Early thoughts on the Moonman S5 fountain pen.

Occasionally a pen comes along that looks so enticing, full of potential and such good value that I am unable to resist buying it. Well, quite often, tbh. In this case, it was the Moonman S5, a clear acrylic demonstrator, eye-dropper pen which comes with an eye-dropper and three different nibs all for under £24.00.

What interested me particularly was the statement that it had an Extra Fine nib and two additional nibs in Medium and Broad. After watching one YouTube review, I gathered that the Broad nib was a stub of about 1mm width. But subsequently, from examining the nib and watching some more reviews, it transpires that the Broad nib is in fact an Oblique, which for me as a lefty overwriter, turns out to be brilliant news.

The Unboxing.

The pen comes in a nice black tin with gold lettering, held shut by a cardboard sleeve, with a nib motif and an M for Moonman.

The set comes in this black tin.

Inside the tin, in sturdy cushioned recesses, are the pen (in a polythene sleeve), the eye-dropper and the two additional nibs. There is a folding sheet of diagrams for filling various types of fountain pen, including eye-droppered pens.

What’s in the tin. (Also some instructions, not shown).

Description.

This is a clear, acrylic pen, with a screw on cap (taking three complete turns), no pocket clip but a jewel-like roll stop set in a metal band on the barrel. The band has the name MOONMAN laser-etched against the shiny background. The grip section is comfortably shaped with a very slight hour-glass contour and is in a patterned acrylic with a crazy-paving effect, in a mixture of colours – green, blue, purple, white and brown against a black background. I thought it looked a bit incongruous at first, as though it was for a different pen but I quite like it now. It comes alive and sparkles under the bright light of a loupe.

The Extra Fine nib. The roll-stop jewel is centred in this picture.

The barrel has a distinctive taper to it before flaring out at the end like a fishtail, into a flat base, on which the pen can be stood up. It looks a bit like a lava lamp when upright. The cap also has a flat top, which is useful if you wish to stand the pen upside down for a minute or two, to allow ink to make its way to the feed after filling.

The pen standing in lava-lamp mode.

The barrel shape actually makes the pen very comfortable to hold unposted but for me, I prefer to post the cap whereupon the slight extra weight, length and girth at the back end, make it supremely comfortable. The cap posts very deeply and securely, if given a little twist.

The S5 with cap posted.

Size and weight.

I would call this a medium sized pen. It measures approximately 136mm closed, 123mm uncapped and 136mm posted. Weight (when about one third full of ink) is around 18g, as to 14g for the pen uncapped and 4g for the cap.

The three nibs.

I tried the Extra Fine nib first, dipped but not filled. This one has gold coloured plating, some scroll work and logo and the words MOONMAN SUPER QUALITY.E I am not sure what the E is for. On a brief dip test, the nib wrote smoothly but with an extremely fine line. I wrote about four lines with it but did not leave it on for very long and in hindsight, did not push it to try for any line variation, before unscrewing it and fitting the Medium nib.

The fitted Extra Fine nib is seriously fine, but YMMV, as one YouTube reviewer found little difference between the fine and medium.

The Medium nib had rather less markings on the nib – just a pattern within a circle but no text or width designation. It wrote well – significantly darker than the Extra Fine and with a typical medium-fine width. Again, in my excitement to try them all, I wrote only about four lines before switching to the widest of the three nibs.

The two additional nib units, each with a housing and a grey rubber O ring. Be careful not to lose the ring.

The Broad nib (again with only the floral pattern in a circle and no markings) is an Oblique. Looking at the face of the nib, tip upwards, the tip slants downwards to the left about 15 degrees and is what I believe is called a Left Foot Oblque, looking like a left foot. It produces a line of roughly 0.6 – 0.8mm maximum width, which is lovely.

This was for me, the best of the three nibs and I liked it so much that I have not taken if off since. It was like Goldilocks finding the bed that suited her best, or the glass slipper finding Cinderella.

For me, the Oblique nib writes super-smoothly, with a nice flow. I inked the pen (as I ink most of my pens the first time), with Waterman Serenity Blue. It provides a broad line with some subtle line variation. It takes just a little practice to find its sweet spot and then to keep it at the same angle as you write.

Writing sample with the Oblique broad nib, Waterman Serenity Blue ink and a Leuchtturm A5 journal. Bliss.

Filling.

Filling is simplicity itself. You just unscrew the barrel and drop some ink into it with an eye-dropper or a syringe if you prefer. I use large soft plastic pipettes bought from an art shop. I put a little silicone grease on the threads before re-attaching the barrel although there is a O ring there and the grease might not be necessary. Then leave the pen to stand, nib down for a minute or so while the ink fills the feed. I have not yet measured the capacity.

A dream combo.

Likes and dislikes.

The only negative I found so far, is the jewel roll-stop. It is not that I have anything against the jewel itself, but I found that it gets in the way of my grip. When the pen arrived, it was aligned with the nib but once I started fitting different nibs into the section, and then screwing the section back on to the barrel, it was “jewel roulette” to see where the jewel would end up, in relation to the top of the nib: not that being in the 12 o’clock position would necessarily be the best position for me. But, by good fortune, I found that when the oblique nib is screwed in, the jewel finishes up at about the nine o’clock position (viewed facing the nib head-on) which for me is perfect and the jewel is completely out of the way.

If this does not work for you, I hope it may be possible to prise the jewel out of the cap band, or even to file it flat. Alernatively perhaps with the preferred nib unit screwed in, the nib and feed could be pulled out of the housing and replaced in different alignment to the jewel. I have not tried this yet.

Note the roll-stop jewel seen here at about the 9 o’clock position which is ideal for me.

Conclusion.

This is my first foray into the Moonman brand. I seem to have struck gold first time. I am thrilled with the pen and its Oblique nib. Writing with this, with Waterman Serenity Blue and my Leuchtturm A5 journal is a dream combination.

I have not filled the pen completely as I will try some more adventurous colours next. It is easy enough to swap out the nibs too and I need to give the others a proper go at some stage. Having found that the Oblique nib is capable of such smooth and pleasurable writing it just remains to test longer term for hard starts and for possible burping of ink, which eye-dropper pens sometimes suffer from. I hope I have not spoken too soon but so far all is looking good. At £23.99 I think this represents great value. If any bad behaviour occurs to take this grin off my face, I shall add an update.

Lovely smooth writer, with effortless line variation (see the capital A and V).

The Great Bottled Ink Count.

Well, that wasn’t too terrible. Being confronted with my own greed and folly was never going to be comfortable. But it was not as bad as I feared.

During the week I took part in Anthony’s online survey of the pen community, on UK Fountain pens. One of the multiple choice questions was how many bottles of ink you have. I honestly did not know and had not counted but suspected it might be nudging past the hundred mark. I resolved to find out.

I used to own only a few bottles of ink, Parker Quink generally. Getting through a whole bottle of ink takes time, particularly if you often use cartridges instead. Assuming, very roughly, that a 50ml bottle might give you fifty fills and that each fill would last you for, say 20 pages of A4 writing, that is 1,000 pages. Fortunately most bottled ink keeps well. The exception, ironically, is iron gall ink which needs to be used up within around 18 months of opening the bottle, or else it loses its colour and darkening properties.

I have a couple of old bottles of Monbtblanc ink, still in their boxes with a price sticker saying £4.95. Now they cost about £18.00 I think.

It was perhaps around 2014 that things escalated with my fountain pen hobby getting hooked on pen reviews on the internet. That was the first year in which I attended the London Pen Show, coming away with a TSWBI Vac 700 and a bottle of Omas blue ink. Should I have stopped there? In November 2016 this blog was launched to share the journey.

Since then I have been adding steadily to the fountain pen stash and accumulating a fair amount of ink along the way. I was curious to see quite how bad it had become.

A couple of years back I bought a plastic storage unit, with four nice deep drawers for my stationery stash. The top drawer has some accessories, like pen wraps and pouches, micromesh kit, some dip pens and a few boxed pens. The second drawer is my stock of unused journals, mostly A5 size but with a few smaller ones. And then the third and fourth drawer down are for ink. That is not to say that all of my ink is in these drawers: some frequently used bottles are on my desk (AKA the dining table) and others on the book shelves behind me.

The bottom drawer

It was not difficult to do a stock take. They are all in one room, (except for an emergency bottle of Cross black which lives in my desk drawer at work).

I created a spreadsheet, with columns for the Brand, the Colour or name, and finally, a simple name for the group which that colour falls into (for example Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue, Waterman Serenity Blue and KWZ Azure number 4 all come under “Blue”).

It was interesting (to me at least) to see them sorted by brands too and which were the most represented brands in my stash. It turns out to be Montblanc with nine bottles, closely followed by Waterman with eight and then Pelikan Edelstein with five (mostly gleaned from the annual Pelikan Hub events).

These should cover most eventualities for a normal person.

My final tally came to 65 bottles. As I was expecting it to be around one hundred I was pleasantly surprised. So I have enough ink for 65 years and not 100! Phew!

By colour group, it came as no surprise to me that I had 16 bottles of blue ink plus another 11 of blue black, almost enough to form a Democrat government. Next were 8 browns, 7 blacks and 7 greens, 6 reds, 3 pinks (What?!) 2 Burgundies, 2 green-blacks, and finally 1 each of Magenta, Purple and Orange.

What lessons can I learn from this?

  • I need no more ink for a while;
  • It is good to know what you have;
  • I have been buying ink faster than I have been using it.

I have not included a stash of ink cartridges in this count. Nor have I included a half dozen or so ink samples which are not in original bottles.

It is satisfying to finish a bottle ink. Last week I came to the end of a very enjoyable bottle of Pilot Iroshizuku Shin-kai blue black which I had been given by a friend. Once it got down to the last 5ml or so, I decanted it to my Pineider Travelling Inkwell, so that I could go on filling my Diplomat Excellence easily, without wasting a drop.

For anyone in a similar boat who has put off counting, I recommend it. It might not be as bad as you think.

Inky Pursuits, November 2020.

If I have any superpower among the fountain pen community, it is probably the ability to get just as excited about a good cheap pen, as I do about an expensive one. Sometimes more. I will have to think of a name for that: something other than Mr Stingy.

I have not bought many new pens this year. I am constantly tempted, as I read posts from fellow bloggers or surf online. Recently I admired a vintage Montblanc 220, cartridge converter fountain pen on ebay but stopped short of pulling the trigger. I already have a Montblanc 12, piston filler, which is similar.

To combat the temptation, one tool is to have a wish list and to add pens to the list and let them sit there for a while before buying. You can compare their merits. Another, (which may be a clue that you have too many pens) is to list your pens under different categories, to see how each category is represented. I listed mine under Steel nibs: (1) Fine or extra fine; (2) Medium; (3) Broad and (4) Stub and italic, and then the same four categories for Gold nibs, so eight groups. Then, when a new pen looms on the horizon, I compare it with what I already have in that category. This sometimes works.

The Jinhao 159.

As I look at my pen cups, with twenty currently inked pens, they range from a few pounds upwards to include several Montblancs and my Aurora 88 at the other end of the spectrum. In between, the list includes a couple of Diplomats, a Pilot Capless and Platinum Curidas and my Sailor Pro-Gear Slim with its music nib.

One of my most recent purchases was a Jinhao 159 at £8.99. This is a very large pen, heavy but wonderfully rounded, smooth and tactile. Unfortunately, towards the end of its first inking with a cheap black cartridge, it exhibited irregular flow issues going from very wet, almost gusher, to very dry and even blobbing a couple of times.

Jinhao 159

I could have picked up a Montblanc or the Aurora at this point and carried on writing. However, I found that I could not settle whilst the Jinhao was struggling. A bit like the shepherd in the parable of the lost sheep I could not rest until the lost sheep was safely back in the pen (or pen cup). I extracted the nib and feed on the Jinhao which are friction fit and can be pulled out quite easily. I gave them both a good wash and then carefully pushed them in again, and re-inked the pen this time with a branded cartridge of Kaweco royal blue. All appeared well but I was looking forward to an opportunity to write for a few pages of A4 to check that the flow problems were fixed. Yesterday, when writing a letter, it was the Jinhao that I picked up first. I am happy to report that it now writes beautifully.

The friction fit nib and feed of the Jinhao 159.

Lamy Accent.

This weekend I remembered my Lamy Accent which does not see a lot of use as the nib was a bit on the dry side. I have the palladium finish version with a collar of Keralia wood, grey with a black grain. I remembered my brass shims and set about removing the Z50 nib with a piece of Sellotape, then flossing the nib with a couple of different grades of brass shim, before putting it back, checking the alignment of tines and picking a cartridge of Lamy Petrol, a luxurious dark teal from a special edition Safari a few years ago. And this too wrote beautifully – smooth and easy with ideal flow. I am glad that I had kept the pen. I also wrote a few pages with this too, in my letter writing session.

Lamy Accent, Keralia wood and palladium finish.

Wing Sung 699.

This is another pen that I thought to tweak with the brass shims. This is a fun pen, a very passable homage to the revered Pilot Custom 823 vac filler, with similar dimensions and filling system but a steel nib. The nib and feed are friction fit and with a bit of flossing and examining under the loupe, I think I managed to get it writing slightly wetter, whilst still retaining the smoothness of the nib. I filled it with Waterman Serenity blue, a favourite of mine and it is writing nicely.

Wing Sung 699, with nib and feed disassembled.

These antics and occasional triumphs do not quite make up for the heady thrill of hitting the “Add to basket” button and waiting for the delivery, but they avoid the risk of the Monday morning guilt and “buyer’s remorse” blues.

All back together again.

Fourth anniversary post.

I realise as I write this, that my humble news may get lost in the noise surrounding more significant events – a certain election in the USA and the start of a second lockdown here in the UK. However, believe it or not, today marks the fourth anniversary of this blog.

Four years ago today I was a complete newbie at WordPress, but one grey November afternoon I took my first tentative steps to set up a blog. I was not familiar at all with the process. In the field for the title of the blog, I typed “Fountain pen blog” as a working title while I got up and running but then this became live. I have not thought of a better one.

This week, my WordPress statistics showed my total number of views as having just tripped past 100,000, which is similar to the excitement of watching the odometer reach a milestone number on your car. I know that there are many far more successful bloggers whose figures dwarf mine, but nevertheless it represents a level of publicity that I would not have dreamed of four years ago. What I also find staggering is how the viewings so far this year, come from over 130 countries.

This post will be my 150th, so I have been averaging a modest but fairly steady 37 or so posts a year, not quite one every week.

I must say, it has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I love the opportunity to write about things which I am interested in. To have the blog as a creative outlet is a wonderful thing as well as a privilege. Also, right from my first posts, I felt like a writer, a creator of content on the internet as well as a consumer of it.

Through the blog, I have met countless interesting people, some who have become friends here and abroad and many with whom I enjoy interacting with comments and likes. With the constraints of a full time job, it is hard to think of other realistic ways in which I could have increased my circle of friends to such an extent in this time. I have also expanded my knowledge of fountain pens and inks enormously. Someone should give out honorary degrees for this.

I am hugely grateful to those who encouraged me in my early days of the blog, those who commented and followed the blog from the start, such as Laura of Fountain Pen Follies whose own blog was one of my favourites and which set the standard for content, photography and good humour.

In my very first post, I included a gratuitous photo of the nib of my Diplomat Esteem. Funnily enough it is another Diplomat, the Excellence A Plus, that I am now using daily and which is “the one to beat” for me at the moment, as I survey my crowded pen cups. It is inked with Pilot Iroshizuku Shin-kai, a well behaved blue black. I was given a bottle of this and, just this week, used up the very last 1ml of ink, which you can do if you use a Pineider travelling ink well to fill your pen.

My current favourite, the Diplomat Excellence A Plus.

I have just renewed my subscription to WordPress for another year. With all the goings on in the world, it continues to be a source of relaxation and enjoyment for me and I am delighted that so many are still reading. Thanks and stay safe everyone!

The new year diary, 2021.

One of life’s great pleasures is writing with a fountain pen. My lifelong habit of journaling, or keeping a diary, is another and to combine these two makes for a great start to a day. Just having ten minutes, to collect my thoughts and reflect on the previous day and then record it in ink and “offload” this into my archive, is something I cannot do without.

I have been keeping a personal diary in one form or another since 1976. The size has varied over the years from chunky A6 page-a-day books in the seventies and eighties (in which I used “reverse writing” with my Sheaffer No Nonsense pens to get extra fine lines), to A4 volumes, 5 year diaries, and even tried typing for a few years. In recent years I have settled on A5 as being the format that works best for me. For some days, I write in longhand and for others, typically work days, I prefer to do a balloon diagram with bullet point notes, of what progress was made on my various ongoing tasks.

This year, I have enjoyed using an A5, page-a-day diary from Rymans. It has what they call a “Soft Cover” but is a stiff cover but finished in a soft texture material that feels like leather. The cream coloured pages give you 23 rows with a row height of 7.9mm which is reasonably wide and I find this ideal. Currently, I use my Diplomat Excellence A Plus, with a Fine steel nib and Pilot Iroshizuku Shinkai, blue-black ink. It is one of those combinations that is a marriage made in Heaven and which you never want to end.

Last week, while browsing in Paperchase, I spotted an A5, page-a-day diary in an attractive viridian patterned, textured soft-back cover . On a quick flick through, I noticed that the line spacing was wide (actually 7.5mm), that it was neatly bound with stitching and opened flat. It was also in a sale with 30% off and I decided to buy it.

Paperchase A5 Day to a Page diary. £7.50 in a sale, With a Sailor 1911 Standard for scale (not included in the price).

Only when I got home did I notice that the “page-a-day” description was a bit misleading for the weekends , as Saturday and Sunday had to share a page. At least this meant that you could always find your weekends on the right-hand page of a spread, but I was disappointed. My wife helpfully suggested that I “just don’t do as much” at the weekends to have less to write about but I was not convinced.

Paperchase diary: in fact Half a Page a Day when you get to the weekend.

Today, in a Goretex jacket for the rain, I trudged out to Golders Green High Road to visit Rymans to see if they had any diaries. I found the diary section and looked at a Ryman hard back, A5 page-a-day diary at £7.50 but the line spacing was clearly narrow, unlike my 2020 version so I dismissed it.

But then I noticed nearby, the Ryman Soft Cover Diary, also a page-a-day but a little more expensive at £10.99. I found a beautiful forest green one but could not inspect the line spacing or the weekend arrangements as it was sealed in cellophane. Other colour options were an equally lovely dark red or yellow ochre, which would have been great with my Diamine Cherry Sunburst ink, or perhaps a KWZ Honey or Diamine Honey Burst.

Since these were all sealed, I could not inspect any of them for row height or to check that Saturdays and Sundays were still afforded a page each as in my 2020 diary. Call me reckless, but I took a gamble and bought it anyway. I went for the green. The sales assistant favoured the yellow ochre version but when I said that I preferred the dark green he said “Like your jacket!” to which I had to admit that my colour choices were rather predictable.

Ryman, Soft Cover Diary, Page a Day.

Back home, I sliced off the cellophane for the moment of truth. Would there be wide line spacing and would there be whole pages for Saturdays and Sundays? Yes, to both! I can look forward to another year of journaling with my lovely Diplomat. It has a pleasant, fountain pen friendly paper. Other features are a ribbon book mark, an expandable pocket inside the back cover, and elastic pen loop (which I do not use) and an elastic closure – which is useful.

The Ryman diary, with a full day each for your Saturdays and Sundays. Happiness restored.

Today I have just seen the sad news that Sir Sean Connery has died, at the age of 90. How I loved all those early Bond films, and going to the local cinema with my late father. “Do you expect me to talk?” “No Mr Bond, I expect you to die!” So that is a piece of news for today’s entry in my diary. RIP.

This has been an unique year, “unprecedented” in our lifetimes as many have said and we still have two months to go. My year 2020 and lockdown activities are well recorded. Flicking through the blank pages of my next year’s diary it is hard to imagine what I might be doing in the months to come. Let’s all hope for better times ahead.

Early thoughts on the Faber-Castell Hexo fountain pen.

A friend overseas alerted me to this new model. After taking a look on Cult Pens, I was eager to order one, in black. I had not yet seen one in the flesh.

Faber-Castell Hexo, matt black.

I have been a fan of Faber-Castell’s entry level pens for several years. I found their “school pen” for sale in a Waterstones book shop at about £4.95 (including a box of blue cartridges) and bought a pair, in red and blue. A reader informed me that there was also a black carbon fibre-effect version, which sounded exciting and I eventually tracked one down in a hypermarket in Dubai. These wrote well but all featured nibs which drooped downwards, perhaps to improve resistance to being sprung by over-eager young hands. Also the grip sections were rubber and faceted.

I have also enjoyed the Faber-Castell Loom, in the shiny gunmetal finish which proved a good choice for a work and every day carry pen – convenient, reliable, robust and with space for a spare cartridge in the barrel. In recent years I have also used an Essentio (also called the Basic) and the Grip – good value at around £18.00 now. All of these had medium nibs.

The Hexo seems to slot into the line-up, somewhere between the Grip and the Essentio and Loom. Cult Pens’ current price for the Hexo is £31.50 which is a little less than the RRP. That puts the price slightly higher than the Lamy AL-Star, which looks a close competitor.

Two aluminium stealth pens: the Lamy AL-Star and the Faber-Castell Hexo.

The Hexo looked to be a worthwhile addition, sporting a hexagonal body in matt black anodised aluminium and a nice girthy grip section in plastic. Other options were silver or rose gold.

It arrived in a small, simple green cardboard box. The sticker calls it the Hexo 2019 Fountain Pen. It is made in Slovenia.

Construction and appearance.

The cap is a snap-on one and is firm but not overly so. The cap finial has the Faber-Castell logo of jousting knights, although not very easy to see unless you have a magnifying glass and have the logo the right way up.

There is a very sturdy metal pocket clip which grips well but at the expense of being a little hard to operate. You may need to lift the clip before sliding it over a pocket.

The barrel features the Faber-Castell name in white with the logo again. This aligns with the nib. As there is only one entrance to the barrel threads, the name is always in line with the nib, albeit upside down if you are left handed like me.

The cap facets always align with the barrel facets. If you do try to push the cap on with the facets not aligned, the cap and barrel repel each other like opposing magnets. This is due to raised ridges inside the cap, which I had taken to be for decoration at first.

Ridges on the barrel (left) find the gaps inside the crenellated cap to ensure that facets align.

The cap closes almost flush with the barrel and to a snug fit, with no wobble. Examined very closely there are mold lines down the length of the plastic section, at front and back but not prominent enough to be a problem. Also, a tiny gap can be seen between the barrel and section when tightened, but only apparent when inspected under a loupe.

The grip section is very pleasing: no rubber, no facets, just a gentle taper towards the nib and flared out at the end to provide a comfortable finger rest.

Removing the barrel, the threads look to be of a soft grey molded plastic. However, it turns out that these and the grip section are translucent although it takes a bright light source from behind to see through this.

The effect of a bright light behind the section.

The threaded collar, where the cartridge or converter goes, has an unusual cutaway. I think this may be part of a locking mechanism, as you feel a definite click at the end, when you screw the barrel back onto the section. If you use standard international short cartridges, there is room for a spare in the barrel, very useful if you are out and about. It fits in snugly without rattling but does not get stuck inside.

The unusual cutaway in the section threads.

The nib.

The nib is steel with a stealthy black plating. I chose a broad for a change, hoping for stellar smoothness. I flushed the nib and feed first and dried them, then inserted a cartridge of Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue. The pen wrote well once the ink started to flow, which needed a squeeze of the cartridge. However, for a broad, it was not particularly wide and not much wider than a typical medium. It looked to be well set up and wrote smoothly, with just a slight roughness in side strokes from right to left which I take to be nothing that writing-in will not solve. The tines and tipping material looked level. Judging by the writing experience at the sweet spot, the nib is of the buttery smooth variety, not a feedbacky one.

The dimpled and black-coated nib. Also, a glimpse of the cap finial logo.

Size and weight.

Being made mainly of aluminium, the pen is light. It weighed in at 20g (including two cartridges on board) comprised as to 13g for the pen uncapped and a further 7g for the cap alone. It measures 134mm when closed, 122mm open and 151mm posted.

Some size comparisons from Faber-Castell’s range: from left to right:- School pen, the Grip, the Essentio (Basic), the Loom and the Hexo.

The writing experience.

The broad nib writes well, although on the medium side. Out of the box it was not quite perfect but has the potential to be a smooth writer. I look forward to putting some mileage on it to run in to my writing angle. Some smoothing with micromesh would do the job quicker, which I may yet try, but there is a risk of taking too much off the tipping.

Writing sample on Tomoe River. Cobalt Blue ink.

Finding an optimum writing experience depends not just on the pen and nib, but on having a smooth, lubricating ink and a compatible, smooth paper that does not cause drag. Tested on Tomoe River paper, the nib does provide effortless writing. On some less suitable papers, there is a feeling of friction which becomes wearing once you are aware of it.

Likes and dislikes.

My favourite feature of the pen is its comfortable large section. I prefer plastic to the Grip’s rubber, gently faceted section. But as well as this, we have the stealthy black finish, the lightweight hexagonal body, the aligning cap and barrel facets, the barrel lock and a host of other boxes ticked: plastic inner cap, a good fitting cap which posts deeply and securely and a strong pocket clip. And that Faber-Castell smoothness in the nib.

I do not have any real dislikes. It is tempting to say that the nib was not quite perfect out of the box, but like a pair of shoes, steel nibs often require a little wearing in. The nib is perhaps a little narrower than expected for a broad. But overall, for its price, I am happy enough with the pen.

Conclusions.

This pen has a lot going for it. It is an attractive and interesting shape, whilst at the same time being plain and unflashy. There are a few surprises: the automatically aligning facets; the clicking lock at the end of the barrel threads; the section which looks black but turns clear with a light behind it. Best of all, it has a comfortably wide grip section which is not rubbery or faceted and a typically smooth Faber-Castell steel nib. Lightweight yet robust, with a capacity for a spare cartridge up the spout, it meets all my requirements for an EDC pen.

The stealthy Hexo in use, with a box of cartridges.

Tinkering with the Wing Sung 601A fountain pen.

The moral of today’s tale is that things can go wrong quite quickly when you try to improve a fountain pen nib, if you are not an experienced nibmeister.

I am a fan of Chinese fountain pens. I was thrilled when I first discovered the Wing Sung 601, a pen in the classic style of the Parker 51 but with a steel nib and costing just a few pounds. Not long after that, in December 2018 I learned that there was a model 601A, similar on the outside but featuring a conical nib, in the style of some vintage Sheaffers. I simply had to try it and ordered three of these online.

A pair of Wing Sung 601A fountain pens.

Last month, I got one of these out to ink up again. Lately I have been copying the book “Meditations”, by Marcus Aurelius, with fountain pens, in a slow and laborious print style like a type face, or Times New Roman font. This was not an original idea but inspired by Kimberly, of @allthehobbies on Instagram after seeing her updates of attractive page spreads written with a different pen and ink combo each time.

Some days, it can be soothing to unwind with a fountain pen and ink and to write someone else’s words without having to think too much. And so it was in such a state of mind that I found myself late yesterday evening, using a Wing Sung 601A, inked with the lovely Graf von Faber-Castell Garnet Red.

Unfortunately, this combo with its fine nib was not the best of matches for my notebook paper and after a couple of paragraphs, I put the pen down and reached for the brass shims.

It is simple enough to floss the nib a few times with the thinnest grade and then examine it again with a loupe. I was hoping to open up the tine gap just enough to increase ink flow and lubrication and to get a slightly wider line in the process.

The steel nib proved quite stubborn to adjust. I shifted up a grade with my brass shims, poking a corner into the breather hole and drawing it down to the tip a few times. When this did not seem to be making much impression, I lowered a blade into the tine gap to wriggle gently from side to side, with a confidence born of recent success with my Aurora 88.

However, when I next examined the Wing Sung’s conical nib, the tines had separated rather too much and the pen looked unlikely to write at all. A Wing Sung is not an expensive pen but I was determined to fix it and set about trying to push the tines back together again.

“It was the best of tines, it was the worst of tines.”

This, it turns out, is harder than separating them. Even if you can push them back together, hurting your thumbs and fingers in the process, the tines simply spring back again when you let go.

By this time a fair bit of Garnet Red had transferred to my fingers and it seemed sensible to flush the pen. Also I thought that it would be easier to adjust the nib if I could detach it from the pen.

I was not sure how to disassemble the nib section on this pen. I tried pulling the nib off but instead, just the feed and breather tube came out. Then, with the feed removed, I was pleased to find that the conical nib simply unscrews from the section.

At the other end of the pen, I used the supplied Wing Sung wrench to unscrew the plunger and remove it, then unscrewed the barrel so that it could be flushed through.

With nib and feed removed. Nib is threaded.

Then with the pen cleaned and dried and in bits, I looked again at the nib with the loupe. The tines were still woefully far apart and the pen did not look usable.

I found that one way to try to narrow the tine gap, was to push one tine both upwards and across, so that there was bit more space for it to move before springing back – and then repeating with the other tine. However my finger tip efforts were not having much effect.

I then remembered SBRE Brown’s tip of bending the tines downwards against a surface. This did work better and, as the tines bent down slightly, so the gap narrowed.

Disassembled.

I then re-assembled the pen. Doing this for the first time involved a bit of trial and error. If you place the feed into the section before putting the nib on, you need to align it with the position in which the nib will be once it is screwed back on. Alternatively, it seems easier to screw the nib on first and then push the feed through the nib and into the section taking care not to break it.

Once reassembled, I tried dipping the pen in Garnet Red. It wrote! It was not the smoothest experience as the tine gap was still a bit too wide, but at least it wrote and just needed careful handling to keep to the sweet spot, with both tines in even contact with the paper.

Nib and feed re-assembled.

Having established that the pen had been brought back from the brink, I then inked it fully and finished my two page spread of Meditations in my A4 notebook. The pen holds a massive amount of ink and this Garnet Red will be with me for a while. I was pleased that the line was wetter and wider than those first two paragraphs, although I had forfeited some smoothness in the process.

I am still learning. Nib-tinkering needs a certain amount of courage and confidence and a willingness to take risks. But over confidence is dangerous and this was a timely reminder that care, caution and patience are key to success. I like to think that Marcus Aurelius would have approved of my tenacity.

An extract from Book 6, paragraph 30 of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.

Early thoughts on the Jinhao 159 fountain pen.

I have been fairly good at resisting the temptation to buy new pens this year, although there have been a few. But it is nice to have a new thing. My latest pen acquisition was not an expensive one. It cost just £8.99 but don’t let that put you off reading, as this is an extraordinary pen.

I first laid eyes on one of these a year or so ago, when Annie, from our London fountain pen club, produced a bright yellow one from her bag. It is a mighty beast. It put me in mind of those batons that ground crew use when directing passenger aircraft.

This is a Chinese pen. Jinhao produces a range of fountain pens, at prices which are astonishingly good value by western standards. Previously I have purchased an X-450 which was a heavy, lacquered metal pen with rounded ends, similar in shape and size to a Montblanc 146 but a bit shorter and much heavier.

The unboxing.

This will be a short paragraph, as there was no box. The pen arrived in a well padded envelope and inside a polythene sleeve. A soft black pen sleeve was included. It is quite refreshing not to have a gift box. I was impressed that I ordered the pen from Amazon on a Sunday afternoon and that it arrived the very next day.

Jinhao 159 uncapped

Appearance and construction.

If the Jinhao X-450 looked like a Montblanc 146, then the Jinhao 159 is a bigger version, like a Montblanc 149. It is a traditional, cigar shaped pen with rounded ends, very smooth and tactile. It is available in various colours or even in twos or threes of different colours, but I chose a classic, glossy piano-black finish with gold coloured fittings.

The cap unscrews, in just under one full rotation. The threads on the pen are metal, also gold-coloured but not sharp. The section is of the same glossy black and, thankfully, not faceted. The section is of a generous girth, widening from the nib from around 12mm to 14mm. The pen barrel has a maximum width of around 16mm at its widest point just after the threads.

The barrel unscrews, with metal-on-metal threads. A cartridge converter was included.

The inner threads of the cap are plastic. Peering into the cap with a torch, there appears to be an area of bare metal after the plastic threads, and then an inner cap. I do not yet know whether the 159’s cap can be disassembled. I just mention this because on the X-450, the inner cap screws into the cap using a long Hex key. I only know this because I once pulled off the cap only for it to leave the inner cap still clipped over the nib. I had to buy a set of Hex keys whereupon the problem was easily fixed although the Hex keys cost more than the pen.

The cap can be posted. It needs a firm push and a twist to grip securely onto the barrel. Be warned that this does make for a heavy pen although I rather like it.

Another thing I do not know is what the black finish on the pen is. It could be a lacquer over a metal body, but I do wonder whether it might be an acrylic layer, perhaps to give a warmer more pleasing feel to the pen rather like a Kaweco Dia 2, where different materials are used in combination. But whatever it is, the finish looks very handsome and is nicely done giving this pen an impressive presence.

The nib and filling system.

The nib is a bicolour, stainless steel, number 6 and mine is a medium. It features the Jinhao horse-drawn chariot logo, the name Jinhao and 18KGP, indicating this to be gold plated. The patterned border in silver between the gold plated areas, is attractive.

Nib-pic. As smooth and well-tuned as you could wish for.

What is remarkable though, is that the nib appears so beautifully finished and tuned, for super-smooth effortless writing. The tines and tipping material were level and symmetrical, there was a tine gap, tapering from the breather hole down to the tip but still leaving the tiniest of gaps at the tip, which is exactly as I like them, for a good ink flow and well-lubricated writing experience.

The pen uses standard international cartridges but came with a converter. I flushed both the nib section and the converter before filling and was pleased to find that the converter worked smoothly and well. The twisting knob for the converter is flat on two sides, like on a Lamy converter.

The supplied, Jinhao-branded, push-in converter.

Size and weight.

This is a big pen! Capped, it is around 148mm long: uncapped, a chubby 125mm.

Some size comparisons: Left to right: Lamy Lx, Sailor 1911 standard, Aurora 88, Montblanc 146 (75 years anniversary edition!), Jinhao X-450 and the Jinhao 159.

But it is the weight of the pen, that is the elephant in the room. It is a Jumbo sized pen. A cruise ship of a pen. Metaphors abound. The pen uncapped weighs around 30.5g. The cap weighs around 19.5g, giving a total for the pen capped or if posted, at a hefty 50g.

The writing experience.

This Jinhao nib is very smooth and produces a good medium line. It is not a feedbacky nib but my experience so far shows that it copes well with smooth papers, with no skips. There is no downward pressure needed, to make for tiring writing. Interestingly, the pen’s weight seems to make it easier to use rather than harder as you might think. The pen feels substantial and solid and not skittish or prone to jerky writing, that you might encounter on a lightweight model. Perhaps, like the cruise ship, it has greater stability and needs more planning to change direction.

I have been using this for only a week so far but am greatly enjoying it. I have tried writing with it posted and unposted and tend to prefer the former unless just for a brief note. This also has the advantage of providing the pocket clip as a roll-stop.

Jinhao 159 posted. “That’s not a knife. THAT’S a knife” (Crocodile Dundee).

Conclusion.

It is too early to give a more extended use review, but I can confirm that it is a comfortable well built pen that writes well and is fun to use. I have not had any hard-starts so far, using it with Conway Stewart Tavy, blue black ink from Diamine. Time will tell how the finish stands up to longer term use and how the pen feels after long writing sessions, although I have had no problems when writing a couple of A4 pages.

For anyone contemplating a larger pen, such as a Montblanc 149, this could be an inexpensive test to see how the size feels, although admittedly the weight and luxury will both be very different. But you might just find the Jinhao 159 meets some needs without investing in a 149 at all 🙂

A look at the Sailor Pro Gear Slim fountain pen, with Music nib.

After my last post about the Sailor 1911, it seems timely to follow up with a look at the Pro Gear Slim. Also, a reader asked in the comments, how the music nib compared to a conventional stub and so I will cover that here.

It is getting on for a year now since I received my Pro Gear Slim. It came to me in very happy circumstances, won in a giveaway competition hosted by John Hall, of Write Here, stationery shop in Shrewsbury. The brief had been to write a short piece extolling the virtues of the pen and to include a music suggestion. I spent an enjoyable hour brainstorming some music-themed puns on the names of composers and assembling them into a letter to John. At the risk of blowing my own trumpet, I will include my successful entry as published in John’s newsletter of 22 November 2019, at the end of this post.

Sailor Pro Gear Slim, in black with gold colour fittings. 14k gold music nib.

This was my first introduction to the Pro Gear Slim, apart from seeing a few at our monthly pen club meetings, which I miss now that such gatherings are currently not possible.

The Pro Gear Slim is a small pen. However, I think that the name “Slim” is rather a misnomer and could put some people off, before even picking one up. Certainly it is a short pen, and slimmer than the Pro Gear Classic. But I find the girth very comfortable. It feels solid and of good quality, not plasticky. There are many pens which are slimmer which are not called slim. The grip is not slippery. I think most people would use the pen posted and for me, holding the pen around the base of the barrel, with the short section resting on my second finger, feels comfortable and natural so that I soon forget that I am holding it. I am not very proficient with the measuring calipers but think it is about 11mm wide at the threads where I hold the pen. It is certainly short though: at just 110mm uncapped or 143mm posted.

Like the Sailor 1911, it is a cartridge-converter pen, and was supplied with a Sailor-fit converter or else needs Sailor’s proprietary cartridges.

The real interest however, lies in the nib. Available with a range of nibs, mine has the Music nib. This is 14k gold (although there is a 21k nib option for a slightly higher price). It is a stub nib, in that the tip is wide to give broad down strokes and narrow cross strokes. I believe the name comes from being suited to writing musical notation, squiggling a quick circle to make your crotchets, quavers and minims and so on, without having to go back and ink them in, as the loop will already be filled in by the wide writing surface. This ironically is just what you want to avoid when forming letters with loops in. You need to write a bit larger than normal if writing with a music or stub nib, to avoid this.

But unlike a conventional stub nib where the tipping is cut off and ground, there is a blob of tipping material on the nib. This is flattened on the face and reverse sides of the nib, but rounded at the tip which is the writing surface. Also it still provides that special Sailor feedback.

Some music nibs, such as on the Platinum 3776, have three tines and two slits, to provide better ink coverage for the writing surface. The Sailor music nib has just the usual two tines yet works very well.

It is perhaps easier to show in a photograph than it is to describe.

Music nib. Note the stub-shaped tipping for broad down strokes.
The underside of the music nib. The tipping is flattened, front and back, but rounded at the writing surface.

Here is a quick sample of how it writes, bearing in mind I am a left handed overwriter by nature, (writing from above the line rather than from below). Thus the nib is pointing towards me as I write, rather than away from me as an under-writer would hold it. Experience shows that when holding the pen this way, whilst it feels more natural for me, the nib needs a better ink flow. This is because it is pulling less downstrokes to spread the tines and re-charge the nib. There is more pushing of upstrokes where you do not apply pressure to the nib, do not open the tines and do not increase ink supply.

Writing sample from Sailor music nib. Note the line variation in the capital A. I love doing those! But I also need to remember to go large and not fill in the loops.

Fortunately, the Sailor music nib (or at least my example) is a nice wet writer and copes with my writing style very well. And the benefit of using such a pen, for a lefty overwriter, is that it gives you that lovely attractive line width variation between down strokes and cross strokes that otherwise would require a flexible nib and skillful handling to apply variation in writing pressure to open and close the tines.

Since receiving this pen, I went on to order my first Pro Gear Classic, from Write Here, which is a bit more girthy and with a larger nib too. I chose a broad nib which from Sailor, equates to a typical western medium. It is a good pen undoubtedly and feels in size rather like holding a Montblanc 146. Yet, I find that I do not use it as much as my Pro Gear Slim. It is subjective, admittedly but the classic is just not as cute (dinky, petite and adorable) as the slim.

My winning entry:

“A Sailor fountain pen with a music nib has long been on my Chopin Liszt even though I have not had a chance to Handel one.A black resin body would be perfect for me although the maki-e editions have the Mozart on them. Also the new Faure special editions look wonderful. It is an exquisite pen, not for just any Dvorak-the-lad. I would buy one myself but am a bit Bruch at the moment and don’t want to put my hand in my Purcell. If I could Gershwin one competition, this would be the one! If not, it is Bach to the drawing board. I have not entered a giveaway before. This is my Debussy? So, if you could Delius a Sailor PG Slim, with a music nib, that would be Verdi kind of you. I trust you can find one, Haydn in a cupboard somewhere. I so look forward to receiving your Purcell in the post.  My music suggestion: Had this been a different music nib, I would have suggested Lionel Richie’s Once, Twice, Three tines a lady. However, instead in anticipation of my success I will go with Abba’s Thank you for the Music.”

I thank you.

A look at the Sailor 1911 standard fountain pen.

Recently after hearing of the imminent price rises of Sailor pens, I decided to pull the trigger on a 1911 standard, to go with my Pro Gear Slim which I love.

I have had my eye on a 1911 for some time. I have been tempted by the yellow version, with black ends and had almost bought one, a couple of times. But when the time came to chose, I was swayed by a gorgeous dark blue model with gold coloured fittings. The dark blue is one of those which has matching ends and grip section, rather than the black ends and grip which some of the other colours have. In the photographs, the dark blue looked very appealing.

The nib is 14 carat gold and I opted for a medium, thinking that this would be a good all-rounder for general use.

Pleased with myself for getting in ahead of the price hike, I looked forward to the pen’s arrival. At the unboxing, the first impression was that the dark blue is seriously dark. In artificial light it looks for all intents and purposes, like a black pen. But shining a bright light on the pen, it certainly is a lovely rich dark navy blue.

Unboxing the Sailor 1911 standard.

I was delighted. It is an exquisite pen. Not large, but not too small either. Personally I find this size to be very comfortable. The grip looks to be the same diameter as the Pro Gear Slim.

The sleek lines of the Sailor 1911. Whoever said this pen is “dark blue” was not wrong.

The Sailor size designations are a bit confusing: with the Pro Gear range you have the classic (in the middle) and then the Slim which is smaller and the King of Pen which is larger. But with the 1911 you have the standard and the large – yet the 1911 standard is the same girth as the Pro Gear Slim. The main difference is that in the Pro Gear both ends are flattened whereas on the 1911 they are rounded and bullet shaped.

Rounded ends, top and bottom.

For a modest price, (at least, before the price rise) you get a gold nibbed pen with a very smart, nice quality body. The cap unscrews in about two complete turns. When capping the pen again, it tightens nicely towards the last stage and so you have confidence that this is not a pen that will unscrew itself in your pocket or bag.

Similarly, when unscrewing the barrel, you see the tiny O-ring at the base of the metal threads which helps to stop the barrel from loosening. The pen came with a Sailor fit converter.

For some reason, this was to be one of those pens in which I struggle to settle on an ink. In less than two weeks I have already tried four: Diamine Pelham Blue, Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue, Rohrer and Klingner Salix and currently, Montblanc Toffee Brown. This happened with my Montblanc 145 Classique too and I must have gone through about eight inks before discovering Montblanc William Shakespeare Velvet Red and I have not looked back since. I am still happily working through my inks with the Sailor.

The real story with the pen though, is the nib. It pays to know what to expect with a Sailor nib. They have a reputation for being well tuned, right out of the box. However there are two issues to be aware of. First, the width will be about one grade finer than a typical western nib, so that a Sailor medium equates to a western fine, and so on. Secondly, there is that legendary Sailor “feedback”, which at first might feel like a defect. However, it is not a case of misaligned tines but rather a deliberate toothy feel which Sailor somehow gives to its nibs.

That nib though!

Looked at under a loupe it is possible to see that this medium nib appears to have a rounded blob of tipping material on the end but with the two sides towards the front end, flattened and angled inwards like the prow of a ship. The result seems to be that when the pen is held with both tines on the paper evenly, the pen is at its smoothest but if the nib is rotated, or rolled to one side or the other, the sharpened edge of the tipping scrapes the paper giving a slightly gritty feeling and sound, commonly likened to writing with a pencil. It is very different from the feel of your typical steel medium nib on say, a Lamy Safari. It is, you might say, not very forgiving.

For me, as a lefty overwriter much of the time, these Sailor nibs seem better suited to my underwriter style. Funnily enough the opposite is true of my music nib, (fitted in my Sailor Pro Gear Slim) which writes like a dream for me in overwriter mode, but is very awkward in underwriting style.

So it is important to know what to expect with a Sailor pen. Provided you like the feel of the nib, you get an excellent Japanese pen, impeccably well mannered and which writes whenever required, does not hard start, blob or burp or come undone in your jacket. It is a smart looking pen too, not ostentatious but unassuming with a quiet quality and confidence of its own. And that is probably why a Sailor is a staple of every pen enthusiast’s collection.

The End.