BigIDesign Pens Overview

BigIDesign is one of my favourite machined pen manufacturers, and I have practically every machined pen they make (apart from the PHX, which I don’t like visually). I’ve backed many of their kickstarters, including their newest one which ends in a few days, and I know that they deliver on what they promise, on time. That’s no mean feat, and it’s that consistency, not just the quality and design of their pens, that keep me coming back to them.

I have a lot of BigIDesign’s pens, and there are a few more on the way.

While I reviewed many of their pens in the past, I thought that I’d do a quick overview post, for those just getting into machined pens or into BigIDesign’s pens and wondering where to start.

Almost the entire standard pen lineup. I don’t own the PHX, and the Ti Mini pen is in one of my travel backpacks and I don’t remember which one.

BigIDesign create machined metal pens, and the first thing to know is that they have two sites. If you’re based in the USA go here, and if you’re from anywhere else in the world go here. They are one of a very few companies that offer free international shipping on their pens, and that’s no small thing. Their service in general is top notch, and the pens come in functional, well thought out packaging that is gift appropriate without being incongruously fancy. These pens are workhorses, not status markers.

BigIDesign pens all accept more than one kind of refill, and most of them accept a very long list of refills. When in doubt, consult the pen’s product page for a link to a spreadsheet with the full refill compatibility list.

The pens are made of stainless steel, titanium alloy, brass, copper or zirconium. Certain special edition pens (like the orange one/orange highlighted one) are Cerakote finished. These are handsome pens, but if you’re looking for durability, these aren’t for you. The finish chips off and mars when bashed around. The bolt pens come with optional damascus clips and bolts.

The titanium pens come in three finishes, which you can all see in the photo above: machined raw, stonewashed, and midnight black. Of the three finishes, the stonewashed weathers the best, and machined raw shows scratches the most. I happen to like that look on my Ti Arto, but of the three finishes, stonewashed is my favourite (also in terms of grip and feel), which is why I have the most of it.

I don’t like listicles, so I’m not going to rank these pens. I will just note what they’re best at, and who I think should get them:

Ti Arto – accepts the most refills by far. If you like experimenting with refills, and enjoy using capped pens, this is the pen for you. It was my first BigIDesign pen, and remains my favourite because of its versatility and the fact that while it’s built like a tank, it doesn’t look like one. This isn’t a pen for people who like fidgeting with their pen, or just want to jot down a quick word or two, because it is capped.

Ti Arto EDC – the same as the Ti Arto but smaller, and accepts less refills, this is a great option for a pocket or purse pen. The cap means that even misbehaved refills won’t leak onto your belongings or clothes. It is large enough to be used unposted, unless you have really large hands.

Ti Pocket Pro – the number one choice for those looking for a pocketable, EDC, workhorse pen. Uses a twist mechanism, built like a tank, and with very good support for a variety of refills, this is the pen that I take on trips and to the hospital with me. The Pocket Pro and the Ti Artos are very easy to clean/disinfect.

Ti Click EDC- if you want a click pen, go for the side click. This pen looks good, but has a mushy click mechanism that will probably only appeal to those who like quiet click pens. The Ti Dual Side Click is better than this pen in every way.

Dual Side Click – the latest arrival to the BigIDesign family (minus the slim bolt, that isn’t shipping yet), this is one of the best pens that BigIDesign offers. The click mechanism is satisfying and fun to fidget with, the design is sleek and functional, and it supports a wide variety of refills.

Bolt Action – good looking, with a very solid bolt mechanism that’s also a fun fidget toy. If you like bolt action pens, this is a good one to have, and it supports a good amount of refills, but take into account that the Ti Dual Side Click and most of the rest of BigIDesign’s pens support more.

Ti Mini/Mini Bolt Action/Mini Click – skip these unless you really, really want a tiny, compact pen. The issue is less with the pens, and more with the refill options at these sizes.

Which BigIDesign pen is your favourite?

Weekly Update: Pre-Dawn Running, Ducks, Books and Fountain Pens

It’s been a busy time, what with my new job taking a lot of time and effort, my running and training taking up a good bit more, and the rest of my spare time going mostly to reading lately, I found myself creating less. That’s not great. My journalling has suffered, my drawing has suffered, my blogging has suffered. The truth is that creating is like running: I feel good during my runs and great after them, but it doesn’t make lacing up and getting out the door any less of a struggle some days. It takes more effort to sketch and blog (I’ve been utterly unable to write since my cancer diagnosis, so at the moment writing is off the table), than to curl up with a book, so I’ve been consuming more content than I’ve been creating.

That’s something that I hope will change over the next few days and weeks. I have a lot of catching up and different kinds of posts that I’ll publish here (pen reviews, sketch posts, art supply reviews, planners and Moleskines, etc). And as September is lymphoma awareness month, and childhood cancer awareness month, expect some posts related to that in the near future.

Despite the heat and humidity my running has stayed on track. This morning I woke up at 4:30 to get my long run in before the heat made things too unbearable. The weather is starting to get a bit better now, and I managed to run a little over 9 kilometres. That’s the longest run I managed to finish since my breathing issues started, and it’s a big milestone. I have a 10k race in two months and when I enrolled I wasn’t sure that I’ll be able to complete it. Today was a good indicator that I have a just may be able to do it despite having a busted lung.

Running in the dark and boats at sunrise.

I finished reading Dr Jen Gunter’s “The Vagina Bible,” which I recommend that anyone with a vagina read (it’s very informative and empowering), and Andrew Cartmel’s latest Vinyl Detective novel, “Attack and Decay”. It was a fun and fast read, and Cartmel knows how to write compelling plots and off beat characters, but his insistence on using purple language and calling attention to his protagonist’s hetro maleness is annoying at times. We get it, he’s a dude and he finds women attractive.
Next up on the reading list is likely “The Sentence” which is a Tournament of Books book (and I decided not to continue with the tournament reading list this year), but as I’ve already bought it and it seems interesting, I’ve decided to give it a go.

Ducks, geese and the Vinyl Detective.

I’m using four fountain pens at the moment, and none of them are for sketching (although I write my sketch journal’s out with my Platinum 3776 UEF). All of these are new pens, inked for the first time. The Diplomat Aero is an excellent pen at a great price point with a very unique and elegant streamlined design. The Colorverse Golden Record, on the other hand, is a disappointing ink. This is the second time that I’m using it, and it darkens considerably when left in the pen, becoming more brownish than golden orange.
The Platinum Plaisir 03 is a pretty decent pen for anyone first venturing into fountain pens. It’s a cartridge pen, and I’m not a fan of the Platinum blue it came with, but I’m not going to invest in trying to find other ink options for it.
The TWSBI ECO is an excellent pen, particularly for the price point, and J. Herbin Emerald de Chivor is a really fun, utterly impractical ink. This ECO is the jade one, and it doesn’t glow in the dark, despite its looks.
The Platinum 3776 UEF is one of the best pens that I’ve bought in a long time, because of the nib. Yes, it’s scratchy, no I don’t mind. It doesn’t feel different than my beloved, finicky Pilot Hi-Tech-C and I get more personality from its fine lines than I get with something like a fineliner. Sailor Epinard (this is from a bottle of the discontinued ink, which is now no longer discontinued), is a good, dark and muted green that has a good amount of personality.

Pens in rotation.

Have a great week, and take care of yourselves in these hectic times.

BigIDesign Dual Side Click Pen Review

Big I Design is one of those pen manufacturing companies that use Kickstarter as a sort of pre-order system. I’ve backed several of their kickstarters and they always deliver on time, exactly what they promised to deliver. Their campaigns are for products that they already designed and know exactly how to manufacture, and I know that backing their work is a low risk endeavour. They know how to make pens, they know how to make pens that I enjoy using, their pens are solid and super versatile workhorses, and there aren’t too many options to get sidetracked by. It’s usually one new pen body in three different finishes, with maybe an add-on option or two.

So when they came out with a new pen on Kickstarter, the Dual Side Click, of course I backed it.

The Dual Side Click box.

Like all of Big I Design’s pens, the Dual Side Click is designed to accept a large variety of refills – ballpoint, gel ink and rollerball. If there’s a particular pen refill that you like or you’d like to try, it’s likely one that is compatible with the Dual Side Click. Here’s the full list of refills for your delectation.
I will note that likely because of the click mechanism, the Dual Side Click (and the EDC Click) don’t support as many refills as their Ti Arto and Ti Arto EDC counterparts (which support every refill on the market, I think, including the Uni-ball Signo DX UMR-1 refills). They do, however, support more refills than the Ti Pocket Pro, and an impressive amount of refills.

The back of the Dual Side Click box. Says what it does on the tin.

I got the stonewashed titanium Dual Side Click, which is by far my favourite Big I Design pen finish. I like the new packaging that they use, as its functional, well made and impressive enough to work as gift packaging, while not being so fancy that you’ll feel bad tossing it into the recycling.

Functional, well designed box. The little compartment on the right holds spare parts and the ring used with the clip tool, and it magnetically closes.

The box comes with a tool that will allow you to remove or adjust the clip (which is the little ridged rod and the ring you see below), and spare parts – o-rings and springs. That’s a wonderful touch, as is the magnetic closure on the ring and spare parts compartment.

Everything you need, right in the box.

You also get a Big I Design sticker, some info cards and of course, the pen. The stonewashed titanium finish is silky to the touch, and gives the pen an understated look. The grip section is wide, with a few engraved rings to added grip. It’s the same grip section as on the Ti Click pen, and is great for longer writing sections. The Ti logo is, as usual, elegant and understated. It’s not a “I’m an expensive pen!” kind of design, nor is is a “I’m a tactical pen!” kind of design. It’s a functional, pragmatic, solid, and enjoyable to use kind of design.

Info, sticker and pen.

The stonewashed finish will age well with time and use – like an old pair of jeans. You can see the new Dual Side Click next to the Ti Pocket Pro, which I have used since late 2017. The original finish on both pens was the same, but the various nicks and scratches on the Pocket Pro have added to its looks, and it has a little more lustre now.

Dual Click on the left, Pocket Pro on the right.

The star of the Dual Side Click is, of course, the dual side click mechanism. The pen is engaged by clicking on the click mechanism on top, just like any other click pen, and then the refill is retracted by clicking on one of the side clicks. The side clicks look like flat lozenges that protrude a bit on each side.

Side click mechanism.

When the click mechanism is engaged the side click buttons protrude a bit more, but they’re still unobtrusive and aren’t likely to snag on anything.

Other click mechanism.

You can press on either the left or the right side mechanism to retract the pen refill, and both the click mechanism and the side mechanism engage and disengage with satisfying clicks. Unlike the Ti Click pen, this Dual Side Click’s mechanisms aren’t mushy.

A closer look on the click mechanisms.

The Dual Side Click ships with a Schmidt P 900 medium refill, which is one of my least favourite pen refills. That doesn’t matter much as I immediately swapped it for my favourite refill, the Uni-ball Signo UMR-85N.

Refill swap.

As the whole point of the Dual Side Click is the pen body and not the refill (which most users will swap out), I created a video of the click mechanism in action:

This is a very satisfying pen to use. And fidget with during dull meetings.

If your favourite refill is among those that is supported by the Dual Side Click, then I highly recommend it. It’s one of the best pens that Big I Design have ever created, and that’s saying something. The titanium body is solid, weighty without being overly heavy, and comfortable to hold and use. The click mechanism is excellent, and it’s fairly priced, especially when you factor in the refill choice flexibility and the free worldwide shipping (and the lifetime warranty, which I’ve never had to use for any Big I Design pen).

Weekly Update: Ink Washes, Health Scare and Finding My Stride

It’s been a while since I posted an update, and there’s been fewer posts than usual during the last two months. This is mostly because I started a new job in June, and it’s been longer hours and more work than I anticipated at first. I am enjoying myself, but the change means I have less free time, and that I need to prioritise things differently to better fit the things that I care about into my life. Was moving from a cushy and undemanding job to an interesting and fun but much more demanding one a mistake? Time will tell, but so far I’m not regretting the switch.

As I’m starting to find my footing, I’ve been able to find more time for my hobbies. During the early days of my new job the only thing I did was work, exercise, sleep and eat. Then reading came back into my life, and journalling and sketching followed. Meanwhile the Sketching Now Watercolour course is over and I only had time for the first week, but thankfully the materials are all available online so I’ll be able to complete it all eventually.

What’s left my life almost entirely so far is watching TV, and I doubt that it will regularly return. In terms of media consumption, I read and listen to podcasts and that’s about it. I will watch specific things on Disney Plus or watch Adam Savage make things on YouTube, but even that isn’t something that I do often these days. It’s not a value judgement on TV – it’s just that I have less time now, and of the things I could easily get rid of, this was one of them.

Lego Orchid set (it’s gorgeous). I find building these sets very relaxing, and as you can see in the background, I have quite a few more to build…

Another thing that went out the window is social media. I’ve stopped checking Twitter and Facebook regularly. The only thing left is Instagram, which I still spend too much time on for my liking, and as Facebook starts messing with it I may likely leave as well.

Health

I had a bit of a health scare in late June. It was 6 months after my last chemo treatment, and I had some blood work done for a check up with my hemato-oncologist. One of the results was extremely low, and it was for a test that people rarely get and I certainly have never gotten before, so I had no baseline to compare it to. What little information I found online indicated that I either was going through kidney failure/had a kidney tumor or had a rare form of blood cancer (beyond the blood cancer that I already had). Two sleepless nights later my hemato-oncologist (bless her), told me that everything was OK. The rest of my blood work was good, and this test was meaningless for people in my condition. She never asked for it, and I don’t know what possessed my GP to ask for it. In any case, I am now officially well enough to go on the regular post treatment checkup schedule, which means once every three months. Yay!!!

I’m running five times a week now, four 5ks a week and I’ve now started to work in a long run in the hopes to get back to running 10k. It’s tough running in this heat and humidity, especially with my lungs not being 100%, but I’m pushing through and enjoying myself. Running is my meditation, and has remained that way even though I now also meditate as part of ACT.

I’m also going twice a week to lift weights in the gym, nowadays with a mask on to avoid COVID. I’ve been vaccinated four times, but am now working from home again and staying masked as I can’t afford to get sick with the state of my lungs. Practically nobody is wearing masks anymore, and almost everyone around me is sick, so it’s been frustrating to try and stay healthy under these conditions. I’m hoping that the Omicron variant vaccine will be available here in a month or so, and I’m keeping an eye on the numbers to know when I can go back to the office and see people face to face again.

Reading

I’ve finished Hillary Mantel’s “The Mirror and the Light”, the third and final book in her trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. I’ll write a more lengthy review of it on Goodreads, but I will say that I got tired of the book at around the 60% mark (it’s about 900 pages long), and it didn’t really recover from that point on. I can see why Mantel struggled with this one, and I don’t regret reading it, but it’s not as good as the previous two books, and it could have done with some robust (and perhaps ruthless) editing.

I’ve also finished Ali Smith’s “Companion Piece”, which is a companion piece to her seasonal quartet of novels (Autumn, Winter, Spring, Summer) and is excellent. You don’t need to read the quartet to enjoy this book, and “Companion Piece” would also be a good introduction to Smith’s writing. It’s written in stream of consciousness style, although it’s fairly easy to understand (nothing as complex as Joyce), and there’s a joy in her writing, compassion, insight and humour that make reading her always an enjoyable and worthy pastime.

As these were a bit challenging to read, I had an Agatha Christie “palate cleanser” in the shape of two novels: “The Man in the Brown Suit” and “Crooked House”. “The Man in the Brown Suit” is a detective/adventure story that was originally light hearted, but today just doesn’t work. There’s too much racism and sexism to bear, especially if you know anything at all about the history of South Africa, diamond mines, and labour relations in Africa. “Crooked House” was one of Christie’s favourite novels, and it’s a fun and interesting book with many original characters (and yes, also spots of racism).

Pens, Pencils and Notebooks

I’ve been playing around a lot with ink washes lately, as I’ve written here. They’re a fun and quick way to add colour to a sketch, and having a limited palette makes me appreciate colour values more.

Quick sketch of squash plants gone wild in a local garden.

I’ve written almost all of my fountain pens dry, with the exception of a Franklin Christoph 45L Sage with a S.I.G fine nib (filled with Bungobox June Bride Something Blue ink) and a Platinum Plaisir filled with the blue cartridge it came with. The other fountain pens I have inked (two Lamy’s and two Sailor Fude pens) are used for sketching and not writing. I’ll likely fill up a few pens next week.

From left to right: Platinum Plaisir, Franklin Christoph 45L Sage, Sailor Fude pen, Lamy Lx Rose Gold, Lamy Safari white and red, Sailor Fude pen.

The BigIDesign Dual Side Click pen arrived from the kickstarted that I backed, and it’s fantastic. I hope to have a review up next week, but so far I’ve really enjoyed using it, and I think that it’s their best pen yet (which is saying something).

I’ve decided to start switching around the pencils that I use, instead of writing one down to a nub. I’ve been using a vintage Eberhard Faber Mongol pencil this week, and a Musgrave Tennessee Red one. They’re both #2 or HB pencils, but the Tennessee Red one is much softer and darker.

I’ve changed the way I use my notebooks, streamlining certain things, consolidating notebooks on the one hand, and starting a new notebook (MD A5 blank paper notebook) for insights and ideas that I would have previously explored on social media and now prefer to explore in private, on paper. I’m no longer chasing likes for these things, as I’m more interested in giving the thoughts in my head time and space to grow and change, and Twitter and Facebook are the last places to allow for that.

All the Rest

I’m back to decluttering my house, a project that I had started working on before I got sick and until now didn’t have energy to get back to. Yesterday I found a stash of half used notebooks that I forgot that I ever had, and it was bizarre to go over them and read what my pre-Covid, pre-cancer self thought about life in 2014-2015.

Staedtler Pigment Liner Review

I somehow managed to not review my favourite pigment/fine liner, despite it being one of the sketching tools that I use the most. While I know that the pigment liner from Sakura is more popular is stationery blogger circles, and Copic is thought to be the elite offering (it sure is in terms of price), Staedler’s pigment liners have been my go to pigment liners since I was a teenager, and they have always been the ones I compare all others to.

Pigment liner set bought at Cass Art in London

All pigment liners are expensive to purchase here, and Staedler is no different, which means that I always stock up on them when I go to Cass Art in London. This 6 pen set is always on sale, and you get a useful selection of pen widths. However, if you are just starting out, don’t buy a set – buy a 0.3 and a 0.5 and if you want to splurge add the 0.1 and the 0.8.

The full set: Calligraphy, 0.8, 0.5, 0.3, 0.1, 0.05

Whether you use Staedler pigment liners or ones from another brand (Sakura, Faber Castell, Copic, Uni-ball, etc), the 0.3 or 0.5 will likely be your base, bread and butter pen. I generally use the 0.3, unless I’m feeling shaky, I’m in a hurry and want to churn out sketches/illustrations, or I want to go for a dramatic effect, in which case I go for the 0.5 or the 0.8. The 0.1 is a pen that I use for the opposite effect – when I plan to use watercolour or an ink wash and I want the colour or wash to take precedent. The 0.05 is a pen that I used to use when I was younger and drew comics (it’s excellent for fine details), but I hardly ever reach for it now, unless it’s to work in small format with a colour wash of some sort following. It’s a fragile pen, so if you tend to lean on your pens, this one is not for you. How can you tell if you put a lot of pressure on your pens? Write a page with a gel ink pen and check the back of the page. Does it feel like braille lettering? Does your wrist hurt? Then you’re putting to much pressure to use this pen without ruining the tip, and you may have issues with the 0.1 tip as well. I used to write like that and it took some practice for me to be able to use these ultra fine tipped pens.

Line samples on a Moleskine pocket sketchpad.

So, why do I love the Staedtler pigment liner so much?

  • It puts down a consistent, black line. This seems obvious, but I’ve tried more than one pigment liner that puts down a dark grey or washed out black line and it’s always disappointing.
  • It’s a rock solid pen that won’t dry out, and has a robust tip. I’ve had terrible luck with Faber Castel and other makers where a capped (mind you, capped) pigment liner stopped writing reliably after a month or two. This has never happened with my Staedler’s, and I’ve had some for years.
  • The pen body. This is what makes the Staedler’s the best of the best in my personal opinion.
The Staedtler pigment liner’s pen body.

So, what makes the Staedler pen body so great? It’s a whole lot of small things that just add up. It’s light weight but doesn’t feel flimsy, and it has a matte finish with a subtle lined texture all around, so its easy to grip. It’s also a bit wider than many of its competitors, and unlike many of them, it has the pen width clearly marked on both the pen body and the pen cap. It also doesn’t have any sharp edges, which you’d think would be an obvious in pen design, but sadly isn’t. Finally, it caps and posts and uncaps with a solid click, and without having to apply a lot of pressure. You know the pen is capped and the pen is uncapped when you need it. And if you so care to uncap it with one hand, you can.

Here’s the 0.1 Staedtler in action. There’s a photo of the sketch I made after applying an ink wash (Sennelier Burn Sienna India Ink diluted in water and applied with a brush pen), and one of the same sketch after I applied blue watercolour.

Staedtler 0.1 pigment liner, and ink wash.
Staedtler pigment liner 0.1, ink wash and watercolour.

During a private tour of Nazareth last year (a present from my wonderful family in between chemo treatments), I met the guide’s young boy. His father told me that he wanted to be a clothing designer when he grew up, so I broke out my sketching kit and gave him every Staedler pigment liner that I had on me. His eyes lit up once his father explained what these pens were. If you have a budding artist, designer, sketcher, doodler in your life and you’re wondering which gift to give them, two or three Staedler pigment liners will always be welcome.

Weekly Update: Flowers and Races

This week was busy and filled with milestones. On Sunday I celebrated my 40th birthday. That’s not something that I was sure that I’d get to celebrate: in June and July last year I thought that I was dealing with a much more aggressive form of lymphoma, and I was unsure if I’d live to 40. Being where I am right now in terms of health and life in general makes me feel lucky and blessed.

On Wednesday I participated in my first race since 2019 (I missed a race in early 2020 due to Covid concerns, and then all the local races were cancelled until late 2021, when I was dealing with cancer). I was worried about the crowds triggering my post trauma, and the start of the race was challenging, but then the crowds cleared up and I had a great time.

I sketched a bit this week, working with watercolour pencils and watercolours. I’m still experimenting a lot, and still trying to work out how to sketch plants and foliage. Here’s a very quick sketch from a local garden, done with ballpoint, Faber Castell Albrecht Durer watercolour pencils and watercolours (Schmincke Horadam and Daniel Smith) on a Stillman and Birn pocket sketchbook. I didn’t feel like sketching so I just did a quick study of some rocks and plants, experimenting with textures.

Quick experimental rock and plant sketch.

I’ve inked up all of the fountain pens that I bought on my latest trip. That’s an Oldwin 2000 Years of History pen in silver (gorgeous, with a fantastic nib, but very heavy as it’s large and has a silver body), two Waterman 52s, with lovely flexible nibs. One of the pens is still stickered, and yet in the spirit of use the good china, I inked it. There’s also a Wahl Eversharp in the Kashmir colourway. I think that it’s an Equiposed that somehow got an adjustable nib on it, but I bought it for the phenomenal nib, not the pen body as much. All four pens were bought at Mora Stylos in Paris, and I am very happy with them.

I also popped a J. Herbin Eclat de Saphir cartridge into the Kaweco Collection Sport Iridescent Pearl pen that I bought in Present and Correct in London. It was very difficult not to buy up that entire shop, especially since I visited it twice.

The other two pens were inked up before my trip and are probably going to be written dry this week or the next: a Lamy Safari Petrol with a fine nib that I use for sketching as it has De Atramentis Urban Grey document ink in it and that’s waterproof, and a Schon Design Pocket 6 in 3D Teal that has a Diamine Sherwood Green cartridge in it.

From top to bottom: Oldwin 2000 Years of History, two Waterman 52s (the bottom one is stickered), Lamy Safari Petrol, Kaweco Collection Sport Iridescent Pearl, Schon Design Pocket 6 3D Teal, Wahl Eversharp Equiposed.

The Oldwin is inked with Pilot Iroshizuku Kosumosu, a new ink that I got as a gift from the lovely Mr. Mora. I don’t have many pink inks so it will be nice to give this ink a try.
I still am having terrible luck with J. Herbin inks. Their regular lineup is so watery and desaturated, it’s always been a bit of a let down, especially when compared to the vibrant colours on their labels.
All the vintage pens are filled with Waterman ink, as it’s safe on vintage pens and very easy to clean out. There’s Florida Blue (now called Serenity Blue), Havana Brown (now called Absolute Brown) and my desert island ink, Waterman Blue Black (now called Mysterious Blue).

Ink samples of the all the pens on original Tomoe River Paper.

In terms of reading, I finished reading Ben Aaronovitch’s “Amongst Our Weapons” and it was a really fun read. His previous novel in the “Rivers of London” series, “False Value” got me a little worried that he’d lost his touch (it wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t nearly as good as his previous seven books), but “Amongst Out Weapons” is a return to form.
I’ve also finished reading Agatha Christie’s “A Murder is Announced” and boy does she know how to write. The characters, setting, period come to life, and you can sense an intelligent and keenly observing mind at work.
I’m now back with the Tournament of Books, this time with “Our Country Friends” by Gary Shteyngart. If I find this book tiresome, I may yet give up on the Tournament of Books list as I’ve got more than enough good books that I can’t wait to dig into.

Next week is very busy, so I’m not sure if I’ll have time for any long posts. In the meanwhile, please remember to take a break from social media and enjoy your life: call a friend, take a walk, listen to a family member, be kind to someone, volunteer in some way. And if you are on social media, please be kind.

Drehgriffel Nr. 1: A Review of the Leuchtturm1917 Gel Ink Pen

London Graphic Centre is one of my favourite stores in London. It’s tucked away in the corner of a street off of Neal street in Covent Garden, and it’s a real haven for artists, designers, architects and anyone who loves stationery and art supplies. I visit it several times whenever I’m in London, and I never fail to find something new and interesting there to try out. This time was no different, and one of the first things that caught my eye while I was there was this:

Rectangular box, Leuchtturm1917 logo, aquamarine colour, unusual pen design – of course I had to check it out.

It was just above the Leuchtturm1917 notebook display, and there were just three or four colours available, but it was obvious that this pen was designed to match the colours on offer in the Leuchtturm notebook lineup. I assumed at first that it was a ballpoint, in which case I wasn’t really interested in it, until I saw that it was prominently labeled as a gel ink pen. Now that was intriguing.

Rectangular cardboard box, with Nr. 1 and “Gel” clearly marked on it, plus the aquamarine colour.

The box was a bit confusingly marked as both “Gel” and “Gel ballpoint”. Checking out the Leuchtturm site clarified that this pen (we’ll get to the name in a minute) is indeed a gel ink pen, with a Japanese refill and a “Ceramic Ball” tip. The refill itself looks very much like the Monteverde Capless Ceramic Gel ink refill. My guess would be that this is the same refill, but more on that later.

Several things of interest here: the “Designed in Germany, Made in Taiwan” that is reminiscent of Apple’s packaging. The prominent “Gel” marking and then the confusing “Gel ballpoint” designation. And the “Ceramic Ball” notation.

Somebody really took the time to design this box, but really didn’t consider how illegible the pen’s name is:

I was sure that the pen was called orehgriffel or ovehgriffel.

The pen is called Drehgriffel Nr. 1, a bit of a mouthful. Apparently Drehgriffel means “rotary stylus”, which probably refers to the pen’s twist mechanism.

The pen has an aluminum body, a white twist nob at the end and brass pen tip. It’s well balanced, heavier than a plastic pen but lighter than a Retro 51 or a machined pen. It’s slightly heavier than a metal bodied Caran d’Ache 849, but if they were put in a boxing ring they’d both be in the same weight category.

The Drehgriffel has a very 60’s look, which I happen to like, but other people may find to be dated. Also, the Nr. 1 is a weird designation when you don’t have any other pen on offer. Will there be a Nr. 2? A Nr. 3?

Here’s the pen’s refill and parts. It’s weighted slightly towards the tip because the tip is brass (and, of course, the pen tip will tarnish with time).

The Drehgriffel taken apart.

Here’s the Drehgriffel refill side by side with a Monteverde Capless Ceramic Gel refill, and they are exactly the same. Good to know if you’re looking to replace refills, although I suspect that it will take a while to write this pen dry.

Monteverde refill on the top, Leuchtturm refill on the bottom.

The Drehgriffel is similar in size and weight (and price) to the Caran d’Ache 849 metal barrelled pens. It’s a smidge wider and heavier than the 849, but they are very much in the same ballpark. Here they are side by side:

Leuchtturm1917 Drehgriffel on the left, Caran d’Ache 849 on the right.

Here’s a writing sample of the Drehgriffel against a few other gel refills. It’s noticeably wider than Japanese 0.5 gel in pens, and is closer to 0.7 gel ink refills. I tested it on a Moleskine squared notebook (and further down you can see it on a Leuchtturm1917 notebook).

Writing samples.

Here’s the reverse side of the Moleskine page. The Drehgriffel bled a bit more than its counterparts:

The reverse of the page.

Here’s a writing test on a Leuchtturm1917 80gsm blank notebook:

Leuchtturm1917 writing sample.

Here too there was visible show through an some bleed through, although there was less bleed through than the Moleskine.

The reverse side of the Leuchtturm1917 page.

The Drehgriffel writes smoothly, but there’s nothing in the pen’s smoothness that justifies the advertising. It’s a nice pen, that comes in a variety of colours and that has an interesting design and good refill. In my opinion it would have been more popular if it came with a click mechanism and was a little cheaper, but I still appreciate the fact that Leuchtturm chose to come out with a gel ink pen first and not the more obvious choice of a ballpoint. I like the look and feel of my Drehgriffel, although I would have liked it better if it would have been a little bit wider. As it is if I use it for more than a page or so without pause it causes my hand to ache and cramp up.

Now I’m wondering if there’s going to be a Drehgriffel Nr.2 with a click mechanism perhaps?

Karas Kustoms Machined Pens Grip Section Review

Karas Kustoms makes some of my favourite machined pens, and even with all the great new machined pens in the market I still think that a Kara’s Kustoms Retrakt, Render K or Bolt are the best first machined pens to buy. They are well made, well designed, tough, and well priced. In the past year or so they’ve added a lot of new grip options to the lineup, so I thought that I’d go through the various options and review them, to help those wondering which grip option to try.

Grip options from left to right: shiny anodized fluted, matte anodized fluted, anodized rings, Cerakote “plain”, anodized speed groove, anodized MK II, Cerakote dragonskin.

Not all of the grip options nor all of the finishes are offered in all of Karas Kustoms’ pens, however, if there is a particular combination you are looking for and it isn’t currently available there’s a good chance that it will show up in a limited edition at some point. Kara’s is always experimenting with their pens, so even though you may not be able to purchase any of the specific pens shown here, you’ll likely be able to find something else just as good.

Grip options from left to right: shiny anodized fluted, matte anodized fluted, anodized rings, Cerakote “plain”, anodized speed groove, anodized MK II, Cerakote dragonskin.

The newest of Kara’s grip options are the speed grooves, the MK II and the Dragonskin. Of the three, Karas seem to be issuing more MK II and Dragonskin lately, and these two grip options are the “grippiest” of them all. If you find machined pens problematic to grip because they tend to be slippery, the Dragonskin or the MK II grip options are made for you.

From left to right: speed groove, MK II and dragonskin.

Of the older grip options, the rings seems to be offered only on the EDK, while the fluted options are available on the Bolt and the Retrakt. The fluted options provide decent enough grip, but depending on how tightly how grip the pen you may find them uncomfortable for long writing sessions. They don’t dig into your fingers, they just feel a little “off” if you use the grip of death. The rings on the EDK provide little additional grip beyond what you get from the plain anodized options. I see the rings as more of an aesthetic statement here than something that provides more traction.

From left to right: fluted with shiny anodization, fluted with matte anodization, rings, plain Cerakote and anodized speed groove grip sections.

Karas has started creating more Cerakote (a kind of durable ceramic finish) pens lately, and in general they provide a little more grip than their anodized counterparts. In terms of finish, the shiny anodization and matte anodization are almost the same in terms of grippiness, and the Cerakote is slightly better than them, but not by much. If your hands tend to sweat a lot, these aren’t the best options for you.

Plain Cerakote Bolt V2

The rings on the EDK’s grip are honestly more for aesthetics than for added grip. I like the look and it suits the EDK very much, but don’t expect it to add functionality to the pen.

EDK with a ringed grip.

The fluted grip works, although it works better on the matte finished pens than the super shiny ones. The pen won’t slip from your hand, but it may not be the most comfortable thing to write with over time (depending on your grip). It is one of the more attractive and classy grip options, particularly suited for the longer pens.

Retrakt V2 with matte anodization and a fluted grip.
Bolt V2 with shiny anodization and a fluted grip.

The Speed-Groove grip option looks very slick and is pretty slick. Buy it for the looks, not out of any expectation that it will add to the grippiness of the pen. It’s comfortable, and a bit better than the plain and ring options in term of the traction it offers, but if you have sweaty hands, this is not the grip for you.

Bolt V2 with a Speed-Groove grip

The MK II will speak to those with a penchant for militaria (the grip design is based on the US MK II grenade) and to those looking for a robust grip option. It provides the most grip and has a traditional and understated profile. For a “wilder” option with the same amount of grip, see the Dragonskin below.

Retrakt V2 with an MK II grip.

The newest grip option that Karas offer is the Dragonskin. It’s dramatic, it calls attention to itself, but it’s also comfortable to hold and provides plenty of added grip. I like the look and love using this grip, but if you want the same functionality with a more traditional look, the MK II will probably be the best option for you.

Bolt V2 Cerakote finished pen with a Dragonskin grip.

Ti Click EDC Pen Orange Cerakote Review

I’m a big fan of BigIDesigns pens. I’ve supported many of their kickstarters, I have all of their pens (except for the Ti Ultra), and I enjoy seeing their takes on EDC pens and tools. They have recently started issuing some of their pens with Cerakote coating, so I thought that I’d do a quick review of the Ti Click EDC pen in orange Cerakote, which they made for the Fall (i.e. Halloween).

I’m not a packaging sort of person, but the new packaging the BigIDesign pens come in is clever enough to warrant a note.

Ti Click EDC Pen outer box

The thick cardboard box comes with two compartments, the large one with a slip cover and the other one with a magnetic clasp mechanism.

Large compartment on the left, with the instructions for changing refills. Small compartment on the right. You can see the instructions for the pocket clip removal tool and the logo sticker that came with the pen.

The large compartment houses the pen and part of the clip removal tool, in foam inserts that protect them. The small compartment houses a bag with spare parts (a spring and two o-rings, a very thoughtful addition), and a key ring to be used with the clip removal tool, to add torque to it.

On the left from top to bottom: clip removal tool, Ti Click EDC pen. On the right you can see the key ring and the bag with the spring and the o-rings.

The pen comes in a golden orange Cerakote finish over a titanium body, with the clip and knock in stonewashed titanium. It arrived with a Schneider Gelion 0.7mm gel ink refill which I haven’t tried out. I swapped in my favourite refill instead – the Uni-ball UMR-85N gel ink refill.

Ti Click EDC with its original refill.

The texture on the Cerakote refill is amazing. It’s matte and yet it sparkles, and its grippy without being abrasive. The result is an attractive pen that is comfortable to hold and use, because of the combination of a wide grip section, the textured coating and the grooves on the grip section.

Cerakote finish glowing.

The grip section is also where all the cleverness of this pen design resides: this is what allows you to customize the Ti Click EDC to accept practically every pen refill on the planet.

Grip section closeup.

The clip and knock mechanism are in stonewashed titanium, which suits this finish very well, but not all the new Cerakote finished pens offered come with this finish – some come with raw titanium clips and knocks, so read the description on the pen’s page to make sure you know what you’re getting and that you’re happy with it.

Clip and click.

I love the design on the end of this pen:

Closeup on the knock area.

This is a beautiful pen that is no longer available, but I still recommend buying a BigIDesign pen in Cerakote (green or bronze are now on offer. Navy and orange were on offer in the past) because they are such good EDC pens and the Cerakote finish only adds to their appeal in terms of form and function.

Ti Click EDC

Here’s a size comparison of the Ti Click EDC against a Caran d’Ache Fixpencil and a Sharpie. You can see just how wide the grip section is.

From top to bottom: Fixpencil, Ti Click EDC and Sharpie.

The “weak” spot on the Ti Click EDC is still the click mechanism. It engages successfully every time, but is quiet and gives very little feedback as it engages, making it feel “mushy”. This doesn’t affect its utility (it works every time, unlike in the earlier iterations of this pen), but it does make it an unsatisfying fidget tool. If that’s what you’re looking for in a pen, the Ti Bolt may be a better choice for you. Otherwise, the Cerakote finish just made a great machined pen even better.

Uni Jetstream Edge Review

I’m not a fan of ballpoint pens. Their refills tend to streak and glob, the ink they use isn’t ass dark or vibrant as their gel ink and rollerball counterparts, and something about them (probably the lightness and inconsistency of the refill) makes me grip them with “the grip of death,” which inevitably brings on hand cramps and pain. They are, however, useful at times, so I am constantly on the lookout for new and better ballpoint pens and ballpoint refills.

Enter the Uni Jetstream Edge, a ballpoint pen with a strikingly modern design and the world’s first 0.28mm ballpoint refill (there’s also a 0.38mm refill option but I won’t review it here).

Uni Jetstream Edge white and red body with 0.28 mm refill on a Moleskine Denim.

I love the design of this pen. The body is plastic, but the grip area is metal and relatively wide, which makes for a very well balanced pen. The bent wire shape of the clip adds to its modern and clean aesthetic, and I like that chose to make it red and not black or silver in the white edition of this pen. The clip looks like it would be a fun and springy fidget tool, but it’s quite inflexible and immobile. That’s great if you plan on using it to clip it to a shirt pocket, but the unusual clip shape means that clipping it to paper will likely crumple and even tear the paper. I don’t normally clip my pens to things, so that’s not going to be an issue for me, but YMMV.

The clip, and the subtle Uni Jetstream branding.

The Jetstream Edge grip section is metal and round, unlike the plastic, faceted pen body. There are grooves carved into it that make it comfortable to hold, and the refill sits very snugly in the pen sleeve. This is a pen that’s not going to rattle while you write.

Jetstream Edge grip and business end.

The 0.28 mm Jetstream ballpoint refill has been designed so that the tip won’t suffer the usual “bent out of shape the moment you breath too hard on it” fate of the Pilot Hi-Tec-C refills. Its sturdy but still keeps a tapered, fine tip, which means that you can use it with rulers and templates if you so desire.

Jetstream Edge on the left, Hi-Tec-C on the right. Note the difference in the tip and nose cone design between the two, and that the Edge grip is wider.

The refill the Jetstream Edge uses is the SXR 203-28 for the 0.28 mm or the SXR 203-38 for the 0.38mm tips size, although it appears that can also accept the Uni SXR-80 line of refills used for Uni-ball’s multi-pens. If so, that could open a wider range of refill colours and tip sizes.
The original, SXR 203, refill is very slim, which would have been problematic if it was a gel ink refill (you’d have written it dry in a day), but shouldn’t be a problem with a ballpoint refill. That being said, I doubt that this refill will last as long as a standard Parker one, not to mention the Caran d’Ache Goliath.

The Jetstream Edge dismantled with the refill on the side.

While Uni-ball brags that the Edge uses the first 0.28mm ballpoint refill in the world, there are other brands that use ultra fine ballpoint refills not far from it in size. My Midori (now Traveler’s Company) Brass Ballpoint pen has a refill that is around that size, so I thought I’d compare the two.

Jetstream Edge on the top left, the Traveler’s Company Brass Ballpoint is on the bottom right.

Here are the pen tips side by side. The barrels, grips and cones are very different but the refill tups are very much alike.

Jetstream Edge on the top, the Traveler’s Company Brass Ballpoint is on the bottom.

Below you’ll find a writing sample of the Jetstream Edge, and one of the Midori/Traveler’s Company Brass Ballpoint for comparison. Perhaps unsurprisingly, being a Jetstream refill, the Edge’s refill is better than the Midori’s even though it is slightly thinner. It lays down a more consistent and slightly darker line (although nowhere near as dark as a gel ink pen’s line).

I wrote seven full A5 pages with the Jetstream Edge, to see how consistent the line is over time, and to see if it would cause hand cramps after prolonged use. While I was writing I made a concentrated effort to keep a light grip on the pen. The barrel design helped with this, and the pen’s light weight and front heavy balance made it nice to hold and write with. But the Jetstream Edge is a pen with a sweet spot, not unlike certain fountain pens. Angle it too much and the refill starts to skip, so you need to write with the pen as vertically as possible. That slightly awkward writing angle may have been the cause of my hand cramps, but whatever the cause may be, this is not a pen that will work for long writing sessions for me.

So, do I recommend the Uni Jetstream Edge? If you’re a ballpoint fan and an ultra micro tip fan, then yes. Otherwise, there are cheaper and better ballpoint pens out there, even within the excellent Uni-ball Jetstream line.
Will I be using the Jetstream Edge? Yes, although not for long writing sessions. I love the line it lays down, and I like the aesthetic of this pen. Then again, I’m a fan of the Pilot Hi-Tec-C