The Pens and Pencils I Actually Use

That One Pen has been around for a while now. I’ve posted several dozen reviews and have been fortunate enough to accrue something resembling a decent readership. What I have not done is clearly written about what I actually use on a consistent basis. For those of us afflicted with late-stage pen and/or pencil addiction, writing tools constantly fall in and out of favor. However, over time, we find ourselves returning to a short list of favorites. What follows is a somewhat lengthy consideration of my pen and pencil short list. As with any such list, it is idiosyncratic, biased and personal but it is not hastily constructed. Trust me – the overflowing storage boxes and lower-than-otherwise-would-be bank account are evidence that this post is the result of plenty experimentation.

Here are the ground rules for this post – no categories and no rankings. I do not want to get caught up in listing my top 5 this and my top 5 that because I do not use pens and pencils based on their relative ranking in a particular category. I use stuff based on some random combination of needs and wants. Also, ignore the order in which these items are listed. If it is in this post then I like it, use it and recommend that you consider it as well. One final point. I only selected writing tools that I use, or at least have handy, multiple times in a typical week. As a result, the list is light of fountain pens. It’s not that I don’t have and use fountains pens with some frequency it’s just that only one or two are consistently inked and handy at most times. We’re focusing on the work horses here. Let’s get started.

Pentel Energel 0.7 mm
The gel pen category is huge and seems to grow every month. The range of colors, ink properties and point sizes makes the gel pen options dizzying at best and bankrupting at worst. That said, if you can buy it at Staples or order it from Jet Pens, odds are I’ve tried it. For me, the micro, needle points tend to be too scratchy and inconsistent with respect to ink flow and the broader points tend to be too wet and I need quick drying ink as a lefty. So, medium points usually find the sweet spot between smoothness, feedback and dry times. Enter the Pentel Energel. Like I said – I’ve tried just about everything in this category. Yes, I’ve flirted with other options and even gone steady with more than few, but in the end I always come back to the Energels with the 0.7 mm point. From the Deluxe RTX to the Energel-X to the Alloy to the non-retractable options, these pens come in a variety of body types. Personally, I prefer the Energel-X. The Deluxe is a tad too long. The Alloy is a bit longer still and also less comfortable and the non-retracble versions are less convenient. In a perfect world, one of the established machine pen makers will use the Energel refill as inspiration for a future design. Are you listening Karas Customs, Tactile Turn, Ti2 Design, BigiDesign, etc.?! One quick note – the Energel ink is not water-resistant so do not write your mortgage check with these pens. Actually, don’t write your mortgage check at all – send it electronically. Given that I write 2 checks a year (at most) and have never had issues with water ruining important papers I’ve written, I consider the water thing a total non-factor.



Tactile Turn Mover and Shaker
Speaking of machined pens…Of all the categories of pens, I find machined pens (especially those offered on Kickstarter) particularly tempting. What late-stage pen addict can resist the idea of a purpose-built pen while also supporting an entrepreneur chasing his or her dream? Heck, as a teacher I’m easily sucked into a story of hope and potential so Kickstarter is basically design to get money from folks like me. All of that said, I have grown weary of quality control in the small to medium batches that these vendors deal with and a bit tired of the utilitarian design favored by this segment as well. I am not saying machines pens are poorly made but I am saying I have sent multiple machined pens back to multiple vendors for minor tweaks here and there. Not a huge issue but it is a thing. Anyway, to me, the best pens are simple, efficient and maybe even a bit classy. I’m not going to get on any particular makers, but I have discovered that pens made from slippery aluminum tubes with screws showing on the clip are not my thing. Now, the Mover and Shaker pens from Tactile Turn give me the chance to support a small business and get an object that looks and feels like a pen. The shorter Shaker takes Parker-style refills. The longer Mover readily accepts G2-type refills. The Mover is a touch too long for my hand, but I do get a fair amount of use from my Mover when its loaded with a 0.5 mm Pilot Juice refill (more on this pen below). I don’t use it frequently, but it has a permanent place in my pen cup so it belongs in this list. Likewise, the Shaker is not my primary Parker-style refill pen (read on to find out which one is) but it’s certainly makes the short list.



Staedtler 925 and Uni Kuru Toga (the less expensive mechanical pencils)
Honestly, how many cheap mechanical pencils does the world need? If every pencil manufacturer stopped making mechanical pencils tomorrow wouldn’t it be about 20 years before we would notice the beginnings of a shortage? I enjoy mechanical pencils as much as the next guy, but pound for plastic, there may not be another category of writing implements I’ve blown more money on than cheap mechanical pencils. Enough complaining. What less expensive mechanical pencils do I keep coming back to? Staedtler 925 and Uni Kuru Toga. Like all cheaper mechanical pencils, both of these pencils are a tad too light for me but they are also among the most comfortable writing tools, pen or pencil, I own. There isn’t any fancy about the Staedtler 925, but the ridged rubber grip is comfortable without being too squishy. As you probably know, the Kuru Toga has a cool clutch mechanism that keeps the graphite line consistent and the subtle contours of the grip area provides plenty of control. There are other mechanical pencils I carry with me and use more frequently (see below) but I have multiple sets of Kuru Toga and Staedtler pencils in multiple locations to make sure a decent mechanical pencil is always handy.



TWSBI Mini (Honorable mention for TWSBI Classic and Vac 700)
To try to talk about all that fountain pens have to offer in the context of this post would be silly. There simply is too much history and too many options to get into it in one post, two posts or twenty posts. I have about 20 fountain pens in my collection but time and time again I come back to my TWSBI Mini. It’s not the best looking fountain pen I own. That honor might go to my Parker Vacumatic. But it is the fountain pen that fits my hand the best and works perfectly each and every time. It has to be the nib and feed because the TWSBI Classic, which uses the same hardware, is also rock solid for me. I prefer the slightly wider barrier of the Mini compared to the Classic and if only the darn cap of the Mini would just slide on instead of screwing on the back to post, the Mini would be perfect. While I may not use it as much as other writing tools on this list, I want to give a shout out to the Vac 700. It’s one of the quirkiest pens I own and it’s far too big to carry around but it is the ideal tool for when I want that old-school-sitting-at-my-desk-writing-like-it’s-1925 feeling. Again, there are plenty of other fountain pens in the collection but none, including the vintage pens I own, have earned my trust and loyalty like the TWSBIs. One more comment. My TWSBI Mini did develop a crack in the body. I sent an email to TWSBI USA on a Sunday morning and I got a positive reply within minutes. That, my friends, is how you do customer service.



Parker Jotter (Relatively inexpensive but classic writing tool part 1)
I don’t care what any of you pen snobs think – I love the Parker Jotter. What’s more, I like them best when they are loaded with the basic Parker Quink ballpoint refill. How do you like them apples pen dorks?! Along with spending far too much time trying different cheap mechanical pencils, I spend way too much time (and more than a few bucks) down the Parker-style refill rabbit hole. I bet I could find (conservatively counting) 15 different types of Parker-style refills in my home office in under 20 seconds. While a Fisher Space Pen refill and a 100% fresh Visconti gel refill have their benefits, I continually come back to Parker’s own Quink refill. I’ve been debating between medium and broad point recently, but one way or another it’s typically Parker Quink for me. As for the Jotter itself, its iconic design is the epitome of simplicity, efficiency and class. In truth, the Jotter is probably a few millimeters too thin to be perfectly perfect for me, but that’s just me being perfectly picky. Whether it’s a quick line on a Post-it Note, a to-do list on an index card or problem solving in a student’s five subject notebook, I know I can grab a Jotter and get a solid result each time on any paper and look classy while doing so. Remember, the Jotter has been around since 1954 so you get relatively inexpensive collectability and the benefit of touching history with each pen stroke. Love. It.



Dixon Ticonderoga and Tombo Mono (because sometimes you need to go old school and O’natural while you keep it real)
I don’t always use a wood-cased pencil (because why would I) but when I do, I like to keep it simple and/or yellow and/or smooth and/or slightly hard. Wood-cased pencils are a whole thing unto themselves. I have allowed myself to dip more than a big toe into this pool but, like my 8-year-old self, I refuse to dive in head first. I have learned enough to know that there are bad pencils, decent pencils, good pencils and (supposedly) really good pencils but given that wood-case pencils are not terribly portable and there simply is no way I’m going to use more than 8 wood-cased pencils in my statistical speaking 34 years left on earth, I’m just not going to go there in any significant way. Why do I prefer F grade graphite? I’m left-handed and prefer not to look like I’ve been playing in the dirt after writing. The Dixon is on this list because (a) the F/2.5 grade version is fairly easy to get, (b) I have a thing for iconic design and (c) it has an eraser. The Tombo Mono is on the list because it’s the best writing wood-cased pencil that doesn’t smudge that I’ve tried to this point in my life. So why not just go with the Mono alone? See items (a), (b) and (c) above. Like the cheap mechanical pencils I discussed above, I have plenty of “copies” of the Dixon and Tombo here, there and everywhere to make sure my old school pencil itch can be scratched any time.



Pentel i+ and Lamy 2000 Multi pen
Let me be honest here. I feel like any self-respecting pen nerd should have a favorite multi pen or two. So, these two entries feel like obligations as much as anything. Don’t get me wrong – I use them often just not as much as the other gel or ballpoint options on this list. Frankly, multi pens are a weird category. On the one hand, they should be the answer to every pen nerd’s need to have more than one writing option on hand at all times. On the other hand, you cannot physically write with more than one pen at a time and multi pens never do their job as well as a single refill pen. Putting all of that aside, whenever I need/want the convenience of a multi pen I go for either my Pentel i+ or my Lamy 2000 with the final choice based on whether I’m in a gel ink or ballpoint mood. Ultimately, picking a multi pen comes down to minimizing concessions. So, if I’m going to use a gel ink multi pen then the refills need to work consistently (I’m looking at you Pilot Hi Tec C Coleto), thus my preference for Energel inks. If I’m going to use a ballpoint multi then I prefer to go with one that looks and feels great, thus the Lamy 2000. These pens may not be true work horses for me, but they definitely pull their own weight on my pen and pencil farm.



Caran d’Ache 849 (Relatively inexpensive but classic writing tool part 2)
With all due respect to friends across the pond, the Caran d’Ache 849 is basically the european Parker Jotter. The 849 came along some 15 years after the Jotter. I don’t know its full history and looking stuff up on the internet can be so complicated, but I suspect the folks at Caran d’Ache were inspired by Parker’s work. Given the design of the 849, they were certainly inspired by the humble wood-case pencil so there is an interesting cross over there.. Like the Jotter, we have the flexibility of multiple refill options and the added fun of moderately priced collectability given the varieties of color and finishes available within the 849 line. Simple. Efficient. Well made. What’s not to like? In case you’re wondering, the pen in the foreground of the picture below is the 100th anniversary 849 Caran d’Ache released earlier this year. So colorful and detailed.



rOtring 600 Lava and rOtring 800 (the more expensive mechanical pencils)
The rOtring mechanical pencils I have may be the best made items in my entire pen and pencil collection. The precision, efficiency and build quality of these pencils is insane. As with all things, there is a point of diminishing return when it comes to price and mechanical pencils. After all, we’re basically talking bout a sleeve for a stick of graphite. Still, if you have a need for mechanical pencils, why not use the best? Like any mechanical pencil, these rOtrings are not suited for extended writing sessions but when it comes to problem solving and other typical mechanical pencil uses, these tools are top of the line without being stupidly expensive (~$70). I dig the lava finish so much that I have two of the 600s (one for home and one for school) and the 800 is a constant travel companion. Both of these pencils have retractable tips (the 600 retracts with a click, the 800 with a twist) which adds to their pocketability. If you want to show someone how writing implements are supposed to be made and how efficient mechanical pencils really can be, show them a rOtring.



Pilot Juice 0.5 mm (the other gel pen)
Like I said, the gel pen world is a dizzying array of confounding choices. So, it makes sense that any pen nerd should have a couple of favorites from this category. Why the Pilot Juice? (1) It has a 0.5 mm canonical shaped point. I prefer cone shapes to needle points and when you get down to 0.5 mm and smaller, many makers go with needle points. (2) The ink chemistry of the Juice is different from the water-based Energel so it writes a tighter, drier line that compliments the Energel nicely. (3) It has the same size and shape of the ubiquitous G2 refill so it works in variety of pen bodies, including the Tactile Turn Mover discussed above. Given my preference for 0.7 mm lines in the Energel, you might think I’d like the Juice in 0.7 mm as well. That has yet to be the case. Maybe I haven’t tried the right color in the 0.7 Juice but, for whatever reason, the color intensity at 0.7 mm is less satisfying than at 0.5 mm to my eyes. Overall, the Pilot Juice is not my go-to gel ink but it is my go-to-next gel ink.



BigiDesign Ti Ballpoint
This plucky little guy is the most recent addition to my consistently used list of pens and it’s here for one reason; the interior design of the pen is such that the Parker-style refill does not wiggle one fraction of a nanometer during use. With retractable ball points, there can be a hint of wiggle in the point. To be clear, this is not the case with my favorite Parker Jotters or Caran d’Ache 849s (but I am looking at you Retro 51). However, when I want a truly 100% rock solid feel in a ballpoint, I’ve been grabbing for the Ti ballpoint from BigiDesign in recent weeks. It’s not perfect. Un-posted it’s a bit too short and posted it’s a bit too long. But compared to bullet-style Fisher Space Pens which also provide a rock solid feel, the Ti Ballpoint’s grip area and heft of the titanium works better for me. It does come with a rather useless rubber stylus tip on the bottom end. Thankfully, you can swap it out for a flat end cap that comes with the pen.



Miscellaneous Stuff I Use Often
We’re closing in on 3000 words so this post is already too long. I will not go into significant detail for the items below, but I did want to mention a few paper items, inks and other things that fit into the broader pen/pencil world as way to round out this post.

The Friendly Swede Micro Fiber Stylus – Along with all the money I spent on cheap mechanical pencils and Parker-style refills, I also spent too much searching for the best stylus for my iPad. This is one to get. It works first time every time.

Pilot Iroshizuku Kon Peki – Like many of you, I have more fountain pen ink than I could possibly use in this or three more lifetimes. Of all the ink bottles I have, the level in the bottle of Kon Peki is the lowest – ’nuff said.

Field Notes – You should carry a pocket notebook and you should carry the one that offers the best balance of paper quality, style and durability. Like many of my favorite products in this list, Field Notes has a certain inexpensive collectability that adds to the fun.

Yellow Legal Pads – Honestly, I probably write more notes on these legal pads than on any other surface. I’m currently using the Docket Gold pads by Tops. They’re not perfect but they’re about as good as legal pads get.

Nock Co. Dot Dash Index Cards – The last thing I do before leaving school each day is prepare a to-do list for the following day. I used to write this list on any old note card I could find. These days, I refuse to use anything but Nock Co Dot Dash cards.

Park Sloper Wallet/Notebook Holder by One Star Leather Goods – I’ve been thinking about going with a smaller front pocket wallet and leaving the Field Notes naked in my back pocket, but this wallet is so damn well made and so damn functional that I can’t bring myself to make the switch.

Mountain Briefcase by Topo Design – If I could recommend only one product in this entire post, the Mountain Briefcase might be it. I got the green one for Christmas last year and I could not be happier with it. It fits several pens, my MacBook Air, a legal pad, a stack of student test papers and various other bits and pieces with an insane level of efficiency.

Pen Holders by Dudek Modern Goods – I have several of Mike Dudek’s solid walnut pen holders, including a couple that were custom-made. Also, I’m this close (forefinger and thumb about 1 cm apart) to ordering another custom piece from Mike. These holders may straddle the line between function and luxury so it’s not like you need one. Still, you should want one because they do what they do well and look great doing so.

So there you have it. The pens, pencils and other stuff I actually use. Of course, this post will be revised in the weeks and months ahead but it won’t be updated without serious consideration. I hope you found this post 5% as informative as I have. Sitting down and clearly thinking about what you actually use, without worrying about what you think you should use or what is trendy, is an eye-opening process.


**Disclaimer – Other than a few products that were gifts from immediate family or close friends, all of the items in this post were purchased by me with my own money. I have not been compensated in any way by any of the merchants or makers discussed in this post. Any links to vendors are provided purely for reader’s convenience.**



“Stone” Paper (Da Vinci Notebook)


Q. What do egg shells and paper have in common? A. They are both made of calcium carbonate. At least the “stone” paper from this Kickstarter project is made from the same stuff as egg shells. Nick, the creator of the Da Vinci Notebook, sent me a sample of this interesting paper and I decided to put it through a few paces.

The first thing you’ll notice about the stone paper is that it feels very soft and that there is almost no discernible texture to the paper. The phrase “smooth as a baby’s bottom” comes to mind. It also has some heft to it. I cannot find the paper weight in the information that Nick sent me but I’d guess that a single sheet of stone paper weighs about the same as at least 3 sheets of Rhodia. Seems to me that a 100 page, 5″ x 8″ notebook of this stuff would weigh a pound or more. Lastly, in the initial impression category, would be the color. The paper has a flat white color to it. It is not bright white like most copy paper but it is not in the cream color range either. I’d call it flat or off-white or soft white. Whatever name fits the color best, the important point is that it’s easy on the eyes. The paper is also described as water and tear resistant. I’d agree that it does have some water repellency, but it didn’t seem to take much more effort to tear than the decent copy paper I have. When it does tear, it seemed to do so neatly without many fibers showing along the tear line.


How does the paper perform? Well, it depends. For most pen and ink combinations it performed well and felt smooth. For a couple of pen and ink combinations it was more or less, as the kids might say, epic fail. Let’s take a look at pictures of particular pen/ink combinations.

First, my go-to-non-fountain-pen-of-choice, the Pentel Energels. I’m happy to say that the Energels took to the stone paper like a fish to water. This was especially true of the wider 0.7 mm point. In my experience, Energels write well on most paper surfaces but they felt particularly smooth on the stone paper and laid down a solid and consistent line.


Unfortunately, the dry times for the Energels on the stone paper were less than ideal. Energels are, in my experience, the fastest drying gels pens on the market today but something about the gel chemicals and the stone paper inhibits drying times. Regardless, there is smearing evident, even at the 10 second mark. That said, the writing experience is so smooth with the gel/stone paper combination that I might be willing to take my time writing and enjoy the ride.


What about fountain pens? Well, the few that I tried did not fare particularly well. My fine nib Kaweco AL Sport with Kaweco Blue did reasonably well. The writing was smooth but there was a touch of feathering on a letter or two. My TWSBI Mini, also with a fine nib and sporting Kon Peki, was less successful as the sharper point of the TWSBI dug into the stone paper a bit. You can see the digging in with the “T” of TWSBI in the pictures below. My Parker Vacumatic (also fine, also Kon Peki) was the one epic fail of the lot. All in all, I think good results could be obtained with a rounded fine nib and less slippery inks, but I did not immediately find a fountain pen/ink combination that worked like a charm with the stone paper.



Let me finish with the pen/ink combinations that took to the stone paper best. Hybrid and ballpoint inks did very, very well on this paper. Color saturation was amazing (on par with gel inks) and the dry times were nearly instantaneous. I think I can use a touch of chemistry to explain why the ballpoints worked so well. Apparently, the stone paper is made with 80% calcium carbonate and 20% non-toxic resin (I’m guessing these are weight percentages). Ballpoint and, to a less extent, hybrid inks are oil-based (i.e. hydrocarbon) media which I suspect bind effectively with the resin (i.e. hydrocarbon) of the stone paper. Interestingly, my Lamy rollerball (water-based ink) also wrote nicely and dried quickly on the stone paper but a post-writing water test showed some differences. The water-based rollerball ink and the gel inks smeared noticeably after dabbing with water but the hybrid and ballpoint inks held up great.

For what it’s worth, I also used some pencils on the stone paper. Very sharp and hard points dug into the paper too much, but softer/wider leads wrote smoothly. You can see the evidence of digging into the paper by the bits of embossing on the back.


Let’s conclude. Fountain pens and inks? Probably not. Gel pens and inks? Yes, but take your time to avoid smearing. Rollerball inks? Yes (but avoid water as always with rollerball inks). Ballpoint and hybrid inks? Yes, absolutely, my goodness yes! In fact, I decided to back the Kickstarter project for the Da Vinci Notebook based solely on the positive results I saw with ballpoint and hybrid inks. Backer options start at $12 on Kickstarter so trying the notebook for yourself won’t cost too much.

On a related note, Oxford makes a stone paper notebook that is available from Walgreens of all places (Sorry, I can’t bring myself to put a link to Walgreens on my blog). After playing with the Da Vinci Notebook paper sample, I ran over to my local Walgreens and got lucky. The paper in the Oxford book does have a similar texture and also provides a smooth writing feel. However, the Oxford paper is noticeably thinner than the Da Vinci Notebook sample. In fact, the page beneath the current page does become slightly embossed from writing in the Oxford notebook. I’m happy to have the Oxford notebook to play around with more stone paper, but I’m hopeful that the Kickstarter Da Vinci Notebooks will be a clear step up in quality.

A sample of the stone paper was provided to me free of charge by the creator of the Da Vinci Notebook Kickstarter project. Opinions and perspectives are entirely my own.



I got me a TWSBI Mini (love it), a TWSBI Vac 700 (dig it), a TWSBI Classic (solid) and, our focus here, a TWSBI 580 (meh). Other than the decent collection of Parker Jotters I have, I’m fairly sure these four pens make TWSBI the most popular pen manufacturer in my collection (excluding the various inexpensive Pilot G2s or Pentel Energels I’ve got here, there and everywhere). I’m more or less all in when it comes to TWSBI and, for the most part, the investments have paid off nicely. The one exception; however, may be the 580. It’s certainly not a bad pen but the investments I’ve put into the pen just haven’t paid off they way I had hoped. Yes, “investmentS” plural.

Like the vast majority of my fountain pen purchases, I bought the 580 with a fine nib. But that’s not all. At the time of the original order, I decided to throw in the broad nib thinking that, for the extra $20, it would be like getting two pens in one. But that’s still not all. A couple of weeks later I was enticed by the notion of a 1.1 stub nib and was unable to fight off the temptation. So, that’s one pen and three nibs. But, the spending on the 580 doesn’t stop there. I really, really, really wanted this pen to work for me and knowing that the vast majority of my writing is done with a fine nib, I took the 580 and fine nib to the recent Philadelphia Pen Show for tuning. I managed to get on Richard Binder‘s sign up sheet and he did solid work smoothing out the nib for me. Even after all this, the 580 and I are still trying to work out our differences. Thing is, I really like the look of the 580 and all my other TWSBIs are all-stars in my collection so I’m not ready to give up yet.

What’s not working out between me and the 580? (1) I can’t get the broad or stub nibs to behave consistently. Maybe it’s my lefty hook. Maybe my relatively small lettering doesn’t work with wider nibs. Maybe I haven’t found the right ink yet (tried Fuyu gaki, Noodler’s Bernake Blue, Waterman Mysterious Blue – seen here). Maybe I hold the pen too upright and the 580 nib is more sensitive to angle than the Mini, Classic (same nib as Mini) and Vac 700. Still, no matter what I do with the wider nibs I get bits of skipping. (2) The fine nib works…well, fine, especially after some tuning from Mr. Binder. But, the nib does seem to dry out quicker than my other TWSBI pens. If I don’t use it consistently it’s a bit of a struggle and a fair amount of doodling before the nib responds well again. In short, the 580 just seems to be too moody for my liking. My Lamy 2000 can be persnickety as well but once I get that bad boy going it’s all good – very good in fact. Right now, the 580 doesn’t seem worth the fuss. I’ve tried to meet you more than half way, but TWSBI 580…it’s not me; it’s you.


If I were to be totally honest, the 580 may be a “Give It” pen for me. But, I’m not there yet. I’m going to keep working with the tuned-up fine nib. I haven’t tried many of my favorite inks yet and I’m hoping against hope that the right combination is still to be discovered. Right now, we’ll “Desk It”.

Okay, bear with me here. The TWSBI 580 is like the Rush album Vapor Trails. I’m a decent fan of Rush (not a die-hard, but definitely a fan) to the point that I have most of their studio albums including Vapor Trails. When VT first came out in 2002 I couldn’t stand it. The music was solid but the sound quality and the overall mix made the album practically unlistenable for me. Thankfully, the band realized there were issues and recently released an improved version. Now, I consider VT among my 3 or 4 favorite Rush albums overall and so it may be with the 580. The mix isn’t working for me right now but I’m hoping I’ll find the right ink one of these days and the pen will start to rock.

The thoughts of others on the 580:
The Pen Addict
Tyler Dahl
Delectable Pens
Ink on Hand
Fountain Pen Day


Monteverde Engage


The refillable rollerball – worthy addition to a collection or useless bastard child of a pen?  Well, I think the answer depends on your pen needs.  For me, a refillable rollerball fills a useful niche but I can see how other collectors could find the whole idea superfluous.  Before getting into my thoughts on the Monteverde Engage specifically, you may be interested to know that there are plenty of other folks making refillable rollers including Noodlers, J. Herbin and Delta (I’m sure there are others.  Sorry if I missed your favorite).  The Engage’s price tag ($80-$90) is noticeably more than the Noodler’s or J. Herbin entries but considerably less than Delta’s Non-Stop Rollerball.

A refillable roller combines the fun of picking your favorite ink with the convenience of a rollerball.  In reality, a rollerball isn’t more convenient than a fountain pen except in one limited sense (wait for it).  I don’t know about you, but every rollerball I’ve used has at least as many issues with skipping or drying as you have with a lightly used fountain pen so I’m not convinced that rollerballs are really more user friendly than fountain pens.  Factor in the qualities we all enjoy about the fountain pen writing experience and it seems to me that rollerballs don’t compare.  Having said that, there is one writing activity I frequently engage (not pun intended) in when fountain pens aren’t convenient – test grading.  When grading exams I need to be as efficient as possible.  I’ve got a stack of 80 four-page exams to process and every second counts; aligning a nib with the page will just slow me down.  If work or pleasure requires you to process several pages of documents efficiently and you still want the benefits of color choice (or you just want to use more of that damn ink you’ve got piling up), then a refillable rollerball just might be the thing.

Onto the Monteverde Engage.  The first point to make is that this thing is built like an absolute locomotive.  It has some decent heft (about 40 g) and at 6 inches long it won’t make for a comfortable pocket pen.  Between the pen’s metal materials and carbon fiber finish you’ve got an implement that feels like it could stand in for a trailer hitch pin in a pinch.  On the downside, the thin and overly flexible clip seems flimsy by comparison.  The clip isn’t really an issue; it’s just not up to the rest of the pen’s construction.  At nearly half an inch in diameter, the pen feels a bit thick but certainly manageable even for someone with relatively small hands like myself.

How does the pen write?  Well, like a rollerball.  It’s smooth, but not as smooth as a decent fountain pen.  It gives hints of line variation, but not as much a medium or broader fountain pen.  If I had to write a letter or anything else of length I’d much prefer a fountain pen.  When it comes to making short notes or, in my professional case, grading a stack of exams, it works well.  The Engage takes both a converter (the included converter has a healthy volume) and standard international cartridges.  It’s shown here paired with Organic Studio’s Neon.  It’s become a bit uncouth to grade papers in red ink these days.  Oranges like Neon work well.  There’s plenty of contrast against printed text and student writing while still being dark enough to read easily.

The Monteverde Engage is a “Desk It” pen for me.  I’m very unlikely to use it for anything other than grading but it does that job well and it gives the chance to use your choice of ink color.

The Monteverde Engage is like a bread knife.  About the only time you use a bread knife is to, well, cut bread.  But it does that job well and you’re glad to have one when you use it.  You don’t need a bread knife to cut bread but it’s well suited for the task.  I won’t use the Engage much but I’m glad I have one for the jobs it will do.  So, if you think you have a use for a refillable rollerball then go for the Engage or one of the other rollers I mentioned above.  They’re a specialized but useful addition to any collection.

A couple of other reviews of the Engage:
Ink Nouveau
From the Pen Cup


Philadelphia Pen Show

I spent this past Saturday at the Philadelphia Pen Show.  It took a bit over 2 hours to get to Philly from my northern NJ home.  Save for a bit of snow, the trip was uneventful and finding the Sheraton  hosting the show couldn’t have been easier.  I got to the show around 10:20 am so I was among the early arrivals for Saturday.  The show took up two large rooms which made it a bit larger than I had imagined in my mind but I hear that the Philly show is only about half as large as the one in D.C..  I was more than impressed by the options available in Philly so I’m a little frightened as to what could be going on in D.C.!

I decided not to take any pictures because I wanted to take it all in and fly under the radar.  During the 4 hours or so I spent at the show, I circled the room several times visiting different vendors multiple times trying to get a handle on the offerings and prices.  Generally speaking, the prices were comparable to what you could find from pen retailers online but I certainly overheard plenty of haggling at a number of tables.  Since I was mostly in the market for modern pens, I wasn’t on the hunt for deals (although I did get one) and spent my time really just trying to take it all in.

So, what did I learn going to my first pen show?  First, there are wwwaaaayyyy too many pens in the world.  When you’re at a pen show, the absurdity of tracking down particular pens and having a collection of more than a couple of decent pens can hit you square in the face – at least it did for me.  That’s not to say I’m going to slow down my pen collecting, but you are forced to come face to face with your obsession in a rather stark way at a show.  I knew to bring cash and I knew plenty of people would be spending mad amounts of cash.  Still, I wasn’t fully prepared for how quick and easy it would be to spend money.  One gentleman dropped over $1K in the span of about 2 minutes on 3 Parker pens while I was browsing a table.  Again, I knew the money would be flying but to see the cash move in person was quite a spectacle.  I think I’m going to start a pen show cash stash to be better prepared for the next show.  Selling some old pens and bodily fluids to fund future pen show trips may also become an option.

I also learned that pen vendors are a patient and polite bunch.  It was nice to meet Lisa and Brian Anderson in person.  Turns out they’re as nice in person as they seem in their weekly podcasts.  I spoke with several other vendors and they were all, to a person, very accommodating.  In addition to the Andersons, specials mention goes to Susan Wirth.  I talked Parker Jotters with her for a good five minutes and she was simply delightful.  I’m not the kind of guy who uses the phrase “simply delightful”, but that’s the best way to describe Susan.  She was a hoot and very helpful.

Lastly, I learned that Richard Binder and nib adjustments are the real deal.  I never had a pen adjusted before but I do have a few that write less than ideally so I made sure to get on Richard’s list as soon as I arrived.  I was #10 on his list for that day and it took about 2 hours for my number to come up.  I ended up having him smooth out a fine nib for my TWSBI 580.  Nothing fancy as far as nib work goes and it took Richard less than 5 minutes to produce a result I was happy with.  The man knows what he’s doing and he seems like a thoroughly fine fellow to boot.

What will I do differently at my next show?  I went into the show with a list of 10-12 pens to check out.  Turns out that the list went out the window about 20 steps into the show room.  Next time, I’ll go into a show with fewer pens in mind.  I’ll then start by circling the show two or three times to see what’s what and then focus on pursuing these preplanned pens for a time and leave the rest of the day in search of a few surprises.  I would also set aside some time to take in all the ink options.  While I did buy a bottle of ink, it felt more like an add-on than a well-considered purchase.  As part of a future plan to leave more time for surprises, I will definitely play with more pens next time.  I spent a lot of time looking at the Philly show.  Next time, I’ll leave time and space to play with more pens.

What did I get?
Kaweco Blue Al Star Sport(M nib) – Paid a fair price, but by no means a bargain
Early ’80s glossy green Parker Jotter – Probably overpaid a bit, but I really connected with the color
Monteverde One Touch Engage – I got a very, very good deal on this directly from the Monteverde representative.  It’s going to make a great test grading pen for years to come.
Organics Studio Neon Ink – List price

All in all, I’m happy I went.  It was a lot of fun and even though I didn’t get the best bang for my buck in all cases I learned a fair amount.  I live about 90 minutes from Hofstra so I suspect I’ll be going to the Long Island show in March.  When I do, I’ll be a bit wiser and better prepared to take advantage of the day.

(Updated – forgot to include all the links in earlier version.)

Pilot Vanishing Point


If a pen could be an evil genius, then the matte black Pilot Vanishing Point would fit the bill.  The Vanishing Point may be one of the most talked about and reviewed fountain pens going today and for good reason.  It’s unique, incredibly well made and a solid writer (mostly).  The questions we have to answer are whether or not the uniqueness wanders into overly quirky territory and if the design elements required by the retractable nib make the Pilot VP a pen worth using for extended writing sessions.  For me, the answers two both questions is “no”.  The design works but the writing experience is a bit awkward for me.

Obviously, the retractable nib thingy is way cool.  Yes, the fact that the clip has to be on the end where the nib resides can make for an awkward grip, but the design and build quality of the retraction mechanism and the overall pen are excellent.  If you like to collect a variety of fountain pens, you probably should have a Pilot VP solely for its unique features.  Also, if you’re looking for a quality fountain pen to use as a pocket carry to make quick notes, you could do a lot worse.  So, even before we get to its qualities as a writer, there is much to recommend this fine fountain pen.


The Pilot VP comes with an 18 k gold, rhodium-platted nib.  It’s shown here loaded with Noodler’s Dark Matter.  Given these nib materials and the overall excellent quality of the pen, the typical street price of $140 is reasonable (remember, everything is relative here).  The nib is rather small and, like typical Japanese nibs, a medium is more a medium/fine and a fine is more a fine/extra fine.  I would say my medium-nibbed Pilot VP behaves like a wet fine.  How does it write?  Well, it depends on how you hold the pen.  As a left-hander, I’m typically an overwriter with a bit of a hook.  But, like many lefties, I sometimes switch to underwriting when underlining and making other strokes or if the pen I’m using requires it.  When I underwrite, the VP works wonderfully.  It’s smooth, lays down a fairly wet fine line and never skips.  However, when I overwrite, the performance is a bit inconsistent (not bad, but inconsistent) and, believe it or not, the nib makes an occasional squeaking noise.  I suspect right-handed folks and lefty underwriters would really like the Vanishing Point and could find a spot for it in their regular rotation.  As a lefty overwriter, I have my reservations.  Clearly, a visit to the nib doctor may be called for if I want to make the Pilot VP more than an occasionally used novelty.  I do like the overall size of the pen; it fits my medium-sized hand quite well.


Because of its limits when I overwrite, the Pilot VP is a “Desk It” pen for me.  If it weren’t so unique and so well built, I would probably lower this to a “Give It” rating.  But, I think I will pursue the aforementioned nib work in an effort to promote it to a “Carry It” pen.  Stay tuned…


The matte black Pilot VP is the Darth Vader of fountain pens.  As Vader is part machine and part man, the VP is part mechanical novelty and part traditional writing instrument.  Although Vader was never able to fully realize is galactic ambitions, I’m hopeful a bit of nib work will turn my Pilot VP into a fully functional death star of a pen.


Retro 51 Tornado Lincoln


We fountain pen users can be a picky bunch and spending a fair amount of money on a variety of pens only exasperates that pickiness.  Now, I’m going to have a few picky things to say about Retro 51’s Tornado Lincoln fountain pen, but don’t let these little issues dissuade you.  If you can find a Lincoln for $50 or less, buy one.  It’s a unique looking pen and it writes very, very well for a moderately priced pen.  Pair it up with a uniquely colored ink like Diamine Ancient Copper and you’ve got yourself a fun and classy combination.


Let me get my three points of pickiness, in descending order of annoyance, out of the way.  (1)  The metal body, which looks fantastic, gives way to a somewhat inexpensive-feeling plastic grip section.  The section is a touch slippery, although not discouragingly so, and doesn’t seem to hold its own with the stunning body and cap.  (2)  When posted, the pen is a tad too long for my taste and the balance is a bit top heavy.  Also, you have to push the cap on firmly to get an adequate post.  (3)  The converter doesn’t fit into the grip section as firmly as it should.  As you can see from the picture below, there is a step down from the main compartment of the converter to the portion that sits inside the grip section resulting in a bit of wiggle.  It does stay put, but you’ll want to be cognizant of the wiggle when separating the grip and body sections to avoid any ink accidents.  One the positive side, the available volume is somewhat larger than your average converter.


Persnicketiness out of the way, let’s get to the many good points of this fine pen.  The color.  My goodness the color.  Maybe it’s kitschy to make a pen look like a penny and name it Lincoln, but it works for me.  Importantly, the finish is not purely copper as there is a brush effect that blends the copper color with wisps of black giving the Lincoln a rich appearance.  The iconic Retro 51 knurling at the top of the cap provides a nice contrast against the smooth, brushed look of the rest of the pen.  I expect the finish will oxidize with time.  That’s fine with me; it will just make the pen more mine.


Now, it’s obvious why I decided to put Diamine Ancient Copper in the Lincoln.  However, it seems like I stumbled into a fantastic match as the nib has performed like a dream from the first stroke.  There hasn’t been a hint of skipping and the ride produced from this steel fine nib is generally smooth with a bit of feedback.  As you can see, I’m reviewing the pen using Rhodia which gives the smoothest feel you can expect; there definitely was more feedback on Field Notes.  Check it out.  Field Notes Drink Local and the Lincoln work well together don’t you think?  The nib was able to generate a bit of shading with this beautiful ink revealing colors ranging from a light copper to a deeper brown.


It’s a unique looking pen and writing with copper/brown colors may not be the most practical for every day use, but screw it, the Retro 51 and Ancient Copper combo rocks and should be within close reach at all times.  It’s a “Carry It” pen.  The slightly awkward length when posted might make it cumbersome to use for quick note taking, but the positives easily overcome this mild inconvenience.  Again, if you can find this pen with the nib size you want for under $50, it’s a no-brainer purchase.

The Retro 51 Tornado Lincoln is like a US penny.  Okay, that’s too easy.  How about this?  The Retro 51 Tornado Lincoln is like a good pair of casual brown leather shoes.  Both the Lincoln and a good pair of brown shoes look good from day one and neither really needs any break-in time.  Also, both should develop a character of their own over time.


What have others thought about this solid pen?
FP Quest
Pencil Case Blog
The Pen Habit

Once again…a gratuitous collage of pen and ink.


Pilot Metropolitan

Psst…Hey buddy…You got $15?  That’s all it’s gonna take to get something I know you’re gonna dig.

Of all the “economy” class fountain pens available, none have a better quality to price ratio than the Pilot Metropolitan.  Are there less expensive fountain pens available?  Yes.  Are there better fountain pens to be had?  Without a doubt.  Is there a fountain pen with the build quality of a Pilot Metropolitan for less than $20?  Maybe, but I don’t know of one.Metropolitan2

The first, second and third things we fountain pen dorks care about is the writing experience.  If it doesn’t write well, then nothing else should matter.  After all, that’s why we’re using a darn fountain pen in the first darn place.  The stainless steel medium nib of the Pilot Metropolitan (PM) certainly delivers on this score. The only time I have any issues with the PM laying down a consistent line is when I’m circling from left to right and up with my writing motion.  Occasionally, the line will thin out or even skip when I’m working on a “O” shape (see how the “o” of “overwriting” is a bit thinner in the picture of my hand?) or when I’m transitioning between the downward and upward motions on a check mark.  I’m certain; however, that this minor issue has everything to do with the fact that I’m a left-handed “overwriter”.  Folks writing at a more traditional angle will have no problems and I’m willing to tolerate the very rare thinning/skipping to write with a nib that’s this smooth at this price.overwriter

As you can see from the pictures, I’ve already violated my habit of using Waterman Florida Blue (WFB) as my go-to reviewing ink.  Look, we both know this wasn’t going to last and besides, I got a whole bunch of inks for Christmas that I was “dyeing” (sorry) to use.  We have Diamine Majestic Blue and Pilot Iroshizuku Kon-peki in the silver and black pens, respectively.  (Finally, I’m able to spell “Iroshizuku” without having to look it up each time.)  I won’t say too much about these inks here other than to say that both write wetter than WFB.  Also, Majestic Blue is on the blacker side of blue than WFB and Iroshizuku Kon-peki is on the bluer side of blue than the slightly purple WFB.  My early preference is for the Majestic Blue over the Kon-peki, but I need to see the Kon-peki in a finer nib before I say too much.

Back to the PM and its appearance.  I would say the barrel is on the medium to thin/medium side when it comes to overall thickness in fountain pens and there is a noticeable step down from the body to the grip sections.  It has a classic, nearly seamless shape and feel when capped and the tapered clip works well with the overall look of the PM.  I mostly post this pen when writing as it feels just a bit too small and light when used sans post.  The PM has always come in black or silver with different pattern swatches on the body section.  Somewhat recently, Pilot issued a number of other finishes as well.  Honestly, I’m of two minds when it comes to all these color/pattern variations.  On the one hand, I would prefer that Pilot spend money providing alternatives for nib size (only available in medium) and/or offer a converter in the box (mine came with a con-20 sac).  On the other hand, the color and pattern variations are fun and offer buyers options for themselves or when buying a PM as a gift.  I guess Pilot knows better than I do; I bought the purple PM rollerball as a holiday present for a colleague.MetropolitanNib

The quality-to-cost ratio alone makes the Pilot Metropolitan a “Carry It” for me.  I don’t actually carry one in my pocket, but I frequently have both my black and silver PMs inked and ready to go in my bag or pen case.  I tend to load them with nontraditional colors (this review notwithstanding) to mark student assessments and write to-do-lists or other short notes in different colors.

The Pilot Metropolitan is like that favorite $9.99 bottle of wine that becomes a staple in a modest wine collection.  When you’re not sure what wine to have with dinner and/or you’re hesitant to open that $19.99 bottle, the $9.99 staple remains a great option.  Even if it doesn’t pair with the meal perfectly, it’s still better than having a diet soda.  So, get two or three and put whatever inks you want in your Pilot Metropolitans.  They’re a great go-to fountain pens that work for all your everyday needs.


Here are some other Pilot Metropolitan reviews (the PM may be the most widely reviewed pen of the last year or so):
SBRE Brown
Pen Addict
Well-Appointed Desk
Goulet Pens
Gourmet Pens
Ed Jelley
Pen Habit

Christmas stuff!!

Santa has been very good to me.  Here are a few pics of the haul so far…

The Groove with complimentary Doane Paper utility notebook and the new Pitch Black from Field Notes!

Count ’em…that one, two, three, four, FIVE bottles of new ink!  Diamine Majestic Blue, Diamine Ancient Copper, Pilot Iroshizuki Kon-peki, Pilot Iroshizuki Fuyu-gaki and Noodler’s Black Matter (featuring physicist Robert Oppenheimer).

All the stuff together…

Many thanks to Mike Dudek @ClickyPost, the folks at Goulet Pens (and, of course, the wife) for making sure that Santa’s sleigh arrived on time.