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Renewing the Rubber in a Sheaffer Snorkel

The patient; a non-triumph point version differs in no important aspects

Tools you will need:

  • Thumbs
  • Shellac and applicator
  • Talc (or graphite powder)
  • Silicone grease
  • A small probe; a sewing pin, or carefully carved bamboo skewer will work.
  • A small flashlight
  • A dowel narrow enough to fit through the pen’s barrel
  • A smaller dowel or a brass tube
  • A flat-bladed screwdriver with a narrow blade and shaft at least the length of the pen (an old Mechano driver is perfect)
  • Small, sharp knife
  • Sewing pin

The other patient, in which there ARE some important differences

Tools you may need:

  • Scissors
  • A heat source
  • Tweezers
  • A small marker
  • Jewellry pliers
  • Q-tips
  • Lighter fluid (naptha, not butane– fluid)
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Drywall screw
  • A magnifier
  • A PFM Shell Unscrewer
  • Sheaffer Sealant

The following applies to “Thin Model” pens and to the PFM, which were the only models fitted with this filler.  It is largely a repeat of the material dealing with restoring Touchdown fillers to use, since the Snorkel is really just a Touchdown with extra bits.  The reader who feels a terrible sense of deja vù looking at the two pages in close succession may rest easy; this is familiar material.

If this sort of pen is not filling, the problem is generally down to one of two things.  Either the sac has gone hard, or various gaskets and O-rings hidden about the pen have stiffened or deformed and can not longer contain the pressure the filler demands to function.  The best assumption, if one doesn’t know when these items were last changed, is that all are failing together, and to change the lot.  Before getting down to business, I suggest looking at an exploded view of the mechanism to get an idea of what goes where, and what I mean by all the part names I’m about to throw around.

First, unscrew the blind cap from the tail, extending the Snorkel tube.  This makes it somewhat easier to unscrew the section from the barrel.  There may be some sealant on these threads, or some bright light may have applied shellac to them; if there is any more than token resistance, heat the pen just below the joint to release.  The section, reservoir, and driver spring should all come out together, although sometimes the spring hangs up in the barrel.  Running the filler tube up and down a bit should cause it to drop out.  I also want to mention that the little projection on the sac protector that the spring rests against is not very sturdily attached, and at no point should it be used to help push or pull any other component of the reservoir assembly.

Put a flat-bladed screw-driver up the inside of the barrel and use it to release the screw that holds on the blind cap.  The slot in the screw may be slightly difficult to engage, because not only is it a slot-type screw (why do Americans resist the Robertson screw so doggedly?) but because it is frequently somewhat corroded.  Beware, because there is frequently a little spider-washer on this screw, which is sometimes between the filler tube and blind cap and sometimes between the inner wall of the tube and the screw head.  Likewise, there is a gasket to seal the hole at the end of the tube which may be in the blind cap or in the tube itself, which one should keep an eye on.

With the blind cap freed, the filler tube can be pushed back into the barrel, where it will drop out the front.  Once the barrel is empty, it may be possible to see the O-ring.  I say “may” because in a black pen an old O-ring might be very hard to tell from the barrel itself; it becomes flattened by prolonged contact with the filler tube and thus flush with the barrel wall.  If it is not obvious, it may be worth putting the barrel tail first into some water, as this may discolour and soften the ring.  Peering into the tail of the barrel with flashlight and magnifier may also reveal the edges of the ring.  Remove the old O-ring with a probe of some sort; I use a dental pick, some swear by the point on a hobby knife, others prefer a pin.  Whatever is used, care must be taken not to scrape up the inside of the barrel too badly (ideally, not at all), since the whole point of the exercise is to return it to a state of being able to seal air-tight.

Click to enlarge

Once the old O-ring is out, a new one needs to be put in.  This is slightly like wrestling a very tiny squid, as the diameter of the ring is larger than that of the inside of the barrel, and it doesn’t want to go.  The easy way to manage this task is to get a dowel that is just big enough to fit inside the barrel (the tail is narrower than the mouth, by the way), and position it so that it keeps the o-ring from falling all the way through when it inevitably tries to escape.  Tweezers and a blunt probe (a pin-head, for example) working through the open tail will eventually win the day.

Replace the filler tube in the barrel (that dowel can be useful for helping it along, too).  It is going to be harder to put in than it was to take out, as the O-ring will be pressing against it more firmly.

Give a moment of attention to the blind cap gasket.  If it has gone hard or has vanished, there are a couple of ways to address the problem.  The best way to deal with a departed gasket is to take a little bit of the excess from a new sac and fashion a new one.  A hard gasket is usually not totally hard, and a little silicone grease applied to it will see it functional enough for the purpose at hand.  Be careful not to lash the stuff around too madly, since greasing the screw that holds on the blind cap or the hole it goes into is counter-productive; it should be slightly difficult to remove the blind cap from the tube.

After the blind cap is reattached to the filler tube, pull the tube all the way out and apply a little silicone grease to the full circumference of the tube at the end away from the blind cap.  This helps to preserve the O-ring and eases the tubes passage through it.  After running the tube up and down a couple of times to distribute the grease, test the seal.  Place the open end of the barrel against tongue, lip, cheek or thumb, and pull the filler tube up.  This should produce a palpable suction, ending at the top of the tube’s stroke with a little hiss of air.  Running the tube back down should make a little depression as the pressure inside the tube builds up, until there is a hiss of released air at the bottom of the stroke.  If that’s happening, then O-ring and gasket are doing their job, and it’s time to look at the sac.

That takes care of the easy part.  If the spring is still on the sac protector, pull it off, then pull the sac protector and snorkel out of the section and lay the section to one side.  What remains is a unit made of five pieces; sac, protector, section plug, snorkel tube and primary feed.  The last two should remain together throughout the rest of this process, as trying to separate them is almost uniformly a rushing towards disaster with open arms.  However, the first three items must be separated.  The first question is, how is the sac?  Prod the sac with a pin-head to see how hard it is.

In some ways, hard is better, as it makes the next step easier; penetrate the sac.  It will be necessary to insert whatever is to press the section plug out of the protector through the hole at the other end of the protector.  If the sac is hard and brittle, a little bit of work with the pin can crack out the end, while if it’s still supple one has to wrestle with it a little to either worry a hole in it or pull it through far enough to snip.

The crimps are actually v-shaped notches

The reason one has to dive in through that hole is the way the section plug fits in the front of the protector.  Once the plug was installed at the factory, the mouth of the protector was gently rounded to prevent it catching on the inside of the section.  There may also be little crimps in the end of the protector to ensure the plug stays in, which have to be gently unbent by working the tip of a knife between the plug and the protector.  Even without those crimps, it takes a deal of pressure to get the plug out, and that means pushing on it from the inside.

At this point, the rhetorically-minded author inserts a question: “Why not pull it out?”  There are a couple of reasons for this.  Pulling on the snorkel tube is likely to bend or even break it, or damage the tiny and fragile primary feed inside it, and in any event the processes that make the removal possible reduces the hold of that tube to the point of uselessness.  If that tube is removed, the only way to pull on the plug is to insert something into the hole it lives in and that approach risks damaging the hole itself.  One may find old manuals from Sheaffer suggesting the insertion of a screw (memory suggests a cup-hook, in fact), but that manual was on the desk of a guy who had access to a great big bin of brand new spare parts; damaging the plug was not an issue for him.

Cutaway showing tube in plug

So, returning to our efforts to get that plug out; with crimps undone, warm the protector.  One doesn’t need to be quite as concerned about the use of heat here as in most pen repair activities, as all the parts are metal or rubber and not very heat sensitive.  My own inclination is to remove the snorkel tube at this point, to preserve a very tiny protrusion of the primary feed that sticks out at the back of the plug.  [notice]This little item is of paramount importance in air exchange, so preservation of it is roughly equivalent to preservation of the pen.[/notice]  When warmed through, the plug becomes somewhat malleable, and it’s fairly easy to pull the tube out with finger-pressure alone.  I’ll repeat the danger of bending and breaking; I choose to do this, and I’ve practiced it, but there are others who declare it an error.  If going about it my way, use a fine marker to indicate the point where the tube meets the plug, as knowing how deep to insert it is a useful thing later.

After heating the plug so it has some give, insert a pusher through the tail-hole in the protector.  If the snorkel has been left in place, the pusher must be a rod or dowel thin enough to allow it to be passed obliquely from the tail-hole to the side of the protector where it meets the plug, or it must be a tube of outer diameter narrow enough to pass through the hole, inner diameter large enough to not touch the little feed-tail, and sturdy enough to not collapse when pushing.  In the latter case, one needs only make sure the tube is well centered, while in the former, lots of little pushes around the outside edge of the plug are needed to get it to come out evenly.  With the snorkel removed, the pusher should be only just narrow enough to pass through the protector, and need be only roughly centered.  If the plug is properly warmed, the slight rounding at the mouth of the protector won’t cause any trouble, as the plug will simply compress until it passes by; if the plug starts to bind, warm it up again.

From this point, the process is very much like that for a basic resacking.  The old sac is removed, and in a lot of cases this is no more work than tipping the fragments out of the protector and chipping a few little bits off the nipple.

Sometimes, though, the old sac becomes bonded to the inside of the protector, and that calls for some serious measures.  Keep in mind that the protector is a fairly thin and easily-deformed bit of metal, easily deformed or even torn, so don’t go too mad on it.  My usual pace of escalation is to start by poking about inside with a bamboo skewer, which frequently frees the stuck bits.  If that fails, one may attempt to draw the old rubber out by gently inserting a screw in the wide end of the protector and gently reaming it out.  I use a drywall screw, because it is just enough smaller than the inside of a sac protector to make it useful rather than hazardous.  Remember that the goal is to pull out rubber, not fragments of chrome plating.  The final step is to submerge the protector in isopropyl alcohol (ask your druggist for the 97% stuff, as the shelves seem to only hold 70% these days).  [notice]This is best done in another room, as alcohol is not at all good for any other pen parts.  The point of this exercise is to dissolve the rubber that’s stuck up the protector. Dissolving anything else is counterproductive.[/notice]If alcohol becomes necessary, this becomes a somewhat protracted job.  The dissolution goes slowly, and leaving the protector to soak overnight is the best bet.  The next day, have a go with the skewer again, then the screw, and if there’s still stuff up there put it back to soak, repeating as necessary.

Sacs in Snorkel pens are an item of slight controversy.  There are special “thin-wall” sacs meant specifically for this type of filler as they collapse more easily under the effect of air pressure.  However, some people suggest that the easy collapse also implies a lack of power to return to shape and a limited intake of ink.  I’ve tried both thin and regular sacs in TD pens, and don’t make out a lot of difference.  I would definitely not install a silicone sac, as they compress poorly and there is no ambering danger to the plastics of these pens from rubber.

I’m reusing the TD image for this; the plug in a Snorkel stands in for the section here

Whatever sac is used, it will have to be trimmed to fit inside the protector.  The correct length is 56 mm for the “TM” pens; I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t measured the PFM sac and I don’t have one of my own to interrogate.  To be certain of the length, for those who won’t take my word for this sort of thing, slide the sac into the protector, and mark the point where it emerges.  Then lay it beside the section plug, with that mark at the forward edge of the plug, and make a second mark at the pointward edge of the nipple.  Use a sharp knife or scissors to cut the sac off at that second mark, and if going to one side of the line or the other, aim for a slightly short sac; too long and the sac will crumple when installed, and won’t fill properly.  Apply the sac to the nipple with shellac as described in basic resacking, including the rest period for setting, being extremely careful not to get any shellac near that little stub of primary feed if it has been left in the plug.

While waiting for the shellac to set, the best way to use one’s time is to prepare the protector for the reintroduction of the section plug.  The rounding at the mouth of the protector that was not a big deal getting it out will be a giant impediment to getting it back in, and has to be carefully undone.  This is accomplished by a gentle burnishing action, using a tool to press the rounded shape out.  I don’t suggest that my way is the right way, or even a particularly good way, but I’ve found good success with the back edge of the small blade on a Swiss army knife.  However one goes about it, the key to success is remembering that the metal of the protector is thin enough to be torn, so low power for a long time is the way to go.

Waiting for the shellac to set is also an good time to see to a gasket lying in the section, but at this stage we only want to look at removal.  I have to do two separate treatments, though, because the PFM is rather unlike the “Thin Model” in this, so if working on a PFM refer to these footnotes.  Looking first at the “TM”, the section is actually made of two pieces, the section proper and the point holder.  These unscrew from each other, and should not be sealed in any way.  Between them lies the point holder gasket, which serves to maintain air-tightness around the snorkel.  Pull it out, if it doesn’t just fall free; it might stick to the back of the point holder, but it more usually stays nestled down in the section, and the easy way to get it out is to prod it from behind.  Dispose of the gasket so it’s not confused for a new one, and set the other two parts aside for a moment.

Once content that the sac is set, apply some talc to it and carefully slide the plug back into the protector; there may be one stud on it larger than the others, and that needs to line up with the similarly enlarged port.  It is entirely likely that the burnishing won’t have opened the mouth completely, and some more will have to be done.  If the snorkel was left in the plug, be careful not to push on it, especially with any lateral force.  Once the plug is flush with the front of the protector, take up the burnishing tool again and re-round the leading edges; it was like that for a reason, the easy fore-aft movement of the protector in the section, and must be that way again.  Slip the whole affair into the section and see if it rides smoothly (this is much easier without having to thread the snorkel through the gasket).  If there’s any scraping sensations, more burnishing is needed.

If the tube was not left in the plug, it needs to be replaced now.  Replace the point holder on the section, screwing it down until it’s just snug.  This gives a notion of “up” to the combined section and reservoir unit; make a note of where up is for the reservoir while withdrawing it from the section (this may even take the form of a small dot on the metal, made with a marker).  With the reservoir withdrawn, pick up the snorkel and gently replace it in the section plug, being careful about the little exposed bit of feed.  At the top of the snorkel, there is a little slit that needs to be in the up position, so before the tube is in very deep make sure it is rotated so that its “up” agrees with that of the protector.  I’ll mention why this is so important later.  Once the rotation is correct, push the tube in to the correct depth.  It is wise to set it in place with a drop of shellac, to prevent ink creeping out along the joint, but it is sometimes possible to get away without doing this.  Let the shellac dry properly before going on, if using it.

We’re getting very close to the final re-assembly, now.  Give the driver spring a little bit of a rubdown with silicone grease on a cloth, to help keep rust away.  A little extra grease can be put on the part of the spring that pushes against the sac protector, just to keep that action smooth.  Slide the reservoir assembly back into the section, slip the spring over the protector, and screw the barrel back on.

Once the point holder is back on, the job can be called done.  Try working the filler tube a couple of times to listen for the correct puffing noises, perhaps flush the pen with water as a serious test (some will mention a “six foot stream of water”, which is technically true, but not as impressive as it sounds, given it’s accomplished with less than 1 ml of fluid).  Screw down and unscrew the blind cap a couple of times to make sure the snorkel extends properly; if there’s binding in the spring, it may just need to be turned other end up.  Once that’s finished, the job is indeed done, except for one last detail.

This just leaves the point holder and its gasket (except in the case of the PFM, as covered in the notes). Slip the gasket onto the snorkel, but leave it out near the end. Apply a very little silicone grease to the snorkel, as near to the inside of the section as is possible. The important thing is to avoid getting any grease near the front of the snorkel, at that would interfere with ink flow rather disasterously; make sure there’s none on your fingers before continuing. Slide the gasket down the snorkel (it need not be all the way), then put the point holder onto the snorkel. Slide it down, pushing the gasket into the section with it, and screw it in place.

Once the point holder is reasonably tight, but not overly tight, have a look to see how well the slit in the snorkel and the slit in the point are aligned. This is why having the up-ness of the snorkel defined previously was important– there is a continuation of these slits through the external feed, and if they’re not in line (within the limits of human perception– microscopic precision isn’t called for), the ink won’t get to the point well. If they are slightly out of alignment, one can cheat the point holder a degree or two in the right direction to get things to line up. If they’re more disaligned than than, which would lead to leaving the point holder noticeably loose of to serious over-tightening, it becomes necessary to take the whole thing apart and rotate the snorkel in the section plug to correct the problem; remember that I mentioned it might be smart to hold off on final shellac application?

Keeping expectations low is the key to avoiding disappointment

Once the point holder is back on, the jobs can be called done. Try working the filler tube a couple of times to listen for the correct puffing noises, perhaps flush the pen with water as a serious test (some will mention a “six foot stream of water”, which is true, but not as impressive as it sounds, given it’s accomplished with less than 1 ml). Screw down and unscrew the blind cap a couple of times to make sure the snorkel extends properly; if there’s binding in the spring, it may just need to be turned other end up. Once that’s finished, we can call the job done, except for one last detail.

Some people like to apply some sealant at this point, to ensure that there won’t be any leakage of air at the joint. I find that a very few pens need this treatment, but it’s not incorrect and it does prevent accidental dismantling, which is actually more likely in a Snorkel, as if the spring or filler tube bind slightly the act of opening the filler might unscrew the section. Don’t use shellac for this, though, as the release temperature is quite high and a future effort at repair might damage the plastic through overheating. The right goop is available from Main Street Pens (at the bottom of the “Pen Sales” page, as of this writing), or if you’re feeling extremely handy, you can try making your own. Don’t try to substitute something else. These sealants flow at a relatively low temperature, and are entirely safe for the pen. If there is residue of this stuff on the threads connecting section and barrel at the start, or if some gets loose during the final reassembly, a little lighter fluid on a cotton swab can be used for clean-up.

PFM Special Notes: The inlaid nature of the PFM means dismantling the section is not like dismantling a “Thin Model”.  To look at, the PFM’s fore-piece looks like a sealed unit, but it isn’t.  I seriously urge a look at the anatomy picture at the for reference’s sake.

To get it apart, it first needs to be heated to release the sealant which holds a threaded connector into the shell.  Because both these parts are made of some rather brittle plastic, a special tool is preferable to just grapping with the bits until they turn.  This tool is in effect a colossal Robertson screwdriver, the square head fitting into the four contact points of the sac protector.

Once the connector is turned out, there are are some bits to beware of.  The three-lobed friction ring will need to be put somewhere safe, and there is in addition to the gasket itself a flat washer that presses it in place under the connector.  The feed may also have to come out if the washer clings to the back of it.  Once the gasket and washer are separated, toss the gasket to avoid confusion with the replacement.

Unlike the “TM”, there’s no point in not putting the PFM section back together immediately.  Put in the feed and make sure it’s sitting happily.  Hold the section point-down, and lay the gasket atop the feed, then put the washer in over it.  Make sure that the hole in the feed and the the centre of the gasket line up.  Lay the friction ring into the little holes in the back of the section.  Screw the connector back in a little, then apply some of the sealant mentioned at the end of the general instructions to it and finish driving it home.

Once the pen is ready to go back together, put the reservoir in unlubricated to check the alignment of snorkel and point; note that there is no cheating of the alignment possible as there is with the “TM”, so if the snorkel is out of line it will have to be unsealed and rotated.  When that alignment is certain, put a dab of grease on the snorkel, about half-way along its length.  The reason for checking alignment before the grease is applied is that an immediate withdrawal at this point runs the risk of transferring grease into the snorkel’s feed.  Once the section and reservoir are together, the rest of the process is as laid out for the “TM” pens, above.

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