Filling Pens



Introduction

From the earliest eyedroppers to the now ubiquitous cartridge pens, many filling mechanisms have been introduced, used for a time, and then dropped in favour "the new improved" method.  Because of fierce competition, pen manufacturers needed to make their pens unique - they had to have a selling point that no other make of pen could boast, and this was as often reflected in their pens' internal workings as in their external styling.  In this section I will introduce some of the more common methods, and explain how they should be used for the best results

Recommended Ink

I can personally recommend any of the inks I sell on my "Writing Inks" page to be more than suitable for both vintage and modern fountain pens.  I do test all the inks I sell before I even begin to stock them to ensure that they have no adverse effects on a wide range of pens.  

Eyedroppers

Most of the earliest true fountain pens were eyedroppers.  These pens were first manufactured before the turn of the 20th century and are still made today by a few companies around the world.  They are generally very simple designs, typically holding ink directly in the barrel - they usually hold a good deal of ink and so write for a long time between fills.  To fill, unscrew the section from the barrel.  Using an eyedropper, small pipette or a syringe, add ink straight into the barrel.  Make sure you do not overfill - I usually leave about a quarter of an inch gap between the ink level and the start of the barrel threads.  This allows room for expansion when the pen warms up in the hand.  Now screw the section back into the barrel, being careful not to over tighten it and risk splitting the barrel threads.  Your pen is now ready to write.  It may take a minute or two for ink to work its way through the feed to the point of the nib.

Lever Fillers

The lever filler has probably been used by more manufacturers over a longer time period than any other type of filler, save perhaps the modern cartridge/converter.  In its simplest form, a lever set into the barrel is manipulated so that it presses on a pressure bar inside the barrel of the pen. This in turn presses on a latex sac, causing it to deflate.  Returning the lever to its original position allows the sac to re-inflate, and in so doing, it draws ink into the pen through the feed.

Hold the pen nib downwards over an opened bottle of ink.  Using your thumb nail, carefully catch the free end of the lever, and move it away from the pen barrel.  You will see that it pivots at about two thirds to three quarters of the way along the lever.  Keep moving the lever until it is perpendicular to the pen barrel.  Some pens have a built-in lever "stop" - a small projection on the pressure bar that stops the lever in the fully extended position.  In any case, the lever should not be moved beyond the perpendicular.

In this position, the lever is pushing the pressure bar so that it squeezes the ink sac against the side of the barrel.  The sac is fully deflated. Lower the nib into the ink so that it is fully immersed. The nib must be completely covered for the pen to fill correctly.  Now return the lever to its original position, and leave the nib in the ink for about twelve seconds.  This will give the ink sac time to re-inflate and draw the ink in.

Remove the nib from the ink, and gently wipe off any excess with a soft cloth or some blotting paper.  You are now ready to write.

Button Fillers

The button filler is a variation on the lever filler.  A button at the end of the barrel, usually concealed by a blind cap, deforms the pressure bar when pressed in.  This forces the air out of the ink sac.  Releasing the button allows the sac to draw ink into the pen.

To fill a button filler first remove the blind cap from the end of the barrel.  Hold the pen nib downward over an opened bottle of ink.  Press and hold the filling button.  Immerse the nib completely in the ink and release the button.  Leave the nib immersed for about twelve seconds before removing it and wiping excess ink from the feed and nib.  You are now ready to write.

Many different manufacturers made button fillers, including Parker and Conway Stewart.

Parker Aerometric

Parker patented the aerometric filler in 1948.  From then until the advent of the cartridge pen they used the aerometric filler more than any other.  The Parker aerometric filler consists of a breather tube running from the rear of the feed and down the inside of an ink sac.  These sacs were made from transparent pli-glass.  such is the durability of this material that the vast majority of aerometric sacs are still in prime condition after more than 50 years.  The sac is protected by a stainless steel sleeve that incorporates a pressure bar.

Unscrew the barrel from the section of the pen.  Immerse the nib completely in ink.  Push the pressure bar in as far as it will go, and release to allow the pen to draw in ink.  Repeat five or six times, pausing for a few seconds between each squeeze.  The presence of the breather tube allows air to be expelled when pressing the pressure bar in, and ink to be drawn in when it is released.  Remove the pen from the ink and wipe the nib and feed.  You are now ready to write.

Aerometric fillers are still used in many pens today.  They are especially popular in Chinese pens from manufacturers such as Hero and Genius.

Parker 61 Capillary Filler

The Parker 61 is the only pen to have been fitted with a capillary action filling system.  The ink reservoir is a teflon-coated tube filled with a fibrous material much like a fibre-tip pen.  By partially immersing this tube in ink the fibrous filling attracts the ink by capillary action and the pen fills.

Unscrew the barrel of the pen to reveal the ink reservoir.  Immerse the reservoir to a depth of one inch or more in ink.  Leave it in the ink for 30 seconds or so, then remove it slowly.  The teflon outer coating  will shed the ink from the outside of the reservoir so there should be no need to wipe it.  Replace the barrel and you are ready to write.

When your pen needs a refilling it will begin to write lighter and lighter rather like when a fibre tipped pen runs dry.  This gradual lightening is unique to the Parker 61.  Because it is difficult to flush the pen properly between fills, it is usually not advisable to change ink colours often.  Neither is it advisable to change the make or type of ink used for the same reason - some types of ink form a nasty sludge when mixed together.

Parker Vacumatic

The first vacumatics were produced in 1932.  In this pen a rubber diaphragm is installed at the end of the barrel.  A spring plunger is fitted to the diaphragm in such a way that when the plunger is depressed the diaphragm is stretched and pushed into the pen barrel.  A breather tube running into the back of the feed completes a neat little pump.  When the plunger is pressed air is forced out through the breathe tube.  When released ink is drawn in.  Early vacumatics had aluminium plungers that locked in the depressed position by giving them a clockwise twist.  Later versions had plastic plungers that did not lock.

To fill,remove the blind cap at the end of the barrel that covers the plunger.  Immerse the nib fully in the ink.  Depress and release the plunger.  Wait for a few seconds, and repeat until no air bubbles are produced at the nib.  Remove the pen from the ink, wipe with come blotting paper or a soft cloth to get rid of excess ink, and you are ready to write.

If you are filling a Parker 51 Vacumatic, remove the pen from the ink before releasing the plunger for the final time.  This allows the pen to "slurp" excess ink from the collector and around the nib - the hooded Parker 51 nib is difficult to clean off otherwise.

Because the Vacumatic has no internal ink sac, but stores ink directly in the barrel, it can hold considerably more ink than more conventional pens of a similar size.

Sheaffer Touchdown

Sheaffer patented the Touchdown filler in 1949, and from 1950 most of their range of fountain pens were fitted with it.  It still uses an internal latex ink sac, but with an air-tight plunger relies on pneumatic pressure to deflate it.

Hold the pen nib downwards over an opened bottle of ink.  Unscrew the knob (or blind cap) at the end of the barrel, and extend the plunger.  The plunger shaft is a hollow tube that slides over both the ink sac and its protective metal sleeve.

Lower the nib into the ink so that it is fully immersed.  Now gently and smoothly push the plunger home.  As the plunger operates, it generates a positive air pressure inside the pen that forces air (and ink) out of the ink sac.  Just before it hits bottom, air is allowed into the pen, and the sac re-inflates, drawing ink into the pen.  Leave the nib immersed for about twelve seconds.

Remove the pen from the ink, screw the blind cap back into place,and gently wipe off any excess ink from the nib and feed with a soft cloth or some blotting paper.  You are now ready to write.

Sheaffer Snorkel

A development of the Touchdown filler described above, the snorkel is a complex yet elegant and reliable system that is simplicity itself to use.

Hold the pen nib downwards over an opened bottle of ink.  Twist the blind cap anticlockwise.  This propels the filling tube out of the front of the feed.  When the tube is fully extended, pull out the plunger as far as it will go.  As with the Touchdown, the plunger shaft is hollow and slides over and around the ink sac.

Lower just a few millimetres of the filling tube into the ink and push the plunger home.  Leave the filling tube in the ink for about twelve seconds, then twist the blond cap clockwise to withdraw it until it fits flush to the front of the feed.

Your pen has now been filled and should be ready to write.  No mess, and no fuss.

Swan Leverless (Pre-War)

Mabie, Todd and Co. patented their Leverless mechanism in 1932.  It was used primarily in the more up market Swan pens. The original version of the Leverless filler consisted of a twist knob at the end of the barrel which, when turned, moved a vertical metal bar around the inside of the barrel, collapsing the ink sac.  Turning the knob back so that it screws back into the barrel allows the sac to re-inflate and draw in ink.

To fill, hold the pen nib down over an opened bottle of ink.  Twist the filler knob anti-clockwise until resistance is felt.  Immerse the nib completely in the ink.  Screw the knob clockwise back into the barrel and wait for about twelve seconds before removing the nib from the ink.  Wipe any excess ink from the nib and feed with blotting paper or a soft tissue.

Swan Leverless (Post-War)

After 1945, the Leverless mechanism was updated. Internally, this version of the filler is very similar to the lever filler in that a pressure bar pushes against an ink sac to expel the air, and then retreats to allow the pen to draw in ink.  The difference is that in the Leverless pen, a small knob, or blind cap, is twisted for about 1.5 turns.  This acts on an internal screw that compresses the pressure bar, causing it to bow out and deflate the sac.  Screwing the blind cap back into the barrel relieves the force on the pressure bar, and it regains its straight shape, allowing the pen to draw in ink.

As with the lever filler, hold the pen nib downwards over an open bottle of ink, and unscrew the blind cap about 1.5 turns, or until it tightens.  Do not forcibly unscrew the cap further that it "wants" to go.  Immerse the nib fully into the ink.  Screw the blind cap back up so that it fits flush with the barrel.  Leave nib immersed for about twelve seconds.

Remove the nib from the ink, and gently wipe off any excess with a soft cloth or some blotting paper.  You are now ready to write.