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Archive for July, 2015

Your Moment of Zen

Posted by Dirck on 31 July, 2015

I have this to thank the internet for:  if anyone ever asks me, “What was it like in the early 1970s, when you were a kid?” I can answer them easily.  I just have to fire up a browser, sit them down, and say, “Someone thought this was something that should be on TV.”

Honest.  Prime time.

Today’s with-it pen:  Lamy Studio
Today’s happening ink, man: Herbin Éclat de Saphir




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Posted by Dirck on 30 July, 2015

Day What How Much Duration Pen Ink
  • 28 July
  • 29 July
  • 30 July
  • First draft of “Constant as the Northern Star”.
  • More thereof.
  • Third draft work on “The Golden Oracle”, which is “Yellow” no more
  • 7 manuscript pages.
  • 5 pages.
  • Mainly marking limbs that need attention; the chainsaw is yet to come out.
  • 45 min.
  • 30 min.
  • 35 min.

Once again, I find myself setting down a story in the midst of the first draft, because some elements of it aren’t setting up properly.  Since I’m not (yet) a professional writer and lack mentors to lean upon, I’m not sure how to count this behaviour: sensible nipping in the bud of a nascent block, or cowardly retreat in the face of minor opposition.  Until informed otherwise, I’ll let vanity nudge me toward the former.

Besides, finishing a story that’s got a couple of drafts is important, too, danggummit!  Can’t submit something that’s mostly finished!

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Posted by Dirck on 27 July, 2015


Today I’m going to be sort of bragging and sort of admitting too foolishness.  While I try to be semy clever (it’s a heraldry gag– surely everyone knows how to blazon), all too ofter getting up to “semi-” involved a stretch.

This is actually something that was done before the vacation, but I couldn’t bring myself to get it down in words until now.  A client sent me a Sheaffer Imperial III that needed some attention; not filling, not writing.  I took it apart to the usual degree that one dismantles a Touchdown-filled pen to get the mechanism back in shape.  There was absolutely nothing moving through the feed, leading to a long round of soaking and buzzing in the ultrasonic cleaner.  As I wrestled with it, it came out that it may have been fed the wrong sort of ink as some point, which went some length to explaining why it was so clumped up.  I would, I decided, have to take the section right apart and start scraping at it.

Let me show you a picture of this sort of pen reduced to its components.  This is actually a Sheaffer II, but the different lies in plating and cap shape– nothing of note.

Notice the feed, because I’ll have to refer back to it.  I don’t particularly like pulling any Imperial section apart, so this wasn’t something I was anxious to pursue, but sometimes you just have to put on the gloves and dig in.  Warm the section to loosen sealant, after one more run in the ultrasonic tub, and start trying to unscrew the coupling.  This isn’t, it seems, a procedure Sheaffer was envisioning for these pens, as the sealant is pretty stiff.  It’s always a fun game to play; how much force can I exert on this thing without that force finding a flaw in the shell’s plastic?

Thus, I was expecting a bit of a struggle in the initial turn or two.  I got it.  After the initial resistance, though, off it came, without any hurt to the shell.  At this point, though, I found that the source of the resistance wasn’t quite what I expected.  The clogging ink had clogged primarily in the coupling, investing itself in the hold in the coupling which that long tail on the feed occupies.  The tail was not able to turn in the coupling.  The feed turned with the shell.  When I got the shell off, the tail had been twisted right off the feed.

That’s not good.

That tail is essentially the same thing as the inner feed in a Snorkel, a carefully engineered half-cylinder that allows the movement of air and ink through the narrow pipe between the feed and the sac.  I don’t have any spares of either coupling or feed for this model, so I had to put on my thinking cap (a paper cone, floppy and stained, with the word DUNCE  upon it scribbled over in green crayon).  Some amount of work with drill-press and tiny little knives later, solution appeared.

Here’s what a cross-section of the coupling should look like:

The black-shaded area indicates where ink usually lives.

The black-shaded area indicates where ink usually lives.

The feed-tail was still essentially welded to the coupling, resistant even to being knocked out with a drift and hammer.  It was not resistant to a very thin drill capable of cutting steel, though.  Part of my consideration of the whole process was the role of surface tension in the function of fountain pens, and it seemed to me that if I didn’t open up the hole, surface tension would lock the ink inside.  I also thought it would be well to put some ink channels in the walls of the new hole, to get tension to work for me in keeping ink-contact between feed and reservoir, so I threaded a jeweler’s saw into the part and cut a couple.  The final result was something like this:

Yes, I reused the original bit of paper.  Why not?

Yes, I reused the original bit of paper. Why not?

I had to clean up the bit of the tail sticking out of the feed to make for relatively feed flow, and I gambled on the fact that the tail’s transmission goes a little way further into the hole would prevent too much ink from getting into the feed proper.  Testing showed that this was not an issue– the air-lock issue does actually rear its head, requiring an occasional gentle shake of the pen to restore flow.  Semi-cleverness has semi-fixed the pen.  I sent it back on approval, and the client was happy enough with mostly-working that I received full payment for the work (I charged for the filler servicing only; the flailing was free), so this story seems to have a happy ending.

Today’s pen:  Parker “51”
Today’s ink: Diamine Sherwood Green

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Who’s a Pretty Boy?

Posted by Dirck on 24 July, 2015

…and we’re back to the Friday routine here as well.  I hope you’re all ready to bow down to our new avian masters, because they’re apparently just about ready to declare themselves.  If you’re in a hurry, just watch the first one:

Today’s pen: Sheaffer Balance Defender
Today’s ink: Jentle blue-black

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Posted by Dirck on 23 July, 2015

I neglected to draw something to explain the last thing I wanted to touch on in this week of more traditional entries. Therefore, since it’s Thursday:

Day What How Much Duration Pen Ink
  • 23 July
  • First draft of “Constant as the Northern Star” (shouldn’t judge by titles, but yes, SF for a change).
  • 5 manuscript pages.
  • 40 min.

…and you get to look forward to (oh, the hubris!) something that isn’t this sort of thing next week.

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What to Do, What to Do?

Posted by Dirck on 22 July, 2015

Before I get to the main meat of today’s entry, I want to vent off some bile that developed during the vacation– my spleen is dangerously swollen from it.  There is this person in my neighbourhood with a car, you see.

“How uncommon!”

Yes, yes.  Actually, as far as I can make out, most neighbourhoods have one of these, so I’m sure my whine with resonate with many others.  The car in question has, so far as I can tell, never left the garage it squats in during my whole time living in the current digs.  It is there to be shown the sun when the weather is fine, to rumble its enormous V8 engine through an elderly and inefficient muffler, and to give its owner something to make a lot of noise with for about an hour a week.  VRRRAAAM! it goes, then BRRRRAAAAAH! Then a few more minutes of idling at what must be about a litre of fuel used every forty seconds before running up to the red-line again.  But not, alas, above it.

What bothers me is this– if he’s trying to fix it (and I assign the masculine gender for mere convenience in writing), one would think seven or eight years of summer weekends would have provided sufficient time to figure out what the problem was or admit that the problem was beyond his powers.  There are some odd pastimes in this world of ours, a statement of which I’m living proof, but I really don’t see the joy in spending your summers with your face inside an engine compartment just to listen to the roaring of an engine which apparently will never provide motive force to the car it’s in.  I’m frequently tempted to give him with a claim against his fire insurance, but in this age of home CCTV that temptation has to be left lying.

There.  Now, on to the real point of today’s not-writing-fiction, which is to ponder aloud.  I got, about two weeks ago, a box of pens.  This was a surprise, as no boxes of pens were expected, and since there was in the news at the time a bit of a panic about letter-bombs I will admit that I had a small tremor when I opened it (carefully, with my left hand, sheltering my head behind a door-frame).  Tremor was replaced with joy when I looked within.  A trove of fountain pens.  Many needing a little work to be… moderately functional, really, which is all many of them are capable of.  Italian knock-offs of the Parker “51” from the past, and some more modern Indian pens which are affordable to a high degree.  A few little treasures that just need setting up on their feet, like a Waterman Citation whose decorative clear end crumbled in the usual way of clear decorative Waterman ends.

This whole extravaganza, along with a book I can share with my son, was sent by a sometimes-client and regular reader of this nonsense– I won’t name them, and I really must get down to writing the thank-you note for them– who thought that I was probably a good recipient of such things on the grounds that skills need regular stropping to remain sharp.  These were, in the donor’s opinion, an extremely stroppy bunch of pens, and were nothing but a source of vexation at that end of the postal system but could potentially do some good at this end.

Absolutely.  I’ve admitted several times here my promiscuous nature regarding pens; I have enough love in my heart to welcome almost anything with an ink reservoir and two functional tines (almost anything).  I take these pens in the spirit of their giving, and will practice upon them.

But then there’s the matter of what to do with them once they are as good as they can possibly be.  “Give ’em away” is the easy answer, but that’s at the strategic level, and my question is more of tactics.  The Italians, which I haven’t given much of a looking at, are the sort of thing I wouldn’t want to inflict on someone who wasn’t already familiar with fountain pens, because if they’re like the one I’ve already got the points will fold up under as much pressure as the weight of the pen itself can apply, and because they’re apt to leave my hands with certain filler foibles uncorrected.  The Indian pens are a little more robust, at least, despite being semi-disposeable, and could be given to someone interested in fountain pens to see if that interest would translate into a practical application… but then there’s the “who?” and “by what means chosen?” questions to examine.  Pen Collectors of America has their Pens for Kids initiative, and I could just ship them along at the appropriate time… but despite my membership, I am not in America, and I’d like to see the benefit accrue locally.

The flip-side of that last thought– it’s great to aspire to be a Johnny Appleseed of pens, but acting on that aspiration is fraught.  Time, making contact with educational organizations, having enough pens to fulfill interest… because the trove was substantial for an individual, but one moderate school-room worth of happy, inky-fingered kids and I’ve essentially emptied the box.

Matters to ponder.  I ponder publicly, in hopes of inspiration striking some member of my readership and passing it on in comments.  The donor is, of course, exempt from that exercise, having already worked out what to do about this grateful over-burden.

Today’s pen:  Parker “51”
Today’s ink: Diamine Sherwood Green

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Inspecting the Unexpected

Posted by Dirck on 21 July, 2015

Time for a pen repair yarn!  This story actually begins before the vacation; it extends into that period because if a wait for parts.  I got an email from a fellow who had a couple of his grandfather’s pens that wanted some attention before they’d do their thing.  One, a Parker Vacumatic, was helpfully labelled as such, and based on the symptoms described it sounded like a pretty standard diaphragm replacement.  The other only declared itself as a Sheaffer, and the filler just wasn’t right on it.

This sets me back a little.  I’m still not able to deal with the later versions of Sheaffer’s vacuum fillers, and so I asked if he could send some pictures along.  What I got put my mind somewhat at rest…

2015-06-08 09.43.29

…because that band is doesn’t appear on any of the daunting pens.  Looking at it, I was pretty confident that it was a Touchdown Admiral, and they’re darlings to fix.  However, a subsequent picture made me, as a favourite author puts it, stretch my eyes a little:

2015-06-08 10.03.56

This was no boating accident!

“I think I may have to charge for a replacement part,” I wrote back.  I was, alas, correct.  Let me show you the picture I took of the old part and its replacement:


We call this the filler tube, and it attaches by a screw to the blind cap (a look at the instructions will give a sense of it in operation).  At some point, as far as I can make out, the sac in the pen ruptured, and the pen was left alone long enough for the ink to cement the tube to the inside of the barrel.  How it managed this without also corroding the dickens out of the tube and the sac protector that lives inside the tube I cannot say, but the tube was pretty firmly stuck in the barrel when I got it.  Subsequently, someone tried to fill the pen, and after managing to unscrew the blind cap from the barrel, they yonked on it hard enough to tear away the end of the tube.

Savour that last phrase for a moment.  Conjure the scene in your imagination.  Now… how does this happen without any other damage to the pen?  How is it that the metal of the tube gives way before the more tenuous connection of screw threads to plastic strips away, or before the relatively weak adhesive of ink fails?  It’s baffling.  All the moreso because the tube, stuck in the barrel, let go with a very light tap.

Mystery aside, the pen presented no serious opposition.  The usual big struggle with this model, the removal of the elderly o-ring from its place in the barrel’s tail, was actually a little easier than average.  There was a little bit of smoothing wanted on the point, which is unusual in a Sheaffer of this age, but since it was an heirloom and had giving me a good story to tell, that was thrown in for free.  It and the Vacumatic are both home now, serving a new generation.  Hopefully, as an older pen, the Admiral is going to settle down and stop doing strange stunts.

Today’s young pen: Faber-Castell e-Motion
Today’s thrill-seeking ink: Diamine Sargasso Sea

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Forecast Calls For…

Posted by Dirck on 20 July, 2015

Well, that was a less productive vacation than hoped for.

What I mean is that I didn’t get done a tenth part of the refitting of the house done that I’d hoped.  This is primarily down to the unreasonable attitude of hardware stores, lumber yards, and chandlers in that they like being paid for the stuff you want to take away from them.  Since the vacation didn’t also bring a stack of loose treasure with it, I had to make do with an exhausting amount of moving things around in hopes of turning chattels into load-bearing walls.

We’re getting an heirloom piano soon, and it should do nicely to keep the ceiling up.

I did get a little done on the writing side of things, although the moving-of-stuff kept me from much in that line.  Thus I am champing at the bit for the Regular Job’s promise of a half-hour or so of scribbling away without telephones yammering, cats making messes, meals wanting preparation, and sons wanting “help” in Minecraft (meaning, “you do it while I see to a more thorough distribution of wooden locomotives about the floor; make sure to find lots of diamonds and iron”).  However, there were also some developments in the realm of pens that I would like to share with the dedicated and long-neglected readers here, so I’m going to carry on champing for a little while while I apply the time to writing non-fictions.

Unfortunately, with that foreword written, I now have to break off.  The return to The Regular Job finds a great deal of stuff that I usually do needing doing.  It’s at least in tidy stacks, not the mixed drifts I’ve found on past returns, but the extra week means there’s that much more of it.  The forecast, then, is for slightly interesting things… soon.

Today’s pen: Pilot Vanishing Point
Today’s ink: Pilot Black (which I don’t have a sample of– it’s black.  Quite strongly black)

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