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How to Repair and Replace a Waterman Lever Box Assembly

(This page revised September 22, 2012)

Reference Info Index | Glossopedia  ]

Broken lever box in situ


The boxed lever design Waterman created (U.S. Patent No 1,197,360) to circumvent Walter Sheaffer’s 1908 lever-filler patent (U.S. Patent No 896,861) is clever, functional, and attractive, but it has a weakness: the area of the lever box through which the lever’s pivot pin passes is unfortunately weak, and operating the lever by force when there is an ossified sac in the pen can easily bend the lever box upward and break it at the weak point. (See the photograph above, illustrating a 52 with a broken lever box.) The problem of replacement is complicated by the fact that the lever box assembly was not designed to be replaceable.

This article explains how to remove and replace a broken lever box. While it is possible to adapt a similar lever box, such as one from a 52 to fit a 52, it is best to have an exact match. But because the ideal is not alway possible, I will touch on the modification necessary to handle the example case given in the previous sentence.

Tools Required

If replacing a box with one from a pen with a different barrel diameter, you will also need:

Parts Required

Supplies Required

Making a Tab Bender

Waterman’s factory workers used specially modified pliers to bend the tabs of their lever boxes. You will have to make a substitute tool. The simplest form of this tool is a length of coat hanger wire with its end bent and ground to shape. Illustrated below are the instructions for making it. Ideally, your rotary tool should have a diamond-coated metal cutoff wheel (approximately 150 grit), but you can stack three of the 0.025" silicon carbide wheels that Dremel sells to make a stronger cutter.

  1. Cut about 6" (15.25 cm) of coat hanger wire and bend one end completely double. This will require hammering on an anvil in order to close the bend sufficiently.
Making a tool, step 1
Making a tool, step 2
  1. Using the rotary tool, cut off the short end of the wire and then grind the cut end flat. The end should be perpendicular to the axis of the tool, not ground at an angle. If you do not have a base for your rotary tool , you should secure the wire in a vise to give yourself better control and to prevent accidents.
  1. Again using the rotary tool, grind the sides as shown here, so that the tool will slip into the lever box.
Making a tool, step 3
  1. Bend the other end of the tool into a finger hook, and sand off the paint from the “business end.” Here is the finished tool:
Finished tool

Removing the Pressure Bar

Before you can remove the old lever box, you must remove the pressure bar. The following photo shows a pressure bar and a lever box assembly. The pressure bar’s sides are folded over to form channels in which slide the small pegs on the sides of the lever’s shorter end.

Lever box and pressure bar

Between the side channels, a small tab projects upward from the “floor” of the pressure bar. The end of the lever blocks the tab to prevent the pressure bar from sliding out of the barrel when the section is removed. Click on the animated drawing below to see how the lever action works.

Animation of lever action

To remove the pressure bar, you must press the tab down so that it will clear the end of the pressure bar. Raise the lever almost all the way, allow the pressure bar to slide toward the open barrel end until the tab comes to rest against the end of the lever, and then raise the lever the rest of the way. While holding the lever securely with your finger and thumb braced against the barrel so that you will not push the lever box into the barrel, use the crescent-shaped dental scaler to locate the tab and push it down as shown here:

Pushing the tab

With the tab pushed out of the way, the pressure bar will fall out of the barrel when you upend it. Lay the pressure bar on your bench block with the “channel” side down, and use the crescent-shaped dental scaler to push the tab back into its original position so that the assembly will stay together when you reassemble the pen.

Bending the tab back

Removing the Lever Box Assembly

If the lever box you are replacing is already broken in half, you can simply remove the two halves one at a time. To remove the lever from the barrel, position it as if you had raised it to fill the pen and then twist it 90° so that it faces crosswise. The pegs on its short arm will no longer prevent removal, and you can now lift it completely out.

To remove an undamaged (or bent but unbroken) lever box without breaking it in half, you need to raise one of the two tabs holding it into the barrel. The forward tab (the one closest to the open end of the barrel) is easily accessible. Use the straight pointed dental pick to pry up the tab as shown here:

Pushing the tab

Once the tab is bent up a little, you can use the screwdriver to push it the rest of the way up. Position the screwdriver against the tab and push until the tab is bent straight up as shown here:

Pushing the tab

Lift the lever away from the barrel to slide the first end of the lever box out:

Pushing the tab

Work the other end of the box out. (It is not necessary to bend the other tab at all.) To remove the assembly from the barrel, turn it 90° so that the box is crosswise to the barrel. The pegs on the lever’s short arm will no longer prevent removal, and you can now lift the lever box assembly completely out.

Installing a Lever Box Assembly

If you have a brand-new lever box assembly, both tabs will be unbent. With the jeweler’s pliers, carefully bend the tab at the back end of the lever box (the end at which the long arm of the lever lies when closed). The shape you need is shown in the illustration below; you should bend the tab far enough that you can just slip the box into position as shown. If you do not bend it far enough, that end of the lever box will be loose in the barrel.

Bending the first tab

If you have a used lever box, the back-end tab should already be bent.

To install the lever box assembly, raise the lever all the way. Position the assembly over the slot in the barrel, then turn it 90° so that the box is crosswise to the barrel. The pegs on the lever’s short arm will no longer prevent insertion, and you can now fit the lever into the slot. Turn the assembly to its correct orientation, and fit the back end of the box onto the end of the barrel slot:

Inserting the box

You can now fit the box into its final position within the barrel slot. Hold the box in position with the thumb of your weaker hand, and use the crescent-shaped dental scaler to begin the process of bending the remaining tab back down against the inner surface of the barrel:

Bending the second tab

To finish bending the tab, insert your handcrafted tab bender into the lever box as shown below.

Use care in the following process; rough handling can crack the barrel, and misalignment of the box on the bench block can result in marks on the top surface of the box.
Bending the second tab

With the tab bender in place, brace the barrel against the bench block so that the lever box’s exterior tab is held securely into the barrel notch. This is easier to do if you hold the bench block and the barrel upright as shown here, rather than lying down. Now pull on the tab bender to squeeze the partially-bent tab tightly against the inside of the barrel. Remove the tab bender.

Bending the second tab
When you reuse a lever box that has been removed from a pen, the tab you are trying to bend may break off because the metal of which it is made was not intended to stand up to repeated bending. If this happens to you, you can replace the tab as described later in this article.

Installing a Pressure Bar

It is not difficult to install a pressure bar, but there are a couple of tricks that will make the task easier.

First, make sure that the tab in the floor of the pressure bar is bent upward, as shown in the picture below, so that it will catch on the lever after the pressure bar has been installed.

Pressure bar

To install the pressure bar, use the alligator forceps. Grasp the pressure bar at the forward end (the end toward which the open end of the tab faces) as shown in the photo above. Open the lever most of the way and position the barrel so that you can look into its open end, with a strong light above. The task is easiest if light is shining from above through the lever slot to illuminate the short arm of the lever so that you can see the ears.

Installing the pressure bar

Insert the pressure bar into the barrel, guiding it into position so that the ears on the short arm of the lever rest on the floor of the pressure bar. As you slide the bar into the barrel, make sure both ears go into the channels on the bar’s two edges. Seat the lever as far as it goes without force; this will place the closed end of the tab right at the end of the lever.

Grasp the lever firmly to prevent it from opening too far (which would bend the lever or the lever box), and push the pressure bar firmly enough that the tab pops past the end of the lever. You can now release the bar and the lever. Test by upending the barrel and giving it a little shake; if the pressure bar does not fall out, you have installed it correctly. The drawing below shows the correct arrangement of the parts.

Pressure bar installed

Adapting a Lever and Box from a Pen with a Different Diameter

To adapt a lever and its box to a pen of a diameter different from that of the pen that supplied the replacement parts, you need the replacement parts and either the original lever or the original box. (One end of the box will do if it’s broken.)

For several decades, all of Waterman’s levers were the same size. The only differences between their application in different pen models were the position of the pivot hole and the position of the transverse brace on the bottom of the lever box. (The brace is positioned to stop the lever from opening past 90°; for a pen with a smaller diameter, therefore, the brace is nearer the forward end of the lever box.) What this means for the repairer is that any box and lever with the IDEAL Globe on the lever tab can be used to repair any pen for which this is the right design.

Beginning in the mid-1930s, Waterman began producing some pens with shorter and narrower levers, including the new ink-Vue line, whose specially designed levers cannot be used to replace those in other models. This discussion, therefore, assumes that except for the position of the pivot (discussed later), you have made sure that the lever and box you want to use are a match for the ones you are replacing.

Here are the steps to adapt a box to a pen of a different diameter:

  1. If the replacement lever is still in its box, grind or file away a little of the pivot pin’s end so that you can drive the pivot pin out using a wire probe. The pin is 0.028" (0.71 mm) in diameter. Disassemble the lever from the box.

  2. If you have the original lever, make a mark on its top surface that is exactly in line with the pivot holes. The lever shown here has been notched, but a much friendlier way to do this is with a very fine-tipped permanent marker.

    Lever with mark

    Fit the lever into the replacement box and “close” it so that it will be positioned as it should be when the assembly is installed in the pen. Then carefully mark one side of the lever box in a position corresponding with the mark on the lever. A good way to make the mark is to use the X-acto knife. Dig it into the metal and then spin the knife as if you were drilling a hole. This will create a dimple that will later align the drill and keep it from skating out of position.

    Lever box with mark

    If you have the original box, align it with the old box so that the pivot hole will be positioned to correspond with the hole in the lever you will be using. Then carefully mark one side of the replacement lever box in a position corresponding with the hole in the original box.

    Lever boxes aligned for marking
  3. On a drill press table, carefully align the lever box so that the drill will pass through the same point on both sides and cannot shift while you are working. As shown here, the lever box is clamped in a drill vise; this holds it properly aligned and immovable. A nib block has been set next to the drill vise and shimmed up so that it supports the outer end of the box to keep it from being pressed downward, and a small piece of cellophane tape protects the finished top surface of the box where it’s clamped in the drill vise. Using a No 69 drill (0.0292"/0.75 mm diameter), drill through both sides of the box.

    Drilling the lever box
    Drill slowly and with care not to bend the box by applying too much downward pressure on it.
  4. Observe the relationship of the brace to the pivot holes in the original box. If you are adapting the box from a thicker pen to one that is thinner, there is nothing to be done about the brace; but if you are adapting a thinner pen’s box to a thicker pen, you will need to file away some of the brace so that the lever will be able to open fully.

    Filing the brace
  5. Install the replacement lever into the modified box, and use the new holes in the sides of the box to guide you in drilling holes through the sides of the lever in roughly the same manner as you used to drill the holes in the box.

  6. You can now assemble the replacement box and lever, using the pivot pin you removed in order to drill the new holes. When you install the assembly into the pen barrel, the pivot pin will not fall out because it will be secured by the side of the slot in the barrel. If you do not have a pivot pin, you will need to cut a length of 0.028" brass wire (obtainable from hobby suppliers that cater to model railroaders).

Replacing a Broken Lever Box Tab

Because the metals that Waterman used for lever boxes were not intended to be bent multiple times, the forward-end tab securing the box into the pen will sometimes break off from metal fatigue when you try to reuse a lever box that was removed from another pen, as shown here.

Tab broken off

This can be very frustrating, especially if you’ve just spent a significant amount of time adapting the lever box to a pen of a diameter other than the one it came from. Rather than discarding a lever box that has lost its tab, you can fabricate and install a replacement tab. Here’s how to do this:

  1. Use the scissors to cut a piece of the brass sheet or strip " (1.6 mm) wide and about " (13 mm) long. Flatten this tab as best you can; if it is twisted, it will not work well.

  2. Smooth and clean one surface of your tab with a piece of the sandpaper. Then use the file to clean and smooth the outside surface of the lever box’s forward end, as shown here:

    Clean this surface
  3. Clamp the lever box and the tab in separate clamps of the third hand so that the cleaned areas are exposed and accessible. These parts should not be touching at this time; clamping them is for convenience. Apply tinner’s fluid to the cleaned surfaces with a cotton swab. Then use the soldering iron and solder to tin these two surfaces as shown here:

    Tinned parts
  4. Manipulate the third-hand clamps to bring the lever box and the brass tab into contact for soldering. Make sure the parts are aligned as they should be and that the new tab is pressing against the box so that as the solder melts, the tab will move into a good close fit. Place the tip of the hot soldering iron right at the joint between the two parts so that the iron will heat both parts. It may be necessary to add a little more solder. When the solder has melted across the entire joint, remove the iron and allow the solder to cool.

    Soldering the tab
  5. Clip off the excess length from your lever box’s new tab, carefully file away any excess solder, and install the lever box as described above. In order to get the box to fit properly with the added thickness of its new tab, you may need to shave away a little material at the forward end of the barrel’s lever slot.

    Lever box with replacement tab

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.

This article is also available as a chapter in The RichardsPens Guide to Fountain Pens, Volume 2, in either of two printed versions or as an ebook for your computer or mobile device.

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