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The Noodler’s L’Ahab Frankenpen

I have chosen to pronounce it luh hab.

It’s Saturday the 14th, and on this special day I would like to present a cursed frankenpen that I’ve named the L’Ahab. It’s a Noodler’s Ahab with a Lamy Safari nib and feed. The Ahab is a flex pen with an ebonite feed and Noodler’s stock flex nib. The body and cap of the pen is made of vegetal resin that smells pungently earthy, to put it nicely. Since ebonite feeds can be heat set as needed, and since the grip section is able to take a wide variety of nibs, the Ahab is a good model for creating your own Frankenstein’s monster of a fountain pen.

The L’Ahab happened somewhat by accident; I had a spare Lamy feed that I had gotten from Vanness and I decided to shove it into my Ahab section to see if it would fit. Lamy feeds are designed to fit perfectly in the section of a Safari or AL Star, and they will get stuck if you don’t put it in just right, and it is now permanently stuck in my Ahab. As you can see, the feed is roughly 3/4 of a centimeter too long for this section, but the cap is roomy enough that it’s not an issue. If the exposed feed bothers you, it should still work if you cut off the extra at the bottom with a Dremel.

I have a Medium Kugel nib on right now, which works well for left handed overwriting. If you like the easy swappability and performance of Lamy nibs but don’t like their grip sections or their pens in general, the L’Ahab might be a nice solution for you. With the vacuum piston converter that the Ahab comes with, this pen has far more ink capacity than any Lamy. Maximum ink capacity can be achieved by eyedropper converting your Ahab with an o-ring and silicone grease. However, I have seen an eyedroppered Lamy Vista where the open ink window fountain pen body was replaced with a fully enclosed Vista rollerball body.

The L’Ahab has about the same ink flow as a standard Safari with a Medium nib. I inked up this pen with Diamine Nutcracker, and it writes smoothly with some light sheening on Tomoe River paper. The L’Ahab does hard start if you set down the pen for a few minutes, but that tends to happen with the Medium Kugel no matter what.

In the middle of writing this post I switched to a 14k gold medium nib. Lamy’s medium gold Safari nibs (in my experience) write very smoothly, and the L’Ahab is now my favorite way to write with one. I would recommend this frankenpen if you’re left handed like me and don’t like Lamy’s triangulated grip sections. If you want to make one of these yourself, you can find an Ahab here, and a Lamy gold nib and feed here.

Disclaimer: The links in this post are Amazon and eBay affiliate links. If you click them and make a purchase I may earn a small commission.

The Best of Left Hook Pens

As 2022 comes to a close, many websites republish popular and/or well written pieces from throughout the year, and this blog is no different. I recently went through my stats and tallied which posts you lovely readers have decided to view the most over the past 3 calendar years, so here are the top 10 posts from Left Hook Pens (so far).

1. Snap Cap Fountain Pens

2. The TWSBI Eco 2 Years Later

3. Upturned & Downturned Nibs

4. The TWSBI Swipe

5. The Pilot Deluxe Urushi

6. A Lesson On Ink Hygiene

7. The Desiderata Pen Co. BAMF

8. The Franklin Christoph Model 25 Eclipse

9. The Kaweco Sport (Fountain Pen)

10. The Noodler’s Cinematic Universe: Six Degrees Of Baystate Blue

Despite not being very active in 2022, my goal is to write more and continue to grow this blog in the new year. Thank you to everyone who have linked to, read, and engaged with these and my other posts, and I wish you a happy new year!

Karas Pen Co. Decograph

I received a Karas Decograph as a birthday present earlier in the year, and here are my first impressions after using this pen for a few months. The Karas Pen Company is based in Mesa, Arizona, and they make a variety of machined metal and acrylic pens. Besides fountain pens, they also make some very nice looking rollerball/ballpoint pens, mechanical pencils, and various accessories.

The Decograph is normally made with an acrylic body and machined aluminum trimmings, but earlier in the year they released an all aluminum production version, which is what I have. My Decograph has a body of red anodized aluminum and silver trim with a double broad Bock nib.

One issue that I tend to have with metal pens that have threaded caps is that the threads can be sharp and uncomfortable. For example, the Kaweco AL Sport is uncomfortable to write with for more than one sentence because it has a short grip section with about 3 millimeters of sharp threads. My grip usually falls a bit high on most small to medium sized pens, so factors like threading and body-to-section steps are a consideration for me. The Decograph has flat threads (about 6 mm long), a minimal step, and a long (21 mm) grip section. All of the edges on this pen have a slight chamfer, which is incredibly pleasing. The inside of the cap has an inner cap piece and a wide o-ring so that it stays closed and sealed in your pocket. The o-ring also cushions the cap when closing it, but gets all twisted when I’ve tried posting. The weight of the body itself is just right though, so I haven’t felt the need to post.

L to R: Kaweco Supra, Kaweco AL Sport, Karas Decograph

I recently ordered the Decograph rollerball conversion kit to try out as I was using mostly rollerballs at work. I had a blue-black needlepoint energel refill in there now and there’s not much else to say other than it writes great but the tip tends to wiggle. I’ve had this issue with every non-Pentel pen body that I’ve put this refill in though. Previously, I inked the fountain pen nib with Colorverse Cotton Blue and it writes well with a thicc line. This ink is a bit dry, and Bock nibs tend to be dry, so I’ll try an Irohizuku ink for potentially better results.

On new Tomoe River paper.
Pentel Energel 0.5mm needlepoint on Doane paper.
Opus 88 Bock medium nib w/ Iroshizuku Yama-Budo on Doane paper.

Iroshizuku inks are lubricated and flow well in most pens regardless of nib size. I changed the nib unit to a medium Opus 88 Bock 250 and inked the pen with Yama-Budo. Something that had never occurred to me is that, on pens like the Decograph where you can use it as a fountain pen or a rollerball, the fountain pen nib will almost always be longer than the rollerball insert with refill. The longer nib did change my writing angle a little bit, and my finger position on the grip section changed as shown in the photos above. The medium nib with Yama-Budo writes very smoothly and it flows well. Despite the inner cap seal I keep getting hard starts after not using the pen overnight or even a few hours. This also happened with the double broad nib.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is the nicest aluminum pen that I’ve ever owned. The anodized finish has a slight texture, and on the clip you can see the grain of the metal. I also appreciate the Karas engraving on the nib as it brings a nice art deco flair. While I like the idea of being able to switch from rollerball to fountain pen, I think my hand prefers the longer nib and the shape of a regular capless rollerball. The Decograph is available on the Karas Pen Company website in various materials and finishes.

The Pilot Lucina

The Lucina fountain pen from Pilot is a slick little pen that is no longer widely available in the U.S. except for on eBay. It has the aesthetics of an Italian sports car and comes in red/orange, yellow, blue, and black. The nib sizes available are fine, medium, and broad. Pricing on eBay ranges from $70-$100 USD, which isn’t that far off from its retail pricing. Back in 2020 I purchased a yellow Lucina in fine, and my wife then purchased a red one also in fine. We eventually switched pen colors, so the photos for this post will feature the red model.

When I purchased my Lucina in 2020, it was already hard to find in the U.S but was available on Jetpens. In 2022 this pen is no longer sold through pen retailers but can be found on eBay or the second hand market. Because of scarcity through changing markets, if you read this review and really want a Lucina for any number of reasons, I would recommend it if you don’t mind hunting for it and are willing to potentially pay for shipping from Japan. It’s a great pen, so here are my thoughts and opinions on how it feels and performs:

I once read a review of the Lucina from 2014 that said that it doesn’t have much more to offer than the Metropolitan, and that you should get it only if you really like the look of the pen and are willing to pay $85 for it. But, upon receiving the Lucina I’ve found that the nib and feed are different in both performance and shape. The Lucina nib is a bit bigger and wider than Pilot’s standard entry level steel nibs, and the feed is similar to the ones used on gold nib models like the Custom 74. So, I would say that the Lucina nib is a happy medium between Pilot’s steel nib pens and their gold nib ones. The red model looks similar to the Urushi lacquered Vermillion Custom 845, while the other colors look similar to certain models of the Custom Heritage 91.

The Lucina is on the smaller side, slightly longer than a full sized Sailor Pro Gear and roughly the circumference of a Pro Gear Slim. The grip section is similarly sized to the grip on the Custom Heritage 92. The threads are tiny, followed by a gentle step that has yet to bother me. The cap has an inner seal that keeps the nib wet for a long time. I’ve had the same cartridge of Namiki Sepia in this pen for over a year and it still writes perfectly. The one qualm that I have with the Lucina is that sometimes while unscrewing the cap, the grip section also unscrews. This is just something to pay attention to and would only be a problem if there was somehow a leak in the cartridge or converter.

The nib is gold plated and very smooth with nice ink flow on most papers. Like some Pilot gold nibs, the nib on the Lucina has a slight downward curve similar to a Posting nib. The tip itself is rounded enough that it still writes smoothly regardless of angle and handedness. Namiki Sepia has some nice shading and dries pretty quickly with a fine line. The grip section, while small, is still comfortable in my small hands for short periods of time. I haven’t tried using the Lucina to take notes or to write with it for more than a quick sentence, so I’m not sure how comfortable this pen is for extended writing. The cap unscrews in about 1 and 1/4 turns so it can be uncapped pretty quickly. As I mentioned earlier, the Lucina is able to stay wet and ready for quite a while, which is great if you have a handful of pens inked and don’t use it all the time.

The Pilot Lucina is a great steel nib fountain pen if you’re ready to make a step up from a Metropolitan or Prera (or another brand’s similar pen) but you’re not quite ready for a gold nib yet. The Lucina can be found on ebay and other second hand pen markets at various prices.

The Noodler’s Cinematic Universe: Noodler’s Q’ternity (Brevity Blue-Black)

Let’s expand the NCU with Noodler’s Q’ternity, a fast drying dark blue ink. Q’ternity is part of the Bernanke series, which consists of bulletproof and fast drying inks in office appropriate colors. Ben Bernanke was head of the US Federal Reserve during the Bush and Obama presidencies, and during the 2008 financial crisis. The Bernanke bottle labels are very cryptic with currency and highlighter. These inks are fast drying because the Fed needs quick dry ink to print all that cash.

Image courtesy of Anderson Pens.

The label on the Q’ternity bottle is a bit different as it has the $100,000 bill on it. This particular bill has Woodrow Wilson on it, the racist yet progressive 28th president of the United States. Wilson signed into act the Federal Reserve, began collecting income tax, and he led the US through World War I. His left eye is circled to make him look like he has a black eye, and all the zeroes are slashed through so that there are only ones. I’m sure that the black eye is Nathan Tardiff’s comment on the Fed and income tax. The word “gold” is crossed out and QE3 has been added next to it.

QE3 stands for the third phase of quantitative easing. Quantitative easing is where a central bank will purchase government bonds in order to inject money into an economy to try and boost growth. This has been used in the US during the Great Depression as one of many recovery tools, and during the 2008 financial crisis. Quantitative Easing is similar to how war bonds work, except with war bonds it’s the public purchasing the bonds and not a bank. The money earned by the government from war bond sales helps fund defense production. This was first introduced in World War I by Wilson and were called liberty (or defense) bonds. Bond sales were boosted by propaganda and rallies. These rallies sometimes included movie star appearances. The United States did this again in World War II, using more intense propaganda and the full power of the new Hollywood machine to sell more bonds. Different genres of movies became geared to potentially influence a variety of demographics.

Q’ternity is in the poster too!

There has only been one movie made about Woodrow Wilson, and that is Wilson (1944). It’s about the life of Woodrow Wilson from his time as dean of Princeton to his presidency. The second half of this two and a half hour long movie is focused on Wilson’s struggle to form the League of Nations, a precursor to the United Nations. This movie has been largely forgotten today, and it does not hold up well. In its time though, Wilson won several technical Academy Awards and did well at the box office. Wilson had otherwise made his mark on film history by calling 1915’s controversial The Birth Of A Nation, “History written with lightning”.

Q’ternity is the color of many of the suits in Wilson. It’s the color of the studio manufactured moonlight on a White House balcony. It’s the color of some velvet sitting room chairs. It’s the color of the blue stripes on the American Flag, and many signs. It’s also the color of the oval office. There’s a scene that’s just Wilson signing laws and acts, and the ink looks like Q’ternity.

Wilson has just signed the Federal Reserve Act with some kind of blue-black ink.

The production of Wilson by 20th Century Fox and Darryl F. Zanuck is more interesting than the film itself, and this production had a lot riding on it. At the time, it was the first movie to feature living historical figures, and it was the most expensive film at Fox to that date. It premiered during an election year, and there were concerns that Wilson would be considered Roosevelt fourth term propaganda. The film studios mostly felt (at least outwardly) that it was their duty to provide escapist fare for audiences, but they also knew how much power over audiences they could wield. Propaganda movies, or movies that were made to influence public opinion, became more prevalent during World War II, and Wilson can be included among the most heavy handed of its era.

Zanuck got the approval of Wilson’s surviving family and political associates at every step of the production process, and even had a Wilson scholar look at the script. A Technicolor film was expensive to make, so it needed to be able to turn a profit. Zanuck worried that Wilson would only appeal to intellectuals, so the movie was made in Techicolor and promoted as an important epic, a film to prevent the next world war.

At the bottom of the poster it says: “Cooperate with Uncle Sam. WAC recruiting week May 11th thru 17th.” WAC stands for Womens Army Corps, which tells you about who this movie was marketed to.

A studio could never own a Technicolor camera; they had to be leased from the Technicolor company. Along with a giant camera came a special Technicolor cameraman and a color director named Natalie Kalmus. Kalmus supervised every Technicolor movie from the mid 1930’s through the late 1940’s. She and her team would meet with directors, costume designers, set designers, and art directors to understand the appropriate color mood for the film. They would then make a “color score” for the movie, outlining the colors that should be used or emphasized in order to evoke a certain mood to the audience. According to Kalmus in her essay titled “Color Consciousness”, the use of blue was meant to convey truth, calm, science, and hope. This is used generously in the White House set, and Wilson’s home set. With such an uneasy political climate, using as much blue as tastefully possible was a way to subversively bolster the audience’s faith in its appointed leaders.

The blue of the White House set shown above looks more like Baystate Blue, which is interesting considering that BSB is a recreation of Carter’s American Blue that was released in 1941. It’s a true cinematic universe when a character makes multiple appearances. The American Blue bottles had a flying eagle on them, and around 1943 or 1944, were made into V-Mail inks. V-Mail inks had to have certain properties so that letters written with them could be transposed to microfilm. Noodlers has a V-Mail series, and I plan to post about them sometime in the future. American Blue was a distinctly patriotic ink, and the near-monochromatic White House set stands out among the other more standard and period appropriate sets in Wilson. This movie won the Academy Award for best color set design.

The senate chamber in 2009. Look at all that navy!

There are a lot of blue suits in Wilson. The blue suits are a big deal because all of the important political movies that came before Wilson were in black & white. This includes Citizen Kane (1941), Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939), and the actual government sponsored WW2 propaganda short film series called Why We Fight. It’s difficult to tell how politicians dressed in the 30’s and 40’s because there are few color photos, or black & white photos have been colorized. Today, many politicians wear navy suits with a white shirt and a red or blue tie. The overall color scheme is of course patriotic, authoritative, and represents calm stability. Coincidentally, the last three presidents have worn a navy suit with some kind of blue tie for their presidential portrait. Because Wilson is the first Hollywood live action political feature film in color, I wonder if this movie had some kind of effect on political fashion in the second half of the 20th century.

This sample is from the day I got this ink in the mail. Paper is Tomoe River from 2019.

As an ink, Q’ternity is pretty great. Unlike most Noodler’s inks, Q’ternity actually dries and hasn’t smudged for me while overwriting. I originally had this ink in my Desiderata BAMF with a 0.6 mm stub, and it always flowed well. That pen writes wet, and this ink still dried in a reasonable amount of time. Q’ternity sheens a little bit, and shades nicely especially with a thick line. On Goulet Pens the Bernanke series is recommended for lefties. Q’ternity is the only ink in this series that I’ve tried, but they might be the only Noodlers inks that lefties can functionally use. This ink lubricates your nib and makes writing left-handed smooth and pleasurable.

From left to right: Q’ternity, Diamine Blue-Black, Colorverse Extra Dimension, Sailor Jentle Blue-Black, Diamine 1864 Blue-Black, and Pilot Blue-Black.

Earlier, I called Q’ternity a dark blue ink because it’s indeed bluer than other blue-blacks. I realize now that there are two types of blue-blacks: dark blue, and blue-grey. Q’ternity sheens less than the blue-blacks pictured above, and the contrast between its lighter and darker shades looks more stark. It’s a beautiful ink, and is a good option if you’re looking for a blue-black that’s fast drying, waterproof, fade-proof, and shades. Q’ternity is available at most pen/ink retailers in very full 3 ounce bottles. Next time on the Noodlers Cinematic Universe: Black Swan in Australian Roses.

12/16/22 Editor’s Note:

Noodler’s Q’ternity has been renamed to Brevity Blue-Black post what one Reddit user has called Noodlegate ’22. Nathan Tardiff released two inks last June with some grossly offensive labels and there was backlash. Goulet even temporarily stopped carrying Noodler’s ink (and they really love Noodler’s). Shortly after this, Tardiff issued an instapology and released a list of renamed inks that previously could have been seen as offensive. One of these was the Bernanke series, now called the Brevity series. The new name makes a lot more sense, since the series is supposed to be fast drying.

Stalogy Planners

A5, B6, A6

Stalogy is a Japanese paper company that makes very minimalist planners in several sizes and colors. I used their 1/2 year A6 and A5 planners for a time, and consider their paper a faster drying alternative to Hobonichi or Midori notebooks. The paper is thin and can handle most fountain pen inks. If you’re transitioning from other thin papers like Tomoe River, it does take time to appreciate and get used to Stalogy paper.

Stalogy paper was the first paper that I tested when I did my Scale of Paper Absorption tests. The average dry time was 14.2 seconds, and I gave this paper a 3 on the scale. This seems like a harsh score in hindsight, and now I would give Stalogy a 7. Noodlers Golden Brown, a super wet ink that can take actual hours to dry, did not bleed or feather on this paper. When I wrote with a Retro 51 rollerball, the ink didn’t feather but it did bleed to the back of the page enough to render that side unusable. As far as smudging during daily writing, I have not. The only smudging has come from me turning a page with my thumb.

The very light printing on each page is unobtrusive and means that you can use these planners as intended or as a regular notebook. My wife has two Stalogy notebooks: one is a B6 365 that she uses for work, and one is an A5 1/2 year that she uses for training/workouts. The left hand side of each page is numbered so that you can use it as a daily time table. The A6 size is numbered for 12 hours, and the A5 size is numbered for 24 hours. All of the 365 and 1/2 year notebooks are part of Stalogy’s Editors series. I used my A6 for actual editing once, and I enjoyed it. The light gridding makes it easy to read your notes again in the future. The date and time formatting on the top and side margins is so tiny that you could easily write over it if you wanted to.

The Gentleman Stationer recently talked about how he cut his A5 1/2 year to be able to fit into a Travelers notebook, and I am considering doing the same. You could cut down an A6 to fit in a passport sized Travelers notebook, but it would require two cuts instead of one.

The covers on these notebooks are very nice. They’re lightly textured, flexible, and are made of coated fabric on thin cardstock. After using my A5 for a few weeks without a protective case there’s a tiny bit of fraying along the edges, and that is pleasing to me. The binding lays flat so that you can leave your notebook open and the pages won’t flop over.

Really, Stalogy notebooks can be whatever you want them to be. The pages have very light printing, but the grid ruling serves as a guide when you need it. You can draw calendars, graphs, write to-do lists, and take notes. Recently, Stalogy has started offering dot grid and blank notebooks that don’t have the date formatting at the top of each page. These notebooks retail for between $17 and $35 USD at most stationers.

The TWSBI Swipe

If you’ve read any of my other TWSBI reviews, you know that I really like their piston fillers. When I heard that TWSBI was coming out with the Swipe, I was skeptical. Why is this company that helped to democratize the piston fill fountain pen making a cartridge pen? What is this Tesla-looking clip? Why is the spring inside the converter? Why not just buy a Go? After reading and watching two reviews of the Swipe, and then buying one, my answer to these questions is why didn’t TWSBI make this pen sooner? The Swipe comes with two converters: one is spring-loaded and the other has a traditional twist mechanism. There is also a black ink cartridge included, along with a spring that holds the cartridge in place. All three of these are thicc, and standard international. I haven’t tested to see if these converters will fit in other standard international pens though.

By giving users a choice of cartridge/ converter style they can decide if they want to spend 4 more dollars for an Eco, 6 less dollars for a Go, or any dollar amount for some other cartridge/ converter pen. With the Swipe, TWSBI has offered an excellent starter fountain pen that is competitive (in price as well as usability) with the Lamy Safari, Kaweco Sport, and Pilot Metropolitan.

The grip section on the Swipe is comfortable, the converter is easy to clean, and the weight is light. I really like that the grip section is crystal clear. It extends far down enough that you can see into the converter, and you can see how much ink is left in the feed while cleaning. I got the smoke color, and that is transparent enough that I can see the whole converter. The cap has a very firm snap; I have splattered ink while uncapping this pen. The barrel is pentagonal shaped, which kind of acts as a roll stop. The clip is low profile enough that it won’t stop the pen from rolling on a low incline. The nib on the Swipe is the same nib that’s on the Eco, Go, Classic, and both Minis. I purchased this pen with an Extra-Fine nib, and it writes quite wet with Diamine Wild Strawberry.

The Swipe comes with the spring converter already in the pen. Unlike in the Go, the spring is inside the barrel of the converter. I’m not sure how the metal would do with ink in it for long periods of time, but if it were to be damaged the spring included to hold cartridges in place works as a replacement. TWSBI is also excellent about sending replacement parts, you just PayPal them $5 USD for shipping.

The spring converter takes so little effort to take apart, it’s wonderful. The spring keeps the piston seal at the back of the converter barrel, so when you unscrew the metal sleeve the rod comes right out. The spring slides out easily as well, you can just tap the converter barrel on a hard surface and the spring slides out. One thing that I didn’t notice until after I took the converter apart is that there’s a small agitator ball that can get lost easily. These converters are definitely some of the easiest on the market to completely disassemble.

The piston converter is a chonk as well. I used a syringe to fill this converter, so I can’t say how well it pulls in ink. The thing that I like about this converter is that the piston is able to go all the way back, so it can hold as much ink as is possible. I haven’t tried the included black cartridge yet, but it is substantial. This seems like an unnecessary amount of plastic, but this cartridge would be a good one to reuse multiple times. I inked the piston converter with Birmingham Chrysanthemum, which is less wet than Wild Strawberry. This ink works a lot better in the Swipe, is less of a gusher, and ink doesn’t splatter when I uncap the pen. This pen writes smoothly, and performs as well as every other TWSBI with this type of nib.

My takeaway from using the Swipe is it’s a great entry level pen. If you want to try TWSBI and don’t know where to start, try the Swipe. If you know you like piston fillers and want a solid pen, try the Eco. If you want a no fuss pen that’s easy to take apart and put back together, try the Swipe or the Go. If you want to try a TWSBI pen but have a $20 USD budget, try the Go. TWSBI has a great lineup of pens at $30 USD and lower, and now they really have a pen for any taste. The Swipe is available at your favorite purveyor of fountain pens.

Learning To Underwrite

I have written hook handed all my handwriting life. As a wee lass in kindergarten it felt most natural to basically write upside down or from the side. Learning to write with a pencil or even a crayon definitely frees someone to hold their instrument however they need to. When I got into fountain pens, I did adapt my grip from a bipod wraparound to something resembling a tripod grip.

After learning more about grip styles, and how they can effect fountain pen writing, I’ve taken notice of other left handed people’s writing style. I had somehow never noticed that my mother, who is left handed, underwrites. She started school in the late 1960’s, and was trained to underwrite. I started school in the late 1990’s, and by that point the public school system had stopped making kids write a certain way. We learned cursive in (I think) 4th grade, and were only allowed to write in cursive in 5th grade.

In the last few weeks, I’ve decided to try and train my hand to be able to underwrite. I decided to do this because I recently tried a Narwhal Schuykill, and their fine nib writes significantly wetter when I underwrite with it. I also want to reduce hand fatigue and not worry about smudging.

Here is how this process is going, along with some observations:

This is from August 17th, written with a Sailor 14k fine nib and Montblanc Lavender Purple, on Doane paper.
This is also from August 17th, written with a Sailor 14k zoom nib, with Sailor Haha, on Doane paper.
This is from August 29th, written with a Narwhal fine nib, with Colorverse Extra Dimension, on Tomoe River paper.
Also from August 29th on Tomoe River paper, but written with a Nemosine medium nib with BPC Boiler Steam.
This is from August 31st, written with a Nemosine 0.6mm stub nib, with Noodler’s Borealis black, on Tomoe River paper.

It’s a lot easier to underwrite legibly with a broader nib. The first sample, done with a Sailor fine nib, has pretty shaky lines. My lettering is especially shaky on the two bottom lines where I tried writing a sentence in print letters and block letters. I generally prefer to write in block letters, so that’s what I’m trying to improve most.

I also noticed that I don’t need to grip the pen as tightly as I do while over-writing. I know that fountain pens generally reduce hand fatigue compared to other types of pens and pencils, and my grip has definitely relaxed since switching to fountain pens. When I write a lot in one sitting though, my hand does get sore. It feels a lot better to not have hand and wrist pain, and I can focus more on lettering.

I am interested in hearing about your experiences of learning to write in school, so I made a short survey. While this blog is generally geared towards the left handed writing experience, anyone can take this survey by clicking the button below. In a few weeks, I’ll share the results.

Birmingham Pen Company Hydrangea

It’s late hydrangea season, which means there’s no better time to review Birmingham Pen Company’s Hydrangea ink. Here are some actual hydrangea bushes from my front yard in June, then August:

They changed to a dusky pink, except for the two pink flowers.

These flowers can change every year depending on your soil acidity and the weather. This year happened to be an exceptional bloom for the bushes in my yard, and the flowers have a nice gradient. Hydrangeas have a special place in my heart because they change with each bloom, and they can even change throughout the season. My mother liked to keep dried hydrangeas in a vase, and their dark purpley grey color reminds me of this Birmingham ink.

The Birmingham Pen Company is located in Western Pennsylvania, and endearingly call themselves “a tiny pen and ink manufacturer”. They make beautiful fountain pens in small batches, and have started manufacturing their own ink in 2021. Starting in 2018, they sold ink that was made in Europe and bottled by hand in Pennsylvania. In January of 2021, they decided to make their own ink. The Well Appointed Desk published an interview with BPC about this transition, which you can read here. The Birmingham name comes from the area of Pittsburg where BPC was originally located. That area of Pittsburg is called “Little Birmingham” after the city in England, because of all the manufacturing done there. Birmingham, England used to produce pens and nibs, which is a nice piece of trivia.

A swatch of Hydrangea next to its chromatography strip.

BPC’s Hydrangea is purple with some blue tones and a hint of pink shading. If you look closely at the June hydrangea photo, there are some purple flowers that match the color of this ink. The chromatography was not surprising. You can’t see in the above photo, but there is a light strip of black where I swabbed the ink, then it spread out to a light pink, then blue. I took a photo of Hydrangea next to some other purple inks that I have swabs of, and it’s kind of a cross between Sailor Manyo Nekoyanagi and Sailor Ink Studio #150.

Hydrangea has a lot more pink than in this photo, but I couldn’t color correct without throwing off the other inks.

Hydrangea is made with BPC’s Crisp formula, which means that it will perform well on most papers regardless of quality. Birmingham has been prolific this year with their ink output, and they’ve quickly become one of my favorite ink brands. They have several different glass bottle sizes (from 30ml to 120ml), so if there’s an ink that you really like you can get a large bottle of it.

I have Hydrangea in a Pilot E95s with a juicy medium nib, and they work well together. The ink flows smoothly and consistently, and has lovely shading on the right paper. To test the claims of the Crisp formula, I tested Hydrangea on Field Notes 70#, Doane, Nock, Apica Premium, and Tomoe River:

On Apica and Tomoe River, Hydrangea dried within 15 seconds. On Nock, Doane, and Field Notes Hydrangea dried within 5 seconds. As with most inks, you’re gonna get better shading on paper like Apica and Tomoe River. Hydrangea did quite well on Nock and Doane, and there was no feathering on either paper. On Nock, there was no bleed-through, but there was some on Doane. On Field Notes, there was considerable feathering and bleed-through onto the back of the page. Hydrangea (or any Crisp formula ink) is good to have if you frequently find yourself using a variety of paper. Since this ink dries pretty fast even out of a wet nib, it’s good for lefties. I purchased a 60 mL bottle of Hydrangea for $16 USD, and you can too here.

Fun With Ballpoints

The little ball tip works like a bearing and is lubricated by oil based ink.

Ballpoints, they’re everywhere. They’re in banks, grocery stores, restaurants, under your car seat, there might even be one wedged in between your couch cushions. Ballpoints were invented as a cheaper, cleaner, maintenance-free alternative to fountain pens with patents dating back to 1888. For more on the history of the ballpoint, please click here. Ironically, people today are switching (entirely, if not partially) to fountain pens because they’re not ballpoints. The pressure required to get many ballpoints to write a legible line leads to hand fatigue, which is problematic if you’ve started to write on paper more. It’s also problematic for lefties who already are contorting their hands. Last year, I made a post about gel pens and how they’re a faster-drying and more convenient fountain pen alternative, which you can read here.

I avoided ballpoints for personal use for a while because I wanted a more comfortable pen. Even though gel pens, rollerballs, and fountain pens are smoother and have better flow, they can only be used on a limited range of surfaces. Ballpoints can go anywhere that a human can go (and survive the trip), and can write on many surfaces. I’ve tried using a gel pen on a tyvek mailing envelope, but the ink tends to bead on the surface and will smudge easily. The only difference between a standard rollerball and a standard ballpoint is the ink. Rollerballs have a liquid ink while ballpoints have an oil based ink. There are some hybrid liquid-oil pens, and many gel pens have a ball tip.

Starting in my early teens, I wrote with a Papermate erasable ballpoint in school because I was tired of all the smudging that came with pencils, but still wanted to be able to erase my writing. Then I started using the Bic multicolor ballpoint, and kept using it until I got a Papermate Inkjoy gel pen. I enjoyed switching colors effortlessly, and the click sound. In school my hand and wrist was used to writing and taking notes every day, so hand fatigue was less of an issue, unless there was a test. Five years out of college, I write in a journal and make to-do lists every day, but there is still much less writing output. This makes hand fatigue an issue for me, so I tend to gravitate towards comfortable pens. I like having a variety of writing instruments around, so I’ve acquired a small collection of ballpoints. Here is a list of ballpoints that I have, in no particular order:

Please ignore the Frixion for now, as it is a gel pen.

The Milan Sway Mix:

This is a purse pen for me. It’s compact and brightly colored, so it’s appropriate for people of all ages. This pen is refillable, but I haven’t looked into where the refills can be bought. The tip is 1 millimeter with blue ink. As with most pens on this list, the darkness of the line depends on the pressure you use. To get a readable line though, I was able to get away with using moderate pressure. I purchased this pen from St Louis Art Supply for $1.69 USD.

The Bic Round Stic:

The Round Stic is the ultimate Pen For The People because you could easily go through life without ever buying one. When you do buy them, they’re available in bulk for about $6 to share and share alike. Bic makes some truly iconic ballpoints, and the Cristal is on display in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This grey Round Stic has black ink and requires moderate pressure. This pen is the only disposable one on this list.

The Pilot Legno Ballpoint:

The Legno ballpoint is the cousin to the now discontinued Legno 89s fountain pen. The impregnated wood feels nice in the hand and looks attractive. This pen has inner brass components that adds some heft. The weight makes it easy to use this pen with minimal pressure, and it can write under its own weight. The ink flows easily and is a hybrid. I purchased this pen from Jetpens for $16.50 USD. Besides this light colored wood, the Legno also comes in red, brown and dark brown.

The Uni Jetstream Edge 0.28 mm:

My favorite ballpoint! The Jetstream Edge has a design similar to a drafting pen/pencil, with an elongated tip area that makes it easy to use this pen with a ruler or stencil. The grip section is brushed aluminum, which weights the pen towards the tip and makes it easier to write with. The Jetstream refills are great because they come in extra-fine tips and require very little pressure to lay down a dark line. I purchased this Edge from Jetpens with a 0.28 mm tip size in black, but replaced that refill with a blue 0.38 mm as the 0.28 is a bit too fine. The Edge now comes in the 0.38 size, as well as a multi-pen.

The Ohto Horizon Needlepoint:

The Ohto Horizon needlepoint ballpoint is also available in a gel version, and a Euro point. This pen came with a 0.28 mm tip as well, but I got rid of that refill because the tip got gummy and didn’t write very well for me. That original refill did write very smoothly, and this version of the Horizon was voted Best Pen by the New York Times. This pen has a side click mechanism like the Uni Boxy 100, but with a metal body. I was able to hack the 0.28 Jetstream refill to fit in this pen by adding an o-ring for the inner spring to rest on. I purchased the Horizon from Yoseka Stationery for $12 USD. Here is a writing sample with the original Horizon refill:

The jetstream refill produces a more consistent line.

The Zebra Blen:

Zebra wanted to create a clicker pen that’s as quiet as possible, and they did. The Blen is a good pen for anyone with sensory issues. The clip is also the click mechanism, and it doesn’t rattle or slide around. The tip also doesn’t wiggle as you’re writing, and is only a little noisy as it glides on the page. The grip is a soft silicone, and has two narrow indentations as well as two narrow windows. “Blen” is engraved into the plastic body of the pen and feels nice to rub your fingers on. The ink writes smoothly and consistently with a pleasant feedback, and can produce a legible line under its own weight. I purchased this pen from St Louis Art Supply for $2.99 USD.

The Fisher Space Pen Cap-O-Matic:

I’ve had this pen for about 9 years now, and it’s the first nicer pen I ever bought. It’s called cap-o-matic because the metal cap on the back of the pen is the clicker mechanism. The Fisher Space Pen is called that because it will write even after you’ve left Earth’s atmosphere. It can write upside down, on wet paper, and greasy paper. The original Space Pen refill was a black medium tip, and it was in there for roughly 8 years. Even though I didn’t use it much, that refill still wrote until I replaced it with a fine blue one. My favorite part about this version of the Space Pen is that the clip is engraved with the word Space, and a little planet. The Space Pen requires light pressure to write a light but legible line. I purchased this pen on Amazon for $16.85 USD.

The Parker Jotter:

The Parker Jotter is a classic design that’s widely imitated. The Jotter comes in many colors, and is also available in an XL version and a gel version. The standard Quink refill that this pen comes with is not pleasant to use, and requires considerable pressure to lay down a consistent line. Thankfully, there are dozens of better refills available in the Parker size. The Ohto Flash Dry gel refill is flawless and is great for lefties. Right now, I have a Monteverde Soft Roll blue-black refill in my Jotter, and that writes much smoother and requires less pressure. This Jotter is available in a three pack on Amazon for $16.50 USD.

The Caran D’Ache 849 Ballpoint:

The Caran D’Ache has a great body with a not so great refill. The body is brushed aluminum with a hexagonal shape, and comes in 6 standard colors. There have also been several special editions, including ones with N’espresso. The click mechanism on this pen is somewhat mushy with the Goliath refill. The Goliath is a thick refill that’s supposed to last a very long time, but requires moderate pressure to write. It’s also a little shorter than Parker-style refills, so you can’t add a different refill without modifying it. I really like the body of the 849, so I looked at my pile of refills and tried to find one that could fit. The Ohto Flash Dry is about 2 or 3 millimeters longer than the Goliath, but it has a plastic housing that can be sanded (or cut) down. To do this, just remove the cap off the end of the refill and sand off at least 1 mm of plastic. This would be easier with a Dremel or an X-Acto knife, but I was able to fit in the refill by using 600 grit sandpaper. Then, put the cap back on, line up the brass feet on the end of the 849 clicker with the notches in the refill cap, and screw the clicker back on. The Caran D’Ache 849 can be purchased at Yoseka Stationery for $24 USD.

Sanding the plastic refill and lining up the notches with the brass feet makes the Ohto Flash Dry just long enough to fit in the 849.

The Pilot Acroball 3+1 Multipen:

The Acroball 3+1 has red, black, and blue interchangeable tips with a mechanical pencil that’s deployed by pushing down the clip. The Acroball colors are great; the ink in these is pigmented and less viscous than regular ballpoint ink. The Acroball flows very well, and requires almost very little pressure to write. The grip is wide and comfortable to hold. I took out the mechanical pencil component though, because the lead wouldn’t stay retracted. According to Jetpens, the body of this pen is made from 80% recycled plastic. I purchased this pen from Jetpens for $8.25 USD.

Disclaimer: All the Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, where if you click on them and make a purchase, I make earn a small commission. All the other links are not affiliated and not sponsored, and you should visit them.

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