Lamy 2000 Multipen

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Let us start this review with its conclusion – if you want/need to own a ballpoint multipen, the Lamy 2000 multi is the way to go. I have a handful of multi-pens, including the Lamy 4-pen, but none of them deliver multipen benefits while minimizing multipen compromises as nicely as the Lamy 2000.

The benefits of multipens are obvious – multiple colors conveniently located in one pen body. Everyone’s multipen use cases will be different. For me, I find it helpful to have more colors in one pen body while tutoring individual students. Getting efficient at switching colors on the fly can take a bit of practice, but with a bit of memorization and practice you should be able to switch colors without looking. For the Lamy 2000, I know that the clip represents the black refill, a 1/4 turn from the clip and away from me (I’m a lefty) is the blue refill, 180 degrees from the clip is the red refill and 1/4 turn towards me is the green refill.

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Some multipens rely on dedicated sliders for each refill. Others, like the Lamy 2000, rely on one button, a gravity-based swapping mechanism inside and color indicators on the body. The former of these systems will use long, thin refills while the latter of these systems use D1 type refills. Personally. I much prefer the one-button-gravity approach as it (a) allows for a more refined looking pen, (b) seems to allow the pen body to have a thinner diameter and, perhaps most importantly, (c) does not tie you to proprietary refills. Before elaborating on point (c), let me come back to point (b) a bit more. I don’t know what it is about fat multipens but I just do not like them. I enjoy a big ‘ol fountain pen as much as the next person. When it comes to ballpoints and other non-fountain pen types, I much prefer no-so-fat designs.

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Back to issues associated with multipen refills. I am glad to be proven wrong, but I do not know of any slider-type multiple pen refills from one brand that work in the pen body of another. Even if there are such instances, the amount of cross over with slider-type refills will be minimal compared to the variety of brands and inks available in D1 refills (here is the page from Cult Pens showing various D1 options). That brings up another factor. With single-button gravity systems that use D1 refills, your multipen is not limited to being just a ballpoint or just a gel pen. The same D1-based multipen can hold your preferred ballpoint refill (or two) along with a gel option or two. With this kind of flexibility, I may yet find a combination that turns a multipen like the Lamy 2000 into “That ONE Pen”.

Can I just get away with saying the pen is German and be done with the build quality part of the review? Maybe not, but like all of Lamy’s products, the 2000 Multipen is well made. The button mechanism has just the right amount of tension and I can correctly deploy the color I want 95% of the time without looking. (I just went 19 for 20 on a random and rapid refill selection test.) There is some mechanical rattle when you twirl the pen around that completely goes away once you deploy a refill. I have yet to met a multipen that is 100% quiet 100% of the time so I would not mark the 2000 down for this issue. Besides, the rattle provides a nice bit of white noise when twirling the pen and thinking.

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One (minor) negative point – there is a small amount of left/right wiggle to the clip. Clips on all Lamy 2000 pens (fountain, roller, ballpoint, multi) have a hinge that allows the bottom of the clip to move away from the body. This feature is helpful when securing the pen to thicker material like the front pocket of your jeans but it leads to a bit of clip wiggle perpendicular to the body of the pen.

Back to the positives. As is true for the entire Lamy 2000 line of pens, the black fiberglass (aka Makrolon) body is lightweight, sturdy and tactile. It may pick up a scratch or two here and there but those marks just make the pen yours.

Lastly, in terms of build quality and design, the body of the pen is actually two pieces. However, the seam that separates the grip area piece from the rest of the pen is barely noticeable. The pen looks and feels like one piece of fiberglass.

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The Lamy 2000 ballpoint D1 refills are among the best D1 refills I have used. Save for the green, all the colors are reasonably vibrate for ballpoint inks and each refill gives a smooth but not slippery ride. Somebody should investigate the science behind this issue, but I have yet to find a green ballpoint ink that really pops. On the positive front, the red color is nice and bright, the black is as dark as I’ve ever seen for a ballpoint and the blue is very much a true blue. I think I have a broad orange D1 Lamy refill around here somewhere that I might swap into the 2000’s green position. Lastly, the Lamy D1 refills have a small bulge near the tip the refill. This part clearly shows the color of the refill while also making sure the refill fits securely through the tip. A small but clever bit of design.

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So, there you have it. If you ask me (and by coming here, you sort of did), the Lamy 2000 multipen may be the only multipen you need. The design and build are top-notch for a multipen and the Lamy D1 refills, which you are not tied to, are among the best D1 ballpoints I have tried. The list price on this pen is around $90 but can be readily had for $75 or less with a bit of shopping around.

The Lamy 2000 Multipen was recently highlighted in the Pens and Pencils I Actually Use post.

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(non)Disclaimer:  My money…my pen…my thoughts.

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Caran D’Ache 849

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I’ll be honest. I try hard to put performance at the top of my list, but everything now and then I come across a pen that makes me sacrifice a smidgen of performance because I find its design so compelling. I would put many of the Retro 51 pens in this group. The rollerball refills that come with Retro 51s are finicky for me, but a half-dozen or so of their more compelling designs have made their way into my collection. So too is it with the Caran D’Ache 849. It is not a perfect pen, but its compellingly simple design and variety of finishes makes the 849 a pen I actually use.

Let us start from the inside and work our way out. Caran D’Ache makes their own refills for the 849 called the Goliath. In a side-by-side comparison between the 849 Goliath and Parker Quink refills, the Quink writes a bit more smoothly while the Goliath blue is a more true blue compared to Quink’s purple-blue. Both refills are labelled as a medium point. If the Quink lays down a 1.0 mm line as indicated on the refill, then I would put the Goliath line at about 0.9 mm; it feels thinner even if just barely so. I do like the color of the Goliath blue refill more. I have not done so yet, but I plan to track down a Goliath refill with a broad point. With any luck, the broad point will give me the best of both worlds – a smoother ride and a color I prefer. Stay tuned.

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You unscrew the clicker or knock or plunger or whatever you call the thing you press to deploy the refill to install same. Importantly, the 849 will take any Parker-style refill but there is a small catch – literally. The end of the Goliath refill is flat while the end of the Quink refill has plastic grooves and fins. Both refills are designed to work best with their particular brand so it may take a try or two to get a Quink refill to set adequately and work appropriately with the clicker/knock/plunger/thingamabob of the 849. There can be a bit of a hitch/catch with a less than ideal installation of Parker-style refills. I typically get good results by setting the brass teeth of the clicker into the plastic grooves of the Quink refill, inserting the two pieces while holding the 849 upside down and screwing the clicker assembly until it stops. I have also found that good action of a Parker-style refill can come down to the spring. If you have a spring that works well in a Parker Jotter, try installing it in a 849 when using Parker-style refills. Ultimately, I find the click action of the 849 with Parker and Goliath refills to be indistinguishable. Compared to the tight “snap” of a Parker Jotter knock, the 849 click is softer. Deploying an 849 may not feel and sound as satisfying as the crack of a Jotter, but it also won’t annoy the heck out of co-workers as you play with your pen during an endless meeting.

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As you have read so far, the 849 experience is not perfect but now we get to the good stuff. The look and feel of the 849 is fantastic. The three 849s I have are among my favorite looking pens in the collection. The orange color on the one 849 may be the most orange thing in my entire house and the black labelling on the pen just pops off. The grey 849, technically called the 849 Original, has a very cool marble finish. The knock and clip of the Original are a matte grey color that compliments the pen body perfectly. Lastly, the multiple colors of the Caran D’Ache 100th Anniversary 849, along with its pencil-like design, makes it the most unique looking pen I own. The metal material and hexagonal shape give all the 849s heft and control that fits my hand nicely. Again, comparing the 849 to a Parker Jotter, the metal 849s are just a touch heavier in the hand and about 3 mm shorter than an older Jotter (the ones with brass threads).

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Starting at just under $20, standard issue 849s come in a rainbow of colors (matte, metallic, fluorescent). The 849 Original and the 100th Anniversary edition will run you about $10 and $25 more, respectively. I’ll freely admit there are better writing pens out there. After all, the 849s are just a ballpoint (some people consider that an insult – I don’t). That said, factor in the all metal construction, the cool design varieties and the flexibility of refill options, and the Caran D’Ache 849 scratches the same collecting itch and user experience as pens like the Parker Jotter and the Retro 51. In short, it works for me.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.**

 

 

rOtring 600 Lava Pencil (0.7 mm)

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Beauty and function. That is all we want in our writing tools. Beauty and function. Surely you have seen plenty of pens that look great but when you pick them up the width or balance or performance fall short for you. With their funky grip sections, some folks might put the wonderfully made and brightly colored Lamy implements in this category. On the hand, there are plenty of functional but dull-looking writers like, I don’t know, maybe Fisher bullet pens or some of the more drab Parker 51 of days gone by. Anyway, I am not here to pick on the beauty or function of this, that or the other writing tool. I am here to talk about the rOtring 600 Lava pencil because, for me, it gets a 10 out of 10 on beauty and around a 8 or 9 out of 10 on function.

Let us talk looks first. The lava finish that rOtring came up with is somehow flashy and understated at the same time. In the right light, the mildly rough finish produces a bit of sparkle. When it is not sparkling, the finish of the pencil body and the matte gray color of the clip, tip and knock compliment and contrast each other with such a perfect balance to a produce a look that is classic but all its own. I do not know jack squat about fashion, but the best analogy I came come up with is to that male movie star on the red carpet who is wearing a classic tuxedo but does so in a way that makes him just a touch spiffier than the rest. It’s a “you know it when you see it” sort of well-executed sense of style. There is, of course, the trademark red rOtring band at the base of the knock. Maybe it works with the rest of the pencil or maybe it interrupts the overall look, but it is a rOtring so there it is.

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Function. The only minor drawback I have to say about the design of the pen that makes its function less than 100% perfect for me is the slightly too narrow width of the grip area. It is not noticeably thin and, importantly, the wider hexagonal body comes very, very close to compensating for the thinner grip. Still, I would have liked the grip section to be such a hair wider. Other than that, this mechanical pencil comes about as close to ideal as I’ve experienced. The slight heft of the pencil produces a sense of confidence and accuracy without feeling like a burden. Hidden within the cone-shaped tip is the retractable cone-shaped post making the pencil 100% pocket safe. The knock is the opposite of mushy or flimsy requiring the user to give it a definitive push to first deploy the post. Once the post is deployed, short and snappy clicks get you a nice length of graphite with two clicks to start and one click thereafter. Importantly, the clip is short so it does not interfere with your hand as you twirl the pencil looking for a sweet spot on the graphite. As is usually the case with mechanical pencil erasers, it is basically a rumor of an eraser but it works well for occasional use.

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Let’s finish by talking about cost. All of the lava-finished rOtring implements can fetch a pretty penny. I actually have two of these pencils. I paid $70 for one and $58 for the other. Not cheap to be sure but they are becoming harder and harder to find so…

As you can see, I’m a fan. This rOtring may not be the best bargain going but its looks and performance are both top-notch.

(Public service announcement:  You can’t talk rOtring without reading some of Mike Dudek’s posts. Do so now.)

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Bullet Pencil ST

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I won’t beat around the bush – this bullet pencil is not for me. Is it well made? Undeniably yes. Will I ever use it? No. There are two aspects (one significant, one less so) that make the Bullet Pencil ST a no-go for me. Before I get to those issues, let’s talk about the Kickstarter campaign and the build quality.

The Bullet Pencil ST was a Kickstarter project started by Jeff Grant. Taking a look at Mr. Grant’s website, it’s clear that this guy knows how to machine some unique products (combs, key fobs, wallets, etc.) that will last centuries. The Bullet Pencil ST appears to be his most recent Kickstarter project and while it was ultimately successful, things were a bit tight in the last week of the campaign. I even did my best to make sure it reached its funding goal.

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The build quality of this bullet pencil is amazing. If the pencil is typical of Mr. Grant’s products, then I would have no problem purchasing other items made by him. The body of the bullet pencil is solid, the clip has more than adequate tension and appears built to last and the tip of the “bullet” has some cool looking grooves. The best part of the design is the ball bearing retention mechanism that keeps the bullet in place while also making it fairly easy to extract from the body. Build quality…A+

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Now to my issues. First, and of less importance, is the capacitive rubber stylus. Here’s the deal with tablet styli – they need to work as well as an actual finger or they’re worthless. My typical finger success rate when tapping and swiping on my iPhone and iPad is likely to be over 90%. With the stylus on the Bullet Pencil ST, I was getting ~50-60% success rate with typical pressure. The success rate improved to ~75% when applying more than natural pressure, but then what’s the point of the stylus? The stylus is not the main feature of this product so I won’t condemn the BP ST for this inadequate side feature. Still, I’ll never grab the BP ST to interact with my touch screen devices, ever. (Stylus aside…The best stylus I found is the Friendly Swede which uses a metal mesh tip. It’s every bit as effective as a finger – maybe more so.)

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Now for the real problem with the BP ST – Balance. The balance is tilted too far to the eraser end to make writing with it comfortable or controllable. To quantify this issue, I measured the full lengths of a few writing implements along with the locations of their centers of mass. The numbers below indicate how far from the writing tip the center of mass is located. A number closer to zero means the implement is weighted toward the writing point. A number closer to 1 means the weight is, in pencil terms, closer to the eraser.

New Palomino 602, freshly sharpened…0.61 (so more than halfway between tip to eraser)
Midori Bullet Pencil with largest 602 stub that would fit…0.61
New Tombow Mono F, freshly sharpened…0.51 (lack of eraser makes this a more evenly balanced pencil)
New Dixon Ticonderoga HB, freshly sharpened…0.57 (has a smaller eraser than the 602 so it makes sense that its balance is between a 602 and the non-tipped Tombow Mono)
New Pentel Energel-X 0.7 mm…0.52 (grabbed a pen I use a lot for comparison)

Bullet Pencil ST with a new stub…0.66!!!

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The weight of the BP ST is, compared to wood-cased pencils and another common bullet pencil, noticeably towards the eraser end. I don’t know about you, but I find writing with a fresh wood-cased pencil to be a bit awkward. The length of a new pencil is 1-2 inches too long to be perfectly comfortable. As the pencil gets down to around 6 inches long, it feels much better as the center of mass is located within my hand while writing and not a half-inch or so above it. Unfortunately, with the Bullet Pencil ST, the center of mass will always be above my hand…awkward city!

To understand what I’m getting at, try this little experiment. Get one of your favorite writing implements and hold it on a piece of paper as if you’re writing. Now, open your fingers and let go of the pen/pencil. I bet you’ll see the pen/pencil stay put or slide down towards the paper. Even a new, full-length wood-cased pencil will stay put or slide towards the paper when you let it go. These observations suggest that the center of mass of the pen/pencil is somewhere within the space of your hand. When I do the same experiment with the Bullet Pencil ST, I don’t see a sliding down. Instead, the BP ST does a backflip away from the paper and out of my hand. In short, the balance is way off for me. Folks with noticeably larger hands than mine may not get the backflip, but men with average hands and typical grips will see what I saw as will the vast majority of women. Again, awkward city!

To conclude, the Bullet Pencil ST is an incredibly well made writing implement that I will never use.

A Kaweco Trio

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I recently got a hold of three different Kaweco fountain pens so I thought it would be appropriate to review them side-by-side-by-side. The pens in question are a Kaweco Skyline Sport (~$25; F nib), a Kaweco AL Sport (~$75; M nib) and a Kaweco Student (~$55; B nib). The AL Sport I have here is the raw aluminum finish. I reviewed, positively, an AL Sport in blue several months ago. I have not done many multiple pen reviews, so to make this process a bit more streamlined I’ve come up with a few categories (build quality, balance in hand, nib experience, overall) to guide the comparison.

Build Quality
In first place we have the AL Sport. Of course, being made out of aluminum gives the AL Sport a serious advantage. This is not to say that the other pens are poorly made. In fact, the Kaweco Student, with its thick plastic walls and solid clip, comes in a close second with respect to build quality. The Skyline Sport is an all plastic pen with somewhat thinner walls than the Student. As a result, the Sport is noticeably lighter. I won’t say the Skyline Sport has a cheap feel to it, but of the three pens it does have the least confidence-inducing build.

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Kaweco AL Sport

Balance
I was unable to find the perfect porridge between these three pens when it comes to balance. The closest to perfect would be the AL Sport but it has to be posted in order to feel balanced in the hand. Unposted, the Sport and AL Sport are just too short to feel comfortable for anything more than a quick note. Also, with its all plastic build, the Skyline Sport (~0.4 ounces) is just too light for me. I prefer to notice that I’m holding onto something when it comes to my pens, especially fountain pens. I don’t have great penmanship to start with and pens that are too light feel like they get away from me when I write. The AL Sport gives a nice ride when posted but I’m not a big fan of the raw aluminum finish as it feels a bit too slippery. My blue AL Sport doesn’t feel nearly as slippery to me so I’m guessing the anodized finish adds something to the grip.

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Kaweco Student

When it comes to balance, the Kaweco Student is an interesting pen. Unposted, it was too short and the metal grip section too slippery. Posted, the pen was quite a bit longer so my grip naturally moved further back on the grip section and more towards the body of the pen. Either way, I couldn’t get it to sit in my hand nicely. But, and this is an important but, if you hold your pens somewhat higher up on the grip then I suspect a posted Kaweco Student could really work nicely for you. Helpfully, the threads on the body of the Student are not sharp in the least so they make a suitable gripping location.

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Nib
Save for the line width, all three pens appear to use identical steel nibs. My experience with these pens and their different nib sizes is identical to my previous interactions with Kaweco nibs. The fine nib rocks! I’ve never had skipping issues with Kaweco’s fine nibs. They write smoothly and lay down a consistent line. The broad nib isn’t my thing but that’s not Kaweco’s problem. It’s just that I’m not a broad nib kind of guy. I’ve tried. I’ve tried multiple times. There’s just no getting around it – I don’t dig broad nibs. Please send your hate mail to idontcare@dontcare.com :-). Now for the medium nib. Maybe it’s the way I hold my fountain pens, but I have yet to meet a Kaweco medium nib that works well for me. They don’t start readily and they constantly skip. I’m willing to take all the blame for this issue with medium nibs but that’s just the way it is. In short, medium nib – yuk, broad nib – not me, fine nib – yes, yes, yes!

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Kaweco Skyline Sport

Overall
If I were to recommend a Kaweco fountain pen it would be an AL Sport with a fine nib in a colored finish. Hold on, I already recommended that pen. The regular Sport doesn’t float my boat. It’s too light and there are other inexpensive alternatives that give a better ride. The Kaweco Student is very well made and the blue color of the pen I got is a real looker. I do think you need to naturally hold your pen further away from the nib than I tend to otherwise you may find the balance of the Student a bit off. The AL Sport in raw aluminum looks great and has an nice balance when posted but I like my aluminum pens to be anodized for that extra bit of grip.

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If you’d like a chance to nab a Skyline Sport or Student for yourself, stay tuned. These two pens will be part of a giveaway in the near future.

Kaweco was kind enough to send these three pens to me at no expense. I’m human so their kindness may have influenced my perspective but I attempted to give an honest review nonetheless.

Ti2 TechLiner Titanium

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2014 has been the year of Kickstarter pens for me. There have been a crazy number of campaigns to support. Great for feeding the pen beast; not so great for feeding the wallet. If you have ever backed a Kickstarter project then you know makers can have trouble meeting shipping deadlines. With one exception that still has not delivered my award some 10 months after the expected date (I won’t name names), I’ve had good luck with Kickstarters meeting delivery goals. The folks who made the Ti2 TechLiner were particularly impressive with their Kickstarter campaign. It closed in mid-November and fulfilled (defined by me getting my pen) just a month later. The folks at Ti2 Design seem to know how to run an online business.

I have the Ti2 TechLiner Shorty in Gonzodized Titanium. That’s a bit of a mouthful. Suffice it to say that the TechLiners come in two sizes (the 5.75″ regular and the 5″ shorty), several materials (Ti, Cu, bronze, brass) and a variety of finishes (black, tumbled, hand-brushed, polished, acid-washed and gonzodized). You want choices, you got choices. The Kickstarter I supported introduced the copper, bronze and brass materials along with the shorty size. Other machined pen makers have played around with copper, brass and bronze as of late and I’ve learned that copper is just too heavy for a pen. Brass and bronze are a touch lighter so depending upon the style and balance of the pen, they’re worth considering. That said, I think Titanium makes a great choice for a pen as it finds the sweet spot between lightweight aluminum and hefty brass, bronze and copper. Additionally, I have not seen the gonzodized finish from any other pen maker so titanium gonzodized was my choice.

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There are two design features that set the Ti2 TechLiner apart from other machined pens. The first would be the use of magnets at the tip and end of the pen. Is it a design gimmick? Maybe. Does it work? Absolutely. The neodymium magnets are short, fat rings which allows the tip of the refill (ships with Uni Signo 207 black in 0.7 mm) to slid through their centers. There is a third ring magnet in the cap to allow the cap to close over the tip or post on the end with a fair amount of force. Titanium is a non-ferromagentic material, so the cap magnet is essential to the design and function of the TechLiner. A non-scientific comparison of the force needed to uncap the TechLiner versus a plastic Uni-ball Vision stick I had lying around suggests the TechLiner requires about 80% the force to uncap a common plastic stick pen; not a rock solid fit, but plenty strong enough. There is also a satisfying metallic slap/snap sound produced as the magnets grab the cap during closing or posting.

The second design feature is the chunky knurling found on the grip and the end of the TechLiner. The designers at Ti2 call it a grid pattern and I’m a fan. It is great to see machined pen makes like Ti2 Designs and Tactile Turn come up with novel takes on the grip section of pens. There may not be much left untried in pen design so makers coming up with new twists on the grip is great to see. That the tip of the TechLiner ends rather abruptly with a nozzle-like look thereby leaving about a centimeter of the refill tip exposed is another clever feature. Most pen makers, in my opinion, leave too much of the refill tip covered by the pen body. The TechLiner may go a bit too far in the “naked” direction but I like their thinking. Overall, the minimalist body and gear-like appearance of the grid grip gives the TechLiner a 21st century steampunk look.

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As I said before, the TechLiner ships with a Signo 207 refill. The 207 is solid but less than ideal for the south-pawed as it does not try quickly enough. I spent a few minutes playing with other refills and found that the innards of a Uni Signo RT and a Pentel Energel (albeit very tightly) fit the TechLiner. Additional refill exploration will likely yield more options.

I do need to mention one minor issue with the writing experience. There is a tiny amount of play in the refill tip. I would compare it to the small amount of wiggle you get in gel multi pens like the Coleto. This wiggle is certainly not a deal breaker, but it does belie the robust design and feel of the pen. If I were grading the TechLiner, the minuscule wiggle would take a straight A pen down to an A-. I paid $70 (+ $10 for the clip) during Kickstarter for the pen. The Ti2 Design webpage will soon be selling it for $75 (+ $12 for clip). Certainly not a no-brainer purchase but the design and quality makes $75+ a reasonable price.

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