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Resetting a Feed

Tools you will need:

  • Thumbs
  • Magnifier
  • A piece of paper
  • A pot of water, nearly but not actually boiling
  • A bowl of cool water

Tools you may need:

  • A heat source
  • Aluminum foil
  • Cloth
  • Elastic bands

This is a point at which the technical act of pen repair slides into art.  What follows is applicable mainly to pens older than 1950, as the materials and techniques used after that time make this approach less useful; it may help on newer pens, but it may not and may actually cause more trouble.  Proceed with caution.

When a pen has poor ink flow, and it has already been cleaned thoroughly, it may be that the feed has not been set properly.  Diagnosis is the first step, and all but the inhumanly near-sighted will need a magnifier for this.  Look at the back of the point, first.  The sides of the slit may be parallel or may gradually come nearer at the tip, but they should not actually touch with the exception of right at the tipping.  If there is contact, or if the gap actually widens towards the end, the problem is in the point, and the correction lies elsewhere.

Next, look at how the feed contacts the underside of the point.  If there’s a big yawning gap, that’s an obvious problem for which this procedure is the cure as the ink can’t flow over the distance required.  However, the feed may also be pressing too firmly on the point, which will also prevent ink from flowing well.  To check this, one tries to insert a piece of paper between point and feed, which will not be possible if the feed is too firmly against the point.

That's not a heavyweight paper, either - regular printer stuff

The key to addressing a feed-set problem is the material used in feeds– hard rubber.  More modern pens may have other materials, but pens of the 1950s and before, the universal recourse was to rubber.  Hard rubber is interesing in that it will readily adopt a new shape when hot, and hold that shape when cooled.  To adjust the way they feed presses on the point is just a matter of making the feed hot.

There are two ways of doing this.  A pot of hot water is convenient as it had a good thermal mass– when something is put into it, it tends bring that something to its temperature.  For many pens, lowering the point and feed into a vessel of very hot water is the best way to bring the feed up to a workable temperature, achieving it in twenty or thirty seconds.

However, if other parts of the pen are also made of hard rubber, as is the case in early pens in general and can be the case in section of pens even in the 1930s and ’40s, waving the whole magilla around over a pot of steamy hot water might lead to discolouration.  For these, there is a slightly less brisk approach.  Wrap the pen in a cloth, leaving just the point and feed exposed, and secure the cloth with some elastics.  Wrap this affair in a piece of aluminum foil.  This should insulate the majority of the pen from heat, with the cloth serving a secondary role of protecting the barrel from getting scratched by the foil.  Present the point and feed to a dry heat source, and bring the feed’s temperature up to slightly hotter than you want to touch.

Now for the fun part:  touch the hot parts of the pen.  If the feed is out of contact with the point, gently press them together, remembering that too firm a contact is not the desired outcome either.  If the feed is too tight to the point, press gently on the back of the point, once again remembering that the space one is trying to open is the thickness of a piece of paper.

I mention a bowl of cool water.  The use of this varies, depending on whether the heating is done by wet or dry means.  If using wet heat, the cooling of the feed can be done by dipping it (along with the fingers holding it) into the water; very quick results.  If the pen doesn’t like wet, then the cool bowl is to soothe the fingers that have held the hot parts for a minute or two while they shed their heat (mainly into the fingers).

However the heating is managed, this is a relatively low-consequence effort, so long as the feed is heated properly and doesn’t break when pressure is applied (unlikely, given the small changes sought).  Even if one radically overshoots the mark, turning a tight feed into a yawning gap as an example, the damage is easily undone.  Rubber is something of a memory material, and by reheating it and not applying any pressure but by simply letting the pen hang point down while the feed cools, it will resume its original shape.

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