Zebra F-701: The Poor Man’s Space Pen

701spacepen

OK fellas, I’m about to dork out here… Hold your giggles until the end. See, I’ve gotten a few emails asking about the pens I carry. Typical of me, I like to carry durable stuff that is made to last. Also typical of me, I don’t like to spend a ton of dough. The ideal pen for me is most likely the traditional Fisher Space Pen, but I’ve always been ran off by the $60 price tag. What’s a cheap bastard to do?

Enter the Zebra-701. The 701 is an all stainless ballpoint pen that is built like a tank and features a sexy knurled grip all for about $5. It’s not perfect however. For reasons beyond me, Zebra used a plastic spring retainer on the pen while their own F-402 features the same unit with all metal construction. On top of that, the performance of the 701 ballpoint refill leaves a lot to be desired. Time to hack.

The first task at hand is to get rid of the 701’s plastic spring retainer. To do this, go and buy yourself a run of the mill Zebra F-402. They run about $6 for a two pack and you can pick them up just about anywhere. Once you get your grubby hands on those, it’s time to start disassembling. It might seem simple at first, but the spring retainers (clickers) on both the 701 and the 402 are threaded press fits. In other words, they are hard as hell to unscrew.

I’ve got a trick to help you along though. Remove the tips and fillers from both pens and place them in the freezer for about 30 minutes. Once out, use a lighter to warm the barrel of the pen near the clicker. Just as the stainless is changing colors try unscrewing the clicker (wear a glove as it will be hot). With a little effort you should be able to work the threads without gouging the stainless part you are after. Here’s some photos to show you the way:

The Zebra F-701 perched atop the cheaper F-402. The F-402 has an all metal clicker while the F-701 mysteriously features a plastic unit. After freezing and heating the F-402, the clicker unit threads right off.

The plastic clicker is easily removed from the F-701 and can later be placed on the F-402 if you want to save that clunker. Your new ALL STAINLESS F-701. Groovy - Right?

Looking good, right? Now, it’s time to tackle the performance of the pen. The stock 701 comes with a plastic filler that writes decently, but leaves a lot to be desired. I’ve always felt that Fisher Space Pens are the best ballpoint performers and wondered if a Space Pen refill would work in a 701. With a little effort, they absolutely will…

Buy yourself a SPR4 Fisher refill. They run $5 and are pressurized allowing you to write on just about anything in any environmental condition. Put shortly, they rule. However, you have to do a little work to get it clicking in your 701. The first step is to remove the thin plastic bushing found in the tip of your 701. To do so, insert a bent up paper clip (or a staple will work in a pinch) into the tip of the pen and easily pry the bushing out.

Now, this bushing locates the tip of your ballpoint. If you write without it, you will get a sloppy action in the pen and a cheap rattle. You don’t want that, but the 701 bushing is a hair too small in diameter for the Space Pen insert. So, you need to stretch the very tip of the bushing just a tad to allow the Space Pen insert to move freely in and out of the bushing, but not so much to allow the insert any slop. I know, it sounds technical – it’s not. Simply slide your old 701 refill into the tip of the bushing all the way to the spring stop. This will stretch the tip the exact amount you need.

Once done, slide the bushing back into the 701 tip, put the 701 spring onto the Space Pen refill, and put the pen back together again. Presto! You now have a pen that looks and performs just as well as the traditional $60 Fisher Space Pen. Total cost? Around $10.

A Fisher Space Pen insert sits next to a disassembled 701. The plastic bushing is easily removed from the tip of the 701 and only needs to be stretched in order to accept the Space Pen refill. A couple of $10 pens that perform like $60 pens... Notice the mechanical pencil under them. That's the brand new M-701 pen - it rules as well...

You can laugh now.

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