The Sunderland mk1 brings a new feature to the table not before seen in the machined pen world. The patent pending thread-on cap moves any exposed threads that may interfere with your grip inside the grip section and out of your way. Thoughtful design like this is seen throughout the mk1, which you still have time to back. Click over to Kickstarter and see all that the mk1 has to offer.
My thanks to Sunderland Machine for sponsoring The Pen Addict this week.
(Susan M. Pigott is a fountain pen collector, pen and paperholic, photographer, and professor. You can find more from Susan on her blog Scribalishess.)
The Pilot Custom Heritage 912 is not a particularly remarkable pen on the outside. It is black resin with rhodium-plated rings at the juncture of the grip and barrel, at the bottom of the barrel, and at the top and bottom of the cap. The clip is unadorned, and the only branding is on the cap ring which says "Custom Heritage 912 Pilot Japan."
The 912 comes with a CON-70 push-button converter that holds a good amount of ink (0.6 ml). I much prefer this to Pilot's other converters, but I will say this one is tough to clean thoroughly. You have to flush it repeatedly, and the ink tends to get caught in the nooks and crannies of the converter.
It is a light pen, weighing in at only 25 grams. The length is comfortable posted (6.18 inches) or unposted (just under 5 inches).
What makes the 912 shine is the 14K rhodium-plated FA nib (you can, of course get the pen with other nibs). The FA nib (short for Falcon) has cutouts that look like wings.
This design allows the nib to flex when the writer applies pressure to it.
Unlike a Soft Fine nib, which is simply less firm and offers no flex, the tines of an FA nib actually spread, giving that coveted line variation so many writers love.
You can also write normally with the FA nib, and it has a lovely spring to it.
My 912 worked perfectly out of the box. I inked it with Pilot Iroshizuku Yama-budo, and I spread the tines as far as I dared. The ink flowed perfectly and the nib floated on the paper. However, when my bottle of Montblanc Blue Hour arrived, I tried it with the 912. Boy, was I disappointed. The nib railroaded almost immediately. I tried priming the nib, forcing more ink down, but nothing worked.
Wondering if this was a problem with the ink or the nib, I experimented with several different inks. You can see the railroading with Blue Hour, but none of the other inks caused any problems.
I read on some other blogs that the FA nib works best with Pilot inks, but I tried several different brands and they all worked fine. In fact, I tried Blue Hour again after all my tests and suddenly it worked perfectly. I can't explain this. Maybe by the time I tried Blue Hour again, the nib and feed had been flushed so many times they were able to handle a drier ink.
Still, Yama-budo is my go-to ink for this pen. It is such a happy color (it forces me out of my blue ink rut), and the FA nib almost makes my writing look Spencerian . . . almost.
Aside from the initial railroading problem, the only other negative is nib creep. I noticed this from day one. For whatever reason, ink creeps between the tines and pools on the nib's surface. From what I've read, this is caused either by the wetness of the ink or possible hairline fissures in the nib. It doesn't affect the writing, but I get a little OCD-irritated that the nib surface isn't pristine. If I try to wipe it clean, more ink just smears over it. It's a Sisyphian battle. I lost.
No modern pen has yet managed to duplicate the super-flex pens of old. But, if you want the convenience of a modern filling system (no dried up sacs, no broken lever boxes, no rotten cork seals) and a smooth, flexy nib, the 912 FA is a great choice. I honestly did not expect to like this pen as much as I do. I planned to review it and then sell it. But that's not going to happen. This is a keeper.
I purchased my Pilot Custom Heritage 912 with the FA nib through Amazon for $155.37. The seller was in Japan, so it took almost a month for the pen to arrive. That seller does not currently offer this pen anymore, but you can check Amazon periodically to see if it becomes available. Classic Fountain Pens has the pen back in stock ($256), so you can order from them or from your favorite Japanese eBay dealer.
- Lightweight pen for comfortable writing
- Good ink supply with the CON-70 converter
- The FA nib is a wonderful option for people who desire flex but don't want to use vintage pens
- Simple, elegant design
- The pen only comes in black; I wish they offered a variety of colors
- The CON-70 converter is difficult to clean completely
- The pen can be difficult to obtain in America
- Fairly expensive for a plastic pen (though the nib is 14K)
In the world of pressurized cartridges, I've come to expect a subpar writing experience. The old classic — the Fisher pressurized cartridge — isn't one of my favorite cartridges for general writing. I only use one if I know I'll need to write at an awkward angle or if there might be water involved. Why? Because I don't enjoy writing with a skippy pen, and that's exactly what I expect from the Fisher refills. That's not to say it's horrible, but it's not as good as something you'll get out of a gel pen. There are always trade-offs.
But maybe the Pilot Down Force is trying to change that. Maybe. The Down Force is a pressurized ballpoint pen from Pilot that writes very similarly to a Pilot Acroball or Uniball Jetstream, and that's a pretty big compliment for a ballpoint. So, how does it stack up as an all-around writing instrument?
Look and feel
First off, let's take a look at the outside of this pen. At arm's length, you might think this pen is made of metal sporting a matte black finish of some kind. Well, you'd be wrong. It's actually a well-done plastic that looks tactical, but doesn't deliver. The knurling on the grip is a great feature and I'm surprised it feels as good as it does, only because of the material.
It's a very lightweight pen, which is good and bad. It's good because it makes writing very comfortable, and it doesn't weigh down in your pockets. It's bad because it's not durable.
Pressurized special-use pens usually have a pretty sturdy body because they're meant to be used in environments not normally intended for writing instruments. Maybe we should call this category "off-desk writing instruments" (my pitiful attempt to draw an anology to off-road vehicles). Either way, you might be able to write in a harsh environment, but it wouldn't survive if it was run over by a lunar rover. And, let's face it, if you're writing on the moon, that's probably not an uncommon risk.
Kidding aside, I do wish the body was more sturdy. Really, if it was the same design but with a metal material, it would be several notches higher in my book.
The clip has a really satisfying "chunk" when you click it, and it also releases when you lift the clip. This will save any of us who unwittingly put open pens in our pockets.
The model I have is black, but you can also get other colors.
Where this pen really shines is in the cartridge. This is a smooth writer, and that's really surprising to me given the category. It feels similar to an Acroball or Jetstream, and the ink has a nice darkness to it (unlike most ballpoint inks). There is some noticeable skip every few words, but nothing that bothers me. I have to look pretty closely to see them.
Being a smooth writer makes it very comfortable for taking notes and jotting down ideas. This is the kind of pen that you could use for long-form writing if you're not sitting in a normal position, such as leaning back and propping a notebook on your legs so that it is perpendicular to the ground. This position always causes pens to stop writing after a couple of sentences due to the pesky effects of gravity on ink.
Apparently, a bit of pressure is applied to the open end of the cartridge when you click in the knock of the pen. The refill fits into a very tightly fit compartment, which would explain how they get an airtight seal on the open end. It's really pretty nifty.
Overall, the Pilot Down Force is a great writing pen. The fact that it has a pressurized cartridge is just a bonus. This is one of the first pressurized pens I've used that also offers a pleasant writing experience. I'd be really happy to see Pilot offer a more premium version of this pen body in some sort of metal, but for $7 it's hard to complain on this one.