It’s Quality: RETRAKT by Karas Kustoms

Note: Karas Kustoms provided me with a pre-production prototype of their newest pen, the RETRAKT (copper version), for evaluation and play. All other Karas Kustoms pens mentioned/shown in this review were purchased by myself. I’m obviously a fan, but I promise to tell it like it is. And though I received this prototype free of charge, I’m also a backer.

Retrakt in package
The complete package

The pen body arrived, nicely packaged, with a number of little doo-dads. There’s a spring, a spacer (for Parker-compatible refills), a piece of tubing to create your own custom spacers, a package insert that explains everything and offers a few Karas Kustoms words of wisdom. (“Only use your RETRAKT for good, never for evil, as this may void the warranty and make you much less cool as a person.”)

Funny story…when I unpacked the pen, I slipped the spring from the packet over my Pilot G2 refill, inserted it into the pen body, reassembled the pen, and clicked the knock mechanism. Hrrrmmmm. The mechanism wouldn’t engage. What the…??? After a little futzing around, I discovered that there was ALREADY a spring for use with a G2 refill installed in the pen, so I had actually tried to engage the mechanism with TWO springs in place. Oops. Once the correct spring was used on its own, the knock worked like a charm. (When I have one of these mental lapses with my computer at work, my boss calls it a “PICNIC” issue…Problem In Chair, Not In Computer. So I guess what I had here was a PICNIP issue…Problem In Chair, Not In Pen. Which would make sense if “picnip” was a word.)

So to summarize…
Pilot G2 set-up
Use the larger/looser spring with a Pilot G2 refill

and…
Parker-compatible refill
Use the smaller/tighter spring and spacer with Parker-compatible refills

With that bit of business out of the way, let’s get to the pen itself.

Copper Retrakt

The RETRAKT is a custom-machined pen body (refill not included) available in anodized aluminum, and hand-finished/raw brass and copper. I have the copper version, and it is a looker. Great finish, unique color that will develop an antiquey patina (AND it smells like pennies). It is ALSO quite heavy, weighing in at about 63 grams (2.25 ounces)…as measured on the same scale that I use to weigh spaghetti (so take those weights with a grain of salt). The copper RETRAKT certainly is a SOLID PEN. For all of its weight, I don’t find it unwieldy to write with. Granted, I haven’t written pages and pages in one sitting, but I’ve been using the RETRAKT to make notes for this review and I’m none the worse for wear. The weight seems to be distributed in such a way that the pen sits solidly in the cusp of my hand and doesn’t list forward or backward. Should you desire something less weighty, consider the aluminum version. But keep in mind that the copper looks really cool, AND exhibits anti-bacterial properties. (It’s true! Google it!) The RETRAKT looks great and it’s good for you!

Knurling
Karas knurling

As with the Render K, a bit of knurling adds interest to the look of the pen. Some girls go crazy over nail polish and purses. Not my thing. But show me some KNURLING, and you’ve won me over. Can’t explain it. Maybe genetics?! (Does “love of knurling” run in families?)

Karas clip
Karas clip

The RETRAKT sports the iconic stainless steel Karas Kustoms clip, the same one you’ll find on both the Render K and the Bolt. It’s super sturdy and attached to the knurled section of the pen via two set screws. I regularly slip one of my other Karas pens into a jeans pocket and have never had a issue with the clip not doing its job.

Retrakt knock

Let’s get to what makes the RETRAKT retract. Tricked out with a German-made, all metal knock, the retractable mechanism engages smoothly and quietly. Yes, quietly. Using a ball-bearing and groove system, rather than a cam, makes the difference. The knock itself is rock solid…no wiggling or wishy-washiness…and will surely survive my compulsive pen clicking habit. And because the pen is retractable, there’s no cap to post or set on your desk. Retrakt. Write. Retrakt.

Retrakt's knock mechanism
Up close and personal with the knock mechanism

Karas pen family
The Karas Kustoms line: Render K (aluminum), Render K (orange aluminum), Bolt (aluminum), Retrakt (copper)

Another feature to note is something that you DON’T see…branding. Their pens are sleek and industrial and YOURS. You’re not using and carrying a billboard for the company. Karas Kustoms design aesthetic and build quality speak for themselves, without the pens saying a single word. So clean, so cool.

I’ve been a fan of Karas Kustoms since their first Kickstarter project, the Render K. Backing their second project, The Bolt, was a no-brainer. Both experiences set the bar high for all other Kickstarter projects. With frequent updates and mesmerizing production videos, they bring their backers along for the ride, so you’re never in the dark wondering where a project stands. I was impressed then, and I remain impressed with this latest addition to the Karas Kustoms pen family.

The RETRAKT. “It’s Quality, Bro!”

It's Quality, Bro!

Intrigued? Want to know more? Check out the RETRAKT Kickstarter page HERE. Levels start at just $30 for the EARLY BIRD aluminum offering (while they last!) all the way up to $250 for an on-site visit to the Karas Kustoms shop, complete with lunch and an aluminum RETRAKT.

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Worth the Wait: Bamboo Style Pen by Ken Cavers

Bamboo Style in Cumberland Ebonite
Ken’s Bamboo Style Pen in Cumberland Ebonite

Back in the winter, I was browsing through the pens on Ken Cavers’ site and grew more and more intrigued by his Bamboo style pens. The shape is just so cool and unlike any other pen I own. And the materials? Wow. But I held off for a bit, having just come off of the Christmas spending season.

THIS entry, though, did me in. We were traveling home from a Valentine’s dinner with friends, I checked my phone, read Ken’s post, and emailed him immediately. From the car. I needed a Bamboo pen, STAT. In Cumberland Ebonite, please.

While Ken’s a talented pen-maker, he’s also a doctor, up to his eyeballs in busy-ness. And his pens have become very popular, so Ken let me know that there’d be a bit of a wait. No problem. It just felt good to be on the list.

Bamboo style

My pen arrived in late May, and was well worth the wait. I own one of Ken’s Tiger Stripey pens, so I knew what to expect…gorgeous materials expertly crafted into a stunning pen. And that’s exactly what I received.

Cumberland Ebonite

The Cumberland Ebonite smells a touch odd (a little “eggy”), but more than makes up for that in looks. There’s a bit of a wood-grain pattern that suits the bamboo shape perfectly. The black-cherry color is rich and warm and interestingly subtle.

Bamboo nibbage

I ordered a fine nib (no surprise there), and loaded the included converter with my new favorite black ink, Monteverde’s Black. The nib lays down a line that is nicely wet and smooth; so smooth that words flow effortlessly from my head, through the pen, and onto the page.

Bamboo vs. TWSBI Micarta
Bamboo Style vs. TWSBI Micarta

At a capped length of 6″, uncapped length of 5.5″, and a diameter of approximately 5/8″, this is a good-sized pen. The section is nicely contoured, measures about 3/8″ in diameter, and is very comfortable to hold. Despite its size, the pen isn’t heavy, yet feels substantial. The ebonite is warm to the touch and glassy-smooth. I like everything about the look and feel of Ken’s handiwork.

Bamboo vs. Kaweco Sport
Bamboo vs. Kaweco Sport

So this is my second pen from Ken, but my first Bamboo style as well as my first ebonite pen. Something tells me I’ll be going back for more.

I mean, check out this pocket pen. Oh, my.

Dr. Ken, I’ll kill time in your waiting room any day.

Resistance Is Futile: Monteverde Invincia Deluxe Nighthawk (F nib)

Monteverde Nighthawk

I’m making plans to attend my first pen show in August- the DC Pen SUPERSHOW. (EXCITED!) Because of those plans, I’m trying to resist buying pens prior to that show so that I have a nice little pen “allowance” in my pocket come August. The key words there are “trying to.” The clinker? The Goulet Pen Company announced the release of a fountain pen that pushes a bunch of my particular pen buttons. Those buttons being:

  • Stealth
  • Matte
  • Carbon Fiber
  • Special packaging
  • Monteverde

SO, I was a goner, despite my plan/pledge/vow. My Monteverde Invincia Deluxe Nighthawk (F nib) arrived last week, and it hits all the right notes. I loaded the included converter with Monteverde Black ink (with ITF), and doodled away. Very smooth. Very stealthy. Very, very cool.

Nighthawk uncapped

This pen is a collaboration between Brian Goulet/Goulet Pens and Monteverde Pens, the details of which are found in this article and video. Brian explains the details better than I can, but I can tell you that I love the outcome of their work. I own a handful of Monteverde pens, and have never been disappointed in their looks or performance. They’re solid, reliable, good-looking pens, and this one may be the best of the bunch. Because it pushes all of those buttons that I listed above.

This may well be the stealthiest pen that I own. With the matte carbon fiber body and all-black trim, the pen is so subdued looking that it’s impossible to ignore. So it’s stealthy, yet stands out in a crowd. Which is a very cool trick.

Nighthawk nibbage

The black fine nib writes wonderfully. Coupled with the Monteverde ink, which I’m trying for the first time, the writing experience is a true pleasure. Effortless and nicely liquid. Wet, but not too wet. Just right, really. Had they outfitted the pen with a matte black nib, rather than the shiny one, that would’ve bumped the awesomeness up one more notch. But I’m not complaining.

Special packaging
Looks a little like a pen wake, doesn’t it?

Though this isn’t a limited edition pen, the first 150 customers were promised special packaging, which is another reason that I made my purchase quickly. Rather than the usual green Monteverde box, this one came packaged in a black and red box that coordinates very well with the pen. Normally I don’t really care about packaging, but the carbon fiber-esque look of the box reeled me in like a pen-loving trophy fish. If there were such a thing as pen-loving trophy fish.

No logo

Normally Monteverde pens sport their mountainous logo (in white) on the end of the pen, but that’s been dropped from the Nighthawk. The pen is branded with slightly raised black lettering on the center band, which completes the totally blacked out look. The stealthiness of the Nighthawk is certainly in the details.

Blacked out branding

At 40 grams, which is about 2.5x the weight of a Lamy Safari, the capped pen is heavy, but in a very well-balanced way. I find the cap difficult to post, but that’s not an issue for me because I wouldn’t post it anyway, due to the weight of the cap (10 grams). The uncapped body measures 136 mm (5.35 inches) and is comfortable in hand. I’m really impressed with the whole package…the weight, looks, feel, packaging, and performance.

Who can resist the charms of the Nighthawk? Not I. Nope, not I.

Handwritten review

Detour: The Retro 51 EXT Tornado White Nickel Fountain Pen

Retro 51 White Nickel FOuntain Pen
Behold, the Tornado fountain pen

I have my fair share of Retro 51 Tornado rollerballs (and it is SO tempting to collect ALL THE COLORS), but I recently did a little exploring in the Retro 51 universe and discovered this non-rollerball option- the Retro 51 EXT Tornado White Nickel Fountain pen. The price is reasonable, and I liked the idea of taking a little detour off of the Retro 51 rollerball trail.

There are familiar elements, like super-cool packaging.
Stellar packaging
Life’s Too Short for boring packaging

And the iconic Tornado clip and knurling.
Knurling and clip

In this case, the knurling is for decorative purposes only as there is obviously no “twist-action” needed for this capped fountain pen. I’m a sucker for stealthy looking, dark pens, but the white nickel finish on this Tornado is a nice change of pace. With the gold-colored accents (they look slightly pinkish to me, though others disagree) and fine accent ridges, the look is fresh and clean.

Capped EXT Tornado FP

Though the cap does post, I find that this makes the pen feel a bit top-heavy, so I’ve been using it unposted. The weight is “medium” (one of these days I’ll get a balance for exact weights)…substantial feeling but not heavy. Kind of a “just right” weight. The black plastic section is smooth but not slippery.

Uncapped pen

A converter is not included with the pen*, and I have yet to explore fitting one of the spares that I have on hand, so I’m using a Diamine ink cartridge (blue-black). The fine steel Schmidt nib lays down a nicely wet yet crisp line, and the flow never fails or lags. I’ve experienced zero issues- no hard starts, skipping, or scratchiness. As someone who is not yet adept at tinkering with a nib, it’s always a relief when a pen writes this nicely right out of the box. (The pen is also available with a medium or broad nib.)

Schmidt nib

The only slightly niggly issue I have is that I sometimes find that the screw-on cap cross-threads, and I have to back it off and try capping again. This could very well be an issue with this particular operator rather than with the pen.

Retro 51 EXT Tornado

Prior to purchasing this pen, when I heard “Retro 51,” I immediately thought “rollerball.” But this impressive fountain pen offering changes that knee-jerk association. NOW when I hear “Retro 51,” I just think “quality.”

So glad I took this little detour off of the Retro 51 Tornado Rollerball highway. It’s been a very fun ride.

———
*Well, what do you know?! I just popped open the metal cigar tube that the pen comes in and noticed a little something tucked at the bottom. IT’S A CONVERTER! So it IS included, and I stand corrected.