(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

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!

A Wild Pen Appeared: The Sheaffer School Pen V2

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I found my first wild pens today at a local flea market. One of the pens was a Parker 21, which I’ll write about later, but the other was a Sheaffer that I’d never seen before. (No surprise there—as a newbie, most pens are pens I’ve never seen before!)

As typical with wild pens, this one had been stored away inked, which had long since dried up inside the nib, feed, section, and cartridge. I took the pen apart and soaked the parts in some water mixed with a few drops of dishwashing soap. Blue ink bloomed in the water, full of promise.

In the meantime, I did some research and learned that this is a Sheaffer cartridge “school pen” V2, circa 1965. (Version 2 pens have conical ends on both the cap and barrel.)

After a nice long bath, I gave the Sheaffer a thorough cleaning using a bulb syringe until the water ran clear. I didn’t have any Sheaffer cartridges at hand so I cleaned the old one out and filled it with my favorite test ink, Pilot Blue Black.

Writing this with one of my very first wild pen finds! It’s a Sheaffer cartridge school pen circa 1965. The nib is not flexible at all, but it’s smooth and has just the right amount of feedback. Someone stored this pen away inked, which had dried all up in the section and feed. I gave it a good soak and cleaned it as best I could, and now it writes like this! Not bad for $4.

Here’s a closeup of the nib. I’m assuming it’s stainless steel.

The barrel also has some printing on it:

I’m the curious sort, so I typed that right into google and found a single hit: a 1964 yearbook from the University of Wyoming.

How this pen made its way from Laramie to the Mid-Willamette Valley, Oregon is left as an exercise for the reader.