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.

Worth a Look: Reclaimed Wood Pens, by Doug Mann, on Kickstarter

Reclaimed Wood Pens
Photo courtesy of Doug’s Kickstarter page

I haven’t been backing a lot of pen projects on Kickstarter lately, as per my desire to ratchet down the buying, BUT today I backed Doug Mann’s “Custom Handmade Pens” project.

Doug hasn’t asked me to plug his project and I have no prior experience with Doug, so proceed as you see fit. I just thought this project was worth a quick mention.

Doug’s from State College, PA and makes pens using traditional pen making processes combined with 3D printing technology. Interesting.

He uses reclaimed wood (as you’ve probably gathered from the name of the project) like:

  • Game-used MLB Bat Wood
  • WWII Crate Wood
  • Wood salvaged from the mountains of northeastern Kentucky

I like wooden pens, especially those with a bit of a story. Doug is making rollerball and fountain pens available as rewards.

If you do nothing else, give his video a look. It made me chuckle out loud. (No spoilers here!)

Reclaimed Wood Pen
Photo courtesy of Doug’s Kickstarter page

Doug’s project certainly appears to be worth a look. Click HERE to do so.

The CUBE by KarasKustoms + Dudek Modern Goods

The CUBE (CU13E), a collaboration by KarasKustoms and Dudek Modern Goods, was sent to me for review purposes. I have not been, nor will I be, monetarily compensated. This review reflects my experiences and impressions.

The CUBE

This thing is HOT. And heavy. Like a good romance. Which is apt, because I frickin’ love it.

Loose pens
My KarasKustoms INKs and a Lamy AL-Star

I love it because it solves a daily problem. I typically start the day with a pretty clear desk, then as the morning progresses, more and more pens find their way out of their cases and onto my desk. By late afternoon, pen clutter abounds. They’re banging into each other, hiding under papers, and sometimes (eek!), falling on the floor. Shudder.

The CUBE

The solid aluminum CUBE solves that pen clutter problem, and does so with impeccable design, stunning good looks, and quality workmanship. A collaboration between KarasKustoms and Dudek Modern Goods, The CUBE arose from the chance friendship and complementary talents of Dan Bishop and Mike Dudek.

The CUBE

Their Kickstarter video does a good job of showing how the idea for The CUBE was born. Donuts, it seems, played a big role in getting this collaboration off the ground. As I thought about this project, and Mike and Dan, another video idea popped into my head.

The CUBE

Remember those Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup ads? The ones where two people are walking towards each other— one eating a chocolate bar and the other eating from a jar of peanut butter? They clumsily bump into each other and one says, “Hey- you got chocolate on my peanut butter!!” while the other one says, “You got peanut butter on my chocolate!!” Then they both take a taste of their accidental creation and smile big smiles as a wonderful new thing is discovered.

The CUBE

In MY version of the video, Dan, carrying aluminum stock from the KarasKustoms machine shop, bumps into Mike, who’s carrying his walnut CUBE. Dan says, “Hey, you got your CUBE on my aluminum!!” while Mike says, “You got your aluminum on my CUBE!!” Then, BINGO, the aluminum CUBE is born. (Okay, okay…I’ll leave the video-making to the experts.)

The CUBE

Some stats— The CUBE is solid aluminum and weighs in at nearly two pounds (1 lb, 14.4 oz). The nine holes, lined with pen-protecting Delrin, measure 0.563″ x 2″ deep. The CUBE itself measures 3.125″ x 3.125″ and is 2.750″ high (not including the height of the rubber feet). The rubber feet, a critical detail, protect your furniture and make The CUBE look like it’s levitating off of your desk. Available in silver (anodized aluminum), black, orange, blue, and red, The CUBE is a colorful and classy way to store your pens.

The CUBE
I, apparently, have a thing for orange.

Using Mike Dudek’s design and the mad machine skillz of KarasKustoms, this project is a testament to the talents of both parties. The CUBE is functional AND sculptural. It’s well-designed and well-executed.

The CUBE

IT. IS. HOT.

As I write this post, there are 15 days left in The CUBE’s Kickstarter campaign. The project was funded with super-sonic speed, a testament to the reputation of the two parties involved. Though I received this CUBE for review, I’ve also backed the project. That black CUBE is calling my name.

Cool (and maybe free) stuff!

I find it hard to resist pen projects on Kickstarter, and have had generally very good experiences. Even though I’ve built up quite the supply of “Kickstarted” writing utensils, a couple of recent projects caught my eye AND my pledge. The project creators haven’t asked for a plug—I just wanted to share some cool stuff and a couple of giveaway opportunities.

Uncapped InTuition
Previously backed InTuition Pen/Stylus

I wrote about the InTuition Pen/Stylus back in February, and continue to enjoy the look, feel, and performance of that pen. Now I see that Tom of e4 Labs has launched a companion project—the InTuition Pencil. More carbon fiber, more goodness. What I like about this project is that there are only a couple of backing tiers, one at $39 for one pencil (0.5, 0.7, or 0.9 mm lead size) and $110 for all three lead sizes. Only 300 rewards are available (now down to 224, at the time of this writing) for the single pencil while just 50 rewards (currently down to 43) are available for the trio of pencils. By capping the number of rewards at each level, Tom won’t suddenly be faced with an avalanche of orders that make his proposed timeline impossible to meet. Tom delivered a great product the last time and I have no reason to believe that this pencil project will be any different. I’m already looking forward to my 0.7 mm version. The funding period ends January 4th, 2014, and the project is currently about 34% funded. Let’s make it happen!

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Another Kickstarter project that made my eyes POP is the The Apollo Technical Pan and Drafting Scale by Pranay and Paul. Do I do any drafting? Heck no. Does that matter to me? Not at all. This thing is just so awesome looking that even my non-pen loving husband is excited. JetPens recently interviewed Pranay and Paul AND announced a JetPens/Apollo Pen giveaway contest. The grand prize is a JetPens themed Tri-Scale set with three pens, while one runner-up will receive a single Apollo pen.

Check out their interview HERE.

Enter the giveaway HERE. The contest ends December 12th.

This Kickstarter project has six more days to go, and is almost 400% funded, so this one is a definite go. Can’t wait.

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The folks at Pen Chalet, a new-to-me online pen retailer, are currently running their own giveaway for  $50, $25, and $10 dollar gift certificates. Who couldn’t use a little help with holiday spending, right? I spent some time browsing their site the other night, while entering the contest, and like what I see selection-wise AND price-wise. Definitely worth a look and an entry. A winner will be drawn on December 15th. Fingers crossed!

Check out their contest HERE.

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UPDATE: Here’s one more giveaway I JUST found— The FPGeeks are giving away a set of six Levenger inks and the True Writer Silver Anniversary Fountain Pen. What a sweet haul! Enter for those goodies HERE. This contest closes on January 6, 2014. Winning this would definitely make for a happy new year.

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Have a great weekend! I plan to spend a little time with some friends, then hunker down with some pens. Bliss.

Flawed and Wonderful: Parker Vacumatic in Azure Blue

Parker Vacumatic Azure Blue

When I was at the DC Pen Show, I found myself completely overwhelmed and intimidated by the stunning array of vintage pens. I shied away from exploring them because I felt like I needed to know [much] more to be able to recognize an acceptable pen at a good price. Sarj Minhas has a staggering vintage collection (so nice that it paralyzed me, both physically and verbally). I was especially blown away by his “Ripley” Vacumatic— simply stunning— with a hefty price tag that I’m sure is well worth it. So, while in DC, I stuck to moderns and remain very pleased with those purchases.

Vacumatic striations

But gosh darn, those Vacumatics speak to me. And wouldn’t you know it— one popped up for sale on Dan Smith’s site. I slobbered over it, then had a bit of a twitter conversation with Dan before deciding to go for it. During this exchange, Dan asked me, “What is it about the Vacumatics that you like?” I quickly answered, “The stripey bits.” It really is that simple— I love the look of the striations (aka stripey bits). And at $65, I knew this would be a good “starter” Vacumatic.

Vacumatic with Duofold nib

Going in, I was well aware that there are a few things wrong with the pen— and they’re undoubtedly big things if you’re a collector. The nib is a Parker Duofold, which is the wrong nib for this pen. The barrel is badly ambered so that it’s not at all translucent. I’m not able to judge the ink level by looking at the barrel— it just stops writing. And I may or may not be having some filling issues (TBD; working with Anderson Pens on this…pretty sure it’s just me being impatient when filling).

Vacumatic imprint

Despite all of this, I love this pen. LOVE. It puts down a perfectly wet, smooth, medium line— pure fun to write with. The barrel imprint is crisp and completely readable. The cap and clip are in great shape. Amazing, really, for a pen that was made in 1945. And those striations. Yeah, they’re what really got me.

Vacumatic barrel

Myke Hurley recently said, on Episode 75 of “The Pen Addict” podcast, that he overheard someone at the London Pen Show describe a Vacumatic as looking like the lit windows in a skyscraper at night. I SO agree with this description. (I was driving at the time I heard this, but nodded and laughed a little because I’d been thinking the exact same thing.)

Blind cap & vac

The filling system is very easy to use, but as I said, requires a bit of patience in that, according to Brian Anderson, one needs to pause at the bottom of the plunger’s downstroke, as well as at the top, for a second or two. I’m not sure that I’ve been doing that so my fills may have been a little short. Next time, I’ll take my time.

Uncapped Vacumatic

Like so many pen lovers, I’ve been on the elusive hunt for the “perfect pen,” as if such a thing exists. Does perfect mean that it has to be expensive or super smoooooooth or drop-dead gorgeous, or does it just have to fit our hand or our tastes or our writing style? Heck if I know. I’m pretty sure, though, that “perfect” is a moving target. And maybe (undoubtedly) “perfect” is overrated.

Parker Vacumatic clip

Our jobs/partners/kids/pets/churches/schools/movies/books/art are all imperfect— well-marbled with flaws along with the good stuff. And yet we love it all. We love our messy, sticky lives. This pen is the same— flawed, and yet still wonderful.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

++++++++++++++++
Notes:

  • My Parker Vacumatic is currently inked with Pilot’s Iroshizuku tsuki-yo.
  • The Sassafras pen case prototype by Nock Co. provided the colorful backdrop for a number of these photos, and is where I’ve been storing this Vacumatic.  I’ve been carrying the Sassafras case with me EVERYWHERE and it looks as fresh as it did on day one.  Check out Nock Co.’s project on Kickstarter.
  • That Ripley Vacumatic? Unforgettable.

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.

The Bolt: A Machined Bolt Action Pen

The Bolt
The Bolt, by KarasKustoms

Last week was a good pen week, and one of the pens that made it so was The Bolt, by KarasKustoms. I backed their first pen project, the Render K, and was so pleased with that pen that it was a no-brainer to back this project.

KarasKustoms sets the bar pretty high when it comes to Kickstarter projects. They provide regular updates that often contain videos of the machining process. (I’m oddly fascinated by these glimpses of the birth of a pen.) The shop truly brings you along for the ride and provides a very transparent experience. I haven’t backed a project that’s done it any better.

Like the Render-K, the Bolt is available in both aluminum and brass. I chose aluminum, as I did for their first project, and am again pleased with my choice. The pen has heft but is not heavy. The weight is just perfect for me. The pen measures 5.5″ long and 0.45″ in diameter, and feels great in hand. I’d consider it well-balanced and comfortable.

Bolt action
Bolt action

Unlike the Render-K, this pen is retractable, and that’s where things get particularly cool. To extend the writing tip, you push down on the knock, as you would for any other retractable. But THEN, use your thumb to twist the knock to the side so that the bolt continues to travel in the machined slot, and the extended writing tip is locked into place. (At first this action took two fingers, but now that things have loosened up, I can do the whole thing with just my thumb.) I don’t know why this is fun, but it is. It is.

Hardware
Sturdy, sturdy clip

The pen comes with stainless steel hardware, AND an Allen wrench so that you can tighten the clip’s screws, if need be. (Have I mentioned that these guys have an eye for detail?) The clip on my pen hasn’t budged, but it’s nice to know that I can tighten it up if I have to.

0.5 mm Moleskine gel refill
Writing sample with the 0.5 mm Moleskine gel refill

While the pen DOES comes with the Allen wrench, it DOES NOT come with a refill. Why’s that? Well…because the body is able to accept a number of refill options (generally in the Parker-style format), Karas Kustoms chooses to leave the choice of refill up to the customer, rather than providing refills that users may toss. That’s fine for me, and I was well-stocked with my Parker-style refill of choice- the Moleskine 0.5 mm gel refill. Within minutes of unpacking the pen, I popped in the refill and was off and running. (A few folks missed this detail in the project’s documentation, and were puzzled/angry. This lack of refill is the same as with the Render K, AND is clearly stated, so I wasn’t caught off guard.)

Here’s a list of some of the refills that are compatible with The Bolt:

Faber-Castell Ballpoint Pen Refill
Fisher Space Pen Refill, PR Series- Colors (Bold, Medium, Fine)
Foray (Office Depot) Ballpoint Refill for Parker (Medium)
Monteverde Ceramic Gel Refill (Broad)
Monteverde Needle Point Refill (Fine)
Monteverde Soft Roll- Colored inks (Medium)
Monteverde Soft Roll- (Superbroad, Medium, Ultrafine)
OHTO Needlepoint Ballpoint Pen Refill PS-807NP
OHTO PS-205NP Extra-Fine 0.5mm Ballpoint Pen Refill
Parafernalia Ballpoint Pen Refill NO LOGO
Parker Ballpoint Pen Refill (Broad, Medium, Fine)
Parker GEL Ballpoint Pen Refill (Medium)
Parker Quinkflow Ballpoint Pen Refill (Medium, Fine)
Pelikan Giant Ballpoint Pen Refill 337 (Broad, Fine, Medium)
Pentel KFLT8 Ballpoint Pen Refill
Schmidt 9000M EasyFlow Pen Refill
Schmidt P8900 Super Bowl Refill (Fine)
Schmidt P900 B Ballpoint Pen Refill (Broad, Medium, Fine)
Schmidt P950M Megaline Pressurized Ballpoint Pen Refill (Medium)
Schneider Express 735 Pen Refill (Broad, Medium, Fine)
Schneider Slider 755 Pen Refill (Extra-Broad, Medium)
Stabilo Ballpoint Refill
Tombow BR-ZLM Ballpoint Pen Refill
Visconti Ballpoint Pen Refill AA49 1.4 (Broad)
Visconti Gel Refill (Broad, Medium, Fine)

Quite the list, eh?!

The Bolt

I have nothing but praise for the team at KarasKustoms. The Bolt is solidly made, and sports clean lines and a cool industrial look. And that bolt mechanism? It’s irresistible.

Keep ’em coming, KarasKustoms. Keep ’em coming.

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Want your own Bolt? Though the Kickstarter project has ended, the pen is now available via the KarasKustoms website. Check out all of their cool products by clicking here.

I was not compensated in any way for this review. I’m just a fan, and wanted to spread the word about this interesting pen and the quality workmanship.