Tag Archives: Shibui-North

The crafty fox is back!

A little bit of history  We’ve been tracking the development of Ruth’s Japanese-influenced Tyneside pen project Shibui-North pretty much since its inception, and the results keep tempting us to try things out for ourselves. So when the little Kitsune’s big sibling came along, we had to give it a run!

How it looks  Like a medium-sized long-ish pocket pen, which is pretty much what it is. Several hallmarks make it stand out, however: the cut-out ink window, the Hokusai wave inscription on the nib and the geometrically etched barrel imprint. Bland and everyday it certainly ain’t.

How it feels  Solid, grippy and, thanks to aluminium construction, fairly light. That said, balance is a personal thing and this seems to suit those who particularly like medium-length pens best. Fans of small pocket pens may find it a touch over-long for perfect balance and, conversely, full-size pen afficionados may feel it’s a bit on the short side. Much comes down to personal preference, with this one.

How it fills  This is the converter version of the Kitsune, which tells you most of what you need to know. There’s space for a full size converter, and a blind cap which twists off at the back end to make refilling a touch simpler. The resulting ink capacity is a bit of a step up from the tiny converters which fit small pocket pens, too.

Crucially, how it writes…  It’s a Bock steel nib, so writes just as expected; fairly smoothly, with reliable flow and the slightest hint of bounce.

Pen! What is it good for?  To our minds this is still a pocket pen, albeit for people with relatively large pockets – if only in the literal sense. It could even be an everyday note-taker – although with a robust set of threads undoing that cap does involve a few seconds of rotation in between jottings.

VFM  It took us a little while to test this design, and the exact model is no longer on sale. But the Pocket Fox is similar, with a shorter international cartridge, for around £100 to £110 usually – not bad for a hand-made pen with an interesting finish and Geordie bragging rights.

The only way is ethics  It’s made by a human being who you can contact and have a chat with first, right here in Blighty, and packaged responsibly. What’s not to like?

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Go shorter or go longer, in, err, short. The cut-down version is now known as the ‘Pocket Fox’ and looks the business in all sorts of finishes. Fans of longer pens may prefer the gracefully curved Tombo, meanwhile.

Our overall recommendation  Find the right balance for you, then take the plunge.

Where to get hold of one  Direct from Ruth, the maker, either in person at a pen show or via her website.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Ruth for the review sample

Shibui.North Kibo metal/urushi fountain pen

A little bit of history  The history of urushi pen-making is probably beyond a quick piece on United Inkdom – but Mick has had a go at covering it in his review below! Our focus is perhaps more on the remarkable person trying to bring that tradition to new life on Tyneside. Ruth has studied in Japan and can read the manuals in the original, but she is determined to make something in her own style – and the results are truly extraordinary.

How it looks  The Kibo resembles… nothing else on earth. It’s a big hunk of hand-turned metal with urushi finishing which looks like it grew there over decades on another planet. Picking it up for a closer inspection is irresistibly tempting.

How it feels  The copper prototype we tested feels darned heavy, no doubt about it. If you like very substantial pens, this is splendid news. If that sounds a little intimidating, opt for aluminium – which looks just as remarkable. The urushi-derived finish also has a pleasantly tactile quality and lends a bit of extra grip, too.

How it fills  There’s room for a long international cartridge or a standard converter there, which should suit most needs.

Crucially, how it writes…  The Kibo takes a Bock #6, so how it writes is up to you! We popped a red lacquered steel unit on for this test, but if you prefer something less garish, the options are extensive. The weight of the pen is actually just right for writing.

Pen! What is it good for?  Signing weighty contracts, writing journals on robust paper (don’t use Tomoe!) – or, in extremis, defending yourself from marauders. In between, you might just find yourself staring at it in wonder.

VFM  The current Kickstarter has this individually-made artisan product for the ludicrously modest price of £120 for bare metal, or £150 for the yaketsuki finish. That’s a bargain, in our books. Everyone who has tested the prototype so far has found themselves putting in an order for a Shibui pen, which probably tells you all you need to know.

The only way is ethics  Ruth’s the real deal and we’ve got no qualms about materials, pricing or packaging here.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Talk to Ruth and work out a custom design. There are plenty of variations possible on the theme.

Our overall recommendation  If you like the idea of a Japanese pen-maker plying here trade on these shores, now might be the time to back this new brand. The Kibo is a remarkable writing tool at an extraordinarily reasonable price point, and it should be start of great things to come, too.

Where to get hold of one  Right now, Kickstarter is the place to be if you want one of these.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Ruth for letting us take part in the birth of a beauty!

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 Instagram page, and we’re planning to put one of her pens through the legendary United Inkdom meta-review process later in the year.