Pen Review

Tactile Turn Gist Fountain Pen Review

Kickstarter can be a scary place. In a world full of Scribble Pens and fancy coolers, it's hard to want to plop down $100 or more for a product that may never be. That's why I waited nearly three weeks before backing the Tactile Turn Gist fountain pen. Fast forward more than six months, and I'm happily handwriting this article with one of the best pens in my arsenal, wondering why I had ever given it a second guess.

The pull-sleeve packing for the Gist is pretty slick.

The pull-sleeve packing for the Gist is pretty slick.

The Tactile Turn Gist is a rugged fountain pen that holds its own against other $100 pens on the market. It's the first foray into fountain pens for Tactile Turn owner Will Hodges, and it's an impressive entry into the market. While its looks are professional enough to carry into a business meeting, its sturdy design makes it an excellent contender for an everyday carry pen.

The Gist comes in hundreds if not thousands of configurations. I chose the makrolon polycarbonate body with copper grip and finial and paired it with a titanium Bock nib. I should note that I'm just covering the Gist in this review and will go into more detail on the titanium nib next week. Makrolon is the same material that's used for the barrel of the Lamy 2000. It's lightweight but durable and will last for decades. The Gist's entire body is ridged, so that it's incredible easy to grip and manipulate in hand. The ridges give the pen a soft matte finish, which is nearly impossible to capture in a photograph. The pen does develop a sheen after significant use, but it doesn't get nearly as shiny as the Lamy 2000.

The copper finial on the Gist provides a teaser of what's under the hood. As the copper develops a patina over time, the finial begins to look like an old penny, a look that's enhanced by the Tactile Turn logo. The finial is machined with the rest of the polycarbonate cap, which results in a flawlessly smooth transition between copper and polycarbonate. The finial holds the clip in place, which sits in a notched slot in the polycarbonate. While the clip is incredibly sturdy, it is easily my least favorite part about the pen. Its look simply doesn't match the rest of the pen design. Fortunately, Kickstarter backers had the option to order a pen without a clip, so hopefully Tactile Turn has extended the same option to new customers.

The Tactile Turn Gist uses Acme threads to securely cap the pen. These threads are much larger than traditional cap threads and provide a secure seal, while requiring minimal twisting to uncap, less than three full turns to be exact. Perhaps there's a reason why more fountain pens don't use this type of threading, but these threads offer a dramatically better uncapping experience than threads on any of my other pens. Uncapping the pen reveals the beautiful copper grip, which is also ridged to prevent slippage. I can't overstate just how much I prefer the ridged grip to traditional smooth grips. The ridges allow for comfort during long writing sessions and prevent slippage caused by sweaty hands. The pen also posts, although it's plenty long enough to use unposted, which I prefer. The copper does leave a faint smell of pennies on my hands. At first, I avoided choosing copper for this very reason, but the smell is so faint that it's hardly noticeable, unless you jam your fingers up your nose, which I certainly don't recommend. The copper grip develops a patina over time, just like the finial.

The Gist includes a converter, which compares to a traditional international converter but is somewhat shorter. Simply unscrew the bottom section of the barrel to access the converter. The barrel, nib, and grip are all threaded, to ensure that the pen fits tightly together and does creak or wobble. Converter capacity is adequate for steel nibs, but I burn through converter fills with the titanium nib. The flex in the nib causes it to use much more ink than the tough-as-nails steel nib. Those who are accustomed to using piston fillers may certainly miss the added capacity.

Here's a closeup of the Acme cap threads and the pen's ridged surface.

Here's a closeup of the Acme cap threads and the pen's ridged surface.

As an everyday carry pen, the Tactile Turn Gist fountain pen is sturdy, grippy, and delivers on everything that it promises. This is the pen that I would take onto the machine shop floor, if I had a machine shop that is. There's something special about the copper and the way that it shows its age. It reminds me of all of the writing, scribbling, and sketching that I've done with it. Unlike traditional steel or titanium, the copper holds the history of its owner. Sure, it's easily possible to return the copper to its original glory, but perfection isn't why people purchase copper pens. The Tactile Turn Gist is a testament to Will Hodge's manufacturing prowess. It's not just an excellent Kickstarter fountain pen, it's an excellent fountain pen period.


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Fisher Bullet Space Pen Review

It was an ordinary Sunday in the summer of 1969. Americans went about their day as usual, starting with church, followed by barbecues, and afternoon baseball. Despite its average beginning, July 20, 1969 would mark one of man's greatest triumphs, thanks to three men in a metal tube hundreds of thousands of miles away. Families sat in front of glowing black-and-white boxes, as man set foot on the moon for the first time. As Neil Armstrong took one giant leap for man kind, humanity was reminded that its potential was limitless, and for just a moment, anything was possible. For just one night, Americans dreamt of exploring the cosmos instead of buying a new car.

The Fisher Space Pen was adopted by NASA in the mid 1960's and accompanied the astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission that brought America to the moon. Writing with a Space Pen feels a bit like writing with a piece of history. Granted, designs and materials have changed, but the spirit of the original pen is still there. This spirit isn't bound by the limits of the imagination, but rather lives in the world of "what if." Space Pens remind their users to try a little harder, go a little farther, and shoot for the stars.

The Fisher Bullet Space Pen comes in a clear plastic display case, nested carefully in foam that's shaped to look like a moon rock. The pen looks as if its an artifact in a museum, and the careful detail in the pen's packaging foreshadows the pen's stellar performance. The Bullet Space Pen is shockingly small, in a way that intimidates someone, like me, who has large man hands. The pen has a nice weight and feel, due to its aluminum body and matte finish. I purchased the black matte version of the Bullet Pen, but there are several materials and finishes available. The matte finish provides substantial grip, making it easy to manipulate the pen in hand and reducing hand fatigue during intensive writing sessions. The pen is simply one of the best looking pens that I own, which is shocking considering that it's standard price falls below $20.

My Instagram feed is littered with images of everyday carry (EDC) load outs, but I hardly consider myself a rugged mountaineer in need of a pen that writes underwater. That said, the Fisher Bullet Space Pen is an EDC enthusiast's dream. The pen writes upside down, underwater, through almost any slimy substance that you can throw at it, and even in space. The pen's writing durability is due to a special pressurized cartridge and ink formulation. The pen ball is made from a super-hard tungsten carbide and is precision fit to the ink chamber, to prevent seepage as well as the clicking sound that cheaper ballpoint pens make. The cartridge is also designed to work in a wide range of temperatures, even those at which humans could not survive. In short, this pen will work in almost any situation imaginable and could even be used to make a journal entry while you're boiling alive.

Although the pen is tiny enough to slip into a pocket comfortably when capped, it is long enough to rest comfortably in the webbing between my thumb and index finger when posted. The pen posts with a friction fit, although the cap wobbles just a bit. It's possible to crank the cap down onto the end of the pen, but the wobble isn't noticeable enough to warrant damaging the pen barrel. The o-ring at the base of the pen's grip ensures that the pen seals when capped, protecting the tip of the pen from air or other nasty contaminants.

It's important to note that I use fountain pens almost exclusively and have never reviewed a rollerball pen on A Better Desk. I've been looking for a solid traveling pen that I can take on an airplane without having to worry about leakage or complicated storage solutions. It takes some work to move from a fountain pen back to a rollerball pen, so give yourself time to adjust before setting out on whatever journey lays ahead of you. Fountain pens work better when the nib is at a sharp angle to the paper, while rollerball pens work best when held as vertically to paper as possible. The rollerball tip feels much bigger and less precise than a typical fine-nibbed pen and requires additional pressure.

I've grown to love the Fisher Bullet Space Pen, after a few days of practice and regular use. The pen writes very smoothly and without the stickiness of a standard cheap ballpoint pen. The pen leaves a deep black line on the page, without having to excerpt so much pressure that writing becomes uncomfortable. Fisher claims that their Space Pen cartridges last longer than standard cartridges, due to their pressurized ink chambers, but I haven't had the pen long enough to verify.

The Fisher Bullet Space Pen can be purchased with an optional clip, although it does break the streamlined shape of the pen. Most reviews mention that the clip is unstable and doesn't secure firmly to the body, but I've found the opposite to be true. My clip holds so tightly to the pen body that I initially had a hard time removing it.

Fountain pens remain my favorite type of pen for now; however, I plan to carry the Fisher Bullet Space Pen whenever the situation calls for a versatile alternative to my beloved fountain pens. The Space Pen performs so well that it doesn't feel like a compromise, and its unique history makes it a reminder than anything is possible every time I pick it up.


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Platinum Preppy Fountain Pen Review

Let's face it, fountain pens can be incredibly intimidating to our Bic-loving friends. Sure, we know in our hearts that it's totally reasonable to drop $150 for a Lamy 2000 and that filling a fountain pen with bottled ink is actually pretty easy. To outsiders we may sound crazy, and that's why we should celebrate products that make fountain pens accessible and affordable to those who may never have considered them. The Platinum Preppy is one of the most affordable refillable fountain pens on the market. The Preppy can be had at the price of a fancy cup of coffee and comes in a wide range of colors.

The Platinum Preppy is made from sturdy plastic and has a thin steel nib. Unlike some cheap pens, the Preppy's plastic doesn't creak under pressure. The grip section screws off, like a traditional fountain pen, to expose the ink chamber. The Preppy comes with one ink cartridge and replacement cartridges are available; however, they are oddly expensive. If you want to save a few dollars, it's pretty easy to refill the Preppy's included ink cartridge, once it's empty. The barrel of the pen is completely sealed, so it's a great candidate for conversion to an eyedropper filler. I'm not fiddly enough to want to do this, but it seems straightforward.

The cap of the Platinum Preppy has a snap fit mechanism that emits a satisfying click when the pen is capped. There's also a spring-loaded cap insert that sits against the base of the nib and covers it completely. I can only assume that this serves to keep the nib from drying out or leaking ink into the cap. It seems a bit unnecessary, but Platinum has been working with pens far longer than I have, so I'll assume that they know what they're doing.

The steel nib of the Platinum Preppy is coated with the same color as the pen's included ink and body flourishes. It does feel slightly thinner than the nibs on more expensive pens, but it is incredibly stiff. Those looking for a silky smooth writing experience may be disappointed, since the nib feels scratchier than most of the starter fountain pens, such as the Metropolitan, Safari, or Kakuno. The nib tends to skip every now and then and is on the dry side, but overall the Platinum Preppy's nib performs very reliably. The consistent nib is complemented by the solid construction of the pen, which results in a very pleasing writing experience for a $5 pen. The Preppy's grip does become slippery during longer writing sessions, but this is common for pens with plastic grips.

The Platinum Preppy certainly can't compete with pricier pens, but it is an excellent pen for those looking to try a fountain pen for the first time. It's cheap enough to use without fear of bending the nib and is easily replaceable. The solid performance is a true credit to Platinums's design and manufacturing capabilities. Given the pen's performance for the price, the Platinum Preppy would be a wonderful gift for the fountain pen beginner in your life and falls just below the Pilot Kakuno, which I consider to be the best fountain pen for beginners.


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J. Herbin Glass Dip Pen Review

My fountain pen collection has quickly grown from one plain black Lamy Safari to a handful of colorful writers that deserve equally colorful inks. I love to try new inks, but gambling $10-$30 on an ink that I may or may not like doesn't seem like a smart thing to do. I discovered Goulet Pen's Ink Drop service that ships five inks to my door every month for only $10. This lets me test a ton of different colors and brands of inks and purchase my favorites, which are usually available at a discount at the Goulet shop. I love this service, but testing multiple inks at a time can be cumbersome. Traditional fountain pens can easily be inked, but they require a water flush and 24 hours of dry time after each test. I turned to the J. Herbin Glass Dip Pen as a potential solution to my inky problems.

The J. Herbin Glass Dip Pen is a stunning hand-made glass dip pen. I chose the orange pen, since orange is my favorite color, and the shades of orange and yellow remind me of a blazing sunset. The pen comes in multiple colors, but they are all equally stunning.

It's clear from the name that dip pens require the user to dip the tip of the pen into ink in order to write. The J. Herbin pen's tip looks like a paint brush, and the recessed channels use capillary action to hold additional ink. Instead of drying up after a few letters, this dip pen can write several lines with the help of these ink channels. The tip is rather scratchy, compared to traditional fountain pens; however, it is possible to sand the tip with very fine sandpaper (see this video for details). I don't mind the rough tip, since I only use this pen to write a few lines with each ink. The pen lays down a juicy line that shows off all of the color properties of the ink.

The best part about glass dip pens is that they are incredibly easy to clean. Simply run the pen under a tap and dry with a paper towel. There are no complicated feeds to flush or day-long dry times. The ease of cleaning makes it possible to test several inks in a very short period of time, which is perfect for my Ink Drop subscription.

The J. Herbin Glass Dip Pen is an excellent solution for those looking for an easier way to test inks. The pen leaves a consistently fine line that shows off the best properties of each ink, and it can be cleaned with a simple pass under a faucet. At $30 or so, this pen is a bargain, especially when considering the time saved amidst countless ink swatching and labelling. For those who haven't discovered the wonderful world of inks, it really is half of the fun of owning fountain pens. The best part is that products like the The J. Herbin Glass Dip Pen and Ink Drop make it incredibly cheap and easy to find your perfect color.


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Pilot Parallel Calligraphy Pen Review

The Pilot Parallel is an inexpensive calligraphy pen that's great for getting started with calligraphy without spending a small fortune. I stumbled upon these pens while looking for a cheap pen for testing inks, and they are exactly what I was looking for. The full Pilot Parallel pen set can be found for less that $30 on Amazon and comes with four pens with 1.5, 2.4, 3.8, and 6mm nib sizes.

Each Pilot Parallel pen comes with two mixable ink cartridges, a nib cleaner, bulb syringe for cleaning, and calligraphy guide. The pen is made of plastic and twists apart for easy ink cartridge replacement, like most standard cartridge fountain pens. The Parallel's cap is threaded and caps securely. Its very lightweight plastic body lacks a clip and resembles a paintbrush handle. The pen looks and feels like a $10 pen, but its performance makes up for the cheap first impressions.

The nib of the Pilot Parallel is easily the most interesting part of the pen. The nib is made of two parallel plates, with serrated edges that allow ink to flow out of the tip of the nib. This varies from the standard fountain pen nib design, where the nib sits atop an ink feed that keeps the nib inked. It takes a bit of coaxing to get the ink to flow through the Parallel's feed at first, but the transparent feed gives a good indication of the ink's progress as it approaches the nib. I typically have to tap the nib on paper to get the ink flowing through all of the nib slits, but flow is steady once it gets going.

Pilot states that its Parallel pen is only to be used with the included calligraphy inks, which are very wet. I bought the pens for ink testing, so I was relieved to find that they work with with standard fountain pen inks as well. Wetter inks perform the most consistently, and dryer inks take a bit work to get them to flow through the nib. These pens lay a ton of ink on the page, so be sure to use a higher quality paper to reduce ink feathering. This also means that the pens burn through ink very quickly.

Instead of wasting money on a Pilot converter, I reuse the empty Parallel ink cartridges. These hold a large amount of ink and have a ball bearing agitator that keeps ink from building up in the tip of the cartridge. The cartridges are very easy to clean by flushing with a standard medical syringe. The Pilot Parallel can also be converted to an eye dropper filler with a huge ink capacity, since the body of the pen is sealed. I'm still not brave enough to try this, but it should be fairly easy to do by filling the pen body with ink and adding a bit of silicon grease to the threads for a good seal.

The Pilot Parallel comes with a sheet for cleaning the grooves of the nib as well as a customized bulb syringe for cleaning. The pens takes substantial flushing to clean, but the provided tools really help make the process easier.

I initially purchased a set of Pilot Parallel pens for ink testing, but I find myself dabbling more and more with calligraphy. These pens are a lot of fun to use and are so inexpensive that I have no qualms about throwing the pens in my bag or playing around with different inks. The 2.4mm pen is my favorite of the bunch, and the nib is just the right size for my A5 Rhodia DotPad and Midori Traveler's Notebook. The Pilot Parallel Calligraphy Pen is a fantastic find, and I'm glad that I gave it a shot.

Pilot Parallel Calligraphy Pen Handwritten Review.jpg

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