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Contrary Materials

Posted by Dirck on 26 August, 2013

Last week, there was a thread on one of the fountain pen fora in which someone sought direction in the mysteries of de-croggling a couple of Waterman Phileases which had both done a high dive onto a firm plane.  He got that direction from several readers, including but not primarily me, and as of last report had one of them back on its nibs.  Part of the initial complaint was a lamentation that a couple of point-fixers he’d contacted had declined to have anything to do with the effort.

Not because the described damage seemed too extensive for a good outcome.

Because the points were steel.

Coincidentally, I was, when I stuck my oar in on the forum thread, about to embark on a similar repair on a Sheaffer Prelude (which is the nucleus for a page on my site that is slowly crystalizing), which is also steel pointed.  I didn’t join the chorus of oh-how-could-theys which attended the thread, but the thought was present.  A few days later… well, I can see the why they’d decline a little more clearly, although I’m not striking the possibility of steel point repairs from my own list of services.

I think most of us know from a functional standpoint the main attributes of gold and steel.  Steel is rather less decorative, and gold is a bit of a bust as a steak knife.  Gold is still the winner at corrosion resistance.  Steel is far more readily available, and good thing; imagine how much a building would cost if the girders were going at $1,000 an ounce.  Both can be good in the role of pen points, especially with some of the more corrosion-resistant formulations of steel that have come about since… oh, let’s say 1950.  From an initial fabrication standpoint, the difficulties of either material are about equal, and the difference in cost between a pen with one point or the other is (mainly) the cost of the material rather than its powers.

However, the reworking of either is an other matter.  Steel doesn’t bend as willingly as gold; it’s a less ductile material.  Once bent, it is more likely to resent being bent back to where it was.  Gold, particularly in the alloyed forms found down the end of pens, and steel are both subject to stress fracturing, but it’s a lot easier to talk nice to gold and jolly it along.  A steel point will present attempts to return it so shape with a need to cry, “Good enough!” when a gold one will arrive at near-perfection.

I speak of cold-working, of course.  If one is set up for de- and re-tempering, the matter takes one a different complexion… but so would the cost of the repair.  A lot of point-repair dances along the edge of economic viability.  Retipping costs a lot, and many people will prowl for a donor pen of similar cost rather than pursue that service.  Removing kinks from a steel point is as much if not more work than from gold, and one can more reasonably suggest the finding of a new one most of the time with a sense of having saved the seeker money.  The Phileas is a little different at the moment, since there’s a bit of a spike in costs (people know they’re good above their on-paper appearance, and the market is bubbling) and no other pen’s point is an exact match in decor, so I understand the preference for repair, but I also understand the preference on the other side to avoid sullen looks when saying, “it will cost X to fix” when X is rather more than the strict value of the part.

That Prelude is, by the way, working.  As it used to?  Probably not, since there’s still a little deformity of the slit (I use the word “microscopic” advisedly; 10X is enough to see it, but only just) that I’m not getting rid of without angering the spirits of metal fatigue.  There’s some naked-eye sense of wrongness in it, too, some wobbles in the reflections.  But it works, it’s not unpresentable, and I don’t think I’ve done myself or the client a serious injury with the charge attached to the work.  We’ll see if future sullen looks change my opinion on addressing repairs on steel.

Speaking of which, I spent roughly an hour and a half applying a variety of increasingly sullen looks and other tools to that Vacumatic I made such a production over at the start of the month.  I have never seen a Vacumatic diaphragm which has become so integrated into the fabric of the barrel it was mounted in.  I stopped when I heard someone say, “Damn it, I know I’ve got a rat-tail file somewhere in this joint!” and there was no one else in the room.  Work-hardened rubber introduced some fatigue cracks to my serenity, and the sulfurous material dramatically reduced my clarity of purpose.   Good thing it’s not a rush job.

Today’s pen: Pelikan P488
Today’s ink: Kaweco blue-black

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3 Responses to “Contrary Materials”

  1. Having spent some of my earlier years hunched over small pieces of steel, and equally uncooperative metals, I feel for the steel nib repair. Heat will make steel forget its relictance to move back into shape, but it’s memory remains blank until heat is re-applied to fix the rules again.

    And I guess that vacumatic looks less and less like a deal, with each update. Incidently, I think I have a rat tail file (or other very tiny files) if it will make any difference. I’m not using them.

    • I won’t say no out of hand, as I know your files slightly more appropriate to the task than mine (which I believe was intended for chain-saw sharpening), but if they have a place it’s as The Final Resort– not unlike a brain surgeons’s garden spade.

      …although there are some other fabrication tasks the set I vaguely remember might be just right for. I’ll ponder the matter further as a distraction from the Red Devil.

  2. […] deeply-resistant Vacumatic is home and functional after a social call on the owner last night.  Its problems were in […]

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