DIY Cross Ion Pen Refill (cheap!)


Introduction: DIY Cross Ion Pen Refill (cheap!)

About: Distracted engineering student, Olin class of 2012. Like DIY, especially when you save money or learn something. Colin enjoys anything with stripes and a good trip to the dentist.

In the world of consumer writing utensils, the razors and blades, and disposable business models seem to be the only choices available. Paying $3-$4 for ink refills seems outrageous when all you need is a little bit of ink. But I've discovered another way that, though not less wasteful of resources, is a lot cheaper. Get out your scalpels, kids, were going to do some surgery. Today's patients, the Cross AT Ion pen and some Staples Mini Gel Stick pens.

You will need:
1 (starving) Cross Ion Gel pen
1 Staples Mini Gel Stick pen
1 Tack
1 Alligator style staple remover
1 File (pick your favorite tooth configuration)
1 Ruler

Step 1: The Problem

It always happens that in the middle of the most important note, sentence, signature, novel, assignment, love note... the pen dies. Cross AT wants you to pay $3.75 for the privilege to refill your snazzy Ion pen. I think not! Not after I saw these Staples Mini Gel Stick pens. A pack of 12 is only one quarter more and probably were birthed at the same factory in China as the Cross refills.

Step 2: Prepare the Stopper

The operating room is open for business. Crack one of these Mini Gel pens open and you'll notice that the stick itself smaller in diameter than the Cross Ion refills. We need to emulate this large base because of how the pushing mechanism at the base of the Ion forces the stick forward when the two halves of the pen are pulled apart.

Luckily, the Staples Mini Gel Stick pens have an end cap that is very similar to the one found on the Cross Ion refill (See the plastic end piece I removed from the Cross Ion refill).

*Grab your alligator style paper clip remover and pull out the stopper from the body of the Mini Gel Stick pen.

But don't go shoving this on the end of the gel stick just yet; without an air-hole, you'll just increase the pressure in the stick until it releases in a black puddle of ooze, all over you hands (trust me on this one). On the other hand, if you're gel pens are dead, this might be a good way to revive them.

*Using the tack, poke a hole through the end of the stopper.

Step 3: Obtaining the Correct Length

So far the Mini Gel stick has been an amazingly good replacement for the overpriced, Cross AT alternative. Unfortunately, the stick is just a little too long.

*Lay the file on the table, and grind down the end of the stick. We need to get rid of about 3 mm in length.

I have no idea what kind of file this is, something for woodworking (I think). Something course is preferable, but if you're strapped for tools, I imagine that sandpaper would even do the trick.

Step 4: Fix the Stick

If you followed the original version of this guide, you may have noticed that once everything was assembled, the Staples refill would stick and didn't retract properly when you closed the pen.

This cause is the shape of the Cross Ion spring. Because the Cross AT refills are fat and taper down to a ballpoint tip, the spring has the same, almost cone-like shape. The Staples refills are straight sided and don't play nicely with the original spring.

James (jameslisi) has a solution. He suggests using a second Staples end-cap to increase the width of the Staples refill.

Paraphrasing James: Take an extra end cap from the Staples pen and cut off the rounded top so that it forms an open cylinder. Put this cylinder over the Staples gel stick and bring it all the way down to the flange near the tip of the pen. You might need to use a little force when you get to the flange. So far the Staples refill with this modification has not hung up on the Ion spring.

So add this cylinder "widener," and you should be in business. Thanks James!

Step 5: Assemble

*Shove the stopper on the now shorter Gel stick
-Hopefully you followed "Fix the Stick" and broadened the Staples refill (pic soon)
*Load and lock your Cross Ion pen

Step 6: Test

Success! You've saved some money and escaped the razor and blades business model. Not to mention, your using one of the slickest pens on the planet.

Oh, and as an added benefit, you now have a greater selection of (admittedly elementary school-girly) colors.



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    A craft knife works equally well. (A hacksaw made a mess of the airhole). In UK you can get the gell in pens in Poundland.

    Since the nearest Staples is over 50 miles from my home, and shipping for a small order is over $8, I found a method to revive the Cross brand refills from premature death. I duct taped one to the wheel on my car, with the pen tip pointing outward toward the wheel rim. After a commute to and from work at freeway speeds, the ink apparently was centrifugally forced toward the business end of the pen. I've been using the previously useless refill for over a month now. "Lazarus, come out!"

    Even greener - use a fountain pen. For newbies I'd suggest a Lamy Safari. Either use the converter (usually provided with these pens, but not always) or refill the originally supplied cartridge with a syringe, solder flux bottle, acrylic cement applicator or something similar. I recommend Waterman ink - there are a range of color selections. Fountain pens and ink can be hard to find locally, but check eBay. Good luck! Steve

    8 replies

    Great suggestion. I bought a Lamy fountain pen (Lamy Vista, fine point) and totally love it. what remains to be seen is how long I can keep track of it (I tend to lose or break everything).

    How's your fountain pen doing? I haven't lost one of my fountain pens yet. They lack that disposability that ordinary pens have, and thus I keep much better track of them. Also, since I turned them myself, they feel more like they belong to me than something I bought. I make mine from kits I bought at Lee Valley tools. They come with a decent (though unpolished) nib, converter cartridge and brass tubes to press into your choice of pen material and turn to shape. Cost about $10 for the kit. As far as I can tell they write just as nice as any of the expensive store-bought pens, after you polish the nib. Waterman ink is nice (I have a bottle of Waterman black, it's a very good black and has never clogged on me) but I found Parker Quink blue to be a great daily writer as well. It's a lot cheaper and easier to obtain - I had to get my Waterman from a specialty pen shop.

    Oh, I love my fountain pens. I've got, I don't know, maybe 7 of them. However, I pretty much stick to two daily writers - a Lamy Safari in fine which I carry 99% of the time and a Monteverde Invincia for more dressy occasions. I've tweaked both of them by polishing the nibs so they write pretty smoothly. I've looked at pen kits and pens made from kits (e.g. at craft shows), but none of the nibs look like anything to brag on. That doesn't mean they won't write well, but... I use Waterman inks for blue, red and brown. I have a different brand for green, but I don't recall what it is off hand, but I know the color is Sherwood Green. Ink selection was basically done from internet research - mostly because you pretty much have to order most fountain pen inks. Even Crane Papers only carries some off-brand. I use bottled inks. For the Monteverde, I use the supplied cartridge converter. For the Lamy, I refill an empty cartridge using a blunt hypodermic needle/syringe that I ordered off of eBay. I don't use the Lamy converter because I don't feel it holds sufficient ink. Lee Valley has some cool stuff, I'll have to check out their pen kits... I don't think I ever noticed them. Do you polish the nibs at all? How about barrel material? Do you strictly use wood or have you tried any plastic material? Enjoy!

    Heh, the comment was originally intended for colin and his first fountain pen, but I'll happily talk pens :) I'm lucky to have access to a ton of inks via the Vancouver Pen Shop, but they don't carry Noodler's which I've always wanted to try. However, my main writing needs are blue and black, and I've kind of standardized on those two (Waterman and Parker). I use a lot more blue, which is nice because I don't have to go downtown to get it. Actually now that I'm done with school I hardly use my pens at all which is a little sad... just for lists, and notes and junk. I'm planning to make one to use at work though, but it'll have to be sturdy to survive at the shop. I'm thinking of a thin metal tube (probably brass), epoxy filled, then bored for the pen guts. Lighter than solid metal, but with a good hard surface that won't get dinged up. I polished all my nibs using brown paper bags... some of them took a LONG time to run in though. Stock, they are super rough and sometimes don't flow in some directions. However, I've only had one nib that couldn't be fixed 100%, and its only problem was that it sometimes misses when starting a word with a quick upstroke after pausing for ~30s. Material-wise I've always stuck to hardwoods aside from the metal pen idea posted above. I like the feel and I think it has a classy/classic sort of look. I know plastic is popular though and supposed to be easy to turn. Lee Valley sells plastic blanks (and wood blanks too, in some exotic woods) If you have access to a lathe I'd highly recommend trying to turn a pen or two. It's a pretty easy, cheap and quick lathe project.

    if you are still using waterman and Parker get off them now and use Noodler's Heart of Darkness bulletproof ink. (that means it is waterproof, bleach proof, alcohol proof, and pretty much everything else proof.) that ink runs down the barrel in a very nice way and practaly works for the pen, so go check it out!

     Interesting, I have had Noodler's Polar Black for awhile and I found that it has serious flow problems compared with the Waterman/Parker inks. Haven't tried any other Noodlers due to the flow issue.

    Every once in awhile I have to turn the converter knob to flow some ink down onto the nib since it has clogged. It's a real pain, especially when I pick up my pen full of Parker Blue after 6 months of disuse and it writes right away.

    It is, bulletproof though. I tried, and I have access to a lot of unusual solvents. It's great in that respect!

    one of the reasons it probably didi that is becus the polar inks have lots of antifreeze in them so they can survive up to -42 conditions.

    I'm with you. Mine is a cheap Crown. Want a better Parker and Sheaffer. Nice work, aniway. use the idea for othe cool pens.

    I got one of these pens for my birthday a year ago and i loved it!  Unfortunately I made the stupid decision to bring it to school and it got stolen (or I dropped it) =)  Now I learned the hard way and I only use crappy "Bic's" now... you live you learn.  XD

    I tried wrapping the refill stick with a few winds of masking tape to "fatten it up: and it worked great.

    1 reply

    That is a very cool idea. Will have to try it next go round. Of course, you'll see the tape through the "ink window." Or perhaps you mean only wrapping the bottom (near the ball of the ink refill) with tape so that it doesn't get caught in the spring. If you did that carefully, I imagine you wouldn't see it through the "ink window." Sweet!

    lol! I'm making a note here, Huge Success! man Portal is an awesome game

    Worked perfectly! Thank you for the savings tip.

    Hmm.. Seems you play hl2 Portal.

    I've had several of these little guys over the years and love them to death. I usually get my refills from eBay for cheap, but this looks easy enough to try. Thanks!