A look at the Pilot V disposable fountain pen and how to refill one.

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.

Pilot V Pen, a disposable or single-use fountain pen.

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.

Available in a wide range of colours.

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.

An older style Pilot V pen disassembled for refilling, with butterfly nib and narrow slit ink windows.

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.

Nib and feed disassembled

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.

A sample of Cobalt Blue from my newly re-filled Pilot V Pen, on a Moleskin notebook.

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.

That red though!

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.

A look at the Sheaffer 100 Translucent blue and chrome fountain pen

What is it about the combination of electric blue and chrome which makes it so captivating and (to me) irresistible?

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This year marks the 225th anniversary of WH Smith, the high street  book shop, newsagent and stationer chain that is a familiar sight in our towns and cities. Our local branch, at Brent Cross shopping centre, North London has reinvigorated its fountain pen display cabinets. This was a welcome find, when I visited recently. I enjoy looking around for anything new. This time I was rewarded with their dedicated self contained glass display cabinet showing a range of fountain pens from Parker, Cross, Waterman and Sheaffer each arranged in a fan shape although closer inspection revealed that the brands were intermixed.

It was there that I spotted what I now know to be the Sheaffer 100, in translucent blue, with polished chrome section and a brushed stainless steel cap, featuring the trademark Sheaffer white dot. The pen, with cap posted, looked stunning with its vibrant blue barrel and contrasting silver coloured section and cap. The nib, with its decorative scroll work, harks back to the glory days of Sheaffer when they were made in Fort Madison, Iowa.

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Sheaffer 100 Translucent blue and chrome

The pen looked to be good value, particularly in comparison with some of the other offerings on display with similar specification. With its striking good looks, needless to say, I succumbed to buying another pen.

The pen comes in a decently made and typical, black gift box with a removable padded tray, underneath which is a Use and Care Guide and 1 year warranty leaflet. Whilst this is for a Sheaffer pen, the name on the back of the leaflet nowadays reads A.T.Cross Company. You also get two Sheaffer Skrip cartridges, one blue and one black but no converter.

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A feature of this pen is the shiny grip section. But there we have a contradiction in terms. Shiny sections are difficult for me to grip. I know this. I have a Cross Aventura with the same issue. The section looks pretty and photogenic but slips around in my hand.

Why is this important? We look at writing samples to see how nibs perform, how wide the line is, how dry or wet the ink flow is, whether it skips and so on. But there is another factor at work here. Is the pen comfortable to hold? And part of feeling comfortable with a pen, means being able to hold it securely and confidently so that you can exercise sufficient control of the pen as you write. At the same time, you do not want to be overly aware of how you are holding the pen, which you will be if you are gripping too tight as your hand will tell you after a little while.

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A pen which cannot be gripped securely will manifest itself in shaky and erratic writing. Happiness does not shine through.

In the case of the Sheaffer 100, I have been writing with it for a few weeks now and have become accustomed to holding the pen just above the join of the section and the barrel. In this way, I can hold the blue barrel between finger and thumb, whilst the cool and shiny section rests on my second finger. This works for me. It feels slightly higher than I would normally hold a pen, but not too much higher like chopsticks.

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Holding the pen further back from the nib also means that you still need sufficient length for the back of the pen to rest in the crook of your hand. The pen unposted measures 120mm (4 3/4 inches) but happily, the cap posts securely (if you give it a firm push) and brings the pen up to 149mm (about 5 7/8ths inches) which is a very comfortable length, for me. The pen weighs 28g capped or posted. Uncapped it is 18g, with the cap weighing 10g.  I like to use it posted and this is not too heavy.

As for the writing experience, I tried the pen first with the supplied blue Sheaffer Skrip cartridge. The medium nib wrote a nice wet line, on the fine side of medium. The nib looks very attractive. However, seen under a loupe, the tipping on my nib looked just a little off, with the nib slit at the tip being not quite perpendicular when viewed head on, but leaning towards a 1 o’clock to 7 o’clock line. I decided to leave it to wear in naturally and I think it will wear smooth as I use the pen.

Whilst having a lovely ink flow, the blue Skrip did bleed through quite badly on a particular Paperchase notebook that was using such that when I finished the first cartridge I syringe-filled it with Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt blue, which I am using now and without the bleedthrough.

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Sheaffer 100 with Medium stainless steel nib and Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt blue ink on Rhodia 90gsm paper. Words by William Wordsworth.

I have adapted to holding the pen a little higher than I might otherwise, in view of the slippy no-go area of chrome section. But it is good to adapt and be comfortable with using different pens, rather like being able to drive different types of car.

If I had not liked the look of the pen I would not have persevered with it but I am fond of Sheaffers and it has been worth the effort.

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My grandmother had a sugar bowl like this one.