Thursday, July 14, 2011

How to refill your Pilot Varsity

In my last post I reviewed the Pilot Varsity "disposable" fountain pen. Now, I will explain why the word "disposable" is within quotes.

Although Pilot intended for this to be a throwaway pen, some crafty folks have come up with various ways in which to refill it with their own ink. There are many methods out there but my favorite, and the one I use exclusively, is to remove the nib and feed.

Pilot Varsity parts

But first, why would someone refill such a cheap fountain pen? For starters, $3 might not seem a lot but if you keep throwing these pens away, it adds up. Then, there's the fact that the nib writes quite well for the price. Finally, this is a great pen to abuse (say, at work) because if something happens to it, you haven't just lost or destroyed your expensive Montblanc.

Pilot Varsity exploded

There's only one tool that I use for this operation: a pair of needle-nosed pliers. Well, there's also a rag or a piece of cloth (not shown in the photo) that I use between the pliers and the nib/feed so that I don't scratch it. Even better would be a strip of rubber but I don't have any handy.

Pilot Varsity tools

Here are the quick and easy steps needed to refill the Pilot Varsity:
  1. Grip the nib from the side with the pliers but don't forget to cushion with the rag. (You can also remove the nib from the beginning by sliding it off the plastic feed). If the nib has been removed, grip the feed directly.
  2. Hold the pliers in your other hand. 
  3. Brace the tip of the pliers with the thumb of the hand holding the pen.
  4. Apply just enough pressure to prevent the jaws of the pliers from slipping but not too much to crack the plastic feed.
  5. With the thumb, push upwards until the feed is suddenly freed from the section.

Taking apart the Pilot Varsity

Once you got the feed out, you can clean the pen thoroughly. You should rinse the feed really well because ink gets embedded in the wick that goes through it and, if you don't clean it well, it will mix with the new ink you put in. Let it dry for a day or two, or you can even use it right away if you don't mind a little dilution in your ink.

Pilot Varsity nib and feed

Pilot Varsity nib and feed

The Pilot Varsity has a very decent capacity of at least 2ml (my estimate). Notice that I've also removed all the paint from my pen, to make it completely transparent.

Pilot Varsity parts

After filling with ink, just plug the feed back in the section. When it's settled all the way in you will hear (and feel) a distinct click. I like to grip the feed with a cloth for more friction when I plug it in.

That's it then: you have just refilled your Pilot Varsity! I have refilled my first Varsity no less than 4 times already, with: Noodler's Navajo Turquoise, Noodler's Polar Blue, a secret ink mixture soon to be revealed and J Herbin Vert Olive. It looks to me that this pen has a lot of life left in it (the nib feels brand new) so I've got many inks lined up for it. I use the Varsity exclusively at work where it lasts for about 2 weeks of note-taking and scribbling.

So, go forth, refill your Pilot Varsities and enjoy your hacked pen to the max!

73 comments:

  1. What a great post cant wait to try this tonight!!! 

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  2. Did you have to use alcohol or anything else to get the label off?

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  3. That's my question, too.  What did you use to get the label/paint off?  Also, if you are just refilling with the same ink, can you fill it from the back when you take the cap off?

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  4. Not that I know of. I just scraped it off with a blade. Very laborious.

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  5. http://billchance.org/2011/05/27/refilling-a-varsity/

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  6. Thanks Bill! Those photos... they need a lot of work and I'm not satisfied even then.

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  7. Perfectionism at its finest. I can't wait until I am able to acquire a better camera to improve my photo situation. A while back, you had suggested that I acquire a Canon S95. Now I am in a struggle between that and a Nikon P500 (as seen on No Pen Intended). I just want great zooming capability... cost is still keeping me back. 

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  8. Just did it today.  Thank you very much for the tutorial.  I have a cleanly scraped barrel which makes things so much easier.

    Great website.

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  9. Yup, definitely getting me some of these. ;) I just read your review too.

    These look fabulous at $3.00 a piece!

    Thanks for the tutorial!

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  10. Thanks! Another blogger gave me an invaluable tip: you can easily take off the paint using nail polish remover. Damn! Wish I'd known that earlier but I still have a bunch of pens that I will need to clean in the future.

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  11. These are great to test ink samples because they can take all the ink in a vial (about 2ml) that the Goulets sell.

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  12. I got the assorted pack of Varsity pens (seems to be the only way to get one of the colours...) and all of mine have holes in the bottom. I haven't taken any of the silver paint yet, so I can't see the insides, but I'm guessing they have a smaller ink reservoir inside... Is this a design change from the one you used?

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  13. There's no change. If you look closely at the first couple of images at the top of the article you will notice (though it's hard to see) a divider inside the tube. Essentially there's about 1/2 inch of tube that's unused. The endcap is just for esthetic purposes, it's not a stopper. Pilot cheated a bit with this design.

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  14. Just refilled one of mine for the first time recently. Love this pen. It's amazing what Pilot's managed to do with a $3 pen that some companies can't manage with pens that cost several hundred dollars--namely, produce a consistent and smooth-writing nib. Equally smooth if you write with the nib inverted. Medium right side up, fine upside-down.

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  15. Oh but you see, refilling this pen is a dirty little secret Pilot doesn't want anyone to know :)

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  16. I found your blog today, while researching whether refilling a Pilot Varsity was possible, and have ended up subscribing to your RSS feed and reading, like, a dozen posts!  I have also rekindled my fountain pen love recently, so it's fun to see what you've bought that I've recently been looking at.  So even if I don't comment much, you've won a devoted reader today! :)

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  17. Thanks Michelle! It's always good to hear I'm not wasting my time here :) And I'm glad I played a part in rekindling your passion for fountain pens. Just don't go overboard and buy too many expensive pens, ok?

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  18. What a blog I have read. Here you have great opportunity to
    learn in fabulous manner. Blogger has described everything in very effective
    manner so that you could get information what you want.


     

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  19. I've yet to empty my Varsities, but I look forward to refilling them when I do.  This is the best Varsity-refilling guide I've seen yet!  Wonderful job!

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  20. Thanks! Let me know how it went. I have re-filled my first Varsity more than half a dozen times and it runs great. In fact I think the nib has improved over repeated use.

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  21. I'd refilled a Varsity by this method before, but found this post when trying to describe it to someone else.  Very useful!  Only thing is, when I found this, I just had to try to remove the paint on another one, which hadn't occurred to me before.  You must have a defter touch with a blade than I do.  With all the care I could muster, there were lots of scratches and gouges which look worse than the original paint job.  Still, it's unique and it works.

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  22. Believe me, it took me a long time to scrape that paint off. I used the sharp edge of a PCB board, if you can believe it. Apparently the best - and easiest - method is to use nail polish remover. I'll try that for my next Varsity.

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  23. How did you fill the pen, with an eyedropper or pipette or some other alternative? Thanks for the great instructions! My first Varsity (and first fountain pen) should be arriving soon and I am excited already to be able to put in my own inks.

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  24. Well, since the opening is wide enough, you can definitely fill it with an eyedropper/pipette. I prefer pipettes because they're easy to clean but when an opening is too narrow or the pipette is still drying I use a syringe.

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  25. Thanks! As a side note, I saw elsewhere on the web a guy doubled the ink capacity for this pen by taking a drill bit that was slightly smaller than the barrel to drill down through the divided that Pilot put inside the barrel, he even said you can just twist the bit by hand due to the soft plastic. I thought it was neat so I shared lol.

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  26. Oh yeah I actually had the same idea but never got around to doing it. I thought about drilling through that plastic divider and then sealing the end with epoxy. Heh, I even bought the epoxy :) In the end I figured that the Pilot has plenty of capacity anyway, why bother.

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  27. Nice! You know, I never even thought of doing this, and I have been using Varsity pens for years. Thanks for the great info!

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  28. Hey, no problem! I'm not the one who came up with this method though. I discovered several different methods that people use, but this seemed the best. I actually threw away a few Varsities before I realized that they can be refilled.

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  29. I did this the other day, referring to your instructions all the way. It worked just like you said. Thanks!

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  30. Ah I'm glad I managed to convert another Varsity-worshiper!

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  31. thanks a million thanks thanks thanks, i always wanted to do something like this, and i accomplished it and i am very happy, thank you!!

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  32. Sorry for a really really late post, but I'm just getting into FPN's.  This is really a comment on the "removing paint" post from 10 months ago.  I've taken the paint off of my Preppy and gave my Pilot 78G a matte finish by sticking part of the barrel or section in a drill and spinning the parts against sandpaper.  The Preppy is a nice clear demonstrator, and would be really nice as an eyedropper if I didn't crack the threads of the barrel in the process; my drill chuck wasn't big enough to fit the barrel, but it did fit the small friction post under the clip.

    I had a similar issue with the 78G, but I decided to ram a Dremel sander bit up the barrel and tighten the drill chuck to the tool's shaft.  This removed the pretentious look that everyone complained about.  I'd recommend starting at 220 or so and ending at 1500 (auto body shops have this), maybe skipping 330 or 400 to retain some of the rougher cuts but giving a nice sheen.  If you want to remove paint and retain the full shine, I'd recommend going to 2000 and then some buffing, maybe with a 1 or 2 step headlight restoring kit (I have not yet tried this).  BTW, try really hard not to get impatient or you will gouge deep cuts into the barrel that will take forever to come out (or will make the barrel too thin to sand fully out).

    I do not recommend sanding the section like this.  I don't think that the finish is very nice to the fingertips.  If you need to grip the drill chuck on something that may deform like threads, wrap the area in electrical tape first.

    I also tried another step and used some Bondene, a chemical normally used to melt the plastic inside the Preppy's barrel.  It gives an interesting crazed effect.  A larger paintbrush would be good, but Q-tips work ok (lots of re-dipping in the chemical required since the chemical burns off in air quickly).  I wouldn't recommend making an eyedropper out of this without more testing, but if you do, let me know how it goes.


    Thanks guys, for posting the Varsity refill.  I might have to give this a try as soon as one of my Varsities runs out (or maybe before if I get impatient).

    Greg

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  33. Thanks for the awesome comment Greg! The drill method is so obvious I should kick myself for not thinking about it. I have both drill and sandpaper in various grit sizes so I'm gonna give this a try.

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  34. Hi this is jemes,nice information and i am looking for some best Inkjet Printer Ink post where i can get the proper and latest information and its problem.
    please suggest
    http://www.uktonercartridges.co.uk

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  35. Thank you so much for this post. I am looking forward to see more example contents like this for Ink-refill.

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  36. First of all, thank you. I followed your instructions and they work just fine. I bought a three pack at a Staples, but gave away two to family members. I just filled the one I kept with "Heart of Darkness" from Noodler's Ink which comes with a free Preppy. I filled them both with the same ink so I could compare. The Varsity is smoother/wetter but more basic: the Preppy looks and feels like a nicer pen, although it is scratchier. I like wetter and usually go with function over form, but in this case I see no reason to choose. There is plenty of room in my pen jar. Thanks again.
    By the way, I just received delivery of my first order from the Goulet Pen Company. They did a terrific job. The service was great. Above and beyond, actually. It was complete and correct. It shipped sooner than I expected. It was wrapped up like a well cared for baby. The experience was all good.

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  37. Hey I'm glad I could help! I don't know if you've seen this: Varsity + HoD. It's an awesome combination. Now here's the thing. Being cheap, the Varsities vary in nib quality. Some of them may be scratchier than others. The one I use daily is very smooth though and with HoD it feels like butter.

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  38. Beautiful! Thanks so much for the idea! It's given new life to an old dead Varsity I was keeping around for purely sentimental reasons. Now I want to go buy about twenty.

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  39. You're welcome! I recommend the 7-color set.

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  40. Have you tried the disposable Bic fountain pens? I just found them at Staples and really like them. Have not attempted to refill one yet.

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  41. I put my comment in the wrong spot. I just found some Bic disposable fountain pens at Staples. Very similar to the Pilot Varsity. I like the way they write a little better. Have not attempted to refill one yet .

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  42. Yes I head of them but I haven't tried them yet. Not sure I'm going to seeing that I have enough Varsities to last me a lifetime.

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  43. Right. My problem as well. However having too many has never stopped me from buying a new inexpensive pen. The BIC is very nice.

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  44. I just discovered your blog and this post this evening. You inspired me to try refilling one of my Varsity pens, which took all of about 5 minutes. But who wants to use an ugly pen? I redecorated mine alcohol inks. Thanks for the info and inspiration!

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  45. Haha that's cool! Happy to be of service!

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  46. Great post. Just got up, after reading this to look for that Varsity pen I was concerned that I'd thrown out. There it was, stashed in my favorite pen cup. Can't wait to try this out!

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  47. great - and really surprising - tip. The Varsity got me interested in fountain pens, which lead to me buying a Lamy Safari. I like the Lamy, but recall the Varsity being a bit smoother, as well as perfect for my less than ginormous hands. Heading to Jason's in Midtown to pick a couple up today! Gracias.

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  48. I'm also curious about refilling the BIC. I had used and still use the Varsity pens, but saw this and couldn't resist. The pen itself is a little bigger and I think has a greater ink capacity. We'll see if this method works for it too! :)

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  49. So I tried to pull the feed and nib out of the BIC. I tried to be as gentle as possible, but it required some force to get a grip. The result was the nib and "pen tip" part of the feed snapped off, pulling the middle wick(?) out but leaving the rest. Maybe it's seated differently than the Varsity? I'd be interested to hear if anyone else has success.

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  50. Out of curiosity I've tried that a couple of times with basically the same results as yours: destroyed feed. Most likely a nondestructive method could be used as with Varsities but my curiosity didn't go that far to start looking for an appropriate syringe and so force.

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  51. That's pretty cool! Sounds like my story. The Varsity also got me interested. The first 2 fountain pens I purchased were a Lamy AL-Star and a Pilot Prera.

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  52. Thanks. I'm always amazed at addiction. Why did I spend over a $100.00 on my Pelikan when my preppy eye dropper conversions work just fine. Now I have to buy a few of these Varsities. haha.

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  53. Try buying this set of 7 colors:
    http://peninkcillin.blogspot.com/2011/07/pilot-varsity-fountain-pen-review.html
    That way you can refill with similar colors which is less likely to contaminate the new ink.

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  54. Cool idea, converting $3 pen into heirloom. Had a 3-pack of Varsities a while back. They are better than Schaeffer bottom-of-the-line refillables, which tend to crack, and to leave messes. Also scraped some of the paint off my Varsities to keep an eye on ink level. Excellent up-close photos, you know how to work with your light and color balance. Dig the name too... fountain pens are much like syringes, pointy on one end and full of liquid. Gimme an injection of thought and knowledge!

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  55. Last photo shows how simple a fountain pen can be. A pen designed like this, but of more durable material would be extra easy to clean, could have replaceable nibs w/ different widths/ types... I miss the old "globe" nibs that Speedball made.
    Great shots. Sweet closeups, sweeter lighting.

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  56. You can drill that out tho, and plug up the end with silicone or something. I might use a bunch of tape to cover the hole on the back so I cam refill it easier. I just wanna use plain black ink in mine.

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  57. I just tried this and it worked like a charm. Thanks so much for posting it!!

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  58. Hi, I'm young and new to fountain pens. I have the Varsity, but I was wondering if this is actually classified as a fountain pen, since the tip has a ball on it? Also, I'm almost done using the ink in this pen, and was wondering what type of ink should I buy to refill it? Is it bad if its waterproof or permanent ink, because maybe I wont be able to rinse the wick out? What should I look out for? Finally, how can I get finer lines with this pen? I can't use it for note taking, like I want to, because I find that the lines are too thick. I don't think there is a solution for this beyond changing my writing style, but it doesn't hurt to ask. This is my first fountain pen and so far I really like it. I hope to refill it many times. Thanks in advance for the advice!

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  59. Hi Chris, thanks for visiting! The Varsity is indeed a fountain pen, albeit disposable and very inexpensive. The "ball" that you see is actually the tipping of the nib which can have different shapes or be entirely absent, depending on the type of nib. In the Varsity it is round because it makes the nib write smooth.


    I have used a variety of inks in the same Varsity pen, even though I have several. I have found that it doesn't really matter what ink you use. You can mix up colors, or use waterproof inks, provided you flush the inside + feed + nib really well. The wick will definitely stain, especially with dark inks, and most likely will remain stained. However, that won't affect the color of future inks.


    To clean the wick as much as possible, flush it well with water and blow through it several times. Then press it on a paper towel to suck all the remaining ink out of it. Finally, let it dry for a few days before refilling the pen.


    Personally I find the line from the Varsity to be thin enough (it's actually between a Japanese medium and broad) but if you want thinner, you'll probably have to attempt to grind the nib yourself but if you have no experience with that you might ruin it. Luckily the Varsity is cheap enough that it won't break the bank if you do.

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  60. Thanks for the reply! It cleared up all my questions really well. Now that I think about it, the ball tip does help it write really smoothly. I'm glad that the type of ink does not really matter, so I'll just pick the colours that I like best. I also just noticed that the nib does not have a hole in it, but just a circle shape. Why is that? I'm guessing its because the feed already feeds the ink past that point, but I don't know.

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  61. I'm glad I could help. Just go with whatever colors catch your fancy. Thing is, nibs come in many flavors and many don't even have the hole. I believe (I'm not 100% certain on this) that the hole helps with flow, but that works in conjunction with the feed. If the feed is designed to not require a hole, then flow won't be affected.

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  62. Hey. I read your post and this inspired me to try and hack a varsity. I added my own fill mechanism that allows you to fill it without removing the feed system and uses the whole barrel for ink. It only took me a fewimutes with basic tools. I also scraped the paint with the help of a little acetone. So far no leaks and the FP writes great. Great article . twas inspiring. :)

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  63. That's pretty awesome! I never got around to doing this. Can you explain in more detail what you did? I thought about it and in the end it doesn't make much sense for me because I change inks with every fill-up so I have to wash the pen thoroughly every time.

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  64. Excellent Post. Do you happened to know who makes the turquoise coloured ink that is used in the varsity pens? If not what brand do you think resembles it best? There used to be a Private Peserve color called navajo blue, but perhaps Levenger Noodler, or Waterman has something that is closer. Warm Regards, Rolando

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  65. I use acetone to wipe off the paintwork

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  66. Thanks for this post. Like the Varsity for work, as you say, because it's less worry than risking an expensive pen. Just did my first Varsity hack tonight. :-D

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  67. Well, I finally got past this fear (I think), first by taking my Kaweco Sport to work (I use it as an eyedropper and it has massive capacity), and then my Lamy AL Star (which I'm currently using), and soon my new (and most expensive pen) Pilot Vanishing Point. I need to watch them like a hawk but at least I'm getting to enjoy using them.

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  68. I refilled mine just today using this method and now my pen doesn't work.What did I do wrong?

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  69. There could be a number of thing, but right off the top of my head, I'd suggest to let it sit for a while. Give the wick and feed time to soak up the ink. Also, what ink did you use? If it's a very very dry ink it might be stubborn to flow. I've filled up several of these pens dozens of time with different inks and never had issues. Even if they start hard, they will eventually start without fail.

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