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Archive for January 15th, 2010

Sub-critical fail.

Posted by Dirck on 15 January, 2010

…and try though I might, I have to type the correct word: Failure. I wish the modern urge to brevity would stop lopping the ends off of words. It’s really annoying.

Today’s pen almost wasn’t, and probably shouldn’t be. It should be laid up in ordinary at home, awaiting the insertion of a repair part. It is, despite its current trouble, a fine example, which has thus far foreborn from staining my waistcoat.

The pen in question uses the vacuum- or plunger-fill mechanism which Sheaffer turned to in the late 1930s in their contest with Parker over whose pen had no sac (apparently the Conklin Nozac just stood off at the sidelines, watching, and the diverse European piston-fillers never heard there was a contest)– which contest can be seen distilled at this useful and informative site.

There are two points of failure with this filler. One is the moving rubber seal at the front of the filler shaft. It’s subject to all sorts of friction as well as hydraulic and pneumatic stresses, spends its life submerged in fluids of a generally disagreeable pH, and never gets any love. The other point is a set of felt and rubber washers built into the back of the barrel through which the filler shaft runs, and which are there to maintain an airtight seal to allow the filler to generate its necessary vacuum. They are also subject to the aforementioned stresses, and while applying a little silicon grease to the shaft does count as care which the rubber seal cannot enjoy, after 70 years in service these washers tend to loose their stuff, compressing out of the way of the shaft and putting an end to the vacuum.

Sometimes, quite suddenly. The last time I used this pen, in November, it filled quite happily. Last night, in anticipation of using it today, I put the pen into the ink bottle, thrust down the filler, and after an appropriate expression of bubbles… nothing. Being tired at the end of my day (“Fill Pen” came between “Brush Teeth” and “Pin Pillow to Mattress with Head” on my to-do list yesterday), I thought I’d try it again– maybe I hadn’t done it right. There was in fact a little ink taken in, because as I pulled the filler back out, it fizzed and bubbled around the end of the shaft. That is a sure sign that your tail-seals have gone awry.

In the end, I got about four drops of ink into the pen, which is enough for my day’s expected writing duties. Here’s me being stupid, though; those tail seals also keep ink in the pen, and their failure is comes through compression, so they not only aren’t in the way of air or fluid, they present a polished and nonabsorbent surface. There’s not a lot of ink in it, but what is in it might easily dribble out into the blind cap and thence my pocket.

As I’m half-smart, I left the pen standing upright overnight to allow a preliminary inspection. Thus far, no sign of leaking– the threads on the blind caps of these items are… reasonably secure.

My point is this– when you stumble upon one of these out in the world, you may rejoice if it is still working as it should, but don’t form any expectation of that situation persisting. You might also want to consider not carrying an iffy example in you waistcoat pocket.

Today’s menacing cripple: Sheaffer Vigilant
Today’s ink awaiting early release: Herbin’s Lie de Thé

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