Sunday, July 28, 2013

Eversharp Skyline Plastic Repairs

Disclaimer: Proceed at your own risk, I will not be held responsible to any damage you do to your pens.  Use common sense, if you don't feel competent enough to do these repairs don't do them.  Please send your pen off to a repair person.  Please keep in mind that sixty year old materials may be brittle due to age and sometimes a pen will just break even if you follow all the directions carefully.  Everyone who has repaired many pens can vouch for me.

It's time this information is spilled and widely available to those who do their own repairs.  Since nobody really let me know I could fix my Skyline this way I feel it's my duty to make it available.

I feel certain I can say that anyone or most who have encountered an Eversharp Skyline made of polystyrene or with parts made of the material (all of these pens have some polystyrene parts) has found these parts to be either warped, discolored or cracked.  Or if one hasn't had the fortune of coming to be in possession of one of these pens they certainly have heard of others having these issues with their pens.  Whatever way you look at it Eversharp Skyline plastics are fussy and prone to age related problems, but it should not stop one from wanting to own or using one of these pens.

Standard Eversharp Skyline with honey colored striated celluloid cap and army brown polystyrene barrel discolored to a darker shade of brown like oil or dark chocolate
Before getting into the nitty-gritty of repairing cracks in Skyline plastic I think it's worth taking a look at the history of this fountain pen and its designer, anyway some of this history is partially to blame for the  issues one encounters with these pens today.  Released in 1941 and remaining in production until 1950 the Eversharp Skyline took advantage of a newly developed plastic in its construction, the aforementioned polystyrene.  Being like any newly developed technology no one is exactly sure how well it is going to work or how well it will hold up in the long run.  Despite that the designers at Eversharp found that polystyrene was less labor intensive to form into pen parts than the celluloid and hard rubber previously used.  It could be injection moulded instead of having to be formed by hand on a lathe, which allowed the parts to be produced quickly and more cheaply.  Another point worth mentioning is that these pens were produced during the years which America was at war.  All across the nation the producers of civilian products, like pens cut production and the amount and quality of materials used, for the best had to go to the government for the war effort.  It would not be surprising if Eversharp used a lower grade plastic for their pens during these years so they could keep producing them and today they are a very commonly found pen if that says something.

Same pen without cap, note that the section and barrel match
Another note of interest is that the Eversharp hired famed industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss to design the Skyline.  Those with any design knowledge (I know this because once upon a time I thought was going to be a graphic designer and spent a year studying design) or even an interest in the time period should know that Dreyfuss also designed 500 desk telephone (what most people think of when you think of a 'real' phone that's wired into the wall), the Princess Telephone and the Trimline Phone (I still have one of these with a dial that's still in service) and many other common place household items.  Also he designed the streamlined shell that was placed over the NYC Hudson locomotives that pulled the 20th Century Limited.  This was what first came to mind when I discovered that Dreyfuss was responsible for designing the Skyline pen, the cap of the pen and the front and top line of the locomotive are nearly identical.  When I was little my grandfather had a model of the the 20th Century Limited and it was always more intriguing than the other model locomotives because of its sleek shape and light grey/blue livery and is something that's been burned in my memory ever since.

Dreyfuss'  NYC Hudson courtesy or Wikipedia
Now on to the repair information:  When I found my Eversharp Skyline in the wild it was in very good shape (save for discoloration and plating loss on the lever- another common problem with Skylines) and the sac even seemed like it was still good, I could lift the lever and the sac depressed.  To be sure I filled the pen with water and let it sit overnight to make sure there were no leaks.  Of course there was and this is where my problems began.  That afternoon I was determined to replace the sac and have the pen back in working order by that evening, it shouldn't be that difficult right?  It's just a simple lever filler and the plastic doesn't seem to have shrunk at all.  How wrong was I!  I proceeded by soaking the nib and section to remove old ink that could be cementing the section into the barrel and when it seemed clean as it was going to get I heated the section with a hair dryer- just standard procedure.  Then when I went to remove the section I heard something pop and with my heart dropping into the pit of my stomach I noticed a small crack in the barrel threads, now I had done it! @#$%!!!

Wondering what could be done I ran off to the internet and began doing a number of searches, which of course yielded nothing and I asked questions on the fountain pen forums which only lead to the answer of find a new barrel or a parts pen.  For some that may seem an okay proposition, but finding the right pen in the right color for the right price can be daunting and take months, anyway the damage on my pen barrel wasn't that bad.  Super glue and like adhesives are almost always out of the question for pen repairs and most of the time do more hurt and good.  Shellac can be used, but if I ever had to get the pen apart for any reason in the future the whole barrel would probably break into multiple pieces.  So, it was back to doing searches, which eventually led to some obscure web page or blog that I cannot recall the name of (this was over two years ago now), but the proprietor of the page claimed to have successfully repaired cracked polystyrene Eversharp Skylines with Tenax 7-R.  Knowing I had nothing to lose I went to the local hobby shop later in the week and bought a bottle of the stuff.  Putting two and two together and after reading the label on the Tenax bottle recalled to mind helping my kid brother when he was about 9-10 years old put together model planes and cars.  The plastic the models were made of was the same stuff as the Skyline barrel or something very similar.

Bottle of Tenax R-7 Space Age Plastic Welder.  It's not a glue, it's a solvent
To say the least it worked and worked very well.  I began by cleaning the crack in the barrel to be sure there was no ink residue or skin oils on the spot that was to be welded, I used dish soap for this, although diluted ammonia in water would work too.  After the spot was dry I simply held the crack closed with my fingers and with a tooth pick dripped the Tenax 7-R onto the crack inside and carefully on the outside.  It evaporates very quickly and you have to work fast, but also you only need a very small amount.  Follow the directions on the bottle.  For larger damage I would suggest using a syringe with a fine needle and maybe a small C-clamp padded with tape or rubber hose to hold parts together.  One small word of warning is Tenax will cause a small amount of discoloration to the plastic (it doesn't bother me because I used my pen, it's not a museum piece), while not that noticeable some may not like the look of it and it does become more apparent under certain lighting.  Other than that I have nothing but good to say about Tenax 7-R, I can hardly tell where the crack was in my pen barrel and the repair has been holding for what will be three years in early January this coming year.

Pen barrel was cracked in the threads right here.  Although the photo doesn't show the discoloration there is a small amount and the crack is not visible save for some small interruptions in the threads, which does not affect their function
To put the pen back together I followed slightly different procedures than I usually do.  First I put the section in the freezer to make it shrink smaller (knowing what I know now I don't suggest doing this because extreme cold can make plastic brittle, the fridge or a cool window sill in the winter it sufficient) and then applied really gentle heat to the section to expand it just a bit- just until it was warm to the touch.  The pen slipped easily back together with no further problems, although I wish I had not replaced the breather tube before shellacking the sac on because it has since come loose and is rattling around in the pen and getting in the way of the lever.  Since the Skyline is just a lever filler is does not need the breather tube.
Following directions on bottle will lead to best results

Thanks for reading.

Please feel free to ask questions.