Sunday, November 21, 2021

ACCESSORIES FOR THE DESK: MAKERS CABINET HØVEL & IRIS REVIEW


ACCESSORIES FOR THE DESK: MAKERS CABINET HØVEL PENCIL SHARPENER & IRIS COMPASS REVIEW

As with so many hobbies, most things within the writing community aren't about making sensible financial decisions. Let's be honest, it's quite easy to be tempted into buying (ahem, hoarding) all kinds of pens, pencils, desk accessories, and gadgets that nobody really needs... but everybody wants! The two desk accessories by Makers Cabinet we'll be looking at, certainly categorize as such. I can't help but be quite enamored by these nifty tools. 

UK-based Makers Cabinet hit the market somewhere in 2017 (then as 'Brahman Design') and was started by three product design graduates. Aesthetics is the name of the game with Makers Cabinet. You'd think 'form follows function' is out of the door then, but after using the Makers Cabinet Høvel pencil sharpener and Iris compass, the meticulous attention to detail quickly becomes clear.

As aesthetics are a big part of the appeal of the Høvel and Iris, so let's start there...

ACCESSORIES FOR THE DESK: MAKERS CABINET HØVEL PENCIL SHARPENER & IRIS COMPASS REVIEW

One key element returns throughout the entire product catalog of Makers Cabinet: all of their products are made out of brass! But as much as that ties together their different products, each item still very much brings its own unique look and feel. 

The Hovel - a very minimal, miniature interpretation of a wood planer - is a slick and sleek chunk of brass, with rounded edges and a highly polished finish. The rectangular cutout that houses the blade setup received a lightly sandblasted finish for a subtle contrast, it also has the 'Høvel' logo laser-engraved there.

ACCESSORIES FOR THE DESK: MAKERS CABINET HØVEL PENCIL SHARPENER & IRIS COMPASS REVIEW

The Iris - a brilliantly overengineered take on the classic circle drawing compass - is quite the opposite in terms of design. Its crisp beveled edges, knurling, and mixture of finishes (machined finish, brushed, and sandblasted) interweave to create a distinctly industrial look and feel. One thing I noticed while using both products, is that the type of brass they use isn't very prone to tarnishing (even though it's not coated), I'm still waiting for the Høvel and Iris to take on a nice vintage appearance. 

ACCESSORIES FOR THE DESK: MAKERS CABINET HØVEL PENCIL SHARPENER & IRIS COMPASS REVIEW
The 'Makers Cabinet' and 'Iris' branding only appears when you close the blades of the Iris!

The solid brass construction creates a wonderfully hefty tactile appearance. So much so, that I'm constantly tempted to play with the Høvel as a worry stone... if it wasn't for the blade sticking out of the bottom (not quite so practical as a fidget toy!).

ACCESSORIES FOR THE DESK: MAKERS CABINET HØVEL PENCIL SHARPENER & IRIS COMPASS REVIEW

No, neither Iris nor Høvel are cheap products by any stretch of the imagination, but it has to be said that the production quality on both is really, really impressive. Machining is precise, assembly and fit and finish is flawless, finishing is cleanly done. I have no remarks, it's as simple as that. 

Especially on the Iris - a rather complex mechanical construction with a lot of moving metal parts - it's extra impressive how everything fits together perfectly and the diaphragm slides open and closed buttery smooth. The only remark I could make is that stainless steel diaphragm blades of the Iris do pick up scuffs from sliding over each other, but that's to be expected with these moving parts.

Let's move on to functionality, because yes, you really are getting more than just a good-looking paperweight for your money!

ACCESSORIES FOR THE DESK: MAKERS CABINET HØVEL PENCIL SHARPENER & IRIS COMPASS REVIEW
It doesn't take much practice to get nice and clean sharpening results.

Starting with the Høvel; it has been mocked in the past for its very concept: a plane for a pencil sharpener, why even?!? I must say, I was skeptical as well, and my view aligned with some reviews that stated it's awkward and unnecessarily difficult to use.

Though as soon as I started testing the Høvel myself, I found it surprisingly easy and intuitive to use. That does come with a slight sidenote that I often sharpen pencils with a pocket knife (I'm weird like that), so I do have some practice with unconventional sharpening techniques (that's undoubtedly my weirdest flex ever!). The alignment of the blade - just a millimeter below the plane surface - allows thin curls of wood to be shaved off using minimal pressure. With some practice, you can get straight and clean cuts and even make a nicely symmetrical point onto your pencil. 

The Høvel, just like a knife, gives you more freedom in varying the angle and shape of the pencil tip entirely to your liking, and it can also be used for oddly sized and shaped pencils that don't fit a traditional sharpener. The Høvel comes with a cute tiny package of 10 blades, which is more than enough to keep you sharpening for a while. 

ACCESSORIES FOR THE DESK: MAKERS CABINET HØVEL PENCIL SHARPENER & IRIS COMPASS REVIEW

One remark I have with the Høvel is that you have to hold it sort of precariously at the very edge to keep your fingers out of the way of your pencil, and the mirror-polished finish is quite slippery. Perhaps it would be useful if they'd add some knurling or texture to the sides of the Høvel. Maybe an idea for a future iteration? 

ACCESSORIES FOR THE DESK: MAKERS CABINET HØVEL PENCIL SHARPENER & IRIS COMPASS REVIEW

The Iris is probably my favorite of the two tools, and that's mostly due to the incredibly smooth and precise action of the 20-blade diaphragm opening and closing by turning the outer ring. It's very satisfying to play with! 

ACCESSORIES FOR THE DESK: MAKERS CABINET HØVEL PENCIL SHARPENER & IRIS COMPASS REVIEW

The centimeter scale on the outer edge enables you to precisely draw circles with a defined diameter, or measure them. Talking about that scale: I of course tested the accuracy, and it's accurate down to a millimeter or so. One slight caveat is that, even though the diaphragm has a lot of rounded blades, you always get a subtly 20-sided circle, not a perfectly round one. At some circle diameters it's more noticeable than others, though (circles above 5 cm appear perfectly round). With that said, I'd say the Iris is still perfectly suitable for drawing, sketching, or doodling. Anything but precise technical drawing. 

ACCESSORIES FOR THE DESK: MAKERS CABINET HØVEL PENCIL SHARPENER & IRIS COMPASS REVIEW

The rubber padding on the underside of the Iris keeps it firmly in place on the paper, which is necessary as the twist mechanism does require a fair bit of force to operate. 

ACCESSORIES FOR THE DESK: MAKERS CABINET HØVEL PENCIL SHARPENER & IRIS COMPASS REVIEW
The Høvel can also be placed upside-down in the wooden base and used as such

One more thing... Both the Iris and Høvel have a purpose-built walnut wooden base. With the Iris, it's included in the box (and doubles as a center-point finder when you place it within the Iris). The base for the Høvel, unfortunately, isn't included and adds an additional 14$ to the cost of the pencil plane. Frankly, I think the base for the Høvel should also be included in the price, as you miss out on a lot of functionality without it. For one, it protects the blade (and also your desk!) when not in use, but it also doubles as a pencil shavings tray, and a holder to place the Høvel upside down to sharpen your pencil with the Høvel on the table  (although I personally find it easier to use handheld). 

ACCESSORIES FOR THE DESK: MAKERS CABINET HØVEL PENCIL SHARPENER & IRIS COMPASS REVIEW

If price is no object, and you want something unique on your desk - certainly a conversation piece -, the Makers Cabinet Høvel (69€/ 80$) and Iris (120€/ 138$) are two tools (because despite the beautiful and unique design, that's still what they are) that are definitely worth checking out. Build quality is second to none, and I'm sure the Stria ruler and upcoming pencil extender 'Ferrule' will hold to the same high-quality benchmark Makers Cabinet has set for themselves. 

Better yet - with the upcoming Holiday season in mind - both the Iris and Høvel could make for ideal gifts for the design-minded writing or drawing enthusiasts that already have all the other essentials covered on their desk!

NOTE: These products were provided by Makers Cabinet, so I could write this review. I was in no way influenced in the making of this review, the opinions shared in this review are completely my own. This post does not contain affiliate links.

ACCESSORIES FOR THE DESK: MAKERS CABINET HØVEL PENCIL SHARPENER & IRIS COMPASS REVIEW

Sunday, November 7, 2021

REVIEW: WANCHER PRIMO FOUNTAIN PEN

REVIEW: WANCHER PRIMO FOUNTAIN PEN

I'd like to say the Wancher Primo is a strange, unusual pen that I didn't see coming whatsoever. But then again, Wancher has never shied away from trying new things and stepping out of their comfort zone - like competitively priced Urushi with the Dream Pen (reviewed HERE), or the unique bakelite (!) Seven Treasures fountain pens (reviewed HERE). The Japanese brand has also dabbled in creating a titanium pen before (with the Dream Pen Ti), but it never seemed to have taken off (possibly due to the high price). 

With the Primo, however, they've approached the concept of a titanium pen from a very different angle. And while I don't love all aspects about it, Wancher did manage to incorporate quite a few very creative and original ideas! 

REVIEW: WANCHER PRIMO FOUNTAIN PEN

Take it out of the beautiful traditional Japanese wooden box, and the Primo immediately catches the eye with its minimal, quite futuristic, cylindrical shape, and prominent finials in contrasting material. The main highlight is the titanium cap and barrel, which have been sandblast-etched to create a random 'splattered' texture, and then anodized in different colors (Midnight BlueFrosty SilverRusset Brown, and Amethyst Purple). 

REVIEW: WANCHER PRIMO FOUNTAIN PEN
There's a subtle, but very pleasant tactility to the surface finish on the cap and barrel

The texture is unlike anything I've ever seen before. I really like how it creates a visual, as well as tactile, contrast between matte and polished surfaces.

REVIEW: WANCHER PRIMO FOUNTAIN PEN

But there are also things about the Primo I don't understand - And that starts with the finials. Designwise, I'm not fully on board with how the extremely large and prominent finials look. On the Frosty Silver version, the raw aluminum finials blend in relatively well with the titanium parts for a more understated look. On the other colorways, the raw aluminum finials make the Primo look sort of like a clunky magic wand -an asymmetrical one, at that- but that's of course down to personal taste.

Design reasons aside, the construction of the finials leaves me scratching my head. You see, the Primo is a very stately, bulky pen. It's also quite heavy (48 grams total). The aluminum section and finials are supposed to help reduce weight, but instead they made the finials so large and solid (they're barely hollowed out on the inside) that they actually increase the weight! This makes for a pen that's very noticeably balanced towards the finials, and well... not really all that light. 

REVIEW: WANCHER PRIMO FOUNTAIN PEN

The fact that the finials are so solid on the inside, also means they sort of get in the way of the nib and converter when closing the cap and barrel, respectively. It happens frequently that the nib will catch on the inside of the cap because of this. 

That also means there was no space left for a spring-loaded airtight inner cap, despite Wancher equipping most of their other pens with this handy feature. The cap seals off pretty well on its own, but the nib does seem to dry out a bit over extended periods of time, more so than other Wancher pens that do have the inner cap.

REVIEW: WANCHER PRIMO FOUNTAIN PEN
REVIEW: WANCHER PRIMO FOUNTAIN PEN
L to R: Gravitas fountain pen, Ensso Piuma, Wancher Dream Pen, Wancher Primo, Pelikan M805, Lamy 2000, Lamy Safari

Wancher doesn't scare away from making quite oversized pens, and the Primo illustrates that quite well. Measuring 14.7 cm (5.79") capped, and 13.6 cm (5.35") uncapped, it certainly isn't small to begin with, yet it's not quite as big as Wancher's own Dream Pen, for example. With the Primo, it's mainly the constant, wide diameter of 1.6 cm (0.63") across the entire pen, that really creates the oversized impression.

REVIEW: WANCHER PRIMO FOUNTAIN PEN

Going from the very wide barrel, there's a rather large step towards the metal section, which has a diameter of just 1.1 cm (0.43"). The section tapers down further to 1 cm (0.39"), with a short flared section at the end. The design of the section is almost entirely taken over from the Dream Pen (reviewed HERE), which means they deal quite well with the large step. The diameter gradually increases, first up to the threads, then a beveled ring, and finally the rounded edge of the barrel. 

There's one small -but important- detail the Primo didn't take over from the section design of the Dream Pen: the threads! Unfortunately, they took a step back towards traditional, v-cut threads, instead of the more comfortable and precise block threads from the Dream Pen. The threads are quite deep, which makes them especially noticeably if you hold your fingers on them. Despite the section being quite a decent, comfortable size, it's not always possible to avoid the sharp threads in your grip. 

REVIEW: WANCHER PRIMO FOUNTAIN PEN

The Primo comes equipped with a steel Jowo nib, but it did receive some (optional) upgrades to make it a bit less 'stock' in terms of looks and performance! First of all, the nibs are color-matched to the color of the pen itself. The plating treatment creates a somewhat pearlescent hue on the blue, purple, and brown nibs. The nib on the Frosty Silver Primo received matching rhodium plating instead of the bare stainless steel finish, which creates a brighter and more lustrous look.

Second are the optional ebonite feeds which, as I understand it, are still manufactured by Flexible Nib Factory. Although the two samples I was sent, both came with JoWo's stock plastic feeds, I've reviewed a couple of Wancher's Dream Pens with the ebonite feeds before, and they're a great addition to the already reliable writing experience JoWo nibs offer. You can't really go wrong with any of the feed options, but the ebonite feed (+30$ for black ebonite, +50$ for red ebonite) does give you a noticeably richer ink flow.

REVIEW: WANCHER PRIMO FOUNTAIN PEN

It's hard to put a final verdict on the Wancher Primo. The Wancher Primo retails for 250$, which is quite steep, especially once you factor in paying an additional 30 to 50 dollars for an ebonite feed. 

On one hand, considering the price point of the Primo, I feel like there are a few elements (mainly the clunky finial design and the sharp threads) where I feel like Wancher could've done a better job. On the other hand, I do think Wancher absolutely succeeded at creating a unique pen, one that easily catches the eye. Things like the textured barrel and cap, and the color-matched nibs, are perfectly executed and set this pen apart on the market. But on the other hand, I can't help but feel like Wancher missed the ball on a few particular design decisio

NOTE: This product was provided by Wancher, so I could write this review. I was in no way influenced in the making of this review, the opinions shared in this review are completely my own. This post does not contain affiliate links.

REVIEW: WANCHER PRIMO FOUNTAIN PEN

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

REVIEW: GRAVITAS ENTRY FOUNTAIN PEN

REVIEW: GRAVITAS ENTRY FOUNTAIN PEN

I've been lucky enough to be able to follow Ben Walsh quite closely on his journey to get the Gravitas brand off the ground. Chatting and exchanging ideas with him on the regular got me a glimpse of the creative mind behind the brand. Ever since starting Gravitas in 2020, one of Ben's goals was to create a more affordable fountain pen to stand alongside the self-titled 'Gravitas' fountain pen (reviewed HERE) that started the brand. A more accessible option into the Gravitas brand (and an entry point into fountain pens, in general), while still being able to live up to the highest quality standards. 

REVIEW: GRAVITAS ENTRY FOUNTAIN PEN

The Gravitas 'Entry' fountain pen is all those things - but it would be a mistake to call it an entry-level pen! Because that, it most certainly is not! Instead, the Entry manages to offer an incredible bang for the buck, a design that's easy on the eyes, and a lot of thoughtful design details I've come to expect from Ben's creations. 

REVIEW: GRAVITAS ENTRY FOUNTAIN PEN

In the looks department, the sleek and nimble Entry is quite a departure from the chunky, ultra-minimal, torpedo-shaped Gravitas FP. The looks of the Entry are a bit more easily digestible, and perhaps even more traditional, which will undoubtedly make it appeal to a wider audience. It has a flat top design with rather sharp pointed finials on both ends (not that you could cut yourself on it, but they sure are pointy!). The cap has a slightly bulbous shape and is relatively short in comparison to the long and gently tapered barrel. The elegant, streamlined shape gives it somewhat of a brush pen vibe. 

REVIEW: GRAVITAS ENTRY FOUNTAIN PEN

As for now, the Entry is available in a myriad of anodized colors on an aluminum basis. I chose the Olive grey colorway, which is a beautiful dark and muted green. If you want a bit more pop, look into the Gravitas signature 'Skittle' rainbow finish. The pen is bead blasted before being sent off to the anodizer, which creates a very smooth and satiny finish that I find very pleasant to the touch.

REVIEW: GRAVITAS ENTRY FOUNTAIN PEN
REVIEW: GRAVITAS ENTRY FOUNTAIN PEN
L to R: Karas Pen Co Ink, Namisu Nova, Ensso Piuma, Gravitas Gravitas FP, Gravitas Entry, Lamy 2000, Lamy Safari

The Entry appears smaller but isn't. With a closed length of 14.5 cm (5.71"), it isn't all that much shorter than the oversized Gravitas FP. Uncapped, the Entry retains most of its length (13.8 cm/ 5.43"). Especially the narrower section (down to 9.8 mm/ 0.39" at the thinnest part of the taper) may trick you into thinking you're holding a much smaller pen. So if you prefer slightly thinner pens, the Entry has a high chance of appealing to you. At 31 grams, the Entry strikes a good balance between being nimble, yet offering just enough heft to let you know you're holding a solid metal pen. 

REVIEW: GRAVITAS ENTRY FOUNTAIN PEN
The smooth and streamlined transition from section to barrel offers a comfortable grip

The skinny tapered barrel of the Entry doesn't allow for the cap to be posted. But a pen this size doesn't really need to be posted anyway if you ask me. The Entry scores very high marks in the comfort department, with its long and gently tapered shape, a long section that transitions smoothly into a set of shallow and non-sharp threads. There's also no step that could interfere with your grip.

REVIEW: GRAVITAS ENTRY FOUNTAIN PEN

The stainless steel section deserves some attention here, as it really ties the entire pen together. The black-PVD coating provides a sleek look that pairs well with this anodized 'Grey Olive' colorway. If you're not a fan of metal sections, don't write the Entry off just yet! The section shape is similar to that of the Gravitas FP, but of course narrower. It has a nice gentle taper towards the nib, before flaring out again to catch your grip.

Talking about grip, this metal section is far from slippery! If you look closer, you'll notice the machined line pattern that runs around the entire length of the section. The pattern is very fine and not aggressive on your fingers, yet does an excellent job providing grip. The more dense stainless steel section, in combination with the aluminum barrel, shifts the center of gravity towards the grip section, creating a pen that feels lightweight and balanced in the hand.

REVIEW: GRAVITAS ENTRY FOUNTAIN PEN

The original Gravitas FP prototype I reviewed a year ago, came with a steel Bock nib. But in the meantime, Ben switched entirely to JoWo nibs. Since many similar brands (such as Ensso or Namisu) stick to Bock, it's nice to see Gravitas provide some diversity on the market. Along with every pen, a small handwritten test paper is included, implying that every pen passes through a final QC before being shipped out. And indeed, I have only positive things to say about the writing experience! 

REVIEW: GRAVITAS ENTRY FOUNTAIN PEN

The medium steel nib on this particular pen wrote beautifully smooth and hassle-free out of the box. Even though in my experience, JoWo tends to offer rather consistent, properly set-up nibs, I still appreciate that Ben takes the time to check each one individually just to be sure. 

REVIEW: GRAVITAS ENTRY FOUNTAIN PEN

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, the Gravitas Entry comes in at a fairly accessible price point of 60€. For that money, you receive a sleek, solid metal pen with a stainless steel PVD-coated section, topped off by a hand-tested JoWo nib. Despite being a full-sized pen, its noticeably slimmer and more streamlined profile will undoubtedly appeal to those that find the Gravitas FP just too big. 

On the flipside, the rather slim profile of the Entry could also put some people off (it certainly took me some time to get used to!), though Ben also thought of that and designed the 'Gravitas Sentry': a slightly larger version of the Entry pen for those who prefer a more beefy pen, but with the same design cues as the Entry.

This product was sent to me by Gravitas so I could write this review. I was in no way influenced in the making of this review, the opinions shared in this review are completely my own! This post does not contain affilate links.

REVIEW: GRAVITAS ENTRY FOUNTAIN PEN