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Thursday, September 8, 2011

How it all began...

With my house finally coming together, and dozens of pens coming in for work, I haven't had much time for blogging. I have an ink review or two this week, but since I haven't posted in a while, I thought I might do something a little different. :)

I'm going to share with you all, the story of how I got started into fountain pens, and how I began repairing them too. I hope you will enjoy this little piece of my history. It means a lot to me, as without this, I would be both without a job, and without many good friends and good times with my fellow FP enthusiasts. And now onto the story:

Years ago, when I was a younger person, I was totally into, and LOVED office supplies. Every time I went to the store with my mother, the first place I would ask to go was the office section. I would stare at all the ball-points, mechanical pencils, markers, and notebooks. And sometimes I would even come home with a little something. I never really had much to write, but I just enjoyed owning pens and paper. It was a strange addiction, if in fact I can call it that.

As I grew, I acquired a taste for vintage/antique items. Pocket watches, brass compasses, maps, scrolls, and dip pens. I was also into calligraphy at the time. Though I was not very good at it, and still am not... I thought to myself, a dip pen would be really fun to use - and that's exactly where it all began. After browsing online for endless hours, I finally found a site that offered a set of dip pen "stuff". It had six crow feathers, a brass ferule, and around 20 nibs. I ordered it, and bought some Higgins calligraphy ink from a craft store. I enjoyed the use of that set for quite a while, but as some of you know, dip pens are not very practical. I began hunting for "something else".

All this happened at the same time as was beginning to be influenced by a good friend of mine. The Pastor of our local church has been into fountain pens for a few years longer than me. He was excited about them, and willing to share the excitement! I began looking into FP's, per his suggestion. At this point, I knew NOTHING about fountain pens - absolutely nothing. I looked at the "for-sale" section on the old Fountain Pen Network. There were so many pens! I was dazzled, and confused. Instead of working through the mountain of information all by myself, I sought the help of my friend. He suggested two pens to me - A Sheaffer Snorkel, or a Parker 51. At the time, I thought the snorkel was cooler, the 51 being to ball-point-ish for me. Now it was a matter of saving up. Being the age I was (around 12-13), saving up $60.00 + was a big deal. I ended up giving out on the idea of having the snorkel. I decided to wait a little longer, and save a little more. That's when generosity came into play:

September 2008 - I was at a friends wedding, at our local church. At my current age, I admit that I wasn't altogether too interested in the wedding itself, but I had friends there, so I was still enjoying myself. It was a special day in two ways - both the wedding, and a "wedding" of my own. That perfect match of hand to pen! My pastor ( the same one mentioned earlier), surprised me with a gift. My first, very own fountain pen! I was excited! My brother had been given his own fountain pen a few weeks ago, for his birthday, so he had some ink, which I borrowed. I remember the first ink I ever used... Aurora Black. I remember inking up that first pen. I knew almost nothing about it. It was a c/c filler, a Chinese pen branded under a fancy french name. It wasn't anything special, but it sure wrote well! Pictured below is that special pen - my very first fountain pen, and the start of an amazing journey.

As many will say, it's a downhill road from here. I prefer to think of it as an uphill road, getting closer to perfection every step of the way. :)

The next step for me was a "good" pen. Something relatively expensive for me, to make it special. Less than $100.00 to be specific. To be even more specific, $80.00. That's what it cost me for my second fountain pen - the famous and amazing Parker 51.

This is the original picture of my Parker 51, from the "sale-add" that it was purchased from. It doesn't look quite as pristine these days, but it's still going strong! The model is a newer one, black body, chrome-brushed cap, XF/F nib.

I didn't do the actual purchasing myself, my pastor-friend was once again there to help me.

This Parker 51 was my first ever taste of pen-repair. When I first got it, it was not writing at all. I was rather concerned, and sad. But luckily my friend has two sons, who are both wonderful at repairing pens! With all three of them helping, we finally got this pen writing. And oh boy, it did write! I had many long hours of enjoyment with this pen. It went through a LOT with me, and still gets much use today. Along the way, I joined Fountain Pen Network. I quickly discovered them to be the kindest, most sincere, helpful, and informative people on the web! I spent a lot of time reading on there, and having a good old time. I sought much advice there in the first year of my FP journey.

August 2009 - About a year after owning my Parker 51, I lost the barrel to it. I was heartbroken about this one... Luckily this mistake lead to my first pen show! DC fountain pen super-show, 2009. I remember it well. Just like Richard Binder describes it - it is dazzling for the new FP user! So many pens, and people, who all share the same passion for writing instruments. I had a blast there, and I also found a replacement barrel for my precious Parker 51.

Now things were really rolling. I began learning about different papers, inks, and pens. Always there was Mr. Spear (my pastor), to help me along. He gave me many inks, helped me with all my fix-it needs, and always loved to talk pens! I owe much to him, for both, his kindness and generosity. He deserves a public "Thank you Mr. Spear!" for all he's done for me.

August 2010 - Finally I decided upon something. You see, I had been very apprehensive about buying new pens. They were expensive, and I just couldn't justify owning multiple pens at the time. I needed two things - a job, and an excuse to try out different pens. :) For me, to learn about fountain pens, I needed to handle them. I needed to see them in person. That's just the way I learn - hands on, trial and error. I wanted to learn the different models, sizes, companies, etc. Being an extremely entrepreneurial person, I had only one logical choice. Pen repair. And that was it! I purchased my basic tools for re-saccing a lever filler, and bought my first broken pen. An Esterbrook J - Copper in color.

Here it is - the first pen that I ever restored. I sold it to man on FPN, who ended up becoming friend of mine. It makes me happy to know that it's in his hands, being used to this day!

Through the process of restoring this pen, I was befriended by someone who I owe much to. Going by the name of OcalaFlGuy on FPN, Bruce (his real name) helped me along with my first repair. He shared with me his "secret-recipe" for polishing up old Esterbrooks. It sure worked! He also helped me with the other repairs - getting a new nib, sac size, etc. He's been helpful to me ever since! His advice, and excellent methods helped make me the pen-repairman I am today. He also deserves a public "Thanks Bruce - you rock!" for all that he's done for me. :)

It was very slow restoring pens when I first started. I could only afford one pen at a time. Sell it, then buy one more, then sell it, and buy two, and so on. I started off the right way by building a reputation for good customer service, and properly restored pens.

Next big event was my second pen show. This time I had a bit more cash to spend there, which may or may not have been a good thing. ;) Pen shows can be terribly costly, since there are just to many good deals to pass up!

I purchased some good equipment there, but most importantly, got my first custom nib job. My Parker 51 was in need of something special, to commemorate my success at starting pen repair. I purchased a medium nib from one of the vendors there, and then had it stubbed, by Michael Masuyama - a well known Japanese nibmeister. I loved the new nib! It made my Parker 51 into a whole new pen.

I got back from that show and kept on repairing pens. Things got bigger and better, and I was finally starting to get really good at basic repairs.

January 10th 2011 - A very big day for me. I received an email from a member of FPN, about possibly taking on the job of restoring his pens. Both were Esterbrooks, and both were in fairly rough condition. I said yes! This was my first ever "client" job, where I worked on someone else's pens. Both of those pens were so much fun to restore. It was difficult getting some of the parts for them, but I did it! I was excited to hear how happy the client was when he got his pens back. I realized then and there that I needed to be working on other peoples pens too - not just my own. The pleasure of seeing a customer leave happy and willing to return for more is one of my all-time favorite things.

Here is a picture of one of the pens I restored for David. A green Esterbrook J model, sporting 2668 (firm medium) nib, tuned by me for maximum smoothness.

April 2011 - My second "client" job. This one was for Diane B, a fellow blogger about pens and paper. I restored for her this Blue Esterbrook Dollar-pen. Another exciting job for me, and another happy customer!

Here is Diane's pen. I love the color of this pen!

Soon afterwards I got a few more job. Nothing huge, but enough to keep me a little bit busy. I finally decided to open up a website. With the website up I began growing more popular. After many requests, I finally decided that I needed to learn...

May 2011 - My very first self-ground nib. A success! Remember my first fountain pen - the one we talked about at the beginning of this story? Well that's the one that got this special stub treatment. I had very little tools for grinding this nib, but I was confident I could make it work. Sure enough, with a lot of time and effort, I achieved a decent stub. Not perfect, by any means, but it wrote pretty well. I was happy!

Shortly after, I began really practicing, and honing my skills. Sure enough, with time, effort, and some moderately costly equipment, I am now set up for professional-quality nib grinding. I really enjoy grinding nibs, and I can't wait till I finally get around to setting up a table at a pen show, and doing some real-time grinding with you all.

That really brings us up to present day. I have a lot of outside work these days, though I do still find time to occasionally repair my own pens and re-sell them. I still love what I do and I am constantly striving to learn more new skills. Soon you can expect to see services for Sheaffer Vac-Fills! I've had a lot of requests for fixing these pens, and have sadly had to turn down a few folks. I've got the equipment I need, and now it's just a matter of a little more practice till I'm ready to go "pro".

I hope you've enjoyed this little story. It brought back some great memories writing it. I can't wait till I've been doing this for 10-20 years, as these memories will become even more meaningful, and funny. Some of the past mistakes I made give me a good laugh these days, as do my successes. Overall, I love what I do, and I'm so happy that my path in life led me to this point. I will always be continually working towards the goal of perfection, though I know perfectly well that it's impossible to achieve. But I may as well get as close as I can. ;)

With a sincere "thank you" to good friends,
Yours truly,
777 - Tyler Dahl


  1. Tyler, thank you so much for sharing your journey (thus far!) with all of us. What you wrote reminds me of the old saying: "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life."May you always enjoy pen repair & nib work as much as you do now!Best wishes,~Maja

  2. That's a great story, Tyler.  Keep up the good work!

  3. Interesting stuff - I wouldn't have guess you've been at it for such a short time!

    I'd like to hear a bit more about why you're the "777" Pen Repair and how you got such a great banner. The art-work/cursive banner reminds me of Georgia O'Keefe's skull portraits.

  4. You're most welcome!

    Wow, what a quote - that's a great view on jobs! I've always thought the same thing.

    Thank you for the kind words. :)

  5. Thank you Freddy!

    I will continue to keep up my best work, for as long as I can. Your support makes my job even better. :)

  6. Hey Jim,

    Ah yes, the 777 part... Interesting story. Ask and ye shall receive. ;)

    777 was my username for fountain pen network, when I first joined. I was a bit leery of online forums, so I decided on a username instead of my real name.

    777 also used to be my password for computer stuff when I was a young kid. Of course, now I know how dumb it is to have such a short password, so it's been changed to something much more secure. :)

    Anyway, when I started my business, I just stuck that at the front for two reasons:

    1 - I was easily recognized by the folks on FPN when I used that.

    2 - It makes my business easy to remember. I've taken a lot of classes on marketing, and site branding. The numbers 777 really stick in your head! Makes it easy to remember me and search for me on google. :)

    The banner was made by me. The idea was inspired by a few other pen-peoples stuff. I looked around, saw what I liked and didn't like, and then drew up my own design. I like to play around with web design, and graphic design. I used adobe illustrator to make the whole thing, drawn by "hand" or mouse I guess you could say. It was fun, and I think it turned out pretty decent too.

    Maybe I should add this info in to a post or something...

  7. Thank you for sharing this story, Tyler!  It's fascinating to me to hear about other people's journeys.  I also agree with the previous poster, the artwork/banner for your site reminds me of Georgia O'Keefe's skull portraits as well.  I always wondered where you came up with that, and if you were an appreciator of Georgia O'Keefe.  =)

  8. You are an amazing godly, young man, Tyler Dahl!  I loved reading about this part of your life that I previously knew nothing about. 

  9. Tyler, this is wonderful--I need to purchase a pen myself.  Let's discuss which would be best for me.
    Love, Grandma

  10. I'm glad you enjoyed the story! I've never heard of Georgia O'Keefe... But perhaps I've seen his stuff before, and it stuck with me without my knowing. :)

  11. Thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed reading it. I hope I get a chance to visit you soon. :)

  12. Hey Grandma! How good to see a relative on here. :)

    Shoot me an email, and I'll see if I can get you hooked up with a pen of your own!

    If you have a chance, you may want to take a look at the Fountain Pen Network.

    There's not a kinder and more easy-going discussion forum out there. And every body is happy to help. It's a great place to talk pens, and learn about them. Only problem is there's so much good information on there, one could sit down and read forever!

  13. Thanks for the bio, Tyler.  I hope that next year you'll have a table at the Philadelphia show so those of us who can make it there will have a chance to meet you.  If not for people like you, when the "old guard" retires, we would have no one to meet our nib and repair needs.  Great job.

  14. Here's a link showing a typical painting of a ram skull by Georgia O'Keeffe. You may see what I mean immediately. The similarity of your image with the pen nib and flourishes at the center of your banner and the O'Keeffe horns/skull image hit me immediately.

  15. Ah, I do see the similarity. Though I can say without a doubt, I've never seen one of these before. I suppose I'm not very up-to-date on art... :)

  16. Hey Karen,

    You're most welcome. I was happy to put this together, as I had a great time remembering old stories. :)

    I'd love to go to the Philadelphia show, though I don't know when I would do that. Perhaps 2012, or 2013?

    Yes, I hope to be here for people, when the older generation is no longer able to do repairs. I would hate to see the art of FP's lost! As well as the art of restoring them.