Posted in Restoration, Stories

Rehab vs Refurb vs Restore or Repair – oh my what a dilemma!

I am not the first to bring up this topic, nor the last. Some may say the difference is a matter of splitting hairs while others say it is all in the intent. It is far more than splitting hairs and the intent leads to consequences which can be drastically different results. Let’s start with some basic definitions.

  • Refurbish – to rebuild with all new material; to return to original (or better) working order and appearance.
  • Rehabilitate – to return to its original condition
  • Restore – to return to its original or usable and functioning condition
  • Repair – to restore by replacing a part or putting together what is torn or broken

These terms are often used interchangeably, their dissimilarity being minor yet that distinction is significant and worth noting in the world of vintage pens. I’ve been giving the distinction a lot of thought.

Do I refurbish, restore or rehab pens? How about repairing? I’m so confused!

My primary focus is on cleaning the pen and getting it back to working order. I’ve run across sellers who offer pens that have been “fully restored,” which usually involves reblackening hard rubber, replacing clips, adding new nibs, etc. My intent is to return pens to their original appearance, or so it “looks good for its age,” while restoring the pen to working order using the materials that came with the pen. Nothing is replaced unless it is broken.

I’ve been saying “I refurbish pens” which by definition is incorrect. I am “restoring” pens. The only new material I use is a modern ink sac, because all original ink sacs have long since rotted away. I even use shellac allegedly from original Parker old stock.

To me, restoration is the resurrection of an old, long forgotten pen and returning it to as close to its original condition as possible. If parts are needed, I attempt to use original parts and identify substitute parts as applicable. I don’t polish pens, I wipe each pen with a little dab of mineral oil which removes old ink, grime and makes the pen look closer to their original condition. I don’t use chemicals or ink stains to recolor a pen but have been known to use sand paper to remove teeth marks, surface imperfections (scratches) and to remove the discoloration found on some BHR pens as appropriate.

The consensus among others who work with vintage pens seems to be that the definition of restoration is to return the pen to new condition, do no more than is necessary to make the pen in working condition, clean, gently polished and remove whenever possible such faults as scratches and bite marks. And don’t re-blacken the pen.

My view is primarily the same, as old pens age, there exists a balance between restoring usage and honorably showing its age. Restoring a pen to its “as new condition” is not my objective. I suppose my method falls between those who see every scratch as bearing historical significance and the restorers who overdo it. I’ve found that celluloid pens restore especially well, and those black hard rubber or mottled pens that have not faded or worn too much can naturally look fantastic with a little mineral oil. That’s quite a contrast to the poor creatures (pens) that have suffered the buffing machine far too long! I have some sympathy for the view that a pen should be left as it is, so far as possible, but I also accept that no one likes an ugly pen.

I was recently showing off my 1928 Duofold Jr. and I mentioned it is my daily use pen, the person I was showing it to was appalled that I was using the pen, handling it as if it was…. a pen. He thought it belonged under glass in a museum or somewhere “safe.” I collect and restore pens so I can use and enjoy them.


I'm a loser as my wife likes to tell me, I enjoy researching dead cousins and playing with fountain pens.

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