Small, but perfectly formed

17 01 2022

No, not Mrs E. – though the same could be said there too.

As copiously documented elsewhere on these pages, I have a thing for matte black pens. I also like unusual designs – well executed engineering, not blinged out monstrosities. I also fall foul of the marketer’s FOMO lure on occasion, but only if the price is not outrageous. Sometimes I’m disappointed (like with my Conklin LE Duraflex demonstrator, (No 200 of 898), which while operating perfectly adequately as a writing instrument is nevertheless a travesty of poor execution, with great globs and smears of glue being visible through the clear plastic).

Back in November as advert from ENSSO in California caught my eye. It was for a limited edition of their ITALIA model, made entirely in Copper. Lovely… sign me up. I’ve had a thing for copper patina ever since seeing the extreme examples on various buildings in the UK.

Only downside was that it wasn’t shipping until January. (I’m glad to report it’s on its way as I type.) Hopefully it won’t languish in the USPS system before getting handed over to Canada Post. There’s a stock photo of it here. But I’m sure you know how these things spiral out of control (you’re reading this page, after all!). You begin by looking at one thing, and end up looking at another. Before you know where you are, you’re looking at a neat looking “stealth” pocket pen for the very reasonable sum of US$35. And then there’s the discount for first time buyers, and well, you know…

Source: ENSSO

So anyway, today the ENSSO XS turned up, and it was not quite what I expected. Not in any bad way, mind – it is certainly full-on stealth… matte black section, barrel and cap. PVD (Physical Vapour Deposition) Bock No 5 medium nib. Nary a photon escaping its surface…

But, well, it’s even smaller than I’d anticipated! When they say XS, they mean it! I guess I’d imagined something similar to an AL Sport. This is a machined Aluminium pen (and very well executed, I might add), and it’s tiny. This is basically the same dimensions as a Kaweco Liliput.

It came in a simple branded cardboard box with the pen, a clip, a single unbranded short cartridge (black of course) and a couple of O-rings. More about those later.

ENSSO XS

The pen is machined into a 12-faceted cylinder, with slight chamfering at the cap/barrel join to avoid any sharp edges. Both ends of the pen have a slight conical finish, perhaps a millimetre in height. The very end of the barrel has the only visible branding of ēnsso, and the entire pen is powder coated black. It feels very even and semi-industrial… perfect!

A closer look at the end of the barrel will reveal a slight recess that holds an O-ring in place… very firmly. Another O-ring is in a similar recess on the section and holds the cap in place through friction. Whether the cap is placed closed over the nib or at the back of the barrel to extend it to a full size pen, it is held surprisingly well in place, and there’s a definite engaged/not engaged transition with remarkably little slop between the two. The inside of the cap has a machined ridge/recess which makes for a very satisfying click whether the cap is being used to cover the nib or extend the barrel.

Time will tell how secure this friction fit remains, but the inclusion of two spare O-rings leaves me confident it’s a distant future me problem.

The box included a clip, and though I don’t feel the need to use it, I was impressed to see that it too was machined with the 12-sided design, and not relying on a circular clip to merely have the vertices of the cap to grip on. Given my usage habits, I do not fear this faceted pen rolling anywhere, nor do I feel the need to clip it to any pocket. Nice to know I could though.

ENSSO XS cap is designed to fit the 12-sided cap or barrel

The business end of the pen is a No 5 Bock steel nib (mine’s a medium), and is PVD coated black to match the aesthetic. The leaping mountain goat looks very sleek in all-black

No 5 PVD black Bock steel nib

The barrel takes a standard short international cartridge (I opted to christen the pen with Kaweco Smokey Grey rather than the no-name black it came with), and is not long enough to take even a Kaweco Sport converter. Nor for that matter is the similarly short Kaweco Liliput.

Comparison of ENSSO XS and Kaweco Liliput

The above photo compares the Liliput to the XS. You can see how the XS has a longer section, but shorter barrel. It is only slightly longer than the fully seated short cartridge, whereas the Liliput could at least theoretically hold a half-filled converter (though there’s little point).

In use, it’s slightly longer than the Liliput, despite being almost identical in dimensions when closed.

Kaweco AL Sport, ENSSO XS, Kaweco Liliput

The XS has the longest section of the three pocket pens I compared. In most other regards it’s similar to the Liliput, and I think it will serve as a convenient, unobtrusively carried note-taker rather than a long writing session tool. We’ll see… I’m quite adept at ignoring my most well laid plans.





Personal Values

15 01 2022

Don’t worry – this isn’t about COVID or anti-vaxxers. It’s about value and cost. A bit. Mainly it’s about me just typing stuff as it comes into my head. So – unfiltered naïveté mainly. (And the fun of hunting down all those rarely used characters on the keyboard).

I grew up in a less wealthy part of the UK, but I can’t say I really needed for anything. Sure, as a kid in the 70s I wanted for plenty… but I think I shared that with even the most wealthy of my cohort. And every kid before or since!

My parents did a pretty good job though, and I was fed, sheltered and watered as well as any plant. We’ll gloss over Bretford Nylons and pig’s liver (here‘s a fancy version I was never fed), and focus on the fact I am still an active, contributing member of society several decades later. Job well done, mum and dad!

But there was a practical part to my upbringing – and therefore subliminal education – that tended to appreciate “value”. This is often characterised and even caricaturised as people from Yorkshire being “tight-fisted” or at best “careful with their money”. Personally I see no fault in trying to get the best return from one’s hard-earned money. Especially as for many in the North, it was very hard earned.

But there’s a huge difference – and this wasn’t always appreciated by me at the time – between high value and low cost. Low cost items may not be high value. They may be “cheap” but poorly made, such as colouring pencils that break as soon as one looks at them too suddenly. Their value is therefore low, despite the low cost… you may well end up throwing them away and not getting much use at all.

Or, alternatively, they can be low priced simply due to the mode of manufacture and low raw materials cost. Paper tissues are incredibly low cost per sheet, but they are manufactured in the millions to be used once and discarded. Arguably discount tissues are good value, because they perform as expected despite the low price point… and arguably low expectations of any tissue. Paying 3 times more for a premium tissue doesn’t improve its effectiveness. Its value in use remains essentially the same, but its increased cost reduces its monetary value.

Similarly, many Japanese manufactured goods – say an electronic device such as a TV – can offer great value because for a given price point they may well offer superior build quality, features, or less tangible things such as warranty than other brands. That value is therefore relative to similar offerings at the price point, and not merely measured by its cost.

Value is a weird concept as one delves into it because it’s highly fluid.

Water (maybe “fluid” prompted the example) is incredibly valuable because, quite simply, without it we die! Aside from air, it’s hard to think of something with more absolute value! Yet we complain that the price of bottled water is too much in a café. The reason of course is contextual. At that moment, we’re in the café for recreational reasons (and in absolute terms reasonably well hydrated, despite any thirst we may perceive) – to enjoy a pleasant few moments with friends or perhaps to catch up on our studies and annoy other customers who can’t now sit down because we’ve taken up an entire table for 6 with our text books.

The water’s price is more likely a function of the brand label on the plastic bottle containing it. Whatever the reason, in a café, it’s unlikely to be a life-threatening situation in which the price of the water is a mortal matter. In other places, in other times, it is exactly that, and the price one is willing to pay goes way beyond any financial measure. Indeed there are countless lives that have been lost in order to attain or control even muddy, polluted water, where the alternative is the ultimate price: death.

Admittedly, an example in the extreme, but my take-away is that “good value” and “low cost” do not share a consistent relationship, and the value of an item, even at a fixed cost, may vary by situation.

So called luxury goods add a whole new twist to “value”. A peculiarly human thing, we associate value to the very concept of brand. A name, a logo, even a colour – it is amazing that simply by applying it to an article we can somehow increase its desirability (contextually) and therefore increase its perceived value. Someone in need of a bag to haul their groceries sees no additional value in a bag branded Louis Vuitton, over one branded Morrisons. Someone on the other hand who is keen to be perceived as glamorous when out and about may see huge “value” in the former, and an actual negative value in being seen with a supermarket carrier bag.

And so we come to fountain pens. A device that has moved from a workaday functional item in the 1920s to a less common or even luxury item in the 21st century.

There are those amongst us who perceive fountain pens merely as “coloured plastic sticks with ink coming out of (hopefully) one end”. Indeed – this would then apply to any number of technologies including gel pens and Biros. If you’re merely looking for something to write with – they’re all of equal value…

There are others that enjoy the history of the engineering discoveries that allows the ink to be delivered in a controlled, even manner; the chemistry in the various types of inks; the different methods of paper manufacture. Every mode of human activity has its nerds.

There are the “brand whores” who prefer Montblanc or any number of Italian brands because of the name, and irrespective of any design issues – confusing brand marketing with quality. Like those in North America who value Mercedes “because it’s posh” and are dumb-founded to find almost all taxis in Germany are Mercedes.

Each finds value through their own lens.

Then there are the pen users – and of course they may also reside in one or more of the previous arbitrary categories too. I consider myself one of these.

I enjoy writing with a fountain pen. I appreciate a nicely executed pen design. I love the way my Parker Vacumatic looks, I enjoy the history of its design… and I hate the way it writes. Not because it’s in any way defective, but I simply don’t like extra fine (EF) nibs… which is how this one was made back in the early 1940s. A thing of beauty, not inconsiderable financial value, but rarely used by myself and therefore unappreciated (unvalued) at some level.

At the other extreme, I own many sub-$20 pens that I love on all fronts and use regularly. They write well, they’re reliable, they feel solid, and I like the way they look. In the middle ground are some older Parkers, a couple of Opus 88s, Narwhal and many other new and vintage offerings. I enjoy and use all of them (even the Parker Vacumatic on occasion), but I have to admit that the lower cost ones most often offer the biggest bang for the buck.

Like the tissue, they do what is expected just as well as many higher priced offerings, and though they may not have the brand cachet of more expensive pens they often look just as good, display equally high design features and at the end of the day, lay just as bad an example of ones handwriting on the page as the most expensive Montblanc.

My most recent acquisition was a Jinhao 95, which slipped into the cart when I bought a Jinhao 9035. I have a few “types” when it comes to pens, and this one appealed to my love of stealth pens. I love the vintage green marble look as displayed on my vintage Mabie Todd, Wyvern and others. I love all-metal pens such as the Parker 25 and other Parker “Flighters”. I have an all-copper Retro 51 Tornado, for example, as well as a Kaweco Brass Sport. And then there’s the “stealth” style. These are all-black pens, ideally including the nib.

Historically of course many pens were all-black, though usually this was (still is, in fact) a high gloss black and often accompanied by chrome/silver trim or gold trim – often abbreviated to CT or GT in pen-parlance. Stealth style pens in contrast use a matte black finish to barrel, cap and section, trim that is black or no trim at all, and ideally a black PVD (physical vapour deposition) coated nib. Cheaper offerings simply paint the nib.

The Jinhao 95 I selected fit the bill perfectly, and was right at home with other pens of the style I already owned.

Jinhao 95, Lamy Studio, Hong Dian 517D

The overall finish is very similar to the black Studio LX I own, though the matte finish is ever so slightly more reflective. The metal parts are all a smoky very dark grey, including a firm, serviceable clip and “JINHAO” and “95” engraved on the cap’s lip. The cap has a plastic liner to prevent the nib drying out, and the seal is so effective that the cap makes a gunshot crack as it clips shut.

The nib is a standard Jinhao steel No 5 nib with the usual border decoration, horse and chariot logo and Jinhao F on it. As mentioned, this model comes with a black-painted nib, which is housed in a removable nib unit for ease of swapping by unscrewing. There is a slight step up to the barrel from the section, but it is smooth and inobtrusive to the grip when writing.

I inked my pen with Diamine’s Peach Punch, as obtained from the 2021 advent calendar. I find this particular ink needs a little dwell time or a wet nib to get the best from its shading capabilities, and that meant having to press a little harder with this stiff nib than I’d really like to. I have no concerns about damaging the nib, but it just makes for a less enjoyable writing experience. A wetter, more saturated ink or maybe a broader nib at some point might solve that. This totally serviceable but nail-like nib is my only (very mild) gripe.

The inner collar holding the standard converter and having the threads for the barrel to screw to is also made from the same smoky grey finished metal as the other fittings, giving a classy feel to even the hidden parts of the pen.

All fit and finish points are well executed – there’s no wobbly cap or uncertain threads. I’m sure the matte finish will not stand up unmarked to years of abuse, but then I’m not sure my much more expensive Lamy Studio’s will either! I paid around CAD$6 for this pen, delivered. (Well over $100 for the Lamy). That puts it in the price range of a disposable Pilot V-pen or an all-plastic Platinum Preppy. They are all excellent designs, built to a price, but the heft and feel of this pen is far superior to either, and is all metal. I myself prefer the look of this Jinhao, but at the end of the day, perceived value is a very personal and situational concept.





I can stop. Anytime I like.

15 01 2022

Habits come in many forms.

Some are good habits, like automatically washing your hands when you’ve been to the loo or, just as importantly – in the COVID times – as soon as you re-enter your home.

Some are bad habits, like smoking or incessantly tapping on the edge of your desk when you’re working at home (according to the lovely Mrs E.).

Some are fashionably very questionable in the 21st century.

The thing habits have in common (unless they’re the scratchy wool kind) is that they’re automatic subconscious actions or processes and very hard to unlearn. No. 3 offspring educated me to the unsupported “fact” that it’s of the order of 3 months to “unlearn” a habit. He read it on the interwebs, so it must be true.

Smokers are often heard stating some variation of “I’m not addicted – I can stop any time I want.” It’s the sufficiently wanting to that is often the crux of the issue, though even with that firmly in one’s sight, a true habit still takes much breaking and all too often is readily reacquired. The share-holders of Weight Watchers International bank on it in fact. Literally.

So – enter fountain pens. As a school kid somehow earning a local government scholarship to a grammar school (now a private school beyond the reach of many – yay capitalism), I was required to use a fountain pen. A few came and went – either through the natural rigours of teenage schooling, or occasionally from poor manufacture (looking at you Platignum… just sayin’).

As I grew older though, and entered the sixth form, I acquired a “proper” pen – a Parker 45 – and that saw me through the rest of my formal educational years including university. Being subsequently employed in the newly minted dark arts of computer programming (AKA “the 80’s” for those studying modern history) I had less and less need of an analogue writing stick.

I did occasionally reach for a disposable fountain pen – mainly for the chance to use outlandish colours like green or purple. These were still the days of sedentary Blue/Black Quink ink for fountain pens, but the wily Japanese were busily cross pollinating what they’d learnt from gel pens into more exciting alternatives (if not entirely environmentally sound ones) for fountain pens. It was literally decades before I realised one could refill/reuse a “disposable” fountain pen.

Then the years passed, as they always have. Mortgages got signed. Children got born. Continents got moved. Not in the tectonic way (though that happened a bit too), but in the BA flight 85 kind of way. Somewhere along the passage of time my wonderful father-in-law bought me a new fountain pen (Sheaffer Sagaris), which I religiously used every day for work notes.

Recently, COVID entered our vocabulary, and in a lot of tragic cases, our lives.

Working from home happened.

Profound grumpiness occurred.

A chance re-discovery of my old Parker 45 at the back of a drawer also occurred (distractions had been actively sought… even to the extent of tidying rarely visited backwaters of the newly emptied nest). This was pivotal. I now had TWO fountain pens at the same time. Two is a collection. So is more than two, it turned out. That was 18 months ago.

Today I have around 60 fountain pens. Some are relatively expensive ($250 in my case – though for some collectors that counts merely as entry level), but most are not. I do however use all of them, though obviously not all at the same time!

That many pens could consume a lot of ink, you might think. Well… let’s just say I have that covered too.

But of course if you’ve got a lot of pens and a lot of ink to go in the pens, you’d need a lot of paper to write on wouldn’t you? Well… so you’re getting the idea now why this began as a piece on addiction?

But I’m getting better. Honest I am.

I try not to buy pens now just because I like the look of them. I try and leave those for my family to get for birthdays and Christmas. But it’s not perfect. Without meaning to trivialise the situation of any reader struggling with a health-impacting addiction, I am, nevertheless still drawn to the “add to cart” button on many stationery web sites.

I try very hard to limit myself to one new pen a month, and thankfully my tastes are rarely expensive. But all-metal pens (what Parker terms “Flighter”), or all black pens (AKA “stealth”, especially if the nib itself is coated black) are a particular weakness.

In October, I read the often informative “mnmlscholar” blog, and he described a new pen he’d just acquired. This was the Jinhao 9035, a mid-sized pen made of wood. Neither stealth or metal, but… interesting! Jinhao is a Chinese brand, but I have to say that I now own several different models from their stable, and have found the ones I have acquired to be very well made and reliable. I do tend to go for their metal bodied options which may improve the leeway for higher build quality, but I also own no less than four of their 992 model which are clear plastic and just as reliable.

Whilst innocently investigating the 9035 pen on AliExpress, I discovered another new-to-me Jinhao model, the “Stealth” styled Jinhao 95. The pair of them came to a little over $12 shipped to Canada, and the compulsion was strong with me that day…

Well that was back in late October 2021, and much has happened since then. Including ordering one of a new 200 pen limited release of an all-copper Italia from Ensso, which may well be documented in a later blog post.

Source: ENSSO

Hopefully the delivery isn’t impacted by the recent train robberies in California, from whence it is coming!

Fast forward 2½ months, and on Friday the Chinese pens appeared in my post box.

Wooden Jinhao 9035 and “Stealth” Jinhao 95

To ease my (not very prominent) guilt a little then, I thought I’d share my early impressions of these newcomers to my collection. Maybe someone will find it useful, and at the very least it’s keeping me out of Mrs E’s way for a while as I write this.

Firstly the Jinhao 9035…

I opted for the walnut finish (on some sellers’ sites it’s referred to as specifically American walnut), though it does seem to be available in rosewood too. I’m no wood expert and can’t really comment, beyond a general statement that it’s a lovely colour and seems well finished with no scratches, gaping “pores” or other irritations. There’s also no evidence of what must surely have been a mechanical turning process, so kudos to the QA folks at Jinhao. It seems well smoothed, but not obviously varnished. It may have been treated with Danish oil or something, but has no obvious smell, and I fully expect it to “weather” as the grease from my fingers impact the wood over time.

As you may be able to see from the photograph above, the cap has a pretty standard Jinhao steel clip. It has a springiness strong enough to cause the ball end (formed from the plate steel) to scratch the wood underneath slightly. The clip is adorned with the company’s logo of a horse and chariot. I note that it is the right way round when the pen is held in the left hand… something I appreciate!

The lip of the cap is protected by a metallic ring, though the cap threads behind it are plastic and are part of the seal lining within the cap to prevent the nib drying out. This extends up to hide the inside fixing of the clip, which enters through a simple well-formed cut in the wooden cap. The metal lip of the cap provides a neat IKEA-style wood/chrome finish to the pen when the cap is closed and the cap extends around the barrel by a good millimetre or so giving a vaguely mushroom appearance when closed.

The business end of the pen is a standard Jinhao No. 6 steel nib, which is marked with a border pattern, their chariot logo, their brand name and a claim of being 18KGP, or 18 karat gold plated (carats are for diamonds if you were wondering).

I’m no metallurgist, so I’ll leave that one just hanging there, but I will say that I have used several of these nibs on Jinhao X750s and even bought the simple nibs to replace other No 6 nibs on Moonman, Noodler’s and Narwhal pens. I find them slightly springy, wet and generous and suit my writing well. I have yet to struggle with a single Jinhao nib – though I do tend to avoid their lower end Lamy knock-offs and most of their plastic offerings. I find these No 6 nibs particularly reliable and though I’m sure statistically there must be some duds out there, I’ve yet to get one that needed anything special before using it “out of the box”.

Though I inked up the pen with Lamy Turmaline before checking (my bad… too excited) I’m pretty sure the nib isn’t in a screw-out nib unit, and would require pulling from the section housing along with the feed. I’ll try and remember to confirm that once I dismantle it for cleaning.

The section itself is a little shy of 2cm in length and is bookended by chromed rings. It’s very similar in style and feel to the X750 section, but not the same. The metal ring at the barrel end of the section hides the join and merges with the threading on the barrel to engage the cap. The cap closes in 1¾ turns for those who are particular about those things. The metal here engages with the aforementioned plastic cap threads and gives a firm closure and no noticeable play in the cap once closed. The threads are square cut and unobtrusive when gripping the pen for writing. They also form a transition to the step-up of the barrel, which might be seen in the above photograph.

The pen comes provided with a standard Jinhao converter. Again – apologies for inking it up before checking whether the nipple is of the narrow or broader “standard”. Though both will take arbitrary International Standard cartridges, there is a little less forgiveness when using a third party converter. I believe the difference is 2.6 mm or 3.4mm. Not a lot, but enough to cause leaks with some converters. Again – I’ll try to remember to update this post when I dismantle the pen.

The collar by which the section screws to the barrel is metal and seems well made with no sharp edges. It is engraved with the brand JINHAO in capitals and model 9035 in italics. The collar is around 12mm in length and securely holds the converter in place. About 5mm of the collar are threads to engage the barrel and are finer than those holding the cap in place.

The wooden barrel itself is unlined, save for the metal insert which is threaded to receive the section and engage with the cap. It seems roomy and well finished on the inside, with no visible splinters or cracks.

All in all, the example I received seems well finished, with no rough edges or bad joints. This has been my typical experience with Jinhao, and I am amazed they can make them for the price they are sold.

I don’t post my pens, but the inner threads of the cap – even though they’re plastic – would not be kind on the wood of the barrel over time, I suspect. I briefly tried though, and the cap seems to be firmly held by the friction, if that’s your thing.

OK, so to illustrate my assertion that I can indeed stop any time I like, I’ll call that it for this post and talk about the Jinhao 95 in a separate outing to the keyboard. Until next time…





Challenge Accepted!

6 11 2021

I was very restrained yesterday, and and focused on 5th November being Guy Fawkes night rather than Fountain Pen Day. Living in Canada means that with the exception of a single random firework being set off in the neighbourhood (more likely a Diwali lingerer), there was not much chance to celebrate with fireworks, treacle toffee, baked potatoes and accidentally roasted hibernating hedgehogs whilst willfully ignoring the fact you’re burning the effigy of a man involved in a failed catholic plot to overthrow the British government in 1605. Ah… such warm childhood memories. Literally – those bonfires could be huge!

But today my resolve broke and while accompanying Mrs E. on a trip to Richmond, I fell into the MUJI shop. The time of year meant they’d replaced many of their usual stationery offerings with diaries, and having just got my Rhodia A5 one I wasn’t even tempted.

Image Source: Cult Pens

I was however tempted by their 5-pack of exercise books, tantalisingly labelled as “anti-bleed-through”. Challenge accepted!

MUJI “anti-bleed-through notebooks”

For a mere $4 what could I lose? (OK… $4, I suppose!)

The notebooks are B5 (defined here by MUJI as 179×252mm rather than the “proper” ISO size of 176×250mm – still close enough in the grand scheme of things), which is slightly taller than a common-in-Canada Hilroy/MEAD exercise book, and a tad narrower. The aspect ratio is comforting to me as someone who grew up in the UK because it fits the usual 1:√2 aspect ratio of A4 and other ISO defined A/B/C-range sizes, ubiquitous everywhere but North America.

The notebooks are a useful 30 sheets/60 pages, which is a little ungenerous, but then again, they do have nice protective card stock covers with 5 different coloured spine tapes for additional protection. At first, I thought the books were simply perfect bound (glued) rather than the usual “saddle-stitch” of cheap stapled exercise books or actual stitching of more up-market offerings, like Clairefontaine . On closer inspection (full iPhone zoom through a loupe) I noticed that it’s actually 15 individual signatures, notched and then glued. The notching allows the glue a slightly better grip on the spines of the signatures.

Blurry close-up of the spine, showing the folded sheets and the glued spine.

This method leaves a very neat, square spine, and allows a very square final product. The other benefit with not having all 15 sheets folded in a single signature is that the pages lie flat, wherever you are in the book.

The paper is quite smooth with a feel I’ve come to associate with Japanese brands, though this claims to be Indonesian. I’d guess somewhere in the 80gsm range. If you like tooth, this may not be for you.

Pages have 6mm rulings with tick marks top and bottom if you need to add columns. I have a feeling I may find this a little too narrow for my writing – especially with broader nibs which I prefer for their aid with shading, but we’ll see. It’s not a deal breaker… there are plenty of other nibs in my collection.

So, the bottom line though: how does it handle fountain pen inks?

Well – nothing scientific or anything, but here’s what I happened to have inked at the moment. I wasn’t overly impressed with how the Diamine Holly sheened with the “test” line (i.e. not much), so I went a step further and “swabbed” a few of my more sheening inks, to see how the paper faired more generally. I’m not a fan of waste (those Yorkshire genes), so I use a plastic chopstick for swabbing, rather than the more usual Q-tip. I find that surface tension allows a reasonable amount of ink to “stick”, but it almost all transfer to the paper, and you don’t end end up wasting much as you clean things off in water, as you do with throwing a still sopping wet Q-tip in the bin.

Currently inked pens to hand, plus some sheeners.
Rear of page showing some ghosting where ink had sat pooled for extensive period. Flash photo makes it seem worse than real life.

I found the paper shows shading and sheen pretty well, ghosting only when you insist on leaving a puddle of ink to dry. There was no bleed with the nibs/inks I tried.

The only very slight issue I can report is excessive drying times with usual culprits like Noodler’s Apache Sunset. Olivine was 70 seconds to fully dry the writing from a B nib, but I gave up counting with Apache Sunset. For CA80¢ a book though… who’s complaining? I’d definitely buy these again, and look forward to using them as my “day book” to capture thoughts and ideas, safe in the knowledge that they’ll handle whatever pen/ink I happen to have to hand.

This item is part of the “MUJI afforestation effort”, with typically enigmatic labelling of “PLANTING TREE PAPER” on the packaging, allowing communities to directly choose and benefit from the trees they cultivate. In this case Indonesia.

Today’s cast of participants:

  • Opus 88 Demonstrator with Pilot Iroshizuku Syo-ro. This was a birthday present from my wife and arrived with a very slight, but noticeable fault on the cap. I was blown away with the level of service both Cult Pens and Opus 88 themselves demonstrated in putting it right, and both have received my further business subsequently as a consequence of that behaviour. The ink is a nice enough teal I got as a sample from InkyPaw in Canada about a year ago. Since then, they seem to be struggling and don’t respond via any of the usual avenues (email, phone, web form, …). I’m afraid I can’t recommend them as after months of no replies I recently had to resort to my credit card company to get a refund from an undelivered order. The ink is a solid enough performer, as are all Pilot’s Iroshizuku range I’ve tried so far, but it was just a bit meh, colour-wise.
  • Pilot V-pen with Platinum Classic Citrus Black. I ran this CA$3 pen dry about a year ago, and it’s had a couple of refills since then. They were on offer at Walmart, and I liked the fact they were essentially throw-away if I wanted to carry them in my coat pocket without fear from theft or losing them. The steel nib is still a Pilot though, and it writes perfectly, if boringly. Once dry though, I didn’t see why it was necessary to throw a perfectly functional pen body into the landfill, and there’s always the “re-use” option before the “recycle” one, so… I turned to YouTube and found they are stunningly easy to refill! I essentially followed the steps in the link I put in the pen name, but found a thick elastic band and fingers were more appropriate than a folded tissue and a pair of pliers for removing the nib and feed. I went one step further and used acetone (nail varnish remover) to remove the branding from the barrel, and created a lo-fi demonstrator. Citrus Black is a lovely quirky ink and the iron gall creates some awesome darkening as it oxidises on the page. On this MUJI paper, the effect was immediate, though I have had papers where it’s like writing with lemon juice until the reaction takes place, several minutes later. That can be hard to use if the paper’s not lined, but it’s not a common thing. It’s one of a few water resistant inks I have, but this one is more for the colour than being able to use it on envelopes.
  • Platinum Preppy with Platinum blue/black cartridge. This was an impulse buy when ducking into the Vancouver Pen Shop to avoid the rain (my story and I’m sticking to it – especially if Mrs E. is reading…). I’m a habitual user of M and B nibs, with occasional forays into F or stub if the mood takes me. I have a few EFs from Chinese vendors which are actually typically 0.38mm and solid Fs in practice. This purchase is loudly proclaimed as 0.2mm to avoid any issue of what letter you might like to assign (though they also helpfully add a suggested EF in the corner for the undecided). It came with an included Platinum cartridge (obviously… not Pilot as I claim in the writing test on the page, above!). I bought a converter to subsequently use, but being 0.2mm, this nib lays down an almost homeopathic amount of ink, and I feel I’ll be long gone before it exhausts this included cartridge. Despite its undeniable mid blue colour, this is in fact a blue/black cartridge, and is also allegedly water resistant.
  • Lamy 2000M with Noodler’s Ink Apache Sunset. This is the stainless steel version of the classic Lamy 2000, and weights slightly more than Mjölnir. I find it esthetically wonderful and calming just to look at. Without the ink window it just seems generally more refined than the standard model. Mine has a medium gold nib which I actually find tends more to a B and is wetter than a BC morning. It is the perfect instrument with which to apply shading inks to a page, and Apache Sunset is just such an ink. I have mixed feelings about Noodler’s inks, but Apache Sunset is glorious in its shading, given a suitable paper to work with. It shades from quite a deep orange all the way to pale lemon yellow. It’s quite well-represented in the text I wrote in the image above. I have had it bleed through many cheap notebook papers, but this MUJI notebook had no issues at all.
  • Kaweco AL Sport with Diamine Holly. I like metal pens and pens with something a little off-beat to them. The stonewashed blue version of the aluminium Kaweco Sport was a perfect fit, and I treated myself to one a year or so ago. I bought it with an EF nib, but found it a bit scratchy (Kaweco are notorious for inconsistent nib quality). Only a week or so ago, I swapped in a medium nib, and it’s now a thing of pleasure. I’m a bit of a sheen whore but fancied a green/red rather than the more common blue/red sheen and so treated myself to Holly originally from Diamine’s 2019 advent calendar. Now available on its own in full bottles, I think I’m well sorted until long after I die. I’ve only been using it a week or so, but it has performed admirably on several different papers and seems well suited to the M nib in the Kaweco. It did sheen on the MUJI paper as I did a one-line write test, but provided way more shading than I’d seen before. This triggered my concern that perhaps this paper aided shade at the cost of sheen… hence the later sheen tests.
  • Lamy AL Star with Lamy blue cartridge. Despite it being a very common first pen, I’ve never owned a Lamy Safari or its aluminium brother, the AL Star. I’ve penabled Mrs E. with a small coterie of them in recent times, and decided it was time to get my own. As well as enjoying metal pens (Parker 25, Parker 45 Flighter, Kaweco Brass Sport, Retro 51 Tornado Lincoln etc…), I also have a thing for so-called “stealth” pens. These are all matte black… including the nib if possible. That is the case with the AL Star. As well as a coated black nib, it also has a black clip rather than the usual steel coloured clip on the AL Star. Ticked all the boxes and fell into the shopping cart. You know how that can happen… I opted for a B nib with a view to having another option for high shading inks and though broader than the Kaweco M it’s not as broad as the unreasonably broad Lamy 2000M medium! At present it’s just got the free cartridge that came with the pen, but it has a converter ready to go once that is empty. The ink itself is unremarkable, and a bit unsaturated to my mind, but a decent performer. Not my cup of tea, but I could see it being a decent school option if fountain pens were still used. Alongside Parker’s Quink or Waterman’s Serenity Blue.
  • Lastly we have another Lamy AL Star this time with Pelikan Edelstein Olivine. I was looking for other already inked examples to test the paper, and so borrowed one of Mrs E’s Lamy’s. This one is a deep purple, originally to go with Diamine’s Deep Dark Purple special from Cult Pens. Now though, it’s inked with Pelikan’s Edelstein Olivine – one of my collection of dark greens as I search for the perfect “British Racing Green”. The pen also has a (silver coloured) B nib, excellent for showing off any shading inks, such as this Olivine.

So – very happy with the paper’s performance re shading and lack of bleed or ghosting, and all-round lack of feathering. All that remained was to go back and prod a bit more at my niggle about the so-so performance with Holly’s sheen. I decided to “go for it” and blather the rest of the page with some high sheening inks to see what it could do, as well as test the “anti-bleed-through” claim that originally caused me to buy the notebooks. I dug out the plastic chopstick I use for swatching new inks and set to work…

I tried 4 inks. Three I know usually sheen well, and one that should… but never has. Perhaps this paper will be the one?!

  • Diamine Holly. When laid down in volume, this performed really well and displayed the sheen I expected, quite prominently. In normal writing, it was more subdued, but it’s definitely present and with more shading than I’m used to seeing.
  • Krishna Jungle Volcano. I have always found this to be a disappointing orange that shades to a muddy grey rather than displaying the promised “high sheen” of jungle green. Can’t recommend it, and this paper doesn’t let it perform any better than others I’ve tried.
  • Diamine Bloody Brexit. I’ve always found this ink a solid performer and it sheens with lots of red/magenta on this paper too.
  • Organic Studio’s Walden Pond Blue. This ink is nearly all sheen! It is nominally green, despite the name, but sheens so much, it is essentially a metallic magenta when dry. It’s like Holly’s bigger sibling, with hardly any of the base colour visible once dry.

Looking at the reverse side of the page once everything had dried, there’s a little ghosting where the sheening inks had been laid down thick, and possibly a touch of bleed for Bloody Brexit… but this was hardly a realistic use case, and the text lines had no ghosting at all, even on the slow drying Noodler’s or Edelstein. The photo above actually makes it look worse than it is, due to the effect of the flash.

I think this notebook is well worth the pittance MUJI are charging as a workhorse notebook for fountain pen users, and the sheening inks do in fact perform, if not quite as readily as the shaders.





Purple Prose

29 04 2021

Of late, I’ve been trying to use up the many ink samples I’ve acquired over the last year or so. My Kaweco Brass Sport currently has a very rich purple ink by Pure Pens called Flower of Scotland. It’s part of their Celtic collection. It’s manufactured by Diamine and I recommend it wholeheartedly if you like purples. As my mind idly caused words to appear in my journal tonight, I felt these were suitable for duplicating in type in these dubious pages.

Pure Pens Ink - Flower of Scotland
Source: Pure Pens

I think this ink would be very apt for some romantic poetry or prose from the Victorian era…

Winstanley slammed the door as he left the library. Emily took her kerchief from her sleeve and dabbed the unbidden wetness from her eye. After a moment to compose herself, she tugged on the bell to summon Higgins.

“Yes Miss?” he enquired as he materialised by the door.

“Higgins – Mr Boothman has decided to leave for town a little earlier than anticipated. Have the car brought round would you?”

“Of course Miss. Will there be anything else?”

“No Higgins. That will be all. Thank-you.”

“Are you sure, Miss?”

“I beg your pardon Higgins? What is this impertinence?”

“My apologies Miss. I did not intend to offend. I merely wondered whether you’d like me to arrange for Mr Boothman to be provided with an opportunity to consider his actions.”

“Higgins, are you suggesting doing Mr Boothman some kind of mischief?”

“Admitting as much would place Miss in a difficult position if enquiries were to be subsequently made by officers of the law Miss, so I shall make no such admission.”

“Very well Higgins. I greatly appreciate your loyalty and flexible honesty. Oh – and Higgins?”

“Yes Miss?”

“Take the spade…”





51 Clones

4 11 2020

Not unlike many fountain pen users I have acquired a couple of examples of the classic Parker 51 along the way. One I paid for, one I inherited. I love both, but not in any particularly sentimental way – they just write really well.

I’m not a complete philistine though – I acknowledge their age and look after them as well as I am able. That means no fancy inks that might damage their innards, and being careful they get no more scratches than their lives thus far have bestowed.

My “Made in USA” teal P51 has a barrel stamp declaring “51” which though coincidental actually indicates it was manufactured in 1951, according to the awesome Parker dating references at ParkerPens.net. It has a fine nib and is a lovely smooth writer.

1951 Parker 51 – Made in U.S.A.

My other – black – P51 is Made in England and dates from the second quarter of 1942, as indicated by the older dating system of “2.”. The nib on this is more medium and is really smooth on most writing surfaces. It was originally owned by a lady before it came to my father, and it’s in better condition than the one made almost a decade later.

Q2 1942 Parker 51 – Made in England

I do enjoy using these venerable old stylos, but feel restricted by the need to treat them with a modicum of reverence. They are, after all, 70+ years old!

Two old dears waiting for a hand

I read somewhere of Parker’s brief flirt with potentially manufacturing Parker 45s in China with the HERO company. Indeed, there was totally legitimate transfer of intellectual property from Parker – these were no mere “cheap knock-offs”. It ultimately stalled, but I was left to ponder whether a HERO clone of the Parker 51 might give me a route to using a pen with a similar feel to my two lovable old dears but with modern materials and a price I could afford to replace if things went horribly wrong with some dodgy ink or other (I’m looking at you, Noodler’s!).

A few minutes with Aunty Google and I discovered the HERO 616, for the princely sum of $1.42. Canadian! What could possibly go wrong?!

OK – so (very) superficial evidence to the contrary… this is no Parker 51. The pen feels very light – 12g versus the genuine 20g, and looks very much like the $1.42 it cost was mostly spent on sandwiches rather than manufacturing.

There is a sharp, catchy burr on the “jewel” – which looks more like a piece of pressed or even poured aluminium. Unusual for these days, it has an aeromatic filler rather than a converter/cartridge. On arrival however, the outer squeeze tube wasn’t even properly in place. An easy fix, but what turned out to be an indication of the general build quality. I’m trying to be objective, and please remember this only cost $1.42. The fit of the cap seems secure enough, but as you may be able to see in the photo below, there is a lot of space around the opening with the pen inserted, and the cap lip itself is quite thin, if not actually sharp. The cap is firmly held though – the clutch is deep inside and holds the section firmly in place.

The clip is a poor copy of the Parker arrow and is cheaply pressed steel. The sharp “jewel” turns out to be a simple bolt and the clip can be easily removed and replaced if you’d like to greatly increase the value of the pen with something more aesthetic from say Beaufort Ink.

Metal shroud wasn’t properly pressed over the sac on arrival
Catchy molding on “jewel” – the bolt holding the clip on, and poor clip alignment
A poorly stamped, fake arrow
Poor fit of cap showing square-cut opening and uneven loose fit

OK – enough grumbling. At the end of the day, a pen is a way of delivering ink to a page. What kind of a job does the HERO 616 do for it’s sub-Biro price?

My particular HERO 616 was a horribly scratchy writer

Well – I tried to be as kind as possible and filled it with blue Quink – a very reliable and forgiving ink. The nib is nominally EF with a stated width of 0.38mm. I may have got unlucky, but my pen was unusable! It was so scratchy it gouged up the Fabriano paper I was using and got paper fibres stuck between the tines. I pulled out the tubular nib and did some judicious flossing and tweaking, but to no avail. Later I might try swapping in a Jinhao nib – I’ve had a lot of success with them in the past. For now though – this pen is barely worth the $1.42 for a spare sac!

Next, I’ll move up to a pen worth twice as much! Yup… a whole $2.80 Canadian.

I have many vices, but if we focus for a moment on those related to fountain pens I have 3 primary ones. Well 2½. I love utilitarian “tool-like” pens, typically all in metal. Steel, aluminium, brass, etc. Related to that, I have a soft spot for Parker’s so-called “Flighter” offerings which are all-steel (or more properly “Lustraloy”) and began with the Parker 45 in the 60s I believe. Finally, I have a thing for “stealth” pens – all matte black, preferably including the nib.

So while I was checking out the HERO 616, I came across the Jinhao 911. At 19g it’s slightly lighter than a real Parker 51, despite its metal barrel. Now Jinhao occupy a slightly higher perch in Chinese pen making, and I’ve had great success with several of their offerings in the past, as well as using their easily obtainable nibs to resurrect some otherwise defunct old pens.

Jinhao 911 with grandad Parker 51

Despite their Jinhao 75 model sporting a decidedly Parker-esque arrow clip, and more than a passing resemblance to a Sonnet, they are confident enough in their own identity to proudly brand their pens with their name.

The Jinhao 911 is a slimmer pen than the Parker 51 and does not sport a Parker-like clip. It seems well-finished and has nicely machined “jewels” in steel at both cap and barrel end.

Nicely finished steel “jewels”

The cap fits snuggly and as mentioned, proudly declares both the Jinhao brand and the 911 model.

Proudly branded Jinhao

The section is slightly longer and slimmer than a Parker 51, but the styling is obviously heavily influenced. There are steel threads on the section making for a pleasingly solid connection with the barrel, unlike the vaguely uncommitted plastic threads of the HERO 616. The 911 comes with a standard international converter of Jinhao’s own making and unfussily gets the job done. Actually – there are TWO “standard” converter widths. This is the wider 3.4mm opening. There’s a 2.6mm one as well. Most of the time it doesn’t matter. Occasionally it does!

Seems well made with good fit and finish

Not a lot more to say really. It looks handsome, well-made and could easily have come from Parker’s own stable. As I’ve come to expect from Jinhao EF/0.38mm nibs, it wrote perfectly straight out of the bubble-wrap (AliExpress vendors aren’t big on packaging!) If you’re not a pen-snob, this is a very capable solidly built pen with a few design nods thrown towards Parker’s 51, but plenty of its own style.

No messing – writes smoothly, straight out of the envelope

One final pen that caught my eye on AliExpress was another Jinhao. Another hike in price and a bit more blatant of a clone. The Jinhao 51A (Yup – they went there) comes in at $4.32 Canadian – still less than a latte at several well-known coffee chains I refuse to mention. Remove the cap, and this could almost be a Parker 51… with a wooden barrel! The attraction for me was the rosewood barrel, so I paid the extra few dollars to see if it looked as good in the flesh. It does. It’s also available in maple, ebony, peach and tiger wood. Possibly others too.

Again, I wasn’t expecting much for less than $5, but this is as well made as the 911. The wooden barrel has a brass insert to provide a good solid screw connection to the section. The section itself is almost identical to that of the Parker 51, save that the hood is slightly more rounded than the original.

Parker 51 (left) with newcomer Jinhao 51A

Despite the wooden barrel, it actually comes in slightly heavier than the original at 21g.

Hard to see in the photo above, but the Jinhao 51A cap is much more like the Parker 51’s except for a distinctly different clip. Again proudly stamped with Jinhao and 51A, but also with the Parker 51’s band etched a couple of millimetres from the cap opening. The steel jewel much more closely echoes the Parker 51 than did the 911 because the cap and entire pen is slightly fatter to match the original.

Another smooth writing experience. This time from the Jinhao 51A… likely with the same nib as the 911

So – conclusions? Well there’s no denying the Parker 51 spawned many lookalikes and even bare-faced clones over its illustrious career. Parker themselves are even re-releasing a lookalike at a laughably high price point.

Family resemblance? Jinhao 51A, Jinhao 911, HERO 616, a brace of Parker 51s

The HERO 616 unashamedly attempts to copy a Parker 51. It’s an aeromatic-like filler and even has an arrow clip. But it uses cheap components and is poorly finished. I could even forgive all that if it had a half decent nib and at least put ink on paper. It does not, and though I have had similarly poor performance from pens costing very much more, this is unforgivable in a pen. Its sole job is to write, and if it can not perform that task, it is of no use no matter its price or prettiness. The HERO 616 is not pretty, despite its pretensions, and though this particular specimen may be saved at some future date if I ever bother swapping the nib, it is not high on my priorities!

I hesitate before commenting on the Jinhao 911. I think I might argue that it is not so much a copy of the Parker 51 than it is heavily influenced by it. It is slimmer, echoes some of the later model Parkers, has a bit of the “Flighter” vibe about it, but is undeniably a Jinhao. It doesn’t pull the old arrow clip trick (though they’re not above it on other models), but it does use higher quality materials, and the attention to fit and finish is noticeably higher than the HERO 616. And for a mere $2.80 Canadian, I think you’d be hard pushed to find a similarly smooth writer with a metal body and decent build quality. I bought disposable plastic Pilot V-pens on clearance at Walmart for more! (Though I re-use them as eye-droppers rather than dispose of them).

The Jinhao 51A is different again. This treads an interesting path between copy and homage. Remove the cap and it could easily be a Parker 51 “lunchtime project”. The dimensions of barrel and section are identical and it’s as if the Parker marketing team had said “make them out of other materials and see what you can do”.

Of course, it’s a steel nib rather than gold… but it cost less than $5 Canadian, and it still writes remarkably well. It’s a handsome pen and I look forward to seeing how the wood changes over time with oil from my fingers.

But I said homage as much as copy. Plainly Jinhao have the capability to copy as close to the original as they choose, and with the 51A they choose to go pretty close. But they do draw a line. They use their own branding prominently and use a drastically different clip stamped with their chariot logo. Just for shits and giggles, I tried one of the genuine caps and it fitted perfectly, so obviously they could have gone the whole hog if they’d chosen to. The 51A barrel won’t fit your old Parker 51 though, so this isn’t a way to give your old pen new wood. As it were.

I’d like to think they drew the line as a professional courtesy. Almost as if to demonstrate how the venerable old Parker 51 still had some steam in it and could have moved into other materials to keep itself fresh and interesting even to today’s new pen buyers. The Jinhao steel 0.38mm nib is used in several of their offerings (599, 992, 911 to name three). It’s nothing special, but I have now used 4 without incident and much pleasure.

Bottom line? Ignore the HERO 616, primarily because the nib was diabolical, but even if you were lucky enough to get a good one… the build quality is terrible. This proves “you get what you pay for”.

Consider the Jinhao 911 on its own merits as a sturdy capable inexpensive pen, and a counterexample that sometimes “you get a lot more than what you pay for”.

The Jinhao 51A is a modern copy, without the Parker gold nib. It’s own is a capable enough nib though and if you’ve got a thing for hooded nibs and wood – for $5 Canadian you’d be greedy to expect much more than this.





Lessons learnt

18 07 2020

This tale spans several years, and at least tentatively seems to have a happy ending.

Years ago, I was in Vicotria on the island, and perusing an art shop. I forget the name, but they had all manner of pens, inks, papers and other goodies. At that time I was dabbling in calligraphy (one of many times I’ve dabbled in it but never got above ankle-depth unfortunately). With dip pens I’d acquired somewhere in life’s great meanderings and some bold calligraphy inks from J. Herbin I’d picked up at Paper-ya on Granville Island.

Image Source: J. Herbin

These were naïve days, well before the only slightly more educated days I now pass, with respect to fountain pens, dip pens and inks. My calligraphy dabblings with dip pens weren’t “bringing me joy”, and I saw a relatively cheap fountain pen in the shop that offered a broad (B) nib. It was a brand I’d never heard of – “Pen & Ink”, and the pen was simply called “Sketch”. It was aimed at pen illustrators and there were various nib widths available. Looking back, I possibly over-paid at what I recall was around CAD $30. The other day I saw my local art shop stocks the same pen for CAD$23, several years later. No matter – it was what I wanted at the time (cheap access to a B nib) and it was there when I wanted it. I’ve since learnt that the brand is from “Art Alternatives” and is actually an employee-owned company distributed exclusively by MacPherson’s. The current packaging brands it more forcefully as Art Alternatives, and downplays the “Sketch” model which is etched into the pen lid.

Pen & Ink Sketching Fountain Pens – Rileystreet Art Supply

Image Source: Riley Street (not where I bought it)

It came with a cartridge, a converter (branded oddly Faber-Castell) and a cute faux-leather wrap to store it in. So back to the naïveté …

I had calligraphy inks, a fountain pen which I was much more accustomed to using, and we were now off to the races… I’d found dip pens fraught with usage issues and scratchiness and figured that a B nib in a fountain pen might at least let me continue to explore “fancy writing”.

So innevitably I got bored with quick foxes and “Happy Birthday”, let alone the EXTRA pain there was in swapping inks with the converter over just cleaning a dip pen nib. Bored at last, I gave the pen a last clean out and put it away.

Fast forward a decade or thereabouts and my love of fountain pens resurrects (can’t attest to whether there was a full moon). I recall I had one pen with a B nib, and dug it out of the drawer. I inked it up with FOUNTAIN PEN INK (note the subtle emphasis?!) and found it to be less than stellar at writing.

So I started to educate myself with such weightly and knowledgable sources as YouTube and various Google discoveries. Ouch! So though it is not 100% – by and large, if an ink is pigmented (i.e .has solid colour particles – like paint) it should not be used in a fountain pen. There are a few notable exceptions, such as “shimmer” inks, but even these come with dire warnings about vintage pens and recommendations of fastidious cleaning.

What we normally think of as fountain pen inks use competely soluble dyes for their colour, which is why they can sometimes have issues with saturation. The light passes through a dye/ink, bounces off the underlying paper and comes back to us as a composite of the filtering effects of the ink, its thickness and the colour of the paper. A pigmented ink (or paint) is more opaque and reflects directly. Its perceived colour then is less impacted by the colour of the underlying paper.

So – calligraphy inks are typically pigmented, and can have rich colours (or even textures) because they are largely independent of the underlying medium. These pigments though… are not water soluble. Instead, they are held in suspension (in the UK, water based house paints are generically called emulsion which is actually the technical term for these suspensions). Unless you’re very careful (and I would add – lucky!) at least some of the pigment particles will remain behind after even the most thorough of pen cleanings. These may then dry to a pretty hard-wearing solid. If it’s in the converter, it may be reasonably benign. Most of us don’t have that kind of luck, and there’s a high likelihood you’ll end up with deposits left behind in the feed (the plastic/ebonite bit that manages ink flow to the nib), which these days typically has lots of tiny little fins that can catch the particles and allow them to dry… and be hard to shift. Particles may also settle/dry on the nib itself.

Pretty much any of these places will modify the physics of the flow of any subsequent ink to the nib… and basically bugger things up. The general advice to remedy the situation is lots of patience (“does not compute”) and lots of luke warm water and washing up liquid – specifically “blue Dawn”, because it’s gentle on baby ducks if nothing else. I’m beginning to think Dawn sponsor all these pen DIY sites.

So I began. Sure enough, over the space of a few hours/days, first the recent “proper” ink flushed out of the pen, and then gradually I began to see remnants of the bright orange J. Herbin calligraphy ink I’d used all those years ago. One of those (typically blue for some reason – Dawn influence?) ear cleaning bulbs is a great aid, and can really get some water pressure through the pen section, feed and nib, to safely dislodge loosened particles.

Image Source: Amazon

With seemingly no end to the slow expulsion of orange pigmented particles, I got more bold. I read that often the nib/feed could actually be removed from the section for additional cleaning (or indeed to swap the nib for a different width). This isn’t recommended generally, but since this was a cheap pen, and plainly didn’t work anyway, I had little to lose.

The little I lost first was a couple of the fins on the feed. These got bent as I struggled to free up the feed/nib. Then I read that gentle heat could help loosen components up. I didn’t feel comfortable using a hair-dryer (the most common recommendation), so I opted for hotter water than I’d been using thus far. This worked and I managed to removed the nib and feed… and a substantial amount of yet more orange pigment. I could now see that the feed was indeed covered in dried-on orange pigment and as well as the fins, the very fine channel along the top of the feed was clogged, essentially guaranteeing the nib would get no ink.

More soaking, but no improvement. I read that a weak solution of household ammonia can help dislodge ink too. The only thing I could find in my local supermarkets was window cleaner (also blue… hm, trend now firmly established). This had no noticeably better effect than warm soapy water… and on reflection may have made the plastic feed more brittle.

I don’t possess an ultra-sonic cleaner – often used for jewellery, rings and the like – so I went to the next best thing… a toothbrush.

You remember the “does not compute” comment above? Yeah, patience and me are not well acquainted. One brush too hard, and I snapped off the thin plastic tube at the rear of the feed which brings the ink initially from the ink reservoir to the feed’s many intricate fins and channels. This may not actually have been fatal, but it was excuse enough to draw a line under my attempts and change tack.

As a side-effect, all the hot water baths had dislodged whatever adhesives were used in the pen’s manufacture and I could now totally disassemble it, right down to the trim pieces which I discovered now unscrewed.

I carefully dried all the pieces and put them in a used Altoids tin, labelled “needs fixing”, and began looking online.

img_1688

Fully disassembled – note remaining stubborn orange stain on trim and broken feed

I discovered an online shop in the UK called Loft Pens. They make hand-turned beautiful, reasonably priced fountain pens, but also sell Jinhao brand fountain pens… and several accoutrements such as converters, replacement nibs… and feeds! I pulled out my broken feed and sure enough, it looked like a close fit for a “Jinhao number 6”. Given the price of the pen, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if it wasn’t actually a Jinhao or similar component anyway. I ordered the feed and a couple of other odds and sods… and waited. And waited.

And waited.

In the end, I contacted Loft Pens who very quickly refunded me, and suggested I re-ordered since it would seem the order had fallen into the COVID mail void. This I duly did, and reset the wait clock. A couple of weeks later, the original order turned up! I contacted the customer-caring folks at Loft Pens and offered to refund them back for the refund (if you see what I mean), but have yet to hear their preference. I underline that the delay was not of their making, and they behaved impeccably throughout.

So… now I theoretically had all the bits to rebuild Steve Austin my pen.

img_1689

Broken feed and new feed from Loft Pens

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Re-assembled, ready to ink up and try…

First attempt was a little unsteady, if I’m totally honest. I’d foolishly “gone for gold” and tried it with some Noodler’s Pushkin. It’s a lovely green colour, but I’m discovering, can be a bit temperamental. It’s supposed to be one of their forgery-resistant inks so I think it’s got odd things in it. It began well, a lovely so called “wet” line and quite happily wrote a side of my notebook without issue. I was right on the verge of declaring problem solved when I got a series of “hard starts”. A quick check showed there was still ink in the converter, so I was back to failure mode. Oddly, the pen still wrote “reversed” (nib upside down), so I had a pleasantly diverting hour or two tuning my nib as the tines weren’t quite aligned and I vaguely suspected this might be the issue (ignoring the fact it had written perfectly well for a full page of writing to that point). Eventually the converter ran dry, so I cleaned everything (lesson learnt for sure! I do this every ink refill in every pen now), and tried a bit of Parker Quink.

This is well known as a lubricated quick-drying trouble-free (if slightly boring) ink. I actually quite like the shade of Quink blue and was very relieved to drain out the fill onto a couple of pages with no issues at all. I really do think the issue is now resolved (essentially by replacing the clogged feed), and I’ve regained another fountain pen to the stable.

So – what did I learn in all this?

  • Not to use pigmented inks in a fountain pen!
    • India ink is a big no-no, by the way: it’s essentially a suspension of soot in water.
    • Iron gall inks can corrode the metal parts of a pen even though they say they’re for use in fountain pens, by the way – different issue.
    • Winsor & Newton inks contain Shellac which is similarly death (or at least a solid wounding) to fountain pens.
  • J. Herbin make lovely inks (including a scented range safe for fountain pens) – but be sure to get the ones for the writing tool you intend to use. They do ranges of metallics and shimmer inks, but not all are suitable for fountain pens.
  • Modern mass produced pens have a lot of plastic components and can often be disassembled right to the ground with patience and a little gentle heat.
    • I wouldn’t recommend this for vintage or expensive pens, but it can be educational if you have a pen you don’t mind risking.
    • Even so-called disposable fountain pens like Pilot’s V-pen (currently CAD$3 at Walmart) can be disassembled when empty and refilled with an ink of your choice. There are others like Zebra and Uni-ball. Cheap but quite servicable steel nibs from these Japanese vendors.
    • Another little “hack” – you can gently wipe the plastic barrel of these cheap pens with acetone/nailpolish remover and the printing will come off, leaving you a clear view of the ink level inside… basically a cheap demonstrator eye-dropper.
  • Cheaper pens likely have Chinese components and you may be able to find replacement parts from generic sources.
  • Not all fountain pen inks behave the same – try Parker Blue/Blue-black/Black Quink or a similarly old/boring ink such as Waterman’s or Pelikan 4001 to make sure it really is the pen and not the ink before you start taking things apart. Modern inks have way more complex chemistry than blue/black from older brands.
  • If you find yourself cleaning pens often, consider a cheap ultra-sonic cleaner. They dislodge the most stubborn of ink by creating minute bubbles to “scrub” the inaccessible parts of the pen.
    • Too much, too long can damage some components and materials, so be mindful of this if dealing with delicate or vintage pens.




Turning Japanese, I Really Think So…

27 06 2020

Big day today.

All the pen connoisseurs rave about the large Japanese brands – Sailor, Platinum, Pilot…

Personally, I tend to find them a bit boring and conservative on the whole, but I take nothing away from their level of quality or engineering technique. They just didn’t seem to be for me. And they don’t come cheap either, so laying out large quantities of my only theoretically disposable income on something I don’t absolutely adore seems, well, unwise.

But today things changed.

Today I spent bigly and bought a Japanese fountain pen. And I love it.

I spent over a thousand in fact! To be exact – 1,090. OK that’s in Yen, but in Canadian money it came to $27.89 with taxes. I bought a MUJI aluminium fountain pen with a fine nib, and it is significantly better than I might have expected for that price.

MUJI_pen

Image Source: MUJI.com

It is a thing of singularly straightforward, uncluttered yet smart design. It’s a simple cylinder of brushed aluminium with a steel clip. The section is machined with a fine hatching to give a nice grip, and despite the light metal construction I actually found it sat comfortably in my hand.

The cap is unusual in that it clips positively over both the nib and when posted not over the body, but into cleverly recessed grooves. This means that when the cap is closed or when using the pen posted, there is no interruption to the smooth cylindrical design. This looks like an engineering tool as much as a modern functional pen.

It came supplied with a single standard international cartridge. Black. I’m not a big fan of cartridges so on opening the low impact packaging I immediately tried to fit a standard ink converter instead. Neither of the two “standard” converters I own fit well though. I read in several places that this pen is a little fussy and that Schmidt K2 and K5 were good options but that a Pelikan converter was the most snug fit. One is now on order from Cult Pens, but in the meantime I’ll make do with the standard cartridge.

I hedged my bets and paid 50c at the local Save-On-Foods pharmacy for a syringe and needle so I can refill the cartridge with some more interesting colours while I’m waiting for the Royal Mail and Canada Post to get around to delivering the converter.

So what else can I tell you? Well, the business end is almost certainly a Schmidt #5 iridium point steel nib. Except for the omission of the word “Schmidt”, the markings are identical to the FH241 nib unit pictured below.

Schmidt_FH241

Schmidt FH241 nib unit. Image Source: JetPens

It writes very smoothly and being German as opposed to Japanese it really is a Fine and not one of those Asian fine Fines. I was also pleasantly surprised to find it had a bit of flex to it. I’m not a big flex user, but it was nice to know it was there if I felt the desire to invoke it.

Early days yet, but I think I’m going to like my new pen very much indeed.

 

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Some flex available in this straightforward nib.





But is it art? (And does it matter anyway?)

26 06 2020

So in my usual obsessive manner I’ve “turned it up to 11” with my latest interest – fountain pens. Inks, paper, the pens themselves (ancient and modern), you get the idea.
I’m self-aware enough to know it’ll pass. It’ll innevitably morph into some adjacent interest and wither untouched for a while. I know it’ll come around again though. Like a slow-turning merry-go-round. Or maybe it stays stationary, and I’m the goldfish going round. Pick your metaphor. Or your nose. However the mood takes you. Who am I to dictate your behaviour?
Anyway, not being one to waste resources, I have a small stack of used – but not yet TOO used – paper towel sheets that have been used variously to wipe nibs or deal with ink-related mishaps… not always before Mrs E spotted something awry though.
Just gazing down at them now I realised that some of them actually look quite interesting. Now I’m no Jackson Pollock, but some of them do have a certain je ne sait quois…





New Writing Stuff!

22 06 2020

So yesterday I continued my perpetual hunt for a reasonably priced case for my growing collection of fountain pens. As with most “niche” things, the prices asked for them typically far outweigh the value to me. Yesterday’s hunt took us to DeSerres in Burnaby. They had some interesting stuff, but it felt a bit lacklustre to be honest. The staff were very helpful though, and were only too pleased to open up sealed packages to let me examine the interior of the few cases they were stocking.

On the way out, Mrs E spotted the notebooks and though I briefly had a Rhodia notebook in my hand, I was ultimately drawn to a Fabriano EcoQua dot notebook. Actually, it’s more of a pad with tear-off pages, but they’re printed double-sided with a dot pattern and are A5, 85g/m². It was a mere CA$5, and though I had no high expectation at that price, I must say I am downright impressed so far!

No feathering or bleed through with a selection of inks and nibs, and I’m lovin’ it! At least as good a fountain pen writing experience as my recently acquired (at much more expense) Clairefontaine notebook.

EcoQua dotted notebook

Image Source: DeSerres

Basking in this new acquisition, I was further rewarded today by a long awaited package from Goulet Pens in the States. This was some LAMY Turmaline 2020 special edition ink (to match a pen I previously bought for Mrs E.) and a red Clairefontaine notebook… which I’m ever so slightly regretting now.

A quick dip in the LAMY ink with the end of a plastic chopstick to do a swab test and I was at first disappointed that it seemed the same as the LAMY Amazonite she already has. As it dried though, there’s definitely a brighter, slightly more green tint to it. Now I love it, and I’m hoping she doesn’t notice how quickly it’ll seem to evaporate…

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Recent writing acquisitions – note brightness difference between Turmaline and Amazonite swabs