How to fill fountain pens

Probably everyone can figure out how to pop in a cartridge or use a modern piston or aerometric converter, but filling more obscure pens can sometimes be quite a puzzle. Use the links below to locate the instructions for filling your particular pen.

Parker's button filler explained (1916)

  • Cartridge pens
  • Converter pens
  • Aerometric converters
  • Piston converters
  • Refilling cartridges
  • Sac pens
  • Lever fill
  • Button fill
  • Other sac pens
  • Piston fillers
  • Eydropper fillers
  • Safety pens
  • Parker Vacumatic system
  • Parker Aerometric system
  • Parker capillary system
  • Sheaffer Vac-Fil system
  • Sheaffer Snorkel system
  • Cartridge pens

    Make sure you have a cartridge that will work in your pen. You're usually safe buying the cartridges made by the same company that made the pen, but many pens (generally European) use a standard design making these cartridges more or less interchangeable.

    Unscrew the barrel from the pen; pull out the old cartridge (might want to do this with the pen pointing up so you won't drip any of the remaining ink from the cartridge). Put the new cartridge in its place and push; usually, you have to break a membrane or dislodge a small bead in order to start the ink flow (you should be able to feel a nice "thunk" when you've accomplished this). Reassemble the pen and you're back on the trail. If the pen was dead empty or dried out, it will take a bit of scribbling before the proper ink flow starts up. If the new cartridge is a different color, it may take some time for the new color to appear (the pen must use all the ink stashed away in the feed before taking on new ink from the cartridge). You really shouldn't have to pinch or squeeze the cartridge to get the flow started.

    If you use cartridge pens, you should consider switching to a bottle fill converter; not only is this more economical (not to mention more environmentally sound), but you're flushing out the feed every time you fill, so it will stay cleaner and will be less likely to clog).

    Converter pens

    Converters fit inside cartridge pens in place of the cartridge and allow the pen to be filled from a bottle. If you have a cartridge pen, chance are you can find a converter that will fit it. There are two general types of converters in common use: the "aerometric" or sleeve filler, and the piston filler. You can also refill empty cartridges if you are of a frugal frame of mind.

    Aerometric converter

    The Aerometric filler (a Parker term which has since become somewhat generic) is actually a variation on the old-style sleeve filler that was used early in the century. It usually consists of a rubber or rubber-like sac (some are transparent plastic) inside a metal sheath; there's an opening in the sheath through which you can see a pressure bar. To fill the pen, simply dip the point all the way into the ink bottle, mash the pressure bar, let go and allow the sac to expand and draw in ink. If the pen is new or nearly empty, you might repeat this maneuver a couple of times to make sure you get as much ink as you can.

    Piston filler

    Most "better" convertible pens today, like Waterman and Montblanc, have piston-fill converters. The chief advantage of these is that they can be broken down and cleaned should they dry out; also, with the ink reservoir being totally transparent, you can see how much ink is left in the pen at any time.

    To fill a piston filler, immerse the point completely in the ink bottle, then twist the knob (or push the slide on more recent Parker converters) until the piston is all the way down. Then, move the piston back up, drawing ink into the converter. Again, repeat this to completely fill the converter if it was pretty empty to start with.

    Remember to "prime" the pen by releasing a few drops of ink after filling, then screw the piston back up to the top.

    Rotring recently introduced special ink bottles that were designed especially to fill converters out of the pen; this isn't as convenient as it might sound, since you not only have to unscrew the barrel, you have to remove the converter (and now you have the pen in at least three pieces to keep track of). Also, you lose the benefit of "flushing" the point and feed during the filling process.

    Empty cartridge used as a converter

    In a pinch (pardon the pun), you can use an empty cartridge as a converter of sorts. You can leave the cartridge on the pen, immerse the point, squeeze then release the cartridge and allow the ink to be drawn in. Cartridges weren't designed for this kind of treatment, so they aren't a permanent solution. If you want to go easy on the cartridge, you can remove it from the pen and fill it with a syringe or eyedropper (or a spare Sheaffer snorkel pen, if you have one).

    Piston fill pens

    Many pens, particularly German ones (like Pelikan and Montblanc), fill only from a bottle and use a piston or screw-type filler. These can be identified by a barrel-end that screws in and out (and, usually, an ink window in the section in which you can see a piston). To fill these pens, unscrew the piston (by twisting the knob at the end of the pen until it hits a stop), dip the point in the ink supply, then screw the knob back down. Remove the point, and while holding it over the ink, twist the knob back out just enough to let three drops fall from the pen (this part is important). Then, screw the knob back down, wipe up, and you're ready to go.

    Some older pens used a fairly crude piston fill that worked exactly like a hypodermic syringe: Push the piston home to expel the old ink, dip the point in the bottle, then raise the piston do draw fresh ink into the pen.

    Eyedropper pens

    If you have a very old pen, and it has no visible means of filling (e.g., no lever), chances are that it is an "eyedropper filler", basically a big empty vial into which you drip ink from an eyedropper. Unscrew the point-section assembly from the barrel. Use an eyedropper (some drug stores still carry glass eyedroppers) to draw ink from the bottle and fill the barrel. Replace the section and screw down tight to make a good seal. Needless to say, keep the barrel upright during all this!

    Should your eyedropper pen leak (as they are often prone to do), you can try rubbing some cake soap or wax on the threads to make a better seal.

    Safety pens

    If the point of your very old pen moves in and out like a lipstick when you twist the bottom, you have a safety pen. These were so-called because when the point was retracted and the cap attached, they were effectively sealed against leakage. Safety pens are also filled with an eyedropper. It's difficult to improve on Waterman's own directions, so why not read them for yourself?

    Sac pens

    Sac pens keep their ink in a rubber sac inside the pen. They are filled by collapsing the sac with some mechanical device, then allowing it to expand with the point inside an ink supply. The vast majority of fountain pens made before 1960 are sac pens of one sort or another. You can recognize them by the presence of a lever on the side or a button beneath a removeable blind cap. Other sac systems were used, as noted below.

    If you have trouble getting your sac pen to take ink, or if it leaks through the lever box or other opening, you may have a rotted sac, which can be easily replaced by any moderately-experienced hobbyist.

    Lever fill

    The great majority of older (pre-1960) pens you will see will be lever fillers, which have a small lever (usually nickel or gold plated metal) running lengthwise down the side of the barrel. Immerse the point completely in the ink bottle. Using a fingernail, flip the lever out to a 90º angle (or as far as it will go without forcing it) to collapse the sac (this will eject any ink remaining in the sac, so clean the pen first if you're changing colors). Then, flip the lever back in place and leave the point in the ink for a few seconds. Remove the pen and wipe down the point. Typically, no priming is necessary as with a piston fill pen.

    Button fill

    Parker's button fill was an effective response to the Sheaffer lever fill system, and was used through to the 1940s. Since Parker pens were so widely copied in other respects, it isn't surprising that the button filler appears on many other brands as well. Remove the blind cap (don't lose it!), mash the button to expel old ink, hold the button down, then release it with the point completely inside the ink supply. Give the pen ten seconds or so to fill, then remove it, wipe the point, and replace the blind cap.

    Other sac fill systems

    There were a number of other systems for compressing and expanding sacs, many of which were devised to evade patent infringement complaints. In general, the principle behind all these is the same as for the lever fill -- you have to do something to mash in the sac, then let it expand with the point down inside the ink supply.

    For the crescent filler (Conklin etc.), twist the locking ring around so that the crescent can be pressed into the barrel. Release the crescent, allow the pen to fill, and (important!) twist the locking ring back in place to secure the crescent (unless you want to squirt ink all over your nice stationery).

    For the sleeve filler (various brands), move or twist the cover until the sac is exposed. Press on the sac and release with the point inside the ink bottle. Replace the cover.

    A few pens (mostly European) used a twist sac filler, in which a twist on the back of the barrel would collapse the sac by wringing it; twist the knob, put the point in ink, then return the knob to its original position. Wait a few seconds, then remove and clean up the point.

    Parker Vacumatic system

    This was the system used on Vacumatics, 51s, and other Parker pens from the middle of the century. Remove the blind cap from the back of the pen (don't lose it!). Put the point all the way into the ink bottle. Tap the plunger several times; the pen will gradually fill through a breather tube inside the barrel. Replace the blind cap. If the pen does not fill, it may need a new diaphragm, which is a job for a professional. (Note: one advantage of the vacs is that they tend not to eject their ink supply as readily as sac pens should you accidentally press the plunger).

    Parker Aerometric system

    Later Parker 51s and others used a permanently attached Aerometric filler.

    Parker 61 capillary system

    The first Parker 61s used a remarkable capillary filling system. To fill these, remove the pen barrel to expose the Teflon-covered filler; drop the pen point up in the ink supply and leave it in (about thirty seconds should do it). Remove the pen, give the filler end a quick wipe (the Teflon will shed most of the ink) and replace the barrel.

    Capillary-fill 61s tend to clog up after awhile; this is one reason why they were discontinued in favor of more conventional aerometric filling 61s. If yours becomes clogged, try soaking the pen in cool water or gently directing water through the filler and out the point (e.g., using a turkey baster or similar device) until it runs clear. The problem here is that you now have to "write" all of the water out of the pen, filling it frequently to get fresh ink into the flow. This isn't something you want to do on a regular basis, so the best solution is either to keep using the pen (not giving the ink a chance to clog up the pen), or leave it clean and empty.

    Sheaffer Vac-Fil system

    The Sheaffer vac-fil system is a bit trickier than the Parker vacuum system. Unscrew the blind cap until it is clear of the barrel, then pull on the cap to reveal a long slender rod (whoops! I forgot to tell you this will "belch" out the ink inside the pen!). Then, insert the point all the way into the ink bottle, and push the rod home, reattaching the blind cap. Give the pen a few seconds before removing it from the ink supply. Do not "pump", one smart stroke is all that is required.

    Sheaffer Snorkel and Touchdown pens

    The touchdown and snorkel systems supplanted the lever filler and the vac-fil in the Sheaffer lines of the later 1940s, and were used until the coming of cartridges. For the snorkel, unscrew the blind cap carefully, which will cause the snorkel tube to emerge from inside the point. When the cap is clear of the barrel, pull it out (ejecting the old ink). Immerse the tip of the snorkel in the ink bottle, push the blind cap home once, smartly (if the pen is in good repair, you'll hear and feel a small "burp" when you do this). Leave the point in the ink for a few seconds. Carefully screw the blind cap back down, making sure that the snorkel retracts all the way. Follow the same directions for the touchdown filler, except you won't have to worry about the snorkel going out and in.

    This file last posted on:
    2005-Jan-20 17:50:23 CST
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