Posts filed under Pen Reviews

The Nakaya Portable Cigar Spiketails (Dragonfly): A Grail Pen

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

My favorite creature on earth, next to kitties, is the dragonfly. Every summer I go on yard safaris, taking photographs of the insects that inhabit our yard. When I find a dragonfly, I feel like I have discovered gold. Nothing makes me happier than capturing dragonflies on camera.

Dragonflies are sky lions–carnivores who zip through the air like gravity doesn't matter. Not only are they incredibly beautiful, but they rid the air of pests.

I adore dragonflies, so when I saw that Classic Fountain Pens (nibs.com) had a Nakaya Portable Cigar Spiketails (Dragonfly) fountain pen in the preowned section, I went nuts. At $1,300 (used–yes, used), this was not a pen I could just buy outright. I knew I would have to part with some amazing pens in order to afford the Nakaya.

I chose to sacrifice two pens to buy my grail: an uninked Montblanc Oscar Wilde and an Omas Paragon Arco (old style). Parting with the Oscar Wilde wasn't too hard since I had never inked the pen and I hadn't bonded with it.

The Paragon was more difficult. It's such a unique and beautiful pen and I loved the nib. But, at the time, Omas hadn't gone out of business and I wasn't too attached to the Arco. Silly me.

So, I posted both pens on the classifieds at Fountain Pen Network and Fountain Pen Geeks and crossed my fingers. It took about a month to sell both pens (and I had to do several price reductions), but eventually I had enough money to buy the Dragonfly with a nib grind to boot.

What makes the Nakaya Spiketails so unique is that it is a hand-painted acrylic fountain pen. Unlike most Nakaya pens which are completely opaque, the Dragonfly is partially transparent with raised painted designs covered in semi-transparent red (Shu) Urushi lacquer.

The dragonfly wings and some of the swamp grasses are coated in gold dust and semi-transparent Urushi. In sunlight, the effect is absolutely magical.

The dragonfly design is genius, with the dragonfly's body curving gracefully along the pen and its wings encircling the cap.

The dragonfly is amazingly detailed.

The bottom of the pen portrays the swamp grasses that are the habitat of the dragonfly.

My pen came with a BB single-tone 14K nib. I had nibs.com grind the nib down to a medium italic. It writes beautifully, though I will say this isn't the smoothest nib I've received from them. I could send it back for more work, but I'm afraid this is one pen I just can't let out of my sight.

I realize some people don't understand grail pens, especially ones this expensive. "Why would you ever spend that much money on a pen?" I can't offer a reasonable explanation, because grail pens aren't reasonable. A grail pen is a pen you desire because it means something special to you. You can't justify this with logic. Ultimately, the reason one buys any grail pen is intensely personal. For me, a pen representing one of my favorite creatures on earth is meaningful to me. Also, this isn't just a pen I write with, it is a piece of exquisite art.

Posted on April 29, 2016 and filed under Fountain Pens, Nakaya, Pen Reviews.

Bung Box Pilot Penmanship EF Fountain Pen Review

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

Pretty much everyone you meet has something negative to say about their own handwriting, no matter how pretty it might be. It's an extension of our personality, and some people take pride in their penmanship. Others may view it as a tool or trade, but it's one of those things that can always be improved. We never "arrive" when it comes to penmanship.

There are several ways to improve your own penmanship, and the most elemental method is simple practice. Write things over and over while slowing down and focusing on the small details of every letter. Turns out, some pens are better for this exercise than others.

That's where the Pilot Penmanship comes into play. This cheap fountain pen features an EF nib from Pilot, which is something you don't see in a lot of fountain pens from the factory. The idea behind a tiny nib is that you have no choice but to slow down and stay relaxed. If you try to press down too hard or go too fast with this pen, it will scratch the page and be uncomfortable.

While using this pen, I enter a different mindset that focuses on each letter. For one, I tend to press down more than I need to when using pens. It's an old habit from my grade school days where we learned to write with giant, ridiculous pencils. With the EF nib, you can't bear down on the nib without it sticking and scratching. What's more, since the line is so small, you have to work harder to keep the nib controlled when writing. Any mistakes are magnified when using this small nib, unlike larger nibs that cover up a lot of small mistakes.

The nib is excellent and a great value considering the sub-$10 price point. Even though the line width from this nib is a touch smaller than my 0.38mm gel pens, it's exceptionally smooth when used correctly. That, my friends, is impressive.

You can also swap this nib into both the Pilot Metropolitan and Prera. I like this grip section quite a bit. The grip is contoured to provide the "correct" finger positions. It's very similar to the Lamy grip section, but a little smaller. Like I've mentioned with Safaris and Al-Stars, if you don't use the "correct" grip, this pen might not be good for you. Besides the frustration of a pen manufacturer trying to impose a particular finger position for a pen, it's a great design that looks and feels good for me. The version I have has a nice "BunguBox" logo on the side, but that's not standard. The barrel is normally completely devoid of all branding.

The cap is comically small, but posts securely to the back of the pen. It has a couple of small red bits that stick out of the sides of the cap to prevent it from rolling around. It looks good when the cap is secured on the closed pen, but the cap looks silly on its own. Fortunately, I don't think this pen was made to win any aesthetic awards.

That being said, this is a great pen if you're looking for something that delivers an exceptionally thin line. You'd be hard pressed to find something this good that comes straight from the factory. Most of the time, you need a nib specialist to do a custom grind on a larger nib to achieve these results.

The Penmanship accepts Pilot cartridges and the CON-20 and CON-50 converters. It also comes in black and clear, so you have that choice as well. Both are a mere $8.25 on JetPens, which is hard to argue with.

Posted on April 19, 2016 and filed under Pilot, Pen Reviews, Fountain Pens.

Faber-Castell Ambition Blue Ocean OpArt Fountain 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.)

I really wanted to buy a French fountain pen on my trip to France. I tried several Waterman pens, but the nibs were scratchy and the pens were (in my opinion) over-priced. So, at La Paperterie in Rouen, France, I purchased the new Faber-Castell Ambition Blue Ocean OpArt. I'm calling it my French pen, even though it's a German brand–but I bought it in France, okay?

The city of Rouen

The city of Rouen

What drew me to this pen is its beautiful dusty-blue body with an engraved, intricate guilloche pattern. Plus, I've found Faber-Castell pens to be high-quality, and this pen does not disappoint.

The pen comes in a solid cardboard presentation box. The inner box, which contains the pen, slides out like a drawer. Faber-Castell offers a two-year guarantee on the pen.

One blue cartridge is supplied, but if you want a converter, you have to purchase it separately (which I did). The converter works well, though it is made of a rubbery sort of plastic, not the hard clear plastic I'm accustomed to with most converters.

The Blue Ocean has a resin barrel with a chrome cap, grip, and posting knob.

The pen is neither lengthy (120 mm/4.75 inches unposted) nor heavy (13 grams, unposted). Posted (159 mm/6.25 inches), the pen feels off-balance because the cap is the heaviest piece. When you put it on the posting knob the balance shifts backwards making the pen uncomfortable to use. I do not recommend posting it.

The cap exhibits the usual clean, crisp lines of Faber-Castell pens. It has a simple clip, an engraved circle on the finial, and Faber-Castell branding engraved on the side. It is subtle, and unless you look closely, it's difficult to distinguish the two knights on horses, the emblem of the company. I like subtle branding, and Faber-Castell pens always look classy in my opinion.

The nib sports the Faber-Castell emblem, decorative dots, and the nib size. It's not the most beautiful nib design I've seen, but it suits the Ambition style.

The nib itself is silky smooth and firm though it has no spring or flex. It wrote perfectly right out of the box, and I've had no problems with it at all. This is an excellent steel nib.

I love the style of this pen, and the guilloche pattern is striking. One of my students noticed the pen in class the other day and said, "Wow! That's a cool-looking pen!" You know a pen is something special when an undergraduate notices it.

That said, the Ambition design does not make for the most comfortable writing experience. The step-down from the barrel to the grip is significant, and the grip is too short to grasp comfortably.

I almost did not purchase the pen because of this. The French saleslady showed me I should hold the pen further back on the barrel, which works, but it feels a bit awkward to me. I generally hold my pens fairly close to the nib. I think, in this case, Faber-Castell chose symmetry and design over comfort in writing.

I paid 78 Euros for the pen which converts to about $88. You can purchase this pen at American retailers like Goulet for $100. That seems a bit pricey for what you're getting: a plastic barrel and a steel nib (though other parts are chrome). I wish the barrel were metal overlaid with the guilloche pattern. It would make the pen feel more substantial in the hand.

Nevertheless, the pen is beautiful and well constructed. The Blue Ocean color is pleasing to the eye and the chrome parts accent it perfectly. I now own three Faber-Castell pens, and all of them write beautifully and look fantastic.

L-R: Intuition Terra, Special Edition Walden, and Ambition Blue Ocean.

L-R: Intuition Terra, Special Edition Walden, and Ambition Blue Ocean.

Pros

  • The Blue Ocean OpArt is a beautiful pen with classy styling.
  • It is less expensive than some other Faber-Castell models.
  • The medium nib is smooth and works perfectly straight out of the box.
  • This is a light and thin pen, so people with small hands will probably find it comfortable (but see below).

Cons

  • The pen does not feel as substantial as the other Faber-Castell pens I own due to the plastic barrel. People who prefer pens with some heft will probably want to avoid this model.
  • Because of the design, the grip section is too short and uncomfortable to hold (the barrel digs into your fingers). So, you have to hold this pen further back from the nib. I have adapted to this, but it might be a deal-breaker for some users.
  • The pen does not come with a converter. You have to purchase it separately (but it is only $5 to $7, depending on where you make your purchase).
Posted on April 8, 2016 and filed under Faber-Castell, Fountain Pens, Pen Reviews.

Lamy Al-Star Charged Green Review

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

It looks like spring is finally here for most of us, which means a lot of greenery is on the way. A new year also means a new limited edition color from Lamy for the Al-Star line, which just so happens to be fairly spring oriented this year.

The Charged Green Al-Star is electric, and it's the perfect color to welcome in the spring of 2016. The Al-Star, in case you don't know, is the aluminum line of Lamy's entry level fountain pens. They look almost exactly like the Safari line, but the main difference is the material (metal vs. plastic). The same contoured grip section is found on the Al-Star, but I happen to prefer the metal bodies over the regular Safaris most of the time.

If you've never used a Lamy Safari or Al-Star before, you're really missing out. Sure, there's a chance you might hate the very opinionated grip, but there's only one way to know. Lamy introduces a limited edition color each year for the Al-Star and Safari lines, but it's usually fairly easy to score one for several months after it's released. In the case of the Charged Green Al-Star, they're still easy to come by.

It's been a while since an Al-Star was reviewed here, so it's probably worth looking at the pen from its roots, not just the fancy color. The Al-Star is a medium-sized pen, but is still fairly light because of the thin aluminum used in the body and cap. Now, Kaweco also offers some aluminum pens, but they typically use much thicker materials that feel much stronger and hefty in the hand. The Al-Stars use thin aluminum, which is lightweight but not as durable. Still, they're rugged and can keep up with your normal pen duties with no problems.

The clip is strong, but easy to use, and there's a convenient ink window on both sides of the body to see how much ink is left in the pen at a glance. The Al-Star uses a propriety Lamy cartridge or Lamy converter, and ships with a standard Lamy blue cartridge. The grip section is contoured in a way to compliment a "standard" grip (whatever that means), and this is the main point of contention for the entire lineup. You'll either like the grip, or you won't. That being said, I'm a big fan of the grip and enjoy using them.

The nib that came on this pen is a medium, and it is fantastic. No tuning needed out of the box at all. It has excellent flow, almost no feedback on the page when writing, and starts beautifully every time. For the review, I chose a nice green to go along with the green theme, but the nib has done great with several types of ink. And, as with most Lamys, it's incredibly easy (and affordable) to swap out a different nib.

All in all, it's a great writer and worthy of its fame. There are plenty of standard colors offered in the Al-Star line, like gray, silver, black, purple, and blue, but the limited edition colors are usually quite enjoyable. In the case of Charged Green, it's a knock-out. When you see it on a desk or in a bag, you can't help but be drawn to it. Maybe you think it's pretty, or maybe it's ugly — your eye is drawn to it regardless. Personally, I love the color and will enjoy having it in my collection of more "boring" pens.

You can grab a Charged Green Al-Star in extra-fine, fine, and medium, but you'd better act fast because these limited editions don't stick around forever.

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

Posted on April 6, 2016 and filed under Lamy, Fountain Pens, Pen Reviews.