(Mis)Adventures in Pen Resurrection: Sheaffer Touchdown TM Craftsman

A couple of weeks ago I posted a picture from a pen I was working on. Those broken bits of o-ring kept me at my wit’s end for a solid hour, as I attempted to extract them from the barrel of the pen they belonged to, a Sheaffer Touchdown TM Craftsman.

The o-ring in question is part of the Sheaffer “Touchdown” filling system, which uses a sac to hold the ink and a sleeved plunger to create a vacuum to draw ink into the sac. Like Sheaffer vacuum-filler pens, Touchdown pens fill on the downstroke of the plunger, which is completely counter-intuitive. But it’s magical when it works, as this pen now does.

After disassembling the pen and giving it a thorough flush and cleaning, I found that not only did it need a new sac, it was also missing the protector sleeve that fits over the sac inside the barrel. It took a few weeks to find a replacement sac protector, and after that, installing a new sac wasn’t difficult. But that pesky o-ring at the end of the barrel… That thing had hardened into a fossil, and it took a variety of increasingly sharper implements to dig it out, all while trying to avoid damaging the threads for the blind cap inside the barrel.

It was so satisfying when all those o-ring pieces finally came out that I took a photo for posterity and shared it with you.

Want to know what else is satisfying? Dipping a pen that you fixed yourself into a bottle of ink, and watching it fill on the first downstroke. “Eeet’s alive!”

This particular pen was made in the 1950s. While the Touchdown TM Craftsman (“TD Craftsman” henceforth) was the budget model in the Touchdown TM line of pens, it still has classic lines and sharp gold trim.

The TD Craftsman is a smaller pen that’s light and balanced in my hand, posted or unposted. It’s a perfect fit for me, but I have small hands.

Size comparison, capped (L to R: Lamy Vista, Pilot Metropolitan, Sheaffer TD Craftsman, Pilot Elite, Pilot Long Murex)
Size comparison, unposted (L to R: Lamy Vista, Pilot Metropolitan, Sheaffer TD Craftsman, Pilot Elite, Pilot Long Murex)
Size comparison, posted (L to R: Lamy Vista, Pilot Metropolitan, Sheaffer TD Craftsman, Pilot Elite, Pilot Long Murex)

The #33 14k gold nib is classic Sheaffer: smooth and unpretentious. The tines have a bit of give to them, but no real flex. This might not be a “Lifetime” nib, but it throws down a wet line even with a dry ink like Pelikan 4001.

The top side of the tipping has an imperfection, but it’s perfect where it counts:

TD Craftsmans have a cap with a plain wire band. The cap on this particular pen is in fantastic shape.

Unfortunately, like most vintage pens, this one has seen some use (and some teeth). Seriously people, keep your pens away from your chompers! The imprint is intact, but on the thin side.

Overall, this is a good, solid pen that writes well. It’s worn but wears its bling proudly. It’s been places and seen some things. I’m not sure I’ll end up keeping it, but if I do decide to sell it, I hope it ends up with someone who will appreciate its performance despite its cosmetic flaws.

Sheaffer Touchdown Craftsman c. early 1950s

This pen needed a new sac and o-ring, and a new sac protector to replace the missing original.

The #33 open nib is 14k gold and lays down a smooth, wet line with a hint of feedback on TR (Tomoe River) paper. It is not flexible, but a nice, solid writer.

Aside from toothies on the blind cap, this pen is in decent shape, and the trim on the cap is in excellent condition with no brassing.

Pelikan 4001 Royal Blue

DIY Ink Sample Storage Tray

You know how one ink sample turns into two, which turns into five, which turns into twenty? I’ve been sampling a lot more inks lately and I reached the point where storing my ink vials in a plastic bag just wasn’t getting it done.

So I made an ink sample storage tray out of a candy box and a sheet of styrene plastic.

Yes, you can buy a fancy plastic tray like this or re-purpose a marker tray, but I had the raw materials at hand and the time to build a tray to my exact specifications.

The part that holds the vials is a sheet of styrene plastic 0.06″ (1.52mm) thick. It’s rigid enough to do the job without being too heavy.

First, I cut the sheet down to fit inside the candy box. Then, I marked out a 3cm grid to indicate where to drill each hole. I chose 3cm spacing because I didn’t want the vials to be too crowded together — my biggest complaint with the Goulet tray.

I used a center punch on each spot where a hole needed to be drilled, and then I used a step bit to drill a small pilot hole. Using a center punch before drilling helps keep the bit from wandering when you start a new hole.

Then I used a little chunk of magic called a step bit to enlarge the pilot holes into 5/8″ holes. If you’ve never seen a step bit before, it’s basically several sizes of bits in one, and it’s ideal for cutting and enlarging holes in thin materials such as plastic and sheet metal.

(The piece of tape is there to keep me from drilling too far and making the hole too big.)

After I drilled out a few holes, I did a test fit to see how they worked with a vial. These are Goulet ink sample vials, and the 5/8″ hole size was perfect.1

I cut a wine cork to make some supports for the tray, and hot glued them into each corner.

I noticed that the plastic sheet was sagging a little in the middle, so I used some scrap styrene to make some supports. Styrene plastic is easy to solvent weld using methyl ethyl ketone (MEK). It’s not glue; it actually melts the plastic together so the resulting bonds are very strong once they cure.2

I’d call this test a success. The labels on the vials are easy to read, and the vials are spaced wide enough apart to be easy to grab.

All that’s left to do is drill out the rest of the holes.

Most people will probably want to buy a solution for their ink storage problem, but it’s not too difficult to build exactly what you want if you’ve got the right tools and materials at hand.

1 Some ink sample vials look like Goulet vials but are actually slightly larger. I decided to stick with 5/8″ holes for this tray, but you might need to use an 11/16″ hole if you have these larger vials.

2 MEK is what the pro restorers use to weld celluloid, like you’d find in a vintage pen.

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Snap Judgments: Penton F10 Demonstrator

As much as I’ve been flirting with vintage Sheaffers lately, I still have my eye on cheap pens. I came across this thread on FPN a while back about a cheap demonstrator pen called the “Penton F10” that cost $3 including shipping. At that price, I had to give it a try.

These pens can be purchased via this eBay listing. I handed over my six dollars, sent the seller a message with my color and nib size choices, and two weeks later a package containing two pens showed up.

Both pens ended up performing the same, so for the sake of expediency I’m only going to focus on one of them: a clear pen with a fine nib.

The Penton F10 is a slim pen made of clear plastic. Measurement-wise, it’s almost a dead ringer for the Pilot Metropolitan; the capped length, uncapped length, and section diameter are the same between the two pens.

The cap secures by snapping onto the pen’s body, and it can be posted by slipping it on the end of the barrel, which is shaped for that purpose. The Penton F10 doesn’t have the prettiest cap and finial, and the clip is utilitarian looking stamped metal, but it’s sturdy and has the right amount of spring to keep it securely in place when you clip it to something.

A piston-style cartridge converter is included, but the pen can also be converted to an eyedropper using an included o-ring. In fact, most of the promo photos in the eBay listing show the pen being used that way. I haven’t yet tried it as an eyedropper but I’m sure it’ll happen eventually.

The nib is described as a “0.5mm fine” and I found that to be accurate. So, it’s more of a Western-style fine. It wrote smoothly out of the box without any tuning required.

Visually, the design of the nib looks very similar to the Lamy Safari. And the nib writes like a Safari too, with a bit of feedback on Tomoe River paper and little to no flex.

The pen is very light. For me, it’s most comfortable when unposted, and I didn’t feel fatigued after writing several pages with it.

It’s risky buying a pen from an unknown manufacturer, but this one is a pleasant surprise. In fact, the only flaw I can find with it is a tiny bit of molding sprue left on the section, but even that is on an edge where it won’t bother your fingers, and I was able to remove it easily with a razor blade. The cartridge converter doesn’t hold much ink, but the pen is intended to be an eyedropper anyway.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that I haven’t mentioned this pen’s country of origin yet. Care to guess where it’s from?

If you said China, you’d be right. I’ve heard Chinese pens can be hit-or-miss, but this one is a hit. It’ll probably be my new ink testing pen because I like how the cap and barrel are completely clear — it really shows off the color loaded inside.

This pen performs surprisingly well for its price: a mere $3, including shipping. The nib is smooth and required no tuning out of the box. There is a hint of feedback reminiscent of another nib that’s similar to this one in design and appearance — the Lamy Safari. A cartridge converter is included, but the pen also comes with an o-ring for eyedropper conversion.

An excellent value pen!

Pelikan Edelstein Mandarin on Tomoe River paper

Sheaffer Balance Petite

I acquired this Sheaffer Balance Petite several weeks ago. The combination of the humpbacked ball clip and the marine green celluloid dates this pen to 1930.

This pen was the result of a happy accident of bad eBay auction photos and poor reading comprehension on my part. Somehow I neglected the part of the listing where it said that the pen measured 4 1/16″ long. Or maybe I did see that part, but the fact that a 4-inch-long pen is really, really tiny escaped my comprehension. Anyway, the auction didn’t have many nibbles so I threw some dollars at it and won it for $28.

But imagine my surprise when I opened the package and found this little cutie!

I mean, just look at it.

Adorable! (From L to R: Lamy Vista, Sheaffer Balance Sovereign, Sheaffer Balance Petite, Pilot Elite, Pilot Metropolitan)

It makes my Pilot Elite pocket pen look big and that’s saying something.

The Lifetime nib is almost comically oversized compared to the rest of the pen. The visible part of it measures 3/4″ long.

The feed is of a style I’ve never seen before. It’s completely smooth and gives the pen an Art Deco look that’s pretty cool.

Overall, the pen is in good shape. It has very little wear, the trim is perfect, and the sac has been replaced recently. There’s some discoloration of the celluloid, but that’s very common in pens of this era. Thankfully, the discoloration doesn’t look as bad in the marine green pattern as it does in the lighter shaded jade celluloid. The imprint is clear and has an old-school patent number, another point for dating this pen to 1930.

For the curious, the patent covers the design of the rounded-end Sheaffer Balance.

The nib on this pen puts down the finest line of any pen I own. I’d call it an extra fine. It’s even finer than my Pilot Metro F.

In practical use, this elderly pen is quite cantankerous. It’s quick to leak ink if it’s not capped with the nib pointed up, or if it’s flicked or jostled too much. The extra fine point of the nib doesn’t lend itself to smooth writing, and the pen itself is so small that it’s not suitable for lengthy writing sessions even in my hands. Still, it’s an interesting pen with unique features that I’m happy to have in my collection.

(Mis)Adventures in Pen Resurrection: Sheaffer Balance Sovereign

Lately I’ve begun dabbling in the dark arts of Pen Resurrection. You know, bringing dead pens back to life. I acquired an inexpensive bunch of old Sheaffer pens in various states of disrepair, and have started attempting to fix them up into a usable state.

I foolishly forgot to take pictures before I started, but here’s how one of these pens looks now:

As I mentioned in my sneak peek a few days ago, this is a Sheaffer Balance Sovereign, circa 1938-1942, with a vacuum filler. The marine green striated celluloid is in decent shape, and the barrel still has some transparency. It’s not easy to find these pens with fully-transparent barrels since ink comes in contact with the barrel walls whenever the pen is filled, leaving them prone to permanent staining.

The gold-plated cap trim is fairly nice on the clip side, but badly brassed on the back.

Sheaffer’s vacuum filler system gives a pen an enormous ink capacity, but at the cost of mechanical complexity. Most unrestored vac-fill pens found in the wild will require a lot of work to bring them back to writing shape. There are lots of warnings online about working on these pens yourself and that they should be sent to professional restorers, but that just sounds like a challenge to me. (Hey, that’s how I learned to work on motorcycles — I just dove right in. At least with pens, if you make a mistake it won’t kill you!)

That being said, I haven’t restored the vac-fill on this pen, for reasons I’ll explain in a minute.

First, I took the pen apart so I could see what I was working with. Removing the section wasn’t difficult, but it took time. I used a hair dryer to carefully heat the junction where the section screws into the barrel. If it’s too hot to rest the pen against your upper lip, it’s time to stop! Then I wrapped a small piece of bicycle inner tube around the section for better grip, and turned the barrel persistently, but gently. If it didn’t budge, I heated the junction again. I had be careful and patient, alternatively applying heat and trying to twist the pen without breaking it.

Eventually, the shellac around the section threads melted enough for me to unscrew the section from the barrel. The plunger washer for the vacuum-filling system had long since rotted away, but the plunger was in otherwise great shape. There’s a packing unit that seals the plunger at the knob end of the barrel that will have to be refurbished. But that wasn’t the only problem I saw.

A working vac-filler requires a feed with a special protrusion into the barrel that pushes the plunger aside, and the protrusion on the feed in this pen is broken completely off. So I needed a new feed. Unfortunately, replacement feeds are hard to find and seem to be hoarded by the pro restorers. The best alternative will be to keep an eye out for a donor pen with a good feed.

In the meantime, the pen can be made to work as an eyedropper. But before I could do that, I had to fix the nib because the tip of one tine was broken.

I decided to try grinding my first nib. (What did I say about diving right in?)

My definitely-not-professional semi-italic grind.

There’s juuuuust enough tipping material left.

With the nib sorted, I shellac’ed the plunger knob onto the end of the barrel and put an o-ring on the section threads along with a thin layer of silicone grease. Then I filled the barrel with ink, screwed it back onto the section, and gave the pen a try.

(temporary) eyedropper conversion

One of the tines on the nib was broken and I ground it into an italic in an attempt to salvage it. I’m pretty pleased with the results!

Diamine Kelly Green, Tomoe River Paper

I left the pen inked overnight, and there’s a tiny bit of ink leaking from the end cap. I need to see if it’s just a poor seal on the end knob or a crack in the barrel. Either way, it’s just one more thing to learn.

It’s very gratifying to start with a broken pen and end up with one that writes!

Stuff For Sale, And a Sneak Peek at an Old Sheaffer

I’ve got a couple of notebook items I need to get rid of (including an elusive Seven Seas notebook!) so I’ve created a new page for them here: items for sale.

To keep this post pen-related, here’s a sneak peek of what I’ve been working on lately:

This is a Sheaffer Balance Sovereign c. 1938-1942. It’s one of six old Sheaffers I picked up this weekend. Unfortunately, the square-ish plastic bit near the top of the photo is broken off from the feed. 😦 And one of the tines on the nib was broken, so I ground it down into an italic. I plan on turning this pen into an eyedropper until I can find a suitable donor pen to refurbish the vacuum-filler with.

Hidden In Plain Sight

Yesterday, I was wandering downtown when I stumbled across a bookbinding shop tucked partway down a side street. I had no idea this shop existed despite living here for over a decade. Clearly I need to explore more.

While the shop is focused on binding, repairs, and restorations, they had a tiny selection of handmade journals that included this adorable little gem. Look how it makes an A6 Hobonichi look big!

The notebook is covered in soft black leather, the kind of leather that makes you want to hold it in your hand because it feels so nice.

Check out the colors and pattern on the endpapers.

The binding is section sewn and the pages measure an enormous 2″ x 3″ (5.1cm x 7.6cm). The paper is fairly thick and has a little bit of tooth.

Unfortunately, I don’t know if the paper is fountain pen friendly. I haven’t done any test scribbling — this li’l book deserves to be used for something special!

Snap Judgments: TWSBI ECO

Bob at My Pen Needs Ink graciously loaned me his TWSBI ECO so I could try it out. The ECO is an entry-level demonstrator type pen, and since “ECO” ostensibly stands for “economical,” it’s perfectly aligned with my interests!

Aesthetics are in the eye of the beholder, but I think the white ECO looks very classy.

The cap has silver metal accents. TWSBI branding is etched into the cap ring, but I don’t find it obnoxious. At least they chose a nice, clean font.

The cap is hexagonally shaped, which I found useful as I don’t usually post my pens. It takes slightly more than one full turn to unscrew the cap. The clip is not springloaded, and it’s too stiff for easy use. I needed two hands to clip it to anything.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this pen is how the white cap and piston knob make inks inside the barrel pop with color. It’s a cool effect, especially with an ink like Iroshizuku Kon-Peki.

The red TWSBI logo on the end of the cap reminds me of a traditional signature seal.

I have smaller hands, and the unposted ECO is almost the perfect length for me. It’s a lighter pen in terms of weight, and I had no trouble writing for long periods with it.

The ECO was balanced in my hand when unposted, but posting the cap threw the weight distribution off in an unpleasant manner. Again, I have small hands so your experience may vary.

This pen has a steel nib that was smooth but offered some feedback. I’m used to Pilot’s silky-smooth nibs so the feedback was a nice change of pace. Since this was a loaner pen, I did not try to test the flex of the nib, but in regular writing it seemed on the stiffer side.

The flow was very good. This nib is more broad than I prefer given my handwriting, but it laid down a nice line and was enjoyable to write with.

I did not experience any hard starts or skips during my time with this pen.

Shaped sections are a point of contention, and the ECO’s section has a slight triangular shape, not as extreme as a LAMY Safari or a Pilot Kakuno, but there just the same. I use a traditional tripod grasp and I found the shape of the section to be unoffensive. The section’s diameter is on par with the Pilot Metropolitan and smaller than the Pilot Kakuno.

Certain TWSBI pens have a reputation for having issues with cracking, but this pen did not have any cracks that I could see. I believe this particular pen is a little over a year old at the time of this writing.

A fairly smooth writer with just the right amount of feedback. The broad nib is a little too wide for my liking. It lays down a nice wet line when using Iroshizuku Kon-Peki. The section has a bit of shape to it but I found it comfortable. This pen is really sharp looking by itself, but it’s a stunner filled with a beautiful ink like Kon-Peki. I thought I’d want an all-clear demonstrator, but the white cap and piston knob look great and compliment whatever ink is in the barrel. The TWSBI ECO is a lot of pen for the price, and I’m definitely adding one to my “to buy” list.

Many thanks to Bob for letting me borrow this pen!

Three Good Reviews of the TWSBI ECO: