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Masque of the Red (and other coloured) Death

Posted by Dirck on 12 November, 2013

In addition to my personally-imposed duties of mindfulness regarding sacrifices, I had some pens to work on.  The one afflicted with stamp-pad ink awaits the arrival of some hopefully-effective pen cleaner, and so sat untouched.  Another, an earlier example of Vacumatic than last week’s , comes to me with another ink-related problem.

The pen is, generally speaking, in great shape– shiny, good plating, no deformities not discolouration.  But the filler is stuck, an alarming enough turn of events, but the client reports that the ink he was using “ate the diaphragm and caused it to glue the filler plunger down.”  Egad!

Now, at this point in similar narratives, I’ve thrown up my hands and cried, “Why, oh why, do people use {substance X} in their pens?  When will people learn?”  Not so today.  In fact, I was prompted to have a look at a couple of my own pens, and I find similar but less pronounced symptoms.  In fact, I was moved to open them while I had my Vacumatic wrench warmed up, and I found some troubling things.  Actually, let’s give that some dark intonation: troubling… things.

Rather more like real internal organs than one would like.

Rather more like real internal organs than one would like.

Mine have not, I say in selfish happiness, turned entirely to goo and gotten inside the filler (a very good thing, as I’ll mention below), but they are sticky and degraded.  I can’t speak for the client’s filler, the one on the right, but I know for a fact mine got their new diaphragms within the past five years, and that’s half the minimum length of time those things should last.

Easily replaced, for me, but I don’t think only of myself.  I’ve replaced a number of these things for clients, and said blithe inanities about it lasting a good decade.  That’s what they should last.  I’ve had authentically old diaphagms that still worked, and hadn’t turned icky.  What, then?

I am faced with other blithe inanities I’ve spouted in the past.  Old pens and the bits in them, I’ve said, were made for fierce inks full of things people didn’t understand were dangerous in olden times, and with few acknowledged exceptions modern inks are inherently safer for the pens.  I’m starting to re-think my stance on this.

There is a thread on the Fountain Pen Network regarding the disintegration of rubber by modern inks.  I appear in it a few times, making noise based on my experience up to that time, in which I refer to it as a bit of a dark lottery; one “wins” by exposing a certain batch of rubber to a certain batch of ink.  This would explain the difficulty in replicating the effect, as I had some years back in an effort to establish what did in a sac in a pen I had been using.  I still think I have something there, but I begin to wonder if the odds aren’t rather lower than I’d previously believed.

But let me stop dodging the issue.  I’m going to join the crowd, so far as pen repair (semi-)professionals goes, and suggest that perhaps one should keep Noodler’s inks out of pens whose fillers depend upon rubber.  This rules out the vast majority of vintage pens and a few modern ones, as well as many squeeze converters.  I like their inks, mostly, but I find my hand starts to shake at the prospect of putting Noodler’s in… well, almost anything other than a TWSBI Diamond.  I won’t tell you to not use it, any more than I would say, “Don’t go drinking that over-proof rum,” because it usually doesn’t bring any serious consquences, but do so aware of the potential for consequences.  Some go even further, and urge the use only of inks by companies that make pens– the thinking is that they don’t want to be paying out on warranty claims all the time, so they’re safer– but I don’t think I can stretch out so far.  Most of the complaints (note that, most) are about Noodler’s, so I’ll stick at that.

Because the goop is inside the client’s filler, I’m having to adopt some uncommon measures.  The filler is soaking even now in alcohol, in hopes of dissolving the rubber and freeing the mechanism.  This is possible because it’s a lock-down type, made of nothing that alcohol can do harm to.  In a later plastic-stemmed and -cupped model, this would attack the mechanism at least as much as the offending goo.  Chilling thought!

A couple of other items to clog the thinking channels on this matter before I rest.  At The Regular Job, we have some items of paper in storage which are bound up with rubber bands.  These seem to also go wrong in their composition and disintegrate after rather less that a year.  I have heard that ozone, that gas we would love to keep well aloft but which our modern lifestyle generates with great abandon at ground level, is responsible for this sort of thing.  Perhaps that has a role in the process– sacs and diaphragms of yore didn’t have modern smogs to content with.  This is undercut by the client whose pen brought all this on living in a city much like my own, one not given to traffic-generated smog,

The other, even less likely thought– is there something in the diet of the modern rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) which renders its sap more susceptible, at the end of the process which renders it into rubber, to the destructive effects of inks?  How to find out?

Today’s pen (with a newly-emplaced diaphragm): Parker Vacumatic
Today’s ink (hopefully not busily devouring the above): Herbin Éclat de Saphir

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3 Responses to “Masque of the Red (and other coloured) Death”

  1. […] the pregame hostilities entertainment was putting the boil to the pot of sporting expectations.  The Vacumatic with the goopy sac has gone back, without complete success in restoring the filler to function; there was some […]

  2. […] upon a time… well, actually, it was last month.  In any event, I had a pen sent me by a client which had taken a terrible injury from something […]

  3. […] but that seems to be a regular current in life.  I’ve pondered previously about the degradation of rubber in pens, and I ponder once again.  In the previous examination, I speculated on the internal […]

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