The Zebra F-701 retractable ballpoint pen is a beautiful writing instrument for one you can buy hanging off a hook in a stationery store for $8.
It’s nearly uniform stainless steel body and knurled grip are quite handsome, but the pen falls short in one small area: its plastic push button mechanism.
Its push button mechanism is partially made of black plastic, which is not only an aesthetic interruption in an otherwise gorgeous pen but also a point prone to breakage. It has a knurled grip like the mechanical pencils I coveted as a kid, a strong-looking stainless steel body, and then *burp* a weaker black plastic push button mechanism. I mean, really.
In the photo below on the left you can see the Zebra F-701 with its black ring around the push button, and on the right the Zebra F-402, which has a nearly identical push button mechanism in the stronger and more attractive silver.
I’m picky enough about pen aesthetics that, when I saw the two pens side by side, I hatched a plan. It was out of necessity, really. That Zebra F-701 was never going to be aesthetically complete or as long-lived as I’d like until its body was uniformly metal, so I got to work.
Supplies and tools:
- Zebra F-701 retractable ballpoint pen
- Zebra F-402 retractable ballpoint pen
- needle-nose pliers (ideally soft jaws, or silicone or a cloth with a regular pair of needle-nose pliers to avoid scratching the metal)
- tweezers (not really necessary, unless, like me, you accidentally drop hard-to-see pen springs into small places)
Remove the push button mechanism from the Zebra F-701, which includes only the push button and its surrounding plastic threaded tube. The plastic mechanism should be fairly easy to unscrew by hand. If not, use the pliers.
Take care to hold the pen upright so everything but the push button mechanism stays in the pen. I did not take care, and I ended up with springs and plastic bits spilled all over my desk and the floor. It took me 20 minutes to figure out how to put them back together so the pen would click properly again.
Remove the push button mechanism from the Zebra F-402, which includes only the push button and its surrounding metal threaded tube. I found this one to be much harder to remove. Soft jaw needle-nose pliers are best, because they will keep you from accidentally scratching the metal. If you only have regular needle-nose pliers, just wrap some silicon around the metal for protective grip. Thick cloth will do, as well, but I did experience some slight scoring.
There are a couple of other methods that have apparently worked for some:
- You can freeze the F-402 for several minutes in the freezer to make the internal plastic retract for easier unscrewing. This did not work for me.
- You can use a lighter to heat up the end of the pen to melt the internal plastic threading. I left the fire method to the less nervous pen hackers, because fire plus my wooden desk plus melting plastic just seemed terrifying.
Screw the Zebra F-402 push button mechanism into the end of the F-701. It’s a tight fit, so you will need to use the needle-nose pliers again.
You can choose which pen clip you prefer at this point. The clip that comes with the F-701 is a decent clip, but it’s like most other pen clips out there. The F-402 pen clip has a more elegant style with a rounded end and a metal ball grip. I chose to switch the pen clips as well as the push button mechanisms.
If you prefer different ballpoint inks, there are other mods you can make to the Zebra F-701, but I don’t mind the Zebra black ink 0.7mm. If you want to try others, EDCForums has some suggestions.
Admire your delightful little pen hack.
If you’ve followed everything I’ve done here, you will now have a Zebra F-701 stainless steel retractable ballpoint pen with an F-402 clip and metal push button mechanism, which makes it a physically stronger and more handsome pen than either of its parents.
Look at it. I mean, LOOK AT IT. That is a mighty good-looking pen mod for not a whole lot of money.