Shopping for repair work

While we've tried to recommend some repair and restoration resources (see the Repair page), you may wish to use a local service. But how is one to appraise an unknown's level of skill and reliability? Often enough we hear from someone who has entrusted a pen to a local hobbyist for repair, only to receive it back in less than perfect condition. Asking a few questions ahead of time may help prevent such misfortunes.

First rule: ability to do complex repairs correlates directly with reliability in doing simpler work. The scale from easy to demanding runs roughly in this order: lever-fillers, button-fillers, Snorkels, Vacumatics, plunger-fillers, piston-fillers, safeties. Someone who cannot do Vacumatic repair, for example, will inevitably be relatively lacking in experience, and even with simple lever-filler repairs will have a significantly higher breakage rate than a more experienced repairman.

Answers to a few key questions can reveal a lot. How many repairs does the candidate do each month? Between 80 and 200 is typical. How long has the candidate been working on vintage pens? Five years or longer is preferable. Will the pen be opened cold, or warmed first? To minimize breakage, pens should virtually always be warmed. Other questions may be drawn from the contents of Pen Repair Don'ts (e.g., Will the pen be soaked, and in what? Many amateurs think a solution of 409 will do anything, risk-free, but not so).

Whomever you entrust your pens to, it is advisable to give clear written instructions concerning what you want done – and what not to do. Many repairmen will automatically put a pen on a buffing wheel before returning it to the customer, for example. And it would do no harm to leave a reminder that should the pen prove difficult to open, you would rather have it returned unrepaired than broken.

NOTE: Hardly any large pen stores do in-house repair work on vintage pens. Most send their repairs out to independent repairmen of wildly variable quality. If you give them your pen to fix, you are likely to pay two or more times what you'd pay an independent repairman, while having no idea who is actually going to work on your pen.