement that you can use for odd jobs like scraping out the interior of a pen barrel. I've found that the most useful bench knife has a sheepsfoot blade. Sheepsfoot, or sheep’s foot, describes a blade with a straight cutting edge and a blunt back edge that curves down to meet the sharp edge. The point is not used for stabbing or piercing, and to reduce the risk of accidentally stabbing yourself or the thing you’re working on, it’s not nearly so sharp as many blades’ tips. Until about 2010, you could find the sheepsfoot bench knife shown here at one or two jewelry supply houses, but as of this writing the best inexpensive sheepsfoot knives are Victorinox paring knives. If you want to use a sheepsfoot blade in an X-acto handle as your bench knife, there is a No 26 blade for that purpose. If you decide to go this route, you will need to buy a pack of blades and a No 2 handle; the sheepsfoot blades do not fit the common No 1 handle.
For cleaning crud off of pens or out of them, brushes are the premier tool. A set of tube brushes, as shown below, can clean inside barrels, caps, sections, and many other tubular parts. Nail brushes will come in handy for cleaning the outsides of caps and barrels, especially the barrel threads that engage the cap. You can also use them for cleaning under clips where you don’t want to, or cannot, remove them. I recommend keeping two nail brushes, one for dirty work and one for finishing work on clean parts. The critical thing to remember is that you should use only brushes made with natural bristle. Never use brushes with bristles made of nylon or any other synthetic material; synthetic bristles can be harder than the materials you are working on, such as celluloid or hard rubber, and they can make deep scratches.
Bulb syringes are perfect for forcing water through a barrel or a section assembly, or for driving water into a cap to lift out ink that’s hiding down there at the bottom of the inner cap. An unmodified syringe like the one on the right is especially useful when you want to flush ink out of a cartridge/converter pen; wedge the syringe in the back of the section, and squeeze. You can fit a cut-off syringe like the one on the left over the nose of a hooded-nib pen like a Parker “51” or 61 for cleaning these pens easily. You will find other uses for these tools as well.
Cotton swabs are indispensable for cleaning out tight areas and for applying dabs of Rapido-Eze, water, or whatever. I prefer the type with paper sticks because you can cut off one end at a diagonal and have a very handy pointed hard paper tool for pushing stuck-on ink out of sections or “51” collectors and for precision application of Simichrome or Flitz. Buy a big pack. You’ll need it.
How else are you going to fill eyedropper-filling pens or empty cartridges for testing C/C pens that you don’t have converters for? Get a glass eyedropper, not a cheap plastic one. Some states don’t allow the sale of medical syringes, but in most states you can buy them at designated pharmacies through a clean needle program. (I don’t know the laws in countries other than the U.S.A.) The first thing to do with the syringe’s needle is to grind its end off flat and deburr it.
WARNINGDo not keep a sharp syringe in your work area, or you will end up stabbing yourself.
Pen flush is a surfactant fluid formulated to aid in the removal of dried ink from inside a pen, where it can cause flow and clogging problems. There is a widely known recipe for making your own flush, and that stuff works pretty well. I developed the first commercial pen flush, however, and years of experience have shown me that Indy‘s IDEAL Pen Flush, which is an advanced formulation based on that original product (now discontinued), does a better job. Regardless of which brand you use, a good quality pen flush is an essential tool.
For removing sections when you need to replace a sac or work on a lever or a pressure bar, the first tool you should think of for holding the barrel while you use section pliers on the section is your bare hand. But sometimes the barrel can be too slippery, or you might just be having an off day with hand strength, and you might need something that grips a little tighter. Instead of reaching for the heavy artillery (a second set of section pliers), reach for a rubber gripper square. One of these 6" squares of rubber-coated burlap-like fabric will give you a great grip without concentrating it in one place the way section pliers do, and it will save you from having to explain a crushed barrel to the person whose prized RRHR Waterman’s Ideal No 56 you were resacking.
For striking nonmetallic tools such as knockout punches and homemade pin punches, you will need a hammer. Do not try to use a carpenter’s hammer here; that kind of weapon is serious overkill. You need a lighter touch. The inexpensive jeweler’s chasing hammer shown here has a 3-ounce head (85 g), and that is about as heavy as you should go. The handle on a chasing hammer should be a “pistol grip” as shown here; this shape works better than a straight handle when you’re sitting at a bench.
WARNINGUse a rawhide mallet, not a hammer, to strike metallic tools such as center punches, commercial steel pin punches, etc. Striking two hardened surfaces together can chip off flakes of metal and send them flying right into your eye.
Many operations, such as applying thread sealant to a threaded joint, require you to heat the pen you are working on.For a heat source, I recommend the rubber stamper’s “embossing” gun that you can get at craft stores (illustrated below). It‘s inexpensive and reliable, and you can control how much heat it delivers by holding the pen nearer to or farther away from it, as necessary.
WARNINGDespite what you might have read in various repair books (including Da Book), do not use an alcohol lamp or other open flame. Celluloid is highly flammable! Even when you use a heat gun, it is wise to keep a bowl of water handy just in case you should happen to heat a celluloid pen to the degree that the celluloid begins smoking and hissing like a firework snake. You can’t blow this kind of fire out, but water will quench it.
Although you can use a heat gun that is sitting on your workbench as shown above, it’s easier to use one that is mounted to the front edge of the bench, as shown here, so that its blast points straight up. This keeps both the heat gun and your hands clear of other items that might be in the way on your workbench.
Like alligator forceps, hemostats (sometimes called Kelly clamps) are long, thin grippy things with handles like a pair of scissors. They are straight, not bent, and they have an easy-to-use latching mechanism near the handles. Hemostats are handy for many of the same things as alligator forceps, but you can apply more force with a hemostat, and of course you can latch it to keep it from dropping a part. See also Alligator Forceps
A good handheld loupe is essential for seeing tiny cracks, nib misalignments, and other problems that are too small for the naked eye. Beware of cheap loupes! They are poorly made, and their optics are of low quality. A good loupe should have a broad, bright field of view, and its optics should be achromatic and anastigmatic; that is, they should accurately show you what’s really there. You can pay in the hundreds of dollars for a good loupe, but you don’t have to. The BelOMO 10× triplet loupe shown here is the perfect solution. It is inexpensive, its magnification is ideal for pen work (even on nibs), and its optics are as good as those in many loupes costing two, three, or even five times as much. You can find it at Amazon, eBay, and other places on the Internet.
NoteYou might see some pen collectors using lighted loupes, or even dealers selling them. I do not recommend a lighted loupe for general pen use, and it’s impossible to use one for nib tuning unless you turn the light off. I’ve tried half a dozen different varieties of these tools, and none of them has been worth its cost to me.
Metal polishes are essential for cleaning pens, removing tarnish, and more. With all the polishes available, it can be difficult to decide on the best for your needs. In more than two decades of working on pens, I have never found a need for any metal polishes other than the two described here.
Simichrome is a somewhat controversial topic. Some restorers swear by it, and others swear at it. It can remove serious tarnish on clips, cap bands, and other furniture, especially in areas that are brassed, such as clip shoulders and clip balls. It works by a combination of chemical action and mild abrasion, and using it too aggressively can remove thin gold plating. Especially on cheap third-tier pens from the 1930s and 1940s, just a gentle wipe with Simichrome will take the gold plating off a nib, so great care is required to avoid damaging pens like these. Because it is mildly abrasive, Simichrome can be used to polish dulled surfaces of celluloid or acrylic pens; but I do not recommend using it on hard rubber. The biggest objection to using Simichrome is that if you don’t clean absolutely every bit of it off the pen you’re working on, the stuff you’ve left behind will dry to a pinkish-white powder, immediately identifying you as a careless and sloppy worker. You have been warned.
Flitz is a less aggressive polish, primarily because it is not abrasive. It is useful for cleaning and polishing pens that are in good shape but just a little dirty and/or tarnished. It is available in both liquid and paste forms; I find the paste easier to apply and less messy (no drips or dribbles). Like Simichrome, Flitz should be thoroughly cleaned away when you have finished polishing.
Whichever polish you use, it’s best applied with a new cotton swab or a clean 100% cotton rag. Never work on pens using synthetic fabrics; the fibers of some synthetics are harder than the resins used to make pens, and they can scratch.
Another of those “What do I do with this?” chemicals that you will find useful is naphtha. Take note of the spelling of naphtha; many people misspell it naptha, the way the company that makes Fels Naptha® soap did so they could use it for a trademark. Spelling aside, the stuff is the basic component of lighter fluid and also of most penetrating oils. As a penetrating oil, it works its way into rusty or corroded threaded joints, and that makes it invaluable for unscrewing stuck nuts and bolts. It is also a magical solvent for loosening corroded aluminum barrel liners in celluloid 1920s Wahl pens so that you can remove the section. Keep it handy; you won’t need it very often, but when you do, there is no substitute.
For most vintage pens, removing the nib and feed calls for a knockout block and a couple of knockout punches. A knockout block can be as simple as a block of wood with some holes of assorted sizes drilled through it and sanded to remove splinters. If you go that route, I recommend adding feet at each end of the block so that its top surface is about 2" (51 mm) above the workbench surface; this will give you enough distance to prevent damage to feeds and nibs as you knock them out of their sections. Commercial knockout blocks like the one shown here, from Fountain Pen Hospital, cost more but are provided with a great variety of holes and are all neatly finished so that you can get right to work on your pens instead of having to make your own tools. There will be plenty of opportunities to make your own tools as your skills advance, trust me.
For the knockout punches, you can use lengths of metal rod with their ends finished straight across, flat, and smooth, but when it comes to knocking out a nib and feed with a breather tube, you will need to use tubes instead so that the breather tube can hide in the bore of the tube instead of being mashed. (Pulling breather tubes out of their feeds, especially if they are hard rubber, can be disastrous.) I recommend spending a little more and buying a set of professional knockout punches with handles like the ones shown here. They are easier to hold and to control, and the best ones are made of tubing so that you need not worry about those breather tubes.
Paper towels are good for soaking excess ink out of feeds when you fill pens to test them. They are also great for soaking up spilled ink after you knock over an ink bottle. (I’ve been there, so you’re not alone.) You can use paper towels for general cleanups, and you can twist a corner of one into a twizzle for cleaning out the last bit of watery ink after you’ve soaked a cap and then brushed it out. There are myriad other uses for paper towels, and as much as I dislike creating paper waste, there’s no viable substitute. (Rags can’t do all that paper towels can do; if they could, I wouldn’t mention paper towels at all. And you don’t want to spend your life washing rags after you clean up the messes that are inevitable in a pen studio.) Don’t waste your money on premium paper towels; the cheap ones work better because they’re not so soft and will therefore make better twizzles. I recommend buying select-a-size paper towels that are perforated at short intervals so that you can use less paper or more, as the need calls for.
The most important tool in every repairer’s toolbox is patience. Some repairs happen in seconds. Others can require minutes or hours or days. If that section won’t let go right now, go do something else and come back to it later. It might want more heat than you’ve used, or it might be ink locked and require overnight soaking, or any number of other reasons. If the sac you’re attaching keeps slipping off the section, hold it in place for a few minutes until the shellac has had time to begin drying. (Cellophane tape can take the place of your fingers for this one!) The important thing is that if you aren’t patient, you are almost certain to damage something. Another aspect of patience is that it’s part of the learning process. Never learn a new technique on a pen that you care about. Learn on junkers or what my friend Waco Johnny D refers to as horse-show pens. (If you take the pen to a horse show and a horse steps on it when it falls out of your pocket, you won’t be upset.) Take the philosophical approach. Patience is its own reward. If you are patient and careful, you will be able to restore pens you’d have been afraid to touch a couple of years ago.
|Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.
Pin probes are invaluable for cleaning out the interiors of breather tubes and some types of feeds, and they’re also handy for probing around inside barrels and caps to loosen stuck bits of sac or other unwanted junk. Buy a small stock of " (13 mm) dowel pins from a woodworkers’ supply, and a couple of lengths of steel music wire (0.032" and 0.025" are good starters) from a hobby shop. Cut 4" (~10 cm) lengths of the wires, push the wires a little distance into the ends of a couple of dowel pins, and you’re all set. The leftover dowel pins and wire will come in handy for making other tools. The upper probe shown here came from the late Rev. Terry Koch; I made the lower one using a handy piece of dowel (because I didn’t have any dowel pins).
These are tools you will probably not need at first, but you will soon find them necessary. A set of commercial steel and brass pin punches like the ones shown here will allow you to set rivets, knock out Esterbrook cap jewels, and deal with other similar tasks.
Many pens (e.g., Onoto plunger-fillers and A. A. Waterman twist-fillers) have small-diameter pins of metal or hard rubber inserted through transverse holes to hold things together. Commercial punches for specialty pins like these are not readily available, but you can easily make them by following the same basic procedure as the one I give for making pocket-pen pin spanners. For a pin punch, you will use a length of steel music wire of the appropriate size rather than the brass tube that a pin spanner calls for, and instead of drilling through the tubing for the staple, you will drill through wood only, just behind the music wire. It’s best to cut the music wire a little long and then finish it to the desired length, about " (13 mm), after seating the staple. Use a Sharpie to mark the wire diameter on the punch body, and cover that side of the body with cellophane tape for permanence.
The best and safest way to brighten up the furniture on pens you restore is to use a jeweler’s polishing cloth. These cloths are for all practical purposes non-abrasive, and they are impregnated with chemicals that remove tarnish without damaging the metal underneath. They will also bring up that last little gleam on celluloid, hard rubber, and other nonmetallic pen bodies. There are many brands around, but the best I know for consistency and reliable cleaning is the Sunshine Cloth. Some pen dealers have it, and you can also find it at commercial jewelry supply houses.
No matter what work you do on pens, you will need rags for cleaning, polishing, and other tasks. It doesn't matter where you get your rags, but it does matter what they are made of. Some synthetic fabrics are made of fibers that are harder than the surfaces of the pens you will be working on, especially celluloid. These rags can, and will, damage these pens. It is important that you use 100% pure soft cotton rags. Every five years or so, I buy a couple of packs of yellow cotton rags from an auto parts store. They’re in the cleaning and polishing supplies department. They’re really inexpensive, and it‘s worth the cost to actually buy rags like this instead of using dead shirts, blouses, or other materials whose safety is unknown.
Calligraphers and artists tend to use India ink, which is not suitable for fountain pens. You might, however, be called upon to clean a fountain pen that has been used with India ink, and Rapido-Eze is designed just for removing India ink from pens. It’s also good for cleaning the insides of pens that have been used a little carelessly and are unbelievably grubby and for cleaning barrel threads: when you find that Parker Duofold Big Red that is perfect except for the solid black interior of the cap, Rapido-Eze is the friend you need. It comes in a two-ounce tub that is the perfect size for soaking nibs, feeds, and sections, or in larger squeeze bottles that you can use as your reserve, to refill the tub when its contents get sludgy or to fill a soaking jar for cleaning barrels and caps. Don’t just dump the whole contents of that larger bottle into a more convenient glass, tub, or whatever; you really will need a reserve supply of clean Rapido-Eze.
A rawhide mallet is the tool of choice for striking metallic tools such as center punches and commercial pin punches. It’s also essential for de-dinging metal caps, which you might decide to do at some point.
You are not going to be able to learn everything on your own. Take advantage of the reference materials that are available, including books such as Pen Repair, by Jim Marshall and Laurence Oldfield; FOUNTAIN PENS the complete guide to repair and restoration, by Frank Dubiel; manufacturers’ service manuals that can be found online or in reprint form; and websites that are operated by known reliable restorers, such as IndyPenDance.com, MainStreeetPens.com, PenCollectorsOfAmerica.org, RichardsPens.com (you’re already here), and VintagePens.com.
You should avoid web fora, Facebook chat threads, YouTube videos, and similar sources because these venues are populated by all sorts of people at all different skill levels. Many of the repair instructions on these venues are posted by novice repairers who are enthusiastic (a good thing) but not yet experienced enough (a bad thing), and they will lead you astray. There are of course some good guides, too, but the problem is that without experience of your own, you cannot tell which are the good ones and which are the bad ones.
For installing and removing screw-in cap jewels, especially those in Parker pens and mechanical pencils, you need something inexpensive and easy to handle that has a high-friction surface. The best tool for this task is a white rubber stopper. Black rubber is too hard, and red rubber will harden over time. The No 5.5 stopper is the perfect size to fit in your hand easily. I’ve been using the same two stoppers for nearly 20 years; all I do to keep them fresh is to clean the ends with denatured alcohol from time to time. You can find these stoppers online or at shops for home beer-brewing equipment. Be careful, when you clean a stopper, to let the alcohol dry before touching a Parker jewel; they’re celluloid.
TIP Warming the surface of your stopper, just a little, with your heat gun helps the stopper to get an even better grip. Too much heat can damage celluloid jewels.
The vast majority of vintage fountain pens are sac-fillers, and you can’t repair these pens without a supply of sacs. The filling mechanism might be a lever or a thumb-activated pressure bar or any number of other clever designs, and the pen might be large or small or in between. For these reasons, sacs come in a bewildering array of sizes, shapes, and materials. Shown here, from top to bottom, are No 13, No 16 (latex and silicone), and No 22 straight sacs. At the bottom, for reference, are a Debutante Vacumatic diaphragm and a standard Waterman Ink-Vue sac. See also Sac Cement, Sac Removal Tools, Scissors
To install a sac, you need the proper adhesive, and the proper adhesive is sac cement. You probably have several adhesives around the house, such as epoxy glue, super glue, Gorilla Glue, rubber cement, contact cement, Liquid Nails, nail polish, and more. Don’t go there. These adhesives can damage pens, especially celluloid ones, and some of them gradually stop working when exposed to ink. You might be aware that the most common sac cement is actually nothing more than orange (amber) shellac, which is the same thing that all the old pen manufacturers used. You can buy it in quart cans from paint stores and hardware superstores, but buying it from a pen dealer gets you a handy small bottle that won’t go stale before you use it up, and the applicator brush that come in most dealers’ sac cement is by far the best and easiest way to apply the stuff. In case you are wondering why there are two bottles shown here with differently colored cements in them, the one on the right is blond shellac. It dries clear, and it’s perfect for sealing the threads on demonstrator pens.
For sac removal tools, I use various implements such as hooks and dental picks and scalers. Shown below are a hook and two dental scalers. Hooks are ideal for grabbing sacs and dragging them out of barrels. To make a hook, form a loop on one end of a length of heavy-gauge coat hanger wire for hanging and to provide a “hold onto”; form the other end into a hook and fire harden it by heating it red with a butane torch and quenching it in cold water; and then grind the hook point into a flattened scraper shape that can slip between a sac fragment and a barrel wall. (This design is one that I picked up from the late Rev. Terry Koch, and it has served me in good stead for more than 20 years.) Dental scalers are particularly useful when it comes time to chisel pieces of petrified-in-place sac away from barrel walls and section nipples. You can get dental picks and scalers from a variety of online suppliers, and you can reshape the tips to suit your needs. Don’t waste your money buying dental tools from a place that sells to dentists; the tools are beautiful, but they cost much more than you need to spend on tools for use on pens.
For some tasks, a X-acto knife is the best cutting implement, but for others (such as cutting sacs to length) a pair of scissors is easier to use and will do a better job. Shown here are two pairs of scissors. The first pair is lightweight embroidery scissors made by Gingher and is available online or in fabric stores. I use these for one task, and one task only: cutting sacs to length. The company makes a broad variety of embroidery scissors; if you prefer a style with metal handles, that’s fine. I have used many brands of scissors over the years, but Gingher tops them all for sharpness, alignment, and longevity.
The second pair of scissors is for cutting everything else: paper, rubber sheeting, brass shim stock, anything except sacs. And wire. Wire cutters exist for a reason. This is a pair of Westcott scissors I bought at an office supply superstore. They are pretty good scissors, and they will hold up well if you refrain from bouncing them off walls when you get frustrated. If they get dull, slip around to your nearest fabric or craft store and buy a scissor sharpener. If you don’t like Westcott, there are other brands. Just don’t expect to get much useful service from the seriously cheap scissors you’ll find at the dollar store.
As time goes on and you work on different kinds of pens, you will amass a collection of screwdrivers. If you are working exclusively on vintage pens, your screwdrivers will all, or almost all, be of the flat-blade type. For modern pens, you will need some Phillips screwdrivers, some hex drivers, and even, in a few cases, Torx drivers. For very small screws, two inexpensive sets of jewelers’ screwdrivers, one flat-blade and one Phillips, will pay for themselves. The screwdriver shown here is a Craftsman 9-41589. It has a long " (3 mm) flat blade for removing the screw that secures the Touchdown tube to the operating knob (blind cap) in Sheaffer Touchdown, Snorkel, and PFM pens, and it will serve for the screws in many barrels and caps. Don’t make the mistake of buying stubby or pocket-style screwdrivers for working on pens; the blades might not be long enough to reach all the way down into a barrel or a Touchdown tube. Depending on the exact shape of the blade, some screwdrivers will require a little grinding on the broadest potion of the blade to make them fit into a Touchdown TM tube.
Many pens — most, really — don’t call for the big guns, so you may not need section pliers immediately. When the time comes, you can buy the ones shown here very economically. I use section pliers more often than almost any other single tool, and I’ve settled on what I think are the best. The pliers shown here, K-D Products Model KD 135s, are actually intended by their manufacturer for use in the automobile industry.
NoteDon’t be lured into buying cheaper lookalike pliers to save a couple of dollars. I’ve used several brands of lookalikes, and they don’t work alike.
Lubricating moving parts is a constant need. In almost all cases, the right lubricant for fountain pens is silicone grease. Do not use petroleum- or vegetable-based grease on pens. Petroleum-based greases eat rubber parts such as sacs and O-rings, and vegetable-based greases congeal and become hard. 100% pure silicone grease is the stuff. You can get it from some pen dealers, from dive shops, and from restaurant supply houses. The tiny quantities you will use, coupled with the convenient container (with a ribbed lid that you can still grasp after you’ve gotten grease on your fingers), suggest that a pen dealer is the best of these options.
The last thing you should do before closing a pen up after you replace its sac is to apply a thin coat of talcum powder (talc) to the sac. Talc will make the sac slide into the barrel more easily and will will also repel moisture and prevent chemical reactions, and the filler will work a little more smoothly. If there’s no plain talc in the house, buy some. Several pen dealers carry talc, but if you absolutely cannot find it, you can substitute powdered graphite. This stuff is sold by hordware stores and locksmiths for lubricating locks and other mechanisms that are exposed to cold and wet. It's messy, but it does work.
CAUTIONDo not use baby powder or ladies’ dusting powder, or any powder that contains fragrances, cornstarch, zinc oxide, or other additives. Some of these products are oiled to protect delicate skin, and oil eats rubber. Others are abrasive instead of slippery, and that can be just as bad. Cornstarch is hygroscopic; it attracts moisture, inviting rust, and it will eventually cake up and foul the filling mechanism.
Plunger-fillers by Conklin, Onoto, Sheaffer, and Wahl; the Parker Vacumatic; and Waterman’s Ink-Vue use thread sealant to prevent leakage and also to keep threaded joints from unscrewing themselves. Thread sealant is a non-hardening sticky substance that is sometimes called “palm shellac.” It is essential for repair of these and other pens with threaded joints; warm it gently to apply it or to release its grip. There is no suitable replacement for it; not even sac cement (shellac) does this job properly. You can find thread sealant at mainstreetpens,com and at vintagepens.com. I know of no other sources as of this writing.
NoteFor those who are sticklers for accuracy: the formula used by mainstreetpens.com is the exact same formula that I found in use by the Sheaffer Pen Company when I visited the company’s Fort Madison factory in 2008.
Tweezers are an indispensable aid for picking up and holding small objects. An assortment of differently shaped tweezers offers a wide range of function. In the photo below, starting from the left, you will see a bent-nose tweezer that I use for installing sacs; a curved-nose set that is perfect for installing O-rings; a straight set that can handle myriad tasks; a bead tweezer that makes it easier to pick up small cylindrical objects such as feeds, especially if they are in a tray or a soaking glass; and a flat-nose set that finds many uses. Another use for tweezers is for installing unusual things like that seal retainer in the back of a Pilot eyedropper-filler that requires a large screwdriver blade that will fit into the barrel. The curved-nose and straight tweezers in the photo have had their back ends ground for special purposes such as this.
For the really tough cleaning jobs, there is nothing like an ultrasonic cleaner. This machine will remove the most stubborn clogs and ink spots. (It cannot remove stains that have penetrated celluloid or acrylic, however.) Most of the time, all you’ll need for a cleaning fluid is ordinary cool — never warm or hot — tap water, but the really nasty ones will call for pen flush or Rapido-Eze. The best way to use an ultrasonic cleaner is to fill “soaking jars” like the ones shown here with water and flush or Rapido-Eze, put the pen parts in, and set the glass in the water bath, on the bottom of the basket. Never set anything on the bottom of the basin; that makes the ultrasonic transducer very unhappy, and you can destroy the cleaner. This way, you will not get very much of your cleaning fluid dirty.
Ultrasonic cleaning works by a process called cavitation, energizing the cleaning fluid to create microscopic bubbles that burst against the surface of the pen part being cleaned, releasing their energy into the part or, more importantly, into the crud that’s stuck to it. This action breaks up the crud and strips it from the surface of the part. Too much power, however, can damage delicate pen parts. Look for a cleaner with a power rating of 50 watts or less, and never run it for more than five minutes at a time. You will notice that the water becomes warm after you’ve cycled the cleaner a couple of times; when it does, allow time for it to cool, or replace it, before running more parts through.
CAUTIONDo not buy an ultrasonic cleaner with a heater. Hot, or even warm, liquids can oxidize hard rubber pens in a matter of seconds.
Do not buy a cleaner that has its controls mounted in the lid. The wires for the controls pass through the lid’s hinge, and the constant bending and friction will cause them to break after only a little use.
Vacumatic lubricant is a special water-based formulation that will not harm the latex rubber of which Vacumatic diaphragms are made. It is essential for the proper installation of Vac diaphragms. It allows the diaphragm to slide into the barrel easily and then shift into the correct position against the conical seal in the barrel.
The only way you can seat a Vacumatic diaphragm into the pellet pocket at the front end of the pump plunger is with some sort of pellet pusher. You can make a pellet pusher from a piece of coat hanger wire with one end slightly hollowed out, or you can purchase a pellet pusher from PenTooling.com. The pellet pusher shown here is one that I have had since about the year 2000, and it still works perfectly.
The Vac tool screws onto the threads that are exposed when you remove the pen’s blind cap, and two styles are available as pictured below: the Vac wrench (left) and the Vac block (right). Vac wrenches, which are preferred by most professional repair people, come in two sizes:
Oversize Lockdown and Speedline Senior Maxima fillers need the oversize tool.
All others need the standard size.
Most Vac blocks, like the one shown here, accommodate both filler styles. You can get Vac tools of both types from PenTooling.com, which also offers an innovative dual-size wrench. (The wrench shown here is from a source that no longer offers them.)
Because X-ACTO® is a registered trademark, this tool is properly called an X-acto knife or a hobby knife. But like Kleenex®, X-acto has entered the language as a generic term. No pen repairer should be without one or two (or more) X-acto knives, whether made by X-ACTO or by one of its competitors. There are two sizes, the No 1 and the No 2. The smaller one, the No 1, is the only X-acto handle I’ve ever needed, and the only blade style I’ve ever needed is the No 11, as shown here. I keep one of these knives with a fresh blade in it for precision work and one or two more with used blades for work that might nick the blade and work that needs quick rough cutting that can be finished later.
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. My thanks to Mike and Linda Kennedy, who suggested the inclusion of many of the items listed here and also kindly ran a technical edit of the finished page.