Posted in Restoration

Nickel Pen Clip DIY Electroplating…

CYA announcement; do not do this and if you choose to ignore me please don’t do it to anything of value. The process is to improve a bad situation, it will not make the old, new again.

Keep in mind you can buy the acetate solution online but where is the fun in that. As I didn’t need a whole lot of electrolyte solution I decided to make use of a candle jar with a lid. The jar holds about 8-10 oz of liquid, the perfect size as I’m only working with a pen clip. The jar is filled about 80% full (turned out it I should have added more) with vinegar and I gave it a good pinch of salt, stirring until the salt dissolved. The negative feed is important to the electroplating process, I needed to confirm the black wire is the negative feed so I dropped each alligator clip into the vinegar, plugged in the wall wart and turned on the switch. As expected, bubbles instantly appeared on the clip attached to the black wire, indicating I didn’t screw up and the black wire is attached to the negative terminal on the board.

Time to prepare the nickel tape. I’m thinking the nickel should hang from the lip of the jar, that will make it easy to attach the alligator clips but a single strip isn’t going to be adequate. So measured out a length that would hook over the top of the jar down to the bottom, folded it back onto itself then one more time. This way I have one continuous strip that is 3 layers thick. The process is repeated creating a second nickel strip, now there is a set of nickel “bars.” Time to complete the set up, hanging the nickel bars on opposite sides of the jar, then attached the wires….Let the fun begin.

NOTHING HAPPENED – WTH – the negative wire test worked fine just a minute ago…. so I disconnected the wall wart and attached the D cell battery pack, and tried the flashlight test – nothing. Hmmm, I popped out the fuse, looks good so I put it back in, now since I have no patience and no spare fuses, I cut a small piece of 12 gage wire and placed it on top of the fuse. Effectively completing the connection and defeating the purpose of having a fuse, reconnected the wall wart and BAM, the negative wire started bubbling.

After a couple/three hours I noticed the vinegar level was going down, the donor nickel on the red (positive) wire was dissolving and a large piece having broken off and was sitting on the bottom of the jar. Certainly correct in my assumption that a single piece of nickel was going to be inadequate. Turned off the power, fished out the lost piece folded all the pieces together and powered it back up. After 5 hours I was happy with the color, though it seemed cloudy. Being a little disheartened I took the nickel out, the donor piece was nearly gone and the piece on the negative side has nearly double in size. In the morning I noticed the cloudiness has cleared, and a layer of “stuff” having settled to the bottom – cool.

That afternoon I set about cleaning the pen clip, removing 86 years of dirt, grim and tarnish requires some effort. Time to set up the acetate solution for electroplating, I swapped out the wall wart in favor of the D cell battery pack (this is using 3 volts but a single battery would be better, but we’ll see). Inserted the nickel bar that doubled in size during the acetate creation process, into the acetate and connected the red (positive) wire to it. Attached the black (negative) wire to the pen clip in a fashion that any marks etc resulting from the electroplating will be on the top and bottom of the washer thus hidden by the pen cap and blind cap. Inserted the pen clip into the acetate, keeping it out of the sediment and avoiding the donor metal. Power on and – Yeah Baby! It is working the pen clip is covered in bubbles within seconds.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!

After 15 minutes, the clip was nicely covered in a new layer of nickel then I got a bright idea, if a little is good, more is better (not). So I let the pen clip electroplate for a full 2 hours. Needless to say it wasn’t bad it just wasn’t good, so I cleaned it up with a light sanding and back into the solution for another hour. This time it was even worse. The clip had all kinds of pits and it just looked bad. I clearly had a new thick layer of nickel but it wasn’t pretty. So I sanded it down as best I could starting with 3,000 grit sand paper and worked up to 7,000 grit so it would be nice and smooth. I just couldn’t get all the rough spots out. One more electrolyte session, this time only 10 minutes and decided it was a keeper, not a good keeper but a keeper. I could have used the Dremel and removed all the rough spots but I was concerned I would damage the pen clip. In short, the process worked and it clearly demonstrates the principle and makes the process an option for restoring heavily brassed pen clips.

I did the same think for the cap band, left it to electroplate way too long and it now has a rough finish but I did prove I could electroplated the cap band while the band is still on the cap without damage to the pen cap.

Lessons learned:

  • Less electroplating is better. I.e. 5-10 minutes is definitely better than 2 hours.
  • A 3 volt battery pack works well, no real reason to consider downsizing.
  • Don’t skimp on the amount of vinegar in the jar.
  • The process dissolves the donor metal.
  • Doesn’t blow up the house.
  • Be prepared (go buy fuses).
Posted in Restoration

Nickel Pen Clip Project Box

The last items from The Robot Shop finally arrived, I feel like a kid on Christmas. So we begin with the Fuse Break Out Board (hence forth known as “the board”), keep in mind I haven’t soldered anything since I was in Junior High School – yes I’m that old, middle schools didn’t exist then. I couldn’t find my soldering iron so I had to order a new one from Amazon. It has an on/off switch, 5 tips, solder wire, a stand and other cool stuff. I’m happy with the purchase but still have minimal idea what the Hell I am doing. After 30 minutes I managed to assemble the board. No I am not showing anyone my soldering job.

Now the big question is, will it work. Before adding the board to the project box, I snapped on the 9v adaptor to the D cell battery holder then plugged the adaptor into the barrel Jack on the board. I took the front section off of a flashlight containing the bulb and reflector (known as the head of the flashlight). On the inside where the batteries contact the bulb, I attached the positive line (red wire) to the copper clip in the middle of the cap. Added the D batteries to the holder then touched the alligator clip to the dome on the back of the head – the bulb came to life – party on Garth!

My attention now switched to the project box, ok it is a Raspberry Pi case, don’t be so critical. The box comes with 3 USB or Network cable ports, an opening for the GPIO connector and a variety of slots for SD cards, IO cables, etc. figuring I will blow the fuse and to make access easy I decided to install the board under the GPIO slot. This way I can swap out a fuse easily (assuming I have a spare) and use the USB port as the point of ingress for the barrel Jack and an SD slot on the opposite end as point of egress for the terminal wires.

So how to mount the board to the box without it becoming a permanent addition. I set the board in the box and made marks to coincide with anchor slots on the board. Using the rubber feet that came with the box I placed them over the marks, applied a little guerrilla around the rubber feet (that self adhesive glue on the feet never lasts). After the glue dried, set the board on the feet and screwed it in place. Slipped the gator wires through the SD slot and attached them to the vout terminals, making sure Red was attached to the + side and attached the top. Plugged in the on/off switch, now we are ready. Cant tell you how proud of myself I am, I admired my creation for days. Do you think Steve Wozniak felt this way?

Next step, making the nickel acetate (electrolyte) solution…

Posted in Restoration

Nickel Pen Clip Restoration

So the clip on the Parker Challenger is heavily brassed and I bought a NOS clip which turned out to be for a junior sized pen – duh. I’ve determined the clip is probably from old Duofold stock or from that stock but stamped with different tooling. As you can see in the picture the finish on the original (on the left) is heavily worn, while the incorrect sized replacement looks GREAT! So what are my options? Other than feeling sorry for myself, what I see is what I have!

Wait one minute and OMG all is not lost, I’ve found a diy process for nickel electroplating that is safe and easy (their words not mine). The process is probably a little unnerving and my wife will be terrified that I’ll blow the house up but definitely worth consideration. I stumbled across the first blog via a Duck Duck Go search by a guy who restores handguns, which included a link to the Instructable process. The pistol refurb blog has a slightly different take on the DIY electroplating process that I need to review both to ascertain which will be best for me.

Original clip vs the incorrect sized NOS clip

A dissertation on electroplating is clearly a rat hole I don’t want to go down, as I’m sure it would be sitting ”on the edge of your seat excitement” and I know nothing of it, so Lets make this super simple. Electroplating is the process of using electrical current to transfer ions from a metal source to a receptor metal using a conductive electrolyte solution. As a public service for nerdy pen enthusiasts I’ll outline my endeavors to give this DIY process a try. Please refer to the external sites for detailed instructions.

The question now is what do we need to make this happen? It is possible to create a nickel acetate (electrolyte) solution using stuff found in any local grocery store, pure nickel and electricity. Grocery stores (check), electricity (check) – nickel…. need to work on that.

So I’ve been searching eBay looking at pure nickel options for the donor metal (that sounds so not right). I’m thinking the nickel battery strip tape will make a good donor – the Instructables did said we could use guitar wire if we separated the nickel wire from the steel core. Just gotta make sure it is pure. Also, after giving it some thought I decided to make a project box containing a barrel Jack (vin), with a fuse and (vout) terminals. This way I can use the barrel Jack on the charger opposed to cutting it off and I decided to use D batteries for the electroplating process since low voltage is recommend for a bright and lasting finish (they are 1.5 volts each). You have to understand I know nothing about electronics but I am geeked about the prospect. All the components have been ordered including a Raspberry Pi which I’ll use as the project box. I have a Raspberry Pi case but it is a soft plastic and I am not sure how it will fare with heat so figured acrylic would be a good choice.

Project components:

Posted in Restoration

1935 Parker Challenger

The Parker Challenger pen was manufactured from 1934-1941 and a surprise success for the George Parker company. The pen was introduced in February of 34 during the Vacumatic era. The pen featured a button filler and made from the same material as the Vacumatics at less than half the price. The pen was offered in two sizes, slim and standard and sold for $2.50, whereas the Vacumatic sold for $7.50 and the Parkette for $1.25, making it priced right as a gift pen for school students.

So I got a Parker Challenger with a purchase of a newer Parkette. The Challenger was in horrible condition. As you can see the clip and cap ring are brassed, the clip especially. The ink sac is a dried up crunchy thing, the section is froze and the nib won’t pull out. So I decided what the hell let’s give it a go, I need to learn about Parker pens anyway.

Little background on the pen, this model is from Q1 1935 – it has a date code of 13 – it has a plunger fill system. It is considered a mid grad pen in the Parker family. Offered in two sizes; the slender measured 122 millimeters (4 13/16”) long and the standard measure 132 mm (5 1/8”) when closed. I need to measure mine. Which I did and it is 132 mm long, answers that question. At the time it sold for $2.50. I started doing some research and pulled out my Parker Repair manual, which was apparently a bad idea. In the manual it indicated that the plunger section needed or could be removed using the Parker pen vise. Now those are nearly impossible to find but I found a home made modern pen vise which I ordered. Turns out you aren’t supposed to take the plunger section out so when I tried and tried all I did was screw up the threads for the plunger cap. So now the cap is too big – geez, but hey better find out the hard way on this pen.

So I got working on the section and the nib. Both aren’t budging, used a hair drier and soaked them for days, finally they all came apart. I took a peek inside and the mess looked like some kind of mold growth but it was just the hardened old ink sac. I could see there was a pressure bar mixed up with the ink sac.

Feeling frustrated I did a Duck Duck Go search and found 2 articles The Fountain Pen Network and on a Fountain Pen Restoration blog on how to refurb a Challenger, well shit. This is when I realized the vise was a mistake. I learned instead that I needed to pull the plunger out, followed by the pressure bar. Pulling the plunger was no problem but the pressure bar wasn’t moving – remember the mold looking thing? Next step, I used a dental pick and broke up enough of the sac to pull the pressure bar. Then I could scrap out the rest of the ink sac.

Feeling empowered now I decided to make a serious effort at refurbing the pen.  I found a guy in South Dakota with the same clip I took off the pen nearly NOS – so I ordered one.  Well the clip arrived and the hole in the washer is too small, wtf.  At first glance it is otherwise identical to the one I took off.  Placing them side by side the new one is a little shorter so I guess my pen is a standard.  Did some measuring and the inside diameter of the brassed clip ring is 10mm.  Wondering now if it is a Vacumatic clip since Challengers were made from the same plastic.  Upon further review I think the clip is a remodeled Duofold clip, need to keep my eyes open for a Duofold clip replacement.  Anyway, until I can find a replacement or an inexpensive “zinc” application process (lol) I’ll use the ugly brasses clip.

Also learned the pen uses a #20 ink sac, which I don’t have, order some of them. All the goodies are on the way so Now it’s time to clean off the years of grim, tooth marks and scratches. Taped over the name and mfr info and started sanding with 1000 grit paper, then 2000, 3000, 5000, 7000 grit paper then I repeated the whole process. Afterwards I went over the pen with a jewelers polishing cloth. It fells great! and looks good. I repeated the process on the cap.

Then I focused on the section, it had a brown tint from all the grime, sanding it twice. The paper turned brown, but when I finished it looked great. Used the polishing cloth on the nib, it shined up great so I also polished up the feed and put the nib back into the section. Turned my attention to the damage I did to the plunger cap. I used the ink sac shellack and coated the inside of the lid twice, didn’t help so I cut some black construction paper into a thin strip and put it inside the cap and shellacked it into place – bingo.

OMG I’ve found a DIY process for nickel electroplating that is safe and easy. Probably a little unnerving and my wife will be terrified I’ll blow the house up but definitely worth consideration.