Put Those Refills to Good Use

I like to liberate refills from the assorted plastic pens I have accumulated over the years. These are all those gel pens I’ve purchased over the years from Jet Pens. While I love the flow of the refills, the lackluster plastic barrels leave me wanting.

I started opening each plastic pen and discovering that they are almost always a standard sized refill like a Pilot G2-sized or Hi-Tec C-sized. There are also far more colors and point sizes available in the full pens than in most refill-only options. Red, blue and black are fine for many folks but I want to be able to choose orange, evergreen, turquoise or purple, if the mood strikes.

By hacking the refills out of plastic pens, I created  an almost unlimited supply of potential refills for my favorite pen bodies. And by using these fine gel refills, I have catapulted certain pens into EDC pens because now they are not only beautiful and comfortable but can contain the exact right refill for me.

Render K pen hack

This habit started with Karas Kustoms and the Render K and RETRAKT pens. The lengthy list of possible refills led me to create the Refill Guide and really start experimenting with trying different refills with different pens.

Render K pen hack

I even save the springs in a plastic retractable to help stabilize a refill in a machined pen. If the refill fits but is too long, trim it down with a pair of sharp scissors. Empty refills can be trimmed to add length to a too-short refill to fit into a different pen as well. With each plastic pen costing less than a couple bucks, its not a tragedy if you make a mistake.

Happy hacking!

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10 comments / Add your comment below

  1. This is great if you have the pen already and don’t like the body, but incredibly wasteful if you are just buying the pen for the refill. Jetpen sells a lot of refills, maybe not all the colors, but many of them. I just hate the idea of all that plastic going into the landfill.

    1. I completely agree. I bought a lot of gel pens when I was just getting into pens and many now just sit on my desk not getting used. Hacking out those refills gets them used, at least in part. Luckily, my office recycles plastics in a “waste to energy” campaign and many of the pen pieces get recycled that way. The metal pieces can go to the metal scrap pile so they get recycled too.

    2. I have constantly been searching for ways to get finer points (.38mm is my preferred width) for pen barrels I otherwise like.

      First, Papermate (like the PhD), Sheaffer, Cross, and Waterman ballpoints are not good candidates for hacking. All of them have some design quirk that makes them difficult if not impossible to hack. The Foray and Fisher Papermate-style refills aren’t bad–certainly better than the actual Papermate refills.

      I have found standard Jetstream refills can be hacked into a couple other pens, including the Cross Click (capless roller gel), Parker Jotter (all stainless only), and Pilot Knight, Metropolitan, and Dr. Grip Full Black. For all of them you need to shave off the “hood” around the end of the refill and trim them shorter. For the Pilots, use a Dr. Grip/Center of Gravity refill as length reference. For the others, use a Fisher refill for reference and the toothed adapter included in the Fisher refill packaging. The Cross will still require a spacer, but once you have that spacer length, you can also put Parker-style refills in a Cross Click (Monteverde Soft Roll in XF blue/black is my favorite).

      I also found that Zebra ballpoint refills will fit in Fisher Bullets and Cap-O-Matics. The plastic Zebra refills (but not the steel ones) can also be put in Parker-style ballpoints if you pop out the stopper on the end and add a Fisher toothed adapter.

      Pilot Acroball refills can be hacked into Fisher ballpoints and Bic Clics, but in the case of the latter there is a ton of resistance and I’m sure I’m going to break the action sooner or later.

      Finally, you can also use a pair of pliers to pull the steel tip out of a Jetstream refill and put it in a Pilot Center of Gravity refill or a Cross Ion gel refill. I have had mixed results with this one, so I don’t wholly recommend it unless you just like to tinker. For all of these I would recommend trying to use the spring that fits the refill rather than the spring from the pen.

      Also, be aware that while the Pilot V5/7 and Uni Vision Elite stick pens are both rollerballs, the RT versions are different. The V5 RT is a gel refill–basically just a G2 with a needle point–and not as smooth as the stick version. The Vision RT, on the other hand, is a liquid roller, and capacious, which means it is too big to fit pens that take a G2 size and cannot be trimmed.

  2. I just trimmed some JetStream refills to fit a Retrakt I bought my mother. I cut the first one with an Exacto knife but that did not work too well. I was worried about scissors mis-shaping the end, so I cut the next two using a cutting wheel on a rotary tool (a Dremel to most people, but mine is another brand). The cutting wheel worked great. I was a little worried about melting but it actually made a pretty clean cut almost instantly – not enough time for it to heat up enough to melt. And I was taking off just about the width of the cutting wheel, so easy to measure.

  3. Thanks for the inspiration! Just put a Signo DX refill (lavender black) in my Render K! I think I will use it this way, though the tip doesn’t fit as snugly as with the Hi-Tec-C refill, which bothers me a little.

  4. Now, if somebody could come up with a way to refill a cartridge (Pilot G2, for instance) with fountain pen ink, the world would definitely be a better place. More colorful, anyway.

    1. I’ve tried, and results aren’t too exciting. Besides the dilemma of sealing up the cartridge, many gel pens are designed for thicker inks, and fountain pen ink will just flow freely out the edges.

      The Pentel Slicci works wonderfully though – thin cartridge that doesn’t make sealing mandatory, needle-point tip that plays well with fountain pen inks. The only problem is that it’s still relegated to a desk pen role unless you convert the entire thing into an eyedropper, and then gravity makes the flow inconsistent.

      Liquid ink rollerballs can take fountain pen ink with little modification and little fuss, but again, fountain pen inks are not viscous or sticky enough. Uni-ball Vision Elites can easily be converted to eyedroppers, but stock fountain pen ink doesn’t stick to the ball. Pilot’s Precise and Hi-Tecpoint pens work quite well, and are probably the best option.

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