RNG Products SQ1 EDC Pen: A Review

(Susan M. Pigott is a fountain pen collector, pen and paperholic, photographer, and professor. You can find more from Susan on her blog Scribalishess.)

Kickstarter seems to be inundated with EDC pen projects, especially machined pens. I'm usually not interested in these projects because (a) I don't use ballpoint pens much and (b) many machined pens are just too industrial looking for my taste. But, when I saw photographs of the RNG Products SQ1, I was intrigued. Here was a machined pen with a beautiful aesthetic.

RNG stands for Rise-n-Grind, a company that makes CNC machined gear. This Kickstarter project includes two kinds of machined pens: a non-stylus edition and a stylus edition. I am reviewing the non-stylus pen.

The SQ1 is machined from 6061 T6 aluminum. You can get the pen in anodized colors, including black, olive drab green, blue, red, or pink, or you can get it in stonewashed aluminum for a rougher look.

You also choose cap and barrel-end materials: brushed copper, polished copper, polished brass, or shipwrecked copper. My pen came with the shipwrecked copper, which is my favorite finish.

The barrel has CNC dimples on the nib end for your fingers to grip.

The rest of the barrel is smooth except for very subtle etching on one side.

On my pen the nib cone is made of brushed copper which complements the shipwrecked copper of the cap and barrel end nicely. This part also comes in shiny copper or brass.

The pen uses the Fisher Space Pen refill with a fine tip. I found the ink a bit dry and the writing a little rough.

This isn't a criticism of the SQ1 but of the Fisher refill. Unfortunately, I couldn't find alternatives for Fisher refills that didn't require modifications.

As with many EDC pens, the SQ1 is small so it can fit in a pocket or a small notebook. It is 5 inches in length (posted) and weighs only .9 ounces. It is quite thin, with a diameter of only 5/16 of an inch (about 8mm).

The SQ1 does not have a clip. That means it could easily slide out of a shirt pocket (if that's where you carry your pens). And, the pen is too thin to fit in most notebook pen loops. A clip would ruin the sleek aesthetic of this pen and the cap is probably too small to support one. Still, a clip would allow you to fasten the pen to a pocket or loop securely. Nevertheless, because the pen is so small, it will easily fit into a jeans pocket or the pocket of a wallet or small notebook.

The cap screws on and off and requires about six turns both ways. You need to get it aligned just right, and I found the threads to be a bit rough. The cap sometimes squeaks as you screw it on. With some more use and maybe a little oil, I suspect the threads will smooth out.

To post the cap (which I recommend since it is small, rolls easily, and can be lost), you must screw it to the back of the pen (again six turns). This is not an easy-on, easy-off sort of pen cap. So, while you're unlikely to lose the cap as long as it is secured on, you will need to unscrew and screw the cap each time you want to use the pen. This pen that would not work well in situations where you need to uncap and cap the pen often.

The refill is accessed through the barrel end which you unscrew. Then you need a 3mm allen wrench to undo the set screw that keeps the refill from moving around inside the pen.

The pen doesn't come with an allen wrench, and my pen didn't come with instructions. I had to email the manufacturer to find out how to remove the refill. I felt a bit dumb, but really, even with the photos on the website I didn't realize an allen wrench was required. I think the engineering that keeps the refill from rattling around inside the barrel is genius. But, if your pen runs out of ink, you will need a refill and an allen wrench handy.

The SQ1 gets high marks from me for its beautiful design. It's also one of the most reasonably-priced machined pens, starting at only $25. The Kickstarter ends soon (August 10), so if you want to support this project act now.

Pros

  • The SQ1 is a well-constructed and designed EDC pen. All the barrel colors and cap options are beautiful. The shipwrecked finish, in particular, is unique and striking.
  • The pen is reasonably-priced at $25.
  • It takes easy-to-find Fisher Space Pen refills.
  • The pen is small but sturdy and will fit easily into pants pockets and the pockets of small notebooks or wallets.
  • The set screw is ingenious, keeping the refill from jiggling around and insuring that the nib stays steady. Just be careful not to over-tighten the inner set screw.

Cons

  • The cap requires at least six rotations to screw on or off. This is not a big deal if you're at a desk. But out in the wild, it could be a pain. Plus, the cap and other parts are small and could be easily lost.
  • Without a clip the pen cannot be safely attached to a shirt pocket or pen loop.
  • I'm not fond of Fisher Space Pen refills. Some people love them, some people don't.
  • Although the inner screw that keeps the refill from jiggling is a great idea, it does make changing out a refill a bit cumbersome. Although most people probably have allen wrenches around the house, I wish one was included with the pen.
  • The thin diameter of the pen might make it too small for some writers.

(RNG Products provided this product at no charge to The Pen Addict for review purposes.)


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Posted on July 29, 2016 and filed under RNG Products, Kickstarter, Pen Reviews.

The Pen Addict Podcast: Episode #215 - Maximum Peak Weirdness

We did it gang - we hit maximum peak weirdness this week! As if a podcast about pens wasn't weird enough, we ramped it up with discussions around pen shooting, pencils from India, and bamboo pens. Plus, I show you how not to eBay.

Show Notes & Download Links

This episode of The Pen Addict is sponsored by:

Harry's: An exceptional shave at a fraction of the price. Use code PENADDICT for $5 off your first purchase.

Posted on July 28, 2016 and filed under Podcast.

The Parker Vacumatic

(Ron Gilmour is a fountain pen enthusiast, would-be calligrapher, and librarian. You can find him online at Twitter @gilmour70 and Instagram.)

In the introduction to this series, I mentioned that one of the drawbacks to the various sac-filling pens was ink capacity. Because you need room for the sac itself and whatever is compressing it, there's a limit to how much ink you can get into a sac-filling pen.

In the 1930s, Parker came up with an interesting solution. What if suction could be created in the entire pen barrel rather than just the sac? They replaced the sac with a flexible diaphragm at the rear of the pen. When the diaphragm was pushed inward by a plunger, air was forced out of the pen. When the diaphragm was released, ink was taken up. A breather tube was added to prevent ink taken up by one stroke of the plunger from being squeezed out by the next stroke. This innovative mechanism, eventually dubbed the "Vacumatic," allowed a far greater portion of the barrel to be filled with ink than any sac filler.

Another drawback of sac fillers was that it was impossible to see how much ink you had left. (Sheaffer tried to make lever-fill pens that would allow this, but were only moderately successful.) The smart people at Parker realized that once they had eliminated the sac, all they had to do was use some transparent material in the body and the ink level would be easily visible.

And that brings us to the pen's aesthetics. An innovative filling system and a visible ink supply were great, but the Vacumatic might not have been the success that it was if not for another factor: it was gorgeous. The alternation of solid and transparent bands of celluloid still turns heads today. (A friend refers to my silver Vac as "your Matrix pen.") The striking, arrow-shaped clip is a design element that Parker still uses on their pens today. The total package is an Art Deco masterpiece.

The "alternating bands" pattern, available in several colors, is the most common, but there were a number of other patterns, especially on the "junior"-sized pens. See, for instance, Brad's drool-worthy "Golden Web" Vac that he bought at last year's Atlanta show.

Furthermore, Parker in Days of Yore was known for their excellent gold nibs, so a great writing experience is almost guaranteed, barring a damaged nib. I've owned several vintage Parkers (Vacumatics and others) and they have all written smoothly and consistently.

If you're the collector type, Vacumatics are a lot of fun because of their seemingly endless variations. When you take into account the different sizes, colors, clips, cap bands, presence/absence of an end jewel, etc., one can happily collect Vacumatics for decades and never see the end.

Buying a Vac

When shopping for a Vac online, make sure that the pen you're considering is a usable size for you. The Vacumatic came in a wide variety of sizes, some of which are very small, which might not be your thing. You can't depend on model names: both of my Vacs are "Majors," but they're slightly different sizes. Make sure the seller provides measurements, or at least a picture that shows scale.

Also be aware that like sacs, Vac diaphragms are flexible parts that can break down over time. Make sure the pen you're buying has been tested and actually fills.

If seeing the ink level is important to you, make sure that you buy a pen with good barrel clarity. Many vendors will provide back-lit photos to demonstrate this quality.

Nibs on vintage Parkers, and many other vintage pens, have no visible size indication. Most reputable sellers will give you a good indication of nib width in their description: "Writes a wet western fine" or similar. It may be helpful to ask for a writing sample on a known paper marking (e.g., Rhodia grid) to help you judge the nib width.

Given the large number of variations mentioned above, prices will be greatly influenced by the rarity of the particular combination of features on a pen, along with condition. For a functional, but not cosmetically perfect, Vacumatic in one of the more common models, you can expect to pay about $100-150 US. Prices can get significantly higher for rare colors and patterns, for pens in pristine condition, and pens with unusual nibs.

Filling a Vac

Filling a Vacumatic is simple, but may take a few seconds longer than some other mechanisms. First, remove the blind cap at the back end of the pen to expose the plunger. Submerge the nib completely in the ink bottle. Depress the plunger. You should hear bubbling as air is forced out of the pen. Release the plunger and hold the pen in place while ink flows into the pen. Repeat this sequence (press, release, wait) until you no longer hear bubbling when you depress the plunger. Wipe the nib and section with a paper towel, replace the blind cap, and you're ready to write.

Cleaning a Vac

So here's the bad news: Vacumatics are a pain to clean. You can expel ink from the pen by depressing the plunger slowly. Then you can suck water into the pen and slowly depress the plunger to expel that. Repeat this until a) the water comes out clean or b) you're hungry, your thumb hurts, and you just don't care anymore.

Do yourself a favor and use easy-to-clean inks in your Vacumatic.

In Closing

The Parker Vacumatic is one of the most iconic vintage American fountain pens, and is also a beautiful and practical choice for the modern fp user. They are more expensive than some of the other models we will look at in this series, but the combination of exquisite celluloid, large ink capacity, sturdy construction, and high-quality gold nibs makes them a good buy. Try finding that set of features in a modern pen for under $200 US.

Further Reading

Posted on July 28, 2016 and filed under Parker, Vacumatic, Pen Reviews.

Clairefontaine Basics Staplebound Pocket Notebook Review

(Jeff Abbott is a regular contributor at The Pen Addict. You can find more from Jeff online at Draft Evolution and Twitter.)

For a product that has such a long name, the Clairefontaine Basics Life Unplugged Staplebound Notebooks Duo are a pocket-friendly notebook worthy of respect. I've long been a fan of Clairefontaine paper, and this newest addition to my collection is a new favorite. A 3.5" x 5.5" notebook filled with creamy, white Clairefontaine 90gsm paper is hard to beat.

When I picked up these notebooks to try, my goal was to find something in the pocket notebook category that could handle fountain pens with ease. Well, these notebooks hit the mark perfectly. Let's take a look at the specifics and then look at how they perform in real life.

These notebooks share the same measurements as Field Notes, but their about the same thickness as two Field Notes books. This is good and bad: It's good because you have plenty of paper to use, but it's bad because it means you can pack one less notebook in pockets and sleeves that normally accept two notebooks. Not a big drawback, but just be aware that it might require you to change your carry a bit.

The covers are a thick material that have a textured exterior. It's a strong material, and I'm not worried at all about these things falling apart after daily pocket abuse. The front has a subtle Clairefontaine logo embossed in the lower right corner, and the back cover has a SKU and barcode, as well as some info about the book. Apart from that, there are no other markings on this book — just 96 empty lined pages.

The notebooks are assembled with two staples. I have my doubts about the longevity of this binding system, but time will tell. They feel strong, but I know that Field Notes can get a bit weak at the staple areas, and they have one additional staple over the Clairefontaines. Either way, they seem strong enough for normal use.

As I mentioned briefly before, the paper in these notebooks is exactly like the paper you'll find in any Clairefontaine notebook. That's something I love about their notebooks. Once you've tried their paper in one format, you've tried it all. It's predictable, and it's dependable. Now, if you don't like lined paper, you're out of luck because it's all they make.

As for the paper, it's splendid. It handles inks so well, and it's always been a favorite of mine from day one. The lines are spaced at 7mm, which is similar to a "college rule" in the U.S. The lines are a faded light blue color that's easy enough to ignore if you want to draw or think outside the lines. It's 90gsm paper, so it's bound to handle most pens with ease. It isn't sketching paper, so anything else (like markers, watercolors, etc.) will probably be out of bounds. For writing, it's fantastic.

The paper does a very good job of minimizing show-through on the opposite page. The only way I was able to make it show up in the pictures was by putting the notebook between my camera and a bright light source. Under normal conditions, it's nearly impossible to detect any show through unless you're using an extremely wet nib.

Overall, I'm extremely happy with this notebook. It's a familiar size, familiar paper, and excellent price. At less than $7 for a pair, it's quite a good deal considering how much paper is included. It's become a favorite for me when paired with a Fodderstack XL and a favorite pen. This makes a great mobile writing kit.

These notebooks are available from JetPens in a variety of sizes and colors. For this review, I used the 3.5" x 5.5" Red/Green combo, but you can also get them in Black/Tan. Or, if you want something a little larger, there's always the 5.75" x 8.25" versions in the same colors. Those cost a few dollars more (still less than $10) and are an equally excellent deal.

These are currently my favorite "disposable" journaling notebooks. They don't break the bank, but they still feature some stellar paper inside. Now all we need are some more color options!

(JetPens provided this product at no charge to The Pen Addict for review purposes.)


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Posted on July 27, 2016 and filed under Clairefontaine, Notebook Reviews.