Zen and the Art of Pen Polishing: Micro-Mesh

For years, I was a staunch anti-polisher.  I never polished pens.  With anything.  No simichrome, no flitz, no polish of any kind.  I figured the pen had lived its life for 50 to near 100 years as is and a little wear reflected the beauty that was such an old instrument.

Well all this changed about three years ago when I discovered Micro-Mesh.  First I tried the one sided sanding strips.  These were ok, but messy and hard to handle and control.  They were almost too long.  I played with these for a year and when I decided perhaps I should get another set, I discovered the nirvana of polishing.  The Micro-Mesh double sided pad.  Now before I go any further I should mention Micro-Mesh should always be used wet.  If you want to really take material off or go through your pads quickly don’t, but in this case keeping these for a long time is a really good thing.  In fact, everytime I expected these to be worn out I just kept on using them and using them and using them and…

Anyway, back to the pads.  They are double sided which means twice the surface area and you can just grab them and use them.  I happen to have my ultrasonic sitting on my desk, and I just dip the pad into the water like a chip into dip and then wipe off any excess that drips off.  I have a hand towel that I drape over my lap to keep my clothes dry and I begin polishing.

The technique I use depends on the type of polishing I’m doing.  In a worst case scenario, on a pen with heavy scratches, I start with the coarsest grit, the 1500.  Get it good and wet and then start in.  With a lot of polishing you’re going to use the edge of the pad for the most control.  By doing so, you wear the sandpaper down in an even matter.  You also always know what part of the pad has been used the most.  I typically will also flip the pad over when working with it, particularly if material starts to come off on the pad.  If the pad is still wet, flipping it over will give you another wet area to work with.  If you notice the pad is starting to dry up (which can happen, especially with finer grits), just dip it back in the water. and go at it again.  If there is a good deal of pen material on the pad, take an old toothbrush (You DO have one set aside for various pen related projects, right?) and brush the pad off in the water to get it clean.

Well used Micro-Mesh and a well polished Duofold Sr.

Well used Micro-Mesh and a well polished Duofold Sr.

Once you think you’ve done a good job with one grit (usually I see some material come off on the pad, which tells me I’ve at least gone to a reasonable level), wipe off the pen part you are working on, then grab the next grit, whether that be 1800, 2400, or 3200, depending on how bad the pen you’re working on is.  Dip in water and repeat.  Making sure you keep the pad wet and you clean off the pen in between grits.  I should mention I don’t always use all grits, and I don’t always use the 12000 grit.  Sometimes on older vintage pens, the 12000 grit will give such a nice deep shine it almost looks unnatural.  On older pens I typically stop at 8000.  After all, a little imperfection is ok on a pen that is 70 years old.  I’m certainly not going to look perfect at that age so why should my pen?  Now, if you want that high gloss shine, then by all means, polish away.  I have been known to take problem pens and polish them to a high shine just because.  The pen may have some minor imperfection, discoloration or crack that otherwise downgrades it to user status, so why not make it look fantastic?

The coarser grits are good for working on discolored hard rubber sections.  You can remove the oxidation fairly easily with 1500 to 3600 grits.  I go no higher than 8000 grit on sections as the hard rubber looks a little out of place with a high polish.  For protection of imprints, use some tape (I use green painters tape), and then remove it once you get to the 6000-8000 level.  Don’t touch any gold filled trim until you get to the 8000 level or you’ll see that gold go away quickly.  On nickel or steel trim, go ahead and polish away, but usually no coarser than 6000.

The 6000, 8000, and 12000 grit can also be used for nib work, but not in the way you might think.  I will often clean the tops of steel nibs with 6000 and 8000 grit.  this will take off any kind of oxidation and scratching and really shine the nib nice.  Esterbrook nibs particularly look nice when using this technique.  You can also polish 14kt nibs as well.  I prefer 8000 for this and it can really make the nib look nice.  I do not do this on all nibs, however, just those where an otherwise ordinary cleaning doesn’t do the job.  If you have a two tone gold and platinum mask nib where the platinum mask has worn off to the point of being more of an eyesore (take some two tone vacumatic nibs for example), this technique will nicely remove those last remains from the nib.

Of course, the 8000 and 12000 can be used for smoothing nibs.  Once you’re certain you have the tines aligned properly, a couple of figure eights on a wet pad will give it that smoothing it needs.  Always go slow and check frequently, and if you’re new to the technique, practice on nibs you wouldn’t mind screwing up first.  Don’t start out by working on that Parker #10 nib!

Two sets of well used Micro-Mesh

Two sets of well used Micro-Mesh

Work with one grit at a time, whether it be on the cap and barrel and other parts, or one part at a time, but one grit at a time ensures you don’t miss a step in the polishing process.

At some point you’ll notice the edge of the pad on both sides is starting to wear and becoming less and less effective.  At this point, all you have to do is break out the scissors and cut off the edge a mm or two at a time.  You end up with progressively smaller and smaller pads, but they are still usable.  I have my original pair from about three years ago and they are still very usable pads and I polish a lot of pens!

I hope this gives you an idea of how you can better use Micro-Mesh sanding pads in your pen repair and restoration and to breathe some new life into those old pens.  Polish On!