Sunday, November 16, 2014

Clairefontaine Paper Tests

by Tony Thomas

I participated in the Rhodia Paper Project (Week 2) at

First of all, what a delightful assortment of papers from Clairefontaine!

I inked up some of my favorite fountain pens and also pulled out a pencil for this test.  Pens/pencil used were: Pilot Metropolitan Fine w/Noodler's Black, TWSBI Vac 700 (.8 Nemosine Stub nib) w/Waterman Serenity Blue, Lamy Studio EF w/diluted PR Chocolat, Lamy Vista (1.1 stub) w/Noodler's Black and a Pentel Kerry Mechanical Pencil with .7 HB lead.

Here are the tests:

G. Lalo Verge de France (100g): This is a great slightly off-white laid-finish paper that would be great for formal correspondence.  As a result, it has a bit of texture that is only slightly uncomfortable when writing with an EF or fine nib. It accepts ink beautifully and drying time was acceptable.  No feathering observed.  The paper also performed well when I used my pencil, producing a solid, dark line.   A really great paper.

Clairefontaine GraF it (90g):   This was my least favorite paper of the three that I tested.  As it is a sketchpad paper, it has quite a bit of tooth (like most sketchpad papers).  That said, it performed quite well with fountain pens with no feathering.  It was really uncomfortable when using the EF and and fine nibs.  As expected, the pencil worked well with this paper.

Clairefontaine Triomphe (90g):  This  was my favorite of the three.  This is very expensive stationary paper and performs like it.  Very smooth texture with great performance with both fountain pens and pencil.  Beautiful, crisp, lines with no feathering and acceptable drying time.   Pure joy to write on with a fountain pen or pencil.

In summary, I think Clairefontaine makes some of the finest papers in the world!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Distressing News!

By Tony Thomas

I wanted to breathe some new life into my custom Hidebound Leather planner cover, so I decided to distress it.  Distress it?  Yep!

What does distressing entail?  Basically, you remove all of the contents of the cover and then wring it like a paper towel.   And then you do it again and again in various directions. 

If you have the right kind of leather, it will change its color and show an incredible texture change!

The top picture is of the cover shortly after I received it.  The picture below it was taken after distressing the leather.  Dramatic, indeed!

I decided to also distress the cover I bought for my Clairefontaine notebooks.  It is on the left (below) and my planner is on the right.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Pilot Metropolitan White Tiger Fine

by Tony Thomas

After watching Brian Goulet's video on the new Pilot Metropolitan fine point, I decided to give one a try.  I had my eye on the White Tiger model for a while, so I bought one with a fine nib from my friends at The Goulet Pen Company.

Let me say this at the outset: If you don't have a Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen in your collection, get one!  At $15, it is one of the true bargains of the fountain pen world.

I always add a CON-50 twist converter to my Metros, since I am not thrilled with the included CON-20 squeeze converter.  That adds a bit over $5 to the price, but to me, it is well worth it.

The Metropolitan fine point is a great writer.  It produces a true Japanese fine line with just a touch of feedback.  For me, it has become a daily writer due to its low cost and great performance.  Highly recommended!

A writing sample in a Clairefontaine notebook.

The White Tiger hanging out 
with two of my other "Metros".

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Hidebound Custom Planner Cover for Circa Notebook

by Tony Thomas

I have been looking at various planners for awhile, including the highly-esteemed Filofax.  However, I am not a big fan of ring binders and prefer the Circa/Arc/Rollabind disc binders and accessories.  

As a result, I decided to ditch my spartan Circa leather cover and commission the wonderful folks at Hidebound Leather to create a nice leather planner cover for me.

After consulting with them, I found that the easiest way to create such a planner was to start with a regular book cover and customize it.

After carefully measuring my Circa notebook including the discs, I picked the Classic Vintage Cognac large book cover ($45) and added the Folio pocket option ($15).   Check out the link here.

It took them about a week to create the cover and it arrived a few days after that.  I am very pleased with the result.  The cover is made of really soft and supple leather and, after a just a few weeks of use, it is already providing a nice, slightly distressed, "lived-in" look.  I really love it!

See the You Tube video I recorded about this cover here.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Making Leather Traveler's Notebooks

by Tony Thomas

After my success making a traveler's notebook out of heavy felt, I decided to make a few more out of leather using the popular Ray Blake method.

For the first one, I used some vegetable-tanned tooling leather (highly recommended) from my local Tandy Leather.  The piece was only a bit larger than the 6" x 9" I needed to make the notebook.  It was a fairly thin piece at around 4 oz. (approx 4/64").   I also bought a small punch to create the holes.  After cutting the leather, punching the holes, trimming the corners, threading the elastic cords, and applying a bit of oil, here is what I came up with in about 20 minutes:

After living with the notebook for a week or so, I decided to make a second notebook out of heavier tooling leather I found on eBay (DC Leather).  It was a about 8.5 oz. (almost 9/64").   I also bought some dye (Angelus) for both notebooks to give them a more finished look.  The heavier leather was a bit more challenging to cut and required several passes with my utility knife.  After dyeing both sides, the color was a bit darker than I anticipated (the leather really it soaked it up) but the end product was a lot more attractive and professional looking.

Here are both notebooks after dye, some paste wax and buffing.  The thin one is on the left and the fatter one on the right:

These were extremely easy for me to make and I am not an experienced leather worker.  Unlike the Midori passport size notebook that uses proprietary inserts, I designed these notebooks to accept 3.5" x 5.5" notebooks like the Moleskine Cahier, Clairefontaine, Field Notes and  others.  To save a bit of money, I decided to create my own hand-sewn notebook inserts using card stock and HP 32# laser paper.

If you are handy, you should try making one (or more) of your own!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A $3 Homemade Traveler's Notebook

by Tony Thomas

I was a bit bored today so I decided to try and put together an inexpensive traveler's notebook similar to the familiar Midori.  A "Po-Dori", you could call it.

So, I headed off to the local craft store to see what materials I could find.  I discovered a 9" x 12" piece of stiff felt for a buck and 3 yards of green bungee cord for about $1.60.  The materials used are far from optimal but they are cheap and durable.

Total cost: less than $3 with tax.  Plus, I have enough materials left over to make a smaller one if I so desire.

I used Ray Blake's video on You Tube to provide the instruction needed to make it.  You can watch that video here.  Total construction time: about 15-20 minutes.

In any case, it turned out OK and it works!

I also made a short video on the way it turned out here.

My "Po-Dori" with Clairefontaine 9 x 14 cm and Rhodia 7.5 x 12 cm notebooks installed.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Jinhao 599 Fountain Pen

by Tony Thomas

I saw the new Jinhao 599 on eBay several weeks ago for less than $4.00 (!) and decided to pick one up.  It certainly looks like an "homage" to a popular German pen whose name begins with an "L".

It is surprisingly well built and features a really smooth medium Jinhao nib.  The clip is firm yet springy and it is well-balanced with the familiar triangular grip section popularized by "you know who".

The pen is so nice that it makes you drop your jaw drop as what kind of quality can be achieved at such a low price.  It makes me wonder why the "real thing" sells for almost 10X the price!

Check on my brief YouTube video on the 599 here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Pen Roll for $2-3!

by Tony Thomas

I found this pen roll on eBay and Amazon for between $2-3 including shipping!

Of course, it is made from "pleather" (not real leather), but it is pretty well made and looks like it will last a while.

I would not use it for really expensive pens (since they would rub together), but it is great for inexpensive ones.

Check it out!

Friday, May 9, 2014

More Fun With Diluted PR Supershow Blue

by Tony Thomas

I decided to try my diluted DC Supershow Blue with an italic nib.  To the left is the result.

It is actually a very pleasant medium blue with a fair amount of shading.

Really pleased with the results and looking forward to diluting other dark inks to see what I can come up with.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Ink Dilution: Two Inks for the Price of One?

by Tony Thomas

I have been experimenting recently with ink dilution and it has been an interesting experience.

While I have been diluting Noodler's Bulletproof Black for years with good results, I thought I would try a shade of blue.  My latest subject is Private Reserve DC Supershow Blue, a very saturated dark blue ink.

I used a 1:1 mixture of ink and distilled water with a tiny amount of Dawn dishwashing liquid (a non-ionic surfactant) to improve flow.  I only make about 4-6 ml at a time so that I can test with small amounts.

The result is a lighter shade of blue with a good amount of shading.  The surfactant added probably results in a thicker line (more of a medium/broad than a fine), but I can tweak the flow by adding less surfactant.

I am very pleased with the results!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Testing: Higgins Fountain Pen Inks

I tested Higgins Fountain Pen India and Sepia Calligraphy Ink in a few pens last year. Cheap ink and easy to find locally (at Dick Blick art store).

My selections were "Fountain Pen India Ink" and "Sepia Calligraphy Ink". Both inks are listed as fountain pen safe and non-waterproof with no gum arabic.

A 2.5 oz (74ml) bottle of each was $2.87. That is less than 4 cents per ml compared to around 14 cents per ml for Noodler's Black.

My test pens for this ink are a Noodler's Ahab w/Goulet medium (Jowo) nib for the "Fountain Pen India" and a Chinese Baoer 388 for the "Sepia Calligraphy" ink. After filling both pens up, both seem to write fine with good flow. There don't seem to be any start up issues as of yet. I picked the Ahab and Baoer pens for this test because they are

1. Fairly cheap.

2. Easy to strip down (removable nibs and feeds) and to clean thoroughly if need be.

I will see how well they work during my test phase and to see if there are any clogging issues and/or difficulty cleaning the pens.

Day 2: So far, so good. Both inks are acting fine and there are no start up or clogging issues. I did a water resistance test and the black seems to be very water resistant. A small portion of the ink dissipates but it remains very readable. It is good enough to use for addressing an envelope. The Sepia is much less water resistant but still readable. I also find the sepia to be a bit runny and the first letter seems to be a bit darker than the other letters when I start it up. It does seem to be capable of nice shading, though. I cannot see any evidence of a precipitate or residue from either ink. Both are behaving like typical fountain pen ink.

Day 3: Higgins Fountain Pen India still performing well in the Ahab. No signs of clogging or hard starting. I think this ink is a keeper, especially at its low price. The Higgins Sepia Calligraphy ink is also holding its own in the Baoer 388. To extend the experiment, I also am using the Higgins FP India in my Serwex Special 101 eyedropper pen. Preliminary tests show that it is working in that pen as well. I highly recommend Higgins FP India in newer pens that can be easily disassembled and cleaned thoroughly as well as cheaper pens for everyday use. At less than 4 cents per ml, it is a true bargain.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Hero 100 Fountain Pen

by Tony Thomas

If you have looked for a vintage Parker 51 aerometric in good condition recently, you probably have a bad case of sticker shock.

I have never owned or used a 51 (sadly) but decided to spring for the next best thing: a Hero 100.  Produced in the old Parker pen factory in Shanghai, China, the Hero 100 is a fairly accurate tribute to the venerated 51 complete with 14K gold nib.  The price?  $40 shipped (eBay).

I have used my 100 for about a week and, after a bit of nib tuning and smoothing, I have deemed it good enough to be a daily writer.  It is a big step up from the Hero 616 and is much more solidly built.  Well worth the money, in my opinion!

More info on the Hero 100:

Pentrace Comparison of Hero 100 and Parker 51

Hero Pen Company

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Hero 382 Fountain Pen

by Tony Thomas

I have really been into Hero pens lately as I like their styling and vast selection of models.  One that caught my eye is the Hero 382 which I believe is one of their best designs.  At between $12-15 on eBay, it is also an affordable pen.

It has smooth lines and a very simple design with a shiny black lacquered body, large clip and silver trim.  It is a hefty pen at 34 grams and 13.5 cm long.

At its widest point, the pen measures 13 mm and the section diameter is 10 mm tapering to around 9 mm. The 382 is comfortable to hold in my large hands and I had no problem with the shiny section.

The two-tone fine nib had quite a bit of feedback initially and I was able to smooth it using 12K micro mesh.  Even after smoothing, I found the nib to be less than inspiring so I decided to grind it into a stub.  You can see the difference below.  All in all, the Hero 382 is a very impressive pen!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Ranga Custom Clipless Acrylic Pen

by Tony Thomas

I ordered a Ranga custom acrylic pen several weeks ago from India.  I decided on a clipless pen in "blue cracked ice" acrylic.  It is an eyedropper pen with an ebonite feed.  It is about 5.5 inches long and weighs a mere 18 grams when full of ink.  The price was under $50 with shipping.

It arrived last week fitted with a Wality nib that wrote as a medium.  The nib was not terribly smooth, although Wality nibs can usually be improved by using a bit of micromesh.

I decided to replace the nib with Nemosine #6 Fine nib from  I was able to install it quite easily and it writes perfectly.  However, when I replaced the cap, I felt a bit of resistance.  As a result, I used a small pocket knife to remove some material from the inside of the cap to give the nib some extra room.  I am very happy with the pen and the way it writes.  The Nemosine nib is a big improvement over the Wality nib supplied.  (You actually get an extra Wality nib and feed with the pen as well as a little bulb syringe to load ink).

I highly recommend Ranga pen company if you are looking for an inexpensive acrylic or ebonite pen.  The pens are well made and they provide great service.  And you can't beat the price for a handmade, custom pen!

Ranga Pen Company

Article About Ranga

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Hero 616 Doctor Review

by Tony Thomas

I bought a Hero 616 pen several years ago and was unimpressed.  The construction looked shoddy and the aerometric filling system would only hold a very small amount of ink.

Years passed and I decided to try the larger 616 "Doctor" version (also called the "Jumbo"pr "Regular").   When I compared it to my old 616, I immediately noticed a difference between the two pens.  

The 616 "Doctor" did not have the cosmetic flaws of my original pen and seem to be built better.  The aerometric filler worked flawlessly and held a generous amount of ink.  It is a different pen.

After doing some research, I discovered my original 616 must be a counterfeit.  (See link below.)  Buyer beware.

The pen is around 5.5" long and it weighs 18 grams when filled.  A very light pen and comfortable to hold.  How does the "Doctor" write?  It has a very smooth fine nib that is one of the best I have ever used.  Just what the doctor ordered!

I have never used a vintage Parker 51 (the pen that the 616 design is based upon) but this is one great budget fountain pen.  You can find it for less than $5 on eBay (even less if you buy in quantity) and it is well worth the price. 

More info on counterfeit 616s here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Cleaning Inky Fingers - Part 2

by Tony Thomas

After recommending Lava soap as a great tool for cleaning inky fingers, I decided to check out another one: Gojo Pumice Hand Cleaner.

It is much more expensive than a bar of Lava ($3.99 at my local store) but I found out a little goes a long way. While Lava is great for casual cleaning, when your hands are really full of ink, a dab of Gojo Pumice works wonders.

The only downside is that Gojo Pumice seems to be a truly industrial-strength cleaner and is very abrasive.  You can really feel the really tiny grains of pumice exfoliating your skin.

Give it a try next time you are all inked up!

Rhodia and Me

by Tony Thomas

I love Rhodia pads!

As you can see, I have a nice assortment of them handy most of the time.  I used the graph, lined and Dot Pads for various daily tasks including note taking, lists, testing pens, capturing ink samples and more.

Why do I love them so much?  Two words: Paper quality.  They use "superfine vellum RHODIA paper 80g" that is wonderful to use with fountain pens.  It generally doesn't feather or bleed (unless you are using really wet or broad nibs) and you can usually write on both sides.  In addition, it is very smooth and my pens just glide along the smooth surface.

Highly recommended! 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Airmail 444 with Chesterfield Archival Vault Ink

by Tony Thomas

I loaded up my Airmail 444 eyedropper fountain pen sporting a FPR flex nib with Chesterfield Archival Vault ink.  Reportedly, it is custom branded Diamine Registrar's ink sold exclusively by

As it is an iron gall formulation designed for fountain pens, it can be used safely in many pens with a bit of extra care.

I think that the Airmail 444 is a good choice for this type of ink for the following reasons:
  • It is an eyedropper and there are no metal parts that can corrode other than the nib.
  • The nib can be replaced easily and inexpensively even if corrosion occurs.
  • It uses a very simple ebonite feed that can be cleaned easily.
  • The pen can be disassembled completely for thorough cleaning.
  • The 444 has ample ink holding capacity so that the pen will not dry out quickly.
Even though iron gall ink is known to be very dry, it flows very well in this pen and nib combination.  The color change from blue to black is also cool to watch and the ink is waterproof.

Cleaning the pen requires a bit of extra effort since the ink stains the clear barrel quite a bit.  I just used mildly soapy water, some cotton swabs, tissues and a bit of elbow grease .

I purchased my Airmail pen and FPR flex nib from in India. I think it is a great combination!

For more information on the pen and the ink:

For more information on iron gall ink:

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Hero 780 with 10K Gold Nib

by Tony Thomas

I decided to order this Hero pen with a gold nib from China.  The price was less than $35 shipped so it seemed like a good deal.  It is only 10K gold (about 42%), but a fountain pen with any type of gold nib at that price point is very rare.

The fit and finish of the pen are very nice and it has a smallish fine nib that writes like a western extra fine.  The nib has the Hero logo with a 10K inscription and they did a great job of tipping the nib.  It comes with a good quality international converter. The arrow clip is reminiscent of a Parker pen.

How does it write?  The Hero 780 writes much smoother than any other Chinese pen that I have used.  Even though the nib is gold, it is firm rather than springy.  That should come as no surprise since it is over 50% alloy.  The grip section is small and made of smooth plastic and a bit slippery.  I was able to alter my grip to compensate.  In any case, it is a great pen that is well worth the price.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Jinhao X750 Shimmering Sands

by Tony Thomas

The Jinhao X750 Shimmering Sands is an amazing looking pen!  Coated with appears to be automotive sparkle paint and clear coat, this pen shoots out pinpoint colors of the rainbow when exposed to light.

The fit and the finish of the pen is pretty nice and it sports a large #6 silver-colored nib with matching furniture. Out of the package, it wrote pretty smoothly with more of a broad (rather than the advertised medium) line.

I decided to do a bit of grinding to turn a ho-hum nib into something a bit more exciting.  The writing sample above shows a bit of line variation.  I will regrind it a bit more to make it into a crisper stub.  It comes with an international converter and sells for between $8-10 making it a remarkable value.  I bought mine off of eBay for around $8 shipped from China but Goulet Pens has it for only a bit more with a much shorter wait.  Highly recommended!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Tip: Cleaning Inky Fingers

by Tony Thomas

Ever get ink all over your fingers?  If not, you aren't a real fountain pen lover!

I have found something that removes ink pretty well.  Good old Lava soap.  It is embedded with pumice particles (a by product of volcanoes) that acts as a mild abrasive to remove stains.

One bar of Lava generally sells for less than $2 and will last you quite a while.  Give it a try!

For more information:

Pilot Petit 1 Mini Fountain Pen

by Tony Thomas

I picked up one of these tiny beauties on my latest order from Jet Pens.  It was less than $4, so I decided to give it a try.  It has a clear, injection molded body and a nib that is very similar if not identical to the one on the Pilot Varsity.

It posts easily and has a plastic clip that seems usable even if a bit fragile.  The Petit 1 is comfortable to hold when posted (and I have very large hands).

It came with a black cartridge and a pack of 3 replacement cartridges will set you back less than $2  (other colors are also available).

How does it write?  Very smooth with a fine line and  just a touch of feedback. Pretty amazing for such a tiny and inexpensive pen!  It is a decent little pocket or purse pen that won't put a dent in your wallet.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Movin on Up! - My new EDC 022514

by Tony Thomas

Movin' on up!  My new EDC:

1. New Maxpedition EDC Fatty Case
2. Pilot Metros (Black & Bronze)
3. TWSBI Vac 700 w/Nemosine .8mm italic nib
4. Edison Nouveau Premiere Cappucino Swirl w/Edison fine nib
5. Lamy Studio Stainless w/Lamy 1.1 italic nib
6. Lamy Vista w/EF Lamy nib
7. Rotring 600 Drafting Pencil w/.7 lead and Clic eraser.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

My EDC 02/20/14

by Tony Thomas

Today's EDC:

Pens: 2 Pilot Metropolitans, Lamy Vista, Edison Collier Persimmon Swirl, Charcoal Lamy Safari, Kaigelu 356 Flighter.  Case: Maxpedition EDC.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Hero 529 Fine Point Fountain Pen

by Tony Thomas

In my search for inexpensive fountain pens on eBay, I came across numerous listings for the Hero 529 fine point pen.  The price?  Less than $3.00 including shipping from China!  Amazing!

Having previously bought the Hero 9296 Accounting Pen with an EF nib, I thought I would give the 529 a shot.

Like the 9296, the 529 is a converter filler with a hooded nib.  It is reminiscent of the Hero 616 sans aerometric converter.  It is a pretty plain looking pen with a few small but noticeable blemishes, however, you really can't complain much for a pen that costs so little.

How does it write?  Nicely.  It has a very smooth nib that lays down a nice fine line.

The Hero 529 is a great little knock-about pen for throwing in your pocket or purse and leaving on your desk at the office.  Very nice for jotting down quick notes.  I plan to load mine with some archival iron gall ink for writing on cheap paper when the need arises.

A nice pen at a crazy cheap price!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Hidebound Leather Notebook Cover

by Tony Thomas

Not too long ago, I ordered a custom leather notebook cover for my favorite Clairefontaine Classic staple-bound notebook (6.5" x 8.25") from Hidebound Leather.   They turned it around quickly and it has become an important part of my EDC.  Hidebound does all kinds of leather products including book and Bible covers, journals, sketchbooks and more.  They also offer a series of Rhodia pad covers.  Their prices are reasonable and their quality and service are top notch.  I heartily recommend them!