Posted in Material, Pens, Stories

Casein “the most beautiful of plastics.”

Casein aka Galalith (from Latin caseus, “cheese”) is a milk-derived plastic, susceptible to moisture. A synthetic plastic derived from 80% of the phosphoproteins in cow’s milk, and formaldehyde. It is rarely seen in American pen production; however, it is more commonly found in UK pens.

Identifying casein can be done by appearance and smell; rather than camphor, casein smells like antler, horn, or ivory, or vaguely like scorched hair. It appears more dull than celluloid and the curing process creates wavy striations. Alternatively, try the feel and color test. Is the pen a Conway Stewart model, highly colored and has an irregular colorful pattern? If the answer is yes to all these, it could well be casein. Hold the pen it in your hand, does it feel warm to the touch? Yes – chances are it is casein.

Casein has been described as “the most beautiful of plastics.” It takes a wide variety of colors including delicate pastel shades, pearls, and mottles, and can imitate tortoiseshell and horn.

Do’s and Don’ts

Never, ever, never soak a casein fountain pen in water to remove ink stains or dried ink. Casein will expand by about 10% and become very soft losing its shape in as little as 2 hours = damaged beyond repair.

In his memoir, Walter A. Sheaffer recounts how Sheaffer once produced a line of colored casein pens which proved quite popular until the Midwestern summer caused the casein to swell and the sections fell out. The heat was identified as the cause. But I’m willing to bet the high humidity was most likely the cause.

Casein does not seem to be the ideal material to make fountain pens but it does produce BEAutiful pens. How about these three?

Photo credit: MVBurke.com
Photo credit: Peytonstreet pen

Conway Stewart is the manufacturer most often associated with casein pens. They only recently (by 2010) shuttered their casein pen production. Their remaining casein pen blanks were sold off to independent pen manufacturers.

Photo credit: Peytonstreet pen

Make you own

There are people who make their own pens. Some do this for fun, while for others it is a vocation. Both invest in equipment and supplies. I have found casein “blanks” as well as casein look-a-like blanks for pen manufacturing.

Some of the Conway Stewart casein blanks are absolutely stunning. The point is if you make pens, you can use this material (I would really enjoy owning a casein pen – just saying).

Casein is a “compressed form of the primary protein from milk,” what should the DIY pen guys consider when working with this material? I found a very informative thread on the International Association of Penturners (IAP) website, which I will summarize.

  • Working with casein is not always the easiest, it is not very strong.
  • At all times keep the material cool, use a spray bottle of cool water with each step.
  • Do not drill or turn at high speed – use a slow speed.
  • Use sharp carbide tools.
  • Slow-speed sanding or the casein will burn (turn brown) and smell like burnt milk!
  • The most important word of advice… be patient…take your time.

If you have small kids and enjoy home science projects, welp, I have a project for you. Make your own casein.

Owning a casein pen comes with responsibilities. As an owner, it is imperative you gain an appreciation for the qualities that make this pen unique. I do not own one but one day I will find a Conway Stewart casein pen that wins me over.

If you own one please chime in, I’d love to learn of your experiences.

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COPYRIGHT © 2021-2022 DANNY WATTS and CHRONICLES OF A FOUTAIN PEN.
Posted in Collection, Material, Pens, Stories

Ebonite; Mottled, Woodgrain and Ripple

What is Ebonite….
The name “ebonite” comes from “ebony” and is black in color (duh). Yet it is clear brownish-red in thin-film form and brownish-red in powdered form. Also known as Vulcanite, it is warm to the touch, a durable medium, and provides excellent electrical insulation and machinability. Great, I’ll remember that next time I’m working with live electrical wires. Ebonite is sometimes called “hard rubber,” manufacturers in Germany and Japan often distinguish ebonite that is hardened with fillers from “natural” hardened ebonite.

Eco-friendly benefits of ebonite, it is manufactured with natural rubber collected from gum tree sap, and the tree is not cut down. Gum trees have a high absorption rate of carbon dioxide.

Ebonite is produced by a chemical reaction of combining rubber and sulfur molecules in a process known as “vulcanization.” Ebonite may contain from 25% to 80% sulfur and linseed oil. The process is accelerated by applying heat and pressure of steam for several days. The result of the process is low-elastic, very firm vulcanized rubber Interestingly, soft ebonite prior to vulcanization becomes ultra hard rubber afterward. When the surface of ebonite is polished, it gives a beautiful, lacquer-like gloss.

Why do I love ebonite pens, especially those that are dyed or mottled, etc. Welp, when the surface of ebonite is polished, it gives a beautiful, lacquer-like gloss. Secondly, the pen has a natural warmth to the touch, unlike contemporary acrylic, plastics, or vintage celluloid which are cold. I am particularly fond of ebonite which is mottled – mixing colored rubber with standard rubber in the vulcanization process.

Following careful mixing formulas, ebonite rods can be drawn in a spiral fashion to produce a variety of appearances and styles.

Mottled

As the technique gained popularity, pen makers in the 1920s produced elegant woodgrain pens.

Woodgrain

Expanding the woodgrain design, in 1926 Waterman introduced a flow pattern, called ripple. The only other company to produce a true ripple was Platignum.

Ripple

Ripple in still water. When there is no pebble tossed. Nor wind to blow
~ Jerry Garcia

Ripple was immensely popular and available in a variety of colors such as olive, rose, and blue-green. Contemporary mottled ebonite rods available to indie pen manufacturers come in a fantastic range of colors. The rods are readily available from manufacturers in India, Japan, and Germany.

Unfortunately, black ebonite is susceptible to sun and water damage. I have not encountered this with mottled, woodgrain, or ripple ebonite pens. Maybe I am just lucky. Please feel free to leave comments detailing your experiences with mottle ebonite, etc.

COPYRIGHT © 2021-2022 DANNY WATTS and CHRONICLES OF A FOUTAIN PEN.