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Kaweco Deep Red AL Sport fountain pen review

A little bit of history  If you’re a regular reader, you probably already know that we’re quite keen on the Kaweco Sport. It’s a classic design, and works well in a bewilderingly wide range of different materials. Between the mighty heft of the steel and brass versions, and the featherweight lightness of the plastic entry-level models, the pen is also available in sturdy, solid yet far from unwieldy aluminium – and when this Deep Red version hit the shops, we had to give it a go. Kaweco very kindly let us play with the fountain pen along with its mechanical pencil cousin.

How it looks  Very deep red, matt, lustrous and slightly shiny. Paired with the pencil and popped into a ‘chilli red’ sleeve, it looks irresistibly good.

How it feels  Light but tactile. Unless you specifically prefer heavier pens like the brass Sport (as some of us do!), this is a good mid-point on the mass spectrum.

How it fills  As with all Sports this is a straightforward short international cartridge number. There is a converter, and it does work, but the fluid capacity is so limited that investing in a syringe is often the best tactic for long-term cohabitation with this petite performer. The pencil takes 0.7mm lead, and there’s plenty of that around.Crucially, how it writes…  We rather decadently dropped a gold nib into the test pen, and it wrote very nicely; not much springiness, but just a touch of softness. The standard nibs are getting better these days, too!

Pen! What is it good for?  This is one for showing off with, and why not? It gets a lot of envious looks …

VFM  Middling, honestly.  At around £60 this is not a cheap pen, and it will probably cost you more than that on top to get the gold nib. Having said that, this is not a crazily overpriced pen either.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  One of the hundred or so other Sport finishes might well be. Have a browse…

Our overall recommendation  If you’re taken with this finish, get one while you can; although we think it’s excellent, it was a special edition so it may not be available forever.

Where to get hold of one  Kaweco has a good dealership network and the pen and pencil aren’t too difficult to find from your retailer of choice. To get the whole set, with pouch and gold nib, may take a more specialist seller, and for that our tip is to try Most Wanted.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Kaweco for the rather tempting review sample pack; our calligrapher couldn’t bear to let it go!

Kaweco Fox Sport

A little bit of history  There are so many varieties of Kaweco Sport that it can be hard to keep up, sometimes – so a Sport that looks like something you might have to pursue at speed (were you of a bloodthirsty disposition) is perhaps appropriate. This vulpine edition of the Skyline series of Sports is a recent addition to the more affordable end of the range. So how does it behave when you catch one?

How it looks  The shape is, of course, the same as for all Sports. The colour is a reliably foxy dark orange (don’t show it a beagle), with a few silvery highlights. It’s a classy presentation.

How it feels  Light and, inevitably, not as substantial as the metal Sports – but it’s not going to fall apart any time soon, and it won’t give you an aching hand after long writing sessions either.

How it fills  The Sport has a legion of fans who also own a syringe, and refilling a cartridge is probably the best way to get a decent supply of ink. There is also a tiny push-rod converter, and it actually does work, but the ink capacity is very modest.

Crucially, how it writes…  This really does depend upon the nib you choose. Our feeling is that quality control has improved for Kaweco’s standard steel nibs, but for a bit of fun we swapped-in an italic nib from one of the calligraphy Sports (a fairly simple friction-fit operation). That wrote with a with a pleasantly distinctive line which belied the modest price, and we’d love to see it made a standard option in future.

Pen! What is it good for?  With a round nib it’s probably a good starter pen, and with an italic nib it could appeal to the more grown-up customer base too.

VFM  At under £20, this is decent value – no complaints there.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Pick a different Sport; there are dozens to choose from!

Our overall recommendation  If you like the colour, and you’re already a happy owner of a Sport or two, get one before it bounds over the hedge.

Where to get hold of one  There are plenty of online sources for this pen, and even a few bricks-and-mortar sellers too; you’re unlikely to have any difficulty finding one.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Kaweco for providing some of us with a review sample – Ant liked it so much he bought his own!

Italix Chaplain’s Tankard

A little bit of history  Italix is an increasingly legendary name in fountain pen circles, having been made famous by the Parson’s Essential model in particular, and we’ve reviewed a couple of their models very positively before. The usual modus operandi is to commission an inexpensively-manufactured body from China and fit it with a high-quality German (generally JoWo) nib which has been ground, fettled and finished by the proprietor – Mr.Pen himself. It’s been a winning formula previously, so we were keen to get our hands on the latest offering…

How it looks  This is very much a black resin and gold trim affair, which looks like it could have come straight out of Miss Marple’s drawing room. It is the very essence of the ‘classic’ look. No alternative trims or finishes are available yet so it’s a case of ‘like it or lump it’, but our reviewers certainly approved.

How it feels  A fairly light pen, this is well-balanced in the hand and there are no distractions from the feel of the nib on the paper – which is just as it should be. What it doesn’t feel is cheap , and that might be a pleasant surprise when you see the price tag.

How it fills  The tankard in question is, in this case, not a pewter beer-jug but a captured converter, which adds a bit of variety to filling procedures. You can take off the whole barrel and twist the converter as normal, but if you prefer there is a blind cap at the end of the barrel which exposes a substantial turning knob. This harks back to old-fashioned piston-fillers, and is quite handy if you’re trying to siphon up the last drops of ink at the bottom of a bottle. There was a moment of confusion when this pen first came out and it was advertised as a button-filler, which is properly a quite different mechanism, but don’t let that worry you.

Crucially, how it writes…  As ever that depends upon which nib you opt for, but the italic nib our test pen  was fitted wrote impressively smoothly, to the point that it could actually be a ‘daily driver’ pen if you wished. Not too many people have the chutzpah to do that these days, but if you want to stand out from the crowd this is an affordable way to do so!

Pen! What is it good for?  While it’s tempting to suggest that the Chaplain’s Tankard would look the part on stage at your next am-dram Agatha Christie staging, that would be a bit of a waste of such an enjoyable nib. We’d suggest it’s one to take to work if you feel you can get away with it, or keep at home for writing letters if you want to impress family and friends.

VFM  For a mere £28 this is, frankly, an absolute bargain. You’d be hard-pressed to find a mid-range pen with a top-flight range of steel nibs like this from other marques, and the personal service available if you have any specialist needs or preferences around italic or oblique nibs really puts the cherry on the cake.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Then the chances are that one of the other Italix designs will be more to your taste.

Our overall recommendation  While the filling system is not a huge novelty really, this is a nicely balanced pen with such a targeted range of nibs that you’ll almost certainly be able to find one which is a real pleasure to use. For such a modest sum we’d encourage you to give it a try, especially if you don’t have an italic nib in your collection yet.

Where to get hold of one  This is available straight from the source and that’s just how we’d recommend buying it. There are sometimes ways to access Italix pens on other platforms, but cutting out the middle-man makes sense and eases the path to after-care if needed.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Mr. Pen for kindly providing this review sample.

 

Kaweco Student 70s Soul fountain pen meta-review

A little bit of history  The original nineteenth-century Kaweco sold its wares from a shop adjacent to the University of Heidelberg, whose students had an unfortunate habit of slicing wedges out of each others’ cheeks to prove their prowess (or, presumably, lack of it) at fencing.  The pen, as we all know, is mightier than the sword, and the Student is on sale still. QED.

How it looks  As regards the shape, the pen looks much like any other Kaweco Student; a traditional form in good quality plastics, with the 060 (small #5) Bock nib already known to many writers from the Sport and Lilliput pens. But things go a little zany when it comes to the colour scheme, which in this case appears to have been inspired by the furnishings of a hotel lobby, circa 1976. It walked into the party, like it was walking onto a yacht, its hat strategically dipped below one eye, its scarf, it was apricot. You get the picture.

How it feels  This is a comfortable pen to hold, and the slightly concave grip section helps with that. The cap is light enough to post when writing, although unlike the Sport the Student doesn’t require this for the pen to be usable. 

How it fills  This is a straightforward cartridge filler, but there is space enough in the barrel for a standard push-fit converter if you prefer.

Crucially, how it writes…The ’70s Soul’ edition comes with a gold-plated steel nib which writes very nicely – indeed, the units we tested had one of the best small steel nibs that we’d encountered in a Kaweco.

Pen! What is it good for?  Obviously it’s great for swanning onto a yacht with a floppy beret and an apricot scarf, but apart from that it seems just the thing for the more flamboyant sort of workplace, or possibly even the side of the catwalk. Perhaps not one to take to a duel, though…

VFM  So-so. The usual Student is pretty sound value, usually at around £40 on the UK market. The 70s Soul adds a 50% up-lift to that, and £60 is a bit harder to justify unless this nostalgic costume strongly appeals; for that sort of money, you can obtain the aluminium or brass versions of the Sport, which use the same nib but are made from essentially indestructible materials.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Then you have most individual tastes! For a colour scheme along these lines, the vintage market is probably the best place to look. But if you like the shape and just don’t consider the 1970s the decade of peak elegance, the main Student range is worth a look – our tip is the demonstrator version.

Our overall recommendation  If you’re buying a present for someone who still owns some Fleetwood Mac on vinyl, or a hipster who is under the impression that a classic MGB is a viable means of transport, this is a winner. Unlike the old turntables and wheezing sports cars, it actually works rather well, too!

Where to get hold of one  Kaweco has a good network of stockists throughout Europe, including the UK, and  you’re unlikely to have any difficulty finding a retailer who can sell you a Student. If you particularly want this colour scheme, though, you may need to act sooner rather than later.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Kaweco for sending us this interesting retro curiosity to try.

 

Shibui-North profile

We catch up with up-and-coming urushi master, Ruth Bolton…

Tell us about Shibui!  It’s a tricky term to translate into English, but can mean the way that objects obtain an accidental beauty over time; it’s random, so it’s unique, and improves as it gets older. The ‘north’ bit of the name is because I’m based in sunny Tyneside.

So how did you end up getting into the ancient art of urushi? It wasn’t planned, but I lived in Japan for six years and in an attempt to learn the language I thought I’d give night classes a try. Getting to grips with urushi varnishing techniques looked like a good way to go in at the deep end, and one thing led to another.

Was it about pens right from the start? Not really – that was another benign accident! I inherited a lathe from my grandfather, and although turning wood was hard work I found I got on very well with ebonite. It’s smelly stuff to work with, but the results are worth it. Then, having seen urushi-finished pens in Japan, I put two and two together. It’s been a busy time ever since…

How complex is the process? Very! Turning the pen in ebonite is one of the fastest parts , really – that and adding a Bock nib at the end. But urushi is all about the finish, and that can take up to fifty coats for each piece. The coats have to dry slowly, in a humid atmosphere to avoid cracking; I use an old cigar humidor to regulate that, but it can still take up to three months overall.

What’s next? More textures and finishes. My urushi designs are selling well through Kickstarter, I’m working on a shark-skin texture next, and prototyping a maki-e finish too. It’s a long learning process, but a fascinating one. It’s amazing the things that can make the key difference, too – I’m using a sea sponge to create the coral negoro effect of my latest design.

You can see more of Ruth’s remarkable designs on her own website and her current Kickstarter campaign too. We’re hoping to put one of her pens through the legendary United Inkdom meta-review process later in the year.

Newsnibs special – Made For Ink!

Hot news – well, as hot as it can reasonably get in this unseasonably frosty weather… Rutland’s very own stationery supremo, known to us all for his previous exploits as the provider of Personalised Stationery, has just branched-out into a line of notebooks specifically crafted for fountain pens and tested by several members of the Fountain Pens UK Facebook group.  Logically enough, it’s called madefor.ink!

We’ll get a meta-review of some of these products together as soon as testing schedules allow, but in the meantime there’s a quick review of the EDC pocket notebook already up and, more importantly, the site is celebrating World Fountain Pen Day with a handy discount: use the code PENSAREGREAT to get 20% off. Well, that’s a message we can all agree with.

Inventery modular fountain pen review

A little bit of history  No-one’s quite sure when and where the concept of modular design first arose. Architecture has a fairly strong claim to being the founding school, and Brunel’s prefabricated hospitals created for despatch to the Crimea get frequent mentions, but the Norman prefabricated castles shipped over the Channel in 1066 shared many characteristics and, as you won’t be surprised to hear that the Romans had thought of something similar, the essentials of the concept are there in Vitruvius too. What perhaps is surprising is that it’s taken this long to take hold in the fountain pen world. So American firm The Inventery got on with making up for lost time, and sent us one or two to check out.

How it looks  Like a short plain tube or a slightly longer plain tube, depending upon whether you choose to install the extender section. The shape is otherwise fairly featureless, but there’s a fair range of materials and finishes, from plain aluminium and matt black to shiny brass.

How it feels  Small, to be direct about it.  Unextended, it’s just about long enough for brief use as long as the cap is posted. With the extender fitted, it’s long enough to use like a standard pen, but a little top-heavy with the cap posted.How it fills The ‘pocket’ configuration will fit only a small international cartridge, but the extended version has space for a proper twist converter.

Crucially, how it writes…  Tolerably. The small steel Schmidt nib is nothing fancy, but does the job adequately enough as long as you’re not after flex or flair. There is also a rollerball tip in the pack, if you’re into that sort of thing –  which, seeing as you’re reading a fountain pen website, is less than guaranteed, but moving swiftly on…Pen! What is it good for?  It’s good for, depending upon your point of view, customisers who like to regularly reconfigure and re-invent their pocket pen, or for terminally indecisive fidgets!

VFM  This is probably not Inventery’s strongest point, at least when it comes to fountain pens. There are plenty of surplus attachments in the kit to play with, but once you have found the formula which works for you the chances are that you’ll stick with it – and that inevitably means that there will be waste. Waste can be expensive, too; for what this admittedly curious and interesting combo costs, you could get one of the solid metal versions of Kaweco’s proven Sport and be most of the way to acquiring a high-quality gold nib for it too.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Try some different shapes and sizes of fountain pen and, when you find one which you like enough to put it in your pocket straight away, buy that.

Our overall recommendation Is to think carefully about why you’re contemplating buying this. If it’s a present for someone who perhaps isn’t a huge pen addict but really enjoys dismantling and rebuilding things, it might go down very well. If you’re a fountain pen aficionado, though, we’d say that this is fun and interesting, but maybe not a high-priority purchase.

Where to get hold of one  Direct from Inventery is simplest. Alternatively, we’ll be giving away one of the kits we tested as part of our Yule frenzy, which is only a few months away after all – so keep watching!

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Inventery for sending us some samples to test.

 

 

Elrohir notebook covers

A little bit of history  Tolkien left more entertainment for etymologists than anthropologists in his writings, and the latter would probably not be wildly impressed at the idea of a being who was half knight, and half elf. Such, however, was supposedly the provenance of Elrohir, and it’s a fitting name to borrow for a product made in a stable, using saddle-making techniques – although we can confirm that no elves were employed in the making of this review.  The Elrohir operation is in fact run by a very nice human called Mischa, based in Wales rather than Rivendell, and we were encouraged to find out more about what she does by one of our regular readers from Middle Earth (well, Melton Mowbray, but it’s near enough). What came our way were two remarkable notebook covers; an A6 steampunk number and a blue A5 mandala affair, complete with multiple interesting refills.

How they look  Frankly astonishing. Everyone we show these to responds with some variety of ‘wow’. The designs are embossed, so they’re quite tactile too.  The range is quite a challenge to describe, so a quick look at Elrohir’s Etsy page is worthwhile now. No, seriously, right now!

How it feels  Weighty, rugged, and ready to last a life-time – and yet remarkably refined. Like the sort of saddle you’d put on a thoroughbred, probably.

How it fills  With as many simple cahier-style exercise book refills as you care to thread in. The A5 version we tested could take five or six, which did make it a bit tough to hold flat and write in – but of course thinner versions can be made available with a swift email to Mischa. Customisation is very much encouraged.

Crucially, how it copes with a fountain pen…  Mischa’s own inserts come in a variety  of plain and coloured papers, and all we’ve tested so far seem happy making friends with a proper nib. They look the part next to a real pen, too.

Book! What is it good for?  These are built to last, but we think maybe a little too lovely to take to work (unless you work with elves, of course). For a travel journal, recipe collection or grimoire-in-development, though, it’s almost certainly exactly the thing.

VFM  These cost about 30% more than the equivalent standard product from Start Bay – so not cheap, but nevertheless remarkably reasonable for such an unusual product. We certainly couldn’t complain.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  These are two very fine examples of Mischa’s craft, but if you prefer something a bit different – a cover depicting bats flitting through the night sky, perhaps – it’s worth having a look at the Elrohir range. We’ve yet to come across anything quite comparable from another maker.

Our overall recommendation  Have a browse, save a few pennies, and get one. If you’re after a robustly decorative notebook cover, these will take some beating.

Where to get hold of one  Go straight to the source and talk to Mischa! Her Etsy page is a good place to start.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Mischa for getting a couple of amazing samples our way. Most of us didn’t want to let them go, and that’s a recommendation!

Sheeny blue inks shoot-out

A little bit of history  Once upon a time in the west, or the western hemisphere at least, there were fine upstanding fountain pen makers like Parker, whose Penmanship Blue had a nice, subtle, red sheen on it, which made handwriting shimmer gently in the right light and, thirty years later, made otherwise sensible shoppers absolutely do a nut-job and blow staggering piles of cash on half-empty bottles just to dip their nibs in this apparently magical writing elixir. It got a bit silly, frankly. Then ink specialists here in this century started making their own, and things became calm and sensible once more. Well, mostly. Here are three of the new contenders, from Amurrka, Oz and Blighty, slugging it out head-to-head – as if civilised ink would stoop to anything of the sort! Tsk.

How it looks  Our three selected inks all look like high-quality, but ordinary, blue inks as they go on to the page. Robert Oster’s Fire & Ice is a light blue verging on turquoise, Diamine’s Germany-only Skull & Roses is a richer ‘royal’ blue, and Organics Studio’s Nitrogen Blue is somewhere in between. Then, once dried, they exhibit a red sheen when you twist them in oblique light. It’s a neat trick.

How it behaves on the paper Perfectly well; these all come from serious ink manufacturers with reputations to protect, so there are no major problems. Drying times can occasionally be longer than expected, however, particularity for Nitrogen.How it behaves in the pen  Again, pretty much as standard fountain pen ink does, although sheen inks can lead to a build-up of sediment eventually – and several of us have found ebonite feeds turning a fetching shade of red! Fortunately, it’s nothing that a good rinse won’t fix.

Ink! What is it good for?  The art of correspondence may be dying fast, but if anything’s going to bring it back it must surely be the excuse to use inks as alluring as these. It makes boring blue interesting again, after all.

VFM  Good quality sheening ink is generally a ‘premium’ product at present so you may have to pay a little more – but if you enjoy the effect, you’re unlikely to find the modest uplift a major penalty.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  There are more ink makers jumping on this band-wagon all the time – for instance, we’re hearing good things about Krishna Moonview. Or you could mortgage your home, sell a couple of major organs and buy some Parker Penmanship, of course…

Our overall recommendation  Give it a go. The effect is very pleasing and the ink is easy to live with, even in fussy thoroughbred pens. Skull & Roses is the trickiest to get hold of despite being made here in the UK, but that’s just the result of an exclusive deal – and Diamine could undoubtedly come up with something even better for full global distribution in due course. In the meantime, Fire &Ice if you like Turquoise, or Nitrogen if you like full-on royal blue with all the trimmings, are well worth a try.

Where to get hold of some  For Skull & Roses, you have to buy from Germany – but there are numerous tintenshoppingspecialisten (Nein, das ist kein Neologismus!) on the web, or even Amazon if you really get stuck. Executive Pens Direct stocks Fire & Ice, while The Writing Desk carries Nitrogen amongst a a fairly wide range of Organics inks. A bit of internet research will produce the goods without too much heavy trawling.

This shoot-out meta-review references:

Thanks to  Diamine for the rare sample of Skull & Roses, Executive Pens Direct for the sample of Robert Oster’s Fire & Ice, and The Writing Desk for shipping some Nitrogen this side of the pond.

Randall fountain pen ink review

A little bit of history  Randall Reeves, who generally doesn’t bother much with his last name, is a buccaneering fellow who likes a nautical challenge and half, and not content with mere global circumnavigation has created a new problem to solve; getting around the Americas, and then around Antarctica, in a figure of eight pattern. North-west passage, roaring forties, Bermuda Triangle and all. It’s a lot of effort just to see both polar bears and penguins on the same voyage, but it’s hard not admire the chutzpah. As it happens, our friend Nick Stewart, calligrapher extraordinaire, is distantly related and decided to dedicate to Randall the best sort of tribute  he could imagine – an ink, of course!

How it looks  Diamine are capable of making really interesting inks when asked nicely, and Nick clearly knew what he wanted to achieve in collaborating with them to mix up something a bit special. The result is as changeable as the sea itself; lots of blues of varying depth, with a red sheen at sunset and/or shiny paper – which is where the maritime analogies break down a bit, but you get the gist. We were favourably impressed, to say the least!

How it writes  This is quite saturated stuff and may present one or two challenges when it comes to rinsing out demonstrators after use, but the flow is much like any other Diamine – which is to say not the absolute wettest one can get (that’s KWZ), but fine for almost all fountain pens.

Ink! What is it good for?  You could probably take it to work if you wanted, or save it for your private journal. But this is made for art, calligraphy and big messy doodles. Have fun with it – it’s what it’s for.

VFM  Pretty good considering that it’s a limited edition, and early buyers get a piece of art created with the ink itself as a sweetener.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  There, are, to be fair, new blue-with-red-sheen inks coming on to the market all the time. It’s a tintenzeitgeist sort of thing. But few of the alternatives come with the imprimatur of an actual proper calligrapher and a link to round-several-continents yachtsman, if that’s what really, erm, floats your boat.

Our overall recommendation  Some bias has to be admitted here. Nick is a regular contributor to United Inkdom and, naturally, we like what he does. But this honestly looks like a limited edition worth grabbing while it lasts, if multi-tonal marine inks are your bag.

Where to get hold of some  The only way is to ask Nick Stewart nicely, right here. You might even get one of these nice artworks to boot – all created with the same ink, of course.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Nick for the samples, and of course Randall for the inspiration