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Something Abhors this Vacuum

Posted by Dirck on 14 March, 2013

I’ve been doing a lot of complaining this week, so I want to preface this entry: what follows is not a complaint, but merely an observation of a phenomenon.  I think if it had happened in a week with less griping, it might have been a complaint, but in the current context it’s not that big a deal.

As part of a slow lead-up to the changing of pace I intend to undertake, I was cleaning out some pens this morning ahead of the mad scuttle to work.  One of these was the TWSBI Vac 700 which I’ve had filled almost as long as I’ve had it– there was a little break while I took this picture:


Most of that time I’ve had it loaded with Mont Blanc Royal Blue.  I bought the ink primarily to get at the bottle, one of those delightful “shoe” style jobs which make filling a pen relatively easy even in the face of low ink levels.  However, it turns out that the colour, at least as it was interpreted prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, is really quite nice, so I’ve been using it rather than following the original plan of tipping it down the sink to make room for a needy Herbin ink.

Cleaning the 700 is, or (if you can stand the clumsy foreshadowing) should be, a straightforward exercise.  Unscrew the knob, pull it back, run it in, ink and water swap places under some pressure, and with one or two repetitions, the pen is clean.

Except… that bit about pulling it back.  It has been rather a while since the last topping up, but I don’t remember the action being quite this stiff.  Push down… and also rather stiff.  So stiff, in fact, that I lose my grip a little; this is something the TSWBI approach to the vacuum filler doesn’t encourage, since a hesitation in the down-stroke tends to release the seal between the Piston Seal and the Shaft.  Sheaffers are more forgiving in this department, but almost no other, so I don’t mind it too much.  A little more fumbling, with seemingly better lubrication, and a dose of water enters.  Push it out, and let’s do that once more for luck.

…and, geez, that really is stiff this time.  A little more effort and the large man imposes his will upon the pen!  The shaft moves freely!

In both directions.  Because, peering through the barrel, the Piston Seal is no longer attached.  That’s, to quote Doctor Horrible, not good.  In the very little time remaining before departure, I whip off the section, and tip out the Piston and Valve Seals.  Intact!  All I care about!  Socks, shoes, hat (in that order, as it’s important) and I’m away.

I have been reflecting upon the matter, though.  I think what happened that the ink, a terrifying old German recipe– it smells like a much older ink than the early 1980s batch I take it for– decided that rather than sitting idly in the barrel in an inefficient manner, it would keep busy by slightly compulsive cleaning.  Over the course of time, it dissolved the silicone grease on big seal and the barrel walls, or at least lifted it away.  The ink itself and the water which entered before the big grab were insufficient to smooth the movement of the seal, and it stuck.

I hope that the specific ink has a primary role to play in this, at least.  While I’m all in favour of object lessons on the topic of regular pen maintenance, I don’t like the notion that carefully lubricated parts going utterly dry over a short time.  A relatively short time.  Say… when did I last fill that thing?

The positive aspect of this event, apart from its acting as a sterling reminder to not just leave pens sitting about inked for weeks on end, is that it given me an excuse to not rush out and instantly buy the latest iteration of the TWSBI Diamond, the 580.  Even though I really would like to.

Today’s pen: Waterman Préface
Today’s ink: Herbin’s Violette Pensée


5 Responses to “Something Abhors this Vacuum”

  1. A post-script to this entry; I’ve had a moment to dismantle, consider and rebuilt, and it looks like I’m exactly right about the mechanism of failure. You’ve never seen such a grabby bit of rubber (but not, happily, gummy).

    • Maja said

      Thanks for the blog post (and follow-up). I don’t own a TWSBI Vac 700 but the only reason I haven’t bought one yet is the step-down from the barrel to the section. Just curious—do you find it at all bothersome?

      • I’d expected to, but it turns out not to trouble me at all. I wouldn’t go so far as to say if will be the same for you, since our hand-geometry and sensitivity will necessarily differ.

  2. […] Ravens March […]

  3. […] others complaining about this, so it may be specific to my pen.  Possibly something to do with the little problem it had with some angry German ink a while back, or (gulp) it might be connected with my own tinkering– did I put the filler […]

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