Ideas are revealing themselves in such a way that thatonepen may ride (actually write) again. We’ll see if the momentum is truly there…
That One Pen has been going since late 2013. At times, it’s been very busy. At other times, it’s been very quiet. I’ve learned a lot about what I do and don’t like when it comes to pens, pencils and paper. It’s been a lot of fun and although I have not achieved the goal of finding that one pen (never really was going to), it’s time to move on. It’s time to move on, but it’s not time to go away. I’m moving my blogging efforts to a new space so that I can explore more ideas. And that’s really the key – ideas. That One Pen has been about stuff. Stuff is great, but stuff is not enough. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a teacher. Working with students is incredibly rewarding but I also really like teaching because I like the ideas. Looking back at the path I’ve taken since high school (Bachelor’s, PhD, fellowship, teaching) it’s pretty obvious that a fascination with ideas was always there. During the day, I get to teach chemistry and philosophy ideas to talented and dedicated students (most days at least). I need to expand my idea time into my blogging time. To those who enjoyed my thoughts about pens and the like, I have two things to say. First, thank you. Time is a resource. Thanks for spending some of your resources here. Second, I have good news. I will still write about pen and pencil stuff on the new space. The new blog covers a broad range of topics (science, technology, philosophy, sports, music, politics), but there will be ink and graphite thoughts showing up there from time to time. In fact, a pen post is among the first already up on the new site. The new blog is called XXXXXXX. If you followed me on twitter @thatonepen, please follow me @Cranerxn. (Isn’t that a cool way to abbreviate Crane Reaction?). If you followed me instagramly via That1Pen, please consider setting the instadial to Cranerxn. Hopefully you won’t mind bits about science, education, sports and other topics to go with your pen and pencil social media. Eventually, the That One Pen social media accounts will be ghost towns. I never expected this blog to get as much traffic as it did so, again, thank you. I hope this is not goodbye. Instead, I hope it’s see you later.
In I Know What I Like – Part 1, I went through a number of pens and pencils that have not made the cut for me. That list contained plenty of pens or pencils that I used quite a bit. However, they have not ultimately made it to the big time. To make a sports analogy, many of those pens and pencils made it as far as the quarterfinals. In this post, I will continue in the same vein; many of these pens are also quarterfinalists. Some could even be considered semifinalists. What likely separates the pens and pencils in this post versus those in IKWIL – Part 1 is that the former may not be sold/given away while the later probably will be. I may not use the pens and pencils here much, but I cannot bring myself to break up with them just yet and will continue to hold onto them for one more night.
It’s important to reiterate that all the items here and in IKWIL – Part 1 have positive qualities. In your eyes, these pens or pencils might be the bee’s knees, the bomb or all that and a bag of chips. For me, they are not making it onto the greatest hits collection. Here goes…
- Caran d’Ache 849 – I love the design of these pens. I love the color options of these pens. I also like the Caran d’Ache ballpoint refill well enough. Unfortunately, the whole is a bit less than the parts. Maybe it’s a weight thing. Maybe it’s a balance thing. Maybe it’s the “mushy” action of the knock. Whatever it is, the excitement and anticipation that the design and color of the 849 gives me is typically followed by a “meh” upon using it. I will narrow my 849 options down from the five or six I have to the one or two that have the most potential and hold off buying any more.
- Karas Kustoms Render K G2 – The Render K G2 is, by far, my favorite Karas Kustoms pen. Design? Check! Colors? Double check! The grey anodization of the Render Ks is flat-out great. If you are thinking about getting a KK pen, get it in grey. Trust me. The pictures on their website are great but they do not do this classy color justice. I have three Render K G2 (blue, grey and orange/grey special edition) and they all look fantastic. As the name suggests, these pens take the popular Pilot G2 refill or the less popular but noticeably better Pilot Juice refill (Hackers will have even more options). More on this issue to come, but the Pilot Juice has become my gel refill of choice. So why is the Render K G2 also just on the outside looking in? Two words – grip and control. There is a bit of a step down from the pen body to the grip section which is not that big of a deal. What is a (big-ish) deal is that the grip section is ultimately a touch too narrow and more than a touch too slippery for my fingers. I want the Render K G2 to make my ultimate short list, I really do. But I cannot get past the slippery lack of control the grip inflicts on my writing. I will probably keep the orange and grey version I have for short note taking and say goodbye to the blue and grey pens. One more comment about Karas Kustoms. Their communication and customer service is tip top. I got the plug of a refill stuck inside the body of one of my pens and they replaced it quickly and with no questions asked. Good eggs to be sure.
- Pentel Energel – The most viewed post on this blog is my write up of various Energel versions. Shockingly enough, that post will likely get top billing if you type “pentel energel review” into a Google search. Well, as I mentioned above, it is the Pilot Juice and not the Energel that has pride of place in my gel ranking. I still love the size and grip of the Energel-X and I will definitely keep a small number of Xs in stock, especially the orange, green and purple for grading. But the gel-based pens that I keep in my pocket and most handy on my desk incorporates a Juice refill. What pens might they be? You’ll just have to wait for I Know What I Like – Part 3. Anticipation is half the fun. I will tell you that it is not the Pilot Juice pen itself.
- Blue Staedtler 925 Mechanical Pencil – Among the many drafting pencils I have, the Staedtler 925 plays second fiddle to only one other option. Which one? Again, anticipation is half the fun. I have the 0.5, 0.7 and 0.9 mm versions of these sharp-looking pencils and if the wear on the grip area is any judge, I used the 0.7 mm version quite a bit over the years. The weight of this pencil is just about perfect and the clip sits high enough that it never interferes with the webbing of my hand as I rotate the pencil. But, the ever-so-slightly-too-thin diameter and the fact that the tip is fixed puts the Staedtler 925 closer to the bottom shelf for me. I’m not getting rid of my 925s anytime soon but I won’t be using them as frequently as another option.
- Parker 51 – I mentioned a few more fountain pens in IKWIL – Part 1 than I’m going to discuss here. In all honesty, the fountain pen that is closest to making my final list but did not is probably the TWSBI Mini that I discussed in that earlier post. In the realm of vintage fountain pens, the Parker 51 came the closest to making the final list. I have owned three 51s over the years and each had their merits (most classic of classic designs, solid build quality, good weight and balance) but I have yet to find THE 51 with the proper balance of smoothness, tooth and ink flow (Yes, I did the professional nib adjustment thing with one of the previously owned 51s.) and I think I’m done looking. Then again, don’t give up Todd! Maybe I should take the 51 I have now for an adjustment to give this classic design one more chance.
Okay, that’s all for now. I have literally tried dozens upon dozens (maybe 100s) of other pens and pencils prior to and during the lifetime of this blog and I have zeroed in on a final list of pens and pencils I like most. When it comes to trying new stuff, I’m not saying I don’t care anymore. Trust me, I do. In fact, there is one category of pen that has a couple of tentative finalists but that I also consider actively in flux. Beyond that, I’m happy with my short list of pens and pencils and future additions/replacements will not be taken lightly. I know what I like. Part 3 coming soon.
Horoscopes – complete quackery but even the most rational of us sneak a peek at them from time to time. To think that the alignment of stars, whose light is hundreds of years old by the time it reaches Earth, has anything to do with our daily lives is crazy pants to the extreme. So, in the decidedly unserious spirit of “real” horoscopes I present…pen horoscopes. What does the pen you’re using today say about you?
- Bic Cristal – It’s a no-nonsense kind of day. You probably don’t have a lot to write today so spend more time on your thoughts and less time trying to choose from 11 different shades of royal blue ink to put in your limited edition Delta Nefertiti fountain pen. You will need to take a break later today. Consider pulling out the Cristal refill and launching some spit balls.
- Palomino 602 – Today is the day a secret admirer notices your simplicity and elegance. Consider replacing the stock black eraser with a classic pink or other brightly colored eraser to make sure your admirer takes notice. Be careful though – the 602 may draw the unwanted attention of a starving artist type and you do not need that instability in your life right now.
- Pilot G2 – You hope to make a bright, bold impression today but if things do not pan out, don’t worry, others probably will not notice you tried. Whatever you do, skip the plain black – that crap is just boring. Go with blue if you must but try something a bit more colorful. Take caution – you want to get noticed for your ideas and not for the blob of ink leaking from the G2 refill.
- Any Kickstarter Machined Pen – It is time to use your practically indestructible pen and get some damn work done jack wad! But first, spend at least 30 minutes selecting the refill type and color to use in your machined pen of choice. Be sure to spend another 45 minutes fiddling around with spacers and Scotch tape to make sure that refill fits just right. Oh, don’t forget to mix and match the bodies, grip sections and caps of all your machined pens to find the perfect combination. Okay, now you can get to work. No wait! Try a different spring on the tip of the refill to get rid of that last little bit of wiggle. Okay, now get to work.
- Any Fountain Pen w/ Broad Nib – Well look at you Mr(s). Fancy Pants. Today is your big day and everyone is going to notice. Sure, your ideas have been complete crap for the past month but none of that matters now. Today is the day you’re going to turn it all around because even your boring ideas look fantastic written with a shimmering ink on overpriced snow-white French paper.
- Lamy 2000 Fountain Pen – Es ist wahrscheinlich Montag, weil nichts sagt Montag wie ein Lamy 2000. Zu viel Bedürfnissen rechts zu gehen für Montag, um Ihren Weg zu gehen, warum also nicht mit einem Stift, die einfach genug aussieht, aber ist eigentlich sehr wählerisch. Aber keine Sorge. Morgen ist ein neuer Tag und eine neue Chance, um einen anderen Stift holen.
- Pilot Vanishing Point – Life is good. You have a fountain pen and it is retractable. Most people don’t have a fountain pen. But you do and it retracts. That’s neat. Go ahead. Press the button very slowly and watch that little door open as the nib extents like the Millennium Falcon escaping from the Death Star. Cool. Who cares what the rest of the day brings because your fountain pen is retractable.
- Ballpoint Pen from Random Bank – This is bad. Try to stay positive, but odds are today is going to suck big time. All hope is not lost. You’ll make it to lunchtime when you can run over the Staples and pick up a pack of something, anything to get you through the rest of day. Things could potentially get really bad if you start thinking, “Hey, this pen from Occidental Bank is actually pretty good.” Don’t settle. You did that once with an old flame from college and look how poorly that ended.
- Leo – Intellectual or artistic work could take up a lot of your time today, Leo. Your level of inspiration is high, and you’re apt to be full of ideas that others would find beneficial. You’re also likely to sense the thoughts and feelings of those around you before they themselves are consciously aware of them. This not only increases your career standing, it can help you in the love department. Enjoy your day! (You caught me. This one isn’t pen or pencil related. It’s from an actual website of “real” horoscopes. Can you believe this crap?)
- Storebrand Pencil – FML, shit is real bad now. Honestly, how did you let it come to this? Thankfully, you’ll be spending more time sharpening this hexagonal wooden nightmare than actually writing with it so much of today will not even make it into the written record.
- Bonus horoscope for those using a single-pen carrying case – It is time to live a little. Your spouse, your kids, your friends and your co-workers can all see it – you need a vacation. But perhaps money is tight and now is not the time for a vacation. Well, start by selling that stupid single-pen carrying case and put your naked pen in your pocket like a normal human being. You’ll see, life is way better without that single-pen carrying case. Seriously, take a vacation.
This website has now existed for a little more than two years. It has had busy times and quiet times. I have talked about dozens of pens, several pencils and maybe even a few pieces of paper as well. Through it all, I’ve discovered what I like, what I thought I liked but didn’t, what I dislike, what I thought I disliked but didn’t, what I use, what I really use, what I thought I would really use but didn’t and more. At this point, I know what I like, I know what I like and will use and I know what I like and won’t use. I certainly have not tried everything and, honestly, I’m done trying tons of different pens and pencils. I’ll still try new stuff but only if I’m convinced that it has a chance of making my short list. This attitude may cause me to miss out here and there but I’m fine with that. I’m happy with my short list and I’m not going to let the myth of the perfect continue to be the enemy of the good.
To start, here is a rundown of several pens and pencils I’ve tried over the years that, for one reason or another, are not and will never be on my short list. I’ll save what is on my short list for a later post. I’ve had nice things to say about many of these items in the past. However, after additional time and experience they are now on the outside looking in. To be clear, this is a woefully incomplete list. I could say plenty about plenty other pens and pencils but these are the ones that come most readily to mind.
- Lamy 2000 – Like, actually love, the design. Hate the nib. Hate the fact that I cannot find the right spot to consistently hold the pen. Hate the fact that the weight doesn’t work for me. If there is one pen that we’re all suppose to like but that I just don’t, this might be it.
- TWSBI Mini – This pen stayed in my rotation longer than any other pen that is now out of the rotation. Why is this pen now and forever out? The need to screw the cap onto the back to post is a bad design choice (I will not even try the Vac Mini because of this issue). The pen is unusable without posting and needing to take time to post and to make sure the clip doesn’t dig into your hand is annoying. Also, build quality. I had my Mini for more than a year but, sure enough, different parts eventually cracked. TWSBI Mini, you’re dead to me.
- TWSBI Vac 700 – I liked this pen a lot at one point but the need to open the plunger to get a good ink flow became annoying. Also, part of it cracked like the Mini so screw it.
- Pilot Metropolitan – Nice balance, very good nibs, horrible step between the body and grip. I don’t have to put up with that on other pens so why am I putting up with it here? Answer – I’m not.
- Parker Vacumatic – Maybe one of the best looking pens I own but the barrel and grip are too slippery for me. Why am I trying to hold onto a pen that doesn’t want to stay in my hand? Answer – I’m not.
- Pilot Vanishing Point – I tried. I really did try to like this pen but the clip and the squeaky nib are just too freakin’ annoying. Vanish Vanishing Point.
- Every other Pilot fountain pen I tried – I’ve spent plenty of money on several Pilot fountain pens and none of them have made the final cut. It is unlikely that I’ll ever try/buy another Pilot fountain pen again in my life.
- Palomino 602 – I wanted to be one of the cool kids. I really did. This pencil looks cool and has a really nice feel, but that graphite is just too soft and smeary. Hey Palomino, maybe you didn’t know, but some of us are left-handed. For similar reasons, I have to write off all current and future versions of high-end Palominos as well (Pearl, Black, 211, 725, 1138, 2pi, 6.02 E+23, 1812, 42, etc.).
- Palomino HB – Of all the writing tools I’m writing off, this one may be the most painful break up for me. This pencil is so close to perfect that it’s all the more annoying that it isn’t. Great colors (both the orange and blue finishes are fantastic). Classic design. Functional eraser. But again, the graphite is just a touch too soft and smeary. Hey Palomino, maybe you didn’t know, but some of us are left-handed.
- Dixon Ticonderoga – After trying pencils with better quality graphite it turns out that these pencils just suck.
- Palomino Golden Bear – Have you held one of these pencils? It sort of hurts. Why am I holding a pencil with sharp, painful edges? Answer – I’m not.
- Kuru Toga Pencil – Good length. Clip does not interfere with my hand. Plastic body and subtle ridges provide plenty of grip. Why does the graphite need to twist? Talk about over-engineering. Have we become so lazy that we need the graphite in our pencils to twist to keep a consistent point? I find the graphite turning to be far more annoying than useful.
- rOtring 600 & 800 (silver finish), 600 Newton Lava – I like the vibe of rOtring. But, I cannot keep an adequate grip on these pencils to save my life. The same is true for the beautiful 600 Lava pencil I have but that is because the grip area of the Lava pencil is too skinny. Interestingly, the black rOtring 800 pencil is a lot easier for me to hold.
- Most Retro 51 Tornados – I simply cannot use their rollerball refill. I dig the design of the pens, but that refill just won’t work for me. Yes, the Retro 51 can take ballpoint refills but I find the extent to which the refill tip protrudes and wiggles to be inconsistent from model to model. One of these days, I’ll figure out which of the 51s I have work well with a ballpoint refill and keep those but the inconsistency likely means I’ll never buy another 51 again.
- Karas Kustoms Retrakt – Love the vibe of the company and the color options are a lot of fun. But, a cold aluminum pen that tapers significantly as you move towards the writing tip is a pen that I cannot hold onto.
- Karas Customs Bolt – It’s like trying to write with the handle of a light saber. Why am I trying to write with the handle of a light saber? Answer – I’m not.
I’ll stop there for now. I understand that some of these writing tools may be the single greatest pen or pencil you’ve ever tried. I’m just saying that they don’t work for me and, in some case, I’m actually disappointed that they don’t. All I know is that they don’t work for me and I’m moving on.
There is now a I Know What I Like – Part 2 that can be found here.
For a variety reasons, it has been awhile since the last post around these parts. At the risk of making excuses I’ll just say that from the middle of May to the middle of June, things get very busy at school. Once school finishes, I need a few days to decompress and the past couple of weeks have been filled with vacation travel. Before I know it, more than 2 months pass and nothing new has happened on the blog.
Anyway, there is another, more pen related, reason why things have been quiet. I’ve been intentionally focusing on using fewer writing tools to see what really works for me and I wanted to go deep and quiet while doing so. Instead of looking for pens and pencils that I might want, I’ve been trying to get the most benefit out of using fewer implements. Instead of worrying about tracking down the next pen or pencil that just might THE one, I’m trying to wade through the massive assortment of stuff I have to find what I want to use. Actually, it is not about what I want to use so much as it is about what I can use. Let me explain.
After years of trying a variety of different pens and pencils, I have only recently come to the conclusion that there are certain writing tools that I just cannot use. I want to be one of those people who can use a whole range of implements. But for one reason or another, be it the way I write and/or the situations in which I write, the realistically useful options for me are constrained. I should have learned this long ago, but it turns out there are wwwaaaayyyy more pens and pencils that do not work for me than there are pens and pencils that do. Heck, it was not that long ago that I wrote a post about the stuff I use and it turns out that a good bit of that really isn’t true. In short, I’m coming to terms with the pen/pencil person I actually am versus the pen person I want to be.
Let me get specific. I want to be a guy with beautiful handwriting that looks even better when using a broad fountain pen nib laying down a bright color. In reality, my handwriting is entirely utilitarian and there is no occasion for me to break out a broad nib and go to town. Also, using a fountain pen for the sole purpose of reviewing seems too meta. There are plenty of sites out there giving readers the impression that reviewers are using certain pens more than they really are and I am not interested adding to that list anymore than I already have. I could take up journaling and use more nibs and colors, but that is just not going to happen. I do a decent job of jotting down random ideas and to-do lists in a pocket notebook (but not as consistently as I could if I’m being entirely honest) but there’s no way I’ll ever keep a journal. Between work, family and other interests, I will never have the time or desire to radically change the way I write. I may want to be a guy who writes beautiful handwritten notes to people but that’s just not going to happen. I want to play the trumpet like Miles Davis, but that ain’t gonna happen either.
What does this mean? It means that the vast majority of fountain pens I have go unused. After spending several years and plenty of money on a variety of fountain pens, it turns out I just do not use them that much. Do not get me wrong – I use them. It is just that I don’t use them nearly as much as I may want to and the reasons are (a) other implements make more sense for most of the writing I do and (b) my writing does not look as good with fountain pens as it does with other tools. That second part probably sounds strange. Fountain pens are supposed to make writing look better, right? Under ideal circumstances (flat surface, good posture, smooth paper, fresh ink, clean nib, etc.) my writing does look pretty good with a fountain pen. However, I almost never write under ideal circumstances. I keep an inked fountain pen on my desk ready to go but I probably use it once or twice a week and usually out of a sense of obligation as much as anything else.
Here’s another example of where I have arrived. I want to love the Retro 51 rollerball pens. I dig that they offer so many different styles and their build quality is very, very good given their moderate price. Unfortunately, rollerball pens and I do not get along. I have tried different brands and different points sizes but for whatever reason, I get a lot of skipping with rollerballs and I do not like the look of my writing with them. I have been in denial of these facts for the longest time. However, no matter how many times I come back to a Retro 51 hoping that this time will be different, it never is. My writing style always causes too much skipping and the end result is unsatisfying. Yes, I could hack a refill that works for me into the pen. Been there, done that and it simply is not worth the aggravation. Yes, they work with the classic Parker style refill as well but I find the fit to be a bit hit or miss between these refills and different Retro 51 bodies. Nobody reading this should take this as a criticism of Retro 51 or their refills. I have and will continue to recommended them to anyone looking for a groovy, moderately priced pen. It’s just unlikely that I’ll ever use one again in any significant way.
On a related front, I also want to be a guy who uses different notebooks but that too just is not going to happen. Right now, I have more paper in stock than I will ever write on in this or two additional lifetimes. In fairness to myself, I came to this realization a long time ago. I have not added any paper products besides Field Notes, legal pads and some notecards to my pile in over a year. I’m sorry, but I’m just not going to fill up a Rhodia Webnotebook or a Moleskin journal anytime soon, later or ever. Are they great notebooks? Yes. Do I use them? Nope and I never will.
In conclusion, I am in reduction mode. I am getting myself down to a very small handful of writing tools that I enjoy and I can use. Moving forward, I will not purchase a writing tool unless I am confident that it could compete for a spot in this handful. Maybe a new purchase will not make the cut, but I need to be convinced it can compete for a spot before I hit the buy button. In the past, I have accepted items from vendors for review. I will not be doing that anymore either. Other sites do a much, much better job than I when it comes to reviewing items. Also, I do not like the obligation of writing a post because someone sent me something. In short, if I do not use it (and I mean really use it) then I will not write about it. The days of impulse purchasing are over. The days of reviewing something just to review something are over. The days of simplifying and using are upon us.
If you’ve read this far then you might be asking, “So, what are you using?” As for paper, I’ll go ahead and tell you that it’s all Field Notes, legal pads, notecards and Post-it Notes and I doubt that will ever change. I may seek out different brands if I hear good things, but the formats are unlikely to ever change.
As for pens and pencils, I’m not fully prepared to answer that just yet. If the course I’ve been on for the past several weeks continues to hold then I can tell you that (a) there is a lot more graphite involved than you might think based on this blog’s history, (b) a pen that I spoke highly of in the past seems to have locked in a spot and (c) a pen design I dismissed in the past is getting very serious reconsideration. More details to come.
So the itch to blog has come back. It seems like so much has gone on in the pen world the past few months and I want to get back in the action. I have decided to change my blogging approach a bit to make life easier on myself. Therefore, I’ve come up with the following rules I’m going to follow when blogging.
- Each post will include 1 or 2 photos – that’s it. I’m not a photographer and I shouldn’t try pretending that I am. If you want better pictures of the products then do your own darn Google images search.
- I will spend no more than one hour writing and formatting a post. This is supposed to be fun. Spending an hour writing a post will be fun. Spending 2 hours writing a post will begin to resemble work. As a result, posts will probably be shorter. As a result, they should be easier to read.
- The tone will be very, very casual. Of course the goal is to produce reasonably well written, error-free posts but I’m not going to stress over the tone and I’m not going to spend 20 minuts prof reedin ether. If there’s a typo or two in a post, so be it. If I’m a bit too verbose at times, oh well.
- I hope to post somewhat frequently but frequently will be whatever I decide. If that’s twice a week, fine. If that’s once a week, fine. If that’s once every two weeks, fine.
- This may sound strange, but I want to post more negative reviews. There’s some real crap out there and I want to tell you about it. Besides, going off on crappy products should be fun.
There we have it. That One Pen is back. See you soon.