Repairing a Sheaffer fountain pen is not simple, explains Sam Fiorella, co-principal at Pendemonium, which is one of the country's leading experts on the process. The company repairs on contract for manufacturer W.A. Sheaffer, which incorporated in 1913 and was a pioneer in the pen industry. “There are many different kinds of Sheaffer fountain pens that date back over the last century,” says Fiorella. “There is no standard way or one way to perform repairs on a particular model of Sheaffer fountain pen. Every pen is different.” Therefore, she advises, anyone wishing to repair a Sheaffer fountain pen should consider basic options and first master some simple principles.
Start with the official Bible of fountain pen repair, “The Guide to Fountain Pen Repair” by Frank Dubiel, advises Fiorella. “It provides illustrated instructions and additional trouble-shooting hints before you attempt a repair,” she said. “Old fountain pens are fragile, parts are in short supply and can be very expensive. It is always best to familiarize yourself with your fountain pen before attempting to repair. You may want to consider practicing pen repairs on cheaper pens to hone your skills. You can use this book as a guide to a range of fundamental repairs.”
Determine what type of filler your pen has. “Before you can repair any Sheaffer fountain pen, you need to know what type of filler your pen was made with,” according to Fiorella.
Learn from one good example. For example, to repair a lever-filling fountain pen patented by Sheaffer in 1908 and sold between 1913 and the 1950s, adhere carefully to the following steps.
Locate the small metal bar on the side of the barrel. If you have an old Sheaffer that has not been restored, try to gently lift the bar from the end. If there is resistance, do not continue to lift the lever because you could damage it. Resistance indicates that the pen sac inside the barrel has hardened and needs to be replaced.
If the lever lifts easily without any resistance, the pen sac inside might still function. Pendemonium recommends that pen sacs in lever-fill pens be replaced about every 10 years.
Remove the section and nib from the barrel to begin the sac replacement process. The section is friction-fit on most lever-filling pens, explains Fiorella. A few lever-filling pens are threaded. “There is no outward visible sign as to whether your pen is friction-fit or threaded, so it is recommended to carefully turn the section to remove it if you are not familiar with what style your pen is,” she says. “Do not soak your pen, this could warp the plastic. If the section is hard to remove, a little dry heat--no more than 120 degrees F--may help loosen it. Some sections will come apart very easily, others take time. A heat gun with temperature gauge is helpful. Be patient. Sheaffer fountain pens are fragile.”
Scrape the section nipple with a sharp blade to remove any old pieces of dried-up pen sac.
“You will also need to remove any dried pen sac from the inside of the barrel,” says Fiorella. “Be careful not to dislodge the metal pressure bar inside the barrel. Scrape gently inside the barrel. Sometimes the old sac will come out in one piece, other times the sac has crumbled and will come out in many pieces.”
Hold the section and nib under running room temperature water to flush out any old ink. “You can use a very soft old toothbrush to gently scrub the black ribbed feed on the backside of the nib with the room-temp water,” says Fiorella. “Hot water can damage and discolor pens. Always use room-temp water, and never use any chemicals to clean a fountain pen.” Now, put the nib and section on toweling to absorb the excess water from cleaning. Let them dry thoroughly.
Use an appropriate size pen sac for the replacement. “The sac should drop into the barrel easily without touching the inner walls of the barrel,” says Fiorella. “Lay your section and nib unit next to the barrel where it would line up if assembled. Lay the bottom closed end of your sac at the end of the lever on the barrel. Cut the sac to fit at the end of sac nipple.
"Sacs come in many sizes, and are all cut long to accommodate various sizes of fountain pens. The diameter of a sac is determined by the diameter of your barrel, and sacs are numbered and measured in 64ths on an inch. Example: A No. 17 size sac fits an inner barrel diameter of 17/64th on an inch.”
Apply a thin coat of orange shellac to the sac nipple. “Slide the sac onto the nipple,” says Fiorella. “It will be a tight fit. Make sure the sac is on evenly and straight. Let the sac dry overnight, so the shellac will set. Orange shellac is used to adhere sacs because it is archival. It can be heated up years from now and the sac is easy to remove.”
Know your limitations, advises Fiorella. “Repairing Sheaffer pens is a very precise process that requires very specific knowledge and skills,” she says. “Unless you are versed in the topic, you should use a professional. There are many qualified professional vintage-pen repair people located around the world. The basic charge for repairing a lever-fill pen is about $35. Parts or unexpected repair issues may be additional. Turn-around time of repairs can be anywhere from a few weeks up to six months, depending on the type of repair and backlog of the repair person.”
Things You'll Need
- Sheaffer fountain pen
- Reference book
John Buchanan has been a professional journalist since 1970. His work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines. He is also the former president and creative director of advertising and marketing agencies in Los Angeles and Miami and a business consultant. Buchanan studied journalism and creative writing at New School University and the University of California, Los Angeles. He resides in Cocoa Beach.