TWSBI 803 Micarta, Version 2: The Saga

TWSBI Micarta, v2
TWSBI Micarta 803, v2 (EF nib, clipless version)

I stumbled onto the FPGeeks podcast about a year or so ago, and it became an immediate staple in my car when I was driving to and from anywhere. I didn’t really understand the lingo (in fact, those first conversations often reminded me of my early days in calculus class, where the professor’s voice devolved into one long unintelligible hum). What was a twizbee? What was micarta? UNLIKE calculus class, thanks to the geeks Eric and Dan, pen knowledge seeped into my brain and pores, and before long I knew I wanted a TWSBI (oh…so THAT’S how it’s spelled) Micarta. Their descriptions of the look, the feel, and even the reportedly odd/strong smell intrigued me.

BUT, the price tag was a little steep. So I waited.

TWSBI Micarta vs. Lamy AL-Star (posted)
TWSBI Micarta vs. Lamy AL-Star (posted)

I entered the FPGeeks contest to win a Micarta, but I didn’t win. And I still didn’t buy.

TWSBI Micarta nib
Extra-fine nib

But I didn’t lose interest. I kept poking around online and reading reviews, and noted that an ever increasing number of those reviews talked about the nib being really dry. Like “it won’t write” dry. More hemming and hawing.

Months passed, and right around the time that I was finally going to go for it, there was news of a new and improved TWSBI Micarta in the works. The reports noted that the nib issue was going to be addressed with the new version. NOW I KNEW I wanted one.

Version 2 of the TWSBI 803 Micarta was released in late May and I pounced on it as soon as it was available. I’m so happy that I waited (and waited and waited). This is one very cool pen.

For one thing, it’s packaged not in a BOX, but in a TWSBI notebook. A bit of brilliance there.

TWSBI Micarta v2 packaging
It’s a pen wrapped in a notebook!

I haven’t written in the notebook yet so that’ll have to be a separate review, but I can attest to the fact that this nib performs perfectly. The EF line is crisp and quite fine (finer than a LAMY EF), with just a hint of feedback, but is in no way dry. I’ve had no issues with hard starts or skipping. Loaded with Iroshizuku tsuki-yo, it’s perfect for everyday writing in my Field Notes notebooks and Moleskine calendar.

New and improved
New and improved

Before I had the pen in hand, I pictured it feeling a little coarse or rough…like something woven…but the Micarta is smooth and warm and very organic feeling. I love the simple lines, the quiet branding, the earthy color. This is a pen that looks and feels like it could’ve been grown and harvested rather than manufactured…it’s that natural looking.

Lovely Micarta
Freshly picked Micarta

TWSBI branding
A bit of quiet branding

Micarta symbols
I cannot translate, but I like it anyway.

This a cartridge/converter pen and requires a word of caution. Because the Micarta material can reportedly stain, it’s best to fill the included converter on its own THEN install it in the pen, rather than dipping the nib and section into the bottle of ink. I’ve used this filling procedure and all is well.

Along with the improved nib, the TWSBI website states that the inner sealing cap is also “all new,” which should prevent nib-drying issues. These improvements, coupled with the notebook packaging, makes me very glad that I waited for version 2. (Though in true TWSBI fashion, folks experiencing issues with their original Micarta can swap their nib for the new one. Customer service is obviously TWSBI’s strong suit.)

There’s a sticker on the notebook’s package that offers this quote:
Cheerful, Constructive, Gentle
Enrich your life by cheer of writing

I’d go one step further…enrich your life by cheer of writing with a TWSBI Micarta.

Micarta end cap
The distinctive Micarta, in a sea of Lamys

When Things Go Wrong: The Good, the Meh, the Bad, and the Truly Ridiculous

Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes things go wrong with PENS. And when things go wrong, some companies leap over tall buildings in a single bound, some gingerly scale small fences, while a few can’t be bothered to get off the couch. Some examples? Don’t mind if I do.

THE GOOD

TWSBI

A wee TWSBI

TWSBI STORY #1: I’m in love with my TWSBI Mini (as you can read here), but soon after I posted my review, blobs of ink would periodically fall onto my paper from the nib. I flushed the pen, re-inked it, to see if that made a difference, but it didn’t. So I emailed TWSBI and received a very quick response from Philip Wang. He was as baffled as I was, but offered to take a look at the pen to see if he could diagnose the problem. Just as I was getting ready to box up the pen for mailing, I noticed an o-ring in my pen case, right near the elastic loop where I keep the Mini. Ah ha! By looking at the schematic drawing that came with the pen, I was able to determine that an o-ring was missing from the piston end of the pen. It obviously came off when I dragged the pen through the case’s elastic loop. Once replaced, no more maddening drips. So the pen wasn’t at fault, but HAD IT BEEN, Philip was prepared to make it right. We exchanged a few emails over the course of a few days trying to sort this out, and the replies were always prompt, courteous, and sincere. I came away from the exchanges an even stronger TWSBI fan. THAT collection is bound to grow.

TWSBI STORY #2: This weekend, my husband and I were looking over past American Express statements for some reason, and when we got to the October 2012 statement, I noticed what appeared to be a duplicate charge for a TWSBI purchase. One charge was via PayPal, while the other appeared to be from TWSBI itself, both for the same amount, on the same day. Being a saver of receipts, I put together an email with documentation, and sent it off (Sunday evening), feeling like a bit of a stooge because I’d just noticed an October 2012 problem in February 2013. (Kick self.) A little before lunch on Monday, I received a PHONE CALL from Philip. He’d investigated and found that there WAS, for some reason, a duplicate charge, which he promised to immediately refund via PayPal. He’d even investigated my previous purchases and found nothing amiss. Who knows why this happened- we’re both baffled- but the whole thing was cleared up quickly and professionally, and WITH A PHONE CALL. FROM A PERSON. Yeah, I’m happy. TWSBI, you made my day.

Faber-Castell

Faber-Castell e-motion Parquet

After I posted the review of my Faber-Castell e-motion, a commenter asked about interchanging nibs between the e-motion and BASIC pens. Hmmmm…I couldn’t answer that, so I contacted Faber-Castell, and received a lightning fast response. (No, they can’t be interchanged.) So many times, an email to a company seems to fall into a black hole, but Faber-Castell reads and responds. QUICKLY reads and responds.

A few weeks later, after I reviewed the Faber-Castell BASIC fountain pen, a commenter complained about an issue he’d been having with a Faber-Castell rollerball:

The issue: I own both the carbon roller, and clicky ball-pen. I wanted to get the fountain, however the roller uses the same rubber-grip screw-into-carbon construction, and over time, the plastic at the base of the threads have cracked and the thread section is holding on, barely.

The response: I’m very sorry to hear that you are experiencing a problem with the pen and I would like to correct the situation for you. Please contact me at consumer@fabercastell.com so that I may assist you in replacing the broken part.
Sincerely,
Renee Lamb
Faber-Castell

Faber-Castell…making it right.

Daly’s Pen Shop

Matte body w/ black nib

When I received this Lamy Safari Charcoal (EF nib) from Daly’s Pen Shop, the blasted thing would not write. I cleaned it and coaxed it with different inks, but couldn’t get anything more than a dry, dry line. I emailed a few photos of the issue to Daly’s, and received a quick offer to replace the pen. Daly’s tested the 2nd pen before mailing it out (smart move). Happy ending. Happy customer.

JetPens

Kaweco AL-Sport

I ordered an EF nib for my Kaweco AL-Sport from JetPens. Once installed, I was disappointed to find that the nib performed horribly; not at all like the buttery smooth EF nib on my Kaweco Liliput. Once again, I emailed a couple of photos showing the inconsistent and dry lines, and by the next day, a new nib unit was on its way to me. Problem solved without breaking a sweat.

Kaweco EF nib

The Goulet Pen Company

I’ve been eyeing a TWSBI Micarta for a LONG time, but have been a little put off by some of the reviews that call it a “dry writer.” Since I’m not, as yet, able to adjust my own pens, I’ve been hesitant to order one. I noted this dilemma in an email to The Goulet Pen Company, and received a quick and helpful response. The folks at Goulet Pen will happily ink up and test a pen prior to shipping to make sure that it flows properly. All it takes is a mention in the comments section of the order form. Good to know.

THE MEH

Levenger

Pilot Prera
I’m a big fan of Levenger products and am knee deep in Circa notebooks, Circa punches, True Writer fountain pens, and even a piece or two of furniture. Their products are strong, but their customer service could stand to kick it up a notch or two. In mid-December, I used a promotional gift card to place an order for a Pilot Prera with free ink, then applied a promotional discount to the bundle (after first checking with Customer Service to verify that the discount could be applied). “Yup, no problem.” Shortly after that, I received a back-order notice. Fine, I’m in no hurry. Sometime in January I started wondering where my pen and ink were, so I checked the order status online and found that the order had been cancelled. Cancelled without notification. Yikes. AND my gift card still showed that it had been debited for the order! Double yikes. I called and spoke to someone who said that they would pass along the issue to “Customer Service” (who was I speaking to?!), and that they’d get back to me. Never happened. So I called again, and reached someone who did all the right things. She started from scratch by re-loading the gift card, then placed the order a second time. Some time after that the Pilot Prera arrived (with free shipping, for my troubles), and it’s a dream. (But that’s another story.) The ink, though, has yet to arrive. After emailing yet again, I was told that the original receipt date has been pushed further into February. And so I’m waiting nearly two months for a bottle of Levenger Cobalt Blue.

I have every confidence that I’ll receive the ink, just as I received the pen, but the problem is that I’ve been doing the bulk of the work in this transaction. I’ve been emailing. I’ve been calling. I’ve been waiting. I have no problem waiting as long as I receive timely communications whenever there’s a change. Maybe it’s a fluke, but this transaction ran off the rails a few times. If I wasn’t such a fan of their products, would I stick around after this falderal? Probably not.

THE BAD

ACME Studio, Inc.

So this happened…

ACME Crayon

Yup…I dropped my precious white ACME Crayon rollerball on a counter at work, and it hit in such a way that the top of the brass crayon “cone” sheared off. Totally my fault. I emailed ACME Studios, explained what happened and sent the picture, hoping that the damaged piece could be replaced (on my dime, obviously). When I didn’t hear a peep, I tweeted the same photo and story to @AcmeStudioInc.

*Crickets*

Nothing irks me more than no response. I’ll take a “sorry, tough luck” response over no response.

And so I remain irked.

THE TRULY RIDICULOUS

[md]-pen on Kickstarter

I’ve backed a number of pen projects on Kickstarter, and have received a number of very cool pens…one WAY ahead of schedule (thank you, David!), but most a few months after the expected ship date. Communication has, at times, been spotty, but in the end, I always wind up with my pen. Until now. No matter how slowly a project has progressed, NOTHING compares to the wild ride the 321 backers of the [md]-pen have taken (myself included). It all started out very normal oh so many months ago, but deteriorated to the point that I’m 99.9% sure that there is no pen. And yet the charade continues. Over the course of the project’s history, there have been tales of manufacturing woes and misunderstandings, an admission that the creator’s profile photo (since taken down) DOES NOT BELONG TO THE CREATOR, tales of computer hacking, stolen images, and stolen ideas, countless lies, no follow-through on promises, and giant gaps between updates.

I can’t even begin to explain the whole saga, but you can read about it here.

Kickstarter projects are not guaranteed. I understand that. If a project fails because of an unforeseen complication, so be it. But to feel defrauded is an ugly feeling. A pretty awful feeling.

Things can and do go wrong, and when they do, companies would be wise to treat these hiccups as opportunities to show their customer service strengths. Happily, a number of my favorite pen companies and vendors do just that. Some certainly have room for improvement, while others simply disappoint.

All of this made me think, as I go throughout my day, how am I treating my “customers” (for no matter what we do, almost all of us are dealing with people who we could call our customers)? Where am I on the scale of TWSBI to ACME? (Let’s ignore that Kickstarter debacle as a true outlier.) Where do I shine, where can I improve, and where do I disappoint? Hmmmmm.

May we all be a little more TWSBI.

———-

Updated to add: Just after posting this, I received an email from Levenger with the tracking number for my ink. IT HAS SHIPPED.

The OTHER Mini: The TWSBI Diamond Mini


A writing sample and a little TWSBI background

All together now…TWSBI!! (TWIZ-BEE!!) I seriously cannot stop saying this! (Try it. It’s addictive.)


A wee TWSBI

While the tech world is abuzz with news of the iPad Mini, pen folk FINALLY got their hands on a different mini…the TWSBI Diamond Mini. Before becoming a regular listener of the FPGeeks podcast, I’d never heard of TWSBI. But Eric and Dan mentioned the company so often that I started stalking TWSBI pens online and read a ton of reviews…but only recently picked up a TWSBI Diamond 540 (Amber). Awhile back, talk of the mythical TWSBI Mini ramped up, but the release date remained elusive. I was so impressed by the 540, that ordering a Mini was a no-brainer. But when would it hit the market?? TWSBI apparently spends a lot of time refining their designs to incorporate the suggestions of their fans, so release dates are not exactly carved in stone.

But last week, the Mini launched, and as soon as I got wind of it, I ordered directly from TWSBI (from bed, on my iPad). A couple of days later, my Mini arrived, and I am loving it.

I picked the demonstrator model (all clear) because I like seeing the ink (Private Reserve DC Supershow Blue) sloshing around inside. The piston-filling system is a breeze to use and just sort of fun, in an inky kind of way.

See the ink?

I’d read a few reviews that noted dry writing with some TWSBIs (mainly the Micartas) so I was a little leery, as I have zero knowledge of how to adjust a dry pen. But I needn’t have worried as both the Diamond 540 and Mini wrote wonderfully out of the box. I’m very happy with the EF nib and the wetness of the line.


This extra-fine nib makes me smile

To post the cap, simply thread it onto the back of the pen body. Voila…perfect size for comfortable writing.


Posted cap

But how mini is it? Here’s a comparison of the Mini vs a couple of Kaweco pocket models (the AL-Sport and the TEENY Liliput)…


Top to bottom: TWSBI Mini, Kaweco AL-Sport, Kaweco Liliput

So while the TSWBI Mini isn’t super small (honors for that go to the Liliput), it’s nicely compact and easy to carry. The TWSBI Mini also feels less “loseable” than the Liliput, which is just a wisp of a pen (but cool, in it’s own way).

Pen aesthetics and performance aside, what REALLY drew me into the brand was the company philosophy, which is spelled out on the pen’s package insert. TWSBI strives to provide quality at a “favorable retail price,” but also stresses the value of enjoying life. In their words…

We hope that it can teach its users, however young or old, to understand the value of enjoying life. We at TWSBI approach each project with the end user in mind. In this particular case, we had the following goals:
-For the pen to be functional, as well as aesthetically pleasing
-For the pen to help the user express him- or herself
-For the pen to bring people together
-For the pen to be affordable
-For the pen to teach the user how to enjoy a slower-paced lifestyle.

For someone who has a hard time getting off the hamster-wheel of life and quieting down, TWSBI’s goals were just what I wanted/needed to hear. And I think that using the TWSBI Mini, or any fountain pen, really DOES help to slow things down. There is a bit of ritual with a fountain pen…selecting the ink, filling the pen, choosing the paper, seeing the ink flow, cleaning the pen…all are steps that force us to ratchet down from the crazy pace of our days. As we write, we breathe and relax. Just a little bit. Just a little bit.

TWSBI also encourages users to periodically perform preventative maintenance on their pens by providing detailed diagrams as well as the necessary wrench and silicone grease for complete disassembly. Am I THAT brave? Not yet, but maybe one day. It DOES look quite simple.


Here’s how you do it

And here’s what you use…

Cleverly hidden in the bottom of the pen’s packaging

TWSBI’s tagline is “Inspired by Writing” and I can honestly say that the Mini (as well as the Diamond 540) DO inspire me to write. AND to slow down.

TWSBI, you’re the prescription I’ve been looking for.

Exhale. I feel better already.