Some early thoughts on the Helix Metal Desktop Sharpener.

I first spotted this for sale, in a rather battered cardboard box, at our local Ryman stationer a few of weeks ago. I did not buy it the first time, but when I saw it still sitting there last weekend, I decided that it needed a new home.

It is an intriguing device. Ryman has a selection of pencil sharpeners, including battery operated models but it was this good old fashioned hand-wound model that appealed to me. Perhaps it was a reminder of primary school days when the teacher had a pencil sharpener clamped to the edge of the desk.

According to the box, there are three colour options, blue, black and red. There was only this one on the shelf, which was red and that seems a good colour for a pencil sharpener.

I stood for a while in the shop, looking at the instructions and features and trying to visualise how it all worked. When I came to buy, I was given 10% off for the damaged box which brought the price down from £14.99 to £13.49, an unexpected bonus. (Note: they are currently for sale on Ryman online, at £14.99 and part of their 3 for 2 promotion).

Helix Metal Desktop Sharpener.

This is my first experience of owning a desk top sharpener. Its features include five settings for various grades of sharpness; a quick release to clear broken leads; a clear plastic tray to collect the shavings; an anti-slip base and a simple clamp for easy attachment to a desk. It is not essential to clamp it and you can still operate it by pressing it down with one hand, whilst operating the crank with the other. You do not need to hold the pencil.

The two cute little ears on the front are actually to squeeze and open a grip, to hold the pencil.

It is very exciting to sharpen your first pencil. The procedure is as follows:

  • Select your desired setting. The first on the left is the sharpest;
  • Pull the chrome “carriage” forward, against the tension of the spring inside, until it locks into position;
  • Squeeze the two black levers, opening the sprung aperture, or “jaws” which grip the pencil; insert a pencil, as far as it will go into the sharpening chamber, then release the black levers;
  • Holding the sharpener down firmly (if not clamped), wind the crank clockwise for a few turns until you feel no resistance and it turns freely; once sharp, the handle continues to rotate but the pencil will stop being sharpened;
  • Squeeze the levers, and remove your now sharp pencil.
With carriage extended and a pencil in the chamber.

I rounded up about 35 pencils from the house and gathered them together to be sharpened. This was an interesting diversion in itself as I recognised a few pencils from years back which brought back different memories.
I found some 2B and 3B pencils, that I had used for drawing, decades ago. Also there was a pencil in white with the red lettering of Greater London Record Office and their old style central London telephone number. I had been given this when visiting the offices near Farringdon to research a property title, looking at records on microfiche, some time in the 1990’s. It was forbidden to take notes in anything but pencil for fear of damaging the aging records.

The great pencil round-up.

I was interested to try the five different point settings. To adjust the setting, you turn a red plastic selector. I found that I had five Staedtler Noris HB pencils and so tried sharpening one each at the five different settings to compare the results.

The settings of 5 (top of photo) down to 1, on Staedtler Noris HB pencils.

Having figured out how to operate it, I tried removing the handle and the blade. These are easily removed by turning the black locking ring 90 degrees anti-clockise and then pulling it out carefully through the hole. The instructions warn against holding the blade, which is obviously sharp. It should be gripped in a vice if unscrewing the handle.

I found it quite fascinating to see how it works. With a pencil inserted, the pencil is gripped and does not rotate, but just pulled forwards. Instead, the conical sharpening chamber rotates around the pencil. A cylindrical blade, rather like a lawn-mower blade with a sharp edged, helical arrangement, rotates over a slot in the sharpening chamber. It is a joy to watch and an amazing design.

A peek inside at the rotating blade.

To replace the crank and sharpening assembly back into the device, (which is slightly more fiddly than taking it out), offer it up carefully back into the hole, then turn the black locking ring 90 degrees clockwise. I found that it helps to try to hold the crank and the locking ring tightly together as you do this.

The clever bit. The crank with the sharpening chamber and blade attached.

To empty the shavings , the clear plastic drawer is just pushed out freely out the front. It will not go in too far or come out through the back.

Fine wood shavings and pencil graphite dust.

As you can well imagine, I had a happy time sharpening a batch of pencils, whilst reminiscing over days of old and restoring lots of elderly stubs to a sharp condition once again. It makes for a pleasant afternoon and is a fine pursuit for National Stationery Week here. The sharpener is a marvel of design, works well, is good value and has a very refreshing old world charm.

The red selector switch to choose your sharpness.

Some early thoughts on the Pineider Pen Filler travelling inkwell.

This handy gadget is a travelling inkwell, introduced in 2018 by Italian company Pineider. A friend arranged a group buy for our London UK Fountain Pen Club although they are now available from Cult Pens at £20.00.

Pineider Pen Filler. Stopper removed to show blue rubber inner sleeve.

What’s in the box.

The pen filler comes in a simple cardboard box, about the size of a cigarette packet. One side of the box has two holes, one of 9.5mm, one of 13.5.mm diameter, being the minimum and maximum size grip sections that can be used. The idea is to use these holes to check that your pen is neither smaller than the small hole, nor larger than the large hole.

Cardboard box. Holes to check that your pens will fit.

Inside the box, was the pen filler together with a small pipette or eye-dropper (although I am not sure these are always included) plus a sheet of instructions. If no pipette is included, use your own or a syringe to fill the pen filler.

The pen filler is comprised of four parts: the clear plastic ink holder with a measuring scale in 1ml units, up to 10ml (or 10 cubic centilitres), a black plastic knurled collar and a black plastic stopper. Hidden by the collar is a blue rubbery sleeve, part of which fits into the ink holder.

The four parts of the Pineider Pen Filler.

How to use.

Preparation: It is recommended that you first check that your pen is not too big or small for the pen filler, using the holes in the box if in doubt. Next practice with water first. Fill the ink holder with water, up to the 10cc mark. If you have a number of pens that you might wish to use with the pen filler, then it might be convenient to flush them all and try each of them in turn with the filler and make a note of which pens you have tried. According to the instructions, “you can use the pen filler to fill lever pens, piston pens, plunger pens, converter pens and even the old eyedropper pens.”

Filling the pen: It is recommended that the pen be emptied first. If it had last been filled with the same ink, you could discharge it into the pen filler if you are not too fussy about only using fresh ink. If using a converter or piston fill pen, then wind the plunger down first, before locking the pen into the pen filler. This is to avoid over-pressurising the ink holder and causing leaks.

Pen gripped securely in the filler, ready to turn upside down and fill.

So, you are ready to fill your pen.

  • remove barrel of pen (if using a converter) and wind down the plunger;
  • pull out the stopper from the pen filler; unscrew the knurled black collar (which gradually increases the opening) until you can insert your pen;
  • tighten the collar; (as you screw the collar down, the blue rubber sleeve tightens around the grip section of the pen); continue until the pen is held firmly. This stage is a little awkward as you are holding the pen in one hand with the barrel removed and so take care not to dislodge the converter from the pen);
  • Now the fun/risky part. Turn the bottle upside down, allowing the ink to cover the nib. Wind the converter or operate the piston to fill the pen, by a combination of suction and gravity;
  • Once filled; turn the pen and bottle the right way up again; unscrew the collar a little until the pen comes free; remove pen; screw the collar back down fully and insert stopper.
  • Replace the barrel on your pen, wipe off any ink from the section and nib. And you are ready to go.

Limitations.

There are some limitations to the use of the pen filler, for those pens which are too wide or too narrow for it. For oversized pens you may have to fill these direct from a bottle. For pens too narrow to use the pen filler system, you may still be able to fill from the travelling ink well, just by removing the stopper and dipping the pen into the ink (if the ink level is deep enough).

Advantages.

  • The pen filler is a very convenient size for travelling, being small and light weight, when you do not want to travel with a typical 50ml glass bottle.
  • A 10ml supply of ink is enough to fill a typical converter around 12 – 15 times I found, although I confess that I lost count while attempting this exercise, filling a pen repeatedly with water until empty.
  • If used correctly and carefully, it is possible to get a good fill with minimum inky mess.
  • You can still fill a pen even from your last 1ml of ink! This would be difficult for most pens, if filling from a conventional bottle.
  • You do not need to be too anxious about the pen not being perfectly clean from a previous ink, as you will not contaminate a whole bottle, but only a few millilitres.
  • You can experiment by mixing compatible inks, just a millilitre or two at a time, in your pen filler. (I made a blend of Robert Oster Aqua and Pilot Iroshizuku Shin-kai, about 50/50, although this carries some risk that certain inks will not be compatible and will combine to make a sticky goo). It is prudent to test out any such blends in a separate receptacle and leave to stand for a day or so, before filling your pen.
  • If going away for a few days, it can be very handy to have a little supply of ink with you just in case you buy a pen (!), or as happened to me recently while visiting an elderly aunt over the holidays, I was asked to see if I could get her old Parker Slimfold working again and she could not find any ink in the house. In this situation it is little consolation to know that you have an entire drawer-full of fountain pen inks back at base camp.

Conclusions.

I am impressed with the simplicity of the design. If used correctly and with care, it works well. It is not entirely fool proof and it is a good idea to practice first with any given pen, using water until confident. When I first got mine, I picked a fairly large sized cartridge converter pen and was interested to see how many times it could be filled, from 10ml of water and using even the last drop. I have been using it successfully for a few weeks now. However, in trying it last night newly filled with Conway Stewart Tavy to photograph for this post, I must have done something wrong and ink leaked over my hands. This could be due to me forgetting to wind down the plunger prior to locking the pen into the holder, or not tightening the screw-down collar sufficiently before inverting the bottle, or perhaps dislodging the converter slightly. Like I said, it is not fool proof.

As for durability, it remains to be seen whether the plastic ink holder may crack eventually from the repeated stress of tightening and loosening the collar but I would expect it to last for a few years at least and would be happy with this. As for value, when looking at the four individual components of the pen filler, each of which looks mass-produced costing only a few pence each, it is questionable whether the sum of the parts amounts to £20.00. I sometimes feel like this when looking at the disassembled parts of a fountain pen. Obviously the company needs to make a profit and the initial costs of designing the parts and manufacturing them all need to be taken into account.

Overall, for the usefulness of the pen filler I would be happy to spend £20.00. And for the question of what to give a fountain pen enthusiast, who has everything except a Pineider Pen Filler, this is a good answer.

Pineider Pen Filler, shown with a Waterman Carene for size comparison.

Pen cases: a cautionary tale

Having a number of fountain pens uninked at any one time, I was in need of a storage case. At the London Pen Show in October 2015, I bought a black, 24-pen zip case, which had elasticated slots for 12 pens on each side and a flap to separate the two sides when the case was closed.

The case was only £15.00, in a padded, leather-look, finish and appeared to be quite a good practical design. The zip extended for a few inches beyond the rim of the case, to facilitate opening it flat on a table and had a popper to fasten the zip down when in the closed position. It had no apparent brand name and so I cannot tell you who makes it or where it comes from. I liked it so much that I bought another identical one at the same show in October 2016.

All was well until yesterday when I took out a yellow Lamy Safari, thinking that I might ink it up and put it into use. I was shocked to find a stain on the back of the cap and barrel where it had been held tightly against the lining of the pen case. I took out a Pink Safari which had the same problem.

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An old, white Sheaffer No Nonsense was also affected, to a lesser degree. Happily, the lacquered pens or metal finish pens such as a Lamy Logo were unaffected. It seems that just the light-coloured Lamy Safaris had suffered.

I tried rubbing the mark off with my thumb but this had no effect. I washed them in water with concentrated washing up liquid, scrubbing them with a soft brush but again this had no effect.

It appears that the stain has got deep into the material from which Safaris are made. Perhaps it is some sort of reaction between this material and the black dye used for the thin inner lining of the pen case.

I have since had a brief look for a remedy on Fountain Pen Network and found a thread where people had experienced staining to the chrome finish of pens, such as a Waterman Carene and reference was made to “chrome tanned leather”. Someone had success resolving that problem using a sort of polish.  I do not think my pen case was leather and it seems to be a different problem.

I am writing this first in order to warn others against making the same mistake and secondly in the faint hope that someone might know of a solution, to lift this stain out. It is not the end of the world and the pens are still usable. But they are adorable pens and I am sorry not to have taken better care of them.