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.

I Have a Tumour

I debated whether to write this post or not, and whether to write it now or wait for later, when I know which tumour I have. In the end I decided to start a post and write what comes out, and not try to overthink it.

I have a tumour in my chest cavity (mediastinal). Back in February this year I was forced to stop running for about two months due to a rather serious bout of Plantar Fasciitis. Due to Covid restrictions I had delayed replacing my insoles, and this was the price pay. After two months of rest, stretching and a course of anti-inflammatory pills I felt better and in the beginning of April I started running again.

Or at least I tried.

I had shortness of breath once I started, to the point where I had to stop running a few times during my run. I thought that it was due to me not running for almost two months. But the runs after that first one didn’t get better and after a few more I went to the doctor.

My GP said that my lungs were clear and he couldn’t hear anything. I told him that I was wheezing at night (at this point I was), and that I found running impossible and walking increasingly difficult. He said that it was a virus that was going around, and prescribed something to help with congestion. It was a 10 day course of tablets, and it did nothing to help with my shortness of breath or my wheezing and coughs.

I knew that something was seriously wrong, and thought that at the age of 39 I may have developed asthma. At this point it was time to fly to London, so I took my mother’s inhaler and went on the trip. I have no idea how I made it through 13-15,000 steps per day for 12 days there, but I did.

Once I returned I went to see my GP again, this time demanding a referral to a spirometry test and and to a lung specialist. Last Thursday I took the spirometry test and the results were abysmal. I had 35% lung capacity, and I scared the technician enough that she tried to do everything possible to get me to see a lung specialist that day. She didn’t succeed but my family managed to book me a to a lung doctor that day. He said that it wasn’t asthma, but he had no idea what it was. I needed to get a CT done.

I took a spirometry test at 13:40. I saw a lung doctor at 16:30. At 18:30 I had a CT angio done (my first CT ever). At 19:10 I had the results in my inbox.

A large mediastinal tumour. Possibly lymphoma.

Me, a healthy, non-smoking, non-drinking, physically active 39 year old.

I was admitted to hospital on Friday, and had a series of tests done, including a super painful, super traumatic biopsy on Sunday. I was released home for a few days of rest on Tuesday, and now, Saturday night, I’m back in hospital waiting for my very first PET CT on Sunday morning.

The hospital

I have no idea how I’m coping. For now I’m in a cloud of uncertainly and with zero control over my life as a phalanx of very good doctors try to figure out exactly what we’re dealing with here. It’s a tumor for sure, the question is which kind exactly. I’m moving around in my life as if it is someone else’s.

I’m back to journalling, after a break due to my mom’s health problems, Covid and several other personal issues. Recording everything as it happens has helped me deal with things. Analogue tools are still best for processing, and even though I would have loved to luxuriate with a Parker 51 on some Tomoe River Paper, I know the practicalities of hospitals enough to use a Karas Kustoms Render K with my favourite refill (Uni-ball UMR-85) and a Moleskine instead.

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.

How I Journal: A Sample

I decided to upload the pages from my journal entry today, as a sample and perhaps an inspiration for anyone wondering what to journal about. There’s nothing big or grand here, no deep felt angst, just small observations about my day that will bring it back to life later on. I made an effort to make my handwriting neater than it usually is, and I cut out a page of what happened later in the afternoon as it involved a family member suffering an injury and getting hospitalized, and I want to protect their privacy. Otherwise it’s a fairly standard entry. What’s missing is a title (added after the entry is completed and in this case not something I want to share) that summarizes the day. Oftentimes I glue things in instead of drawing something, and sometimes I just write in a rush and the page is just dense, messy handwriting.

I use a Moleskine Large hardcover, in some limited edition or another (in this case Pokemon Charmander), and a gel pen of some kind or another. Today it was the Karas Kustoms Ink v2 rollerball with Uniball UMR-85, my favourite refill. I don’t mind the show through, it helps me get through the fear of the blank page, and there’s no other notebook that has the Moleskine cover and internal design, so after years of futilely trying to replace it with something else, I just shut out the voices of the detractors and allowed myself to enjoy what I love and what works for me. Please do the same.

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.

Broken Lamps and New Pens

My little cat (I have two, a little black and white cat, and big black cat) managed to drop a desktop table sharpener on my banker’s lamp and it cracked the glass lampshade clear in half. So I had an interesting but unexpected project today: I bought a replacement lamp shade and took the lamp apart to get rid of the broken glass pieces. A youtube video and a Philips screwdriver took care of the taking apart bit; let’s just hope that I can put it back together again.

Broken shade halfway through dismantling.

I got my Battleworn INK 2.0 Karas Kustoms grab bag rollerballs today. This was my first Karas Kustoms grab bag and my first ink rollerball and I’m very pleased with both the colours that I got and the way the INK 2.0s look and feel. These are chunky but relatively light pens, and I look forward to using them and maybe reviewing them in the future.

Karas Kustoms Battleworn INK 2.0 purple and cyan.

The INK 2.0 uses the Pilot G2 LG2RF refills, which are larger than the usual G2 refills, and built a little different. I haven’t yet tried to swap them out for a different refill, but I suspect that they won’t accept my beloved Uni-ball UMR-85, which is something I was aware of ahead of time.

These are the pens and some of the notebooks that I’ve been using today (I’m not getting much fountain pen use lately): my beloved Orange Crush Spoke pen, and the new purple Karas Kustoms Battleworn INK 2.0 rollerball.

These two pens look great together. Spoke on the left, INK 2.0 on the right.

Field notes came out with a new addition to their National Parks series, which I’ll probably pick up on my next purchase there. They’ve got an offer for a free decal for purchases made by the 30th of August if that speaks to you.

Karas Kustoms Retrakt Review

Back in 2016 I purchased the 2016 Anniversary edition of the Karas Kustoms EDK. It was a Parker refill machined pen (i.e. relatively short) that came with a Schmidt P2186 rollerball refill (and a Rickshaw bag pouch with a notebook which I won’t review here).

You can see that pen on the right, with it’s grey red finish and its Karas logo with the year 2016 engraved into the barrel:

 

The 2019Anniversary Retrakt is the pen on the left, and when I first saw it during Karas end of the year sale I fell in love with the sleek design. The 2019 anniversary Retrakt fits a Pilot G2 refill (astrix. We’ll get to that later), comes in a matt finish with a black click mechanism and clip, and a “fluted” grip. Unlike the 2016 edition, it’s completely unbranded.

 

Both pens have a distinctive and attractive industrial design, and both are built like tanks. The anodization is fantastic, and both the clip and click mechanism are rock solid. The pens are fairly priced for the quality you get, they have good heft and balance, and are a joy to use. I personally found the fluted grip slightly less comfortable for use in long writing sessions than the regular grip, but I have a tendency to go “grip of death” sometimes. The fluted grip just reminds me to let go a bit, the pen isn’t going anywhere without me.

2016 Anniversary Retrakt on the right, 2019 Anniversary Fluted Retrakt on the left

This brings us to the refill situation on the 2019 Anniversary Retrakt. As soon as I got it I took out the Pilot G2 refill it came with and tried to replace it with my favourite G2 compatible refill, the Uni-ball UMR-85. It’s something that I do automatically with every G2 compatible machined pen. The click mechanism wouldn’t engage. The plunger went down but didn’t stay down, the tip of the refill never saw the light of day. This has never happened to me with a G2 compatible pen before, so I grabbed the original refill and placed it side by side with the Uni-ball one:

Uni-ball UMR-85N on the top, Pilot G2 on the bottom

This was when I realized that the Retrakt V2 must have somehow been designed to accommodate the Pilot G2 tip configuration and only the Pilot G2 tip configuration (unless you purchase a Parker style conversion kit from Karas). This was a big disappointment to me.

Schmidt vs Pilot G2 Retrakts

I probably wouldn’t have purchased this pen had I known this going in. I don’t hate the Pilot G2 refills, but I’m also not a huge fan of their tendency to be globby or stop working while they’re still half full. This means that I’ll be trying to hack a Uni-ball refill into this pen one way or another. Here’s hoping that I succeed because this the 2019 Anniversary Retrakt is a handsome and well made pen that I would really like to have in my rotation.

Karas Kustoms Battleworn Render K Review

In 2016 I purchased my first Karas Kustoms pens, a grey Render K. Brad Dowdy said that the grey Render K is worth checking out, as photos don’t do the pen justice, and he was right. I love that pen and I still use it regularly, despite it having two minuses:

  1. The refill is a ballpoint, which I’m not a fan of.
  2. The cap doesn’t stay on. Ever.

So I relegated my Render K to desk use, and I only used it in my reading journal, where I don’t write as much, so I can usually wait a few minutes for the ink to dry.

The “cap not staying on” bit didn’t bother just me, and Karas decided that it was worth addressing. Their Render K V2 mainly came out to address that problem. When one of the V2 Render Ks in Battleworn finish came on sale on Black Friday, I decided to give it a try. And this time I got the G2 version, which accepts Pilot G-2 refills (my favourite refill, the Uni-ball UMR-85N is G-2 compatible).

This is the olive coloured Battleworn Render K, and though it looks heavy and hefty it’s super light. It’s much lighter than my old Render K, and more well balanced.

The “Battleworn” finish means that the pen was tumbled after anodization, and so it’s full of nicks and has an “old jeans” kind of look to the top of the cap, the threads, and the tip.

You can see the effects of the tumbling most significantly on the grip. The rings on it are pretty well battered and chewed. While it may look rough, the finish is smooth and there’s no risk of cutting your fingers on a raw edge.

The finish on the cap looks great too. The cap has an o-ring inside that makes sure that it stays on unless you unscrew it, and the threads have also been redesigned to make capping more secure. As in the old Render K, you can’t post the cap.

I was prepared to dislike the olive colour, but I like its subtlety. It’s interesting without calling too much attention to itself.

Render K V2 on the left and the original Render K on the right

When you put the new and old Render Ks side by side you can see that they’re practically the same size, that the grip section has been redesigned, and that their threads look different.

The old Render K accepted refills through the top part of the grip, unlike the new Render K, where the entire grip section unscrews. I think that the new design is more streamlined and elegant, and in general the rings on the new grip make the Render K V2’s grip much better designed and less slippery to hold.

The old Render K feels much heavier than the new one, partly because I think that it’s not as well balanced as the Render K V2. However, it’s worth noting that in both Render K versions the grip section is a little on the thin side, so you might not find them well suited for long writing sessions.

The Karas Kustoms Render K V2 is one of the best machined pens in the market, and now that the cap stays on its a great EDC pen. I personally love the look of the “Battleworn” finish, and I highly recommend getting the G2 version of the pen and swapping the Pilot G2 refill with one of the many, better, G2 compatible refills in the market.