Little tricks about vintage ballpoint pens and DIY refill customization

Not sure how many folks here are into vintage ballpoint pens, but I thought I might share a little tip.

This is more or less about inexpensive clicky style plastic ballpoints. Most are made with the expectation of being disposable, but often the refill can be replaced. Usually these pens get the cheapest refills. They are prone to drying out quickly and sometimes skipping. But once in a while, a maker produces a really decent quality body… only to ruin it with a crappy refill.

Over the years of my travels in life, I’ve acquired a number of such plastic ballpoints. I like to keep them tucked away in luggage, laptop bags, and my car glovebox. It’s always nice to have a spare for quick use. But I would get so incensed about them failing due to bad refills. Sometimes sourcing them is easy, like if one is a traditional Parker style with thin neck, thick body, and angular cut prongs at the back end (to work with ballpoint ratchet systems). The easiest is if it’s a long thin plastic type style. MOST of the time those can be trimmed, but sometimes the problem is the crimp location–the slightly flattened spot with flanges to stop the spring. It can be in the wrong place for a refill candidate replacement. Sometimes that can be fixed with a different spring (shorter), but sometimes the contour of the front piece interior doesn’t work with it. In some cases I’ve been able to strip off the flanges so the spring can travel down farther, and then I use aluminum tape to forge a DIY spring stop. Usually works great.

Other times I find that a replacement thin tube refill replacement isn’t long enough. Frustrating! However, I’ve discovered you can get one of those thicker toothpicks, shove it in the back end of the refill tube, then trim to get the desired length. Usually works like a charm.

Yet… despite all the usual DIY techniques, sometimes you end up with a refill that just doesn’t work right. If you trim it enough so that it works with the click mechanism, the front may not stick out enough to be usable when extended. Quite accidentally, I did learn a little trick that has become a bit of a “safety” feature. When you have a ballpoint with your DIY refill and despite your sizing efforts it just won’t move far enough to engage the click mechanism… you can unscrew the front end. Usually like a full turn, or maybe even a half-turn. NOW it clicks. Next, you simply screw down the front. Now you’ve got your ballpoint tip engaged and reasonably extended for use. When you’re done, you find the click mechanism doesn’t work (again)–all you do is unscrew the front tip a little, click, and now when you screw down the tip you see the ballpoint is retracted. While it could be considered annoying, it’s actually a feature. Sometimes ballpoints get accidentally pressed while traveling in a pocket or bag, and then the tip can cause some problems (such as staining). With a pen refill setup like this, you don’t get accidental engagements (because the tip needs to be slightly unscrewed). It’s pretty neat. I’ve got about 4 or 5 such pens where I had retrofitted a nice Papermate refill into them that didn’t work 100%, requiring the unscrewing to click. And in the end, turned out to be a useful feature!


My personal nightmare are vintage refills for my BOXY ballpoints that come with that extra slim nose/tip. The closest design for these are the European A2 style, used in pens like the Parafernalia Revolution, Aurora Hastil / Thesi etc. Which means I will need a metal saw plus deal with spilled inked etc. Sigh.


Yeah, I hear you. Some of those older ballpoints having metal nose cones came with narrow openings that severely limit options on substitutes. I’m thinking you need to bore out the tip. There are metal drill bits designed for this kind of purpose. Assuming of course the nose cones are more like a shell and not solid metal… which would require boring much more extensively.


mpdokokai is the only dude allowed to mod pencils or pens in this fashion :joy:

(@drifand will know)


Some all metal ballpoint ink cartridges can suffer internal ink separation, particularly in the tip. So you end up with a mostly full cartridge/refill, but it’s unusable.

I did come up with a technique that seems to work, for a reasonable amount of time. Boil some water. Place the refill tip-down inside a narrow glass or mug and pour in the water, leaving about an inch exposed on the back end. Let it sit for about 10~15 minutes or so. Pour off the water and repeat. Next, hold the rear of the refill with some grippy material and then flick it hard with your wrist, a kind of whipping motion. Another thing that can help is running a flame over the metal cartridge from about midway and down, rotating the cartridge slowly. You can try doing this right after removing from the hot water and then doing the flick action. This should cause the ink that might’ve solidified a bit to liquefy more and then “reconnect” as a contiguous supply, obstructive air bubbles removed. I’ve had pretty good success with this technique, sometimes making the refill last for about 20~30% use of available capacity. I have discovered that after doing this technique a few times, whatever ink remains may have been chemically altered and won’t flow very well.

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