The Pen Doctor XVI

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My Dip Nibs Won’t Hold Ink

I have picked up two boxes of dip pen nibs. One is from C. Howard Hunt Pen Co. in Camden, NJ. The other box is Bank of England No. 104 Ball Pointed Nickel Aluminum nibs. I cannot get nibs from either box to hold any ink. I dip the nib. Brush off extra ink and the first touch to the paper the ink make a blob, then perhaps writes about three letters and then it’s done. Is there a trick I do not know to using a dip nib?

Rx: Steel dip nibs are almost always shipped with a very light coating of oil to keep them from rusting. Ink will roll off them like water off a duck's back. Most users of steel dips are in the habit of sucking on each new nib for a while before using it; if this doesn't pass your reasonableness test, try shaking the nibs gently in a sealed jar containing one tablespoon of clear household ammonia mixed with 2/3 cup of water.

Another thing to check, if no amount of cleaning will make your nib hold ink, is the ink you’re using. Dip nibs do not work at all well with fountain pen ink. If they’ll hold it at all, they won’t hold enough to be useful. Try switching to a calligraphy ink made for use with dip nibs. (But don’t put that stuff in your fountain pens!)

Tightening a “51” Clip

I found a nice 51 with a gold filled cap. The clip is loose and rotates freely around the cap. I am thinking that there is a screw beneath the “jewel” which can be tightened. I wonder if you can tell me if this is correct and if so, how do I get that darned “jewel” out without ruining it?

Rx: Cap fastening You are right in thinking there is a screw under the jewel. As you can see from the image here, the jewel screws into a brass bushing that screws, in turn, into the inner cap. Before you start trying to remove anything, wrap cellophane tape around the cap, sliding it under the clip ball, to keep the clip ball from scoring a groove or bright strip in the cap’s finish.

To remove the jewel, use a square of very firm rubber about 1" square and about 1/8" thick. With the ball of your thumb, press the rubber against the jewel and turn with a sharp counterclockwise motion. The jewel may come loose so that you can screw it out. But it probably won’t; these babies can be very temperamental. You can try soaking, ultrasonic cleaning, and heat to loosen the jewel. All of these methods are likely to require patience, so be prepared to sit in for the long haul. Heat will be required if the jewel is still secured as it was from the factory, by shellac. Be careful how much heat you apply, because the jewel is celluloid, not acrylic, and it will begin to soften at about 165° F. (Shellac softens at about 140° F.)

Sometimes the jewel brings the brass bushing with it. If this happens, grasp the bushing endwise using serrated-jaw needlenose pliers and heat the bushing, turning it around as you do, so that the heat will reach all sides. Try to keep the jewel itself out of the heat. Try every half minute or so to unscrew the jewel. it may come a little bit at a time, requiring several heatings.

Once you have the jewel out, you can use a wire brush to clean shellac residue from its threads. Cleaning shellac out of the brass bushing will require a dental pick and patience.

You can now screw the brass bushing in tightly. (If the inner cap turns freely, put the cap on the pen so that friction with the hood will keep the inner cap from turning.) Be careful to check whether your pen has a Split Arrow clip or a plain Arrow clip. If it has a plain Arrow, then there is probably a raised “tab” that fits under the clip to keep it from turning when the brass bushing is tight. After the bushing is tight, screw the jewel back in. Usually, seating the jewel with a firm twist of the rubber square will keep it in place nicely. Shellac it if you must.


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