I realise that there is a risk here in marking myself out as a cheapskate. I make no secret of my fondness for inexpensive pens. This is not from any inverted snobbery: I like expensive pens too, but they sometimes lose points in my eyes from being too expensive. When a fountain pen costs more than, say, a decent bicycle, something seems wrong.
I happened to be out on my bicycle at the weekend and visited a stationery shop in St John’s Wood in North West London. I went to buy some supplies of file paper. I was tempted by a colourful display of Pilot pens – gel pens, fineliners and the Pilot V pen, a single use fountain pen. I stocked up on a selection of stuff, including a red ink V Pen, which I fancied as being a useful tool to use at work for amending drafts. I tried it out on a test pad and was impressed at the colour and how smoothly it wrote.
I have had a few of these V Pens in the past. Well, I say past, but I still have them in blue, black and purple. They seem to go on almost forever and do not mind being ignored for months or years on end. The ink seems to be specially formulated to resist drying out in the pen. The downside of this is that the ink seems prone to bleedthrough. On a recent test of thirty different inked pens on an A4 notebook, I found that the Pilot V pen was the only one to bleed through the paper.
When I looked recently at my old V pens, which had languished in a pen cup for longer than I can remember, the black and the purple ones still wrote at once, but the blue one seemed to have finally run dry. I also noticed that the blue ink model was of an older design than the others, with a narrow slit for the ink window along the barrel on two sides and with a rather basic butterfly nib. This is a nib where there is no tipping material but the tines are crimped, and folded downwards at the end and polished to form a writing tip. I have encountered this design before on a Bic Easy-Click fountain pen.
I then remembered a friend mentioning that it was possible to refill and reuse these Pilot V pens. I did not know how and had never looked into this. I did a quick search on Google and found a very useful blog post How to Refill a Pilot Varsity Disposable Fountain Pen on Fountain Pen Love, by John Bosley in a post from September 20, 2017. I read this with interest. I was keen to have a go at refilling my blue V Pen and felt that I had little to lose.
The technique simply requires that you pull out the nib and feed, which are friction fit. You can then flush out the pen and refill the barrel with some ink of your choice and refit the nib and fit with a firm push, until it clicks into place.
I got some grippy material. I pulled and pulled at the nib and feed but they would not budge. Instead, the nib came away, leaving the feed in place.
Determined to get it out, I resorted to using hand tools, (a big no-no in fountain pen work) and used the pliers of my Leatherman. This was rather reckless as you have a good chance of crushing the feed and breaking it, or at least cracking it. Squeeze too hard on those pliers and it will break like a walnut.
I tried gripping it firmly with the pliers but not so hard as to crush the feed. I pulled. After the pliers had slipped off a few times, eventually I was successful and the feed came away with a pop, like a Champagne cork. That the feed came out and was not broken, was very pleasing.
I washed the nib, feed and barrel then had a closer look at the nib and feed under the loupe. There were some marks from my pliers, but nothing terrible. I noticed that the feed has a wick running along the channel, to keep the nib moist.
It just remained to choose some ink and refill the barrel, with a pipette. I decided on Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue. I was careful not to put too much in. You need to leave space for the feed, which can be seen through the clear plastic grip section.
The pen now writes again! The Cobalt blue looks good. It should not bleed through paper like the original ink, but then again the pen will probably not be so resilient as before in coping with long periods of neglect.
The butterfly nib is not the best writing experience, but it is reasonably smooth. The newer version with the rounded tipping material is a big improvement.
In conclusion, I doubt that I would want to get out the pliers every time to refill this pen and risk shattering the feed. Perhaps it might come out a bit easier next time. But even refilling the pen just once means it has doubled its working life, roughly halving the pen’s “cost” and helps to reduce plastic waste. It is nice to know it can be done.
Update 27 March 2021: I would just like to add, that in using the pliers I did also have the grippy material wrapped around the feed to protect it from the sharp metal jaws of the pliers.