(This page published June 1, 2014)
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When you are repairing a lever-filling pen, you must sometimes remove and replace the lever. In most cases, this is not a difficult task, but there are some techniques that can make it easier. The aim of this article is to teach you some of those “pro tricks.” The first trick to know is that removing the pressure bar first will make an ordinary job easier and an impossible job possible.
In most pens, the lever is not attached to the pressure bar, but the pressure bar will get in the way when you try to remove the lever in all pens except those whose levers are mounted by pins in the manner of Sheaffer’s original 1908 patent and are also not attached to the pressure bar. This section discusses several — but not all — pressure-bar systems and how to deal with them. Systems not described here should become obvious to you with experience.
J-bar: In the vast majority of pens, the pressure bar is some variation of the ordinary J-bar, which is merely a strip of spring metal formed to look like the letter J, so that the bent end anchors the bar into the barrel by spring action as shown in the cutaway drawing at the beginning of this article.
Some J-bars, like the third and fourth ones illustrated here, have a second piece attached; this part is stiff, and it is the actual pressure bar. This design usually allows the pressure bar to compress the sac more fully for a better fill. Also, as illustrated by the third bar here, some bars have a prong projecting upward to serve as a stop for the lever so that the lever cannot flop all the way over in the slot.
The easiest way to remove the pressure bar in these pens is usually to grasp the bar’s end with alligator forceps and pull while twisting the forceps back and forth through about turns if to unscrew and screw in the pressure bar. The short arm of the bar may scratch the interior of the barrel when you do this, but in most cases this is not a problem. in pens whose levers are mounted using the snap ring system, it might also catch on the snap ring or in the snap-ring groove, and the solution to this problem is to help the bar’s short arm out by inserting a dental pick with a bent-over end into the barrel and catching it under the short arm of the bar. You can then twist the pick to lift the bar’s end away from the barrel wall, and a good jerk will often flip the bar all the way out of the barrel.
To reinstall a J-bar, simply insert its bent end into the barrel with the long arm aligned with the lever. Push it in until you have to release it, then use a flat-bladed screwdriver to push it all the way home. Check the lever’s operation to ensure that the lever runs along the center of the pressure bar; it it doesn’t, it may slip off the side of the bar and jam when you raise it to fill the pen.
Channeled pressure bar: Some pens use a design in which the pressure bar has channels formed along its sides. There are a couple of versions of this design, depending on how the pressure bar is retained in the barrel.
Refer to the photo below as you read the following description of the version used in hard rubber and pre-1940s celluloid models made by Wahl. Small tabs on the short arm of the lever slide back and forth in the channels as the lever is operated, and the lever cannot be removed without being disengaged from the pressure bar. The bar itself is secured in the barrel by a metal retainer located at the back end of the barrel; in the retainer is a slot that aligns with the lever. The end of the pressure bar has notches cut in its sides, forming a T shape, and this notched end fits into the slot in the retainer. There is no spring on the pressure bar; the lever has two small spring-loaded protrusions on its sides (at the end of the long arm) to latch it in place when it is closed. Note the lever pin. Removing and installing a pin-system lever will be discussed later in this article.
The easiest way to remove the pressure bar in these pens is to insert a long thin screwdriver into the barrel and fit it into the slot in the retainer. Turn the retainer 90°, as if you were screwing it in or out; this will free the pressure bar from the slot, and you can then simply upend the barrel and dump the pressure bar out. This gives you free access to the lever.
Reinstalling the pressure bar is usually just the reverse of removal. Open the lever most of the way and position the barrel so that you can look into its open end, with a strong light above. The task is easiest if light is shining from above through the lever slot to illuminate the short arm of the lever so that you can see the tabs. Using alligator forceps as shown below, slide the pressure bar into the barrel so that the lever’s tabs fit into the bar’s channels, then fit the end of the bar into the slot in the retainer. Then, using the long screwdriver, turn the retainer back into its correct position. This process may take some wiggling to get the parts settled into their proper positions.
Sometimes, you will encounter a pen that just will not go back together as described in the preceding paragraph. To deal with one of these pens, remove the lever and use alligator forceps to pull the retainer out of the barrel. Slot the pressure bar onto the retainer, align the two parts correctly with the lever slot, and install them together. Push them in only far enough to clear the lever slot. Reinstall the lever. Slide the pressure bar and retainer in a little bit farther, until the channels in the pressure bar are engaged with the lever's tabs. Close the lever almost all the way, then grasp the retainer with alligator forceps below the pressure bar (with the bar between the forceps and the lever) and push the pressure bar and retainer all the way into the barrel, allowing the lever’s tabs to slide in the pressure bar’s channels.
In Waterman’s version, the pressure bar is held in place by a tab stamped into the middle of the bar and formed upward slightly so that it cannot pass the end of the lever, as you can see in the photo below. The techniques for removing and installing Waterman pressure bars are discussed in Replacing a Waterman Lever Box Assembly.
Staple-secured pressure bar: Conklin and some English makers secured the pressure bar to the short arm of the lever. A tab stamped into the middle of the pressure bar is formed into the shape of a staple; its open end is passed through the pressure bar and slightly flattened so that it cannot come back through the opening in the pressure bar. The end of the lever’s short arm has tabs on it like those on Waterman and Wahl pens, but the tabs bend inward to form a closed loop instead of protruding outward. The end of the pressure bar is placed over the staple and the tabs are closed together so that they lock the lever together with the pressure bar.
This design makes it very difficult to separate the pressure bar from the lever and reinstall it, and I recommend that you not do so unless it is absolutely necessary. The least troublesome method for removing the pressure bar is to drive out the lever pin, pull the lever toward the back end of the barrel to expose its inner end, and use a dental scraper or a similar tool to pry the two sides of the lever’s end apart until the pressure bar can be wiggled off.
Before you can reinstall the pressure bar, you must open the staple. Place the pressure bar, staple side down, on a nib knockout block, and position the staple over a hole that will accommodate its entire length. Use a very fine pin punch like the one shown here, made from a 2" (5 cm) length of " (1.3 cm) dowel and a short length of 0.039" (1.0 mm) spring wire, to pop the end of the staple out of the slot as shown here:
(You can use just a length of the wire, with its ends ground flat, if you do not want to make a punch for later use.) Once the end of the staple is free, close it back down until it is open just enough to allow the tabs on the end of the lever to slip through the opening, as shown below.
To reinstall the pressure bar onto the lever, first use chain-nose pliers to reshape the end of the lever so that the two tabs make a nice closed loop. Reinstall the lever into the barrel. Then raise the lever about halfway, hold it with a finger, and use alligator forceps to install the pressure bar into the barrel so that the open end of the staple slips into the loop at the end of the lever, as shown here.
Place the blade of a small flat-blade screwdriver (" or 3 mm) under the forward one-third of the pressure bar, and raise the lever to wedge the screwdriver in place. The screwdriver should not extend so far into the barrel that its end can be seen through the staple’s slot in the pressure bar.
Now use a sickle-shaped dental scraper to reach into the lever slot and snap the end of the staple back down through its slot:
Lower the lever and remove the screwdriver.
Eversharp Skyline pressure bar and lever: Eversharp used three different pressure-bar designs in the Skyline. All of these are discussed in Skyline Pressure Bar Removal and Reinstallation.
Most fountain pens use one of the following two lever fastening schemes:
The pin system: This design, part of Walter Sheaffer’s original 1908 patent and used by Sheaffer until about 1931, uses a small pin that passes through a straight hole drilled from one side of the barrel to the other through the lever slot. The pin also passes through a hole in the lever. A few other pen companies used this system, including Wahl and Moore. Shown here is a Sheaffer Radite (celluloid) pen; you can see the hole through which the pin goes.
Removing a pin-mounted lever is essentially a very simple operation; all you need to do is to push the pin out using a probe made with a length of wire the same size as, or smaller than, the pin (illustrated below). For almost all pens, a probe 0.020" (0.5 mm) in diameter will suffice. It’s easier to manipulate the probe if you embed the wire in the end of a short length of " (13 mm) wooden dowel to use as a handle, as shown here.
Wahl levers, with their tabs that point outward to ride in the channels along the edges of the pressure bar, might seem more difficult to deal with, but they are actually very easy. There are two small slots cut in the sides of the lever slot at the end where the lever’s long end normally lies. With the pressure bar removed and the pin driven out, you can stand the lever up all the way and slide it to the end of the lever slot where the small slots are, and it will then lift out easily, with the tabs slipping through the small slots in the barrel.
To reinstall the lever, align it in the lever slot and reinsert the pin. Use your wire probe to center the pin so that neither end protrudes from the barrel, and seal it in place with beeswax applied to both holes with the flat of a knife or dental probe and pressed into the holes. With a soft cotton flannel cloth, rub the areas where you have applied the beeswax to remove excess wax.
The snap ring system: This design, patented in 1919 by A. G. Elser and assigned to C. E. Barrett & Company, uses a ring of spring wire that snaps into a groove cut around the barrel on its inner surface. The ring is passed through a hole in the lever before installation into the barrel.
In most pens of this type, the snap ring that holds the lever in place is nearly a full circle. Except for a few brands (principally those in the first tier), the levers in these pens are relatively easy to remove.
To remove the lever, raise it to an angle of about 45°, grab it with a gripper square, and give it a diagonal push down into the barrel (and toward the front end).
The snap ring will snap out of its groove. Raise the lever to 90° and then twist it turn clockwise so that it faces sideways relative to the barrel.
This drags the snap ring around so that it is parallel to the lever slot, and you can simply lift the lever and snap ring out of the barrel. Sometimes the ring will be bent and will need to be reshaped. (If it is not straight, it will not fit back into its groove when you try to reinstall the lever.)
NoteSome pen makers, mostly but not exclusively those in the third tier, used the same lever in pens of different barrel diameters. To accommodate the different barrels, there are two holes in the lever. As you remove the lever, check the number of holes. If there are two, be sure to note which one the snap ring goes through.
If the pen has been exposed to water (or has been kept in a humid environment), the snap ring might be rusted so badly that it comes out in pieces. If it stays in one piece, it still might not be suitable for reinstallation. You will need to fabricate a new snap ring. You should have a selection of steel spring wire in at least these sizes: 0.016" (0.4 mm) , 0.020" (0.5 mm), and 0.025" (0.6 mm). To make a snap ring, cut a 3" (75 mm) length of the largest size spring wire that slips freely through the hole in the lever. Find a drill bit that is about 15% smaller in diameter than the inside of the barrel. Clamp one end of the wire to the drill’s shank with your thumb, and use chain-nose pliers to wrap the wire around the drill as tightly as possible, about 1 times. Release the wire, and cut off the ends to leave a properly shaped ring that encompasses about of a circle. If the resulting ring is too small, enlarge it by bending carefully with round-nose pliers or, if you have a jump-ring mandrel, by forcing the snap ring down onto the mandrel.
CAUTIONA very few pens, primarily English in origin, use a snap ring that is more than a full circle. This type of snap ring is very difficult to remove without damage because you cannot snap it out of its groove as described here. Removing a ring like this crushes the ring, and the best repair is to replace it with a -circle ring that you fabricate.
To reinstall the lever, reattach the snap ring if you have removed it, and align the lever with the barrel as shown here:
Align it so that the lever is directly opposite the opening. Insert the snap ring and the lever’s short arm into the barrel through the lever slot. Twist the lever turn counterclockwise. Now slide the lever back and forth in the lever slot until the snap ring snaps back into its groove. Use a bore light to check that the ring is in the grove all the way around; if it is not, use a dental probe from the open end of the barrel to push or pull it until it seats.
In Sheaffer pens (after about 1931) the snap ring is only half of a circle, and because of this it tends to dig into the plastic in the groove if you just apply the usual technique (described above). To get a Sheaffer lever out, I generally use a 1/8" screwdriver with a notch in the blade so that the notch sits on the ring when the lever is partly raised. I then apply a hammer to the back of the screwdriver to force the ring diagonally down and in the direction of the open end of the barrel. When it comes, you can then fish the lever and ring out through the open end of the barrel using alligator forceps, preferably grabbing the ring to avoid scratching the lever. You will almost invariably find that the ring is bent in the middle and will need to be reshaped. To install a Sheaffer lever, you can't simply insert it into the lever slot sideways and then twist it into position because the depth of the short arm is greater than the width of the slot. Instead, grasp its short arm sideways with the alligator forceps, position the half-ring so it's centered in the lever, align the lever with the slot, and introduce the lever's long arm into the barrel. Carefully push until the lever is not yet completely lined up longitudinally with the slot. Fish through the slot with a skinny dental pick to raise the lever's long arm out through the slot to where you can grasp it. Then you can work it into position with your fingers, sliding back and forth as necessary to get the ring to snap into the barrel groove. Once it's in position, use the handle of a dental pick to push the short arm of the lever outward so that the ring seats fully in the groove.
Waterman pens: Except for some relatively late low-priced models, all of Waterman’s lever-filling pens used a lever that is mounted in a box and pivots on a pin that is part of the lever assembly. These boxed levers are a topic in themselves, and Replacing a Waterman Lever Box Assembly deals with them.
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.
This article is also available as a chapter in The RichardsPens Guide to Fountain Pens, Volume 2, in either of two printed versions or as an ebook for your computer or mobile device.