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Archive for February 26th, 2013

Still Making Stuff Up

Posted by Dirck on 26 February, 2013

Carrying on with yesterday’s promises, I shall answer the question posed in The Princess Bride (albeit Wesley was a couple of layers deep in rhetorical usage at the time and not thinking of fountain pens at all).  That thing…

Just in case you'd forgotten the graphic horror.

Just in case you’d forgotten the graphic horror.

…is the mechanism of a Big Ben, a pen whose age I can’t pin down very well, and which apparently tried to sneak into the UK market by pretending not to be Swedish.  The big black cylinder screws into the tail of the barrel, the silvery shaft drives up and down, and the two remaining bits of seeming charcoal are the seals that render a piston-filler functional… if they’re not made out of charcoal.  The fact that there are two sealing items makes this quite interesting; evidently the forward cap is there to keep ink off the shaft and to keep the annular seal in place.  This latter aspect is important, as the mechanism relies on the pressure of the seal against the barrel to actually work.  There’s no guide inside the mechanism, which if you look at this old Lamy you’ll get a sense of; the piston has flattened sides, and the hole it passes though in the spacer is also oblong.  Without that guide, and without the friction of the seal, the shaft of this mechanism just spins in place.

Unlike yesterday’s feature, there’s no commercial replacement parts, and the Big Ben brand is odd enough that finding spare parts in any better shape seemed unlikely.  A very kind Great Name in pens offered, on a forum we both look in at, to recommend the right specification of O-ring if I sent along the diameters of shaft and barrel, but that would then require me tracking down a source of O-rings.  Yes, yes, the internet can provide, but there’s delays… and I have a big sheet of extremely ink-resistant silicone rubber right at hand, some punches, and a drill-press.  That makes for speedy resolution!

A litteral

It’s not much less mystifying when it’s all back together, is it?

The problem– my sheet of silicone rubber is not as thick as necessary for the upper cap, so I had to get three pieces to serve in place of two.  The upper two take the role of the cap, and the foremost is a cap indeed.  The drill-press was used to put a partial-thickness hole into the material, and a secondary ring was cut of half-thickness to make up the space.  The forward two are, as you can see, rather narrower than the rearward seal, since I wanted there to be no risk whatever of them catching on the barrel and getting dragged out of place.  The rear seal was actually a good deal wider when it was cut– the drill-press also got forced into the role of a lathe, so I could turn the seal down and round it out a bit.

You’ll also see that the forward two parts are shiny.  In an effort to keep them in place and keep ink from penetrating, I gave them a very literal as well as a figurative shellacking.   The real test, the drawing up and maintaining of ink, was passed, and I sent the pen back to the client with instructions to keep the barrel regularly greased.

Finally, I will now reveal the secret of using a ballpoint pen without guilt.  The secret is easy… attack it with a knife!

I find myself with a growing collection of Vacumatic mechanisms with a damaged pellet cup.  Since about half of that sentence is obscurely technical, I’ll beg you to bear with me, and if you’re really interested, read the whole tedious explanation of how to refit a pen with that sort of filler.  It was discovered, happily, that the all-important pellet cup happens to share some internal dimensions with the front end of a really cheap Papermate ballpoint.

Rich old man meets unwilling organ donor; say, isn't this an episode of CSI?

Rich old man meets unwilling organ donor; say, isn’t this an episode of CSI?

There’s even a very convenient step on the outside, which the Vacumatic cup has as a landmark.  The only problem is that the metal component of the ballpoint dismounts out the front, while the goo-containing reservoir tube is drawn out the back of the needed part.  I still have a slightly discoloured finger from the effort of cleaning out the ichor.  Once those bits are out, it’s time for the choppy-chop.

Off with his head!  And everything below a certain point!

Off with his head! And everything below a certain point!

I don’t want to think too hard about the stack of coincidences that led to that ballpoint section having two different interior diameters that correspond so exactly to those of the pellet cup.  In the final picture, the pellet-receiving hole is a little fuzzy; an artifact of filing the cut off to a rounder profile.  Purely cosmetic, and since it’s not only down the inside of a pen but also covered in a fold of rubber, who cares?

One of these things is, once again, very much like the other.

One of these things is, once again, very much like the other.  Functionally identical, in fact.

Unlike the original instructions for this conversion, I fixed the cup in place with shellac (again).  Superglue would probably last, hygroscopic though it is, and epoxy certainly would but since there are starting to be sources for commercial, after-market pellet cups, I’m a fan of easy reversibility.

The pen that the newly-fixed filler went into is another fabrication, a fantasy indeed, although it’s not of my making:

Japanese scientists have apparently done this to a breed of frogs.

It looked like my best chance to get a double-jewel version.

That’s a Kullock “Fantasy Demonstrator”, and apart from wanting to show off a little, I’d like to ask the passing throng; does this belong on my “51” profile page?  It’s not made nor endorsed by Parker, so there’s a strong argument for exclusion, but I’ll bet any web page looking at the Lincoln Futura will mention the Batmobile.  I’m in a quandary about it, and I welcome the internet’s opinion on the matter.

Today’s pen: Eversharp Skyline
Today’s ink: Mont Blanc Racing Green

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