Ballpoint Switch Is Oh-So Satisfying

Alright, here’s your quick and dirty hack for the day. The astute among you may recall [Peter Waldraff]’s bookshelf train build of a few days ago, and the fact that he used a switch made from a dead ballpoint pen to light up the scene. Fortunately, [Peter] wrote in to give us the details of this low-voltage sub-build, which you can see in the video after the break.

Essentially, [Peter] starts by making a shortened version of the pen. He modifies nearly every bit of it, including cutting down the ink cartridge, so if you try this, make sure the thing is all dried up first. Then, as he is screwing the point holder back on the barrel, he wraps elastic cord around the inside barrel in lieu of having sewing thread lying around. This cord along with some hot glue will hold a pair of paper clips to the sides of the point holder. When the pen is clicked into the writing position, it makes a connection between the paper clips and closes the circuit on whatever is wired into it.

What types of little hacks like this have gotten you through the build? Let us know in the comments, or better yet, write it up and drop us a tip. By the way, here is that bookshelf train build in case you missed it.

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What Is Killing Cursive? Ballpoints. Probably.

I get it — you hate writing by hand. But have you ever considered why that is? Is it because typing is easier, faster, and more convenient here in 2023? Maybe so. All of those notwithstanding, I honestly think there’s an older reason: it’s because of the rise of ballpoint pens. And I’m not alone.

Bear with me here. Maybe you think you hate writing because you were forced to do it in school. While that may very well be, depending on your age, you probably used a regular wood-case pencil before graduating to the ballpoint pen, never experiencing the joys of the fountain pen. Well, it’s never too late.

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A Few Of My Favorite Things: Pens

Pens! They just might be the cheapest, most important piece of technology ever overlooked by a large group of people on a daily basis. Pens are everywhere from your desk to your car to your junk drawer, though they tend to blink out of existence when you need one. Where would we be without them? Probably still drawing on cave walls with dandelions and beets.

Photo of a Pilot Metropolitan by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Why do I think pens are so great? Well, they’re a relatively cheap tool depending on the pen you get, but whatever you spend, you’re getting a lot for your money. Pens are possibility, pure and simple, and they’re even conveniently packaged in a portable device.

Aesthetically speaking, I like pens because of how different they can be both inside and out. Some of them make thick lines, some make thin lines, and in the case of flexible nibs, some alternate between thick and thin lines depending on pressure. I use pens for a number of reasons, most notably for writing. Everything you read here that bears my name began life as pen marks on paper.

Pens are revolutionary because they can be used to make ideas permanent and/or illustrate any concept. It’s up to you to use the pen wisely. You can use other, better tools later, but pens are always a great first tool. If you’re not encumbered by an uncomfortable grip, ink that skips, or a scratchy, draggy contact point, your ideas will flow more freely. When you find the right pen for you, you aren’t hindered by your tool — you’re elevated by it. Continue reading “A Few Of My Favorite Things: Pens”

Tech Hidden In Plain Sight: The Ballpoint Pen

Would you pay $180 for a new type of writing instrument? Image via The New York Times

On a crisp fall morning in late October 1945, approximately 5,000 shoppers rushed the 32nd street Gimbel’s department store in New York City like it was Black Friday at Walmart. Things got so out of hand that fifty additional NYPD officers were dispatched to the scene. Everyone was clamoring for the hottest new technology – the ballpoint pen.

This new pen cost $12.50, which is about $180 today. For many people, the improved experience that the ballpoint promised over the fountain pen was well worth the price. You might laugh, but if you’ve ever used a fountain pen, you can understand the need for something more rugged and portable.

Ballpoint pens are everywhere these days, especially cheap ones. They’re so ubiquitous that we don’t have to carry one around or really think about them at all. Unless you’re into pens, you’ve probably never marveled at the sheer abundance of long-lasting, affordable, permanent writing instruments that are around today. Before the ballpoint, pens were a messy nuisance.

A Revolutionary Pen

A ballpoint, up close and personal. Image via Wikipedia

Fountain pens use gravity and capillary action to evenly feed ink from a cartridge or reservoir down into the metal nib. The nib is split in two tines and allows ink to flow forth when pressed against paper. It’s not that fountain pens are that delicate. It’s just that they’re only about one step above dipping a nib or a feather directly into ink.

There’s no denying that fountain pens are classy, but you’re playing with fire if you put one in your pocket. They can be a bit messy on a good day, and the cheap ones are prone to leaking ink. No matter how nice of a fountain pen you have, it has to be refilled fairly frequently, either by drawing ink up from a bottle into the pen’s bladder or inserting a new cartridge. And you’re better off using it as often as possible, since a dormant fountain pen will get clogged with dried ink.

Early ballpoint pens were modeled after fountain pens, aesthetically speaking. They had metal bodies and refillable reservoirs that only needed a top-up every couple of years, compared to once a week or so for fountain pens. Instead of a nib, ballpoints have a tiny ball bearing made of steel, brass, or tungsten carbide. These pens rely on gravity to bathe the ball in ink, which allows it to glide around in the socket like a tiny roll-on deodorant.

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