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Common fountain pen repairs
and adjustments

Typically, when you find a fountain pen "in the wild," it is going to require a bit of refurbishment (or at least a good cleaning and polish) to get it back into proper shape. Even newer pens sometimes fail or get damaged and have to be repaired. On this page I will describe a number of typical problems with pens and how they can be repaired or adjusted.


Rebuilding fillers

Refurbishing pen fillers is the most basic and frequent type of repair done on vintage pens. Any vintage pen you find in the wild will probably require filler repair even if it is otherwise in good shape. Here's how the work is done on a variety of common pens.

Basic sac fillers (levers, buttons, etc.)

The majority of pens made before 1960 are sac fillers of one kind or another. These pens share the problem of petrifying sacs: if the pen is put away with ink in it and left for a long time (which could be as little as a year or so), the water in the ink will evaporate away and leave behind a sludge or crust that can attack the rubber of the sac and cause it to harden. The second blow of this one-two punch comes the next time someone takes the pen out of the junk drawer and tries to fill it: the pressure bar will crack the sac wide open (or possibly even shatter it into pieces). Or, worse, the sac may be so hard, and the user so determined to get it to fill, that he ends up bending the lever or popping a lever pin out of ancient hard rubber or plastic. For safety's sake, then, never force the lever (or other filler) on an old sac pen, and always re-sac it as a matter of routine unless you know that it has a good sac.

You can check the sac by removing the barrel from the pen (the barrels are usually but not always press-fitted onto the section). When the sac is exposed, you should find it soft and pliable to the touch, and you should be able to fold it over fairly easily; if the sac is intact but is very stiff, it will need replacement.

Sac pens are almost always easy to repair even for a novice; you can see my instructions elsewhere on the site. You can now even choose silicone rubber sacs rather than natural latex if you want more durability. If you can't get the pen apart, or if it is a particularly fragile or valuable pen, or if you just don't want to be bothered, give the pen over to an expert.

Piston filler pens

Quality new piston fillers (like Pelikans and Montblancs) are normally pretty durable, but can develop problems. It isn't always obvious how to disassemble them for repair, although an experienced technician should have no problem. One of the bigger problems with piston pens is that the pistons can get frozen (or 'glued') to the barrel wall by long-dried ink. If you can get the point off (see my advice elsewhere), you can spritz away at the insides of the barrel with an otic syringe or irrigator, and this may loosen things up. Otherwise, it's off to the repair shop. Don't force the knobs on piston fillers when they're obviously stuck; older or cheaply-made piston fillers can shear apart, making for a much more expensive repair.

Early piston-fill pens like the Pelikan 100 or early Montblancs used natural cork on the piston. Over time, the cork can dry out, which causes it to shrink and harden such that it is no longer seals and you cannot fill the pen. These pens are repaired by disassembling them and replacing the cork. This is generally not a repair you'll want to try yourself, unless you can get hold of the necessary cork and can get the pen apart yourself (neither of which may be particularly easy). The new cork often has to be scavenged from wine stoppers, then cut and lathed to the required diameter and thickness using improvised hand tools

Sheaffer Touchdown and Snorkel fillers

Sheaffer's Touchdown and Snorkel pens from the 1950s onward are really more complicated versions of the basic sac filler; they both use rubber sacs inside perforated metal capsules, and a long filling tube attached to the blind cap. However, it is not enough merely to replace the sacs in these pens; to do a proper job, the restorer must replace all rubber in the pen (including an o-ring near the back of the barrel, and a gasket between the point and section in the Snorkel models), and must take care to ensure that the pen has good airtight sealing.

The o-rings used in these pens came in two different sizes, smaller for TM Snorkel models, and larger for early Touchdown pens and the PFM Snorkel. I believe that these are of standard industrial sizes, but can't be sure; the best thing to do is to buy them from a pen parts dealer (I get mine from David Nishimura at http://www.vintagepens.com/). They are very cheap, so you might buy an assortment to make sure you have the right size. The front gaskets of Snorkel pens (that fit between point and section) should be replaced if possible; these can also be obtained from a pen specialist.

These pens take standard size sacs (#14, #15, and #17 respectively for the three pens mentioned above), but it's best to use the special thin-walled sacs made for them in order to get the best filling performance. These are sometimes called #14-1/2, #15-1/2, and #17-1/2 by convention.

The sacs on these pens should be liberally coated in talc before their protectors are put back in place; the talc helps keep them from sticking or binding to the inner wall of the protector, which will limit filling performance.

It's always a good idea to test these pens after repair by filling them pen with water, then operating the filler again to squirt the water out. A properly-rebuilt Snorkel pen can shoot a stream of water at least a meter or two; the Touchdown doesn't have as much range, but slamming the filler on a full pen should show that it holds a lot of liquid. If you don't get good results here, you may need to tear the pen down and reassemble it.

Touchdown

The first step in refurbishing a Touchdown pen is to remove the barrel from the section (it should screw off fairly easily). If he opts to tackle the easy part first, the technician will remove the metal protector that covers the sac (it is usually simply crimped onto the barrel). Then, the sac can be replaced in the fashion described above (for sac pens). The protector is cleaned of all sac debris inside, and then replaced over the sac and onto the section.

Next, the tech uses a long flat-blade screwdriver to reach deep into the barrel and loosen the screw that holds the blind cap onto the chrome filler tube (this takes a bit of care if the screw has become frozen in place; a squirt of WD-40 can help, but should be rinsed thoroughly afterward). Some of these pens had a rubber gasket inside the blind cap, which should be renewed if possible. The blind cap is removed, the screw dropped out of the tube (and saved in a safe place with the blind cap), and the filler tube is pushed out of the pen through the mouth of the barrel.

Then, the tech carefully removes and replaces the rubber o-ring that fits into a groove inside the back of the barrel (chances are that if the sac is shot, the o-ring will also be too hard to make a good air seal). Since we aren't saving the o-ring, the technician can simply fish it out with a pin or a knife. The new o-ring is coated with slilcone grease and seated in place of the old with a bit of patient tweezer work. The filler tube is then lubricated with a thin coat of silicone grease and inserted back into the barrel and screwed back onto the blind cap.

The pen can now be screwed back together, and should be ready for many more years of efficient filling and pleasant writing.

Snorkel

Refurbishing the barrel and filler tube on a Snorkel pen is much the same as for a Touchdown pen. Replacing the sac, however, takes a bit more work; since Snorkels were easily the most complicated fountain pens ever made in significant numbers. See my page on the TM Snorkel for a display of the parts found in a typical Snorkel pen.

The tech unscrews the barrel as with the Touchdown. The barrel now contains not only the filler tube, but the helical spring of flat steel strip that is used to push out the snorkel during operation. The technician unscrews the blind cap (as with the Touchdown) and then can push both spring and filler tube out of the mouth of the barrel. The o-ring in the back of the barrel must be replaced (as for the Touchdown). The snorkel spring should be inspected for rust (from ink spilling out of a burst sac), and cleaned up (or replaced) if necessary.

To get at the snorkel, the tech unscrews the point unit and removes the little rubber disc gasket (this will be replaced with a fresh one when the pen is reassembled). Then, the unit consisting of the snorkel tube and the sac protector can be pulled straight out the back of the pen. The tiny "plug" or section that seals the end of the protector (and that holds the snorkel tube) is pulled free (or pushed out by inserting a rod through the back of the protector). The sac residue is cleaned from the section and from inside the protector, and a new sac is trimmed and shellacked onto the section plug. Once the shellac is dry, the section and sac can be reinserted in the capsule, and the snorkel put back in place. The restorer should not neglect to coat the sac in talc.

While the pen is apart, it is of course an excellent occasion for the tech to clean all the parts thoroughly. All of these can be soaked or placed in an ultrasonic tank. A stiff wire or other small probe can be carefully inserted into the snorkel to break up any clogs inside (but don't shift the hard-rubber flow restrictors inside). Metal parts (like the snorkel spring) should be hand-dried (to remove most of the water) and then allowed to air-dry thoroughly before being reassembled.

Reassembling the pen is pretty straightforward. Drop the grip section back on the snorkel tube, add the new front gasket, and screw in the point. Then, reassemble the filler tube, barrel, and blind cap, and drop the snorkel spring into the mouth of the barrel. Then, with the filler tube hanging partway out, screw the barrel back onto the section. Push the filler tube in and tighten it down, making sure the snorkel retracts fully (a thin coat of silicone grease on the snorkel will help it to move smoothly). Triumph-pointed snorkels usually had beveled snorkel tubes that matched the contour of the feed; these may have to be oriented so that they sit correctly inside the feed for the sake of proper appearance.

After reassembling your Snorkel (or Touchdown), you should test-fill it with water, then empty it to see how effectively it fills. Don't be surprised if it doesn't work well; even experienced repairers have to tear down and reassmble these pens in order to get adequate air-tightness.

Sheaffer Vac-Fil fillers

You really don't want to know. Oh, you do? Well, OK, here goes: in principle, Vac-Fil pens should be straightforward to refurbish: simply disassemble the pen, remove the piston and rod, replace the packing and piston, then reassemble the pen. Unfortunately, these pens are not easy to get apart; and once you do you may find problems—bad problems. The rods on these pens frequently corrode beyond use and must be replaced; those with rubber cladding are often chipped. Furthermore, the packing in the back of the barrel must be both ink-tight and air-tight, and this can be difficult to achieve. Corrosion can also destroy the attachment point for the piston. Parts came in various sizes, and replacements are not always easy to find.

The difficulties involved in their refurbishment detract from the value of Vac-Fil pens as against, say, comparable lever models (which are a snap to fix). This is a shame, since the Vac-Fil is fundamentally a very efficient filling mechanism, and the pens on which it was used are very attractive and functional (once they can be filled). The oversize Vac-Fils, in particular, seem to hold quarts of ink.

If you need your Vac-Fil refurbished, seek out a specialist in rebuilding these pens.

Parker Vacumatic fillers

Like sacs, the rubber diaphragms inside Parker's vacumatic filler pens (Vacumatics, early 51s, and some other models) can harden and rot, making the pen unfillable. When this happens, the diaphragm must be replaced. This is not a job for a duffer:

  • A special (and relatively expensive) reverse-threaded "vac wrench" is required to remove the filler from the end of the pen. You'll find it exceedingly difficult to do the job without this tool. You actually need either of two such tools, one for the earlier Vacs, and one for the "demi" Vacs (including the later production as well as the 51 Vacs).
  • The filler units themselves (particularly the later plastic ones) are subject to damage in the hands of inept repairers; while there remains a relatively plentiful supply of these (for now), they haven't been made for many, many years, and should be looked on as a "non-renewable resource."
  • Diaphragms for these pens come in three sizes, and you need the right one in order to get good filling performance.

The technician will first remove the blind cap and wrench out the filler unit using his Vac tool. The remnants of the diaphragm are then cleaned from the filler unit, and the tiny bead or ball that holds the diaphragm in place is "popped" loose from the filler (this is best done with a modest application of heat, which expands the filler and lets the ball fall right out; the filler is then allowed to cool before work continues). Then the technician will insert a new diaphragm, snapping its pointy end (with the tiny bead inside) into the end of the filler unit. At this point, the diaphragm must be "shucked back" carefully so that its "skirt" fits back over the tapered end of the filler unit nut (this can be tedious, at least for me). The result looks like a very tall turtleneck collar

Next, the technician must remove any bits of sac from inside the barrel. One step that is often overlooked is the raking out of the rotten rubber from a groove inside the very end of the barrel, where it has been pressed in place for many years by the filler nut. If this isn't done, then the pen can develop an unsightly bulge at the back of the barrel when it is reassembled.

While the pen is apart, it's a good time to give it a thorough cleaning inside; these tough pens do just fine in an ultrasonic tank should you have access to one, and you can use solutions of ammonia or other mild detergents as long as you rinse the parts thoroughly afterward. Don't expect to restore such barrels to their full factory translucence; in general, the barrels develop stains from ink that cannot be completely eradicated. If the point and feed already have a good set, it's best not to try to remove or disturb them, but they can be flushed (from the back, through the barrel end) using an otic syringe or similar tool.

The technician must be careful to reinstall (or not disturb) the breather tube that fits inside the barrel; this is a critical part of the Vacumatic system. Also, note that early Vacs did not have removable sections; it's best not to try to remove the section on any Vac pen (or the hood and collector on a 51) unless it really needs work.

Once the barrel is clean and the filler renewed, the technician simply wrenches the filler back into the back of the barrel and tightens it with the Vac tool. This must be done fairly slowly; he must take care not to allow the diaphragm to twist (operating the button at frequent intervals can help wring out any such twisting). The proper fit of the filler is important, since it determines how the blind cap will sit on the pen. Ideally, the filler should be screwed back in exactly as far as it sat before it was removed. You'll know that it was done right if you can't feel the seam when you re-install the blind cap. Frankly, this part of the repair is more troublesome for me than just about any other step, and is reason enough for me to hand these pens to an expert.

Parker Aerometric fillers

In the late 1940s, Parker converted its 51 model (as well as most of its subsequent lines) to a new type of filler known as the "Aerometric" filler. As high-tech as the name sounds, the Aerometric is really just a reinterpretation of the old Sleeve Filler principle. This simplicity, plus the durability of the translucent synthetic rubber sacs used in these pens, means that these fillers never break. Well, hardly ever: if they're deliberately abused (such as by being filled with the wrong kind of ink), they can get clogged. Otherwise, these pens seldom require any refurbishment at all beyond a thorough soak and clean-out. Of course, cleaning out a 51 can be an involved task thanks to its camel-like ability to take in lots of ink and hold it tight (see my instructions elsewhere for cleaning Parker 61 pens).

Cartridge fillers

No, there are no fancy mechanical doodads inside a cartridge pen, but it can still benefit from a good cleaning. This you can do yourself if you are careful. Remove the barrel from the pen, then remove (and save) any cartridges you find inside (these can be cleaned out and saved in case you cannot find replacements; you can fill them from a bottle of ink using a syringe or pipette). Get an otic syringe from the drugstore (it's the rubber bulb you normally use for cleaning your ears) and fill it with cool tap water, then place its snout down inside the section where the cartridge fits. Gently squeeze the syringe to run water through the pen until the water runs pretty clear. If you can't get water through the pen, you can simply toss the section into a cup of cool tap water and soak it overnight (WARNING: some of the early cartridge pens of the new Conway Stewart brand were made from casein; do not soak these, as they can be destroyed).

You can clean a bottle-fill converter efficiently using a dental irrigator (a syringe with a tiny soft plastic tip); otherwise, simply stick it under water and repeatedly operate it until it runs clear. Some converters used rubber sacs (such as those on earlier Parker and Sheaffer pens), and these can harden and rot; the whole converter should be replaced if possible. Piston-style converters can often be torn down to parts for thorough cleaning, but you might also just buy a new one as these cost only a few dollars. If your cartridge pen is fairly old (say, a 1960s Sheaffer Imperial or Parker 75), and has its original converter, you might retain it for historical interest even if it is unrepairable.


General repairs

If you're lucky, your "new old" pen will require no more than a filler refurbishment. Otherwise, here is some information on more involved repairs you may have to make.

Clogs

The same forces that cause dried ink to attack rubber sacs can also cause severe clogs in the feed channels. This results in a pen that skips, won't start, or that won't write at all. The first thing to try (for pens that can stand this treatment) is a nice long soak of the section, nib, and feed (in cool tap water, perhaps with no more than 1/3 ammonia). Then, you can try forcing water through the back of the feed using an otic syringe or similar device. More effective than a simple soaking is immersion in an ultrasonic cleaning tank (if you have one).

If, even after multiple treatments, the clog won't budge, it's necessary to remove the feed and point from the section and to scrub down the feed channels by hand. The depth and width of the feed channels are carefully calibrated by the penmaker, so you don't want to arbitrarily gouge them any wider or deeper than they already are. Instead, you want to use relatively soft or blunt tools (like a piece of guitar string or some other small but stiff probe) to rake the crud out of the feed.

Once the job is done, the point and feed can be pressed back into the section, given a "set" (adjustment), and reassembled onto the pen.

Sometimes, clogs come about through inept repairs (in which, for example, glue or shellac ends up in the feed channels), or when liquids other than fountain pen ink have been used in the pen. Cleaning these up may take more work, and in some cases replacement of parts (like feeds) may be a better alternative.

Cracks or breaks in plastic

Cracks are usually bad news. These develop most often at vulnerable stress points (like the cap lip, or the mouth of the barrel). Even if they're very small, they can often spread over time and usage, and will eventually fracture the pen. Crack repair is a tricky business, and there's always a considerable chance that even an expert can end up breaking the pen.

Crack repair is a job for the plastic restoration specialist, and is really to be recommended only for a pen for which no other alternatives exist; if you have a relatively modern pen, it might be easier simply to return it to the factory for replacement of the cracked parts (some manufacturers will do this under warranty, or may charge you a nominal amount). Or, you can shop a pen show to find a "parts pen" that can donate a barrel or cap.

If the crack is large, the technician may opt to fill it with a liquid resin that has been colored to match the part. Small cracks in celluloid can often be "fused" (actually melted and flowed together, not just "stuck together") using acetone, liquid airplane glue, or similar products. In either case, it is often necessary to tape the inside of the barrel or cap temporarily in order not to interfere with the filler parts or the fit of the section. If the crack happens along barrel threads, these will have to be carefully cleaned or re-tapped after the repair (and it will be difficult to hide the work). Once the repaired part has cured, it will be buffed on a wheel to the required smoothness. If you're lucky, the crack will not only be healed, it will be nearly invisible.

Levers and trim items

Levers can be bent or sprung; on most pens, they can be replaced with suitable levers from "parts pens" of the same model. In some cases (e.g., old Conway Stewarts), replacement levers can be difficult to track down because the manufacturer made many different sizes and styles. It usually isn't worth the time simply to bend the lever back into shape; even if it doesn't simply snap in two, it will be permanently weakened and will probably bend again. A jeweler or goldsmith might be able to reinforce bent levers by adding material, but this could be a relatively expensive repair. As a final resort, the lever can be removed from the pen altogether, and the pen can be operated as a "coin filler" (by sticking the edge of a dime or a small washer into the lever slot and pressing down to collapse the sac).

Early levers were suspended on stout pins driven through the barrel; these are relatively easy to replace should they fall out or go missing. This design puts a lot of shear stress on fragile barrels, and operating the lever can sometimes pop out a chunk of hard rubber; this repair requires a specialist. Later levers were suspended on a wire ring or loop fished into a groove around the inner circumference of the barrel; these put far less pressure on the barrel, and can be replaced if needed.

Clips can get bent or sprung, and usually have to be removed from the pen to be straightened. This often requires the use of an inner cap puller, which is not an inexpensive tool. The straightening must be done carefully so that the clip is not weakened or distorted. Riveted clips (like on old Waterman pens) can be re-riveted in place. Some cheaper pens had clips secured to the cap wall by bent metal tabs; if these tabs fail, the clip won't be reusable (you can either try to salvage a clip from a parts pen, or simply leave the clip off altogether).

Cap bands should fit snugly against the cap and should not swivel or slip off (or else they won't do the job for which they're intended -- reinforcing the cap at its weakest spot). The skills of a jeweler or goldsmith may be required to correct these problems; most often they are simply left alone since the repair is likely to be expensive.

Cap jewels on midcentury pens (like Parker 51s) can be replaced; if necessary, a jewel can be fabricated (from liquid resin). Striped jewels on some Vacumatic models are hard to locate, and a "plain" jewel may have to be substituted.


Appearance defects

If, like me, you are interested in being able to use your pens (rather than just displaying them), then a few blemishes and boo-boos won't bother you (in fact, you may feel more comfortable using a pen with some "character marks" rather than one in absolute mint condition). However, you can sometimes turn to the restorer to fix cosmetic problems. You should also be aware of appearance problems that actually mask more serious defects.

Brassing and tarnishing of trim

Gold coverings can wear off of trim parts (or plated points) and lead to a condition known as "brassing," in which the base metal (usually brass) shows through. This most often affects parts that get a lot of wear, like the balls and sides of clips, the edges of cap bands, and the visible surfaces of levers. While gold doesn't tarnish (not much, anyway), brass does, and the result can be rather unattractive. You can restore a good shine simply by polishing the parts with a mild polish (like Simichrome), but doing so often could simply wear away more gold. Be aware that aggressive polishing of gold-plated or gold-wash points can often take off the gold altogether. As a stopgap, some collectors will shine up brassed parts and then coat them with clear nail polish (although this is the sort of hack that you should report to potential buyers if you decide to sell the pen later).

Occasionally, you may acquire a pen so valuable that it might be economically feasible to have the parts re-plated; you'll have to go to a goldsmith or other specialist to have this done, and it may end up being fairly expensive. Most standard collector pens (like Sheaffer Balances or Parker Duofolds) probably don't warrant the treatment, since if they've been brassed, they probably also have scratches or other defects elsewhere that put them out of the "mint" category.

Some pens were trimmed in silver, and others (most famously the Parker 75 grid finish) were made almost entirely of silver. Silver can tarnish and darken rather quickly, but is easily restored using a modest buffing with Simichrome or similar mild silver polish. The Parker 75 and other similarly-styled pens, I suspect, were actually meant to build up a bit of tarnish to give them an attractive "antique" patina.

Tarnishing of black hard rubber

Black hard rubber, used in the earliest fountain pens (up through the 1920s or so), can develop surface oxidation or tarnish. Soaking the pens in water or leaving them exposed to bright sunlight or heat can accelerate the process. The result is that the pen becomes a dull greenish-gray or brown rather than shiny black. The use of common hand polishes (like Simichrome) can make them shiny greenish-gray, but cannot restore the natural black color. Some hard rubbers are more resistant than others, perhaps because of the inevitable subtle differences between batches of this natural material.

Sometimes, these pens can be dyed or even painted, although I have my doubts about these procedures (from an ethical point of view, for starters). The only effective way to fix this problem is to remove the oxidized layer from the surface of the pen (using aggressive polishing on a buffing wheel). Unfortunately, this could rub out chasing and imprints. Plus, the problem could just return in a few years (or months). In most cases, it may be better simply to leave the pen as found rather than risk damage to potentially interesting surface features.

Red or mixed hard rubbers do not show tarnish as badly, which is just as well: these pens are very fragile and do not stand up well to hard buffing.

Plastic problems

Celluloid generally holds its color much better than hard rubber, and responds well to superficial hand polishing (with Simichrome or other mild abrasives, or just with a good soft cloth and a spot of elbow grease). Celluloid does have its problems, however: early plastics have often reacted chemically with the sulfur emitted by rubber sacs, feeds, and sections and have developed uniform brownish stains, called "amberizing." This discoloration is not reversible. If you find an early celluloid pen with clean, bright color, it's a good idea to remove the sac (and not replace it) to stave off any such problems.

Another problem that occurs (fortunately infrequently) with celluloid is known as "crazing." Here, the structure of the celluloid breaks down over time and develops a whitish haze, or even "spider-web" networks of tiny cracks. This seems to occur in particular batches of celluloid and could be due to improper curing. Not only is the appearance affected, but the pen may become more brittle or fragile. As with ambering, there isn't much to be done about this problem. One of the pens most famously susceptible to crazing is the Waterman Hundred Year; the clever translucent barrel ends often fog up and break apart; these pens are so valuable, however, that it can be economically worthwhile to have an expert recast new barrel-ends for them.

Most plastics in modern pens are pretty tough (particularly in the low end of the market); however, you may have problems with the fancy-pants plastics found in some more expensive pens. The very hard, shiny black plastic used in some modern Montblanc pens can spontaneously crack and even split altogether. At the other end of the scale, certain OMAS pens use a natural resin that is quite resilient and crack-proof, but fairly soft and easily scratched. While the scratches don't detract from the strength or utility of the pens, they are unattractive; you can polish them out to a large extent by hand, but only at the risk of eating away barrel imprints.

In general, if you have any problems with cracking or blemishing on a new pen, you should return it to the manufacturer for repair (which is often covered under warranty)


Repairs of points, nibs, and feeds

Re-tipping

As I mention elsewhere, the term "nib" really applies to the hardened metal at the very end of the pen point, and not to the whole point. These nibs were welded on at the factory and generally will stay in place if you don't abuse the pen. Still, they can break off if you drop the pen point-down (as I have learned on occasion!). They can also be badly damaged or scratched such that smoothing is impossible.

If nibs are improperly welded at the start (which occasionally happens), they'll eventually break off; however, this happens after very little usage, so if your vintage nibs haven't snapped off long ago in the past, they're probably good for the long run.

Re-nibbing is definitely a very specialized skill, and not at all for the casual hobbyist. It requires a considerable investment in equipment (including microscopes, electrical welding equipment, grinding and polishing tools, etc.) and involves metals that are rare, expensive, and potentially toxic to work with. At this writing, there are two gents that I know of who do this work for hire, independently of pen companies: John Mottishaw (http://www.nibs.com/) and Richard Binder (http://www.richardspens.com/). Both gentlemen enjoy a good reputation for their work.

Retipping will not be a dirt-cheap repair, and may take some time (as these folks typically have quite a backlog of work). When you consult them, make sure to describe exactly what you are looking for with the nib; you can take the opportunity to have an unusual point done (like an italic or a stub) if you wish. If you don't know what you want, it may be better to get a medium or broad point; if it proves to be too big for you, you can always have it ground to a smaller size.

An obvious (and probably cheaper) alternative to re-tipping is to find a parts pen of the same model with a suitable point; you can then just do a swap. Many repair folks (such as the two I mention above) also sell loose points, and can help you select an appropriate one to go into your pen.

Nib smoothing

A good fountain pen should not be scratchy, even in very fine points. If yours is, it could be due to less-than-perfectly-smooth nibs. You can try smoothing out the point yourself with some fine-grit sandpaper (see my troubleshooting page). If you can't solve the problem yourself, you may want to consider having the point reground or retipped (or perhaps finding another point from a parts pen).

Nib grinding

A pen's nibs can be ground down to remove scratchiness, or to create custom styles (like italics or obliques) for personalized writing. This usually involves the use of a grinding wheel.

Wheels are excellent tools for grinding nibs completely away or even snapping them off; needless to say this is not a job for the casual enthusiast. While nib grinding does not usually require the same kind of time, equipment, and experience as re-tipping, it is nevertheless an acquired skill. Seek out someone whom you know has had some experience and favorable results.

A grinder can only take away material; he cannot add it. Therefore, it's best to start with a pen that's a degree or two more broad than you want. Make sure that the grinder understands what you are looking for in your new point.

Point straightening

Pen points can get bent. Obviously, you could spring one or both of the tines; but points can also develop odd wrinkles or distortions through no apparent fault of the writer. An expert can remove the point and gently straighten it using burnishing tools; this is usually easier to do with gold points than harder, less ductile steel points. Such techniques can also help fix problems with writing due to misaligned tines.

Setting the point and feed

The point must fit exactly right against the feed (or vice-versa if you prefer) in order for a pen to write at its best. Otherwise, the pen can dry out and skip, or let out too much ink. The tines of the point must also be in correct alignment (and not skewed or crossed). The process for achieving this sort of fit is called "setting the point," and is a bit of a magical art. In most cases, when you reassemble a point and feed, you can get pretty darned close just by eye, but some pens may require tweaking.

I can't give much in the way of tips here, since I'm far from an expert. However, the process often involves either closing up the pen (by bending the nibs closer together) or opening it (by spreading them apart). In some cases, it's a good idea to gently heat the feed (which renders it temporarily soft) and press it into the point for a good fit. I've seen some folks use some truly frightening techniques with relatively crude tools, but they know what they're doing and they generally get it done.

Before you run off to an expert to have the point reset, consider giving it a thorough cleaning, as this may solve any problems you're having.