(This page revised July 13, 2022)
Restoring the filling system in a Sheaffer Touchdown is one of the easiest fountain pen repairs you can make, almost as easy as replacing an ordinary lever-filler’s sac.
Sheaffer made the first version of the Touchdown for only one year. The Touchdown TM (Thin Model) that followed it was identical in design but smaller — most especially, it was thinner, and this is why we refer to the earlier version as a “fat” Touchdown. The TM version lasted only two years before the Snorkel replaced it, but Sheaffer also made lower-line models with the Touchdown system, such as the Craftsman and the Cadet, and these pens survived and sold alongside the Snorkel well into the 1950s. The company revived the Touchdown filler in the 1960s for the Imperial line.
Because the fat Touchdown is larger in diameter than the later versions, no parts except the blind-cap screw are interchangeable between the fat Touchdown and the later versions. On the other hand, all the later versions share the TM filler, with all the essential filler parts interchangeable between models. For this reason, this article refers to all Touchdown pens except the fat Touchdown as Touchdown TM. If you are not sure whether your pen is a fat one or a TM, measure the overall length of the sac guard. For a fat Touchdown, the sac guard is 2" (56.8 mm) long. For a TM, the length is 2" (55.6 mm).
The pen used for the photos in this article is a 1949 fat Touchdown, the first of the four pens shown at the top of this page.
As you follow the instructions in this page, refer to this diagram of a typical open-nib Touchdown to identify the various parts:
To disassemble the pen, unscrew the barrel from the gripping section at the threads. If it doesn’t want to come with just your hands, grasp the barrel with a rubber gripper square. With the other hand, apply section pliers to the section and twist the two parts to unscrew the section.
If the section still refuses to budge, it might have been shellacked in place by a previous repairer, or this might be one of the pens on which Sheaffer used thread sealant. You will probably have to heat the joint very slightly.
CAUTIONHeat must be used with extreme care in Touchdown repair. The plastic used for the Touchdown is Forticel, a moldable cellulosic, and it will shrink, warp, or bubble and char under excessive heating. The plastic begins to soften at about 170° F (77° C), so go carefully. Shellac softens at about 140° F (60° C), so that you can free the adhesive bond safely with sufficient care.
Warm the barrel/section joint carefully, spinning the pen around so that all sides of it are heated evenly and testing frequently by placing the plastic (not the metal thread ring or trim ring) against your lower lip. If it’s too hot to hold there briefly, it’s too hot, and you should allow it to cool a little before proceeding. For a heat source, I recommend the “embossing” gun that you can get at craft shops (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 manuals (including Da Book), do not use an alcohol lamp or other open flame.
Grasp the barrel again, firmly, with a rubber gripper square. Apply section pliers to the section and twist the two parts to unscrew the section. Using a slight jerking motion will frequently assist in breaking the shellac’s seal, and twisting back and forth, alternately unscrewing and screwing the parts, might also be useful. If you twist back and forth, do not twist too forcibly in the “screwing in” direction; doing so can split the barrel or shear off the section with its threaded portion still in the barrel.
CAUTIONThe materials of which Touchdowns were made are known to shrink over time. As the barrel comes away from the section, the section’s thread ring or the barrel’s trim ring, or both, might fall off. Do not lose these parts!
Disassembling a Touchdown’s front end is simplicity itself. Here is the section with the sac protector still in position:
All you need to do is to gently rock the sac protector back and forth a little as you pull it off the section. Note the groove in the section into which the sac protector’s dimples fit (shown below). During reassembly, you will need to make sure the dimples drop into this groove.
If the sac remains stuck to the section and comes out in one piece, just remove it from the section. You can usually do this by just peeling the open end of the sac away from the section’s nipple. If the sac is ossified, it might also be stuck in the sac protector, but this just means that you will have to apply slightly more force to remove the sac protector. When it comes off, it might leave part of the sac stuck to the section’s nipple. Use your sac removal tools to scrape and drag any remaining pieces of the sac out of the sac protector and to remove any of the sac that is still stuck to the section. This is important because the new sac will not install properly if there are bits of the old one in the way. If you have a brass test-tube brush of the appropriate size, using it can make the cleanout task a little easier. Shown here are the section and sac protector, with a new sac ready to be installed.
If your pen has a “TRIUMPH” point, it is usually inadvisable to disassemble the nib unit. Fill the ear syringe with clear cool water. Insert the end of the syringe’s nose into the back end of the section, hold the syringe and section over a sink with the drain plug closed, and squirt the water into the sink to clean out any dried ink. If the water is not coming out clear, repeat the operation until it does. Blow through the section to drive most of the water out.
If the pen has an open nib, knock the nib and feed out of the nib collar as shown here, and clean and reassemble the parts as you would with any other open-nib pen.
Now fill the ear syringe with pen flush. Insert the end of the syringe’s nose into the back end of the section and squirt the pen flush back into its bottle. Flush the section again with cool water, and blow through it again. Set it aside for now.
The next task is disassembly of the pen’s back end. Here are the back-end parts, disassembled. Note that there are both a rubber washer and a star lock washer between the Touchdown tube and the blind cap in this photo. As explained in the CAUTION below, your pen might have either one of these washers, but not both. If neither is present, you will need to replace the appropriate part.
NoteIn the list of tools for this article, an optional length of brass tubing is described immediately after the screwdriver. If you are working on a fat Touchdown, you can make it easier to locate the screwdriver onto the blind-cap screw by inserting this tubing into the barrel before you insert the screwdriver. The tubing reduces the effective inner diameter of the Touchdown tube so that the screwdriver fits with less sidewise play and cannot slip down beside the screw head instead of into its slot.
CAUTIONSome fat Touchdowns have a rubber seal inside the Touchdown tube, under the head of the screw, and a star-type lock washer between the Touchdown tube and the blind cap. The end of the Touchdown tube is marked with radial grooves for the washer’s teeth. Later fat Touchdowns and all later models have a black rubber washer instead of the lock washer and do not have a rubber seal inside the Touchdown tube. As you remove the blind cap, the lock washer or the rubber seal, depending on the type of pen you have, might fall out. Do not lose it.
Begin disassembly of the back end by inserting the screwdriver into the barrel. (If you are working on a fat Touchdown and have made the guide tube described in the Note above, insert the tube first.) Guide the screwdriver into the Touchdown tube, and turn it carefully until the blade drops into the slot in the screw that secures the blind cap. Holding the blind cap with one hand, unscrew the screw completely, until it will drop out of the barrel. Separate the blind cap from the Touchdown tube and set these parts aside.
Next, you need to remove the O-ring from the back end of the barrel. “Weasel” the fine-pointed dental pick between the O-ring and the groove and lift out the O-ring. Once it is free, it will fall out.
If the pen has never been worked on, the O-ring will be the original one, and it is likely to have ossified. (Many, but not all, of the original O-rings are made of white rubber.) If this is the case, you will need to chip the O-ring out of the groove with the tip of the X-acto knife.
CAUTIONChip the O-ring out with extra care. If the knife slips, it can dig into the plastic of the O-ring groove, and this will compromise the sealing ability of the O-ring and groove. The O-ring grooves in many Touchdown pens havea a very thin wall. It’s easy to go too far and penettrate the wall, making a hole visible from the outside.
With the O-ring out of the barrel, poke the point of the dental probe through the small hole in the barrel’s side near the back end and then use a cotton swab to remove any material that you pushed out of the hole into the inside of the barrel. This hole, through which air passes when the plunger is pushed down during filling but not yet screwed tight, must be clear for the filler to operate properly.
NoteIt is important not to reuse the O-ring that you removed during disassembly. Even if it looks fine and feels pliable, it’s not all right. It is worn or partially ossified, or both, and it will allow air to leak. The leak might not be apparent now; but a month, or a year, from now, it will be there.
CAUTIONApply shellac (sac cement) only where it is called for during reassembly. Do not apply shellac (or any other adhesive) at any other point in the process! Where shellac is not called for in these instructions, Sheaffer did not use it. Using it where it is not called for will not make the pen work any better but will make the next person’s work much more difficult and much more likely to damage the pen. Also, do not substitute nail polish for for shellac. Nail polish does not retain its hold when exposed to ink (which contains water).
Putting the front end back together, assuming that you did a proper job of cleaning away any foreign material while you were doing the disassembly, is easy. The first step is to cut your sac to the right length.
For a fat Touchdown, trim the No 17×1" necked sac to a length of 2" (52.4 mm). This is the length to which Sheaffer’s original Touchdown sacs were trimmed (probably by the White Rubber Company).
For a Touchdown Tuckaway (also a fat Touchdown, just much shorter), cut the sac to 1" (38 mm), creating a very short No 17 straight sac. Do not substitute a No 17 straight sac! The sac does not actually need to be necked, and it is more important to have a sac that fills the sac protector so that the pen will not disgorge ink when the plunger is extended for filling.
For a Touchdown TM, the No 15 sac should be cut to 2" (52.4 mm) long.
Apply shellac to the nipple on the section, and attach the sac using either tweezers or a sac spreader. If you’ve never attached a sac before, you can read how to do it in How to Replace a Pen Sac.
Allow 30 minutes for the shellac to dry. Coat the sac with talcum powder, then install the sac protector by sliding it over the sac and pushing it onto the section until its dimples snap into the groove in the section.
The first step in reassembling the back end of the pen is to install a new O-ring in the barrel. As indicated in the footnotes to this article, it is important to use an exact replacement O-ring; a standard off-the shelf O-ring will yield a sloppy fit and will allow some amount of air leakage, reducing the air pressure in the barrel to collapse the sac during filling. Holding the O-ring in your tweezers, apply a small amount of silicone grease to the O-ring and fit the part into the groove in the back end of the barrel. This is a somewhat finicky process; be patient and persistent. When the O-ring is in place, use a cotton swab to remove excess grease from the recess at the end of the barrel, being careful not to wipe the grease off the O-ring.
Beginning with the original Touchdown, Sheaffer’s workers used special tools to make the task easier; shown below is the larger of the tools that I made to duplicate the Sheaffer tools. These tools slide into the barrel and come to rest with the end positioned right at the groove, so that you cannot push the O-ring past the groove and on into the barrel. (If you’re not set up to fabricate a tool like this, you can use a length of wooden dowel with the “business end” slightly beveled so that it will fit as far up into the barrel as it needs to go. Another possible tool is a standard No 2 pencil with the eraser trimmed to the right length.)
Balance the blind-cap screw on the tip of your screwdriver, and insert it into the Touchdown tube as shown here:
Insert the Touchdown tube into the barrel, passing it through the O-ring. If the pen had a gasket in the blind cap, make sure it’s still there; if there was a lockwasher, fit it over the screw. Install the blind cap onto the Touchdown tube. Be sure you screw the assembly together all the way; if the blind cap is not tightly sealed, air will leak from the joint, and the pen might not fill at all.
CAUTIONAs noted earlier, because the Touchdown was made of Forticel, shrinkage does happen. You might find that the barrel will not allow the Touchdown tube to slip easily. When this happens, the front end of the Touchdown tube is rubbing on the inside of the barrel. In some cases, you can ease the operation by applying silicone grease to that area. In other cases, the barrel will have shrunk too much to allow this, and when that happens your only alternatives are to replace the barrel or carefully drill it out just enough that the Touchdown tube can slip freely. If you elect to drill it out, the best way is to chuck the drill into the rotating chuck of a machinist’s lathe and feed the barrel by hand, backing it off frequently to prevent overheating. (If it grabs, stop the lathe, remove the barrel and let it cool, and then feed it again more slowly.) This procedure is neither fun nor easy.
Run the plunger in and out several times, turning it back and forth to spread silicone grease from the O-ring in a thin film all over the Touchdown tube. Test the seals by plugging the opening at the barrel‘s front end with a finger and cycling the plunger out and in fairly rapidly. You should feel a little suction on the outward stroke, and there should be an audible puff of escaping air at the end of the inward stroke. If not, you will have to disassemble the blind cap from the Touchdown tube and beef up the gasket. (If the pen has a lockwasher, there should be a rubber seal inside the Touchdown tube, where the head of the screw will mash it down to seal the joint. These internal seals sometimes go bad.) The easiest way to beef up the seal is to place your additional gasket on the screw before inserting the screw back into the Touchdown tube.
NoteIf you do need to use an additional gasket, you can punch one from the rubber sheet material that is used for making plunger-filler piston head gaskets. Use appropriately sized leather punches or cut carefully with sharp scissors.
Screw the barrel firmly in place on the section and test the filler. If it works, you’re done. If not, you must troubleshoot it. Theoretically, you already tested the back-end seals, so the most likely problem area is the section/barrel joint. Leakage at this joint can keep the filler from working at all. Make sure that the joint is tight and test again. If the filler still fails, unscrew the barrel from the gripping section and apply Sheaffer thread sealant (not shellac!) to the section threads. Warm the thread sealant gently to soften it, and screw the joint together again.
If the filler still does not work, fate might have thrown one more curve ball at you. Proceed to Parting Shot, below.
If you arrive here with a non-working filler, you should test all the various seals again, and remedy any failures you find. If all the seals were good, you might have a pen with a hairline crack in the barrel. Finding such a crack can be difficult: because the barrel is not exposed to ink, there is no telltale ink leakage. If you do find a crack, you are faced with a potentially difficult choice:
If the crack is in an easily replaceable barrel, disassemble the pen and replace the cracked barrel.
If the cracked part is not one that is easily replaced, you might need to disassemble the pen and repair the crack using a liquid plastic welding solvent (e.g., “Same Stuff” from MicroMark). To fuse the crack, spread it slightly by pressing from inside the part with the handle of a dental probe, and flow the solvent into the crack with a small artist’s brush. Quickly press the crack together and hold for 30 seconds to give the solvent time to do its work. Set the part aside overnight to allow excess solvent to flash off, then sand carefully with 2000-grit (4µ) wet/dry sandpaper and buff with Simichrome on a cotton flannel rag.
Reassemble the pen, readjusting any alignment problems that might have arisen. Assuming that all went well, you should now have a working pen.
The correct O-rings are available from several online sources, including IndyPenDance.com. Be careful that you do not buy a standard off-the-shelf M1×7 (Touchdown) or M1×8 (PFM) metric O-ring; these parts are not the correct size and will yield an unreliable filling action.
You can obtain the correct rubber sheet material from Main Street Pens.
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.