A technophile lawyer rediscovers the joys of pen and paper
Friday, July 16, 2010
(UPDATE #4: The announcement of the winners is here.)
I have several fountain pen reviews written out longhand, but I'm glad I haven't posted any of them yet, because it seems fitting that my debut fountain pen review — and debut giveaway! — should be of a debut fountain pen: the new piston-filler from Noodler's Ink. Instructions for entering to win the pen are at the end of the post. (UPDATE: read the entry instructions carefully, as they are slightly different than the original instructions.)
Noodler's has come out with two lines of fountain pens. The piston-filling model in this review is available in black, red, blue, burgundy or turquoise for $14 each at both Jet Pens and Swisher Pens. I bought mine from Jet Pens, which seems to have its hooks buried very deep into me. (Which I don't mind at all! By the way, if you follow the Jet Pens link, you'll also see Noodler's second line of pens, an aerometric/eyedropper filler, which goes for $24.)
My verdict, after a few days of use: this pen is terrific, but not without a few nagging quirks. I love the writing experience but not the aesthetics. Overall, however, the positive vastly outweighs the negative. I like it much better than any of my entry-level Pelikans (a P55, Style Silver, and Pelikano).
(If you're planning on reading the rest of this review rather than just scrolling down to the instructions for entering the giveaway, you might want to grab a beer, because you're going to be reading for a while.
You don't expect ostentatious presentation for a $14 pen, and you don't get it. Instead, what you get is the usual down-to-earth Noodler's packaging. The artwork on the box tips you off immediately that there's something from Noodler's inside. Inside the box is an insert that touts the ease of aligning the nibs, the very low cost of replacing the piston seal, and the design that makes it easy to replace the entire nib. I'll have to take Noodler's word on those, since I did not try them (except for a nib adjustment). It also includes a blurb about why the words "Free Trade Forever" appear on the box.
One thing about the pen that surprised me is the name. Noodler's has all kinds of cool names for its inks. Bad Black Moccasin. Dark Matter. Bad Belted Kingfisher. Widow Maker. Heart of Darkness. You get the picture.
So you'd think Noodler's very first fountain pen line would have some cool name like Bad Ass Scribe or Wicked Scrivener. But, so far as I can tell, there's no name for this model at all. Jet Pens lists it as "Noodler's Ink Fountain Pen with Piston Fill & Ink Window"and Swisher's just calls it the "Noodler's Ink Fountain Pen." Couldn't they have but a "Bad" or "Wicked" at the front, at least? Is that too much to ask?
Fit and Finish
This is a $14 pen, so you have to have realistic expectations about how nice it's going to look. Sure enough, this is not a beautiful pen. It's not ugly, either, it's just . . . there. In fact, as much as I was looking forward to the availability of these pens, I was disappointed when I saw the pictures online. I didn't like the position of the ink windows, and the finish on both the body and trim looked uneven and dull in the photos.
When I got the pen, it looked a little better than in the pictures online, but still not impressive. If you look closely at the finish, you'll see lots of scratches at right angles to the the length of the pen. The trim also looks nicked up. Despite that, the black and silver color combination gives the pen a somewhat rich look . . . if the light is dim and you don't look too closely. I don't know how the other colors might compare.
Don't read this as a gripe. I accept it. As the package insert makes clear, the watchword for this pen is affordability. I'm not expecting much more (though a reviewer at Jet Pens was).
Barrel and Piston Fill Mechanism
The barrel is made from a "celluloid derivative," whatever that means. All I can tell you is that it makes the pen exceptionally light. It's also quite short. Here's the pen compared against four others, all with caps posted. You'll see the Noodler's is more diminutive than even my Pilot Knight. Folks with large hands may want to steer clear of this pen.
Though I didn't take any measurements, the width of the piston suggests that the reservoir in this pen will hold quite a bit more ink than your typical cartridge or converter, so you should be able to go for a long time between ink changes.
The piston in this pen is sent toward the feed by unthreading the end of the barrel (much like the Lamy 2000). Screwing it back on draws the piston back, which draws ink into the pen. Though many people suggest repeating this cycle to fill a piston filler completely, the package insert does not so instruct. (For a primer on how a piston filler works, click here.) Full instructions for this pen are in the package insert. The ink view windows in the barrel were one of the things I found unattractive about this pen. Unlike the view window on the Lamy 2000, these are visible when the pen is capped, and I didn't like that at all, but it turned out to be a non-issue for me. Once you put ink in the pen, the windows virtually disappear — with the black barrel, anyway. You mileage may vary on other colors. I actually find the windows on this pen more functional than the one on my Lamy 2000 (which retails for ten times more) because they are less cloudy, making it easier to estimate the ink supply.
The pen seems to flush clean in much fewer cycles than my other piston filler, a Lamy 2000. After four or five cycles of filling with water, the water comes out clean (takes more like 7 or 8 with my Lamy 2000).
Noodler's package insert emphasizes that one of the aims of this line is to make the fountain pen more competitive, presumably with an eye toward entry-level users. If that's so, I wonder why they didn't introduce a cartridge or cartridge/converter model, which is probably more convenient for a beginner than a piston filler. Because its a piston filler, the beginner must also buy a bottle of ink, and the pen is more troublesome to fill and to clean between inks than a cartridge pen. Then again, I think filling and cleaning is part of the joy of fountain pen use, so you can't get started too early!
UPDATE (9/30/10): Be careful when unthreading the barrel end. I can tell you from experience that if you go too far, it's easy to eject the piston rod from the threads completely. If that happens to you, unthread the end of the barrel completely and grab the piston rod with some needle-nose pliers to pull out the piston. Thread the barrel end onto the piston rod, then insert the whole assembly back into the barrel and thread the end back onto the barrel. When filling, you should actually look through the ink windows for the piston ands stop twisting when you see the piston reach the section.
The cap is threaded, a feature I usually avoid. It takes about 1 and 1/4 turns to remove or replace. I don't know how that compares generally to other pens with threaded caps, but my only other pen with a threaded cap (Monteverde Invincia Stealth) twists on and off with less than a full turn, so the Noodler's takes a little more turning than I'm used to. The cap posts securely, but does not thread into the posted position.
Since I own only one other pen with a threaded cap, I kept forgetting to thread this one when replacing it, and the cap would click over the first two or so threads before I would remember to thread it. Do that enough times and I figure you may screw up the threads for good, but it's going to take a lot more than a few days to do that.
The cap is designed to accommodate larger nibs, should you ever decide to change out the nib for something else.
Nib & Section
The nib is, of course, stainless steel. It is tipped with "a hard platinum group metal alloy" according to the package insert. It's very plain, and comparable in size to the nib on a Lamy AL-Star/Safari or Pilot Knight.
I experienced quite a bit of nib creep with some of the inks, and uncapped the pen a few times to find ink had leaked. I can't be sure I wasn't jostling the pen around, though, so I can't lay it on the pen.
The pen is designed so you can replace the nib with any other #2 size. The size apparently refers to the insertion point, because the package insert touts that extra wide nibs will fit fine inside the cap.
The section is very narrow, even as compared to the otherwise comparably-sized Pilot Knight. Granted, this is a small pen, so maybe a narrow section is to be expected, but the section on the Pilot Knight — also a small pen and barely bigger than the Noodler's — is significantly thicker. This is a second feature that suggests the pen is not well-suited for those with larger hands.
Feel & Writing Experience
This is the important part now, isn't it?
Whether it's Noodler's insistence on separation between the tines or something else, the writing is very, very smooth. I didn't find it the least bit scratchy, even on cheap office paper. I tried four different inks, and every one of them wrote smoothly in a variety of notebooks and on a variety of papers. I honestly wasn't expecting such a pleasant experience.
I also appreciate that this pen starts right up every time, even after being left uncapped for upwards of an hour. I can't even say that for my Lamy 2000, which you'd think would start up even better because it has a partially hooded nib. This reliability makes the Noodler's perfect for me to keep next to my timesheet and notepad at work, as I can pick up and put down the pen all day without having to uncap and cap it every time. That makes the threaded cap less of a hassle.
The nib is a "fine-medium," so I was expecting it to lay down a broader line than I'm used to, but it actually writes more like a Japanese medium. As a point of reference, here are the lines from the Noodler's compared against those laid down by a Lamy AL-Star with a fine and an extra-fine nib. I think the Noodler's is very close to the Lamy AL-Star fine nib, but a little wider. The pen seemed to lay down a thicker line with the one Noodler's ink I tried (Lexington Gray, which is in the photo) than with the others (Private Reserve Midnight Blues, Private Reserve Copper Burst, and Iroshizuku Tsukushi.) Other inks might bring the Noodler's closer to the fine or even between fine and extra fine Lamy nibs.
When I first started writing with this pen, the thin section bothered me. It's almost like holding onto a stick ballpoint. I got used to the narrow section after a while, but I have to think about my grip, as I sometimes tend to grip smaller sections more tightly, which can cause fatigue.
This pen is so light you barely know it's there. The Noodler's feels almost weightless, and not just compared to brass-barrel pens, but also compared to very light pens like the Lamy Safari. If you like heft, this may not be the pen for you.
Giveaway Rules (UPDATED - PLEASE READ CAREFULLY)
I have two more of these on their way from Jet Pens (both in black), and if the number of entries exceeds 100, I will give away the second pen, too!
UPDATE: Aaaauuugghhh! I've screwed up my first giveaway. I'm more used to the Wordpress commenting system than Blogger's. As a result, I forgot that you can leave comments on Blogger without leaving your email, and I have no way of getting in touch with several of the first commenters! I am so sorry! Hate to make this a pain, but it looks like I will instead have to publish the winners in a future post, so here are the new rules:
To enter to win this pen (a new one, not the one I've been trying out), all you have to do is leave a comment on this post. I will choose the winner (or winners) at random and announce them in a new post on Monday, July 26, so you will have to check the blog. I will give the winner(s) one week after that post to contact me via email. Failure to contact me within one week will forfeit the pen and I will select an alternate.
The deadline for leaving a comment is midnight on Sunday, July 25. The time stamp on the comment will be the official time of the entry. (Sorry to keep this contest open so long so long, but I want to leave time for plenty of people to enter, and it may take a while to get a appreciable number of comments. I don't exactly get the traffic of The Pen Addict or Office Supply Geek.)
My apologies for the screw-up, everyone.
(UPDATE #2): This reviewer and I are about 180 degrees apart. We both like the pen, but each of likes what the other found fault with.
(UPDATE #3): Another review, this one by Bleubug, who offers some points only an experienced collector could. Check it out!
(UPDATE #4): Here's a review I missed at The Fountain Pen Network, which I found through The Amateur Economist.