Embrace the Darkness: Pilot Iroshizuku take-sumi

Many thanks to the fine folks at JetPens for sending along this bottle of Iroshizuku ink. I was not otherwise compensated, and this review reflects my experiences and observations with the ink in my pen and on my paper. Your results and opinions may, of course, differ.

When a bottle of Iroshizuku take-sami (Bamboo Charcoal) showed up in my mailbox, courtesy of JetPens, I immediately knew which pen I’d fill. I recently outfitted my Matte Black Pilot Vanishing Point with a black-plated 18K nib/converter unit, so I all I needed to complete the stealthy trifecta was a superb black ink, and here it was.

Iroshizuku take-sumi

In my previous job of 14 years, I was required to write in black ink (ballpoint, but still) all day, every day. So you’d think that I’d run screaming for the hills now that I’m free of that SOP-dictated requirement. Funny thing is, I still like and use black ink, and am always on the lookout for a particularly good one.

Iroshizuku writing sample

I already have a few Iroshizuku inks (kon-peki and fuyu-gaki…both luscious colors) so I was pretty sure take-sumi would get high marks for good behavior. And it does. In this Vanishing Point with its fine nib (Japanese fine, so it’s like a western EF), take-sumi goes on wet, but dries quickly— easily within ten seconds, even on Rhodia paper. It’s smooth and consistent— a very solid black. Solid in performance AND in looks. It’s not a grey black, not a watered down black. Is it the blackest black ever? Probably not, though I haven’t jumped too far into the black ink pool. I’d consider it to be an excellent black— surely the best I own. (How many times can I say “black”? A lot, apparently.)

Smudge test

I don’t regularly expose my hand-written pages to liquid so waterproofness isn’t something I really care about, but in the name of science, I “spritzed” my page.

Spritzed Rhodia page

So, yeah, don’t do that.

"Get to work!"

I don’t have a big collection of inks (though the pull to acquire more is strong), and I’m admittedly drawn to colors that look like the a glass of fine wine or the sea or a freshly sliced persimmon, especially when I’m writing letters and have time to appreciate an ink’s shading and depth and freshness. But there are plenty of times when I just need need to get stuff done, and black ink has always been just the thing for flipping on the “get to work” switch in my brain.

Pilot Vanishing Point Black Matte

It’s easy to love ink colors that pop off the page, but loving a black ink takes a little more work. Packaged in that gorgeously iconic Iroshizuku bottle, take-sumi impresses with its lovely darkness. It’s like the night sky. Usually you take it for granted, but every now and then you look up and think “wow.”

Back of the bottle

I’m smitten.

Chasing Shiny Things: Model 27 Diamondline by Franklin-Christoph

Franklin-Christoph Model 27 Diamondline

One of the problems of attending a pen show is that you come home and think, “Why didn’t I…?” There’s so much going on– so many pens and people and inks to see– that your focus tends to drift. Well, MY focus tends to drift.

When I got home from the DC Super Show, the question rolling around in my pen-brain was, “Why didn’t I spend more time with the folks from Franklin-Christoph?” They had a well-laid out set-up and were very approachable, but they were also very busy. I stopped by early on, then meant to stop back, but each time I circled by they were pretty swamped. Still, I meant to make it a point to spend more time at their booth, but somehow, I forgot. (I’m blaming that swirly hotel carpeting for messing up my concentration. It’s disorienting, I tell you!)


Happily, not long after I got back home, Franklin-Christoph announced two new Special Edition Model 27 fountain pens- Diamondline and Radiant Red. Nice looking. Great price. Here was a chance to mend the error of my ways. Tough decision, but I went with the Diamondline. Ooooooo…shiny.

Diamondline detail
Diamondline detail

The pen arrived and was as shiny and great-looking as I’d hoped. But there was one little snag. One of the included ink cartridges had somehow popped its seal and dripped a couple of spots of ink (tiny ones, but still) on the pen “cushion” inside the box. It didn’t REALLY matter, but I do keep all my boxes stored away, and I like them to be pristine. So I emailed Franklin-Christoph, explained the issue, told them that it really wasn’t a very big deal (though my OCD tendencies thought otherwise), but wondered if I could get a new box. I HAD AN ANSWER WITHIN THE HOUR. Maybe even sooner than that. A new box went out IMMEDIATELY and arrived a few days later along with a very nice Franklin-Christoph keychain. So customer service? High, high marks right there.

Logo on the cap’s end

The Model 27 is a cartridge/converter pen, with the following dimensions (as taken from the Franklin-Christoph website)-
Capped: 5.5″
Posted: 6.5″
Unposted: 4.75″
Narrowest portion of the grip: 0.32″
Weight: 1.65 oz/46.78 g (without ink)

It’s a fairly slim pen with a nice weighty feel. When posted, the pen feels a bit top-heavy, and this is something that Franklin-Christoph is up-front about on the product page (see the Designer’s Note).  I’ve been using this pen unposted almost exclusively and find it to be very comfortable. Those with large hands, though, may find the grip section to be a bit too narrow.

Grip section comparison
Grip comparison: Model 27 vs. Lamy AL-Star

While the grip is quite different than the grip on the Lamy AL-Star, the other dimensions are not, as shown below.

Posted vs. Lamy AL-Star


The clip is spring-loaded and the profile reminds me of Faber-Castell clips. This one has just a bit of detail, subtle, but consistent with the Diamondline theme.

Clip detail

Bodywise, the only thing that bugs me a little is the fact that the cap screws onto threads that are on the section, not on the pen’s body. Because of this, I sometimes twist the entire section out of the body when I’m just trying to uncap the pen. I did find that if I over-tighten (just a hair) the section in the body, this happens far less often.

Medium stub nib by Mike Masuyama
Medium stub, by Mike Masuyama

The Model 27 is available in a wide range of nib choices, in both steel and gold nibs. I chose a steel nib with a medium stub. As I understand it, nibmeister Mike Masuyama grinds all of the custom nibs (needlepoint, medium italic, medium stub, broad italic, and broad stub) so that was a definite selling point. To get a quality pen, at this price point, with a Mike Masuyama grind was a no-brainer.

Medium stub by Mike

Though I’ve been a hardcore fine/extra-fine nib user, I’m beginning to inch toward nibs that are a little bit wider, mostly because ink shading is much easier to see and appreciate. This medium stub by Mike may just be my new sweet spot. It’s still on the finer side of medium, but with just a bit of a stub to bring out the beauty of the ink- Iroshizuku kon-peki, in this case. There’s not much line variation to be had (not in my hand, anyway), but the steel nib is smooth with a middle-of-the road wetness. I just love it.

One things for sure, the next time I get to a pen show, I plan to hunker down with the folks from Franklin-Christoph. They aren’t just selling shiny things, but shiny things done right.

By Chance: Bexley BX802 Cappuccino Fountain Pen

August has been a bit of a whirlwind. First a conference, then a bit of vacation that included the DC Fountain Pen Supershow. (What a blast that was!) My posting/life/work routine was blown out of the water, but I’m back now and looking forward to writing about the show and the handful of pens that I picked up.

Let’s start with the LAST pen I picked up at the show- a Bexley BX802 Cappuccino (F nib).


I was making my final laps around the two ballrooms, and was about to call it a day, when I heard the salesman at the Toys From The Attic booth tell a customer, “That pen is a steal at $50.” Hmmmm, what pen? I edged my way into the conversation and saw that they were talking about the Bexley BX802. The funny thing is, I had “Bexley” jotted down on my pen show list; not necessarily as something to buy, but as something to at least check out. And to this point I hadn’t really looked any any/many. (I will tell you, a pen show is a big giant blur of expensive/affordable/gaudy/elegant pens and inks and nibs and parts and paper and vendors and swarming, excited customers. Super fun, but also a bit overwhelming…in a good way. It doesn’t take long before you forget what you saw where.)

I circled through the show a few more times mulling over the Bexley the whole time. A quick online search confirmed that the price was indeed a good one, and so I made my move, encouraged by my new pen friend, Tracy, who said that she’d heard good things about the vendor. I had my choice of a fine, medium, or broad nib, and choose the fine (shocker, I know). What nagged at me a little bit, as I walked away with my purchase, was that I hadn’t WRITTEN with the pen. What if the nib was a dud?

Bexlet BX802 fine nib
Oh, the suspense! How will you write??

It was another 48 hours before I’d know the answer. As soon as we unpacked the car, I grabbed my new bottle of Iroshizuku tsukushi (“Horsetail”) and inked up the Bexley. A few scribbles later, a big exhale of relief. This pen is an excellent writer. The fine nib performs exactly as I’d hoped- smooth and wet and fine enough for everyday writing- a wonderful combination of nib attributes.

Bexley cap & band

To be honest, the look of the pen didn’t immediately grab me, but once it dawned on me that the acrylic looks JUST LIKE A CARAMEL SUNDAE (my favorite!), I was hooked. The caramelly swirls are somewhat translucent so it’s possible to catch a glimpse of the converter and ink inside- kind of cool.

Translucent swirls
See the translucent swirls?

The clip is firmly springy, and the chase pattern on the cap’s band adds a bit of interest. I don’t normally go for gold-tone accents, but in this case, they look just right. It’s a look that’s grown on me.

Posted pen

The pen’s dimensions fit my hand nicely. Capped it measures 5-1/4″, while uncapped/unposted it measures 5″, a length that’s perfectly usable for me. With the cap posted, the pen measures 6″ give or take a hair. The cap posts securely and doesn’t throw off the pen’s balance at all so I’m equally happy using it posted as I am unposted. By my unscientific measurements, this Bexley weighs around 20 grams so it’s a lightweight– but NOT in the performance department.


In the dizzying environment of the DC Fountain Pen Supershow, I’m glad I happened upon the chance conversation that led me to this pen. Getting this “Made In the USA” Bexley with its deliciously swirly looks and excellent nib, all at a super price, was the icing on the DC Pen Show cake. Or should I say, the cherry on the caramel sundae?


In any case, YUM.

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

Medicating With Pens: Namiki Raden Vanishing Point

Namiki Raden Vanishing Point
Just what the doctor ordered

If there’s ever a month that requires a pen pick-me-up, it’s February. And this last one was particularly grey, in weather and in mood. One of our beloved pups (11 year old Boo) has been struggling a bit so we’ve been extra-anxious about him, which made the colorless skies and raw winds that much harder to bear. Basically, we’re raw nerves in need of brighter days.

Raden VP
Mmmmm…shiny colors

Rather than cope with…ummm…”substances,” I’ve turned to pens. Well, one pen in particular– the Namiki Raden Vanishing Point that I picked up used from Dan Smith back in January. With it’s black lacquer body and heavy sprinkling of gorgeously shimmering abalone chips, the Namiki Raden Vanishing Point is good for what ails ya. It’s stunning, but not flashy. Colorful, but not blingy. The teal, purple, pink, azure, and emerald abalone chips almost look like they’re floating beneath the surface of the deep black body. When you consider the fact that each chip was placed by hand, it’s impossible to not be impressed. Mesmerizing, is what it is. Just like a starry starry mid-summer sky.

A stunner

The pen came with a medium nib, but I found that it had a bit of “tooth” to it, so I made the decision to purchase and swap in a “Binderized” medium nib unit. A pen this good-looking deserves a stellar nib. And stellar it is. A “Binderized” nib is tested and tuned by Nibmeister Richard Binder…not customized, but optimized. Simply put, Richard Binder works magic with nibs. Magic.

Binderized medium nib
18K gold, rhodium plated, nib-o’-perfection

And let’s not forget that this is a Vanishing Point, which adds another level of coolness. By clicking the rock-solid knock, the nib is deployed or retracted, just as easily as with a retractable ballpoint pen. Click. You’re writing. Click. You’re not. Dead simple.

VP Knock
That’s one heavy duty knock

I filled the pen with Pilot Iroshizuku’s kon-peki (Ocean Blue) which works beautifully with the abalone accents. It’s a match made not in heaven, but in the ocean. Very soothing. Which is great because remember? Raw nerves?

Iroshizuku kon-peki
Ink as tranquilizer

I will admit to a bit of a break-in period with regard to the clip placement, but all is well now. I have a pretty typical grip, I think, so if you don’t, you might want to try one before jumping into the Vanishing Point pool. That’s one quirk with this pen that might be a negative for some.

Clip placement
Try before you buy

I can’t resist. Let’s take another look at those colors…

Rhodium accents & abalone bits
Rhodium accents and abalone bits

Another view
And again

So this pen did the trick, and beat back the February blues. Apparently the Namiki Raden Vanishing Point is my drug of choice…and without the co-pay.

Raden VP

But you know what REALLY cured me? Little Boo, back on his feet.


Some things are more important than pens.


Check out another review of the same pen at Gourmet Pens.

Want to know more about this fabulous ink? Check out Brad’s review.