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Tuesday, 25 August 2009

How To: Platinum Preppy Eyedropper with Rohrer & Klingner Scabiosa (Iron Gall) Ink

I've been meaning to have a go at making an eyedropper-fill fountain pen for a while, ever since seeing similar pens on the blogs Unposted and Good Pens however, events have been conspiring to prevent me from having a go, namely:

a) My Preppy would just not run out of ink!
b) Locating plumbers' silicon grease in the UK has proved extremely difficult and,
c) I couldn't think what to replace the grease with until...

It was one of those 'Eureka' moments - what do UK plumbers use in place of the grease? PTFE tape, that's what! A quick trip to my local DIY barn and I've now armed myself with a roll of the stuff for just a couple of pounds; and the Preppy has finally run out of ink.

PTFE tape - also known as 'Teflon tape', 'Thread seal tape', or 'plumber's tape' is a polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) film cut to specified widths for use in sealing pipe threads. The tape is wrapped around the exposed threads of a pipe before it is screwed into place. Since the PTFE is malleable, deformable and impermeable, it acts a little like putty under compression, being forced into small gaps between threads in order to create an air- and watertight seal when threaded into a joint.

I was also hanging on as I've got this ink I want to test, but as it's an iron gall ink and I've read all sorts of horror stories about what iron gall inks can do to the insides of your favourite fountain pen, I was determined to wait and test the ink in something potentially disposable.

Well, here we are at last - a Platinum Preppy 0.3mm eyedropper fill using PTFE tape and filled with Rohrer & Klingner Scabiosa ink. I'll discuss the ink shortly, first here's how I made the pen...

Should you decide to have a go at this conversion, you will need:

Yes, I forgot to include the syringe in the picture!

a) A suitable donor fountain pen, such as a Preppy
b) A roll of PTFE tape
c) A syringe or eyedropper, and
d) Ink of your choice

Step 1

Unless yours is a new (or previously cleaned) pen, remove the cartridge or filler and put to one side, we won't be needing them again.

Step 2

After ensuring your pen is thoroughly clean and dry, take the PTFE tape and wind tightly, but not too tightly, around the threads of the nib section a few times. Maintain the tension while you're doing this to ensure the tape sits well in the grooves of the threads - not too tight though, or the tape will stretch and wrinkle and may not form an ink-tight seal.

Step 3

'The Water Test' - if you know your way around PTFE tape, you can skip this step, other wise fill the barrel of your pen with water (ordinary tap water will suffice for the test) to just below the start of the threaded part (indicated by the red arrow in the photograph above). Assemble the pen and test for leaks. Depending on which pen you are using, somewhere between three to six turns of tape should provide a watertight seal.

It is worth mentioning that the tape should be wound anti-clockwise (with the nib facing to the left) so it remains smooth when the pen is screwed back together - wind it clockwise and it'll bunch up into an almighty mess when you try putting the pen back together!

Any time you re-fill the pen it is worth replacing the tape.

Step 4

Presuming the water test was successful, repeat steps 2 and 3, though this time fill with the ink of your choice.

Now I've got the pen working, let's talk a bit about the ink...

Rohrer & Klingner of Leipzig, Germany, has been manufacturing lithographic products since 1892, and now makes a range of eighteen tones of fountain pen ink, details of which can be found here. In the UK, Rohrer & Klingner inks are available from The Writing Desk, colour swatches of the range can be seen here; two inks in the range, Scabiosa and Salix are iron gall inks.

Stayed tuned folks, here comes the history/science bit...

Iron gall ink was traditionally made by combining tannic acid from oak galls with vitriol and gum arabic. It was the ink of choice during medieval times and was still in widespread use up to the middle of the twentieth century. Iron gall made a perfect travelling ink as the ingredients could be mixed dry and water added only when necessary. It was also indelible and difficult to remove from the writing surface, making it ideal for official documents.

Traditional iron gall ink starts out as a pale grey solution, which darkens gradually to an intense purplish-black on contact with oxygen. Rohrer & Klingner Scabiosa is a delicate shade of purple, somewhat reminiscent of Diamine Damson. In my tests it tend to come out of the pen as a pale purplish-lavender, then darkens to a rich purple as it dries. There is a small amount of shading even with a fine nib, though I imagine much more shading would be possible with a wider or flex nib.

All in all I've been very pleased with this pen and ink combination, and have yet to notice any adverse effects to the Preppy from the iron gall ink. Over the past week there has been a small amount of ink-creep along the threads, though the PTFE seal has held so far. I daresay a few more turns of tape will cure that, so things are looking good for a more long-term test.

At a Glance:

Pen: Preppy available from JetPens in the US, Cult Pens in the UK
Price: JetPens $3.00; CultPens £3.99
Ink: Rohrer & Klingner ink available from The Writing Desk in the UK
Price: £3.90 per 50ml bottle.
Tape: PTFE tape available from all good DIY stores in the UK
Price: £1 - 2
Overall: 4* out of 5

* until I completely cure the ink creep.

You may have noticed the Preppy in some of the photos is not the 03mm nib version mentioned in the text, the original pen was in use when the pics were taken, which necessitated the use of its stunt double, my 0.5mm Preppy! ;)



phonelady said...

all that I can possibly say is wow . I am still at a lull I guess as to what to say about this blog other than it is awesome . I hope it was successfull . great blog .

Sam said...

Thanks for those kind words. Yes, it's looking successful so far.

Anonymous said...

Wow! That's some post. Sounds like Scabiosa is a good ink though I was not expecting purple. Swatches elsewhere look blue. :)

Sam said...

Thanks Inkophile, I really appreciate your comments. I like Scabiosa, especially the way you can watch it change colour right before your very eyes! I think Salix, also an iron gall by the same manufacturer, is more of a blue shade - I'd quite like to try that one next, or their Alt Goldgrün which looks like an interesting shade of green; I'm a sucker for green ink!

Anonymous said...

A word of caution on the PTFE tape as a sealant-- because it can't get out to the way of the threads as well as silicone grease, it will put extra pressure on the barrel. This may lead to cracking.

In the current context, it's a discountable terror (Preppy? Who cares?) but it's something to be aware of if you start eyeing other prospective eyedropper candidates.

Sam said...

Thanks for the heads-up. The thickness of PTFE tape was something I considered when planning this project, that and the total unavailability of silicon grease anywhere local. So far, six turns of the tape seems to have done the trick without unduly stressing the Preppy's plastic barrel. I should, I suppose, have added a word of caution to the original review to the effect that, if the PTFE tape makes the two halves of the pen in question too snug of a fit, don't force it; for some fountain pens, the tape will work fine, but for others, as you quite rightly point out, it may not be the best method.

Woodworker said...

Great reading stuff, I really took the time for it. Iron gall.... hmm will it do good in Moleskine?? What do you think?

Sam said...

Thanks for your great comment! :) Will the Scabiosa ink do well in a Moleskine? Hold on a minute, I'll check...yes, it works just fine in my large, plain papered Moleskine - no more show-through than any other ink I've tried, and no feathering, so I'd say you should be fine using it with a Moleskine. Scabiosa really is a lovely colour with the Moleskine paper, a mid to deep lavender purple sort of a colour. I really love the way you can actually watch it darken as is dries. By the way, a week on from the start of the eyedropper Preppy test and my Preppy is still working just fine, no sign of any problems from the iron gall ink.

scherbi said...

I recently converted two Pilot Plumix pens to eyedroppers. I considered teflon tape, but was concerned about putting too much stress on the barrel in an attempt to get a good seal. So, I picked up a 4 ounce bottle of this:

at my local hardware store, for about $5 It's got a brush in the cap, and cleans up easily with a paper towel.

I loaded one Plumix with Noodler's Forest Green, and the other with Iroshizuki Syo-Ro. So far, no leaks, and the pens work well.

Because the barrel is translucent, and the sealant is very light colored, I can see the extent of ink creapage toward the joint. And after week, it seems completely stable.

The bottle says this stuff is good for plastic threads, and is "soft setting". It'll be a long while, but I'll have to wait until I use up the ink to find out if I can get them apart again for a refill.

School Supplies Sleuth said...

My question: Why is it called a "Preppy"?

Sam said...

scherbi - thanks for the tip, I'll have to see if that stuff's available in the UK.

School Supplies Sleuth - I really have no idea! That question might better be directed to Platinum, and I'd be interested in their answer too.

scherbi said...

An update to my eyedroppering of the Plumix.

I recently picked up another two Plumix pens at Target. These two were the black body models (my other ones are the purple and blue). My intent was to eyedropper both of these. I went about putting the goop on the threads, and then filled the barrel with ink, and then to my surprise, ink was dripping out of the bottom of the barrel!

Inspection revealed that the small indent on my blue and purple ones was intact, but on the black ones it is not. After cleaning and drying, a drop of gel cyanoacrylate glue successfully sealed the leak (I put a drop on the others too, just to be safe!).

Sam said...

scherbi - Thanks for the heads up, I wouldn't have even thought to look if you hadn't mentioned it.

G.S. aka frostdoll said...

I always wanted to try Salix and Scabiosa but was worried about the pen, now I have a good excuse to try them!

P.S. I got silicon grease from a scuba-diver but I think I'll keep it for my "good" pens repairs ;)

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