Question I’m Pondering: Is It Impossible to Clean All the Ink from a Sheaffer PFM?

Sheaffer PFM ink residue in water

That is a photo of my Sheaffer PFM, soaking in water. See how the water is tinted green? That’s residue from Kaweco Palm Green soaking out of the feed, after I cleaned and flushed the pen. But that’s not what’s noteworthy.

The noteworthy part is that this photo was taken after five straight days of soaking. I cleaned and flushed the pen five days ago, then started continual cycles of occasional flushing and constant soaking. Every once in a while I’ll press a paper towel against the feed, to check if there’s still ink in there.

Sheaffer PFM ink residue

Yes, there is. So the pen is still soaking, on, as I write this, day six.

Kaweco Palm Green is an easy-to-clean ink, and what was in the sac flushed out easily. But there is still ink in the feed. The downside of the PFM’s Snorkel-tube filling system, clearly, is that normal pen cleaning doesn’t completely flush out the feed. So, this isn’t a pen for switching between different ink colors. Anyone considering a PFM should note that.

Since I bought this PFM, I’ve been using different green inks, for the unimaginative reason that it’s a green pen. But the PFM is a great everyday pen for me, and I want to keep it in my daily rotation. So I’m going to switch to a blue ink, my favorite color.

That will give me three pens in permanent rotation: a Parker 51, a Lamy Safari, and the PFM. I did briefly wonder: Am I still a hobbyist? Or just a plain old pen user? Then I remembered my pen with pink ink. Phew.

23 thoughts on “Question I’m Pondering: Is It Impossible to Clean All the Ink from a Sheaffer PFM?

  1. Yes, the Jim Rouse version. I read the comments – and have seen reviews – that speak of the weight of the original model, and as I have to post the cap I thought it better to go for one of the fantasy models. It was a toss-up between that and a fantasy Parker 51, but as I am not a huge fan of the 51…

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  2. The PFM comes from an era when using just one colour of ink was most likely the norm. Also, as sexist as it sounds, it is possible that men in general were unlikely to change ink colours that often anyway, if at all. So, at the time the issue of cleaning the feed completely of trace ink probably never arose. Just a guess really.

    For my part I’ve had to make some hard decisions about another pen (poor after sales service) and have put the money I managed to get back toward a Sheaffer Legacy Fantasy. Everyone else raves about the orange version but I have gone for the blue swirl that looks a little like the material Visconti used in one of the van Gogh series. Time will tell if this is a good choice, of if it gets relegated to my large pile of poor choices.

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    1. I’m quite certain that you are right — that most people just refilled their ink back in the day. And that’s how I’m going to use mine.

      I like your pen purchase! Those are nice pens — the ones made by Jim Rouse, right? I’ve seen them at the pen show. I I really liked the clear one myself, of course, being a fan of demos. They are especially nice to me because they are c/c, so easier to clean than the PFM, but much lighter in weight than the real Sheaffer Legacy II, which is all metal and very heavy.

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  3. This is also a pen that would be a very good candidate for the “pen centrifuge made from a salad spinner”, but it’s a bit of work and mostly useful for repair/restoration people (though I have a spinner sitting aside, waiting for my mad mod skilz). I think this is a *very* good pen to dedicate to some standard set of writing inks and go forth as a writer.

    Honestly, I can’t remember at the moment if you have discussed using a Legacy; the primary difference is weight (it’s heavier), but it shares virtually all the great size/form factor and writing characteristics, but since is it c/c, it is *much* easier to clean.

    Which is why I have both. 🙂

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    1. That’s a great point. And, yes, I had a Legacy — great pen! Unfortunately, it was much too heavy for me, so I sold it to a friend. But it was a beautiful pen, with an excellent nib, and is a great choice for those who like heavy pens. Mine even had a Touchdown filler, which is great and also very easy to clean.

      But it’s the PFM that’s the Pen For Me. All I have to do is find the perfect blue ink, and I’ll be set. Actually, this afternoon I put my first choice blue ink in it. But as I feared, that ink is probably not wet enough. My two vintage Sheaffers both need wet inks — I’m not sure if that’s typical or if I just got unlucky. I guess it keeps life interesting. 🙂

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      1. Boy, I *really* like Namiki Blue in my PFMs. I also like, especially in the M nibs, old Sheaffer Washable Blue. But, hey, *you* know your inks. You’ll find the right one. FWIW, my PFM is a fairly wet writer.

        As to the Legacy… yeah, it is at the very top end of pen weight for me, and I can see people feeling it being too heavy. It was the PFM itself that showed and convinced me that a pen wasn’t necessarily too light if it had the correct girth for your hand.

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  4. I did not realize the PFM had such resistance to flushing the feed. I don’t have one, but wanted one. You surely wouldn’t want to switch back and forth from Japanese ink to European ink then. That is good to know for future reference. I hope you find the best method, and update the story.

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  5. It does seem surprising that it is still turning water green after five days but I don’t know how else you could clean it. Flushing with an easy ink like Serenity Blue or Quink royal blue washable sounds a good idea. But you might then be looking at a jar of blue water for the next week. Good luck:)

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  6. What seems to work pretty well also is
    — flushing the pen like you did, operate the filling mechanism (piston/vac/converter/lever) a few times until most of the ink seems to be washed out
    — then comes the “lazy” part: fill it again and with clean water and just let it stand in a glass or so on tissue paper, so it will empty itself out. Repeating this 2-3 times usually gets almost everything out of the feed without having to handle the pen until your hands hurt. 😉

    Maybe shake the water inside every now and then (esp. with a sac or barrel filling system like piston/vac). I find that soaking the pen out slowly on a towel takes more of the remaining ink out of the feed than the faster operating of the filling mechanism and way better than just soaking in water.

    BTW: Reading this makes me glad again that I only have 5 pens that cannot be taken apart easily (a safety from 1925, MB 114 Mozart, Pilot Falcon, Wahl Oxford leverfiller, Waterman Lady Agathe, all other pens are either Pelikan piston fillers with removable nib units or Ahabs or KaWeCo fountain pens).

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    1. Yeah, it’s been more of an experiment, trying to see if “passive cleaning” will clear all the ink, and if so, how long that will take. I think my answers are (i) probably not and (ii) more than a week, for sure. 🙂

      The towel method is a great idea for faster cleaning, because I’ve been intermittently pressing paper towels against the feed, and as you say, that does seem to extract the most ink. That’s a great tip, thank you!

      I just wanted to signpost the cleaning difficulty, because sometimes we only talk about our pens in the first flush of purchase, when we’re all super excited. And while the PFM is a perfect pen for me, it’s not going to be perfect for those who visualize rotating inks more often. The PFM is more a fill it and forget it pen. And to be fair, that’s how they were used originally. 🙂

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    2. This pretty much sums up how I clean my Parker Parkette. I do shake mine; it seems to help clean it more quickly. It is much easier on your fingers than lifting and closing the lever over and over and over. It took a few trial and errors to figure out that this method seems to work best on pens you can’t take apart to clean.

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  7. I think the only way to get a Snorkel completely clean is to take it apart. One of the reasons I only have one, and rarely use it. Ingenious filling system, but not an ink testing pen to be sure. Don’t worry about traces in the feed, Laura, the blue ink might look a bit off for a few lines but then it’ll be gone.

    I just thought of something…Quink Washable Blue. A fill of that gets rid of anything, and washes out in a flash. It cleaned out a Touchdown full of dried up 50 year-old ink for me, I always keep some around for that specific reason.

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        1. Everything is fine 😉

          To be clear with my above comment: I was referring to all kinds of pens and not just the Snoerkel specifically as I am using this with most of my pens after seeing Matt from The Pen Habit doing so. I cannot find the video, but he was showing his kitchen and there were many jars with tissue paper soaking the water out of his pens. I gave it a try and found out that this is really efficient.

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    1. That’s it exactly: not an ink-testing pen. But a great pen!

      Another aspect of that is that it’s not a pen I’d use with inks that might react negatively with traces of other inks. I’ll keep it to simple, dye-based inks. Because my PFM needs wetter, more lubricated ink, I’ll have to see if my first choice in blue ink works — Caran d’Ache Idyllic Blue. If not, I’ll try another. Quink is probably too dry for my pen, but there’s always a KWZ dye-based blue, or Waterman Serenity Blue.

      I definitely am not going to take it apart to clean it fully — I am so not into that. 🙂 As you say, there isn’t enough ink in the feed to turn the next (blue) ink green. And an advantage of the Snorkel filler is that nothing is going to get expelled from the feed into the blue ink bottle.

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  8. Been there, done that. Have you tried soaking in one of the pen flush solutions, just to the depth of the feed? It’s tempting to think of using an ultrasonic, but I would be afraid of loosening the inlaid nib, which PFMs are prone to, anyway.

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    1. I didn’t know that the inlaid nib could be loosened, so thanks for the warning. But I am so lazy — or as I like to put it, “interested in exploring labor-saving methods” — that an ultrasonic is a step too far for me, for just routine cleaning.

      At this point, I’m just going to fill it up with a blue ink, and keep it blue. Going forward, the paper towel method sounds like a good method for cleaning it faster, if I ever have to. Buy stock in Target, my paper-towel supplier. 🙂

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