Friday, April 18, 2014

Problematic Pistons

On Monday I shared a pic of a piston filler suffering a little seepage where it should not, and given the resulting flood of interest...

Er, yes. Anyway, I thought I'd give the interweb the benefit of my experience in the fixing of Indian-made "Serwex" brand piston fillers. The interweb doesn't want it? Too bad. It's a saga, I warn you.

So I fairly recently took delivery from India of a "new" model of pen from the Fountain Pen Revolution line of pens - the "Guru". In truth it's a slightly tweaked Serwex 162, but with a clear demonstrator model available I was an easy mark for it. FPR make Indian brands of fountain pen available outside the domestic market, and commission models of their own, and this is the latest (and cheapest) entry. They're big draw is a modern, affordable flex nib, which is really not half bad for the coinage. Add in the fact that they set up the nib for you and the darn thing flows beautifully even at full flex, and it's a steal quite honestly. So anyway, I order one clear flex Guru and about a week later it drops on the doormat. And it writes like an angel. Happy days.

About two or three weeks later, I take the thing apart to clean it thoroughly (a drawback to clear demonstrators is, of course, they can look cruddy pretty quickly if you don't stay on top of the pen hygiene), and find to my unhappiness that the piston seal has split in two. No seal, no suck. No suck, no ink. No ink, no write. Well, darn.

Now as it happens, back when I made my first order with FPR, they threw in a Serwex 162 free, gratis and for nothing. Which wrote very nicely, but had a tendency to dry out quickly, so I rather consigned it to the Box of The Damned. Or rather the Box of The I'll Do Something About That Sometime, The Gods Know When. But hey, the Guru is just a 162 in Emperor's Clothing, right? I'll swipe the piston seal from that and away I go.

Well, double darn. The piston seal on that had split as well!

Okay, maybe this is not such a good buy...

But undeterred, I look speculatively at the piston and think "Self, might not an O-ring or two go on there and maybe, just maybe, work?" Well, I'm a fairly recent convert to the all-round usefulness of O-rings, but it seemed Self might be onto something. And so it proved. A couple of O-rings a piece later and I have a functioning pair of piston fillers again. Huzzah.

But I was worried. I'd found no anecdotal evidence on the face of the interweb that the Sewex piston seals were prone to this. Was it something I was doing wrong? Was I...  a fountain pen killer?! So, just to be on the safe side, I emailed Kevin at FPR to check. His verdict? He's seen it a couple of times but I'm incredibly unlucky to have two in two.

Oh, that figures.

Anyway, he reassured me that I'm not a pen killer and kindly sent a replacement Guru, even though, as I said, I'd fixed it. Which is pretty decent service when it's got to come all the way from the sub-continent and even in the low-ticket world of Indian pens it's right down in the bargain basement section. But a week or so later, it dropped on the doormat. With another flex nib (which wasn't strictly necessary). So that was cool.

Except, er, you know that "incredibly unlucky" thing? Um... the barrel of the replacement had a crack along its length. Well, darn again. Okay, that's fine; really it's only the piston I need anyway and everything else is just icing. But, well, you can't just leave a pen to die like that, can you? I can rebuild it; I have the technology.

So it won't have bionic capabilities as a result, but also it doesn't cost six million bucks. Most importantly it won't leak. Happy days are here again. Up until this point, where we came in:

Sighing just a little (at this point I feel a little sigh was forgivable) I decided I'd cut to the chase and replace the thing straight away with the O-rings. So I went to remove it.

And then I became a fountain pen killer.

That darn thing would not shift. I resorted to dunking it in hot water for a while to make it more pliable and then attempted to twist it off.

And twisted off the entire end of the piston.

Well, darnation with a cherry on top. What a muppet. I was, and am, mortified.

Pausing only for an hour or so to berate myself for being a heavy-handed fool, I looked at what I had left. A piston shaft, but instead of a stop on the end, a gap about two O-rings wide, and then another stop, I had a shortened piston shaft with a stop on the end and nothing to keep any O-rings in place.

Am I going to let this thing die now? Like heck I am; I'm invested in its continued good health and working ability. We'd been through solvent welding together, dammit. All I needed was a new stop to put the O-rings between. So, not for the first time, I dug out the bag of parts salvaged from my old VHS tapes, and selected one of the plastic guide spindles. Turns out a Japanese saw does a good job of splitting these things in two, and with a liberal application of a two part epoxy, I have... a bodge.

Top is the pen barrel and piston knob; next is the full length piston with O-rings; then the split original seal; finally the truncated piston with a new stop and a spacer to stop it going too far into the piston knob and failing to advance again.

Close-up you can see a) It's not pretty (but then neither is the unmolested one), and b) The built-up bead of epoxy just to give the O-rings a little more to bear on.

The reassembled pens, and honestly, it's a lot better than I deserve. Of course you wouldn't do such a bodge on a Pelikan or the like, but with the normal appearance of these pens prizing function over aesthetics anyway, I think I got away with it okay in this case.

As I prize function over appearance too, the important bit was whether it would work. A careful first run of soapy water to test for leaks was successful, and it's now been inked-up for nearly a week and no trouble yet.
Writes really nicely, actually. On this experience I couldn't honestly say they're a great pen, but they have a naive charm that I find irresistible. Actually I've yet to try an Indian pen that hasn't made me smile. And unfortunately, in many cases, swear a little. But that's half the fun.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday Stinks #12

So neat and symmetrical is the date today, I felt compelled to Stink. Terribly sober colours here, and nothing finer than a medium. What the dickens...? All four have been interfered with too; Alf Towers is no place to be a fountain pen if you want to remain factory-fresh.
On the other hand if you arrive on the doorstep and start letting your piston seal widdle ink all over the place, you've come to the right place. People don't always like the clear demonstrator pens, but in this case I'm happy I can see what's going to happen before it actually does...

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Version One Misery

So I may have been neglecting the blogging shamefully, and rather neglecting the proper handwriting practice too (also shameful), but I have been plugging away at the Zibaldone and - horrors - have come to the end of another notebook. Zoicks!

But no worries; I came across a spiffing deal on Rhodia goodies early in the new year and scooped up, among other things, a couple of (unfortunately orange) lined Webnotebooks. Not ideal, but really cheap. So away I go, in an orange haze.

Except, er, no I don't. I'm actually off in a turquoise mist - a rather smarter "Rhodiarama" webnotebook has to be unexpectedly plucked from the "gifts for others" pile and pressed into use.

Why? Because the Orange Peril is, unhappily, a "Version 1" Webbie, which does not have fountain pen friendly paper. It bleeds, it feathers, it does many things that might as well make it a blasted Moleskine. I was slow off the mark on this one, and only started to realise all was not well when I opened it up and saw the logo on every page.

Uh-oh - that's either a V.1 or V.2. V.2's binding isn't great, but the paper is okay; it could still be all right. Fingers crossed... Oh, blast. It's the 80gsm V.1 which is just no good at all for my purposes.

Their 90gsm is the stuff that suits fountain pens. Sigh. Of course it used to be that all paper was fountain pen okay, but we all end up writing on toilet paper most of the time now. Given that the only reason for stumping up the exorbitant costs of things like Rhodia is because it's reliably FP-friendly, this is not conducive to happiness.

The only thing in V.1's favour is the length of the marker ribbon. Look at that luscious length; isn't it lovely? The stump on the current models is frankly pathetic.

Anyway, there's a lesson. You'd have thought five or so years after the last 80gsm version ones were made, it'd be a pretty safe bet you wouldn't be able to find one even if you wanted to. I'd actually go back to the seller and inquire 'What the H***, dude?", except they went out of business about five minutes after I'd received the order. Which, clearly, was because they weren't shifting very, very old stock.

Apart from the financial pain (and let's face it - it could have been much worse), I'm not actually that unhappy that I'm down two Webbies when it comes to actual use. I've really not warmed to it; you wouldn't know I'd used the thing at all if I hadn't Washi-taped the page edges. The cover is unmarked and the whole thing looks so un-lived-in it's almost sterile. Now that resistance to wear would be a plus to most people, I know, but meh. Where's the character? So in about three months I shall probably be off on the hunt for the "perfect" notebook again. That'll be fun...

Update: Would you Adam and Eve it?! This darn thing bled-through! After all that. I threw up my hands, threw the notebook to the wall, and picked up a weird notebook made in India which is all the wrong format but does have glorious paper. Except, it turns out (several pages in), not for every page. You can probably hear me grinding my teeth from over there. But it's just feathering, and I can cope with feathering, I suppose. So I will carry on with it to the bitter end and just gnash my teeth periodically. Ack. This would not be a problem if I was still devoted to nothing but fine points. Or gel pens. Sigh.