A month ago, in A new pen deliberation, I mentioned that I was wrestling with a desire to buy a Pilot Capless.
Not for the first time, temptation got the better of me and I placed an order with The Writing Desk, in time for my birthday. A birthday present to myself. Or should I say, from the UK government, as I was on furlough at the time? (Actually, I resented those news announcements that said “The government is now paying the wages of 9.5 million employees”, because I am and have been for decades, a UK tax payer and it was my own money).
Anyhow, this was a slightly odd purchase for me because I had long ago formed the view that this was not a pen that I would like. This is because I am left handed and generally write in an “overwriter” style, with the nib rotated inwards slightly. This means that I do not grip my pens in a perfectly symmetrical alignment around the centre (as required of Lamy Safari users) but a little off centre. As you might imagine, this means that the pocket clip of a Pilot Capless would get in my way.
Earlier in the year, I bought a Platinum Curidas, which proved to be a very successful purchase. However, I very quickly removed its detachable pocket clip and then filed down the fin which, for me made my pen a whole lot more comfortable.
This is not an option on the Pilot Capless. Nevertheless, I had convinced myself that it was a worthwhile purchase, even if I might be restricted to using it in underwriter mode.
I had always thought that, if I did ever buy a Capless, it would be the lovely yellow one with rhodium plated fittings. However, this preference changed once I saw the matt black version, with black fittings. A stealth pen, except for the nib which is still rhodium plated, over 18k gold. I thought that this looked very nice indeed, and had the advantage of making the upside down clip less obvious when the pen is in writing mode.
First impressions of the pen were very favourable. All looked perfect. In particular the medium nib that I had chosen, was superb – soft and smooth and juicy. What’s more, it was quite forgiving in even allowing me to write in my customary overwriter style without needing to roll the nib inwards to find a sweet spot. The generous round tipping and the soft gold tines enabled the pen to write well at a wide range of angles.
The offer at The Writing Desk included a box of 12 Pilot cartridges. There was no option to select the ink colour (or if there was, I missed it), but the pen arrived with blue black ink – which is exactly what I would have chosen. There was also a converter. I christened the pen with a blue black cartridge and enjoyed every drop. When that finished, I tried a blue cartridge but decided that I prefer the blue black and will stick to those in future.
Well, I can report that I have been thrilled to bits with my Capless! Happier even than I had hoped to be. I still enjoy the Platinum Curidas immensely and the experience is different, as the Pilot Capless is a metal pen and with a gold nib. I must be one of the last fountain pen enthusiasts on the planet to buy one, but better late than never.
The Paperchase store near my office no longer has a glass display cabinet of fountain pens. Its fountain pen offerings are now limited to a good selection of Lamy Safaris and Al-Stars, Kaweco Perkeos and Faber-Castell Grips, although it is good that these are still available. I enjoy browsing around the shop and often buy notebooks there.
Whilst visiting the shop one lunchtime recently, I came across a cup full of Pilot retractable pens, in a mix of blue or black, called the Synergy Point. These are not new pens but were new to me. I now gather that in other places they are called the Pilot Juice Up.
To my naked eye, the writing tip looked so fine that I thought it was a fineliner, although it is in fact a tiny rollerball and one of Pilot’s gel pens. I liked the look of the pen, with its rubber grip section and rather superior metal nose cone. I bought one each in blue and black.
So, this is an inexpensive, retractable, gel pen, with a fine point. It delivers a smooth line (depending upon the type of paper you are using) with minimal pressure. Pilot’s catalogue entry states “A unique pen which, thanks to the innovative “Synergy tip”, combines a fine line with a very smooth writing experience.” Although labelled as 0.5mm, this is the tip size. The line width is said to be 0.25mm. It is also refillable, (using Pilot’s BLS-SNP5 refill).
The gel ink in the blue version, is a pleasing shade of blue, which dries almost instantly and is also waterproof and so does not smudge.
When the tip is retracted, the push-button does not rattle, but it goes slack once the tip is deployed, which means that the button will rattle if you shake or turn the pen up and down. Also, there is an indicator window at the top of the barrel, just below the clip, comprised of five square dots, arranged like on a dice. If you look closely these are white when the nib is retracted and then go dark when the button is pressed down. As an indicator of whether the tip is out or not, you are better off looking at the tip itself or even the position of the button.
The pocket clip is plastic and rather soft and bendy and so not very secure and best not relied upon.
Size and weight.
The pen is about 140mm long when in writing mode. It weights about 12g. The girth is about 9mm. However the rubbery grip section and stepless barrel design make this a comfortable pen to use. The metal nose cone also places the centre of gravity further down towards the tip.
The writing experience.
The comfortable rubber grip, combined with the weighty metal nose cone and the lack of any wobble from the very narrow writing tip, all make for a feeling of precision when you are writing. Also, very little downward pressure is needed, although you do need a little to avoid skipping.
I have tried the pen on about half a dozen different notebooks. It is best suited to smooth papers without much texture as you do not have a large tip area to ride the bumps. However the ink flowed well. On all the papers I tried, any showthrough was minimal and there was no bleedthrough, even on papers which often struggle with ink. For example an Agenzio notebook (from Paperchase) has paper which suffers bleedthrough even with Waterman Serenity blue, but not with Montblanc Permanent Blue, Sailor Kiwa-guro or Platinum blue black, all of which are waterproof inks. The Synergy Point now gives me another bleed-free option for this brand of notebook.
Disassembly and refilling.
At first, before checking online, I tried to unscrew the nose cone. However I later learned that the pen unscrews at the barrel, and you just hold the grip section in one hand and the smooth plastic barrel in the other. It was tight the first time and I was worried about destroying the pen, but was encouraged by seeing photos online of the two parts separated. I anticipate that the refill will last for ages but it is good to know that refills can be purchased.
Likes and dislikes.
Plus points are the attractive design, sturdy build (aside from the flimsy clip and the rattling button) and the unusually fine writing tip for fine work. Having a waterproof ink is also useful. The familiar retractable design is obviously convenient and practical.
On the negative side, there is the feeble pocket clip and the rattling buttton. Also I would have preferred not to have a permanent bar code and a 13 digit number on the barrel but these are minor issues.
Pricewise, the blue model registered £4.25 on the cash till but then the black one registered as £5.00 which was slightly annoying. I would expect them to be the same price, whichever figure is correct, but it seemed fruitless to pursue this.
I use ballpoint pens a lot for notes at work and a gel pen makes a pleasant alternative. The writing looks nicer and there is typically less pressure required yet you have all the convenience of a ballpoint pen. It is not a substitute for a fountain pen, which is still far ahead for line variation, shading and general writing pleasure. But the gel pen is a very useful writing tool to have and has its own merits.
I recently spent a very enjoyable mini-break in Dubai, enjoying some winter warmth and sunshine. Dubai is famed for its world class shopping and so I was hoping to come across some exciting pen shops.
I gather that Dubai has some specialist pen shops but being such a large city and with limitations of time, I did not get to them and my pen foraging was limited to a couple of vast shopping malls, plus the airport departure hall.
The Dubai Mall and The Mall of the Emirates both had large Montblanc stores although the prices were no less than at home. At the other extreme, the latter had a vast Carrefour supermarket with an aisle of stationery, including some school pens.
To my delight I spotted, low on the rack almost at knee level, a peg of Pilot fountain pens in blister packs and stooped to have a closer look. This was the unattractively named Pilot AMS-86G3-ASTD. Under the artificial lights it appeared to be a nice forest green with a gold coloured cap although it later proved to be more of a teal. There were no other colours. They all had a Fine nib.
While my wife bought bags of delicious dried figs and dates as gifts, I bagged a few of the Pilot fountain pens.
Appearance and construction
This is a smallish, plastic pen with a snap-on, gold coloured metal cap, a sturdy, flexible pocket clip, a traditional steel nib with gold coloured plating, a slim but textured grip section and all plastic barrel threads and innards.
This is a cartridge pen, also designed to be eye-droppered, using the pipette supplied. There is also one Pilot Namiki prorietary blue cartridge.
Here I must tell you two important things, so that you may not make the same mistakes that I made. I make no apology if these sound like stating the obvious. I am supposed to know a bit about fountain pens but was still baffled as to how to fit the cartridge.
On unscrewing the barrel, there is a clear plastic tubular insert fitted inside the section, where the cartridge goes. This has to be pulled out before you can insert a cartridge. I read later online that it is a seal to help avoid leaks when the pen is to be eye-droppered.
The Pilot Namiki cartridges go in blunt end first.
Needless to say, in the absence of any instructions, I did not remove the plastic insert and also tried to force a cartridge into the pen, the wrong way round. As it would not go in, I thought it may help to try screwing the barrel on. This did not work and when I unscrewed the barrel, the cartridge was tightly wedged inside. I tried to pull it out with some tweezers from my Swiss Army knife but they just slipped off. I then used a blade to spear the cartridge and hook it out, which worked, but at the expense of puncturing the side of the cartridge which was therefore wasted.
After this stupid but memorable experience of learning the hard way, I removed the plastic insert, popped in a new cartridge (the correct way around this time) and all was well.
Apart from the above teething problems, this is a truly delightful little pen. The Japanese Fine nib equates to a western Extra Fine but is smooth and with a lovely optimal ink flow. It has a slight bit of bounce but no significant flex. Yet it is a real joy to write with.
Size and weight
It is a smallish pen, measuring approximately 134mm closed, 124mm open or 148mm posted. It posts very well. The pen weighs around 11.0 grams closed or posted comprised as to 6.5g for the pen and 4.5g for the thin metal cap.
Likes and dislikes
My only gripes are:
The absence of filling instructions on the blister pack which led to my wasting half an hour and one ink cartridge. It is not only me. I have since given one to a friend and highly experienced fountain pen collector Penultimate Dave who was also foxed by this pen and its supplied accessories at first, which made me feel slightly better.
The absence of a name. Why call a pen the AMS-86G3-ASTD? I would have liked it to include a word, such as Custom, or Heritage, or Legacy or anything, or even just “the Pilot 86” would do me.
I would have liked some more colours. There may be others but the store where I got mine had only this teal.
As for Likes, I think it is a great little pen. It is comfortable to hold. My preference is to post the cap. It writes really nicely on smooth paper, with an even, extra fine line with no skips or hard starts as yet. And it is fantastic value. The price was 27 United Arab Emirates’ Dirhams, which equates to around £6.00, including a pipette and one blue cartridge. I bought a couple of spare boxes of blue cartridges.
I am very pleased with this little pen and wish I had bought more of them when I had the chance. They make great giveaways to pen users. I am thankful for my ability to enjoy cheap pens just as much as expensive ones.
At Dubai airport on the way home, my wife and I browsed at another display of Montblancs. We both liked the look of a blue “The Little Prince” special edition 146. My wife offered to buy one for me, for my next birthday. I declined. The fact that she had offered such a generous gift was enough and melted my heart and I was reminded that it is our loved ones that we have to be thankful for, not our fountain pens.
Also I am at last coming to realise that accumulating more and more fountain pens dilutes the use and enjoyment that we get from them. Now, can I hold onto that thought, until the London Pen Show next Sunday?
For the past two weeks I have enjoyed getting acquainted with this pen, bought new at the Cambridge pen show.
If you are new to the Pilot Falcon, as I was, there are a few things that might cause some initial confusion, as follows:-
This the Pilot Falcon. In the past, they were branded as the Namiki Falcon (Namiki being Pilot’s brand for its high-end pens).
The Falcon can be found in either resin or a metal body with lacquer finish.
The nib on the Falcon is a semi-flex nib, with the markings SEF, SF, SM or SB (for soft extra fine, soft fine, soft medium of soft broad), also denoted by a removable silver sticker on the barrel. However, when people refer to the “Falcon nib” they may instead mean an entirely different shaped nib, with distinctive cut-aways on the sides to help it flex, with the markings FA and which is not found on the Falcon pen at all but on a different Pilot pen.
The nib called the Falcon (FA) nib, is more soft (flexy) than the soft nibs made for the Pilot Falcon.
See what I mean? Anyhow, the model that I have is the Pilot metal Falcon, in black with a Soft Fine (SF) nib, which is 14k gold, rhodium plated. The pens branded as Pilot are clearly identified by the name Pilot stamped on the nib and on the cap, just above the shiny plain cap band.
There have been other modifcations too, such as the change from a resin to a metal finial and barrel end cap and the addition of another metal ring, so that there are now two rhodium plated rings on the grip section and a third on the barrel, just after the cap threads. These do give this smart but ordinary looking Pilot’s uniform a bit of panache, rather like the rings on the sleeves of an airline pilot’s jacket.
When I chose my Falcon, there was a Soft Fine or Soft Medium nib available. Both looked nicely finished, under a loupe but I chose the Soft Fine as I have come to appreciate Fine nibs more, in the past year or so and because I have relatively few of them, compared to the number of pens with medium nibs.
I had read that Pilot nibs had a good reputation for being well made and for great performance straight out of the box, which is always a delight. This one lived up to expectations.
The unique nib of the Pilot Falcon, is the main draw for this pen. Shaped more like a nib that you might find for a dip pen, it is long and slender with a bulge half way down, as if the nib had been pushed into a wall and had buckled. It is rare nowadays to find a new pen sold with a flexy nib. This is not a “full flex” nib but has more softness to it than most. In the right hands, this can be used to apply a little downward pressure to the nib on the down stroke, to open up the tines a little and create some thicker lines, for attractive line variation.
I say “in the right hands” as (a) it does take some skill and practice to achieve this and (b) it is more difficult for left handers, particularly lefty overwriters, (such as myself) as the nib does not like to have pressure applied when being pushed forward, but only when being pulled backward. Indeed, you have to be careful on the upstroke to keep a light touch and avoid the nib jabbing into the paper.
In this regard, possibly a medium or broad nib might have been a more sensible and forgiving option for me if buying a flexy nib. However the fine nib certainly does have its advantages. It is not necessary to flex the nib and the pen can be used to write quite normally, without any downward pressure. The remarkable thing is that the pen requires no pressure at all and the tines are so responsive, that the pen will write as soon as the pen touches the paper – and with no skipping. Smooth paper is preferred.
Because the nib is so soft, it takes only the slightest touch to paper, to open the tines and lay down ink. I have found that it is important to keep the nib flat to the paper (rather than rotated left or right), so that both tines remain level on the paper. If the pen is tilted, one tine will lift higher than the other, causing the inner edge of the other to catch on the paper and make the nib feel scratchy.
I have also read that the nib needs to “break in” and become softer and more flexy in time. Meanwhile I have been careful not to push it too far for fear of springing the nib, bending it past the point of no return.
One of my favourite discoveries with the nib, was to find that the numbers in the lower right corner, and barely readable with the naked eye, denote the date of production of the nib. Mine is 917, that is September 2017. I have since looked at pictures of numerous others online to compare when they were made. I do enjoy it when pens can be dated.
Filling mechanism. The pros and cons of the CON 70
The Falcon (be it the Pilot or Namiki) is a cartridge – converter pen but has evolved through several filling systems. I understand that originally, the pen had the CON 20 press-bar converter, unpopular for its small ink capacity which soon ran out especially if one was doing much flexing of nib for broader strokes. The next generation had the CON 50 piston converter. Both are now discontinued according to Cult Pens. The current metal Falcon has the CON 70 push button converter, which is relatively large capacity, efficient and fun to operate.
I have not yet fully grasped how this works. The converter has a button at one end. Inside, you can see a thin metal rod, with a rubber plug at the end, but which does not reach the open end of the converter and which can slide up and down the metal rod.
To fill your pen, with converter attached to the section, you simply place the nib in the ink, give the button a quick press and release, and ink is drawn into the reservoir. Repeat a few times and each time, the ink reaches a higher level. Within about four quick presses, you have a full reservoir.
From watching a Brian Goulet video on this converter, I gathered that pressing the button pushes the rubber plug downwards; air is expelled and the plug seals off the opening so that a vacuum is created. With the nib immersed in ink, the vacuum then draws ink up into the pen. It is all over very quickly.
On close inspection, it can be seen that the metal shaft inside the reservoir is a hollow tube. I have not yet deduced whether it is this tube through which air is expelled or ink is drawn in. But it works.
There are some issues to be aware of , with this design of converter. (a) It is rather a faff to clean if you are changing ink colours. You can try pushing the button repeatedly to fill and empty the pen with clean water. Or it is quicker to remove the converter and squirt water into the opening with a syringe or pipette. I have read that ink can lodge inside the metal tubular rod and that this can contaminate inks of a different colour, if you fill the pen before cleaning the converter thoroughly. (b) Also the action seems to make the ink go bubbly so that you are left with lots of tiny bubbles sticking to the inside of the converter, stopping you from seeing the new ink sloshing around from end to end with a single air bubble like a spirit level. The bubbles or tiny air pockets disperse a day or two after filling.
The pen is very comfortable to hold, being a good medium sized pen with a nice weight to it. It weighs around 33g (20g uncapped, and 13g for the cap).I prefer to use it with the cap posted, although at 126mm unposted, many people would find it long enough without posting. One criticism that was made of the resin version, was that it felt too light. This is no longer an issue in the metal Falcon. Also, there was criticism of the small ink capacity converter but the CON 70 resolves this.
A few days after buying the pen, I had the opportunity to use it to take notes at a full day of training lectures. At the time it was filled with Pilot Iroshizuku Yama-budo which I was sure it would like. The fine nib proved very good for annotating typed hand-outs and marginal notes. It can be used for fast writing so long as you remember to avoid pressure on the nib. Sitting with the pen uncapped, it did stop writing on me a couple of times during the day, but this could just have been due to the ink drying in the nib while uncapped, rather than any issues with the feed. I have read that when used a lot for flex writing, the nib can railroad and also stop writing if the nib is flexed upwards away from the feed for too long, which is hardly surprising. I have not found any such difficulties in normal use.
In conclusion, the Pilot Falcon might not suit everyone, due to its softer nib but is a great quality, well finished precision writing tool, for those who enjoy pens with an extremely light touch for effortless writing , having the option of some flex writing if desired.