Switching nibs…

As you may recall, I have a 1.1mm stub nib in my Vac Mini, and I ordered a flex nib to replace it.  I received the nib a couple of days ago, and it looks fine.  This morning I decided to replace the stub nib with the flex nib.

I emptied the ink from the pen back into the bottle – no reason to waste perfectly good ink.  I rinsed the pen out and then pulled the stub nib along with the feed out of the pen.  I washed the new nib with soapy water, as some nibs have oils on them that cause problems when writing.  Inserting the nib took about 10 seconds.  I refilled the pen with ink, and began writing.

My first impression is that the line width is thicker than I expected, but this could be me subconsciously using downward pressure on the nib while writing.  I can get line width variation easily by adding pressure on the downstroke, so the flex nib is doing just what it is supposed to do.  The loose cannon in this mix is my writing style.  I’ll work on it and see if I stay with the flex nib or go back to the stub.

That’s just one of the nice things about fountain pens – you can easily make changes and find a combination of pen, nib, ink, and paper that you like best.

Esterbrook LJ in Copper Marble

This is a somewhat unique fountain pen.  This was the first fountain pen that allowed you to easily change the nib.  It simply unscrews from the barrel, and a different nib could be used.  You could use a fine point nib for writing a letter, and then change to a broad or stub nib to address the envelope to add some flair to the writing.

These were not expensive pens, relatively speaking, and were made in large quantities.  The ink sac frequently needs to be replaced after many years of use (or lack of use), but that is a fairly easy thing to do.

The colors are unique, and the hardware such as the lever, the clip, and the ring on the cap were made of stainless steel, so there is no plated finish to wear off, and the pen continues to look good even after extensive use.

Because these were made in large quantities, and are so easily repaired, they are popular today and don’t command large prices as many other pens from that era seem to do.  Average prices are in the $20 to $30 range, and the parts to replace the ink sac are a couple of dollars.  They are easy to find, and replacement nibs are easily found as well.

I liked the color of this particular pen, and I will be keeping an eye out for a broad or stub nib for it.

Esterbrook LJ

The latest (oldest) acquisition

Well, it’s my most recent pen purchase, but at the same time it’s the oldest one I have.  A Parker Streamline Duofold in jade green from 1928-1929.  Almost 100 years old and writes beautifully.  I’ve said it before but it bears repeating – craftmanship never fades.

Parker Duofold Jade Green


No, not a tattoo, but the ink for a fountain pen.  There are a multitude of colors, some with shimmering gold flakes and multiple colors combined into a single ink.

So far, I’ve purchased Diamine inks, in 3 different colors.  The first was ASA Blue, which is a fairly standard blue ink.  The next choice was Quartz Black.  It seems that naming ink colors is a lot like naming paint colors.  A lot of different ways to say the same thing.  Ah, marketing.

The third color I chose was Ancient Copper.  I chose it specifically for another fountain pen, a TWSBI Vac Mini with a 1.1mm stub nib.  This particular nib gives good variations in line width depending on whether the stroke is down (wide) or across (narrow).  It gives your handwriting a flair, and forces you to slow down a bit for the best appearance.  Since the nib is flat on the end, you have to be sure that you aren’t twisting the pen as you write or the stroke will dry out and you’ll just be scratching the paper.

TWSBI Vac Mini

I think I’m getting the hang of it now, but it does take some practice to write consistently with it.  I make a lot of notes while I’m working, so I am using that as a practice opportunity (since I’m the only one that reads my notes) and it doesn’t have to be perfectly readable.

There is one ink I would like to try, for fancy notes, cards, and invitations.  I don’t normally write cards or invitations, but this particular ink is fascinating.  It is Emerald of Chivor and I’ve “borrowed” this image from the Goulet Pens website so that you can see what I’m try to describe.  It’s pretty striking, isn’t it?







The elusive cursive Q

Well, I finally remembered how to write a cursive capital Q.  For some of you that may not be a big thing, but I hadn’t done that for quite a while.  I would guess that most people don’t write in cursive (or at least not exclusively).  I throw in a printed capital letter every once in a while, but I’m trying to do better.  F, Q, T, and Z are my downfall, but not too many capitalized words start with a Z.  Unless, of course, you’re writing about the African savannah (that’s a cool word, isn’t it).

I’ve also picked up another fountain pen, a TWSBI Vac 700 in amber, which is no longer in production.  You can probably track one down if you’re interested; it’s not impossible, it just takes patience.  The vac filler is fascinating to watch in action, and it just works.  The ink capacity is more than most, and you can easily see how much ink remains in the pen.

TWSBI Vac 700 Amber (out of production)

Unfortunately, I got the same fine point nib that the Diamond 580 has, and now I wish that I’d chosen a different nib.  Maybe a broad nib would have been a good choice, just for something different.  That’s one of the appeals of a good fountain pen – you can choose a different nib and change the appearance of your writing.  Yes, it’s a small thing, but since it’s so easy, why not experiment a bit?

Writing without a keyboard

Maybe its the geek in me, maybe the old codger trying to get out, but I enjoy writing.  Even if I’m not very good at it, it is still enjoyable to put pen (or pencil) to paper.  The speed at which you write forces you to slow down a bit, and consider things that you might miss while typing.  And writing has survived for centuries – who knows how long my last email will survive.  Actually, it’s probably been deleted by now.

For some reason, I’ve been somewhat fascinated with fountain pens.  I think it’s a throwback to when your writing said a lot about your education – and I do feel sorry for people that “write” with OMG, LOL, SMH, etc.  Sorry to be blunt, but that doesn’t conjure images of learned individuals.  The wonderful script that a fountain pen can produce, and the nuances of the handwriting are really something to behold.  Consider the Declaration of Independence.  We still read that document, with its precise wording, beautifully written, and beyond the document’s espoused ideals I still come back to the handwriting.  Not the writing on the wall, the writing on the parchment.  Sorry, couldn’t resist.

I will likely never be able to produce anything like that, but if I can revive my writing gene (if I ever had one) it will be an enjoyable journey nonetheless.

So, to that end, I bought a fountain pen from Goulet Pens.  A TWSBI Diamond 580 with a fine point nib.  Also picked up some Diamine ASA Blue ink.  Don’t need an eraser with this kit.

TWSBI Diamond 580

I tried a few sentences, and to my surprise, I do remember how to write in cursive.  Do they teach that in school today?  I must admit though, that I really had to think how to write a cursive capital “F”.  Do you remember?  I couldn’t remember how to write a cursive capital “Q”, so I just wrote “Q”.

A new lease on life

I really love the old American pocket watch movements.  Hamiltons are my favorite, but Waltham and Elgin movements are beautiful too.  I’ve been looking for a size 6 Waltham movement for a while now, but until a few weeks ago I didn’t see one in the condition I wanted.  Patience is the name of this game, so I waited and found a size 6 Waltham in great condition and at a fair price.  The serial number dates this movement to 1901 – that’s right – this movement is 115 years old.

Dave serviced this movement for me, and he found a cracked jewel, which he replaced.  The mainspring had been replaced at some point in the past, so it was fine.  After cleaning and adjusting, it is in the condition you see in the photo.  Many thanks to Dave for your careful work and attention to detail.

Movements from pocket watches made in the late 18th and early 19th century are negative set movements, meaning that the stem is retained in the case, not in the movement.  So the normal type of case will not work to convert this to a wristwatch – you’ll need some way to retain the stem or it will simply fall out.  There are two options.  Drill and tap the case to hold the stem, or use a case that has a crown guard that will retain the stem.  The latter is the way I’m going with this movement.

I don’t yet have a case, but I’m going to use the original dial and hands on this build.  They’re elegant and look exactly like they should for a watch more than a century old.

How many things we make will be working a century later?

The craftsmanship and the decoration are stunning.  Some of the decoration can only be seen when the movement is disassembled, which means it’s likely that only another watchmaker will ever see it.  It’s called pride of craftsmanship and sadly it’s all too rare these days.

Stay tuned for more photos as this project progresses.  It will definitely be worth the wait.

Hamilton 600 Super Compressor

The Hamilton 600 Super Compressor dual-crown dive watch with date is a 1960’s vintage dive watch with a new (for it’s time) method to waterproof a watch.

The seals and the caseback are spring loaded so that increased pressure, as the watch would encounter while diving, makes the seal tighter to prevent water incursion.  There are limits to the design, and the 600 in the model name indicates the maximum depth Hamilton was willing to advertise.

It’s not recommended that you dive with a watch of this vintage, there are newer watches with a deeper rating – but in my mind newer isn’t necessarily better.  This watch has patina on the dial and hands, the case is in excellent condition.  After a service on the movement and an unsuccessful search for another date wheel, the watch is as you see it here.

The dual crowns are pretty much a giveaway to the compressor design; the second crown is used to rotate an inner bezel for a second time zone or to time dives.  A crosshatch pattern on the crowns will seal the deal as a true super compressor design.

There aren’t many of these around, and this one is a keeper.

A new pilot watch is born…

…from an antique movement and a modern case.  The movement is a Hamilton 4992B Navigator’s watch 16s movement.  The serial number dates the production year to 1950, so it’s now 66 years old and is running perfectly.  I purchased a pilot watch case that will fit this movement and began the work of turning this pocket watch movement into a wristwatch.  I decided to use the original dial and hands for this build, mainly to show respect for the watch’s beginnings.

The strap is a closed loop design, which allows the watch to fit your wrist or to be worn on the outside of a flight jacket without changing the strap.  Since the strap is a loop, once you put your hand through the loop you can’t drop the watch while fastening the buckle – dropping mechanical watches will cause them to be exactly right twice a day – except for this watch, which will be exactly right once a day.  Not nearly as useful as you might think.

This is a 24-hour watch – meaning that the hour hand makes one revolution every 24 hours rather then the far more common once every 12 hours.  It does take some getting used to, because at first glance it may look like 6pm, but it’s actually noon.  When it looks like 9am, it’s actually 6pm, and when it looks like 3pm it’s actually 6am.  Once you’ve worn it for a while your mind makes the adjustment but it does take a little while.

This movement is a hacking movement, meaning that when you pull out the crown to set the time, the second hand stops.  This allows you to synchronize the watch to a known standard time source.

This movement is probably the finest movement ever made in America, and I know I will get comments that disagree with me.  The Hamilton 992B movement (the same kind as in my Grandfather’s railroad pocket watch) and this movement (4992B) are very closely related.  The differences are the 12 vs 24 hour display, the hacking addition on the 4992B, and the center second hand on the 4992B.  The 992B has a sub second hand.  Both of these movements are literally the finest examples of American watchmaking.

On to the photos.  In one of the photos on my wrist, the watch is showing 11:30 pm.  In the other wrist photo, the watch is showing about 6:20 pm.

Watches – an old interest of mine

I’ve always been fascinated by watches.  Not the electronic ones, but the mechanical ones.  The little mechanisms inside them are a wonder and the skill and craftsmanship it takes to build one is a rare talent.

I am fortunate to have my grandfather’s railroad pocket watch.  He was an engineer on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, and used this watch every day.  The requirements for accuracy are obvious, and this watch has dual hour hands so that it does not need to be reset when traveling between time zones.  In fact, this watch is lever set, meaning that the crystal must be removed and a small lever pulled out to allow the watch to be set – this prevents accidental changes to the setting while winding the watch.  Railroad engineers can’t afford for their watches to be wrong – disaster could be the result and sadly this has happened more than once.

I’ve begun the restoration process on this watch, and all that remains at this point is to have the movement itself cleaned, oiled, and adjusted.  A family heirloom if there ever was one.

Dave will service this movement for me, and I will personally deliver the watch into his hands.  I can’t bring myself to ship it, because no amount of insurance would ever replace this watch if it were lost – there isn’t another one like it in the world.  This one was my Grandfather’s watch.

I met Dave and picked up the watch, and it is keeping perfect time – serviced and ready for the next century.

Here are some photos for you.