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Archive for August 19th, 2010

Aie! Dropper!

Posted by Dirck on 19 August, 2010

Today’s pen is what we pen-folk call an “eyedropper” pen.  This is going back to the very dawn of fountain pen technology, and as with so many developments in human tools, likely comes from not looking at a given problem from all angles.  “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a reliably-writing pen which carries it’s own ink supply?” said any number of inventors in the 19th century, but one gets the feeling none of them took the extra step of, “Say, how are we getting the ink in there?”  The easy answer, which is exemplified by this sort of pen, is to put the ink in as one would put it into any other vessel– take off the lid and pour it in.

Of course, this is pretty tricky with something pen-sized, as the combination of liquid surface tension and the limits of human motor control render pouring fluid into anything smaller than a cordial glass messy.  Thus, the application of the eyedropper to the question.  I actually use a 1ml insulin syringe, available thanks to an ill cat in the extended family.

The main charm of the eyedropper pen is its simplicity.  There’s nothing in there but space to store ink, so if you’ve got some serious writing to do, an eyedropper is the way to go.  The Fountain Pen Network is heavily populated with discussion about whether this pen or that will convert into eyedropper usage (as a hint– there are a couple of pens that work extremely well).  However, I find that every time I use an eyedropper, I am reminded of why I don’t use one very frequently.

Filling is a very fraught experience– one needs to balance the barrel, a long, thin tube with most frequently a rounded bottom while manipulating whatever thing it is one is using to transfer ink from the bottle, and then while one recovers the section from wherever it has rolled off to and manage to get it screwed back on.  I’ve yet to have a disasterous spill yet, but I can easily imagine one.

The main drawback to the eyedropper is that it tends to dribble.  This is a result of a combination of old feed styles and thermal expansion.  The latter is a problem as the pen empties– the air in the barrel expands as one writes, and since the point is down this expansion forces ink into and eventually out of the feed.  Why does it expand?  Because your hand is generally hotter than the air which is coming in to replace the ink, and since the barrel has little insulation in it, everything inside tries to get up to the same temperature.  Eyedroppers are fairly popular in India, it seems, and I guess in a part of the world where air and body temperature is frequently about the same, this is less of an issue.

The feed simplicity is sort of culpable, though.  With early pens, like this one, there wasn’t much choice, but with modern eyedroppers, there is.  Considering that piston- and vacuum-filling pens also store ink in the barrel, and yet aren’t known for their drooliness, one might look askance at some modern eyedropper makers.  I do, although there are some sublimely expensive ones with interesting anti-dribble controls that I dare not look askance at for fear someone will expect me to pay for the privilege.

The other big issue is the joint between barrel and section.  Unlike most pens, where the reservoir is more or less permanently sealed, in eyedroppers, this remains a point of potential escape for the ink.  Some more advanced models rely on o-rings, but most require regular applications of some kind of hydrophobic material, like pure silicone grease, which keeps the ink in its place without damaging the material the pen is made from.  Failure to renew this protective every few fillings leads to seepage, right where your fingers meet the pen.

Guess what I neglected this morning?

Today’s slightly senile pen:  Waterman 12
Today’s villainous ink, seizing upon a chance at escape:  Noodler’s Tulipe Noir.

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