Wednesday, August 28, 2019

REVISITING THE WANCHER DREAM PEN URUSHI FOUNTAIN PEN

REVISITING THE WANCHER DREAM PEN URUSHI
Wancher's Dream Pen True Urushi project left quite an impression on the community last year. For a very good reason of course. A way to get your hands on 'affordable' urushi fountain pens? Count me in! 

I reviewed one of the early prototypes of the Dream Pen Urushi back then (you can find this review HERE). But I wanted to revisit my original thoughts about it in a follow-up once the production pens that my father and I ordered, arrived. At this point I've had the Dream Pen with me for about five months, and it's been inked ever since it got here -that on itself is already quite a testimony to how much I like it. 
"...if Wancher can make their promises true and deliver a product as good as the prototype I have in my hands right now, this can become a game changer for the Urushi fountain pen industry..."
Back in early 2018, judging by the prototype they sent me, I knew Wancher had a great product in their hands. But of course at that point they still had to prove that they could provide the prototype-level quality on the final production version.
REVISITING THE WANCHER DREAM PEN URUSHI
Now having those final pens in hand, I think it's safe to say they succeeded in creating a quality product. The urushi laquer is perfectly applied, and the level of craftsmanship is easily on par with that of a Nakaya or Danitrio. The finish is smooth and consistent, perfectly polished, and the colors are vivid.

The pens come with a certificate on who actually did the urushi work: a laquerware studio in Wajima called Taya Shikkiten. Wajima is regarded as the capital of Urushi laquer, and has a high reputation for the quality laquer that comes from this region. 
REVISITING THE WANCHER DREAM PEN URUSHI
So how did Wancher manage to cut costs? I have a theory: Judging from my dad's Aka-Tamenuri ("Aka"=red, "Tamenuri"=pooled laquer) , and comparing it to a Nakaya in the same finish, the Dream Pen seems to have fewer laquer layers. Aka-Tamenuri is created by covering a red base color in many layers of semi-transparent smoke-grey laquer to create a darker finish. By sanding each layer, the edges reveal more of the red base, creating the effect of a pooled liquid on the surface of the pen. So in the case of the Dream Pen, less semi-transparent top layers create a more transparent finish and thus a lighter overall color. On the Shu ("Shu"=red) finish of my own Dream Pen, the fewer layers also show on the edges, where the black ebonite of the pen shows through slightly. 
REVISITING THE WANCHER DREAM PEN URUSHI
While this is just a hypothesis (read: I do not know if what I'm saying is actually true!), it would make sense. Urushi takes up to months to apply because many consecutive layers have to be applied, dried and sanded one by one. Cutting the amount of layers in half for example, would translate into twice the production capacity and half the cost. At the same time, I think the sacrifice of a few coats is relatively harmless and not at all detrimental to the quality. Urushi laquer is incredibly durable when it hardens, so the Dream Pen -regardless of how it was actually made- should last a very long time.

So what else is new? 

For one, the cap threads were updated since the original prototype. I already discussed this in my review of the Dream Pen Ebonite. The block threads are smooth and easy on the fingers. The step behind the threads is a considerable jump up from the section, and it's definitely noticeable. Although the edge is not super sharp because of the rounded edges that the urushi finish provides. Despite being a larger pen, I still find this a really comfortable writer. The section is nicely shaped and the ebonite construction is lightweight. 

Having had this pen inked up continuously, I can say the spring-loaded inner cap works great. I haven't had any issues with the nib drying out, and it starts up as soon as it hits the paper. 
REVISITING THE WANCHER DREAM PEN URUSHI
Left: Wancher 18k gold nib, Right: JoWo 18k gold nib.
Talking about the nib, this is really the highlight of the Dream Pen I think. After the Kickstarter there was some fuzz about Wancher not being able to outsource all nibs from JoWo, and they would reside to using their own, new 18k gold nibs on some orders. Some people were not at all pleased that this would mean their original nib choice would change....

Well having received one of Wancher's nibs (made in-house, which is pretty awesome), I can say I'm VERY glad that they took the decision to go this way! 
REVISITING THE WANCHER DREAM PEN URUSHI
The nib is fantastic. It's a straight-out perfect nib in almost any way. Like most Japanese nibs, it runs about one size finer than Western nibs, so my broad is more like a medium. However unlike most Japanese nibs, it's very smooth, has almost no feedback (compared to something like a Sailor, which has more of a pencil-like feedback) and provides a rather wet ink flow, regulated by the same custom ebonite feed from Flexible Nib Factory that we've seen before. It also has a distinct bouncy softness that adds some character to your writing. Wancher warns not to put too much pressure on it, but there is certainly some line variation with mild pressure.
REVISITING THE WANCHER DREAM PEN URUSHI
The only thing I don't like about it is the laser-engraving. For some reason it looks a bit fuzzy on my Wancher nib, whereas on the JoWo nibs it's perfectly crisp. Overall though, I think they made the Dream Pen even better by complementing it with their own gold nibs. If you order a True Urushi dream pen from their website now, they will automatically come with their own Wancher gold nibs.
REVISITING THE WANCHER DREAM PEN URUSHI
So that's it. I was a bit wary to put a final conclusion on Wancher's Dream Pen Urushi project, as I wasn't sure if they were going to be able to live up to the hype. Now I'm completely certain: Wancher created a beautiful pen with a fantastic nib to boot. Even at full retail price, they managed to keep the cost about 300$ below a comparable Nakaya. Even though a 450$ pen (480$ with ebonite feed) can hardly be called inexpensive, it's a great deal for the quality you get, and it serves as a fantastic gateway into Urushi pens! 

Note: This post does not contain affiliate links.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

REVIEW: KARAS PEN CO. VERTEX FOUNTAIN PEN

Last year's Decograph (reviewed HERE) ushered in a new period for Karas Pen Co. in which they are trying hard to diversify their offerings. With their line of 'Signature' pens, they go for a clear departure from the heavy duty EDC metal pens that made Karas the brand they are today. However, both in design and execution, the Decograph was sort of a soft transition to a new style of pens. With its' various machined metal parts and angular industrial design, it still connects closely to their collection of metal pens.

This year's Karas Pen Co. Vertex is radically different from previous Karas products in a number of ways. A good kind of different, at least for the most part...

As always, a new Karas pen release means reviews popping up everywhere. Even though I'm a bit late to the game (by know you probably know that that's kind of my style), I still wanted to pitch in with my own thoughts on their latest product.
Designwise, I'm really digging where the guys from Karas are going with their Signature pens. The Vertex is a sleek-looking piece with a streamlined design that's a strong departure from the industrial, tough-looking pens you'd expect from the Arizona-based brand. It feels elegant and refined, with not a single sharp corner anywhere on the pen. The clean lines are offset by its stout, beefy overall form factor.

The Vertex is void of any ornamental details, not even a brand logo or inscription. The eye is immediately drawn to the ink window right below the cap that visually acts as a center band, and the concave flattop cap finial. It's a simple design, but it just all works together. 

If you've seen or used any of the Reaktor pens, the cap closure of the Vertex will feel awfully familiar. It's basically the same concept, where an o-ring inside the cap catches on the lip of the concave section. It's ingeniously simple, but it works really well and gives a satisfying pop when you open it. 
Pop the cap off, and you'll notice that the ink window and section are actually a single acrylic part. The ink window transitions smoothly into the large, concave-shaped section. Just the design of the section alone is commendable. It's a clever solution that looks great and adds to the clean, minimal lines of the pen. It's also more or less the epitome of what a comfortable section should be.
While the Karas team has spent the past year improving and finetuning the design, the Vertex already made its debut on several pen shows across the US. Following these small-scale runs in a wide variety of materials, they narrowed down the options for this general release. The standard production version comes in either black or transparent green acrylic (same as the Decograph) and black or white delrin. For the section, you can choose between a variety of transparent acrylics, from grey, red, blue and orange, to even the transparent coke bottle and Italian ice resins you might know from Franklin-Christoph. The section adds a refreshing bit of customization. And because it's visible both capped and uncapped, it really changes the entire look of the pen.

With the release of their 'Signature' pens, the guys at Karas also try to bring more variety to the table in the form of limited edition releases. With the release of the Vertex, they also announced three limited editions (40-50 pieces): Galeocerdo, Chrysopoeia and H-alpha -all made from Omas acrylics. 
Unfortunately my review sample took a while to reach across the pond, so at this point two of the three LE's (The pen that was sent to me for review, the 'Galeocerdo', made from Omas' silver pearl material and the 'chrysopoeia' in Curvo acrylic) already sold out - sorry! Only the third release, H-Alpha in -stunning- Omas' red swirl acrylic is still available for the moment. I assume the limited edition releases, just like with the Decograph, will most likely become a recurring thing. So that's something to keep an eye out for if you like more 'unique' material options.

Designwise, there's only one thing that doesn't work well with this pen in my opinion, and that's the box. It's a really nicely made keepsake box (to the point where it starts to feel a bit overkill, even), with a full machined aluminium construction and metal sliding lid. I just don't think the design fits this particular pen very well. A box -however nice it may be- is just a box though, so let's not overthink it.
L to R: Edison Beaumont, Karas Pen Co. Retrakt, Decograph, Vertex, Lamy 2000, Safari
The Vertex, at just 13.3 cm (5.25") capped, sits somewhere inbetween a full-sized and pocketable pen. However, it retains most of its length when uncapped at 12.7 cm (5"). The stout shape of the Vertex translates into a beefy diameter of 1.5 cm (.575") at the widest part of the barrel, and a fairly wide section. With just 16 g on the scale, it's extremely lightweight -not surprising with its all-acrylic construction. I typically don't post my pens, and the Vertex can get away with that no problem. Should you want to, the cap does post deep and securely. The Vertex' strong suit is definitely its comfortable design. It's not too heavy, not too big or too small, and the shape of the pen fits perfectly in your hand.

Being specialized in EDC pens, it feels like Karas made sure the Vertex could live up to the same standards of durability. Despite being lightweight, all parts are machined with incredibly thick walls so they feel robust and can stand up to some (ab)use. Fit and finish is excellent and the entire pen is nicely polished. It's a very refined piece.
The Vertex was originally designed as an eyedropper-only pen, but a converter will fit. Through the use of o-rings behind the nib unit and inside the barrel threads, it can theoretically be eyedroppered without the need of silicon grease. Being slightly OCD, I greased the threads anyway just to be sure. 

The problem is... I don't like the Vertex when eyedroppered. It provides a lush, wet ink flow and great ink capacity, but I found it doesn't play nice with the snap cap. As I mentioned before, the cap comes off with a satisfying pop. But the suction from uncapping can cause ink to burp inside the cap. They add a warning that you should always cap and uncap holding the pen vertically to account for the pressure change, but that didn't always work. 

So I went back to using a converter, which solved the issue to a certain extent. The converter doesn't visually ruin the look of the pen (with the cap on you can barely notice that it's not eyedroppered), and the ink flow is regulated much better. Nevertheless, it's not the fidgeter's pen as it can still occasionally burp ink when you cap and uncap nib-down. 
Can you spot the double Karas 'K' in there?
The writing end on the Vertex comes from Bock, as per usual. But instead of the standard #6 nib with stock Bock imprint, you're greeted by a really cool custom laser-etched Karas Pen Co. logo that takes up the entire nib face. As far as laser-etched nibs go, this is one of the best looking designs I've seen to date. They are also marked with the nib width, so no more guesstimating what size nib it is. The M nib on mine was perfectly smooth and responsive out of the box, and writes a beefy medium line. Converter-filled it's a moderately wet writer, but the flow gets considerably wetter when eyedroppered.
Honestly, I am surprised by the Vertex. The guys at Karas are going far outside of their comfort zone in making completely resin fountain pens. Yet on the first try (second if you count the Decograph), they managed to deliver a surprisingly complete package with a sleek and elegant design, good build quality, excellent comfort and clever details like the customizable section. It's safe to say they clearly know what they are doing. The burping issue prevents me from calling this pen perfect, but in many ways they come awfully close to it. 

As Anthony from UK Fountain Pens mentions in his review, the Vertex is undercutting similar products from the likes of Edison and Franklin-Christoph by 30 or even 40$. They're definitely closing in on that area of the market, and it's good to see a 'new' player disrupt things to keep a healthy competition going.

You're probably currently overwhelmed with reviews of this pen coming from all angles, but it doesn't happen very often that we all feel roughly the same way about a certain pen. This time around, it seems that we do (more or less), and I think that really goes to show how good the Vertex actually is. It's cool to see an established brand like Karas Pen Co. put in the effort to expand and try something completely different. If the Vertex is them testing the waters with something different, I can't wait to see what they come up with next!

This product was sent to me by Karas Pen Co. 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.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

REVIEW: TACTILE TURN PENCIL

Review: Tactile Turn Pencil
You may recall - I think it was back in december last year - that I warned you to expect a bunch of Tactile Turn product reviews. And for once I actually kept my word! Eight months and three TT product reviews later (the GistMover and Bolt Action Pen), there's only one product we haven't discussed yet: the Tactile Turn Pencil. Big thanks to Will for sending one my way for review!

Mechanical pencils seem to be the last resort of many a respected pen maker. Same goes for Tactile Turn, where Will staved off on the idea of a pencil until just a year ago. Perhaps it reflects what lives within the pen community, as most everyday carry needs are usually filled in with balpoint pens, rollerballs or even fountain pens. Often leaving mechanical pencils overlooked (Even though in my mind they are actually versatile and reliable tools for on the go, right?). Frankly, for someone with a blog that starts with "pencil" I don't quite spend enough time on them either. So let's bring some change to that...
Review: Tactile Turn Pencil
The TT Pencil and Mover (now called Click Pen)  side by side.
The design of the Pencil is completely in line with most other Tactile Turn products: a balanced combination of fairly minimal but rugged industrial design and refined details. The 'tactile' machined surface finish and bent steel clip -the two main design characteristics that set Tactile Turn products apart- are of course both present here as well. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I like the uniformity across the entire Tactile Turn product catalog. Over the years they really found their own unique identity which makes all their products easily recogniseable.
Review: Tactile Turn Pencil
The brand logo and production year are neatly engraved on the underside of the clip. Very low-key!
Review: Tactile Turn Pencil
L to R: TT Mover (a.k.a. Click Pen), Glider (Old model, now replaced by the BAP), Pencil
The overall shape of the Pencil is also shared with most other Tactile Turn pens, although it seems like each one has a different front section shape - giving each pen a slightly distinct appearance. The difference is very subtle though. Can you see it too or am I just imagining this?
Review: Tactile Turn Pencil
Designwise, the only thing that slightly irks me is the break between the barrel and top finial. Because of the way Tactile Turn pens are made, the front section and barrel always match up perfectly because the spiral texture is machined after these two parts are assembled. The finial however, is machined separately so there's always a noticeable break when it's joined to the barrel. I wish Will could figure out a way to make it integrate as seamlessly as the other parts just to create a unibody appearance... but maybe that's just me being picky? 
Review: Tactile Turn Pencil
Review: Tactile Turn Pencil
L to R: Karas Retrakt, Tactile Turn Gist (old version), TT Mover (a.k.a Click pen), TT Pencil, TT Glider, Lamy Safari, Lamy 2000
The Pencil comes in one size and appears a bit shorter than the other Tactile Turn pens. But with the non-retractable lead sleeve and eraser sticking out it still comes in at a decent and full-sized 14 cm (5.5"). All TT pens have the exact same, comfortable diameter (11 mm/ 0.43"). The titanium version weighs in at a comfortable 37 grams. I find titanium pens usually balance quite nicely, and it's a super strong material for EDC. At the relatively low upcharge Will asks for his Titanium creations, I can't think of a good reason not to go for this version. Except if you prefer a very light or very heavy pencil, in which case the aluminium, stainless steel, brass and copper versions respectively may be more up your alley. The TT Pencil is very comfortable in the hand. The diameter is perfect and the machined texture provides a pleasant grip without being offensive to the touch.
Review: Tactile Turn Pencil
The Tactile Turn Pencil isn't without its' quirks though. In my opinion the bolt action mechanism -while certainly unique- is perhaps not the most practical for a mechanical pencil. The bolt that protrudes from the barrel is small, and the way the mechanism is set up requires a rather firm push to engage the lead. It's not as smooth and supple to operate as on the bolt action pen, which you can fidget with for hours on end.

My second irk has to do with the internal mechanism. Will designed the Pencil around Schmidt's DSM pencil mechanism. It's a decent part on itself, but I kind of miss having a retractable lead sleeve. In an ideal world, I hope they can come up with a custom machined mechanism (I'm sure they can, although it'll probably cost an arm and a leg!) that has a retractable lead sleeve. And while we're at it, a slightly smoother click action to make the bolt action mechanism easier to operate.

That's just me being picky though. The DSM mechanism is really not a bad choice for an off-the-shelf mechanism. It's solid, mostly made out of metal parts, and it screws into the front section so it doesn't rattle. It comes loaded with surprisingly decent leads that are smooth, leave a dark line and are quite smear-free. In case the mechanism fails or you want to swap it out for a different lead size, TT sells replacement units for just 6$. Even the eraser on top is quite decent, although it does create a lot of dust when you erase something.
Review: Tactile Turn Pencil
What I like most about the TT Pencil is that it's shaped and sized more like a regular pen. A lot of mechanical pencils are meant for drafting or sketching and usually have a more slender design. From a usability perspective, I find this design considerably more comfortable for long writing sessions. 

In the recent years I've sort of drifted away from mechanical pencils. But a pencil as good as this certainly reminds me how much fun it can be to write, sketch and doodle! The Tactile Turn pencil does a lot of things right. It's a sleek-looking piece with a durable construction, making it an excellent option as an EDC tool. The Tactile Turn Pencil starts at 69$ for the aluminium version and goes up to 99$ for Titanium, with brass, copper and steel somewhere in between. I think that's a fair price for the quality you get, and it's in line with all other Tactile Turn products. 

NOTE: This product was provided by Tactile Turn, 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: Tactile Turn Pencil