Palomino HB

PalominoHB1

Pencils, wood-cased and mechanical, have always been a prominent part of the collection but I would be remiss if I did not give a shout out to the gents from the Erasable podcast. While my discovery of the Palomino HB predates this podcast, there is no doubt that those guys played a role in my pencil collection and knowledge getting larger and deeper, respectively.

Anyway, as part of my quest to simplify the writing tools in my life, I spent a fair amount of time going through all the wood-cased pencils in my collection. In a previous post, I identified the Tombow Mono as my wood-cased pencil of choice. There is no doubt that it’s a great pencil but my goal to simplify has brought a change of perspective. I want a go-to pencil and the Palomino HB is that pencil. Why the Palomino and not the Tombow? Eraser, color and feel. The Palomino has an eraser and the Tombow does not. Admittedly, the eraser on the Palomino is entirely average but in the simplified world I now occupy, pencils with erasers make a lot more sense than those without. Next, the blue and orange colors of the Palomino are just great. Why would I want a black pencil with an unsightly barcode on it when I can have one in blue or orange. Lastly, the Palomino feels better in my hand than the Tombow. There is not anything uncomfortable about the Tombow Mono, but the rounded semi-hex cut along with the smooth yet tactile finish of the Palomino makes it one of the most comfortable writing implements, pen or pencil, I own.

PalominoHB4

In the world of HB pencils, the Palomino HB is a touch on the softer side but clearly not as soft as standard-issue B graphite. They should label the pencil as hB to accurately depict its graphite grade. Importantly, the point retention of the hB graphite is rather impressive. To be honest, I like the slightly harder (therefore slightly better at point retention) graphite of the Tombow HB a bit better but the difference is ever so slight. I guess my perfect pencil would be a combination of the Tombow Mono HB graphite with the Palomino HB body and eraser (let’s call it the Talominobow HB).

So there we have it. My wood-cased pencil of choice is the Palomino HB. I’ll audition other pencils in the future. But, if it cannot clearly beat out the Palomino HB, then I am going to pass and never look back. It would take me five lifetimes to work through all the wood-case pencils I currently own and my newfound simplification demands that I only own and use what I need to own and use. As Yoda might say, “If beat Palomino you cannot then forgotten you will be.”

PalominoHB2

A conclusion but not an ending

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.

X-Pen Master Ballpoint

XPenMaster1

For many folks, ballpoint pens are the epitome of boring but they are incredibly versatile and, if we are being honest, they are probably the most efficient choice for most office spaces. So, you mine as well use a ballpoint that is comfortable and easy on the eyes. For me, the X-Pen is one of the most comfortable pens (ballpoint or otherwise) that I own. While it does have a certain “gift-box” ballpoint pen look, the design element that makes the pen so comfortable also adds a bit of design flair.

That design element is the graph-shaped ridges of the pen body. The combination of this pattern, the thick, tactile plastic of the body and the matte black finish of the upper portion result in a pen that is lies in the hand nicely. Also, the center of the pen body has a diameter of about 0.5 inches which is just about perfect for me. There are thin pens that make me feel like I need to grab tightly and there are fat pens that seem too unwieldy. This X-Pen hits the diameter sweet spot for me.

XPenMaster4

Retractable ballpoints deploy with either the snap of a button or a twist of the upper body. The X-Pen Master is a twister. I can’t lie – I prefer button action retractable pens but the twist mechanism built here is perfectly fine. There is the smallest hint of metal on metal rubbing in the twist action so it’s not the smoothest mechanism in the world. I also like the fact that the refill extends fairly far out of the hole when deployed. Refill tips that barely extend out of the hole are just the worst.

The silver-colored trim works nicely with the matte black of the body. The width of the clip matches the overall size of the pen and there is a bit of depth to the clip design where it connects to the top of the pen. With respect to the clip and pen, there is one minor design feature that bothers me more than it should. The bottom of the clip does not evenly bisect the X-Pen logo printed near the middle of the pen. I really like that the logo has a handwritten look to it but the obsessive part of me wishes the clip lined up with the middle of the logo. Yes, I’m probably being overly fussy.

XPenMaster2

The X-Pen Master ballpoint goes for a reasonable $33 on their website. I paid a fair $25 for mine during a recent visit to a New York City pen store. In short, the X-Pen Master is a reasonably priced, comfortable ballpoint with enough design flair to be more than a run-of-the-mill gift box ballpoint pen.

Lamy Accent 4Pen

LamyAccent1

I reviewed the Lamy 2000 Multipen and it turned out to be the most popular post I’ve written in a while so it seems like a good time to review one of Lamy’s other multipens, the Accent 4Pen. You have to give the people what they want!

I have owned the Accent for several years and it is a great pen. However, for two reasons that I’ll get to soon, it falls just a bit short for me. I really, really want to like this pen but these two issues keep holding me back. That’s not accurate. I do like this pen – quite a bit actually. I just don’t love it and I really, really want to love it.

First, some good stuff. It’s a Lamy so the build quality and classic design are both aces. My Accent is about 8 years old and over these years of not infrequent use, it has performed like a champ. There are a few scuff marks on the matte black finish here and there but that is entirely expected. I did have to replace the mechanical pencil thingy but that was my fault. I forced a piece of graphite into the mechanism and jammed it. Lamy is pretty good about replacing broken bits on their products but the malfunction was my fault and I did not feel like waiting the 3-5 weeks or paying shipping for an inexpensive repair. I forked over about $9 and bought a replacement online.

LamyAccent2

Compared to the Lamy 2000 Multi, the Accent 4Pen is a bit heavier. While the Lamy 2000 is evenly balanced with the center of mass located very close to the middle of the body, the Accent is weighted more towards to the point. I like this forward weighting quite a bit as I feel like I have good control when writing. Also, can’t we all agree that pens weighted noticeably past the half way point and away from the point are just the worst? Anyway, the clip on the Accent is spring loaded which is pretty cool. Even cooler is the fact that the clip is rock solid showing essentially zero unwanted wiggle.

As for refills, the Accent 4Pen takes three D1 refills and a 0.7 mm mechanical pencil. There’s a lot to like with a 3 + 1 set up. It offers plenty of pen variety with the added benefit of having a pencil. The Lamy D1 ballpoint refills are some of the best around and they fit perfectly through the tip of the pen resulting is zero refill wiggle. Whether it is the 2000 or the Accent, Lamy refills feel as rock solid as any single refill retractable pen I have tried. That said, the refill hole of the Accent is a bit wider than the one on the 2000 so I do notice a bit of wiggle when the former was loaded with a slightly thinner D1 Zebra gel refill. (I do not recall coming across a wiggly refill, Lamy or otherwise, for the 2000 yet.) The mechanical pencil in the Accent is great. Like any pencil portion of a multipen, you are limited regarding the number of graphite pieces you store onboard but the pencil of the Accent is one of my favorites mechanical pencils. There is just something about the line of sight I have on the graphite and the way the hole, pencil collar and graphite line up that works really well for me.

LamyAccent7

One key difference between the Accent and the 2000 is the retraction method. The 2000 uses the same button to deploy and retract all of the refills. The Accent uses one button to deploy the refills and a second button on the side to retract the refills. I do prefer the one button approach but maybe the two button set up is needed because of the mechanical pencil. Importantly, the retraction button is easy to depress without being so soft that you can suffer an accidental retraction (that sounds really bad).

LamyAccent4

So far so good, right? So why does the Accent fall just a bit short for me? For starters, let’s talk about the grip section. If you look at the contours of the pen, you see that the widest part of the pen is the grip section. The width is not really my problem. My problem is that the grip section is pretty darn hard and gets uncomfortable after a few minutes of use. It is actually more complicated than that though. The pen refills do not stick out of the hole as far as the pencil collar and graphite. So, when using a pen refill my natural grip is right on the thickest and hardest part of that grip section. However, when I use the pencil, my natural grip falls a bit lower and I end up holding the very top of the black tip section which is actually rather comfortable. So, I end up with a comfortable grip when using the pencil but a hard and uncomfortable grip when using a pen giving the whole thing a rather schizoid experience.

LamyAccent3

My other issue with the Accent is really nitpicking. Take a look at the picture below. Do you see what color indicator is located above the clip? Yup, it’s the red indicator. Really Lamy?! Why would you put the color most people use the least in the “home” position of a multipen? That’s just stupid! Unfortunately, the color indicators cannot be moved. Yes, I could put whatever refill I want in that position but do I really need to take a Stroop test when using a pen.

LamyAccent8

Anyway, I’m not giving up on the Accent just yet. There is another version with a Palladium finish and a rubber grip section. If that rubber grip is more comfortable, and how could it not be, then I can learn to deal with the bizarre set up of the color indicators (Seriously Lamy, what the %$#@ were you thinking?!). The Accent 4Pen goes for about $75 which certainly is not cheap but given the materials and the build quality, it’s a reasonable sum. Should I find a good deal on the Palladium version someday then there is enough to like about the overall style and build quality to give the Accent 4Pen a second chance to become That One Pen.

 

Lamy 2000 Multipen

Lamy2000MultiPen1

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.

Lamy2000MultiPen2

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.

Lamy2000MultiPen4

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.

Lamy2000MultiPen6

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.

Lamy2000MultiPen7

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.

Lamy2000MultiPen10

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.

Lamy2000MultiPen3

 

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

Caran D’Ache 849

Carand'Ache849a

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.

CdAvQuink

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.

RefillCompare

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).

Carand'Ache849e

Carand'Ache849k

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.

Carand'Ache849h

 

Carand'Ache849l

Carand'Ache849j

CarandAche849

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.

Energel

 

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.

TactileTurn

 

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.

StaedtlerUni

 

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.

TWSBI

 

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.

Jotter

 

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.

DixonTombow

 

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.

PentelLamyMulti

 

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.

CarandAche849

 

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.

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.

PilotJuice

 

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.

BigiDesign

 

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.**

 

 

Uni-ball Signo 307

uniballsigno307c

The Uni-ball Signo 207 is often touted as one of the better pens you can buy at the big box office supply stores or even your local grocery store. Although I have never formally reviewed the 207, I would generally agree that it is a solid buy. That said, the Uni-ball Signo 207 is not my readily-available gel pen of choice. For me, that distinction goes to Pentel’s Energel. If you want a gel pen that writes consistently, smoothly (but not too slippery), offers bold colors and is fairly easy to find, you cannot do better than an Energel in my book. Could Uni-ball’s new entry into the gel pen world, the Signo 307, topple the Energel from its lofty perch?

I came across the Signo 307 during a quick stop at Target. I went there looking for Cliff Bars, some things made by a company named Hanes (too much information?) and salsa. I left with Cliff Bars, Hanes products and the Signo 307s (they were out of the salsa I prefer). Like many of you, I wander into the stationery aisle of Target whenever I’m there. Of course, 99% of the time, there isn’t much new or interesting in the aisle but this recent trip was that rare 1% bonus. I have no idea how widely available Target is making the new Signo 307 so the experience at your local Target store may vary. By the way, they were running a sale on packs of Pentel Energel pens as well so you now have two excuses for a Target run.

Hopefully the pictures below show you most of what you want to know, but here are a few quick take aways:

  • Compared to a medium point Signo 207, the medium Signo 307 clearly lays down a bolder line.
  • While the 207 does not really skip, it will occasionally hesitate a bit when starting. In fairness to Uni-ball, most gel pens need a stroke or two to get going but the 307 seems less prone to this hesitation than most gel pens I’ve used.
  • The 307 felt a bit smoother than the 207.
  • The size, shape and feel of the 207 and 307 are identical.
  • Cosmetically, the 307 swaps out the silver-colored trim of the 207 for matte black. The 307 barrel is also not as transparent as the 207 and features a fading checkered pattern on the body. Personal preferences are personal preferences. Me? I prefer the look of the 307. They’re both plastic pens but the 307 looks a bit more refined.
  • The dry times of the two pens were pretty much the same.

uniballsigno307b

uniballsigno307d

uniballsigno307a

So, which do I prefer? I like the 307 a bit more. Will the Signo 307 replace the Pentel Energel as my “go to” gel pen? Nope. Ultimately, the Signo 307 does not do anything better than the Energel and the all but instantaneous dry time of the latter keeps it at the top of the podium for me. That said, I encourage you to check out the 307, especially if you like the 207 but would prefer a bolder line.

Zebra DelGuard 0.5

DelGuard1

So what’s your preferred graphite diameter for mechanical pencils? Are you a 1.1 or 0.9 or 0.7 or 0.5 or 0.3 mm kind of person? Me, I am typically a 0.7 mm person. For most cases, 0.9 mm and larger feels too fat. On the other end, diameters smaller than 0.7 mm feel like they could break at any moment. At least that is how I felt about thin graphite until I came across the Zebra DelGuard 0.5. By pairing the Zebra DelGuard’s unique break-prevention clutch with 0.5 mm graphite in F grade, I am enjoying a thinner diameter pencil without the constant worry and annoyance of snapping graphite.

The DelGuard comes in a variety of colors. I opted for the light blue option but I am so impressed with this pencil that I fully expect the light green version will find its way to my doorstep soon. The overall body of the pencil is slightly tapered as you go from the wider eraser end to the thinner grip section. This tapered shape and the subtle, smooth ridges of the grip section offer plenty of hold and control. The overall length and balance of the pencil works very well in my small/medium hand. The grip section has a small transparent window that shows off the top of the patented DelGuard clutch system. You cannot see too much through the window, but you can see a spring and a bit of mechanical action when pressing the knock giving the pencil a cool…well…mechanical vibe.

DelGuard2

On the one end, I was, initially, put off by the appearance of the funnel-like post whence the graphite extends. Then I realized, I’m a chemist and I love funnels! Also, the funnel shape completes the overall tapering of the pencil body and gives you a clear visual of the extended graphite. On the other end, the knock cap covers a slightly-better-than-worthless eraser. In the pantheon of mechanical pencil erasers, I would size up the one installed on the DelGuard as a small-medium bit of erasing plastic. Importantly, the holder grips the eraser tight enough so that I will be able to extent it out as it gets shorter. As for erasing ability, it’s better than average.

DelGuard5

Let’s talk about the clip. It’s plastic, offers minimal tension and will probably break before I lose the pencil. In other words, it is like most plastic clips on mechanical pencils. But, there is one very important and positive feature to the clip – it’s relatively short. The one thing too many mechanical pencil makers do not understand is that it is important that the clip not interfere with the top of the hand as you write. Why is this important? Everyone slightly turns pencils (wood-cased or mechanical) in their grip as they write so as to find the sweet spot on the graphite. Yes, the Uni Kuru Toga solves this problem, but most people will turn their pencils just out of habit. If the clip is too long, then you cannot turn the pencil a full 360 degrees without it annoyingly touching your hand. As you can see in the photo below, the clip just misses the top of my small but brutish left hook.

DelGuard3

DelGuard7

How does the whole DelGuard thing actually work? Well, so far, perfectly. I have not broken off a piece of graphite once while using this pencil. Admittedly, I loaded it with F grade graphite but there has not been a hint of breakage. I strongly suspect HB and softer graphite would do very well in this pencil. To see the DelGuard in action, take a look at this overly biased video produced by Zebra.

DelGuard4

In summary, it looks pretty cool, the break-prevention clutch works as advertised, the clip stays out of the way and the eraser is serviceable. At a cost of $7-10, the Zebra DelGuard is moderately priced for a plastic mechanical pencil and may save you those few cents lost due to graphite breakage. Short of perfect but very much recommended.

DelGuard6

rOtring 600 Lava Pencil (0.7 mm)

RotringNewton1

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.

RotringNewton3

RotringNewton2

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.

RotringNewton5

RotringNewton6

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.)

RotringNewton7