When you have nothing left to lose (fixing a Rotring 400 nib)

Rotring 400 nibs and shipping tube. To unscrew the nib/feed assembly from the sleeve, you insert the nib into the red plug and twist.

Back in the 80s–or maybe the 90s–I destroyed a couple of Rotring 400 fountain pen sections by first using technical pen ink in the pens and then trying to unclog them by soaking them in technical pen cleaner. This was a really bad mistake, because corrosive substance + anodised aluminum = disaster. Fortunately, Rotring GmbH saved me from myself and replaced the sections free of charge (they weren’t under any obligation to do so), including the nibs. The damaged section sleeves had to go but the nibs had repair potential, I thought; but after much effort they remained irreparable and I put them away for close to two decades.

In 2010 I tried unsuccessfully to get the nibs working again, and although I resolved to finally get rid of them —  this time, really, honest — my pack-rat tendencies got the better of me. Back into the parts box they went, neatly labelled as FAULTY–THROW AWAY!

Fast forward to today. I’d gone a-Googling for replacement nibs again and come up empty-handed except for a few tentative leads. This time I listened to the voice of frustration, retrieved the dead nibs from the parts box and  prepared to destroy them completely — or fix them.

First nib. No idea how it had originally been assembled. Pliers. Application of force. Tinkling of shiny metal object as it skittered across the desk.

Nasty, ugly toolmarks on metal and plastic. Oh, well.


Rotring 400 nib and feed


I cleaned the parts with a brush, then blew through one end of the feed. There seemed to be no blockage. Just for the hell of it I scored the channel on the feed with a utility knife, to make it a bit wider and deeper. Back went the nib onto the feed, and the feed into the sleeve. A new cartridge was installed and the pen reassembled.

Surprise, surprise: nothing came out of the business end but inkless writing. I put the pen aside, nib down, and returned every few hours to see if things had improved.

Over twelve hours later the pen decided it was time to wake up and write scratchily. I realigned the tines with the help of a loupe and stopped when finally:

This is the rattiest pen in my collection, so the extra toolmarks don’t matter, right?

Ha. Ze kludge, it worked! Onward to the next!

Edit 08 July:

Fixed the other nib tonight. There were more problems this time: nib slightly squashed, tines pressed together too tightly; crud in feed. It’s really a good thing that the metal was so tough and springy — my ham-handed efforts would have destroyed the thing otherwise. Nib and feed may look as if they have been through the wars but the pen works quite nicely, which is all that really matters.

And if I really wanted pretty… well, I managed to score some new Rotring F and M triples (nib/feed/housing) on Ebay tonight. Woohoo!

Camera: Pentax K-5
Date: 01 July 2012
Lens 1: Sigma 50mm 1:2.8 DG Macro
Ambient light only.
Hand-held only.
Cropping and resizing in Irfanview.


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