Heart Transplant on a 1st Generation Sheaffer Tuckaway

IMAG0560 copy

Pen and Pencil Set

I sent a 1st generation vacuum-fill Sheaffer Tuckaway to Gerry Berg to have the filler system restored.  Gerry is the best there is at this particular repair, and pens he restores are better than new.  In this case, though, Gerry contacted me to say that he was unable to complete the repair on this pen because there was an air leak somewhere in the barrel, in the part that is inside a gold-filled metal shell.  He had only found this problem after completing his usual repair work, including rebuilding the seals inside the packing unit through which the plunger rod passes and fitting new sealing washers on the plunger tip.  The problem would not have been detectable until these repairs were done.

I asked Gerry to return the pen to me as it was and he graciously charged only half price despite having spent more time and effort on the pen than usual.

Lifetime Tuckaway I vacuum fill with NOS barrel annotated

At this point it seemed that the pen was destined to be a display piece, never to write again.  Then an amazing coincidence occurred: someone offered a NOS barrel for a 1st generation vacuum-fill Tuckaway on eBay.  I purchased the part, intending to try major surgery on the pen.


I queried Gerry and a couple of other knowledgeable pen people about the internal construction of the Tucky, but it seemed that nobody had actually opened one up.  Undeterred, I came up with a plan.

The gold-filled metal shell was held captive between a flange on the gripping end of the barrel and a similar flange on the packing unit, with the latter apparently extending inside the barrel and being glued or, more likely, solvent welded to the back end of the barrel.  Annotated TuckieThus there was no way to extract the barrel from the shell without getting rid of one of those flanges.  I did not want to risk damage to the packing unit since I had no replacement available, so the barrel would have to be separated at the flange.

Lifetime Tuckaway I cutting the barrelUsing a very sharp x-acto knife, I gradually worked a groove into the junction of the sleeve and the barrel flange.  After quite a while, the barrel was cut in two and it seemed that I would be able to pull the remaining part of the barrel out of the sleeve from the back end.  Unfortunately that was not the

Lifetime Tuckaway I vacuum fill sleeve showing key annotated

case.  I was able to pull the packing unit end of the barrel out of the sleeve just about 1/8″ – no farther.  A close inspection revealed that a key soldered inside the sleeve engaged a slot in the side of the barrel, but because that slot did not extend the length of the barrel, movement stopped when the key hit the end of the slot.  What to do?

Since the junction of the packing unit and the barrel was now visible, I examined it with a loupe and notice that there seemed to be a small gap there – probably the source of the offending air leak.  I gripped the packing unit with my padded section pliers and gave a little wiggle; the gap widened just a bit.  More cautious wiggling followed and suddenly the packing unit slid free from the barrel!  That joint, glued or solvent welded in 1940, had begun to fail, causing the air leak, and now was weak enough to break free cleanly. More than likely I could have achieved this breakthrough without destroying the barrel, but I had no way of knowing that until I could actually see the offending joint.Lifetime Tuckaway I vacuum fill disassembled and with replacement NOS barrel annotated

At this time I consulted with Gerry Berg regarding what to use to secure the joint, and he recommended a good two-part epoxy/resin, which is what he uses when it is necessary to reglue other Sheaffer packing units.  I found some epoxy recommended for plastics at my local old-time hardware store and was ready to begin the reassembly process.

The NOS barrel slipped into the sleeve easily.  I inserted the packing unit partway into the barrel, then applied epoxy using a toothpick to place it in just the right locations, being a little generous to ensure a good seal.  Gerry had pointed out that epoxy expands as it cures, so this gave a little margin for error.  With the epoxy in place, I pressed the packing unit fully into the barrel, then clamped the pen longitudinally with a small bar clamp.

The epoxy package said that a full cure requires 24 hours, so I tried my best to be patient and not disturb the joint.  Exactly 24 hours later, I removed the clamp, inserted the plunger rod through the barrel opening and out through the packing unit, reattached the blind cap to the end of the plunger rod, and screwed the nib/feed assembly back into place. (This is the only model of vintage Sheaffer pen that I’ve encountered that has a screw-in nib/feed setup.)

First test was to stroke the plunger and listen for a reassuring poof – got it!  Next was a water test: insert the nib/feed/section into some water, stroke the plunger, and wait a few seconds for ink to be sucked into the pen, then reverse the process to see how much water was pulled in – answer…quite a lot for such a small pen.  Finally, immerse the entire pen in water, stroke the plunger, and look for any signs of tiny bubbles from an air leak – none!  Gerry’s repairs had worked and my surgery had fixed the air leaks!

Writing sampleSoon I had filled the pen with ink, smoothed a slightly rough nib, and was happily writing with a pen brought back from the dead!


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