The Pen Doctor XVII

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Help for a Sheaffer Touchdown

Recently I bought a Sheaffer Touchdown. However, it came with some problems.

Rx: Your pen’s problems can be solved, but unless you’re an experienced repairman you should probably send the pen to someone who is experienced. Here are answers to your questions.

When you resac a Touchdown, you should also replace the O-ring Touchdown tube seal at the back of the barrel. You can get either of the correct sizes from our Accessories pages. The Touchdown TM takes a “small” O-ring, and the 1949 model takes the “large” size.

Why Does My “51” Leak?

I own a Parker “51” Vacumatic style with a plastic plunger. If I keep it in my pocket (in a pen case) for any period of time after filling (and bleeding off 2-3 drops) it leaks — I think — from the feed area. Another Parker “51” of equal vintage does not — and it is next to it in the same case. Any thoughts as to how to correct this leakage?

Rx: Your description of your filling procedure gives me a clue to the problem. The correct way to fill a Vaculmatic “51” is to cycle the plunger until the pen is full, hold the plunger down, lift the pen out of the ink, and then release the plunger. This pulls excess ink from the nib area up into the collector. Bleeding off a few drops doesn’t accomplish this the same way. Your other “51” doesn’t misbehave because, even as precisely as the pens were manufactured, there are differences between individual pens. I have several that don’t leak at all in the way you describe, and several that do.

I Want a Flex Nib, and I Want It Now!

In his 1978 book, Pen and Ink Techniques, concerned with pen and ink drawing, Frank Lohan mentions using a fountain pen with a very flexible nib that allows for a great variation in line width… My preliminary investigations into this tell me that this kind of nib is not presently available for production pens… Can you respond to the general question of availability of such nibs, or of the potential for having them custom made?

Rx: Your preliminary investigations are, in essence, correct. The Namiki Falcon is advertised as having a “soft” nib, Omas offers a flexible nib as an option, and Dani-Trio recently began marketing pens with flexible nibs. I’ve had the opportunity to play with all of these pens, and in my opinion none of them behaves like the ones Lohan describes. The Namiki and Dani-Trio are semiflexible but not particularly responsive, while the Omas is more “springy” than truly flexible in the way flexibility was formerly understood. What you are looking for is a pen with a nib so flexible that it’s sometimes called a “wet noodle.” Wet noodles are most commonly found on vintage pens from manufacturers such as Mabie Todd and Waterman.

As for having a flexible nib custom made, there are a few nib workers who have the requisite skills to produce nibs with enhanced flex. The modified Pelikan M250 nib shown below, for example, duplicates vintage flex performance, including the duo-point configuration of the tip that allows the nib to produce very fine lines when used with the nib facing downward. (To view a zoomed image of the nib for more detail, click the magnifying glass to the right of the image.) It is possible, however, to add flex without understanding the flexibility profile of the typical vintage nib — so if you want to go this route, I would caution you to be sure you are dealing with a nib technician who has made it his business to create flex nibs that actually work the way vintage flex nibs work.

Hand-ground flexible Pelikan nib Magnifying glass


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