The Pen Doctor XVIII

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Parker “51”: Who’s On First?

Please tell me exactly how do I tell the 3 “Marks” apart. I have read Lambrou together with various other book references and e-mail sites but they all seem to vary (except possibly for the various versions of the Mk 1). I should be extremely grateful for any assistance you can give.

Rx: The question of which “51” is which is likely to be debated into the next millennium. However, the Parker service manual does give clear indication as to which model Parker thought was which. (I qualify this because there some overlaps; as with many products, changes can phase in over time rather than all happening at once.) First off, any Aero-metric “51” with a date code is a Mark I. For the millions of undated pens out there, here’s what Parker and I have come up with.

Front-End Disassembly and Reassembly of the “51”

I have just acquired a new nib for my Parker “51”, but am not sure how to take it apart so it can be fitted. Advice would be welcome.

Rx: The shell (hood) on a “51” is held in place with an adhesive that softens when heated. I recommend using a commercial heat gun with a continuously adjustable temperature control. (Guns with Low and High settings are, for pen-repair purposes, mislabeled; the labels should read Way Too Hot and Even Hotter.) The adhesive softens at a much lower temperature than would be needed to damage the shell, so you should keep the gun set very low. Too much heat, too fast, will shrink the shell — especially on Mark III pens, whose plastic is polystyrene rather than the earlier Lucite®.

  1. If the pen is an Aero-metric model, remove the barrel. If the pen has been allowed to dry with ink in it, soak and flush it thoroughly before attempting to disassemble it; dried ink does not release under heat, and too much force can break the pen. Heat the area of the shell adjacent to the clutch ring for a minute or so, spinning the pen slowly so that all sides will be heated. Then grasp the clutch ring and the threaded barrel connector or barrel firmly (I use section pliers) and unscrew the shell (I use a second set of section pliers). If it won’t come with relatively little effort, it may need more heat.

  2. Some Aero-metric versions of the “51” have a rubber O-ring at the joint between the shell and the clutch ring. If yours is one of these, the shell will resist being unscrewed after it has come loose far enough that you know it should come off. If this happens, screw the shell back down, screw it off again until it binds, pushing just a little to force the O-ring to let go a little. Repeat this back-and-forth procedure until it finally frees the shell.

  3. Once you have the shell off, you can simply slip the nib out of the end of the collector with a gentle pull, twisting slightly back and forth to rotate the nib and break it free if it’s a little stuck.

  4. While you have the pen apart, go ahead and remove the collector, slip the feed out of the end of the collector, and clean the whole shebang before reassembly.

  5. The first step of reassembly is to assemble the collector, feed, and nib. The collector has a thin slit running almost its entire length, and a broader air channel running along the opposite side of the finned area. Insert the assembled feed and breather tube, and then the nib, into the collector with the top surface of the feed and nib lined up as exactly as possible with the broad air channel. This is the way the original “51” design documents specified assembly. A later Parker service manual stated that aligning the nib and feed with the air channel isn't necessary, but my experience indicates that the pen will flow more reliably with these parts aligned.

  6. Set the collector assembly aside. Screw the shell onto the connector until it stops against the clutch ring. Take careful note of how the point of the shell aligns with some mark on the sac guard; if it's right in line with the top edge of the word PARKER, for example, that’s your “index mark.” (Some repairers make a small mark on the connector next to the collectot’s capillary slit before disassembly, but that does not work reliably because the parts won’t necessarily line up the same way on reassembly.) Remove the shell again, and insert the collector assembly. Align the collector assembly so that the nib is just barely not in line with your index mark, such that the shell will need to turn an exquisitely tiny fraction of an inch past where it stopped when you tested it.

  7. Test the shell’s alignment again. The point of the shell should be about in the middle of the right tine. If it lines up with the outer edge of the tine, that’s too much; it’ll need to be forced too far when you screw it on permanently. If it lines up with the slit, that’s too little; it won't hold things securely enough to keep the clutch ring from spinning around the pen’s body.

  8. Apply shellac to the threaded area of the connector where it will be covered by the shell. Screw the shell on, taking it all the way down, and use just enough force to align the shell with the nib. Clean off any shellac that squeezed out; I find that Simichrome, applied with the fingers and wiped off with a clean flannel cloth, works well for this.

Using Windex to Flush a Pen

Do you think I can use Windex instead of pure ammonia to flush my pen? The ingredients in Windex are:

Isopropanol, 2-butoxyethanol, ethylene glycol, n-hexyl ether, water, ammonia. The other chemicals used in Windex are also commonly used as solvent in inks and paints, so I was thinking Windex may actually a good alternative to pure ammonia.

Rx: Please don't use Windex. Ammonia and water are no problem, but experience has shown that the other components of Windex are not necessarily all that pen friendly. You can get clear household ammonia (not sudsy ammonia, and most definitely not lemon scented!) in the cleaning-products aisle in a supermarket, same as the Windex, and ammonia is also good for other things that you wouldn't use Windex for. Note to chemists: this is not pure ammonia. Household ammonia is a 10% solution already, so mixing it 1:10 with water produces a 1% — very dilute — solution.

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