My Security Blanket: Traveling With Too Many Pens

I love the thought of going away. Seeing friends, having new experiences, taking in fresh scenery, enjoying a break from home and work routines. Finally a chance to exhale.

But travel itself, especially when flying, is fun and draining at the same time. The packing. The security rigamorole. Timing airplane bathroom breaks appropriately. Not losing any of your stuff. There’s always some point along the way where I kind of wish I was home. Just an inkling of homesickness creeps in along the way.

I miss my things–my husband (if he’s not with me, as on this current trip), our crazy pups, my own just-so pillows, a well-stocked refrigerator, ice on demand.

I swear, I have an easier time deciding what clothes to pack than picking out which pens to bring. I always miss the ones that aren’t with me. I stock my Nock Co. Brasstown with more pens than a sane person needs, then typically swap things in and out until zero hour. There’s so much mental chatter in my head about my pen selections that it makes me feel like I must be going off the deep end. But what a deep end it is!

Part of me wishes that I could embrace minimalism–pick ONE pen and use ONLY it for the entire trip. Maybe someday. Right now that thought gives me what is technically called the heebie jeebies.


So here I am in California, oh so far from home, with new and old pen favorites. For this trip (a conference), I brought along:


Pilot Metropolitan White Tiger fountain pen. Nice fine point for note taking. Replaceable should the unthinkable occur.


Karas Kustoms Two-Tone Retrakt outfitted with Pilot G2 0.5 mm black refill. Great pen in my favorite color.

Ti2 Techliner Red Alert and Orange Crush. The Red Alert is outfitted with a uni-ball Jetstream  0.7 mm black ballpoint refill while the Orange Crush holds a uni-ball Signo 207 0.7 mm gel refill…both excellent options.


Amy Grigg’s Apex Kickstarter pen with a Schneider Topball 850 rollerball refill. Great on the Levenger Circa Vivacious paper in my notebook. Smooth. Dark. Gorgeous wood.

 
Bigidesign’s Ti Post Raw Pen + Stylus
, also with the Schneider Topball 850 rollerball refill. Do I need to carry two pens with the same refill? Nope. I never said any of this was reasonable.

Retro 1951 Lift-Off with a Schimdt P8126 refill. It’s my newest Retro so why shouldn’t it travel with me to California?

I also have my Lamy Scribble tucked into the Hightower, should I need to do pencily things. I have not tired of this mechanical pencil. It’s a gem.

There’s no need to carry this many pens across the country. Technically I could survive with a few of the Bic Stic Queen Mary pens the hotel provides. But these pens and pencil (and pen case) make me feel secure. They’re unique, well-made, and reliable–comfortable to hold and top-notch performers. They remind me of the connections I have with the folks who make and sell them. We’ve exchanged everything from brief messages to emails to long letters. Pens aren’t just pens. They’re the people behind the pens.

And that feels like home.

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This post was composed and photographed entirely with my iPhone, so excuse the lack of links (too cumbersome) and any formatting and lighting oddities. Fun fact– the photos were taken on the desk President Eisenhower used while aboard the Queen Mary. I’m sharing his suite with a friend. Pretty cool.


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Customized Wooden Pens, a Kickstarter Project by Amy Grigg

The Outlier I have a couple of students working with me for the summer, and this morning, one ambled up to my desk, then stopped in his tracks and said, “WHOA!! What IS that?!” It’s not entirely obvious that it’s a pen, what with all of its steampunk accoutrements and all. But it is, it’s a pen. A big, heavy, outrageous pen. The Outlier I backed and reviewed Amy Grigg’s first Kickstarter project, and since then, we’ve stayed in touch. Even though we’ve never met, I consider her a friend. She’s got that dry, spot-on sense of humor that makes her emails, letters, and Kickstarter updates a blast to read. I think she gets me, and I get her, so there was no way that I wasn’t going to back her second project. Apex and Outlier This time I backed two pens—the Outlier 2, a ballpoint/gel pen, and the Apex fountain pen—both made with curly maple. After I pledged, Amy sent me an email warning me about the size of the Outlier. (For the record, it’s 6″ long and weighs 72 grams. That’s big. That’s heavy.) She’s not a person to take your money and run. She wants you to be 100% happy with her work and your pens. She’s something of a Kickstarter anomaly in this regard. Steampunk bolt action I assured her that I appreciated the heads-up, but that I had to go for it. This year has been a ridiculous one— what with the death of two pets, my ongoing medical journey, the assorted calamities of our elderly parents, etc.—so I wanted a ridiculous pen to mark the fact that we’re still standing (so far). The Outlier and refill options The Outlier 2 is just that pen. Its steampunk style stands out from the crowd in a big way. It’s dramatic and fantastic. Need to distract someone during a meeting? Use this pen. Need to defend yourself? I daresay that the Outlier could do that, too.

It takes, and ships with, both a Parker style ballpoint refill and a gel refill, so you can customize the pen for your favorite writing style. I love the Schmidt EasyFlow 9000 ballpoint refill so that’s what I’ve installed in my Outlier. The line on that refill is as bold as the style of this pen. The refill deploys via a bolt action lever that’s works flawlessly and can be deployed easily with just your thumb. The Apex The Apex, available as a rollerball or fountain pen, is a much more practical pen. I backed the rollerball version the first time around, in dark cocobalo wood, so I decided to switch things up and opted for the fountain pen version in this fantastic curly maple wood. Amy raves about the curly maple on her project’s main page, and she’s right. It’s prettier in real life than I can capture with my camera, with interesting grain and depth. Amy’s woodworking skills and attention to detail transform raw wood into finished products—the pens here, but also bowls, boxes, and spoons—that are a joy to look at and hold. The Apex fountain pen With gunmetal hardware, and a magnetic cap, this is a pen that’s as easy to use as it is to look at. The nib is generic, but wrote immediately upon inking, and lays down a smooth medium line. The pen ships with one international short cartridge and a converter. Mine is loaded with Sailor’s Yama Dori—a great looking ink for a cool looking pen. Amy Grigg's pens When you back a Kickstarter project, you’re backing a person as as much as you’re backing a product. There are very few people I’d back without hesitation, but Amy falls into this select group. Her updates are regular, honest, and entertaining. When an issue popped up with one of the woods in her last project, she got out in front of that and IMMEDIATELY laid out a series of options for the small group of affected backers. Even this issue was addressed with good humor and zero drama. Apex and Outlier Amy is authentic and the real deal—a woodworker committed to her craft and to your satisfaction. If you like what you see here, check out the full line of pens on her Kickstarter page. The project closes on July 16th so move quickly if you’re interested. There’s a little something there for everyone— from practical to deluxe offerings. All made with care, all made with 100% Amyness.

Note: I backed Amy’s project with my own funds. My rewards were shipped to me early, but I was not required to review them, nor was I compensated in any way.

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.