Karas Kustoms Steampunk Bolt V2 Quick Review

I wasn’t planning on reviewing the Karas Kustoms Steampunk Bolt V2 pen because I was sure that it would be sold out by the time I got to it. Somehow, however, there appear to be a few still on sale on the Karas Kustoms site.

Dinges and Cerakote finish work together to create a really unique pen.

The Steampunk Bolt v2 has the same aluminium body and shape as the anodised Bolt V2, but it’s gotten a distressed bronze treatment in Cerakote. The basic Bolt pen has been dinged before the Cerakote finish has been applied, and the result is fantastic. The pen really earns the “Steampunk” title.

Big dent in the end of the pen, smoothed over and covered with bronze coloured Cerakote.

The Cerakote finish is smooth but not slippery, and really fantastic to hold. It’s also nothing like any other Cerakote finished pen that I’ve seen so far: it really gives the pen a bronze look without the bronze weight or smell. The pen is light (for a machined pen – don’t compare it to plastic), and well balanced. The black anodised bolt mechanism is as smooth to engage as ever, and works well with this finish.

Every ding adds to this pen’s looks. It’s just going to look better with time, I think.

There are two caveats to take into account with this pen (and other Karas Kustoms Bolt V2 pens):

  1. The pen comes with a Pilot G2 LG (as in large) 0.5 refill. I haven’t been able to customise it to work with my beloved Uni-Ball UMR-85 refills (the bolt won’t engage). It’s a decent enough refill, but I wish that it had been built around the standard G2, and so had more customisation options.
  2. There is a slight amount of play in the tip which makes it faintly click at times when you write.

All in all this is a very good machined bolt action pen, with a fantastic and very unique finish.

Esterbrook Estie Sea Glass Review

I am a huge fan of the original, vintage Esterbrook fountain pens. They are beautiful, versatile workhorses that are easyto find and affordable, provided you’re not after the rarer colours/models/nibs. If only they didn’t have lever fillers, one of my least favourite filling systems, they would have been my go to vintage pens.

I don’t buy vintage brand reboot pens. In my early days of fountain pen use there was a lot of hype about the reboot of Conklin. Conklin fountain pens had an interesting filling mechanism that I wanted to check out, but they were all too expensive for me at the time. Then came the brand reboot in the mid 2000’s which made the pens more affordable and more widely available. So I bought a Conklin Mark Twain in 2009, and it was terrible. It looked and felt like a $10 pen, it skipped and hard started all the time, and it fell to pieces after the first use. I still keep it as a reminder to be circumspect with my purchases in the future. The experience made me leery of vintage brand reboots, and so when Esterbrook was rebooted I stayed clear of their pens. They didn’t look like Esties, they looked like generic fountain pens, so I decided that this too must be a QC nightmare money grab that would ruin the Esterbrook name.

I was wrong.

My photos do not do this pen justice. The Esterbrook Estie Sea Glass. It’s gorgeous, trust me.

After a mountain of good new Esterbrook reviews came in, and after I reconciled myself to the idea that the new Esterbrooks did not look like the old Esterbrooks I decided to give the Esterbrook Estie a try, and picked up a Sea Glass with a journalling nib. I normally don’t buy pens with gold hardware, but this was what was available at the time, and so a gold hardware Esterbrook Estie Sea Glass it is.

First of all, the pen is gorgeous. It has the classic cigar/torpedo shape that many fountain pens share, but the material of the Sea Glass pen sets it apart. It’s partly translucent, partly chatoyant, and vibrant without being Benu loud.

You can see some of the effects in the pen body here, but my photos don’t do it justice.

What took me by surprise is the capping mechanism. It reminded me of a child safe pill bottle, where you also have to push down as you twist to get the bottle to open. The mechanism does work well to make sure that the Estie doesn’t dry up or accidentally uncap itself, but it also means that it takes longer and a bit more effort to uncap the pen. If you write in short bursts this mechanism is going to be an annoyance.

You can see the capping mechanism threads. Esterbrook gets bonus points for making them attractive.

The “cushion cap” mechanism is well made and is attractive and unobtrusive when writing, so I don’t think it detracts from the pen. It’s just something to be aware of, since it is so unusual. It reminds me a bit of the Visconti Homo Sapiens caps.

The cushion cap inside.

The nib has scrolls and the Esterbrook branding on it, as well as a four digit number, like the old Esterbrook nibs. You can unscrew the nib and replace it with a vintage Estie nib, though I’ve been enjoying my Gina Salorino medium stub journalling nib enough to not want to change it. The fact that Kenro industries, the makers of the new Esterbrook, have teamed up with nibmeisters to offer custom nib grinds is amazing. Apart from the journalling nib they also offer an architect grind.

The nib.

The pen is branded on the cap lip below the clip with an “Esterbrook” imprint in gold script. I really don’t like the branding, as I feel like it cheapens the pen. If it were just an imprint then I think it would have been classier.

When the branding calls too much attention to itself…

The Esterbrook Estie is a cartridge-converter pen, and it comes with an excellent converter. The fact that this isn’t a lever filler like vintage Esties is great, as it’s much easier to fill, clean and check how much ink you have left in a converter, plus sometimes cartridges are convenient.

Cartridge converter at work.

The Esterbrook Estie is on the larger side but not heavy, with its weight distributed closer to the nib. It makes for a very comfortable writing experience, especially for me now. The cap posts, but I wouldn’t post it because it makes the pen overly long and unwieldy.

Here’s a writing sample with the journalling nib. It’s a lot of fun to use, and very forgiving to whatever writing angle you use it with:

Writing sample.

The Esterbrook Estie is more than a reboot to an old beloved brand. It’s a fantastic pen to select as your first “more than $100” fountain pen. It’s very well made, comfortable to use, has a classic fountain pen look, and an interesting selection of nibs that you can get directly from the manufacturer. It’s also very forgiving: easy to clean due to the combined cartridge-converter system and nib unscrewing, not likely to dry up or leak due to the cushion cap, and comes with easy and cheap ways to customise the nib post-purchase if you find that your tastes have changed. There are a lot of vintage Estie nib units out there.

The pen that I was leery of buying turned out to be one of the best fountain pens I have.

Tactile Turn Nautilus Quick Review

This is a super quick review because the Tactile Turn Nautilus is available only until the 8th of September, and I can’t write a more detailed review in my current circumstances (more on that in a later update).

This is the Tactile Turn Nautilus (the standard version), a limited edition Tactile Turn side click pen. Photographs do not do this pen justice. It’s stunning in person:

The Tactile Turn Nautilus

It’s a titanium bodied pen with a metallic, colour shifting Cerakote finish, and it’s that finish that transforms this pen from a good machined pen into a triumph of craftsmanship and design.

It’s impossible to photograph the colour shifting of the finish.

There are gold undertones to the finish that, coupled with the grooves on the pen body, the glittering gold clip and the Cerakote finish texture on everything, make this pen mesmerising.

The clip.

The clip has a gold Cerakote finish that evokes the golden undertones of the blue metallic Cerakote finish on the pen body. The gold is muted, and helps make the pen classy not flashy 🙂

The finish adds texture to an already textured pen (due to the Tactile Turn rings that are engraved on all the body). This makes the pen easy to grip, as it has an almost sandy feel to it.

The Tactile Turn Nautilus isn’t a light pen and is top heavy, but it’s still a pen that’s a joy to write with. If you’re considering a Tactile Turn pen, or any machined pen for that matter, I recommend giving the Nautilus a try.

In lieu of a longer review, if you have any questions, please post them in the comments and I’ll be glad to answer.

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.