Quirky: Levenger’s Chroma Twister Stylus Ballpoint Pen

Levenger's Chroma Twister Stylus BP

This is, to be sure, a quirky pen. I suspect that it’s one of those pens that divides folks into love it/hate it camps. When it popped up as a recent offering on Massdrop, I had to give it a go, despite the fact that it’s a little homely, a little odd. I was intrigued by this pen with the long name—the Levenger Chroma Twister Stylus. The name, like the pen, lacks elegance, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should dismiss it.

Levenger’s description specifies that the barrel is made from a copper alloy. I can attest to the fact that the weight (1 ounce/28 g) is just right, and the well-balanced heft immediately conveys a feeling of quality.

Levenger's Chroma Twister Stylus

The pen features a simple twist pattern on the barrel for a bit of visual interest, which mirrors the simple twist action needed to extend the writing tip. I’ve found this action to be reliable, smooth, and efficient. The front of the pen is bluntly rounded and doesn’t have the usual “nosecone,” so the look is unconventional—kind of strange—especially when the writing tip is extended. It’s a look that takes a little getting used to.

Tip extended

While the look is not what we’re used to, this odd design choice doesn’t affect the pen’s performance in the least. There are sure to be haters, but I really don’t mind it. I don’t exactly love it, but I don’t hate it, either. The pen takes a Parker-Style refill and ships with a Levenger-branded EasyFlow ballpoint refill. I happen to enjoy this ballpoint refill, but if you don’t, there are a slew of Parker-style alternatives available.

Clip placement

Much like the Pilot Vanishing Point fountain pen, the clip on the Chroma Twister Stylus is positioned at the writing end of the pen so you need to experiment a bit to figure out a grip that works for you. Unlike the Pilot VP, you can rotate the pen so that the clip is positioned on the underside of the pen and out of the way of your fingers, though I usually use it with the clip positioned between my thumb and forefinger without issue.

Fabric stylus

At the opposite end of the pen is a fabric stylus— and this is where the pen really shines. It’s so good that I use the pen more for the stylus than for writing. I use it constantly on my iPhone—when playing word games, flicking through my Twitter stream, and also when composing emails. It’s wonderfully responsive with a very low “failure” rate, and feels much more accurate than my fingers. This is, without a doubt, my favorite stylus.

Size comparison

This isn’t a pen that will blow you away with its stunning good looks, and some of the design decisions might leave you scratching your head, but the Levenger Chroma Twister Stylus is a pen that’s worth a look. It’s not a pen that I use for long writing sessions but with both a quality writing experience and a truly excellent stylus, it’s a pen that’s wormed its way into my pen-loving heart. It might be a little homely—a little goofy looking—but don’t you often find that that quirkiest looking things (and people!) are the most interesting?

Let’s face it—normal is boring.

I’ve Been Remiss: TactileTurn’s Mover & Shaker

Mover & Shaker

I’ve been remiss. I should’ve reviewed these pens ages ago but they’ve become such staples in my daily pen arsenal that I let them slip below my pen review radar. The Mover and Shaker by Will Hodges, of Tactile Turn, deserve mention.

Disassembled Shaker

I’ve always had a little trouble remembering which pen is the Mover and which is the Shaker. (Perhaps I should spend more time on Sudoku puzzles to keep my mind nimble.) Eventually I came up with a little trick—the Shaker is shorter, running 5.1″ (129 mm). SHaker = SHorter. Problem solved. The Shaker takes Parker style refills. Right now I’m using a Moleskine 0.5 mm gel refill, though I’ve been known to swap in a Schmidt EasyFlow 9000 for an excellent ballpoint experience.

Mover disassembled

The Mover measures 5.5″ (141 mm), making it the longer of the two. Despite the added length, the pen remains very well balanced and is just as comfortable to hold as the squattier Shaker. I have 0.38 mm Pilot G2 refill in mine, which lays down a super crisp and consistent line.

Machined clips

Both pens live in one of my “goes to work with me” Nock Co. pen cases and are used often. I remain enamored with Mike Bond’s Ti2 Techliner so that gets heavy use as well, but I do plenty of writing in and out of work, so it’s easy to give multiple pens a workout in the course of a day. I use both the Mover and Shaker in my Five Year journal as the fine tips allow me to squeeze sufficient detail into the day’s limited space.

Almost seamless

Will’s pens are solid and rattle-free. The “break” in the pen—where you twist the two halves apart to change the refill—is just about invisible. (See the photo above of as evidence.) The look is so seamless that I always have to remind myself where exactly the pens twist apart. The look is clean and tight.

Knocks

The knock is the silent variety, just like the one on the Karas Kustoms Retrakt. Since I’m a compulsive clicker, this features keeps co-workers from wanting to strangle me. The action is always smooth and trouble-free. Every click goes off without a hitch.

Grooved grips

The finely grooved grip areas— a stand-out feature on Will’s pens—look cool, feel great, and make for a wonderfully subtle slip-free writing experience. This grip area is the part of the pen that sets the Mover and Shaker apart from many other machined pens.

Grooved grips

Will Hodges ran a smooth Kickstarter project and delivered a pair of solid, understated machined pens. They’re 100% reliable, very comfortable, totally solid and problem-free.

Mover and Shaker

The Mover and Shaker are so good that I found myself taking them for granted, and I TOTALLY mean that as a compliment.

Sorry, Will!

The Little Things

Last week was a truly brutal one—one that perfectly illustrated the saying, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” On Monday, the college was forced into a “shelter-in-place” situation from mid-morning until evening because of a phoned-in bomb/active shooter threat. Ultimately the threats proved to be a hoax, but the day was surreal and stressful, and the aftermath promises to hang on for a long time.

Scoutie and Zoe

Along with that awful work situation, we lost two of our beloved pets in the same week. Scout, our 16 year old Silky Terrier, had to be rushed to the vet on that same Monday, and was found to have a large mouth cancer that we never knew was there. Left with no other choice, we said good-bye to our Scoutie, my first dog.

Our 15 year old cat, Zoe, has been failing for the past month, and we finally made the hard decision to let her go on Saturday morning. Zoe was never a brainy cat, but she was a sweetie, a purring machine right until the end. God, this stuff hurts.

I was so wishing that I was at the Atlanta Pen Show, but as things played out, it’s clear that I was where I was supposed to be.

Cult Pens Mini Pen

In the midst of all of this stress and heartache, there was a bright pen-related spot. About three weeks ago, I purchased a gently used Cult Pens Mini Pen and five nibs (by Kaweco) from SBREBrown. The tracking info got messed up by a careless postal worker so I couldn’t track its progress from the Netherlands to the US. But having ordered from Fontoplumo recently, I knew that pens take about three weeks to arrive, which is exactly how it went.

Cult Pens Mini Pen

The pen and array of nibs arrived last week and have served as a nice distraction from the week’s events. Whether I’m doodling or writing a letter with the petite thing, it’s taken my mind off of our absent pets.

Cult Pens Mini Pen

We all know that Stephen has large hands, so it’s no surprise that this pen doesn’t really work for him. It is TINY—just 4.2″/105 mm capped, 4.9″/123 mm when posted. Unposted, it’s a mere 3.7″/93 mm, which means it really HAS TO be be posted to be usable. I’d watched Stephen’s video review so I knew exactly what I was buying. It’s a fun little pocketable pen that works fine for me. It’s truly darling.

BB nib

The pen arrived with the BB nib installed, so that’s what I’ve been using and it’s pure joy—juicy and smooth, and a nice diversion for someone who used to be all about EF and F nibs. It really is fun to branch out of a fine or medium rut. What really sold me on the pen was that Stephen included all of the available nibs—EF, F, M, B, and BB—with the pen. So this is a pen for all of my moods, which can swing to extremes—nibwise and otherwise.

Goodies from SBRE Brown

Along with the pen and the nibs, Stephen tucked a handwritten note and a couple of Fountain Pen Day bookmarks into the package. He also enclosed a packet of his favorite tea for “the full SBREBrown experience.” THAT made me smile in a week where smiles were sorely lacking.

Sometimes, it’s the little things that matter, the little things that make all the difference.

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.

You Had Me At Orange

My new orange pens

Turns out my pledge to hold off on buying pens doesn’t stand a chance when the pen world offers up a handful of reasonably priced orange pens. It’s a conspiracy, I tell you!

Lamy AL-Star in Copper Orange

I wrote the rough draft of this review with my new CopperOrange Lamy AL-Star (medium nib), filled with the matching CopperOrange ink (cartridge). Lamy has, in my opinion, nailed it with this pen and ink combo. They match perfectly and this ink has quickly become one of my favorite oranges. It’s dark enough to be legible, but still pops with a nicely balanced brightness.

Lamy AL-Star in Copper Orange

The pen almost looks like it’s lit from within—warm and bright but still easy on the eyes. The AL-Star is a pen you either love or hate, mostly because of the iconic contoured grip. I have no issues with the grip so picking up this pen in this color was a total no-brainer.

TWSBI 580AL in Orange

I also “cracked” and ordered the orange TWSBI 580AL when I read that the color was being discontinued. (They manipulate me like a pen-buying puppet!) I chewed on my pledge, but again, this is an affordable pen and I’ve yet to have a bad TWSBI experience.

TWSBI 580AL in Orange

The pen arrived in Saturday’s mail, but the weekend was such a blur that I haven’t gotten around to inking it yet. I stepped outside of my nib comfort zone by ordering a broad, and can’t wait to see how it writes. My current dilemma—what ink should I fill it with? One of my oranges? Or a nice bright blue? Why I belabor this, I’ll never know. It’s not like it’s a permanent decision.

P1060760

I hear there’s a big basketball game on tonight, but I’ll be watching “The Voice,” then reading. So…not really a basketball fan, but the Limited Edition SWISH Big Shot Tornado Popper by Retro 51 reeled me in with top-notch details and orangey goodness.

Retro 51 SWISH

The pen is marked and textured like an actual basketball, features that classic Retro 51 knurling, and is finished with a very cool basketball graphic end cap. Though I don’t give a hoot if Wisconsin or Duke wins tonight, I do love using my SWISH pen with my usual “swapped in” Schmidt P8126 refill.

My new orange pens

So that pledge to pare down pen purchases has taken a little bit of a beating.

Lamy, TWSBI, and Retro 51—you had me at orange.

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I purchased the Lamy AL-Star from Fontoplumo, the TWSBI 580AL directly from TWSBI, and the SWISH Retro 51 from Anderson Pens. I experienced excellent customer service from all three vendors. There are no affiliate links in this post. I just enjoy sharing good pens and good buying experiences with you.

A Couple of Nock Co. Goodies: The DotDash Pocket Notebook and Notecards

Reviewing the Nock Co. goods

Who doesn’t love comfort food— those homey, no-frills dishes that can lift you up after a crummy day. Fork-tender pot roast, piping hot macaroni and cheese, a steaming bowl of chili— these dishes conjure up grandma’s kitchen, where everything was made with care, from the best ingredients.

Nock Co. goods

Seems to me, my Nock Co. favorites are the pen world’s equivalent of comfort food. Made by people who care, Nock Co. designs and products are classic— made to stand the test of time. Without a hint of pretentiousness, these are goods that can handle what life throws at you, and bring a little joy to even your most frustrating day.

Nock Co. Pocket Notebook

Blog post outline

The DotDash Pocket Notebook is top-stapled, measures 3.5″ x 5.5″, and can be used in portrait or landscape mode. I’ve recently started using mine to sketch out quick blog post outlines. Since it’s hard to know when an idea may strike, I carry mine tucked inside a Nock Co. Hightower case, along with a healthy selection of pens. I’m fully prepared for when the blog muse strikes.

Ink tests in the Nock Co. Pocket Notebook

A bit of bleed-through

The Nock Co. Pocket Notebook contains forty-eight 50 lb. pages, printed front and back with a Cool Gray DotDash pattern that just so happens to be my preferred format. The DotDash “grid” is dark enough to provide guidance for your writing, without being too dark and getting in the way. Gel inks fare very well on the page, while fountain pen inks show a bit of feathering, and do result in a little bit of bleed-through. I prefer using my Retro 51s, Karas Kustoms pens, and Ti2 Techliner in this notebook as these inks remain sharp and dry quickly.

Inside the front cover

Fill out the information inside the front cover of your notebook just in case you misplace it. Not that I’d do such a thing (says the woman who keeps LEAVING HER PURSE at Dunkin Donuts—GAH!).

Fodderstack with DotDash Notecards

The Nock Co. DotDash Notecards have been a staple in my analog tools daily carry since their release. Tucked inside a Fodderstack, along with the special-edition Nock Co./Karas Kustoms Render K, this is a combination that goes with me EVERYWHERE. I jot down directions, make weekly grocery lists, plan menus, and capture to-do list items. I’m never without my Nock Co. Fodderstack, Render K, and notecards.

DotDash Notecards

Made from 80 lb. smooth cover stock, the notecards handle even fountain pen ink quite well, though, again, I’m generally using some sort of 0.5 mm gel pen refill. The DotDash pattern on the notecards comes in Orange or Dusty Blue— colors that don’t look too busy or bright.

Ink samples on Nock Co. DotDash Notecards

Nock Co. cases, Pocket Notebooks, and Notecards are well-made goods that come without fuss or hassle. They work. They last. They’re 100% reliable.

Nock Co. Fodderstack and Hightower

And like grandma’s warm apple pie, they keep you coming back for more.

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The Nock Co. Pocket Notebooks were sent to me for review purposes. All other products were purchased by me, either during the Nock Co. Kickstarter campaign, or from the Nock Co. online store. There are no affiliate links in this post, and I was not monetarily compensated for this review.

Letter Writing: Stuff That Helps

I used to write a ton of letters, usually on my typewriter. (Imagine that.) When I landed my first job, I bought an electronic one that had a one-line LED read-out that seemed like an amazing upgrade from the clunky manual version I used all through college. Eventually I sprung for a Magnavox Word Processor (bliss!), and then, finally, for my first Mac. With the computer, came the internet and email and my letter-writing trailed off. Then came messages and texts, and sometimes, just emoji (as if actual words are too hard). Communicating with friends and family has gotten easier and quicker, but has it gotten better?

Silky with letter

Isn’t receiving actual mail the best thing?! Receiving a letter—with stories and humor and common interests laid on paper by someone’s hand—can make a blah day zippier. I find myself making a little ritual out of reading a letter—comfy chair, ample time, a cup of tea. A letter is a dessert of words that you really want to savor.

"Thanks for the letter!"

I have a couple of faithful pen pals (hi, Michelle and Tracy!) and InCoWriMo has given me some new friends. I’m not the fastest responder, but I find it so relaxing to sit down with pen, paper, and ink then letting the words fly. As I thought about my letter-writing process, I realized that there are some tools and products that might be fun to share.

PAPER

Tomoe River Paper

I pretty much stick to Tomoe River paper for all of my letters, except for cards and quick notes. It’s shockingly thin, yet delivers an incredible writing experience— without any feathering or bleed through, even with wet and wide fountain pen nibs and inks. There’s a touch of show-through, but nothing that keeps me from using both sides of the page.

Tomoe River Paper

I buy packs of 100 sheets (A4 size) from JetPens, then fold the sheets in half to make little booklets for four-page letters. For shorter two-page letters, I just tear the sheets in half. The dimensions are as follows:

  • Tomoe River A4 Full Size: 8.3″ x 11.7″ (210 mm x 297 mm)
  • Tomoe River A4 Half Size: 8.3″ x 5.85″ (210 mm x 148.5 mm)

This is gorgeously smooth paper— feather-light but able to handle even the wettest inks. I can’t recommend it enough.

ENVELOPES

Envelope template

Inspired by my pen pals, I’ve started making my own envelopes from the stacks of 12″ x 12″ scrapbooking papers that I have on hand. (My scrapbooking phase sputtered and burned before it could get off the ground.) I use the Handmade Envelope Template—Western Version—available from JetPens.

Tracing the envelope shape

The process is super simple. Just trace around the guide on the back of your decorative paper, cut out the traced design, score, fold, and glue.

Cut out envelope designs

Scored and folded envelope

I always make the largest size available on this template as it’s perfect for holding a quarter-fold sheet of the A4 paper (i.e., the letter “booklet” folded in half), but depending on which guide you trace, you can make four sizes of envelopes with this one template.

  • 2.6″ x 4.1″ (65 mm x 105 mm)
  • 3.9″ x 5.8″ (98 mm x 148 mm)
  • 4.5″ x 6.4″ (114 mm x 162 mm)
  • 4.7″ x 6.7″ (120 mm x 170 mm) —> My favorite!

Assembled envelope and Glue Pen

I use the Kuretake Craft Glue Pen to assemble the envelopes. Like I said—it’s all very easy, and kind of relaxing. I address the envelopes by using 1″ x 2-5/8″ address labels, so that the recipient’s address and my return address are legible against the graphic print of the envelope.

LETTER CONTENT

Ledger of ideas

As I get older, my brain seems to be “spongier” than it used to be. Ideas flit through and drip out, so it takes a little more work to make them stick. I’ve discovered that I need a system to keep track of 1) the topics I want to cover; and 2) the unplanned topics I end up writing about. Funny story— I started a letter to a friend one day, then wrapped it up on the following day. When I read the pages over before sending it off, I was horrified to find that I’d written about the same topic in both halves of the letter. Egad.

Ledger full of ideas

SO–to combat the encroaching memory issues, I use one of the Field Notes Ambition ledger books to jot down things I want to write about. I then check off the topic when it’s covered, and also add the date of the letter where the subject was discussed. I also make note of things that weren’t on my original list in order to capture each letter’s details on the fly. With this simple system, I repeat myself less often, much to the delight of my oh-so patient pen pals.

STAMPS

Limited Edition Forever stamps

There’s no need to use the same old same old, run-of-the-mill Forever stamps. The post office carries a bunch of limited edition Forever stamps that add just one more cool touch to your letters. My current favorites—shown above—are Batman, Farmers Market, and Celebrity Chefs.  I now stalk my local post office looking for fun new designs.

Letter-writing is a great way to slow down and reconnect with friends and family in a deeper way than any emoji can accomplish. Use those pens. Write a letter.

"Bye for now!"

Credits: The adorable drawings were part of a recent letter from my new InCoWriMo pen pal, Thèrése. (I can’t draw to save my life, but her cute figures and scenes make me want to take a stab at it.) The Tomoe River Paper, Kuretake Envelope Template and Glue Pen were originally purchased using some sponsorship money from JetPens. I can assure you, though, that I continue to replenish my supply of these items with my own money. There are no affiliate links in this post.