Saturday, February 5, 2011

How to revive a dead Lamy AL-Star

Among the goodies I got with my first Jetpens purchase, the Lamy AL-Star in aluminum with an EF nib was a top contender toward becoming my main fountain pen. Alas, it turned out I received a dud. The pen was close to being DOA.

The pen came with a blue Lamy ink cartridge but I also bought a Z24 converter to use with bottled ink after the cartridge ran out.

As soon as I started using the AL-Star, I realized that I was having problems. The pen showed several symptoms. The line was faint but I assumed that came from the Lamy ink which wasn't very saturated. The nib skipped a lot and usually it was scratchy. The flow would stop for long periods of time after which it would resume after much coaxing. It would write "normally", but not very satisfyingly, and then it would stop again without warning.

I attributed all my woes to the Lamy ink and cartridge. I told myself that once I'm done with that cartridge I can switch to Noodler's Heart of Darkness (which was the ink I intended to use in this pen) and everything would be ok. I was wrong. My troubles had only started.

In what follows is a list of things I did in order to get this pen working.

Lamy AL-Star disassembled

1) After finishing the Lamy cartridge, I flushed both the pen and converter (although I hadn't used the converter yet) with water and a couple of drops of dish washing liquid. I then flushed them all multiple times with just water.

2) I loaded up the pen with Noodler's Heart of Darkness ink. The problem immediately got worse. I managed to get the ink flowing but the line was very faint and scratchy despite the fact that this ink is usually very dark and saturated so it was clear something was very wrong with the flow.

3) I thought maybe the pen didn't like the ink so I tried 2 more inks in it: Noodler's Navajo Turquoise and Noodler's Gruene Cactus Eel which is a lubricating ink. Neither worked. I started to despair and almost gave up on the pen.

4) I decided to try one final ink in it: Diamine Orange.

5) I also decided to use the ink cartridge I had saved, loaded with Diamine Orange via a syringe because I'd heard that sometimes cartridges provide a better flow than converters.

6) At the same time I took a closer look at the EF nib and noticed that the tines were touching. Holding it to the light showed no light shining through. I used a piece of 35mm film, pulling it multiple times between the tines, in an attempt to create some space between them. I started from the breathing hole and forced the film along the length of the tines, toward the tip. I also tried to do the same with an exacto knife but I wasn't very successful because the blade is comparatively thick compared to the space between the tines. Eventually I reached a point where I could discern light between the tines.

Having done all this, I loaded up the pen with the cartridge containing Diamine Orange and lo and behold, it started writing! Not only did it start but it now writes very smoothly and, dare I say, wetly. The ink flow is excellent and I even get the impression that it's smoother than my Pilot Prera.

Wow what a difference! The only beef I have now with the Lamy is that (perhaps as a result of spacing out the tines) it writes far from EF. Compared with a Japanese nib I'd hazard to guess that it feels more like a B or BB. But hey, it writes and I was almost prepared to chuck it in the trash.

So which of the above methods did the trick? It's hard to pinpoint but I think 4, 5 and 6 all might have contributed to an extent. It is possible that the Lamy doesn't like Noodler's ink but other people are using this ink in it with success. It is also possible that the converter sucks for some reason but then what is the point of having a converter?

Until I test the AL-Star with a different ink plus the converter, I will put my money on the nib. Because the tines were touching I believe the flow of the ink was severely restricted.

I've heard of other people having issues with their Lamys (AL-Star, Safari, Vista or Joy). If you do happen to experience a similar problem, I suggest you try some or all of my steps but just to save you time, I'd start with taking a look at the nib and spreading the tines a little if there's no light shining through. And if you're successful in fixing it, please drop me a line here.

16 comments:

  1. Your persistence is awesome! This post is a great resource of ideas.

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  2. I own 4 fountain pens; two Lamy Safaris (EF and M nibs), a Parker Frontier and a Sheaffer from the 1980s. All write perfectly and none of the nibs allow light to shine through between the tines, so I'm thinking that you shouldn't be able to see light there.

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  3. It depends how wet you'd like the nib to write. I believe that mass produced nibs don't usually have gaps but if you have ink flow issues, a slight gap between the tines will help. The gap doesn't have to be large, even the width of a hair can help.

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  4. I own two parker Frontier fountain pens,i had bought them couple of years back.intially the writing was really smooth ,flexible.Of late the flow of ink isnt good.After i write a page,the flow of ink exhausts.the writing is very light & also rough.Can someone suggest me a appropriate remedy.

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  5. Nib tines should or shouldn't be touching depending on your writing pressure. I think personally all nibs should have a small gap at the tip, but if you write hard, you may want them touching. This is due to the "flex" in any piece of metal. Unless you're writing with a total NAIL (like a P51), you will get some slight tine spread with heavy writing pressure. The tines must be spread for ink to flow. They can either be spread by themselves, or by your hand pressure. Most vintage flex pens will have the tines tightly touching, because they go so wide open with minimal pressure! Same principle.

    But if you use moderate pressure, you want a gap at the tip. I don't think the ink has that much to do with this. I think your spreading the tines did. Many a nib come to my shop scratchy and dry. With a little tweaking, they are already smooth and wet, though a run -in with smoothing stuff does help.

    Good job on getting it to write! I am happy that it wasn't totally ruined.

    I'd venture to say a Lamy EF is probably a Japanese M, or a western F/M. German pens seem to run 1-1.5 times bigger in nib sizes. My VP B is thin, but not that thin. It's about the same as my TWSBI B nib.

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  6. This particular EF feels like a nail, no flex whatsoever. At any rate, I don't press hard on my nibs, I use a light touch.

    Taking the TWSBI as a curious example, I was surprised to find out that the B nib actually has a little bit of flex in it, while the EF doesn't.

    Speaking of which, the B skips a little. Any suggestions on getting it to flow better? I tried pressing harder on it a bit, just to spread the tines out. I'm using Noodler's Polar Brown in it.

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  7. Yes, the TWSBI B nibs have that lovely spring to them! Those nibs really rely on your writing pressure. Most of them will write super-dry out-of-the-box if you write with light pressure. But with moderate pressure, the tines flex enough to allow great ink flow.

    On the skipping - make sure the tines are aligned, and flush the nib/feed out with soapy water. a small cup of water with 1-2 drops of dish soap will do the trick.

    If that doesn't work, then it probably has rounded inner margins. Unless you're comfortable grinding your own nibs, you won't want to try fixing this yourself. :)

    But the soapy-water and tine alignment should get you working again.

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  8. I peered at it with my loupe and it doesn't seem to have rounded edges. But I did forget to rinse it in soapy water so I'm gonna try that as soon as I run out of ink.

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  9. Your advice with placing the 35mm film through the tine really helped. I had no paper but i used a very thin double edge razor in between the tine starting from the hole and now the ink flows beautifully. I am using a fine nib and it looked like an extra fine and many times committal of ink to paper was faint as well as it was a little toothy. Now it writes between a good fine to faint medium and inkflow is consistent. 

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  10. Well I'm really glad my advice helped! I was a big newbie when I fixed this nib and I found out how to do it from more experienced people. I was really happy it worked.

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  11. In this blog there is a great method for increasing the ink flow. http://tortugavacumatica.blogspot.com.es/
    I hope it helps.

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  12. Excellent! Thanks for the great link. I knew about the feed widening method but what interested me even more was the fact that you can actually pull out the feed in the Lamy. I suspected that could be done but I was scared to try it. It seemed so stiff. Now I know better. Oh and I added that blog to my blogroll.

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  13. I just received a Lamy Safari (EF nib) and I was disappointed to find it did not write well. This is actually my second attempt with a Lamy Safari, the first I sent back for refund because it did not write well. By "not writing well" I mean writing very dry, requiring a lot of pressure, and flow of the ink is inconsistent, etc. I was determined to make this pen work (I really like the quality of the pen and how sturdy it feels), so I searched the Internet about flossing nibs to increase tine width. I don't have any of those brass shims, but I found your February 2012 post about using the thin metal strips from the inside of the electronic tags on merchandise. I was able to slide both strips through my Lamy nib and it greatly improved the flow! (I tried one strip first, and indeed I found resistance right at the tip of the pen). I thought I could tweak it a tiny bit more, and while looking around the house and garage for another electronic tag (maybe I could slide 3 through the nib?) I found something better, a gapping tool which had a sheet for .0015" and .002". I have read where these are the optimal sizes for flossing your nib. After first flossing with the .0015" then the .002" sheet, the flow of ink on my Lamy was even better! I also had a couple Platinum Preppys that wrote dry and they also now right well following this method. Thank you for sharing your information!

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  14. Wow, I'm so glad my advice helped! Mine had exactly the same symptoms. By reading countless blog posts and forums I finally managed to get it working but back then I was a huge noob and had no idea why the pen wouldn't write. Now I know a lot more but I'm still not an expert. But again, I'm very happy my post helped.

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  15. Bottlegreen ElderflowerOctober 18, 2012 at 1:01 AM

    I have a Lamy Safari with an EF and F nib, both black. I found that the pen with the stock ink ran fairly wet and especially wide on lower quality paper. The EF and F are almost the same width on copy paper. I use barely any pressure with either nib, just lightly touching the paper. The paper being off the writing surface in fact gives the best performance. I have however noticed something very interesting. I've handed the pen to several people with a variety of writing grips and noticed, not every one can get the pen to perform the same. A friend of mine could hardly get it to write her name. I suspect it was the ergonomics.

    I also read an interesting review of the nibs that basically said there is a fair amount of variation in the nib sizing. Basically the person bought 5 or more EF nibs and found most of them to be very close to the wide, while one was actually very fine. I suspect you just got a bad nib. The real test would be to go pick up a new EF nib from a retailer, or online and test it out.

    I have yet to try any other ink past the stock yet, but I am planning to get some noodler's ink in a bit. I read reviews saying the ink works better when you dip the whole nib in to fill rather than just the converter. I suspect its just something to do with how the pen primes the ink. I will do some tests when I get it.

    A side note on paper: I found that the envelope that my student loan harassment statement came in, was of a higher quality paper than the documents inside it, This includes the return envelope. After discussing it with my friend we decided this is because, while no one really looks at nor writes upon the contents of their incoming mailed envelopes, everyone invariably writes on the envelopes. My friends exclamation to this realization was that, "the universe does make sense after all."

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  16. Well, these are fairly cheap, mass-produced pens. I'm pretty sure there are variances in nib quality. It's not like they test each nib manually.

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