Thursday, June 25, 2020

REVIEW: NOODLERS AHAB FLEX NIB FOUNTAIN PEN

REVIEW: NOODLERS AHAB FLEX NIB FOUNTAIN PEN
As you may (or may not) have noticed, I'm sort of on the search for the perfect modern flex nib fountain pen these days. I've reviewed a few flexy pens already, the most recent ones being the Pilot Custom 743 FA and FPR Himalaya, but today it's the turn of the Noodlers Ahab - Thanks to La Couronne Du Comte for sending this one over for review!

The Ahab is somewhat of a long-standing icon in the fountain pen hobby - although not always for the right reasons. The Ahab has sort of a bipolar reputation: some people love it, some people hate it. Me? I'm probably somewhere in the middle between those two camps. On the one hand, it's hard not to like it. For 20$ you get a lot of pen, with a couple cool features to boot. But it's far from the perfect everyday writer, either. 
REVIEW: NOODLERS AHAB FLEX NIB FOUNTAIN PEN
Let's start at the beginning though, and that's the looks. Surprisingly, I ended up appreciating the Ahab's design considerably more than I thought  I would. The Ahab has a story to tell, that of Moby Dick, to be more specific! The clip is modeled after the top view of a sperm whale (Google it, the resemblance is actually quite convincing!). The barrel, shaped after captain Ahab's prosthetic leg (made out of whalebone), is perhaps a bit more far-fetched, but I do very much appreciate the thought that went into the design of this pen. The demonstrator finish is definitely my favorite, as it shows the unique plunger-filling mechanism in all its glory. Apart from the metal trim and ebonite feed, every single part of this pen is transparent by the way, which makes for a pretty cool see-through and clean design. 
REVIEW: NOODLERS AHAB FLEX NIB FOUNTAIN PEN
Talking about the material this pen is made of... It may also be the first item on my list of negatives, unfortunately. Noodlers describes the material as some sort of 'vegetal resin', but unfortunately doesn't go on to specify which exact one. It looks good (maybe not as smooth and polished as I'd liken but that probably has more to do with the low price point than anything else), it feels warm to the touch and durable... but it SMELLS. SO. BAD. 

The best way I can describe it is sort of a putrid, sickly sweet smell. The smell is terrible out of the box - and may put people off of buying this pen - but it luckily lessens over time (although the parts on the inside of the cap, section, and barrel remain smelly on my review pen to this day - even though it has been continuously on my desk for the past 6 months or so). Some people apparently like the smell - I don't. 
REVIEW: NOODLERS AHAB FLEX NIB FOUNTAIN PEN
REVIEW: NOODLERS AHAB FLEX NIB FOUNTAIN PEN
The Ahab is a nicely sized pen, I feel. It measures 14cm (5.5") capped, and 12.8cm (5") uncapped. The barrel is not too thin, and the section has that comfortable 'stepped' shape like we also see on the Leonardo pens nowadays (although Noodlers did this design first, I should add!). 
REVIEW: NOODLERS AHAB FLEX NIB FOUNTAIN PEN
The Ahab is certainly a comfortable pen to use, It's a good, balanced size, the all-resin construction is lightweight, and the threads are not that obtrusive to my grip. The cap posts, but not very deep and it often sits crooked on the back of the barrel...which annoys me a little bit. 
REVIEW: NOODLERS AHAB FLEX NIB FOUNTAIN PEN
In terms of construction and build quality, I really don't have much to complain about. I mean it's a 20$ pen and I view it as such. But for the price, everything fits together nicely and feels sturdy. Even the clip has a really nice and solid spring to it. 

I also particularly like the plunger-type filling system. It has a very high capacity (approx. 2mL) and is designed properly with a breather tube so it fills up completely with minimal effort (a night and day difference over the so-so mechanism of the FPR Himalaya). You can also remove the plunger and use the Ahab as an eyedropper. But you can't use regular cartridges or converters with this pen. Overall, I've seen a few Indian-made pens at this point (Noodlers pens are made in India, btw) and none have been quite as nicely made as this one. 
REVIEW: NOODLERS AHAB FLEX NIB FOUNTAIN PEN
And then we get to the nib. This is another area of the Ahab where I'm a little divided. On one hand, I'm excited to see a flexible steel nib and ebonite feed on an affordable pen like this, on the other hand, it's not without its flaws. You see: I'm lazy and spoiled, and I expect some kind of instant gratification when I buy a pen, especially a modern one. Admittedly, fountain pens never really are the ideal choice for ease of use. But I at least expect a pen to write properly out of the box, and Noodlers pens have never been known for their nib consistency (I've had the same issues with the FPR Himalaya that has a similar nib and feed). 

Frankly, it might as well be borderline impossible to provide a flawless writing performance with a highly specialized nib and feed setup like this, at this price point. It's difficult to make a flex nib work, you know. So to keep costs down, you - as a customer - are more or less expected to take care of the nib tuning yourself. It's probably a bit of a nib lottery, some nibs might be good out of the box, some might take some tinkering. Mine fell under the latter category.
REVIEW: NOODLERS AHAB FLEX NIB FOUNTAIN PEN
Heat-setting the feed, and adjusting the nib to get a proper ink flow (especially for flex writing!) took me more than a couple tries and some swearing definitely was involved. I got it to a point where I can live with the writing performance, although  I  probably could've done a better job. This flex nib (fine-ish size) is smooth, but not buttery, and it can keep up with a decent amount of flexing (it opens up to about 1mm line widths). Solely for flex performance, the FPR Himalaya and it's custom modified 'super-flex' nib and feed certainly give much more dramatic line variation. The ink flow is not super heavy but manages to keep up most of the time. You definitely have to take your time when flex writing to avoid railroading, but that's a general remark for most flex pens. 
REVIEW: NOODLERS AHAB FLEX NIB FOUNTAIN PEN
The Noodlers Ahab costs 23€ (23$). That's not a lot. In fact, at that price, I'm willing to forgive the finicky flex nib and smelly resin as a trade-off for a cool design and decent potential if you put in some effort to get the performance dialed in. Is this the perfect modern flex pen? Nah, but it sure is a fun pen if you're willing to give it a try! 
NOTE: This product was provided by La Couronne Du Comte, 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: NOODLERS AHAB FLEX NIB FOUNTAIN PEN

6 comments:

  1. Dries, first of all congratulations on your excellent blog. Hard to believe that you started this off at age 16. Hats off. Moving on to your review of the Ahab, I would beg to disagree. Let's leave the supposedly evil smell aside (mine still disperses the odor after 15 months, but I've never been bothered by it) and look at the writing merits of the pen. Starting with weight and size. I seem to recall from one of your earlier reviews that you (used to) have a preference for "body builder"-type pens. I'm on the opposite end: the lighter the better, that makes it much easier to write. The Ahab is like my vintage pens, delightfully featherweight. As to size, it's roughly comparable to a Pelikan M800, that makes it full size and well-suited to many present day (male) hands. The best part is its nib. I am mainstream on nibs - i.e. have been brainwashed to believe that a gold nib is always a better writer than a steel one. However the humble Ahab steel nibs outclasses 80% of my expensive gold nibs, and that includes vintage. It may not be "truly" flexible, but I much like its bouncy behaviour, making cursive writing a pleasure. It took me a while to get used to its fine tip, but mine now writes very smoothly - again, better than most of my gold nibs. As to ink flow, I wouid suggest to dismantle it (piece of cake: the big and the feed are friction fit and easy to pull out) and to give it a good scrub with a toothbrush and a bit of dishwashing liquid - did wonders for mine. Too much trouble? C'mon, not for someone who devotes his life to fountain pens, surely? The only design fault is that the nib touches the inside of the cap, which after a few open/closes inevitably results in inky fingers (disqualifiying my Ahab it for office use, not a problem, I use my Pelikan for signing letters). My concern about the Ahab is that some of its components (especially the plunger filler) look like they may not survive years of intensive use. I'm planing on buying a few spare Ahabs in case they discontinue the model. At 25 EUR a piece - that approximately fifteen times less than a Pelikan M800. Dries could we not start a petition to erect a statute of Nathan Tardiff in one of the places that have become vacant as a result of Leopold II having fallen into disgrace?

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    1. Thank you for your comment and the kind words, HG.

      As for the second half of your comment, some remarks:

      -The smell is a thing, you can't just dismiss it as part of the review, because there's no way around it. It CAN be an issue for some people - me included. And for some people it will be a decisive factor.
      -I do tend to like larger, heavier pens, you're right. But I never called this pen anything but comfortable!
      -I too, do not believe that a gold nib is necessarily superior, and I've seen multiple occasions where the opposite is proven (check my latest review of the entry-level Faber-Castell Grip 2011, where I explicitly mention this). So no, I'm definitely not snobbing when I say this nib has issues. I also clearly wrote that I worked on the nib and feed. I washed it repeatedly, heat set the feed, and even worked on the nib itself. This is NOT what a modern fountain pen should behave like, and so I think it's a fair warning to potential buyers. Not everyone is willing to put the time and effort into setting up a nib, I don't think that makes you any less of a fountain pen enthusiast.
      -Another point about the nib: After being set up properly it's not a bad writer, but I look at the performance of the Ahab in terms of flex writing (it's in the title!), and it does have limitations in that regard. If I want just a good, daily writer, this wouldn't be my first choice. You may think the opposite, that's perfectly fine!
      -I've never actually had the nib touch the inside of the cap, FWIW. As far as Indian-made pens in this price bracket go, this is actually a really solid and well-thought out option!

      PS: I'd like to avoid going into political ideology here, this is a place to enjoy pens. So please refrain from questionable remarks like those in the end of your comment. If anything, Mr. Tardiff's (political) opinions are hugely polarising, but I prefer not to link his products to his mindset (which is hard enough, considering his products are filled with political statements).

      So I think in the end, you don't really disagree with me that much, apart from the nib's performance. I do conclude the review saying it's a fun pen, right? To each his own though, everyone is entitled to his or her opinion! ;)

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    2. Point taken as regards Tardiff, Dries. I meant to give him credit as the inventor of the Ahab, not as the author of polarising political statements, but you're right that he makes it difficult to distinguish between both. In any event, I encourage you to not give up on the Ahab nib. My theory is that our brain needs a while to get used to a new nib, and when it does, it often results in an improved writing experience. At least for me.

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    3. For that, I certainly agree! He has brought a new wind in the fountain pen industry for sure. And don't worry, I certainly haven't given up on the Ahab, I'm fairly forgiving when it comes to different nib types and having to tune them to get the best results, I just point out those things because a lot of people don't want that (rightfully so).

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  2. Until I came across Noodlers I'd never heard of a pen smelling. It's bizzare, you'd think they'd do something to sort that out! I certainly puts me off ever buying their pens.

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    1. A few materials smell (like ebonite or celluloid), but none as noticeable as this! Apparently some colors are less smelly though, the ebonite version also should be better (although as I said, ebonite has a particular smell also)!

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