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Git ‘Er Dun (in).

Posted by Dirck on 17 November, 2010

I don’t recall precisely (in part because of the magnificent tumble I just took in The Regular Job’s icy parking lot) where I was reading yesterday of someone having been initially disappointed with a newly-arrived pen who undid the disappointment by… means overly aggressive, to my mind.  Reformation by abrasion, no less,  which is not unlike trial by ordeal— can be shown to be effective, but far from ideal.

Hopefully I’ve alarmed you into attention with my hyperbole.  The problem being addressed is a scratchy point, and the mechanism of “repair” is abrasives of various power.  If you do a quantity of wordwork, or perhaps apply yourself to repainting cars, you’ll probably have various grades of sandpaper lying around, and freqently (for this is a thing I’ve seen over and again on fora and blogs) the fact that people have this stuff handy is the very reason folks take their pens’ lives in their hands.  “I’ve heard of grinding nibs, and here I am with a nib and some stuff for grinding… heck, this isn’t going to take any time at all!”

I’ve heard of appendectomy, and here’s my buddy with undiagnosed abdomenal pain standing in a knife-filled kitchen… heck, this isn’t going to take any time at all!  You see the problems, yes?

Let’s start with diagnosis.  Scratchy pens are generally a result of uneven tines.  For a simple example, stand with your hands out in front of you, fists clenched, like Superman swooping down to bust through a wall.  This is rather like what the tines of the pen look like.  Now, if you move one hand just perceptibly higher than the other, you have replicated the situation of a pen which is intolerably scratchy.  Consider for a moment the scale of this– how much bigger than a pen-point are your hands?  Scaling down “just perceptibly” to that extent should indicate that you absolutely need some kind of magnification to see the problem.  I find a 10X loupe does the trick most of the time.  When grinding is really indicated is when the tipping is actually unevenly applied– in my model, it’s not a case of one hand being higher or lower, but bigger.

Next step, remediation.  Grinding is removing material.  You cannot put that back, so think twice about diving for the abrasives.  Usually this sort of problem is best addressed by gently bending the tines relative to one another until the tipping is aligned.  What this takes is patience, magnification, and in some cases dismounting the point from the section, because the feed can interfere with the bending.  This is, of course, nothing to be undertaken lightly, and it’s still a better idea than grinding.

…because even if grinding were the right thing to do  it’s a good bet that you don’t have the right stuff to grind with.  Down at the hardware store, you’re apt to find sandpaper up to 1000 grit (bigger numbers, tinier bits of grit), perhaps up to 2000.  That’s pretty good for standard household purposes, but once again consider scale.  The coarsest thing I’ll take to a pen point is 6000 grit, and then there’s the fine stuff to finish up with.  You may actually have this sort of thing around the house if someone is serious about nail care.  What’s this?  Well, yes, I do occasionally touch up a point when gross manipulation fails– this past weekend I did a little grinding on a point that was still scratchy, despite being observably aligned through a 35X magnifier.  A little grinding, something in the order of four seconds total work.  Use too heavy a grit, or go too hard, and you are suddenly looking at the need for a new point, and that is a pretty substantial expense, new pen or vintage.

The last point– do you actually know what you’re doing?  My tiny, non-braggable skill in this realm came through practice on a lot of unrecoverably damaged and entirely undistinguished points.  I still don’t think I’m good enough to suggest people pay me for it.  The guys that are actually good at it have a lot more practice under their belt and a much longer waiting list.

I’m not against DIY, of course.  If I were, I’d never have a load of repair tips permanently attached to the top of this blog.  However, I’m more of an advocate of understanding your own limitations.  Duct tape and a hammer are not, I’m sorry to say, a complete tool kit, and “the right tools for the job” is a motto that can save a lot of heart-ache.

I think I hear Homer Simpson calling out, “Booooooring!”  Well, that’s fine.  He’s not much of a role model anyway.

Today’s pen (writing on re-aligned tines): Waterman Champion
Today’s non-abrasive ink: Herbin’s Poussière de Lune

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