The Pen Doctor XIX

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Lubricating a Pelikan Piston

The piston in my Pelikan is tight, and I’m afraid I’ll break something if I keep using it. Can I lubricate it? How?

Rx: If the pen has a plastic piston seal (not a cork), you can lubricate it. You must first find some 100% silicone grease. In the U.S.A., this grease is sold for use by divers (to lubricate SCUBA gear) and by restaurateurs (to lubricate food processing equipment). Some online pen dealers also carry it. Do not use any silicone grease that contains even the tiniest amount of petroleum distillates!

To lubricate the piston, empty the pen completely and flush it with water until the ejecta are clear. Draw the piston back up, as if filling the pen, and remove the nib unit. Twist the corner of a paper towel into a point (often called a “twizzle”), insert it into the open end of the pen barrel, and use it to absorb any remaining droplets of water from the inside of the barrel. Put a tiny amount of grease on the end of a wooden toothpick or match. Insert the toothpick or match into the open end of the barrel, and apply the grease around the inside of the barrel as close to the piston as you can get it. Now run the piston down and back up a few times. It should move very easily after the first stroke. Reinstall the nib, fill the pen, and write!

Trim Corrosion in Cigar-Box Pen Cases

I just read on one of the pen sites that storing pens in wooden cigar boxes can cause the trim to corrode. Is this true?

Rx: It’s not impossible, but I think people may be making too much of this. For the serious “archival storage” people in the crowd, any closed container could be considered a problem for storing vintage pens because celluloid is unstable and releases nitric acid as it decomposes. In a truly airtight space, celluloid pens will therefore eat themselves and each other. The possibility of corrosion also exists in very tight boxes because woods are slightly acidic.

But there’s also a possibility of reductio ad absurdum. Most cigar boxes are made of Spanish cedar. This wood is not the same as the aromatic cedar that’s used for cedar chests; it’s far less dense, and it contains virtually none of the aromatic oils that make cedar chests so good for repelling moths. Well cured Spanish cedar is very dry and remarkably benign; if it weren’t, I wouldn’t expect much from the poor acidified, mothproofed cigars inside the box.

I have first-hand knowledge of the boxes made by one vendor, Don Fluckinger. Cigar boxes aren’t airtight anyway, and Don removes the liner slats that contribute to the tightness of the box. (This gives more room for pens as well as providing for better air flow.) Don has had no complaints, or even questions, from anyone who’s ever bought one of his boxes, and he himself keeps hundreds of pens in his boxes without — so far — any evidence of any corrosion, not even coppery discoloration. Given this experience and the knowledge that there are dozens of “big name” companies such as Reed & Barton and Venlo selling tighter wooden pen cases that aren’t impermeably sealed on the inside surfaces where the fabric padding is, I’m comfortable with using cigar boxes, at least the ones Don makes, for pen storage.

Adjusting the Flow in a Drippy Bulb Filler

I have recently acquired an Eversharp bulb filler Stenographer’s pen. The pen fills OK and write what I would call a dry fine line. Sometimes, however, ink accumulates at the underside of the nib, between the nib and feed, and so eventually there is a blob of ink on the writing paper. Can I adjust the flow myself? I was told not to mess with the section of such pens…

Rx: The problem with a pen like this is almost never related to the flow. It’s far more likely that there’s a leak somewhere, usually a pinhole in the bulb (a truncated sac). These pinholes are so small that ink can’t pass through them, but air can. The first thing to do, therefore, is to replace the sac, being careful to use enough shellac on the nipple to ensure a good seal.

If replacing the sac didn’t solve the problem, there could be a leak between the section and the barrel. Remove the section, clean the parts, and reinstall the section, using plenty of thread sealant such as that sold by Ron Zorn (Main Street Pens) or Giovanni Abrate (Tryphon Enterprises). You can use shellac in a pinch, but non-hardening sealant is better for this application.


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