The Apex, A Fine Wooden Pen, by Amy Grigg (via Kickstarter)

Amy Grigg logo

Amy Grigg has a Kickstarter pen project with less than a week to go. She’s fully funded, with 129 backers and almost $13,000 at the time of this review, so the project is a sure thing. Amy turned to Dan Bishop for some Kickstarter advice (smart!), and Dan pointed Amy in my direction for some pen/project feedback. After reviewing the page and looking at the pens, I chose to back her project because:

  • Well, these are pens…made with lovely woods, some with magnets (love magnets);
  • Amy has been nothing but friendly, courteous, professional, and not at all pushy in our email exchanges;
  • Amy’s from Rochester, NY, which is relatively nearby, so I feel geographically loyal;
  • Amy’s a fellow dog-lover.

Some of the above has nothing whatsoever to do with pens (locale, dogs), but as Kickstarter gets bigger and bigger, it’s important to get to know who you’re dealing with. I’ve learned this the hard way, having backed a few projects that are dragging into eternity and a few that were outright scams. All pen makers are not equal. The more I can get to know someone, the better. Amy seems like the real deal.

The Apex

After I backed Amy’s project, she offered to expedite my reward (The Apex rollerball, $60 level) so that I could offer up a pen-in-hand review—good or bad. The pen arrived on the weekend and I’ve been making it part of my daily rotation since then, so that I can offer up some pictures and impressions.

Apex packaging

I don’t usually pay too much attention to packaging, but in this case, it’s worth a mention. The black cardboard slip-case, adorned only with Amy’s logo, hits all the right notes for me. It’s minimalistic, but not a throw-away. Simple and understated, neither too much nor too little. I also like that you can get a glimpse of your pen through the small window.

Bocote wood

A self-employed woodworker by trade, Amy’s pens are crafted from exotic and domestic hardwoods. I chose Bocote wood for my Apex rollerball and love both the look and the feel. The gorgeously grained wood has been expertly turned and sealed for a silky smooth finish that’s pleasing to both the eye and the hand. It is, I repeat, SUPER smooth.

The Apex

This pen’s hardware sports a shiny gun-metal finish, and features a magnetic cap for exceptionally easy capping, uncapping, and posting. If there’s a magnetic feature in a pen, that’s usually the one I go for, so it’s really no surprise that I picked the Apex out of the handful of reward options. The hardware is purchased by Amy, who selects, turns, and finishes the wooden portion of the pen, and assembles the finished product. Everything in my pen is snug, solid, and good-looking.

Apex

I particularly like that the wooden section of the Apex is thicker in the middle than at the two ends, which is a small detail that makes the Apex feel good in hand. I tend to use the pen unposted as the weight of the cap (14.4 g) throws off the balance of the pen (31.4 g) a bit. Unposted, the balance is very good and the length is more than adequate (4.95″/126 mm). The pen measures 6.25″/159 mm when posted, which is usable, but feels a little long.

Disassembled Apex

The Apex ships with the Schneider Topball 850 0.5mm refill, which is a refill that I use in a few of my other rollerball pens and quite enjoy. I believe the ink is liquid rather than gel, so the line is a touch wider than that of a comparably sized gel refill. The ceramic tip is not susceptible to drying out and is very smooth and consistent. I love it on the Levenger Vivacious Circa paper I used for my rough draft of this review.

Apex writing tip

If you prefer a gel ink, I’ve found that Staples house-brand Avant refills (0.5 mm gel) also work in this pen, so that’s an option. They’re normally on special for $1.00 for a pack of two refills (in store) so I keep plenty of those stocked in my refill “treasure chest” (which overfloweth).

Amy’s project offers ballpoint, bolt-action ballpoint, rollerball, and fountain pen models with reward levels ranging from $40 to $280. With twelve woods to choose from, you can create a personal pen that matches your style, in your favorite writing mode.

Mirror finish

Amy’s project campaign ends on April 20th, so move quickly if her pens and craftsmanship appeal to you.

Kickstarter project aside, I’m quite enamored with Amy’s other wooden creations—bowls, carved spoons, cutting boards, boxes, and other turned pens, which can be found on her website, Amy Grigg Designs. I think a bowl is in my future. (Have I mentioned I have a thing for bowls as well as pens? Indeed I do.)

It’s been a joy to get to know both Amy and her pens, and I wish her well with this Kickstarter project and with her other creative endeavors.

NOTE: As previously stated, the Apex pen reviewed here was purchased by me. I was not compensated for my review in any way. This review reflects my experiences with, and impressions of, the pen.

You Had Me At Orange

My new orange pens

Turns out my pledge to hold off on buying pens doesn’t stand a chance when the pen world offers up a handful of reasonably priced orange pens. It’s a conspiracy, I tell you!

Lamy AL-Star in Copper Orange

I wrote the rough draft of this review with my new CopperOrange Lamy AL-Star (medium nib), filled with the matching CopperOrange ink (cartridge). Lamy has, in my opinion, nailed it with this pen and ink combo. They match perfectly and this ink has quickly become one of my favorite oranges. It’s dark enough to be legible, but still pops with a nicely balanced brightness.

Lamy AL-Star in Copper Orange

The pen almost looks like it’s lit from within—warm and bright but still easy on the eyes. The AL-Star is a pen you either love or hate, mostly because of the iconic contoured grip. I have no issues with the grip so picking up this pen in this color was a total no-brainer.

TWSBI 580AL in Orange

I also “cracked” and ordered the orange TWSBI 580AL when I read that the color was being discontinued. (They manipulate me like a pen-buying puppet!) I chewed on my pledge, but again, this is an affordable pen and I’ve yet to have a bad TWSBI experience.

TWSBI 580AL in Orange

The pen arrived in Saturday’s mail, but the weekend was such a blur that I haven’t gotten around to inking it yet. I stepped outside of my nib comfort zone by ordering a broad, and can’t wait to see how it writes. My current dilemma—what ink should I fill it with? One of my oranges? Or a nice bright blue? Why I belabor this, I’ll never know. It’s not like it’s a permanent decision.

P1060760

I hear there’s a big basketball game on tonight, but I’ll be watching “The Voice,” then reading. So…not really a basketball fan, but the Limited Edition SWISH Big Shot Tornado Popper by Retro 51 reeled me in with top-notch details and orangey goodness.

Retro 51 SWISH

The pen is marked and textured like an actual basketball, features that classic Retro 51 knurling, and is finished with a very cool basketball graphic end cap. Though I don’t give a hoot if Wisconsin or Duke wins tonight, I do love using my SWISH pen with my usual “swapped in” Schmidt P8126 refill.

My new orange pens

So that pledge to pare down pen purchases has taken a little bit of a beating.

Lamy, TWSBI, and Retro 51—you had me at orange.

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I purchased the Lamy AL-Star from Fontoplumo, the TWSBI 580AL directly from TWSBI, and the SWISH Retro 51 from Anderson Pens. I experienced excellent customer service from all three vendors. There are no affiliate links in this post. I just enjoy sharing good pens and good buying experiences with you.

A Couple of Nock Co. Goodies: The DotDash Pocket Notebook and Notecards

Reviewing the Nock Co. goods

Who doesn’t love comfort food— those homey, no-frills dishes that can lift you up after a crummy day. Fork-tender pot roast, piping hot macaroni and cheese, a steaming bowl of chili— these dishes conjure up grandma’s kitchen, where everything was made with care, from the best ingredients.

Nock Co. goods

Seems to me, my Nock Co. favorites are the pen world’s equivalent of comfort food. Made by people who care, Nock Co. designs and products are classic— made to stand the test of time. Without a hint of pretentiousness, these are goods that can handle what life throws at you, and bring a little joy to even your most frustrating day.

Nock Co. Pocket Notebook

Blog post outline

The DotDash Pocket Notebook is top-stapled, measures 3.5″ x 5.5″, and can be used in portrait or landscape mode. I’ve recently started using mine to sketch out quick blog post outlines. Since it’s hard to know when an idea may strike, I carry mine tucked inside a Nock Co. Hightower case, along with a healthy selection of pens. I’m fully prepared for when the blog muse strikes.

Ink tests in the Nock Co. Pocket Notebook

A bit of bleed-through

The Nock Co. Pocket Notebook contains forty-eight 50 lb. pages, printed front and back with a Cool Gray DotDash pattern that just so happens to be my preferred format. The DotDash “grid” is dark enough to provide guidance for your writing, without being too dark and getting in the way. Gel inks fare very well on the page, while fountain pen inks show a bit of feathering, and do result in a little bit of bleed-through. I prefer using my Retro 51s, Karas Kustoms pens, and Ti2 Techliner in this notebook as these inks remain sharp and dry quickly.

Inside the front cover

Fill out the information inside the front cover of your notebook just in case you misplace it. Not that I’d do such a thing (says the woman who keeps LEAVING HER PURSE at Dunkin Donuts—GAH!).

Fodderstack with DotDash Notecards

The Nock Co. DotDash Notecards have been a staple in my analog tools daily carry since their release. Tucked inside a Fodderstack, along with the special-edition Nock Co./Karas Kustoms Render K, this is a combination that goes with me EVERYWHERE. I jot down directions, make weekly grocery lists, plan menus, and capture to-do list items. I’m never without my Nock Co. Fodderstack, Render K, and notecards.

DotDash Notecards

Made from 80 lb. smooth cover stock, the notecards handle even fountain pen ink quite well, though, again, I’m generally using some sort of 0.5 mm gel pen refill. The DotDash pattern on the notecards comes in Orange or Dusty Blue— colors that don’t look too busy or bright.

Ink samples on Nock Co. DotDash Notecards

Nock Co. cases, Pocket Notebooks, and Notecards are well-made goods that come without fuss or hassle. They work. They last. They’re 100% reliable.

Nock Co. Fodderstack and Hightower

And like grandma’s warm apple pie, they keep you coming back for more.

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The Nock Co. Pocket Notebooks were sent to me for review purposes. All other products were purchased by me, either during the Nock Co. Kickstarter campaign, or from the Nock Co. online store. There are no affiliate links in this post, and I was not monetarily compensated for this review.

Letter Writing: Stuff That Helps

I used to write a ton of letters, usually on my typewriter. (Imagine that.) When I landed my first job, I bought an electronic one that had a one-line LED read-out that seemed like an amazing upgrade from the clunky manual version I used all through college. Eventually I sprung for a Magnavox Word Processor (bliss!), and then, finally, for my first Mac. With the computer, came the internet and email and my letter-writing trailed off. Then came messages and texts, and sometimes, just emoji (as if actual words are too hard). Communicating with friends and family has gotten easier and quicker, but has it gotten better?

Silky with letter

Isn’t receiving actual mail the best thing?! Receiving a letter—with stories and humor and common interests laid on paper by someone’s hand—can make a blah day zippier. I find myself making a little ritual out of reading a letter—comfy chair, ample time, a cup of tea. A letter is a dessert of words that you really want to savor.

"Thanks for the letter!"

I have a couple of faithful pen pals (hi, Michelle and Tracy!) and InCoWriMo has given me some new friends. I’m not the fastest responder, but I find it so relaxing to sit down with pen, paper, and ink then letting the words fly. As I thought about my letter-writing process, I realized that there are some tools and products that might be fun to share.

PAPER

Tomoe River Paper

I pretty much stick to Tomoe River paper for all of my letters, except for cards and quick notes. It’s shockingly thin, yet delivers an incredible writing experience— without any feathering or bleed through, even with wet and wide fountain pen nibs and inks. There’s a touch of show-through, but nothing that keeps me from using both sides of the page.

Tomoe River Paper

I buy packs of 100 sheets (A4 size) from JetPens, then fold the sheets in half to make little booklets for four-page letters. For shorter two-page letters, I just tear the sheets in half. The dimensions are as follows:

  • Tomoe River A4 Full Size: 8.3″ x 11.7″ (210 mm x 297 mm)
  • Tomoe River A4 Half Size: 8.3″ x 5.85″ (210 mm x 148.5 mm)

This is gorgeously smooth paper— feather-light but able to handle even the wettest inks. I can’t recommend it enough.

ENVELOPES

Envelope template

Inspired by my pen pals, I’ve started making my own envelopes from the stacks of 12″ x 12″ scrapbooking papers that I have on hand. (My scrapbooking phase sputtered and burned before it could get off the ground.) I use the Handmade Envelope Template—Western Version—available from JetPens.

Tracing the envelope shape

The process is super simple. Just trace around the guide on the back of your decorative paper, cut out the traced design, score, fold, and glue.

Cut out envelope designs

Scored and folded envelope

I always make the largest size available on this template as it’s perfect for holding a quarter-fold sheet of the A4 paper (i.e., the letter “booklet” folded in half), but depending on which guide you trace, you can make four sizes of envelopes with this one template.

  • 2.6″ x 4.1″ (65 mm x 105 mm)
  • 3.9″ x 5.8″ (98 mm x 148 mm)
  • 4.5″ x 6.4″ (114 mm x 162 mm)
  • 4.7″ x 6.7″ (120 mm x 170 mm) —> My favorite!

Assembled envelope and Glue Pen

I use the Kuretake Craft Glue Pen to assemble the envelopes. Like I said—it’s all very easy, and kind of relaxing. I address the envelopes by using 1″ x 2-5/8″ address labels, so that the recipient’s address and my return address are legible against the graphic print of the envelope.

LETTER CONTENT

Ledger of ideas

As I get older, my brain seems to be “spongier” than it used to be. Ideas flit through and drip out, so it takes a little more work to make them stick. I’ve discovered that I need a system to keep track of 1) the topics I want to cover; and 2) the unplanned topics I end up writing about. Funny story— I started a letter to a friend one day, then wrapped it up on the following day. When I read the pages over before sending it off, I was horrified to find that I’d written about the same topic in both halves of the letter. Egad.

Ledger full of ideas

SO–to combat the encroaching memory issues, I use one of the Field Notes Ambition ledger books to jot down things I want to write about. I then check off the topic when it’s covered, and also add the date of the letter where the subject was discussed. I also make note of things that weren’t on my original list in order to capture each letter’s details on the fly. With this simple system, I repeat myself less often, much to the delight of my oh-so patient pen pals.

STAMPS

Limited Edition Forever stamps

There’s no need to use the same old same old, run-of-the-mill Forever stamps. The post office carries a bunch of limited edition Forever stamps that add just one more cool touch to your letters. My current favorites—shown above—are Batman, Farmers Market, and Celebrity Chefs.  I now stalk my local post office looking for fun new designs.

Letter-writing is a great way to slow down and reconnect with friends and family in a deeper way than any emoji can accomplish. Use those pens. Write a letter.

"Bye for now!"

Credits: The adorable drawings were part of a recent letter from my new InCoWriMo pen pal, Thèrése. (I can’t draw to save my life, but her cute figures and scenes make me want to take a stab at it.) The Tomoe River Paper, Kuretake Envelope Template and Glue Pen were originally purchased using some sponsorship money from JetPens. I can assure you, though, that I continue to replenish my supply of these items with my own money. There are no affiliate links in this post.

 

EDC vs EDU: The Ti2 Techliner (Gonzodized Shorty)

Welp…let’s jump on the Ti2 Techliner bandwagon, too! Lots of talk about this pen out and about in the pen world lately, and with good reason.

Ti2 Techliner Shorty

I passed on the Ti2 Techliner project on Kickstarter the first time around because, quite frankly, I was put off by the way the writing tip inelegantly poked out of the front of the pen. The look was strange—different than anything I was used to—and I thought that, given that odd design, the tip might wiggle around because there was nothing to hold it in place.

Ti2 Techliner tip and grip

Turns out I was wrong, wrong, wrong. (Did I mention “wrong”?!)

Not TOO long after that fateful erroneous decision, Brad Dowdy extolled the virtues of the Ti2 Techliner on an episode of “The Pen Addict” podcast, and suddenly the pen I thought I’d loathe rocketed to the top of my “I must have it” list. In an odd stroke of luck, Mike Bond launched a second Kickstarter project soon thereafter and I POUNCED without hesitation. The Shorty Gonzodized version was my instantaneous pick. The Kickstarter project proceeded without a hiccup (unheard of), and soon I had my very own Ti2 Techliner in hand. Thank god for a second chance.

And, Brad, YOU WERE RIGHT!

Ti2 Techliner Shorty

The “shorty” version is the perfect size for me, measuring:

  • 5.1″ capped (129 mm)
  • 4.8″ uncapped (122 mm)
  • 5.4″ posted (136 mm)

This titanium pen is perfectly balanced whether I’m using it uncapped or posted. It’s on the short side, but definitely long enough unless you have giant hands. I haven’t tried the longer (regular) version, so I can’t speak to how the two compare.

Ti2 Techliner Shorty

The coolness factor is ramped up significantly by the presence of neodymium magnets in three places—inside the tip of the pen, in the “butt” end of the pen, and inside the pen’s cap. The magnets keep the refill snuggly in place so there is not one iota of wiggle (as I originally feared). Their presence also means that the cap snaps onto either end of the pen with a serious, substantial THUNK. There is nothing wimpy about these magnets. They are the perfect strength. PERFECT. And cool.

Ti2 Techliner grip area

The Techliner’s grip area features sort of a “waffle-cut” pattern so your fingers stay exactly where you want them. The pattern is “rounded off” enough that it doesn’t bother your fingers in the slightest. Another perfect feature. That same pattern is repeated at the other end of the pen for an appealing symmetrical look.

Tail end of Ti2 Techliner

The Gonzodized finish is unique—a muted blue with the underlying titanium peeking through. Instant patina that will only get better with time. Mike explains the finish this way: “Gonzodizing is a unique method of anodizing by fellow Kickstarter creator Brad Martin. The result is a unique two-tone blue/gold patina that evolves with wear.” It’s a sweet, sweet look, unlike any other pen I own.

Writing tip

But NONE of this matters if the refill is a dud. Like everything else with this pen, the uni-ball Signo 207 refill is top-notch—one of my all-time favorites. The 0.5 mm tip hits the sweet spot for me—neither too thick nor too thin—and never falters. It’s consistently smooth, dark, precise, and reliable—the perfect match for this killer pen.

Ti2 Techliner Shorty

While I carry a bunch of pens to and from work every day as part of my everyday carry (EDC), there are very few that make it to everyday USE (EDU) status. Mike Bond’s Ti2 Techliner Shorty (Gonzodized) is at the top of that very short list of pens.

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For more information on this pen, check out:

  • Mike Dudek’s video review HERE
  • Brad Dowdy’s written review of the original Ti2 Techliner HERE
  • Talk of an exclusive Nock Co./Ti2 Design Techliner collaboration HERE (Hold onto your wallets when this is announced!)
  • Ian Hedley’s interview with Mike Bond AND an Urban Camo Ti2 Techliner Giveaway HERE

 

UPDATE: WINNERS of the Cabin Fever Giveaway

Regal Fountain Pen

Winner #1: For the Regal Fountain Pen AND a Jet-Do Hat is…

Winner #1

#32 = Miss Swytch who said: I love Lamy Safari from jetpens. I also like to browse through their collection and make a wishlist…so many goodies..and.so tough to pick just one!

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Winner #2: For a Jet-Do Hat is…

Winner #2

#57 = rebelmrd who said: I love the blog and pen tips …. and I LOVE trying new refills….

SO…Winner #1 and Winner #2, I will contact you via email and you’ll have one week to provide your address so that I can send out your prizes! If I don’t hear from you in a week’s time, we’ll pick a new name.

Congratulations to the winners, and thank you all for commenting and telling me about your favorite JetPens products!

Jet-Do Beanie Hat

Perfect Pair: The Write Notepads & Co. Jumbo Pencils and the Classroom Friendly Large-Hole Sharpener

Write Notepads & Co. pencils

Right before Christmas, I ordered the full slate of pencils from Write Notepads & Co., as well as a couple of notebooks. After my visit to their headquarters last summer, I’ve become an even bigger fan than I already was. The jumbo pencils really intrigued me, but there was a problem—how to sharpen them?

Classroom Friendly Sharpeners

So while I sharpened and used the other pencils—the maroon hex and the natural round—the jumbo pencils sat unused. Then, about a month ago, I noticed someone mention a large-hole sharpener available from Classroom Friendly Supplies. WHAT??!! Since I’ve yet to tackle “artisanal pencil sharpening” (by hand, via knife + bandaids), I knew that I’d have to get my hands on this sharpener. I should also add that I have the regular version of the Classroom Friendly Sharpener and use it almost daily. (Actually, I have THREE—one for home, one for work, and one for back-up.)

Jumbo pencils and Large-Hole Sharpener

Where the regular sharpeners are metal and available in handful of colors, the large-hole sharpener is plastic and available only in a black and white version. No worries, though, it sharpens like a champ, and doesn’t leave “bite marks” on the pencils like the regular sharpener does.

Large-hole sharpener and jumbo pencil

Most importantly, it sharpens the Write Notepads & Co. jumbo pencils perfectly. These beefy, smooth, dark, and “made in America” pencils are now right up there among my favorites—the Palomino Blackwing Pearl and the Musgrave Test Scoring pencil.

Write Notepads Jumbo Pencils

I should mention that all of the Write Notepads & Co. pencils are “left-handed” pencils. When I first heard this I thought, “What?? How can a pencil be right or left handed?” Well, here’s the thing—branding on the pencils is printed in such a way that it appears right side up when held in the left hand, and upside down when held in the right. I’d never considered this before, undoubtedly because I’m right handed so the issue just never occurred to me. Chris Rothe—one of the founding brothers— is left handed, so this bit of whimsy makes perfect sense. Why shouldn’t left handed writers have pencil branding oriented for them?

Write Notepad & Co. jumbo pencils

When I hold one of these over-sized pencils, memories of elementary school, hot lunch, hissing radiators, recess, and learning to read and write all come flooding back to me. They conjure up thoughts of simpler times and simpler tools. They are the “comfort food” of pencils.

Jumbo pencil cores

Wonderfully smooth, thickly painted, and perfectly branded, this is the pencil that I’m reaching for when I’m making lists, balancing my checkbook, and jotting down groceries. How can you resist a pencil that says, “THIS IS A GENUINE WRITE NOTEPADS & CO PRODUCT-TO COUNTERFEIT IS DEATH.” The cores are centered and sharpen without issue. Point retention is very good. I rotate my pencil a bit as I write and find that I can go for quite awhile without re-sharpening (and that’s one of my quirks—the need for a pretty decent point at all times.)

Ferrules and erasers

The gold ferrules are gorgeous and do a fantastic job anchoring the equally girthy erasers. When erasing, the bits left behind are strand-like, not “crumby,” and erasing is quite clean with just a faint ghost of the erased word visible.

Hex pencils
Long point from regular sharpener (top) vs. short point from Long-Hole sharpener (bottom)

The Classroom Friendly Large-Hole Sharpener can also be used to sharpen regular size pencils, but the resulting point is shorter and more conical than the long point you get from the regular sharpener, as you can see in the photo above. But if you want a Classroom Friendly Sharpener that doesn’t put bite-marks on your pencils, the Large-Hole Sharpener is the one to go with, despite the somewhat stunted point.

Write Notepads & Co. Jumbo pencils

The Write Notepads & Co. Jumbo pencils and the Classroom Friendly Large-Hole Sharpener really are the perfect pair. They go together like gin and tonic, bacon and eggs, Thelma and Louise. If you have one, you gotta have the other.