Massdrop Retro 51 Tornado Fountain Pen Custom Edition

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

The Retro 51 Tornado fountain pen isn't new, but this Massdrop Custom Edition features a killer body design that you won't find anywhere else.

Look and feel

The Massdrop Custom Edition Retro 51 Tornado Fountain Pen has a striking aesthetic that I happen to find very attractive. I love the herringbone design. The pattern also gives the pen a textured feel, which is nice. Of course, it also includes the signature Retro 51 Tornado trademarks, like the knurled top, labeled band, and clip. This pen screams Retro 51 Tornado, but it's different enough that you won't mistake it for one — it's obviously a fountain pen.

The weight was surprising to me. When you look at the pen, it looks like a completely metal pen. When you pick it up, it weighs less than you'd expect. And, it feels like a third (or maybe even a half) of the weight is taken up in the cap alone. Once you remove the cap, the pen has a very pleasant weight for writing.

Posting this pen can be problematic. For one, it never really feels completely secure. When writing, it feels as though it might slip off at any moment. The other problem, for me at least, is that the pen is way too long for comfortable writing. If you insist on posting your pens, this one isn't for you. For me, I typically always prefer writing without posting, so it fits right in with my existing habits.

Along with the "Retro 51 Tornado" label on the cap band, there's also a three digit number from the limited Massdrop run. This makes the pen collectible as it was a limited edition and each pen was numbered. I'm not sure if Massdrop will ever run this pen again, so it's nice to know where this one stands in the full run.

The clip is very strong, but is designed with a dramatic slope at the end, which makes it easy to slip onto denim pockets, bag slots, and other thicker fabrics. Given the strength of the clip, I'm not worried about the pen slipping out under normal circumstances.

I'm not entirely satisfied with the grip on this pen, as it's made of a light-weight plastic and tends to get slippery when in use. I wouldn't go so far as to say that the grip needs to be metal, but I would say it could use a heavier-weight plastic. It just doesn't feel great, and it detracts a bit from the overall writing experience.

Another downside for me is the feel of the threads on the pen cap. I've noticed that it's incredibly easy to mis-thread the cap when closing the pen. I'm not sure why this is, but I've found it irritating on several occasions. Once you find the correct thread, it screws on very easily. It's just a matter of finding that thread over the other "wrong" threads. It's not the most intuitive thing.

The nib is a Schmidt nib, and it's one of the bigger ones. Given the size of the rest of the pen, the size of the nib fits perfectly. The pen is a cartridge/converter filler, but only a couple of cartridges are included with the pen. Another perk of the size of the pen is that you can fit two international short cartridges in the pen — one to use now, and another spare.

One of my favorite features of the pen, besides the pattern on the body, is the brushed "jewel" on the top of the pen cap. Like all Tornados, this one has a matching jewel, and I love the way it looks in relation to the high-contrast herringbone pattern on the body.

Writing performance

So how does this Schmidt nib do when writing? It does well in most senses.

The particular nib on my pen needed some adjustment before it was ready to go. One of the tines was misaligned, so that was an easy fix. Still, the nib can be a tad scratchy and the "sweet spot" is relatively small. This isn't a huge deal, and it's something I've come to expect with most fountain pens under the $150 range (that don't have "Pilot" in the name...). Despite the sometimes-scratchy nature of the nib, it's an excellent writer.

The flow from this nib is among the best I've used. There's never an issue with starting or skipping, no matter how long it's been stored. It doesn't matter how quickly you write, or how broad and elaborate your strokes are, this nib and feed can keep up with the demand.

It's a steel nib, so there's not much flex or shading, but it can flex a small amount with enough pressure. Even for a steel nib, it's very stiff. I would attribute this to the sheer size of the nib — that's a lot of steel.

It's a great writer despite the scratchy feel it sometimes exhibits. I've used several Schmidt nibs in the past, and this one doesn't disappoint.


The custom edition Retro 51 Tornado by Massdrop is a visually stunning pen made a respected brand — there's a lot to like. Given the nature of Massdrop, they might not go on sale again, but there's always the used market if you're so inclined. And, the ability to stow an extra cartridge in the body of the pen adds a cool factor to this pen that none of my other pens can claim. If you like herringbone patterns, this is a beautiful pen.

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

Posted on November 11, 2015 and filed under Fountain Pens, Pen Reviews, Retro 51.