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.

Cool: Retro 1951’s Black Fade to Silver Tornado

On National Handwriting Day (January 23rd), I stumbled upon a Retro 1951 contest where a couple of prizes would be awarded for good handwriting while a few more would be randomly chosen. The prize? One of four one-of-a-kind Retro 51 Tornados, or the Goncalo (wooden) Tornado, AND a Retro 1951 t-shirt.

So of course, I entered. Using the Albert Tornado I had with me that day, I wrote out the required tag line:

“Life is too short to carry an Ugly Pen.”

Retro 51 Contest Entry

Winners were announced on January 26th and I…

WON!

My entry was picked for one of the handwriting prizes, and I was thrilled. (I’m still thrilled.)

After looking over the selection of Tornado prizes, I quickly chose the Black Fade to Silver with line cut barrel. The glow-in-the-dark owl/floral pen was a close second, but the Fade pen is more “me.”

Black Fade to Silver Tornado

This one-of-a-kind pen was produced by the factory, but never introduced into the Tornado line. Which seems a shame because it’s super cool. Featuring pitch black knurling and clip, the color of the barrel gradually fades into shiny silver. Toss in the line cut barrel, and you’ve got yourself one stunning, great feeling pen.

Pitch black knurling

It’s stealthy AND shiny— a very unique combination for a very original look.

Black Fade to Silver

The Black Fade to Silver Tornado is a pen that I think would do exceptionally well in the Tornado line-up (and the comments on my Instagram feed seem to back this up). Hint, hint, nudge, nudge.

Other Tornado models

Retro 51 is a company that does so many things right. At a time when we’re hearing of more and more pen companies leaving the customer out of their business decisions, Retro 51 regularly engages their fans with contests and requests for ideas and feedback. By regularly introducing new designs (wallet draining designs), the offerings remain fresh—with something for just about anyone. Whether you want something simple, textured, wooden, humorous, or even glow-in-the-dark, there’s a model for you…or there will be in the near future. Much like the Field Notes Colors subscriptions, these are pens I can’t resist even though I have PLENTY. Maybe even PLENTY times 2.

A Tornado line-up

 The shape of the pen may stay the same, but no two pens look alike. In the handful of Tornados shown above, there’s superb variety— a simple lacquered Kiwi green Tornado, a glow-in-the dark Zag, the playful Space Invaders model, my prize pen, the gorgeous Monroe, the textured Franklin, and chalkboard-like Albert.

Knurling

The Tornado’s knurling is a constant, as is the great writing experience. Whether you’re using the pen with the included rollerball refill, swapping in the slightly finer Schmidt P8126 rollerball refill or a Schmidt EasyFlow 9000 ballpoint refill, you’ll find the writing experience to be dark and rich.

The pens are addictive—in build quality, in smoothness, and in looks. Oh, and in affordability, too.

Retro 1951 is a company that does things right—from maintaining high quality standards, to building great looking pens, while also actively and regularly engaging their fan base. Am I biased because I won a pen— a very cool pen? Probably, but I’ve been a fan for a long time, as evidenced by my sizable collection.

Black Fade to Silver Tornado

Life IS too short to carry an ugly pen, OR to deal with an ugly pen company.

With Retro 1951, you don’t have to worry about either. Cool pens. Cool company.

Which is why this t-shirt is so fitting.

Retro 51 t-shirt prize

Thank you, Retro 1951, for my prize, and for being…well…cool.

A Rollercoaster Ride: The J. Herbin Refillable Rollerball

Sincere thanks to my friends at JetPens for making the purchase of the J. Herbin pen and ink reviewed here possible. There are no affiliate links, and I was not, nor will I be, monetarily compensated. This review reflects my experiences and observations with the J. Herbin products pictured here.

J. Herbin Rollerball
J. Herbin Rollerball and Larmes de Cassis ink cartridges. LOVE the little tin.

I’ve read a number of reviews on the J. Herbin Refillable Rollerball and they run the gamut from “The ink flows very well…” to “The nib is very scratchy and thin.” Five star reviews versus one star reviews. Hmmmmm. Time to check it out for myself, I thought, so I added one to a recent JetPens order.

The J. Herbin Refillable Rollerball takes short international ink cartridges rather then traditional rollerball refills, which makes the pen a bit of a novelty. This appeals to me as I’ve accumulated a decent-sized stash of cartridges (okay, a lot), as I usually fill my fountain pens with bottled ink. Having a non-fountain pen to use them in seemed like a cool alternative.

J. Herbin Larmes de Cassis cartridge
Initial writing sample with J. Herbin Larmes de Cassis ink

I popped in one of the J. Herbin Larmes de Cassis (Tears of Black Current Purple) cartridges and started writing on my Levenger Vivacious Circa paper. The ink flowed without much delay, but the color just didn’t do it for me— much too light and washed out looking— significantly paler than the label on the sweet little cartridge tin led me to believe. But was this because of the pen or the ink?

J. Herbin rollerball
Disassembled, with a Levenger Cobalt Blue cartridge installed

After installing a Levenger Cobalt Blue cartridge and scribbling a bit, I was in business. The ink flowed easily, the rollerball felt smooth, and the color was rich and readable. Really nice.

Levenger Cobalt Blue writing sample

On the very smooth Vivacious paper, I’d estimate that the line runs about 0.6 mm, very close to that put down by a Schmidt P8126 refill— my choice for my ever-expanding collection of Retro 51 Tornados. It felt as smooth and free-flowing as the Schmidt refill, as well. Five stars!

Unposted vs. Retro 51 Tornado
Unposted vs. Retro 51 Tornado

Unposted, this pen is small, just 3.8 inches (98 mm). You really do need to post the cap to use the pen comfortably. The cap posts quite securely so this isn’t really an issue. Once posted, the pen measures 5.5″ inches (139 mm). It’s compact, for sure, but not too small. You can see that the posted length is a little bit longer than a Retro 51 Tornado.

Posted vs. Retro 51 Tornado
Posted vs. Retro 51 Tornado

The downhill slope of rollercoaster ride occurred on Day 2 of use, when I grabbed the pen to jot down some notes and had trouble getting the flow going. Aargh. I scribbled on a sheet of the Vivacious paper, but the results were not great. Sometimes the flow was fine, other times it seemed to dry up. Hmmmm…one star.

Scribbling to prime the pen
Scribbling to prime the pen

I then discovered that scribbling on more common (printer) paper did the trick and good flow was ultimately achieved on all types of paper. Really smooth with “just right” wetness. Five stars.

So, you can see, there is some touchiness with this pen. Thus the mixed reviews.

Day 2 writing sample
Day 2 writing sample, after priming

My experiences confirmed that there are a few caveats to successfully using the J. Herbin Rollerball— little tricks to get five star, rather than one star, performance:

  • Use richly colored inks for best readability. Because of the relatively fine line, pale ink looks weak on the page. (Duh.)
  • Realize that there may be some differences in performance based on the paper  you’re using. Flow appears to be most consistent on “cheaper” (less coated) papers, but is a-ok on good paper once flow is established.
  • Storing the pen with the tip down alleviated the need to scribble on paper to prime the pen after a period of non-use. After doing so, the pen wrote very well on even my best paper, even after sitting unused for a time.

J. Herbin Rollerball

I will admit that the J. Herbin Refillable Rollerball took me on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster ride, with both high and low points in performance. But ultimately, by following a few easy tips, I’ve been enjoying this pen and look forward to plowing through that healthy stash of small international cartridges. I’ve declared 2015 to be the year that I “use things up,” and this pen is a small step in the right direction.

J. Herbin Rollerball

The J. Herbin Refillable Rollerball is available at JetPens for $8.75, with J. Herbin cartridges priced at $5.50. While not ideal for use in this pen (in my opinion), I plan to use the Larmes de Cassis cartridges in some of my fountain pens to see how it looks with different pens/nibs. Stay tuned for an update on the outcome of that experiment.

A Collection: ACME Crayon Rollerballs

My pen collection can certainly be called “random.” I sometimes joke that its theme is “no theme.” I’m simply drawn to shiny things— rich acrylics with mesmerizing depth (chatoyancy! a word I just learned), stealthy black pens, transparent demonstrators, and cool colors. I have a little bit of a lot of pens. Pen A.D.D., I guess. EXCEPT in the case of the ACME Crayon rollerballs by ACME Studio.

P1040869

I started out with one pen, either the red or the blue one. That seemed fine for awhile. But then I found that a local Scandinavian Designs store carried them and one led to two which led to three which led to owning the whole collection. Oops.

ACME Crayon rollerballs

I’m such a faithful customer, and ACME Crayon “completist,” that the shop owner sends me an email when new colors are announced— like the latest purple and teal offerings. What’s also cool is that the shop has (or had) the retired colors— black, white, and silver. Shop local as you never know what lucky surprises you may find!

ACME Crayon rollerballs

The refill is the same as the one for the Retro 51 rollerballs so I usually swap in a Schmidt (or ACME) P8126 as that tip size is the sweet spot for me.  The pens are lacquered brass so they feel substantial and look remarkably like the crayons we had fun with as kids. The colors are so addictive, and not overwhelming in number (just eleven at this time), so owning the entire collection was certainly doable and desirable.

ACME Crayon rollerballs

One thing I don’t quite get is why the green pen has a yellow tip and end cap. Why isn’t it ALL green, like the color of the body? Weird choice by ACME, in my opinion.

In the top photo, you’ll notice my “mutt” pen on the far right side of the photo— a white pen with an orange tip. Sadly, I dropped my white pen on a counter at work and sheared off the brass tip. ARRRRGGGHHH! White is, of course, a discontinued color. I immediately contacted my local dealer…ummm, shop…and found that she still had a few in stock so I quickly purchased a new one. I also contacted ACME to try to get a replacement tip for the damaged pen. Turns out that wasn’t possible, but they did eventually swap in a tip from an orange pen, so it’s usable, but a bit of a hybrid. Lesson learned: Be extremely careful with discontinued pens. DO NOT DROP THEM ON HARD SURFACES. Pro tip.

So while my pen collection is all over the place, my ACME Crayon rollerball collection is currently COMPLETE. I’ve got a Crayon for each and every mood. For some reason, this feels like an accomplishment. For this pen collector, with the attention span of a gnat, I guess it is.

ACME Crayon rollerballs

The ACME Crayon rollerballs remind me of long ago, uncomplicated kid days when I could spend hours lying on the living room rug coloring in a new coloring book. How could I possibly resist buying more of those carefree and happy memories?

Does your pen collection have a theme? I’d love to hear about it.

Traveling With Pens: A Case Study (or a study of a basket case?!)

I’m attending a conference in Indianapolis, IN this week. But before I traveled here, I spent a god awful amount of time mulling over which pens to bring with me. Clothes? Easy. Pens? Not so much.

Right up until the last minute I was swapping pens in and out of my Nock Co. Brasstown case. The case, at least, was pretty much a given. Even though I schlep three or four Nock Co. Pen cases to and from work every day, I knew I only wanted to travel with one, and the Brasstown quickly made the cut. With its roll-up, multiple pen holding “tongue” and space to carry some ink cartridges and a small ruler, the case was an easy pick.

When it was time to leave for the airport, I had to STOP with the pen swaps and go with what was in the case. Here’s the final line-up:

Fountain pens
Lamy AL Star Blue-Green (fine nib) with Lamy black cartridges
Lamy Vista (extra-fine nib) with Lamy black cartridges
Pilot Knight (medium nib) with Namiki Blue/Black cartridges

Rollerball pen
Retro 51 Betsy Tornado Rollerball

Gel pen
Nock Co./Karas Kustoms exclusive Render K with 0.5 mm black G2 refill

Ballpoint pens
Fisher Space pen (matte black bullet model)
TactileTurn Shaker with Schmidt EasyFlow 9000 black refill

20140729-223046.jpg

I’m a couple of days into the conference now and have a few thoughts about my choices. The Lamy Vista is great. The EF nib is perfect in my Clairefontaine notebook and I especially like being able to monitor the ink level. The fine nib on the Lamy AL Star is a little broad, while the medium nib on the Pilot Knight is wonderfully smooth and lays down a precise fine line as it’s a Japanese medium.

The Fisher Space pen has been particularly handy for filling out entry forms at today’s trade show. It’s easy to carry and completely reliable. Maybe not my favorite refill of all time, but great when you just need a pen to do its job whenever and wherever.

I haven’t used Betsy or the Shaker as yet, though both are favorites when I’m home. I think I’ll work them into tomorrow’s sessions. Could it be I have pen A.D.D.? Is that a thing?

20140729-224319.jpg

A couple of other Nock Co. products have really performed well on this trip- the Fodderstack loaded with the DotDash 3×5 cards paired with Nock Co. x Karas Kustoms Exclusive G2 Render K. The pen looks and writes great. I love the playful trio of colors, and loaded with a 0.5 mm G2 refill, it’s been perfect for taking meeting notes AND for keeping track of action items that are popping up at work and at home. By jotting down tasks on the DotDash cards, I’m able to concentrate on what I should be concentrating on- the conference.

Someone on Twitter suggested that I should travel with only one pen as a challenge, and I considered that for a little bit. Obviously, I didn’t go that route since I have a stupid number of pens with me. But really, I’m having fun swapping pens from day to day…or even within the same day.

And, I must admit, pens are something of a security blanket for me. I feel better when they’re with me.

20140729-230713.jpg

There…I admitted it.

Written and photographed on my iPad and iPhone with poor hotel lighting. But written nonetheless!

Fun Find #1: Retro 1951 Tornado Umbra Orange Rollerball

(Click on any picture to enlarge it.)

Retro 51 Umbra Orange Rollerball

Sometimes a pen finds you more than you find the pen. That was exactly the case with this Retro 51 Tornado Umbra Orange Rollerball. I was browsing on the Pen City site, and found that they have a “Shop By Color” feature (great idea!). When I filtered for “orange,” this was one of the pens that popped up. Since I’d never seen a Retro 51 in a translucent acrylic, much less an ORANGE translucent acrylic, I had to order it.

Translucent Orange Acrylic

When the pen arrived, it looked even better in person than it did on the website. The acrylic shimmers and displays wonderful depth. I think it looks a little like jello salad, which made me love it just a little bit more. I really like how you can catch a glimpse of the branding on the refill and the internal threading through the body of the pen.

The familiar Retro 51 elements are here as well. Like that wonderful knurling…

Retro 51 Knurling

And the immediately recognizable open-design clip that’s both cool looking and functional…

Retro 51 clip

The pen body’s color is reflected in the twist mechanism’s finial for one more pop of color…

Retro 51 Orange finial

The Retro 51 REF-5P black refill that came with the pen is reliably smooth and dark. Writing my rough draft of this review on Staples Arc notebook paper was a really enjoyable experience. That paper and this refill seem to be made for each other.

I’ve since seen some other acrylics— red, blue, and white— and though they look very cool, too, my heart belongs to this orange version. Sadly, none of the acrylic versions appear to be easy to find, but the folks at Retro 1951 have hinted on Twitter that more acrylics may be introduced. Or should I say “re-introduced.”

Translucent acrylic

That would be as sweet as— well— jello salad.