Refilling Varsity fountain pens
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A few years ago, a friend turned me on to Pilot Varsity disposable fountain pens. I have not picked up another stylus since. The only problem is that the pens are kind of hard come by in bricks and mortar office supply and they’re … well disposable. You can refill them with some effort at yanking the nib off (which can damage the pen). So fellow DC Dorkbot member Jon Singer had a different, decidedly more mad scientist, way of refilling the pens:

I took a quick look at the structure of the pen, but I did not find any obvious point of entry. Then, while cruising on Simon Quellen Field’s excellent Science Toys Website, I came across something that seemed like a great idea: Simon uses a common canning jar as the chamber of a simple vacuum system. As soon as I saw the words “canning jar” and the photo on his page (it’s in Chapter 6, Aerodynamics), I knew I had the solution to my problem. The hardware store provided two quick-connects intended for polypropylene tubing. I chopped two holes in a canning jar lid, screwed the connects through them, and used silicone rubber caulk to seal them in.

Fountain / Calligraphy Pen Techniques – Link

28 thoughts on “Refilling Varsity fountain pens

  1. Why not just purchase a regular mid priced fountain pen that uses either ink cartridges or is refillable? Why waste effort going through all that trouble with something that’s disposable when you could just as easily use something much nicer?

  2. If you read through the guy’s post(s), you’ll see that he was given these as a gift, he uses converter tanks to avoid disposable cartridges, he’s left-handed, and therefore shapes his own nibs. Obviously he’s thrifty and dislikes throwing away anything, especially something he finds works well for him.

  3. @nihil Because the author really likes the Varsity pens to the exclusion of all other writing instruments. I totally get the sentiment. Just because something is marketed as disposable doesn’t mean it has to be thrown out when it’s finished.

    But this is a neat make and has got me thinking about refilling some other single use items.

  4. Why is it when ever someone comes up with anything interesting but maybe not entirely practical there is always someone who says ‘what a waste of time, why didn’t they just do X’.

    People, me included, do things for the fun of doing it. He had a problem, came up with a novel solution and probably had a lot of fun in doing it. I personally like reading about it. It’s the way we learn. You learn new ideas, techniques, how to think about a problem.

    I’d rather live in a world full of eccentric thinkers than one full of unthinking consumers.

  5. Yeah, I’ve been refilling these for ages. The nib assembly pulls out like a cork when you give a little tug with pliars. Then it takes a quick squirt of ink from a syringe, and the nib pops back into place. Takes me less than a minute, with no mess, no trouble, and the only equipment is the pliars, the syringe, and some kleenix so I don’t mar the nip with the pliars.

    This posting has got to be a sick joke.

  6. The part I don’t understand is why you can’t just drill a hole in the other end of the pen, fill it up, and then plug the hole. Isn’t that what they do with inkjet cartidges?

    If you can pull out the nib assembly, that opens up the possibility of making your own barrel.

  7. Further, this is an interesting technique that could be useful for many other project ideas… a solution I’da never thought of. Opens up new possibilities for other types of projects I’d have never considered…

    Maybe refilling pens isn’t particularly practical to most people, but posting the technique to an otherwise impractical problem could help solve others’ much more practical problems.

    I suppose the act of solving problems is generally a much better way to cement the problem-solving ability into one’s psyche than glancing at them quickly online (or in a book/class)… but if you’ve got it all you need is the memory that a solution is possible to figure it out again when needed.

  8. rebean, the way the pen is designed, there’s just dead space at the other end of barrel so it wouldn’t work to drill a hole there. You could try through the side, but it would look really bad.

    In any event, that’s probably still a better solution to the vacuum pump idea. Either way, we’d get it completely full. His way, he’s lucky to get it half full and it’s a lot more time consuming and messy.

    BTW, the varsity is an excellent pen for it’s price, I have FP’s ranging in price from the $3 Varsity to a $275 Waterman Carene, and I still get a decent amount of use out of the Varsities.

  9. The vacuum solution is elegant and eliminates the potential for damaging the nib.

    While pulling the pen apart to refill it is simple and boring, the vacuum solution is complicated and wonderful.

    And to more than a few people, complicated and wonderful beats the snot out of simple and boring.

  10. Chris, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything. Calling the wrong way complicated and wonderful is just stupid.

    Go mow your lawn with a pair of barber’s scissors, a ruler, and a large comb.

  11. I live in Japan and I like V-pen too. I also tune up the nib of V-pen with fine sand paper. (#10000 or #15000 made by 3M) And I try to make my original inks into the tuned V-pen.

    My easiest way to change inks of V-pen, hold its neks by prier, and pull it up very slow. Then the nib and fountain pen unit away, and you can easily fill inks into the ink space.

    Thanks.

  12. Get a pelikano left hand, if you’re a lefty. Or a Lamy Safari is another good starter pen. Or heck even a platinum Preppy, turn it into an eyedropper pen if you’re that mad about mad science…

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

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