Karas Kustoms Bolt V2

I am a huge fan of Karas Kustoms machined pens, and I have their Render K, Ink, EDK, and Retrakt but I only recently purchased a Bolt v2. Why? For one thing, I was waiting for an interesting colour combination to come along. For another, I have the Bolt v1 one and have found it practically unusable, so I was hesitant to give the v2 a try. But then Karas Kustoms created a bluish-grey and orange Bolt v2, and the colour combination made me decide to give the Bolt a second chance.

I’m glad that I did.

Bolt v1 on the left, Bolt v2 on the right.

The Bolt v2 that I bought has a bluish-grey and orange anodization and fluted grooves in the grip. My Bolt v1 is raw aluminium, has no grooves in the grip section, and as you can see, is very, very long. This is the main reason that I couldn’t use the Bolt v1, as I have small hands and the pen is about 15cm long, which makes it unwieldy. The Bolt v2 is about 2cm shorter, and so about standard size of a pen.

Bolt v1 on the left, Bolt v2 on the right, refills extended.

The v1 and v2 Bolt have a similar design, but the Bolt v1 is a much more impressive pen, even with no anodization. Every time I pulled it out, people asked what it was, and said that it looked like a surgical tool. The Bolt v2 is more practical, and while it’s an attractive pen, it (so far) hasn’t been one to draw too much attention to itself. That may be a good thing, because someone did make an attempt to steal my Bolt v1 when I brought it to the office, which is why I stopped bringing it with me.

Bolt v1 mechanism on the left, Bolt v2 on the right.

The bolt mechanism on the v1 and v2 are very similar, but the v2’s mechanism has been streamlined and rounded (see the bottom of the cutout) which means that it’s much easier to engage than the v1. It makes the v2 much nicer to use, and as an added bonus, it turns the pen into a great fidget tool.

Bolt v1 on the left, Bolt v2 on the right.

I know that the seam between the grip and the body of the Bolt v1 looks tighter and better fitting than the Bolt v2’s but those looks are misleading. Like the rest of Karas Kustoms v1 pens, the threads that connect the pen grip and pen body were the weakest point on the pen. The threads kept unscrewing themselves, at times while I was writing with the pen. It’s no wonder that they have been redesigned from scratch in the v2, as you can see below:

Bolt v2 parts.

The threads start in a shoulder, are much tighter, and there’s an added o-ring at the bottom. All these together prevent the pen from unscrewing itself unless you deliberately want to unscrew it.

Bolt v1 threads on the left, Bolt v2 on the right.

If you have an interest in machined pens, and specifically in bolt action machined pens, then a Karas Kustoms Bolt v2 should be high up on your list. It’s been my daily pen for a few weeks, and I don’t see it leaving my rotation any time soon. I would recommend checking out Karas’s special projects, since the colourways there are often more striking than in their regular line.

Finished a Pilot-Hi-Tech-C Refill

For the first time ever I managed to write a Pilot High-Tech-C (also known as G-Tech-C) refill dry. The tip didn’t bend to death because someone breathed on it wrong, the refill didn’t have strange bubbles that meant that it just decided not to write any more, and the ball in the tip didn’t break off (thus rendering the pen into a particularly terrible rapidograph). This feels like an achievement and I am going to celebrate — by picking up a brand new High-Tech-C of course.

Empty pen refill.
Just a single crack on the cap from a fall early on, that’s all the damage this pen took.
Empty refill. Didn’t believe that it could be done.

Sketching Tools: Nock Co Sinclair and Tallulah

As I’ve recently overhauled my sketching tools and have grown to like my new setup, I’ve decided to document my current sketching kit, as a reference to myself and others.

Sinclair on top, Tallulah on the bottom.

First up are my pen and pencil cases, the Nock Co Sinclair and Tallulah. I used to use the Sinclair as my main sketching case because:

  1. It can hold much, much more than three pens. Much more. Mine had four Staedtler Fineliners, two or three Japanese brush pens, a white gel ink pen, five Faber Castell Pitt brush pens, a mechanical pencil, an eraser, a woodcase pencil, a sharpener, a waterbrush, and a folded paper towel square.
  2. It has two zippers, which means that you can sneak in extra large pens, like the Sailor Fude ones, or full length pencils, and still zip the case around them.
Partially full Sinclair.

The Sinclair is no longer my main case and I now use it to store a more extensive selection of sketching tools (mostly Faber Castell Pitt brush pens). The reason is that it can hold so many pens that I was tempted to fill it to the brim and bring all those pens with me. As I decided that to gain speed I needed to pair down my sketching tools and expand my watercolour palette, I replaced the Sinclair with the much slimmer Tallulah.

Tallulah ready to work, on top. Sinclair on the bottom.

The Tallulah is marketed as a two pen case. Oh, Brad. I have four Staedtler Fineliners, a Uni-ball Signo Broad white gel ink pen, a woodcased pencil, three (!) Sailor Fude fountain pens and a waterbrush. If the Tallulah had two zippers instead of one I could have closed the case. As it is, I keep it open and propped up in my sketching bag, as sort of a pen organizer. If I need the Tallulah to close, I can pare down my pens to one or two Sailor Fude pens, lose the waterbrush (if I keep two Sailor Fude’s in my kit), and replace the woodcased pencil with a mechanical one, or lose the pencil entirely as I generally work directly in pen and watercolour these days.

See, I can close it if I need to.

The Tallulah is so slim and light that it really works with my low profile sketch kit. It’s actually the anchor around which I built my new kit, with the other two being the Stillman and Birn Alpha sketchbook that I’m using, and my Schmincke watercolour tin.

If you are an artist looking for a storage solution for your pens and pencils, I highly recommend giving the Nock Co Sinclair and Tallulah a try. They are handsome workhorses that can take a beating (especially the zippers) and can hold many more pens than you would normally imagine.

Uni-ball Signo Needle 0.38 Review

I am a huge fan of the Uni-ball Signo line, and the Signo RT 0.5 is my favourite gel pen body and my favourite gel ink refill (UMR-85N). In second place is the Uni-ball Signo DX (UMR-1 refill) and its less common brother: the Uni-ball Signo Needle, which is basically a Signo DX with a needle tip instead of a cone tip.

I don’t have a white gel ink fine enough for the branding on the cap, so image that it’s there.

Like the Uni-ball Signo DX the Uni-ball Signo Needle isn’t as commonly found in the wild of stationery stores as the Pilot G2 or Pilot Hi-Tech-C. It does, however, come in a wide variety of colours, and unlike the Pilot G2 doesn’t blob and smear like crazy. It also has a needle tip that doesn’t wither the moment you look at it, unlike the Pilot Hi-Tech-C. It’s a workhorse needle tip gel pen with an excellent refill that doesn’t dry out even after spending years on your desk, and allows you to use it without worrying about babying its fragile needle tip.

Comfy, reliable workhorse needle point gel pens.

I love the Pilot Hi-Tec-C but I’m well aware that I have thrown more of them away than I have been able to use (the tip bends, the ink dries up and the pen no longer writes, there are “bubbles” in the refills of the even more delicate multi-pen variants of this pen). I’ve yet to have thrown a Uni-ball Signo pen away, needle point pens included. The magic happens in the tip design, which isn’t a two part deal like in the Hi-Tech-C but rather is a DX tip that has been shaped into a needle point, as if someone had taken it between two fingers and squeezed it to form a needle tip. The result is a tip that is stronger with no weak points that are prone to bending.

The smarts are all in this pen’s tip design.

You can see the difference between the Signo Needle tip on the top, and Signo DX tip in my Spoke pen on the bottom. It’s basically the same tip just tapered more acutely.

Needle tip on the top, DX tip on the bottom.

In terms of refills, the Signo Needle uses a UMR-1ND refill, which is the same as the Signo DX’s UMR-1 refill just with a different tip attached. This means that there are very few machined pens on the market that will fit the UMR-1ND refill because of the way the front of the refill is designed. However…

UMR-1 refill on the top, UMR-1ND refill on the bottom.

The Signo Needle refill does fit the Spoke pen! This is a fun bonus of them having the same refill design as the DX (minus the tip). So now not only can you have a reliable needle point gel ink pen with a variety of refills, it will also fit one of the best machined pens on the market (at least in my opinion).

Spoke pen orange crush with the UMR-1ND refill.

I will point out that there is a tiny gap between the pen tip and the grip if you do use a UMR-1ND refill in the Spoke pen, however, the refill doesn’t wiggle in the pen and the gap doesn’t extend into the pen body – it’s just an aesthetic thing.

Tiny gap between the pen tip and the Spoke grip.

Here’s a writing sample with the Signo Needle 0.38. As you can see the lines are crisp and consistent even though I’ve had some of these pens lying around my desk for years. They are a tiny bit wider than the Hi-Tech-C 0.38 lines (just as the Signo DX 0.38 lines are wider than the Hi-Tech-C but thinner than the Pilot G2 0.38).

If you’re looking for a needle tip gel ink pen and are tired of throwing out broken Hi-Tech-Cs (or don’t like their somewhat spartan pen body), give the Signo Needle 0.38 a chance. It may be slightly more expensive than a Hi-Tech-C, but it will ultimately turn out to be cheaper because you’ll have a pen that you can actually use from start to finish.

Typewriters, pens, pins, and more.

My Pen Chalet exclusive Typewriter Retro 51s arrived this week, and the mint one is a perfect match to my Hermes Baby (and Hermes 2000) typewriter keys. I’m happy that I splurged on this pen and the copper Typewriter edition. They are both utterly unnecessary pens that make me smile without breaking the bank. I have 11 typewriters, but these are the first typewriter themed Retro51s that I’ve bought. I only slightly regret not getting the red one as well.

It was a virtual convention kind of fortnight, and in both cases the pandemic afforded me the opportunity to go to a convention that I normally wouldn’t have been able to attend. The fun and pretty well run one was the Disney Pin Trading 20th anniversary event. I’m not a huge Disney pin trader by far – I have pins from my Disney races and a few others that caught my eye, because I’m so aware of how easily I got fall down that rabbit hole. But I was curious enough about the behind the scenes of pin creation and well aware that is probably going to be my only chance to attend such an event that I enrolled. It was interesting and fun, and a generally well thought out event that didn’t feel like a “we’re doing the same thing only on zoom” kind of thing. I wish that I could say the same about Kubecon, the second convention that I attended. It’s a poster child of how not to run a virtual convention. Still I managed to learn quite a lot from the hours that I squeezed in, and I plan on catching up on more video sessions next week.

My first Disney Pin Trading Pins, from the DLP inaugural half-marathon weekend.

This weekend was stormy, so no long run today. I had about a month of perfect running weather so far, and it looks like I may yet make my 2020 running distance stretch goal of 700km run total this year.

In a fit of anger and frustration I created an “obituary” page for 2020 in my journal, but one that listed the bad moments of the year. It ended up taking four pages, but I managed to find something positive about most of the moments and events of the year, so it cheered me up.

TV (or streaming to be exact) has been one of the high points of the past few weeks. I don’t watch much of it, but “Ted Lasso”, and the new seasons of “The Mandalorian” and “Star Trek Discovery” have been great to watch. Also I’ve been playing “Pandemic Legacy Season Zero” and so far it’s excellent and distinctly different from its predecessors.

Journal Comic: Cheap Art Supplies

Used a Bic Crystal ballpoint pen, a set of Stabilo Pastel highlighters and a pocket Moleskine sketchbook to create this journal comic. Was inspired to use things that I already had laying around, not in use, to fill in a page in a long abandoned sketchbook. I was actually surprised at how relatively well the highlighters worked here.

Muji Fountain Pen Review

When the Muji fountain pen came out a few years ago it got pretty rave reviews from quite a number of reviewers. My only conclusion is that either they hadn’t used the pen for long, or they have steel clad hands. This is a textbook example of form over function, and the form isn’t even interesting or innovative enough for you to forgive the loss of function.

First off, the form: the Muji fountain pen has the standard minimalist, IKEA-like design of their other stationery products. It’s made of brushed aluminum, it has a knurled grip (why?), has two grey-brown discs on the ends of the pen, and the same sort of clip that their mechanical pencils have. It’s a bland and boring look, but if you’re looking for a minimalist pen then this fits the bill.

You can’t pick interesting colours for the finials, because that would give the pen too much character. Can’t have that.

What works in mechanical pencils falls flat in a fountain pen, in my opinion. A fountain pen craves more flair, more personality – yes, even the “plain” black ones. A Montblanc 149 or a black Sailor 1911 have class, whilst the Muji fountain pen is a thin aluminum tube with a knurled grip (why?). You just look at it and wonder why it was made and for whom.

Nail nib and inexplicable knurling – a match made by Muji.

My Muji fountain pen has a fine nib with the classic “iridium point” stamped on it and some nice scrolling on it. I’m guessing the nib is a Schmidt nib, but that’s just a guess; what’s not a guess is that it’s an absolute nail. There’s no give whatsoever in this nib, to the point where I have fineliners that show more line variation that it does. It’s not scratchy but the lack of give may put you off if you’re looking for a more “fountain pen” experience (and this is a fountain pen, why wouldn’t you?). Both the Lamy Safari and the Pilot Metropolitan have nicer nibs at around the same price range. They also have the added bonus of a personality.

Spoilers for the rest of the review.

The grip is just… why? It’s not like the pen body is slippery and the knurling on the grip is necessary. Visually I find it jarring, and there is zero chance that it is there for ergonomic reasons. This is an ergonomically terrible pen. If Muji wanted to do a better job it would have made the barrel wider, moulded a grip section not out of aluminum, and redesigned the cap entirely. The knurling itself is so poorly made that it just makes the grip more slippery, not less.

The worst cap design I have ever encountered.

All this is not great by any means, but I just wouldn’t have bothered to write a review about a boring, mediocre pen. The Muji fountain pen, however, pushes past the boring and mediocre and heads straight into terrible territory with its cap design. The cap has a razor sharp and thin edge that slots into a deep and narrow cutout around the nib. The result is that you can and will cut you fingers on that cap edge, you will have to learn to grip the pen really far away from the nib or you will cut your fingers on the edge of the cutout at the end of the knurled (why?) grip, or it will dig uncomfortably into your fingers. If you dare try to absentmindedly cap the pen then there’s a good chance that you’ll catch your finger in between the cap edge and the knurled (why?) grip and that is pure torture. Also guess what, Muji let’s you have the same finger cutting experience on the other end of the pen too!

I also replaced the terrible cartridge that Muji supplies with this pen with a converter (a Pelikan converter). It fit perfectly, but I didn’t fill the converter first and then attach it to the pen, I made the mistake of dipping the pen in a bottle of ink and filling the converter through the nib. The mess was a sight to see. First of all, the knurling on the grip is a real ink magnate, but it’s the deep groove that the cap goes into that’s the winner here. Ink not only seeps into it and is then extremely difficult to clean out without taking the pen apart and soaking it in water, if you don’t do that then the cap lip gets soaked in ink every time you cap the pen, and so you’ll get ink stains everywhere.

Oh God, who let them do this twice?

The pen posts using the same terrible mechanism as the cap, which means that there’s a second deep groove that you can cut your fingers on, on the other end. If you’re a pen fidgeter, this will teach you not to fidget. Is that a plus?

But look how pretty it is! It posts so well!

If you’re filming an IKEA commercial, feel free to use this pen. Otherwise, do yourself a favour and buy a Pilot Metropolitan.

Karas Kustoms Battleworn Ink 2.0 Rollerball

I am a big fan of Karas Kustoms machined pens, and up until recently I owned all of their lineup except for the Ink rollerball. So when Karas offered a grab bag of matching battleworn Ink 2.0 rollerballs I decided to roll the dice and purchased two of them. There’s always a risk when buying grab bag pens, but I had some tremendous luck and got two pens that are not only in some of my favourite colours, but also in colours that I don’t yet own. I was also fortunate enough to get one pen with a tumbled aluminum grip and one with a regular one, which means that I had a chance to experience both of my preferred grip styles in these pens.

Beautifully designed machined pens.

First thing’s first: the anodization on these pens is spectacular. The colours are really vibrant, and the Battleworn finish does not take away from that. They pop out in any pen lineup, rivalled only by my Spoke pen in terms of brightness:

From left to right: Karas EDK, original Render K, Battleworn Render K, Retrakt V2 , Ink 2.0, Retro51 Dino Fossil, Spoke Pen Orange Crush, Ink 2.0, Caran d’Ache 849

As you can see from the lineup photo above, the Ink 2.0 is a big, chunky pen. It’s larger than any other pen that Karas offers, and while it’s about the same length as the Spoke Pen, it’s much wider. Even so, this is not an overly heavy pen, and the added girth does make for a pleasant writing experience. This is a workhorse pen, built to last, and build to accompany long writing sessions.

The Ink 2.0 uncapped.

There’s quite a distance between the tip of the pen and the threads, and so there’s little chance of them getting in the way of your grip. Despite that, Karas has taken the precaution of ensuring that the threads aren’t overly sharp. Do take into account though that despite the 2.0 name, this is the older version of the Karas Ink rollerball, and so it has the old version of the threads and the cap. The threads on the new Ink V2 (I know, the naming could have been better, but at least it’s consistent across their lineup) are shorter, and have a flat area before them. This serves to even further place your fingers away from the threads, and is required for their Sta-Fast cap system. This system adds an o-ring to the cap, and prevents the pen from unthreading itself. My Ink 2.0s don’t have this system, and so they unthread themselves rather too easily, although nowhere nearly as bad as the original Render K. Again, this is a problem that you won’t encounter if you’re purchasing a new Ink V2 from Karas site right now, and they do a good job of clearly pointing the differences out.

You can see the differences in the tumbled grip and the regular aluminum grip.

The grip on the Ink rollerball is really where the pen’s design shines. It has such a unique profile, with the flare right before the tip cone. It makes for a very comfortable grip section, with added “grippiness” provided by the tumbled finish, should you choose to get it. The grip also comes in black anodized, brass and copper.

Unusual but beautiful design.

A closeup on the old threads shows the difference in the levels of Battleworn finish between these pens. The cyan pen was clearly less tumbled than the magenta one, so I am considering switching the grips between the two, to complete the extra Battleworn look.

The new Ink V2 threads don’t look like this.

Here you can see even better the different levels of Battleworn finish between these pens:

My pens arrived with a Pilot G2 large 0.5mm gel ink refill, and so far I haven’t replaced it. It’s very easy to unscrew the section and replace the refill with anything else that you like, and Karas does a fairly good job on their site, listing popular refills that fit their pens.

I think that the Karas Ink is one of their most beautiful and well designed pens, and there’s a good chance that I’ll buy the Ink V2 once I see a colour and finish combo that catches my eye. Everything from the robust clip design, the placement of the visible screws on the cap, to the length and girth of this pen and especially the grip design is well thought out. It’s clearly a step up from the (excellent) Render K, and if you’re looking for an impressive yet practical machined pen, the Karas Ink V2 is probably the pen for you.

Spoke Roady Gecko Pen Review

The Spoke Design Roady Gecko pen about a week ago, and I’ve been using it constantly since then. The Roady is an EDC pocket pen made of machined aluminum that is built around the Uni-ball Jetstream SXR-600 refill. Unlike its predecessor, the excellent Signo DX compatible Spoke Pen, the Roady is capable of accepting a wide variety of Parker style refills, including the Fisher Space Pen refill, much beloved in EDC circles.

I don’t usually go for flashy pens, but something about the design of the Roady and the colour options offered made me grab the Gecko. This charmingly named colourway has a lime green cap, an orange barrel and finial, and rainbow coloured grip and clip. The result is even better in person than it is in photos – a pen that makes you smile and is bound to draw attention to itself.

Capped the Spoke Roady is tiny, and ought to fit comfortably in your pockets, if you have some.

There are a few other colourways with similar rainbow patterns on their grip and clip. The result is gorgeous, and I’m glad that Spoke Design haven’t offered these only as limited edition pens, or charged an additional markup for them. That is commendable and impressive, particularly in today’s machined pen market.

Rainbow clip.

Trying to write with the Spoke Roady unposted is asking for trouble, as it’s verging on golf pencil short in its body length. This is a pen clearly designed with posting in mind.

Too short for comfort unposted.

When posted the Spoke Roady becomes a viable EDC pen, although it’s still on the short side. This means that it’s great for short notes on the go, which is what it’s intended for, and not the best for long note taking sessions. The Roady posts using magnets, making a satisfying click when posted. It’s not as great a fidget toy as the Spoke Pen is, not that this should ever dissuade you from purchasing it.

Capped and ready for work.

For some reason the refill came shipped in a separate sleeve and not inside the pen. This is a peculiar choice since the refill came in a Uni-ball refill bag, but with the spring and o-ring already installed, and for some reason a bit of tubing meant to be used as a spacer of some kind? It’s not really clear. Also, while you get a cool sticker and generally nice packaging with the Roady, you don’t get an explanation of any kind with the pen. That’s a shame because it assumes that everyone will know how to handle the refill when it comes to changing the pen’s refill. It feels like a missed opportunity for Spoke.

The refill, Jetstream SXR-600

Here’s the Spoke Roady next to the Spoke Pen. If you can only afford one pen and you’re out and about a lot and like wild colours, then I’d recommend getting the Roady. Otherwise, get the Spoke pen, especially if you like writing in fine lines. Both are good pens, just each one is suited for a different use case.

Roady on the left, Spoke Pen on the right.

Writing sample on Rhodia paper. The Jetstream SXR-600 in 0.7 is an excellent refill choice in the Parker refill category, and the Parker style refill itself is a great choice for an EDC type of pen.

The Roady is a great little pen to have handy, and it’s reasonably priced for a machined pen. I won’t be surprised if I end up buying one or even two more.

Stabilo Boss Pastel Highlighters and Notes on Highlighting

There’s something about multi-coloured sets of stationery items that I just find irresistible to the point where I bought an entire set of Stabilo Boss Pastel highlighters even though I hardly ever use highlighters.

These were on sale. It hardly justifies me buying them.

I think highlighters are one of the quintessential back to school items, as you’re likely to use them most when you’re revising or reading and taking notes for a class. I used to use highlighters extensively, in the “bad old days” when Stabilo Boss were the only decent highlighters around. They are now bested in every possible way but price (and even that depends where) by their Japanese counterparts, with their sophisticated windows, double-sided tips, brush tips and weird double line producing tips. Even when it comes to colour choice the old Stabilo Boss gets left behind.

The strange mottling you see is because these lay down so much terrible ink.

The Stabilo Boss highlighters are likely what you’ll find in the office (when you actually go there, Covid permitted). If you can get your office to purchase the pastel version of these I highly recommend it as they are less searing on the eyes than their standard fluorescent brethren. Otherwise these have a chunky pen body that’s pretty comfortable to hold, especially if you’re a kid, and truly terrible ink. It’s much too wet, and tends to bleed through practically every kind of paper that you’ll find in a normal office setting, and most of the high quality stuff too. My main use for them has been as colouring markers to give to the kids my colleagues sometimes bring to work. I draw colouring pages with a sign pen, and if the parents didn’t bring coloured pencils or markers with them, the Stabilo Boss markers do in a pinch.

Even on relatively thick Baron Fig Confidant paper these manage to bleed and show through.

As for actual highlighting, these do a terrible job. They smudge anything but ballpoint, they bleed through like terrible, and the colours are decent but not very exciting. Note that these pick up ink and retain it pretty well, which gives the classic “dirty highlighter” effect, especially on the lighter coloured ones.

Highlighter testing on Rhodia paper, which you’ll probably not have access to at work.

So if you’re looking for a highlighter, look elsewhere, there are much better choices on the market. I’m not going to even deign to test Stabilo’s claim that these still work after being left uncapped for 4 hours. It’s more important that the actual highlighter is good and useful than that it wins in a highlighter survival contest that has little to do with their standard everyday use.

Now to the notes on highlighting: on the second semester of my first year as an undergraduate I had a professor who actually took the time to teach us how to take notes and revise. He had an acerbic sense of humour and a great dislike of highlighters. “If you want to highlight something, only use a pencil, or at the most a pen, to underline it. Never use highlighters, because then when you read back your eyes will only see the highlighters, and if you’ve misunderstood something, or appropriated too much importance to a sentence or passage you have little chance to ever correct it. Underlining with something that doesn’t immediately jump out to you lets you see things in context, and reevaluate them if necessary”.

I tried his advice out and I found out that it worked well for me, and so I’ve been underlining and not highlighting ever since.