Adventures in Pen Restoration: The Sheaffer Balance Jr.

About a year ago I purchased a Sheaffer Balance from the early 1930s on eBay. From the photos I knew that it would need some work, but I wanted a fixer-upper. A previous owner had carved their initials into the body and cap of the pen, but the whole body was in otherwise good vintage condition. When the pen arrived I took some pictures:

The nib really needed polishing, and I wanted to try to buff out the carved initials and shine her up. I wanted to buy a vintage pen to restore because I wanted the satisfaction of bringing a pen back from the dead. Previously I had bought a different Sheaffer model, but broke the feed because I didn’t read up on how to take apart a vintage pen. I didn’t want to mess this one up so I tried to read thoroughly about the Balance models. This particular pen is a non white dot Balance Jr. in marine green celluloid from about 1934. The nib is a 14K Feather Touch, the tip is plated with platinum and has some flex. The little breather hole in the nib is heart shaped. Here is a forum post on the history of the Balance pens. Here is another page that I read about these pens.

The Anderson Pens blog was very helpful and has an article on how to polish a pen using micro mesh. I ended up ordering all my restoration tools from them and can’t recommend their site enough! This article about pen repair don’ts from vintage was also very helpful. The Well Appointed Desk has this article about sac replacement.

After using a hairdryer on low heat to loosen any shellac that got in between where the section and body meet, I was able to take the pen apart. The ink sac had hardened and dried over time, so I picked out those pieces with these sac tweezers. After I got all the old sac out I rinsed the pen and made sure to let it dry completely before doing anything else to prevent rusting of any metal inside the pen. Then I started on polishing out the name engraving. I used a 1500 grit micro mesh pad dipped in water. I was able to mostly get the cap nice and smooth, but the body still needs work. I used 8000 grit micro mesh first, and then I used micro gloss to polish the pen to a shine.

To clean the nib I used this polishing cloth, and it works great. I was able to get all the dried ink off except for a little spot near the section. I feel very lucky that the tines aren’t splayed and are aligned.

Like a lot of vintage pens, this one is a lever filler. Inside the pen there is a pressure bar or j-bar that squeezes the sac, allowing ink to fill the sac. After I opened the pen I used a flashlight to check the pressure bar. It worked fine but I was worried that the metal might have corroded, so I resolved to get the bar out to get a better look. It took months for me to get that thing out, because I would try for a little bit and then stop for several weeks. I finally found a long pair of tweezers with a downward curved nose at an art supply store, and with those I was able to get the bar out by pushing downward and wedging it out. I ended up ordering a new pressure bar, because I didn’t want to mess with 80 year old metal. In hindsight, I wish that I had just left the original bar in because it works quite well and was already in the pen.

The original pressure bar. The new bar that’s in the pen now is a single piece of metal.

Once the new pressure bar came in the mail I made an attempt at inserting it. If you ever try to replace a pressure bar yourself, I highly recommend using a headlamp to see what you’re doing. I used my phone flashlight, but this is a two-handed operation. I got the bar in the pen and pushed it in, but it was slightly off from the lever. After trying to align the bar off and on for a few months I finally remembered that I have a headlamp. When I used it, I was able to rotate the bar with my pliers enough that it aligned with the lever. The pressure bar itself has little grooves that the teeth on the lever sit in. The bar that I bought is a simple one, and the metal is stiff compared to the original, so unfortunately I can’t compress the sac as much as if I had left the original in the pen.

Sac replacement, like any other step in the restoration process, takes patience. You can get black latex sacs or clear silicone sacs. The sacs come in several numbered sizes, so you can pick the size closest to the length of your pen and then trim it with scissors to fit. It’s important to trim the sac so that it fits flush on the section nipple.

Something that I learned late in the game is that the sac needs to be dusted with pure talc powder (not talcum), so that the pressure bar can compress the sac without friction. I purchased a different vintage pen that had been restored, but the sac hadn’t been dusted with talc powder, so the sac ended up tearing. Talcum powder will not work because the added chemicals will react with the latex and break it down. Once the sac is trimmed, I spread a little shellac on the nipple and used my fingers to try and get the sac on. After a few tries I was able to get the sac on, but I’m sure it’s much easier to use something to hold the sac open. Then the whole section needs to sit and dry for 24 hours before putting the pen back together. Now it’s time to dust the sac with talc! I did this outside with gloves and a mask on, because talc is messy and dangerous to inhale.

Once I put the pen back together I wiped off any talc that got on the section and body, and then filled the pen with ink. To do that you just lift the lever about 4 times, keeping the lever up for a few seconds each time so that more ink can flow in. I wanted to make a post just about the restoration process; a review of the pen and how it writes will be a separate post. Here is a link to the Anderson Pens repair tools page for all the supplies you might need!

Here is the pen now!
The feather touch nibs are just really pretty. It has ink on it now, but is otherwise clean besides the dried ink where it says 14K.

Rhodia Paper

A close-up sample from a Rhodia color A4 pad.

Paper is important to the lefty writing experience too! Some papers are super absorbent, some papers are laminated so that ink sits on top. Some papers show off ink properties very well while others don’t. I thought that I would start off this paper section of Left Hook Pens with Rhodia, one of my favorites.

Three years ago I was given a Rhodia goalbook to start bullet journaling with. Up until then, the nicest paper I had used was a fancy spiral-bound notebook from Target. The same day, I was also given a Platinum Preppy which was my first fountain pen. The pen I messed up right away because I misaligned the tines, but the notebook I would end up using over three calendar years.

Rhodia paper comes in a wide variety of colors, sizes, bindings and rulings. There are lined, dot grid, regular grid and blank. Over the years I’ve accumulated quite a few Rhodia notebooks:

In the A5 category I have a dot pad, a staple bound grid notebook, and two goalbooks. My old sapphire goalbook is pictured next to a brand new one. The sapphire has developed a sort of patina, and there is Noodler’s Black Swan in Australian Roses soaked in on the right side of the cover. Underneath the dot pad there is a square spiral-bound reverse book with a dot grid. I plan on posting a separate review of this, as it’s especially lefty friendly. Underneath the reverse book there is a plaid grid notebook with numbered pages and a table of contents. The big purple A4 pad on the bottom is a lined Color pad. All Rhodia notebooks feature “brushed vellum paper” from Clairefontaine which is what makes them so smooth. The cream colored paper is 90gsm while the white is 80gsm. Despite a 10gsm difference, both paper grades handle most inks very well.

Back of page: There is no bleed-through and a little bit of ghosting. The ghosting that stands out the most is Colorverse Extra Dimension.

The above photos showcase the 90 gsm paper, front and back. If you take a look at the close-up sample at the very beginning of this post you will see that this cream colored paper shows off shading quite well.

Looking through my old goalbook, I noticed that black ink from a 0.25 mm Micron pen or a Le Pen will do this weird ghosting over time that I’ll try my best to explain. The ink has fully seeped into the paper, leaving a light blue halo around the writing and then severe ghosting on the other side of the page:

The above two photos are of the backs of separate pages in my goalbook where this ghosting has happened. I’m guessing that this is a combination of the acid free paper and the amount of black archival ink put on the page. This hasn’t happened with a blue Micron of the same line width, or black ink from a lesser line width Micron. I’m happy to report that fountain pen ink from a year ago looks the same as the day I used it!

The ghosting happened on the white paper as well using the same pen. So, if you’re interested in drawing or writing with waterproof/archival pens on this paper, I would recommend not using both sides of the page.

Ghosting on white paper. The light halo around the writing is more green on this paper.

Here are some more writing samples made on 80 gsm grid paper. The performance is a about the same as with the cream colored paper, but ink colors may show up more accurately because there’s no distortion from the color of the paper.

On the back of the page, Emerald of Chivor bled through a little bit, as did TWSBI Emerald, but those inks were in wet writing pens. Super wet inks like Noodler’s Blue Nosed Bear will bleed through no matter what pen you use. The same is true for the slightly thicker cream paper.

I love Rhodia notebooks. The Clairfontaine paper is a good midpoint between Tomoe River and Leuchtturm on the absorbency scale. Rhodia also has the best smelling notebooks that I have ever smelled; there’s no chemical or plasticky scent on these pages. For lefties, this is a good everyday paper as I haven’t had smearing issues and dry time is decent.

The Lamy 2000

When I first ordered this pen, I was nervous because a lot of reviews had mentioned a sweet spot on the nib, but I took a chance and ended up pleasantly surprised!

The Lamy 2000 is made of makrolon with a brushed metal grip section. It has a snap cap and is a piston filler. The metal section makes the pen a little bottom heavy while writing, but then the user doesn’t have to apply as much pressure with their hands. As someone who holds their pen vertically, the weight helps with ink flow. My girlfriend made a good point to me the other day about posting pens. She has small hands and generally doesn’t post because the added weight makes the pen off balance as it rests between her thumb and index finger. I also have small hands, but because the pen is resting on my middle finger (see photos below), the weight doesn’t effect balance as much. I prefer to post because length is more of a factor for me in balance and comfort. If the pen is long enough, then the weight of the pen can be distributed more evenly between my middle finger and the space between my index and thumb.

As for the nib, I have not had any issues with a sweet spot. I keep this pen inked with Lamy turquoise, and the flow is wet enough that writing is nice and smooth, but not so wet that the ink smudges as I drag my hand across the page. I’ve been using this pen to take notes for an online class because it has a snap cap, and because I don’t have ink smudging issues. Since I’ve started writing more extensively with this pen, my hand starts to hurt after writing a third of a page. I think the reason for this is that the grip section is tapered towards the nib and is smooth metal, so I find myself gripping the pen tighter than usual and end up with a cramping hand. This could also be because of the way I have my fingers oriented on the pen, with my index and thumb applying the most pressure.

I haven’t always held my pens this way, but this is how I’ve adapted my grip over the last year to be able to write legibly with a fountain pen. In school I learned to write by having my index finger controlling the pen with my thumb wrapped around it and touching my index finger.

With my adapted grip it definitely feels like I have more control over the pen. I feel like I can write neater, but my original grip is more comfortable because I wrote like that from when I was 5 all the way to 25. How do you hold your pen? Have you changed your grip over time? Please comment to let me know!

The Lamy 2000 is a very nice pen. I am still pleasantly surprised at how much I like it, but I cannot recommend it for lefty over-writers like myself because of the hand cramping issues I’ve had. Your mileage may vary as everyone holds their pen differently. This pen retails for about $150 USD and comes in black makrolon.

If you would like to purchase this pen for yourself, please click here. This is an Amazon affiliate link, if you click on it and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission from the sale. It’s a way for you to support this blog directly!

PS: I will no longer be giving smudged finger ratings as it feels very arbitrary.

TWSBI Eco Special Edition Yellow

Nib: Stainless Steel Fine

Have you ever wanted a pen that was the color of yellow mustard? Well, the TWSBI special edition yellow Eco that came out this spring might be the pen for you!

This particular edition of the Eco is a very sunny yellow, perfect for spring. It is both the color of lemons and yellow mustard. Below I have the Eco pictured with my other yellow pens for comparison.

The Eco in the middle with a Platinum Procyon on the left, and a Pilot Lucina on the right.

The Eco is a wonderful starter fountain pen if you’re willing to take apart your pen and use bottled ink. It has a generous ink capacity and an easy to maintain piston filler mechanism. The packaging comes with a handy plastic wrench to remove the piston, and a tiny container of silicone grease to keep the piston from sticking over time. While there are some instructions in the box for how to take apart the Eco, I’ve found it easier to watch a Video on how to do this correctly. The TWSBI feeds are fragile, and it’s easy to bend the fins. But if you were to break a feed, TWSBI will send you a new one for the cost of shipping. After filling this pen, it’s a good idea to gently twist the piston knob up to get rid of excess air in the feed in order to prevent burping.

The fine nib on the Eco is pleasant to write with. There is a little bit of feedback, but I’ve had no flow issues with varying writing angles. I can write with this pen sitting on the couch with my legs crossed, and I can write while sitting at a desk and the ink still flows. The cap has a three-quarter turn, which makes the Eco good for taking quick notes. The cap can be posted. It feels very satisfying to push the cap over the o-ring below the piston knob. For me, this pen feels balanced both posted and un-posted. Inside the cap there is a plastic inner cap to seal off the nib; it works very well as I have never had one of these pens dry out.

Gaze upon thy squiggles and scribbles.

This pen has a round grip section, which makes it easy to get a comfortable grip without having to navigate raised bumps and edges. For those who like a molded grip, there is the Eco-T which has a slightly triangular grip section. The way that I hold a pen, my index finger rests in such a way that I prefer a round grip section.

There are a few different factors that make a fountain pen good for lefties. The nib needs to be able to handle being pushed across the page as opposed to being pulled. For side-writers and over-writers the nib needs to be able to handle writing at a vertical or near vertical angle. The nib also needs to be smooth enough so that the tines don’t catch on the page. While most fountain pens can be good for lefties, there are quite a few pens that offer very different writing experiences based on hand position. I’ve tried a pen and had it write fine and dry, and then my girlfriend who is right handed will try it, and it will write much wetter.

Overall I’ve had better luck with medium and broader nibs, but this TWSBI fine nib is great. Its line width is narrow enough that I can write small with it, and it has never felt scratchy. Some nibs feel better with different inks, but this TWSBI nib always writes well. For $30 USD, the TWSBI Eco is an excellent value. It comes in a whole rainbow of transparent and solid colors. There are five nib sizes to choose from: Extra-Fine, Fine, Medium, Broad and 1.1 mm Stub. My official rating is 5 smudged fingers out of 5. This post has been updated with a higher rating because you get a great pen for the price that will last a long time.

Pilot Custom 74

Nib: #5 14k Medium

After having this pen for one year, I can safely say that it’s one of my favorites. The first ink I tried in it was Iroshizuku Ku-Jaku, which, if you like to match pen and ink is pretty spot on. The flow is excellent, even with my high angle over-writing. The pen fits nicely in my small lady hands, and feels balanced both posted and unposted. If you are able to underwrite, the #5 nib is springy enough to add a little bit of line variation. The quality of the plastic is high, and the cap threads on quite satisfyingly. The Pilot Custom 74 is a great choice for a first gold nib pen.

The Custom 74 comes with a Con-70 converter, and with the demonstrator body it looks built in to the pen. One of my favorite features of Pilot fountain pens is that the nib and feed can be taken apart so easily to be cleaned. The Custom 74 is no exception, but occasionally ink can get in between the section and the inner feed housing. This is a minor issue and doesn’t effect the writing experience at all. While the flow of this pen is wet, it’s not so wet that I find myself smudging while writing. This pen also performs well on every paper that I’ve tried.

The Pilot Custom 74 is a great pen for lefties. At $160 USD it’s more of a next level pen, but an excellent entry into gold nibs. It’s available in teal (pictured), blue, maroon, violet, clear, orange and grey. Nib sizes range from Extra-fine to broad. My official rating is five smudged fingers out of five.

If you would like to purchase this pen, please click here. This is an Amazon affiliate link. If you click on it and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. It’s a way for you to support this blog while helping to keep the content free!

An Introduction

Hi! My name is Hayley, and I’m your friendly introverted lefty fountain pen lover. I feel that there is a dearth of left-handed focused pen blogs, and I want to fill it. I’ve been into fountain pens for a little over a year now, and over that time I’ve tried a lot of different pens. I intend to cover a range of pens from beginner to gold nibs, as well as paper and ink. I may even review a few non-fountain pens and pencils. My writing style is hook handed, and I tend to hold the pen so that the front of the nib is parallel or nearly parallel to the writing line. However, I’ve been able to adapt to underwriting if I’m going slow and writing cursive. Since a good portion of the time my nib is nearly vertical to the page, I understand that the writing experience will be different for those of you that have a different wiring position. I believe that paper makes a difference, and I will include writing samples on different paper brands in my reviews. I really love fountain pens and writing instruments and want to provide a viewpoint for my fellow left-handers.

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