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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Can you clean behind the piston seal of a converter?

Sunday: Tips and Tricks

There are many pens out there known as 'cartridge/converter' pens. They are generally less expensive than pens with other filling mechanisms, so many fountain pen users start out with this type of pen. They are called 'C/C' pens for short, and they are extremely popular because they accept both pre-filled cartridges and piston converters for bottle filling.

Though there are many types of piston converters since many brands of C/C pens have proprietary designs, the one thing they all share in common is that they are removable/replaceable from the pen.

One question I get asked from time to time is what do you do if/when ink gets behind the piston seal of the converter, like this?


This is one thing that's had me stumped for a long time. The converters aren't made to be disassembled, and trying to clean behind the seal by forcing water behind it would only cause more damage. A converter like this will run you about $5 to replace, so my best recommendation when you run into this scenario is to either replace it with a new one, or stick to using a color similar to one that is behind the piston seal (in this case, it's blue).

I would love to be able to come up with some magical solution to fixing this ink issue in the converter, but unfortunately, replacing it is the only solution I have, and the only one I've been able to find by scouring the writing forums and blogs. This is not an incredibly rare issue, it's something that's bound to happen to every converter sooner or later. Do you know of a solution for this problem?

***The people spoke, and as a response to everyone's great feedback, I was able to figure out a way to salvage your old piston converters. Check out the new video here I posted about how to disassemble and clean them.

28 comments:

  1. Either chuck it or use only that color in it - esp. for an ink that doesn't mix with others well. Either way I need to get a new convertor when this happens. Thankfully, this isn't that common. I find this a more common problem with Lamy convertors than with the standard short type like the one pictured.

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  2. You take it apart from the top. The top metal typically unscrews. I have done this several times with no issues.

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  3. I just tried unscrewing the top from an old converter I have, and it definitely works. There is one caveat, however: the converter looks identical to the one in Brian's photo, except that the top of the top metal collar (the one furthest from the opening)on my converter is knurled, whereas the one in the photo is smooth, so possibly it isn't designed to be disassembled.

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  4. Same as anonymous: I've taken many converters apart to clean by unscrewing the metal collar. I've never had a serious leaking issue though, just a little seepage now and then; maybe a tad of pure silicone on the seal could help if it was enough to be a problem. But too much getting past = time for new converter. :-)

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  5. Well hot dang! Looks like mine does disassemble! For some reason when I tried before it looks like I couldn't get it, perhaps it was just a little snug and I wasn't giving it enough force. Looks like I need to go at it again! I think this might call for a video, I'll get that up and edit my post!

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  6. Yes, most, it not all unscrew very easily. Also, I might add they come with almost every pen, not just inexpensive pens.

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  7. I have this problem when I clean my converters. I always seem to get water behind the seal. Do Lamy converters come apart easily? What about Sailor converters?

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  8. Jon, I agree. Expensive pens can have converters, it's not that having a converter makes a pen cheap, by any means. But it is true that most inexpensive pens are C/C, as opposed to filling mechanisms that are more expensive to incorporate into a pen, such a lever fills, button fills, piston fill, etc. I actually very much enjoy the ease and convenience of C/C pens, and they're the vast majority of pens I own.

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  9. Update: I just shot a video on how to clean behind the piston seal of the converter. I'm rendering and uploading it now. I'm going to post it in a separate blog post later today, so that those who read the blog by RSS will get the updated post with the video (if I simply edited this post, it wouldn't send out a new post through RSS). It'll take me a few hours to get up, but once I do, I'll put a link to it from this post.

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  10. PAIN and AGONY! I had a long reply post that I just lost due to both of us trying to post at the same time ROFLOL!
    Anyway, I will try to repost as much of it as I can:
    I talk to a local pen freak friend and she told me to soak it full of soapy water and in a soapy water dish. Rinse it after some time and let it dry. I have a commercial espresso machine, so I placed it in a bowl on top of my machine's heat rack. There's still some humidity residue and here's where I got a "total solution." The soaking will get some of that ink behind the seal, somehow. Then you take a paper towel and twist a corner into a point and push it in moving the piston down and up a little and this will leave more ink residue on the walls of the lower part of the converter. The whole time the towel is getting that residue. I got 99% of the backside piston residue this way.
    Don't get me wrong, if I had my choice, I would throw the thing in the trash. It is absolutely not worth the time, effort and labor. But, as I've said before here the local pen shop is 1.75 hrs away and Brian is two days by mail :) I promise you if I had a box of these that converter would have been in the trash!

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  11. BTW, Lori, mine is a Lamy and my converters don't seem to want to come apart, sadly.

    Also, thank you Brian, for posting the video, I can't wait!

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  12. Wilson, the Lamy's don't come apart, unfortunately. I address that in the video that's coming.

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  13. Yep, I disassemble my converters all the time. I often use one of those rubber jar lid grabber things that's designed to make it easier to open things like stuck pickle jars.

    What I'm curious about is how to clean the ink behind the piston of a piston-filling pen, like the new Noodler's Nib Creaper...

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  14. @The Missive Maven: Ditto! I just got my nib creaper and love it, but I'm afraid that ink is already starting to creep up there (ironic, of course). It's not a super expensive pen, but I don't exactly want to toss it out and buy a second after a day. The FPN has a thread on cleaning back there by pulling water in from the piston screw, but it's not recommended since it doesn't fix the problem.

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  15. @The Missive Maven and @Will, If you remove the blind cap, and twist from the threads that hold the blind cap on the pen (with some gripping material) it unscrews the whole piston mechanism. One you get it off the first time, it is easier to remove subsequent times.

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  16. Since Anonymous already mentioned that some converters do come apart I'll mention another related tip.

    In some converters ink surface tension will cling to the walls and your ink will stay at the piston end and not flow to the feed. If you can take your converter apart you can place a glass or plastic ball in the converter to break the surface tension of the ink when your pen goes from nib up to nib down. A source for the little balls is to cut an end off an empty cartridge and use the one inside. The little ball is what sealed the cartridge. Note: Pilot/Namiki cartridges use a flat disk. Platinum cartridges use a metal(stainless steel?) ball.

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  17. Andy, thanks - super-helpful! Now I will probably find these pens seriously addictive.

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  18. Andy, thanks for the tip!

    Missive and Will, Nathan from Noodler's actually did a video on this (although this tip is a few minutes into the video). I can't remember if it's part 1 or 2... http://www.youtube.com/user/InkNeedLastForever#p/u/5/SveKuIxBKBo

    Sidney, a great tip!! I think I smell another video brewing ;)

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  19. the Lamy z24 converter does in fact come apart... with the same situation, i ordered replacements and figure what have i got to loose? if i fail, at least i'll learn something. first one worked so i did it again with success.

    anyway, it's all friction fit.
    Slip the metal collar back over the red handle and off(if it's tight use pliers, and a rubber band to protect it).
    then, with the plunger at about halfway for wiggle room, use pliers again to grip the black converter base (by the red part) and pull back to separate it from the clear body.
    pull out the plunger, clean, grease if desired, and reassemble.
    it reassembled tight enough i can probably do it a few more times before it's an issue.

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  20. Like what Art said, those converters whose back ends don't screw out are snapped fit and you will need quite a huge amount of force to put the back end out. Sometimes, using your bare hands won't get you enough friction and you might have to resort to pliers. The good news is that once you've clean the pen, you can just snapped back the back end.

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  21. @Andy and Brian: Thanks for the help!

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  22. the Lamy z24 converter does in fact come apart... with the same situation, i ordered replacements and figure what have i got to loose? if i fail, at least i'll learn something. first one worked so i did it again with success.

    anyway, it's all friction fit.
    Slip the metal collar back over the red handle and off(if it's tight use pliers, and a rubber band to protect it).
    then, with the plunger at about halfway for wiggle room, use pliers again to grip the black converter base (by the red part) and pull back to separate it from the clear body.
    pull out the plunger, clean, grease if desired, and reassemble.
    it reassembled tight enough i can probably do it a few more times before it's an issue.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Since Anonymous already mentioned that some converters do come apart I'll mention another related tip.

    In some converters ink surface tension will cling to the walls and your ink will stay at the piston end and not flow to the feed. If you can take your converter apart you can place a glass or plastic ball in the converter to break the surface tension of the ink when your pen goes from nib up to nib down. A source for the little balls is to cut an end off an empty cartridge and use the one inside. The little ball is what sealed the cartridge. Note: Pilot/Namiki cartridges use a flat disk. Platinum cartridges use a metal(stainless steel?) ball.

    ReplyDelete
  24. @The Missive Maven: Ditto! I just got my nib creaper and love it, but I'm afraid that ink is already starting to creep up there (ironic, of course). It's not a super expensive pen, but I don't exactly want to toss it out and buy a second after a day. The FPN has a thread on cleaning back there by pulling water in from the piston screw, but it's not recommended since it doesn't fix the problem.

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  25. Since every converter knob I've seen has been open at the end, is there a reason you can't just turn the converter knob-up under running water? I do this when I see ink behind the piston, and it rinses right out.
    Of course, if you can disassemble the converter, you can add some silicone grease to the seal, and help prevent ink from getting behind it in the first place.

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  26. I took apart my Z24 converter. The black ring near the knob must first be pulled off. As Art noted, it's friction fit and does take a lot of force.

    One thing I did to ease along the processes is to dip the plastic chamber into some hot water for a little bit, to make the chamber expand just a little. This made the process MUCH easier.

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  27. Actually, you can clean behind the piston seal in a Lamy converter just by completely immersing the converter underwater and screwing/unscrewing the piston. The water will be drawn in from the back of the converter, and clean it out!

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  28. Just found this thread - thank you - I really didn't want to throw out an otherwise perfectly fine converter.

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