Some silly mistakes with the Faber-Castell Basic (black carbon) and how to avoid them.

Whilst at Victoria Station recently, with ten minutes to spare before my train was due to leave, I popped in to WH Smiths to have a browse around their stationery section. There I made the happy discovery that they sell Faber-Castell fountain pens.

I bought a Faber-Castell Loom earlier this year and have been using it as my every day carry. It is my most successful of the Faber-Castells that I have tried. I found the Emotion too short for me and too heavy; the Ambition (black resin version) also too short and too slippery, or too back-heavy if posted. However, their steel nibs had all been excellent. Even on their £5.00 plastic school pens, the nibs were very enjoyable.

I spotted a pen which looked similar to my Loom, but with a slightly different shaped cap and which had a shiny, black carbon-fibre look to the barrel. Also, the long, cylindrical section was of grippy black rubber. There was even a smoky grey ink window. I now know this to be the Faber-Castell Basic, black carbon version.

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Faber-Castell Loom (above) and Faber-Castell Basic, (below).

I asked to have a look at it and was immediately impressed by the length of the pen when uncapped, (about 134mm) which was considerably longer than my Loom, which I took out of my pocket, to compare. The familiar stainless steel nib looked in good shape and I decided to buy it. The sales assistant apologised that it did not have a cartridge with it but that did not bother me. A new Faber-Castell, like my Loom but longer! What could possibly go wrong?

Later inspecting my purchase, I unscrewed the barrel and found a spent blue cartridge inserted in the pen. Either someone had been testing the pen rather too extensively in the store, or it had had a previous owner and was a return. Never mind, the nib looked promising and I was not bothered about having to clean it first.

At home that evening, I flushed the pen. I planned to fill it with Graf von Faber-Castell Garnet Red. It is important to remove all traces of blue ink from the nib and feed first, otherwise you lose that lovely deep orangey-red colour in the Garnet, and instead it turns to a burgundy. (Ask me how I know this).

So after flushing the section several times I unscrewed the nib and feed unit from the section and patiently left it to soak in a jar of water overnight.

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The screw-fit nib unit for the Faber-Castell Basic

The next day, when screwing the nib unit back into the grip, (having carefully flushed it again, dried it and applied a little silicone grease on the threads) I realised that I had forgotten what it was supposed to look like. Or rather, I did not realise that I had forgotten and went on screwing it in, expecting to get the unit to fit flush into the grip, right up to the start of the nib, like the Loom. (DO NOT DO THIS!) Needless to say, it did not want to go in any further.

Next I got out a standard international converter. None was supplied with the pen, but I had a few different brands. The first I tried, did not grip onto the coupling at all. The next one, (actually a screw-fit converter, from a Conklin Duragraph) gripped nicely so I gleefully filled it with my Garnet Red ink.

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The wrong size converter. (This is NOT a Faber-Castell converter).

Next, on trying to replace the barrel, I found that it was a very tight fit over the converter, although it did just fit, so I screwed the barrel into place. (DO NOT DO THIS EITHER!) I then tried unscrewing the barrel again and was alarmed to find that, in unscrewing the barrel, the metal collar of the converter had unscrewed and was now firmly wedged inside the barrel.

The only way to retrieve this was to offer the converter back into the barrel (losing the ink first), screw it back into its collar, and pull. This operation, thankfully, was a success. I also learned how to disassemble, clean and re-grease a Conklin Duragraph converter in the process.

I found a different converter to use, this time checking not only that it would grip on the coupling, but also that the barrel would fit over it without touching the sides, before filling. I inserted a Kaweco converter (not the mini one but from a Dia 2) which worked fine.

So I filled the pen, replaced the barrel and thought that all would be well. However, the next discovery was that the cap had become an uncomfortably snug fit, when capping and uncapping the pen. Closer inspection revealed the apparent cause of this to be that the rubber grip had several stress cracks at the nib end and the rubber had actually flared out very slightly and was rubbing on the inside of the cap. This probably happened when I had been trying to screw the nib unit too deeply into the grip.

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Damaged rubber grip section, cracked and slightly flared.

Conclusion.

I think the Basic will be great pen, once I have obtained a replacement rubber grip. However it is not fool proof. I have since enjoyed watching old reviews of the pen by Stephen Brown and Brian Goulet who both spoke very highly of it. As a veteran of over 200 pen purchases, I had become sloppy and made a series of mistakes. Did you spot them all?

Notes to self:-

  • Do not rush a fountain pen purchase, if you have a train to catch;
  • Inspect the pen properly before purchase, including under the barrel;
  • Before removing a nib, perhaps take a photo as a record of how it looked before;
  • Do not use force when screwing a nib and feed back into a section;
  • Before filling a converter, (if it did not come with the pen) check that the barrel will fit over it.
  • If the barrel is going to be a tight fit over the converter, use a converter that fits properly.
  • You are only as good as your last pen purchase.

I hope that Faber-Castell will not mind sending me a replacement rubber grip and I can then start to use and enjoy the pen, with a fresh start.

A look at the Faber-Castell E-motion fountain pen.

On a day of beautiful autumn sunshine in September 2015, I went into central London to look in a few pen shops. I bought a bottle of Waterman Harmonious Green ink at Pen Friend in the Burlington Arcade, before going into Fortnum & Mason to visit their fountain pen department.

As I hovered over the displays, the sales assistant Robert asked “What’s caught your eye?” I had found the Faber-Castells and was rather taken with the  striking looks of the E-motion, with its combination of natural wood and shiny metal.  A delivery had just come in and he went to find one in the dark Pearwood finish. I preferred this to the lighter brown version or the all black “stealth” model. After trying the pen on a pad of Graf von Faber-Castell paper, I bought one. It was rather an impulsive buy and at £87.99 was one of the more expensive pens that I had bought.

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Faber-Castell E-motion fountain pen.

I was delighted with my choice. Before leaving the shop, with my pen and a much appreciated complimentary Graf von Faber-Castell note pad, in a distinctive Fortnum and Mason carrier bag, I went to ink the pen with my new Harmonious Green, then went to the Royal Academy across the road, to try it out.

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First inking. Waterman Harmonious Green.

In the years that followed, it has been a pen for which I have mixed emotions. I have bought four more Faber-Castell fountain pens (an Ambition, two school pens and a Loom) and have always found their stainless steel nibs, even on the entry-level school pens, to be very pleasing. The Ambition, E-motion and Loom share the same nib unit. Today I will look back at the E-motion, my first foray into Faber-Castell fountain pens.

Construction and Appearance

This is a metal pen, rather short and tapering at each end, with a large, heavy, shiny polished metal cap. There is a smooth, curved pocket clip, which is sprung and can be operated one-handed.  The cap is tastefully embellished with the Faber-Castell name and logo and the words “since 1761”.

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Cap detail.

Removing the screw cap, in two short twists, you have the nib and section in shiny steel. There is also a tapered finial (perhaps nugget or lump of metal would be a better description) in shiny polished steel at the end of the barrel. The main part of the barrel is very attractively finished with a layer of dark brown Pearwood, with its beautiful, natural dark wood grain and patina. There is no discernible join around the wood and so I suppose it to be a carefully drilled tube of wood, slid over the metal barrel, before the end finial is put in place. Correct me if I am wrong.

The barrel unscrews to reveal metal threads on both the section and inside of the barrel. Everything fits together very well and gives an impression of sturdiness and good quality. A converter was included with my pen but it also takes standard international cartridges.

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With Faber-Castell converter.

The Nib

This is stainless steel, in an attractive shape and finish. There is no breather hole, but the nib features a pattern of dimples, which are subtle yet catch the light sometimes in a most pleasing way. My nib is a medium, but writes on the fine side of medium, which suits me. I later discovered that the nib and feed unit can be easily unscrewed from the section and that the nibs are interchangeable with those of the Ambition or Loom.

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That nib though. 🙂

Dimensions and weights

Length closed: 138mm

Length opened: 117mm

Length posted: 148mm

Weight capped or posted: 53g

Weight uncapped: 31g

Weight of cap: 22g.

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Faber-Castell E-motion, below a Lamy Safari, (the standard unit of pen measurement).

Handling and performance

The pen writes very well. The tines were level, the tipping material was symmetrical, and the ink flow on all the papers I tried, was just right, neither too dry nor too wet. The nib gives a smooth writing experience, but not overly so; there is enough tooth for the pen to cope with smoother paper and to give a pleasant degree of feedback. Of all the stainless steel nibs that I have used, I would say that these have been consistently among the best. It also provides good “cap-off” time, remaining ready to write even if the pen is left uncapped for a few minutes.

On the downside, for my hands, the pen is just too short to use comfortably unposted. If I were to use it unposted, I would try to grip it low down around the section, but this does not work for me because the shiny metal section is slippery to hold and cannot be gripped steadily.

The cap can be posted (although it needs a hard push and a twist – with a worry of cracking the inner cap or marking the lovely wood covered barrel) and whilst this solves the length problem, this makes for a very heavy pen. You are carrying the full 53 grams as you write.

Conclusion

I do like to be flexible and accommodating to my pens, to allow for their idiosyncrasies and to celebrate their diversity. In the case of the E-motion, I found that the best way to use it was to post a light weight cap from another pen. This means the pen is probably confined to home use, but I have used this method to good effect on at least three pens now  (the E-motion, the Faber-Castell Ambition and the Bic Easy-Click). You might have to rummage around to find the best match of size, weight (and even colour if you are lucky) and try several tops before you find the best fit.

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Not you Scary. I said try several tops.

It is a good idea to keep some pen tops when roller balls or marker pens such as the Sharpie run out, for this very reason. For the E-motion or the Bic Easy-Click, the Lamy Safari caps work well.  For the Faber-Castell Ambition, I use a Sharpie cap. Obviously it looks unfashionable and eccentric, but it is better than leaving the pen unfilled and unfulfilled.

I find that when I post a Safari cap on the E-motion, I naturally grip the pen higher up and around the warm wooden barrel with only my second finger used as a rest for the metal section. Consequently there is no issue of the section being slippery to hold. And the pen is not too heavy or too short, although still on the heavy side. Length with a Safari cap posted is a comfortable 152mm and the Safari cap weighs just 8.5g as opposed to the E-motion’s hefty 22g.

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E-motion with a cap from a Safari posted. It posts well to add length without adding much weight.

So this, for me, was the way to deal with my E-motions. YMMV. It is an attractive and good quality pen and it is worth persevering to make use of the excellent nib.

 

 

 

A look at the Faber-Castell Loom fountain pen.

If you are trying to resist the temptation to buy more fountain pens for a while, then drifting into Selfridges on London’s Oxford Street and heading for their new pen department, is probably not going to help.

The pen department has moved, from the ground floor to the lower ground floor, near Dolly’s cafe (for afternoon teas). There is a Mont Blanc area and then, next to it, another section with a generous area of brightly lit and enticing glass counters and wall displays, for all the other fountain pen brands that they stock.

As I was not looking for anything in particular, I made the customary lap of the cabinets, admiring but resisting the expensive offerings, but then hesitated at the display of Faber-Castells. These looked particularly good value, after a circuit of all the other brands. I asked to see the Loom fountain pen which I had not handled before. On a previous visit a year or two ago, I had looked at a Loom but at that time, they had only the roller ball version.

Now, there were numerous Loom fountain pens to chose from. Typically, these have a grey coloured metal barrel and section, with a coloured plastic cap in a range of colours. The section is reasonably wide but tapers towards the nib and has five raised rings, to aid grip.

In addition to several models like this, I saw one with a shiny silver chrome barrel and glossy black cap and another, with shiny gunmetal grey barrel and section, and matte black cap. It was this latter model that I was to go for.

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Faber-Castell Loom, shiny gunmetal version.

I was particularly interested to try holding the pen and to see whether the metal section was slippy or whether the raised rings solved that.

What I found was that the standard, silver coloured metal sections are still a bit on the slippery side for me. However, the shiny gunmetal version was not slippery at all. It seems to have some sort of thin plastic coating over the barrel and section. If you press on it hard with your thumb and then try to slide your thumb on the section, it judders along and squeaks, as it overcomes the surface resistance.

The shiny gunmetal version cost a little more than the others, (£45.00 as opposed to £37.50, I think) but seemed the better option to me, both in aesthetics and handling. I have learned since, that there is also a matte gunmetal version which I have seen online only. I also bought a box of 20 Graf von Faber-Castell cartridges in Cobalt Blue because (a) I love this ink and (b) I loved the orderly ranks of five rows of four cartridges in this handy dispenser, like a box of bullets, and which can be used again.

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A box of 20 cartridges to go with your gunmetal pen.

The pen comes in a decent, white cardboard gift box with a slide out tray in a sleeve and also a cardboard outer sleeve. It comes with one royal blue cartridge plus a dummy cartridge, (showing that there is room for a spare in the barrel) but no converter. There is also a little instruction manual which is now date stamped, 6 January 2018, Selfridges, London. Naturally you pay a bit more than with online-only dealers, but you get personal service, an opportunity to handle the pen (and try it if you wish) and a memorable buying experience.

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Faber-Castell Loom with gift box

Examining it more closely at home, the shiny gunmetal finish is interesting, as it appears to have under the plastic coating, an oily finish of patches of dark red and dark green which reflect the light, like a gun that has just been oiled, except that the surface does not feel oily and on the contrary, can be gripped very well.

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Loom posted, trying to show the oil-like reflections under the coating.

The pull-off cap is very stiff. (Lips pursed, eye-brows furrowed, elbows a quiver, “Pop” – there it goes!) and also snaps closed with a reassuring click. This stiffness of the cap, so far, is my only negative about the pen but I find that it can be “soft-capped” if in use for extended but intermittent note taking and which I now do. Also the nib and feed are much better than most, at remaining ready to perform, even when left uncapped for several minutes. The pocket clip is, I think, metal but plastic-coated and is hinged, although it lacks the ability to be opened one handed by pressing down at the top.

Unscrewing the relatively weighty metal section, I discovered a tiny code “f7” on mine. I have not yet been able to find any information about these codes but I am guessing it is a production date code, the 7 being for 2017. I think this because each of my 20 Cobalt Blue cartridges also has f7 stamped on them, in black. Also, I looked again at a Faber-Castell Ambition that I bought two years ago and discovered that it also had a stamp near the threads for the barrel, reading “d4” and so I guess that would indicate a manufacturing date in 2014. If anyone has any further information about these codes I would be interested to hear. I do like a production date code. Next best thing to a serial number.

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Loom section, showing code f7.

In use, the metal barrel and section initially feel cold to the touch but swiftly warm up. The cap posts quite deeply and securely, making for an extremely comfortable and nicely balanced pen. At 120mm opened and unposted, it could be used without posting but my preference is to post the cap, bringing the length to around 155mm. Weights are 33g in all (including two cartridges), or 26.5g uncapped. The cap alone weighs 6.5g.

The best thing about this pen though, is the Faber-Castell stainless steel nib. This is a traditional shape, but with an attractive dimpled pattern and no breather hole. There is the Faber-Castell logo of jousting knights (although you need a magnifying glass to make this out) and an M for medium. Mine performed perfectly, glassy smooth and with ideal ink flow, straight out of the box. This has also been my experience with the same medium nibs of the Faber-Castell e-motion and Ambition. Some reviewers find the nib to be too smooth, so that it runs away with you. I do not think this is a fault but you do need to slow down, particularly if you are used to writing with a ball pen. It is not a feedbacky nib and so it might skip on very smooth papers.

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Loom uncapped.

Incidentally, the nib and feed are within a black plastic collar and the whole nib unit can be easily unscrewed from the section. You may then extract the nib and feed from the collar, which are friction fit, if you ever need to. I refer to SBRE Brown’s useful Disassembly Line videos which demonstrate this process. When replacing, take care to a line up the nib and feed correctly with the air replacement channel.

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Disassembled. The additional nib and Faber-Castell converter were from previous purchases.

Using the pen extensively at work and at home this week I found that the weight, balance and feel of the pen in the hand were so comfortable, that I soon stopped being aware that I was holding a new pen and was aware only of what I was writing. It is rather like having a very comfortable new pair of shoes.

I used up the supplied royal blue cartridge first, rather impatient to get on to my Cobalt Blue cartridges. The Cobalt Blue is one of my all time favourite inks, being a rich dark blue but without being blue-black.

So, the New Year pen fast has been broken. But I have no regrets and am delighted with this pen, which I personally find more comfortable than both my Faber-Castell e-motion or Ambition. At this price level, other comparables for a metal-bodied, stainless steel nib cartridge converter pen would include a Lamy Aion, a new model Parker IM, or Sheaffer Sagaris, but which all use their own proprietary cartridges. But for handling and nib performance, I would recommend the shiny gunmetal Loom.

Faber-Castell School fountain pen; initial impressions.

 

Whenever I get the chance to travel, one of the joys is to visit the stationery shops and supermarkets to see whether they have anything different from the familiar range of fountain pens found in our local WH Smith, Rymans or Paperchase.

The hope is that I will discover a nice new pen, from a well known and respected brand, which writes like a dream, targeted at school students and costs very little.

Last week, without even travelling, I was browsing in a local Waterstones book store and was distracted by the sign for Stationery.  There, among the greeting cards and notebooks, on a revolving stand, was a Faber-Castell Schulfüller School pen, for just £4.99, in a blister pack with a box of 6 Faber-Castell cartridges.

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This looked to be a good find. The design was a basic, bright coloured plastic barrel and cap, a black rubberised section with two flat grip surfaces left and right of centre, (like a Lamy Safari), and an attractive-looking stainless steel nib. With 6 cartridges included, it was a no-brainer and it just remained for me to decide whether to go for blue or red. I chose blue. There was only one of each colour left on the rack and it seemed greedy to take them both.

On closer inspection, the packaging declared that the pen featured a tough stainless steel nib with iridium tip, a rubberised grip zone and was for right and left handers and had a tough plastic barrel with metal clip. The ink cartridges were made in Germany and the fountain pen made in Slovenia.

On first inking the pen, using one of the supplied cartridges, I was delighted when the pen wrote immediately with no shaking, squeezing or coaxing, very smoothly and with good flow. The Royal Blue ink is very pleasant having some shading when a little added pressure is applied to the nib.

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I will not go overboard in describing what is a very simple and inexpensive pen. It measures around 133mm capped , 122mm opened and a very comfortable 150mm with cap posted. It takes standard international cartridges. A very useful feature is that there is room to carry a spare cartridge in the barrel so that you are unlikely to run out in a day.  The barrel does not have an ink window. It does have some air vents at the base of the barrel as an anti-choking feature and so this is not suitable for converting to eye-dropper. You could however use a converter, for bottled ink although none is included.

For such an inexpensive pen, there is a lot to like. I was disproportionately pleased for my modest £4.99 outlay. I particularly liked the following:

Likes

  • Respected, long-established German brand;
  • Attractive stainless steel Medium nib, with dimple pattern (similar to the Faber-Castell emotion and Ambition range) and jousting knights logo;
  • Writes smoothly with good flow and lubrication; nib is firm but can provide a little line variation with some pressure;
  • Comfortable to hold either posted or unposted; light-weight cap posts well, without upsetting balance;
  • Barrel has space for a spare cartridge;
  • Secure, snap-on cap has a springy, metal pocket clip with Faber-Castell name in black letters (the correct way up for left handers like me, when posted);
  • A white plastic inner cap to stop the nib from drying out;
  • Good, practical and simple design; does not look like a child’s pen;
  • Excellent value.

Dislikes

I could not find much to dislike, especially for the low price. I did notice that the nib and feed seem to point downwards, (like the droop-nose design of the Concorde when taking off and landing). In a photograph on a mobile phone camera, the distortion made this even more pronounced. It is not a concern as the pen writes very well. However I was curious to see whether this was just a one-off or whether this was by design. This was all the excuse I needed, to go back to buy the red one.

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Well, the red one had the same nib droop as the blue. I was not quite so fortunate with the nib of the red pen at first, as the tines were not quite aligned, viewed with a loupe and there was a little bit of scratchiness in side strokes. This was easily remedied by a little gentle bending of tines until they were level. Thereafter the pen wrote smoothly, like my blue one.

I decided to put a red cartridge in the red pen. I had a bag of 50 standard international cartridges in assorted colours from Paperchase which had cost just £2.00, although they might be a bit more now.

I have not experienced any hard starts with either of the pens (although, admittedly, both have been in quite frequent use so far) and I think they make ideal pens for carrying around without worrying too much. In conclusion, these are very enjoyable pens to use and would make great gifts, if you can bear to part with them.

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