Saturday, December 26, 2015

Attack of the Nib Eater!

by Tony Thomas

I was going through some of my infrequently used pens and found a Wality eyedropper with a Knox nib that I had filled with Rohrer and Kligner Scabiosa ink quite a while ago. Some of the ink had evaporated so I decided to clean out the pen. As could be expected, it took a quite a bit of effort to clean out a pen containing iron gall ink.

When I attempted to remove the nib and feed from the section, I noticed that it was stuck. After applying a bit of elbow-grease, I was able to dislodge them. I was not surprised to see that the steel nib was pitted and corroded due to prolonged contact with the ink.

What did surprise me is that, upon closer examination with a loupe, the ink had actually eaten a hole in the nib!

As a result, I would advise everyone to use any iron gall ink with extreme caution in any pen with steel nib. In my case, I only use iron gall inks in inexpensive pens with easily replaceable nibs. In the future, I will not leave iron gall inks in any of my pens for more than a few days.

You have been warned!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Dollar General DG Office Writing Tablet

by Tony Thomas

I am always in search of inexpensive, fountain pen friendly paper.  When visiting my local Dollar General store recently, I came across their "DG Office" writing tablet priced at $1.00 for 120 sheets.

I always check to see where it was made and was excited when I saw it was made in Indonesia.  As I have reported earlier, I have had quite a bit of success with Indonesian paper supplied by iScholar.  The paper was unusually smooth for the price (most cheap paper feels like fine sandpaper these days). Since it was only a buck, I thought I would give it a try.

I was quite pleased with the results.  Most pens and ink played well with this paper.  There was only a bit of feathering with my Pilot Custom 74 with SFM nib and Pilot blue ink, but this pen is notoriously wet.  My other pens with Waterman ink performed well.  There was a bit of bleed through/show through, especially with broader nibs and wetter pens, but for thin paper, this is to be expected.

Bottom line: This is pretty decent paper for only a buck!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Jinhao 8812 Rosewood Fountain Pen

by Tony Thomas

I'm always on the lookout for interesting fountain pens. When I saw the Jinhao 8812 , I knew that I wanted it. As someone who loves objects made out of wood, I found its rosewood body especially attractive. And at less than $8 on eBay, the price was right.

Here are some vital statistics:

Length (capped): 136mm
Length (uncapped): 119mm
Width: 13mm
Weight: 45 grams

Nib: #5 medium

The pen is a bit hefty and is solidly built.  Jinhao is usually pretty good in the QC department which is amazing considering the low price of their pens.  The 8812 is also a smooth writer (as most Jinhao pens are).  You can post it, but I found it to be too back-heavy when posted and too long (160mm).   It comes with an Jinhao converter and it can also take international standard ink cartridges.

This is a great pen for the money that will turn a few heads.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Fountain Pen Book

by Tony Thomas

"The Fountain Pen Book" is my latest book and has just been released on  

"If you are interested in fountain pens, this book is a great place to start. It is short, easy to read and filled with valuable information that I have gathered since becoming a fountain pen enthusiast. I have included lots of links so that you can connect with other fountain pen users, dealers and resources. I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I have enjoyed writing it! 

Check it out:

Friday, November 6, 2015

Happy Fountain Pen Day 2015!

by Tony Thomas

It is Fountain Pen Day!  Is it time to renew our love for fountain pens and writing with them. 

I have been writing with fountain pens on and off for over 40 years.  In the past five years or so, my interest in them has increased due to the efforts of people like Brian Goulet, Stephen BRE Brown and the members of the Fountain Pen Network.  

There is a large and growing fountain pen community and I am proud to be a member.  Pull out your fountain pen and paper and let's celebrate together!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Fake Hero Doctor 616s

by Tony Thomas

I like a great pen deal as much as the next person (after all, this is the Frugal Fountain Pen).  However, beware the fake Hero 616s on auction and sale sites!!  I bought one for $2.99 and it is clearly a fake.  I took comparison pics so you can see the difference between the real deal and the fake.  I requested a refund from the popular auction site and included these pics.  Caveat emptor!!!  And it you happen to get a fake, report it and request a refund.

Update: I rinsed it out and attempted to fill the pen.  It wouldn't even fill.  The breather tube was disconnected from the feed and I could not reconnect it.   The pen did write pretty well but you can only use it as a dip pen.  I tried to open it up after soaking it in hot water but it wouldn't budge.  Not worth $2.99 or even $1.00 IMHO.

Fake is on the right

Fake is on the right

Fake is on top

Fake is in the forged package
This is the ad for the fake.  Oh, the irony!

Friday, September 25, 2015

My Levenger Bomber Jacket Circa Notebook

by Tony Thomas

I decided that it was time for a new everyday carry notebook and picked up a junior-sized Levenger Circa Bomber Jacket.   I love the look and smell of genuine leather and it does not disappoint.

I settled on a disc-based notebook because they are so flexible and I have used them for years. As I have a paper cutter and a punch, I can use all kinds of paper, including sketching and drawing paper, copier paper, cheap notebook paper and really nice paper like Rhodia.

In addition, the disc-based notebook is really a part of a larger system because I can move things around easily and pull out pages that I am no longer using and archive them in other notebooks.  Very useful!

I spruced up the Bomber Jacket with some copper-colored aluminum discs (1") to replace the smaller plastic ones that it came with.   The end result looks great and is the perfect size and weight for my needs. 

Even though it wasn't cheap, I expect to get a lot of use out of it in the coming years.

Inside of the Bomber Jacket with the TWSBI Mini that I carry with it.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Norcom Composition Books from Colombia

 by Tony Thomas

It is Back to School season again and I went to my local Walmart and picked up some composition books from Norcom.   I picked some from Colombia and decided to test them out.  They were on sale for $ .50 each!

The paper is very nice and comparable to the Brazilian paper that I have used in the past.

After some tests with Pilot Blue and Waterman inks and there is no feathering, bleed through or show through. 

Highly recommended !

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Quick Cleaning Your Fountain Pen

by Tony Thomas

If you are out and about and would like to change the ink in your fountain pen, here is a tip for cleaning it quickly: First of all, get a glass of water and a paper towel or absorbent tissue.   Empty the pen converter and dispose of the ink or put it in a storage vial.  Then, use the paper towel or absorbent tissue to absorb all the ink in the nib and feed.   It may take awhile for all of the ink to soak into the towel or tissue. After that, soak the nib and feed as well as the converter in the glass of water. Fill the converter and empty it several times until the water is pretty clear. Disassemble the nib and feed if you can and use a tissue to absorb any remaining ink from both and also the section.   If possible, refill the glass of water and repeat the steps.   When you are done, you should have a reasonably clean pen that is ready to fill with a different color of ink.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Ink Mixing

by Tony Thomas

Mixing ink is a lot of fun and is a very economical way of getting the most out of your ink.

My favorite brand to mix is Waterman.  It is a great, cheap everyday ink that is problem-free in just about any fountain pen and mixes well.

I use Serenity Blue, Black and Tender purple as my mixing inks.  I make a "Blurple" (inspired by Richard Binder) by mixing 80% Serenity Blue with 20% Tender Purple.  And a Blue/Black by mixing 80% Serenity Blue with 20% Black.

Both of these mixes are fairly water resistant (see pic below).  Have fun mixing!   Waterman Inks

Scribbles on the top have been soaked in water.
Writing on the bottom after it dried.  Used
really cheap copier paper.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Hand Made Notebooks

by Tony Thomas

I really enjoy making my own notebooks. Not only do I save a lot of money, I can use whatever paper I like.

I have used HP Laser Paper (32#), Staples Laser Paper (28#), Rhodia grid paper, Canson Drawing paper and others. For covers, I either use card stock from my office supply store or fancy paper from the scrapbook section of my local craft store.

I use my ancient Boston paper cutter and my limited sewing skills to put them together. My notebooks are only 24 pages making them easier to trim.

I highly recommend making notebooks if you are a fountain pen user and love fountain pen friendly paper.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

iScholar Notebooks

by Tony Thomas

It is "back to school" time again!  That time of year where we scour all of the bins for fountain pen friendly pads and paper.

I have been using composition books, notebooks and notebook paper from a company called iScholar (Englewood, NY) for a while with great results.  You can find them in many discount stores all over the U. S.

The paper is that I use is made in Indonesia and plays nice with fountain pens.  The paper isn't Rhodia smooth, but I haven't had any feathering or bleed through issues with a wide variety of pens and inks.  

I found the 70 sheet notebooks locally for 39 cents and the composition books for two for a buck.  Highly recommended!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Staples Perforated Writing Pads

by Tony Thomas

Finding fountain pen friendly paper in office supply stores is a real challenge. Much of it is very absorbent--kind of like writing on a napkin when using a fountain pen.

The biggest problem is that you usually can't try out the paper in the store or even touch it. The legal pads and looseleaf paper are sealed up in plastic wrap. As they say: “You pay your money and you take your chances.”

If you are like me, you can't afford to feed your pens a steady supply of Rhodia A4 pads at $9-10 each plus shipping. As I result, I find myself using legal pads and composition books for a lot of general note taking.

I either use a fountain pen filled with Noodler’s Bulletproof Black or some other non-feathering permanent ink like iron gall for that purpose. I also use various pencils since they are fast and non-fatiguing to write with.

I was in my local Staples store and was checking out their legal pad selection. I typically use the short pads (8.5 x 10.75 inch) since they fit in my padfolio. In my frugality, I decided to go with the cheap ($8 or so a dozen) pads.

When I got home, I decided to test one of the pads with two of my TWSBI 580s filled with Private Reserve inks. I was very pleased to discover that the paper didn’t feather much, it didn’t bleed through and there was only a bit of show through (after all, it is very thin 15# paper). Pretty impressive for really cheap paper!

Disclaimer: Companies like Staples change their paper suppliers all the time depending on their cost. That pads I bought have a black top strip with the Staples name on it. Other pads I purchased previously had red top strips. See the SKU and packaging photo below.

Sample of Staples perforated writing pad (PR inks)

Sample from an older Staples legal pad with same PR ink

Information from the pack I bought

Friday, May 29, 2015

Conklin Duragraph Cracked Ice

 by Tony Thomas

I recently purchased a Conklin Duragraph fountain pen from my friends at Goulet Pens.  I really like the throwback design of the pen and its “cracked ice” resin body.

For those not familiar with the Conklin name, it was a very popular fountain pen company established in 1898 and located in Toledo, Ohio. Although the original company no longer exists, its original pens are highly prized by collectors. The name was resurrected by Yafa Brands in 2009 to produce new pens with the vintage look of the originals.

The Duragraph is a pen that uses standard European cartridges and a screw-in converter. I selected a 1.1 stub nib. The pen is very well balanced and not too heavy even when posted. It is a smooth writer and enjoyable to write with. For the price I paid ($44), I feel that this pen is a real bargain and looks much more expensive than it is.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Notebook Survey Results

by Tony Thomas

Here are the results of the notebook survey:
  • Composition Books: 74% said they use composition books.
  • 3.5" x 5.5" Notebooks:  A bit over half use this format.
  • If Rhodia made a composition book (9.75" x 7.50"), would you buy it?:  48% said yes.
  • If Rhodia made a 3.5" x 5.5" notebook like the Moleskine Cahier or Field Notes Brand, would you buy it?: Only 35% said yes.
  • Notebook popularity: Rhodia was #1 by a wide margin (70%), Clairefontaine was #2 (48%),  Leuchtturm 1917 was # 3 (35%), Kokuyo, Field Notes Brand, Generic Composition book all tied for #4 (22%), and Apica and Moleskine tied for #5 (17%).  Others used include Maruman, Midori, Tomoe River, Banditapple, Filofax, Picadilly, Aurora, Graphilo, and Fabriano.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Is Rhodia Missing the Boat?

by Tony Thomas

I love Rhodia products, but I really wish they would make them in popular US sizes rather than just European (metric) sizes.

Two examples are composition books and 3.5“ x 5.5” side-stitched notebooks (like the Moleskine Cahier and Field Notes Brand notebooks).

Neither of these sizes is available from Rhodia (although its parent company, Clairefontaine, offers some 3.5“ x 5.5” notebooks that aren’t as easy to find). And Rhodia does have a smallish 7.5 x 12 cm 48 page notebook that would be just perfect if it was a bit larger.

I have nice leather covers that fit these two sizes and I would love to fill them with Rhodia notebooks!

Clairefontaine/Rhodia has hinted that they may be open to producing composition-sized notebooks if there is enough interest.

How do you feel? Would you be interested in these size notebooks? Let Clairefontaine/Rhodia know via their U. S. distributor, Exaclair:

Take a quick survey on this subject:

Monday, April 20, 2015

Ranga Hand Made Ebonite Pens

by Tony Thomas

I picked up a few hand made ebonite pens from a company called Ranga in India. They generally sell between $20 and $30 on eBay (search for Ranga fountain pen) with free shipping and are available in various colors. They are eye dropper pens with ebonite feeds, fine nibs and hold about 2 cc of ink. The fine nibs are better than average quality and are marked "Fellowship". The pen ships with a simple box, extra nib, feed and plastic eye dropper pipette.

How do I like them? After a bit of nib tuning, they are great writers and very low maintenance. The quality and attention to detail are much better than many Indian pens that I have. I use them as daily writers and am very happy with them.

Looking for a hand made 
ebonite pen? You can't find anything better for the price.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Rohrer & Klingner's Scabiosa Review

by Tony Thomas

Iron gall ink formulations have been around for over 1500 years. They are produced by combing iron salts with tannic acids and create an ink that is completely waterproof. A really cool feature of these inks is they darken after the ink dries and oxidizes.

The primary disadvantage of iron gall inks is that they are extremely acidic and corrosive and can damage both pens and paper over time. Modern iron gall formulations are reportedly much gentler, however. That said, they are considered by many to be "high-maintenance" inks.

After reading many positive reviews, I decided to try Rohrer & Klingner's Scabiosa, an iron gall ink with a purplish hue. The only iron gall ink that I had used previously was Diamine Registrar's Ink and it was a bit dry for my tastes. R&K is a German ink maker that has been around since 1892 and produces 18 different fountain pen inks, including two iron gall formulas.

According to their web site: "Our inks feature high-class, brilliant colourants, specially treated water and minimal amounts of additives. This well-balanced composition causes the optimal cappiliarity of the inks and the accordingly good writing conduct. It is suitable for pens, quills and other calligraphy utensils."

I found Scabiosa to be a pleasant ink to use. It seems to be far wetter than the DRI that I used previously. With some very absorbent paper, I even experienced some bleed through and feathering. On cheap copy paper, the ink seems to be well behaved.

It goes down as a light lavender color but dries to a concord grape or raisin color (depending on the paper). I have been using it exclusively in my Indian ink dropper pens because they use simple ebonite feeds and are relatively inexpensive. In those pens, I have not experienced any serious clogging, although the flow may be a bit sluggish if the pen is not used or left uncapped for a while.  In my soak tests, I found the ink to be completely waterproof once it dries.

R&K Scabiosa is a great ink and definitely worth a try!

P. S.: Be careful with this ink and don't leave it in pens with steel nibs.  


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Field Notes Brand Pitch Black Notebook

by Tony Thomas

I ordered a pack of "pitch black" Field Notes brand notebooks to try out recently.  Although I have been familiar with the brand for quite some time, this was the first time I have had a chance to use them.

A Bit of Background

If you are not familiar with Field Notes, they are a company that makes a line of pocket-sized (3.5" x 5.5") notebooks in various colors and styles.  They are sold in 3 packs of plain, ruled, grid or assorted pages.  They are well-known for their limited-edition notebooks which are very collectible.  When I saw their new "pitch black" edition in dot grid, I thought it was time to try some.

First Impressions

Upon opening the pack, I was instantly impressed with the quality and attention to detail of the notebook.  It is staple-bound, has rounded corners and feels good in the hand.  According to the specifications, the cover is French Construction 100#C "Blackstop".  The ink is a soy-based  Saphira ink called "Stealth Gray".  The paper inside is Finch Paper Opaque smooth 50#T "Bright White" printed with light gray Saphira ink in a 4.7 x 4.7mm dot grid.  The paper used is fairly smooth but seems to have a bit of tooth.  The front inside cover has a place for your name and "coordinates", start and end date info and a panel for you to provide your e-mail address in case you lose it.  You can also indicate whether or not "a handsome reward" awaits the finder.  The rear inside cover has a short blurb on "their story", a list of practical uses for your notebooks, detailed production specifications and a handy ruler.  By the way, the matching black staples demonstrate their attention to detail and are a nice touch.

In Use

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, or so they say.  I decided out to pull out my pens and pencils and give it a go.  As expected, the paper was not as silky smooth as Clairefontaine or Rhodia.  There is a tiny bit of resistance when writing.  A fair amount of feathering was evident with medium and stub nibs and the color inks that I used (Waterman and Private Reserve).  The paper is fairly absorbent without much ink resistance.  On the other hand, Noodler's Bulletproof Black worked just fine (in EF, F and even stub nibs) and is a much better choice for this notebook.  I suspect a modern iron gall ink would also be a a good choice.  On the reverse side of the page, significant bleed-through is also evident.  So, I would say that the paper is less than "fountain pen friendly".  Pencils are another good choice and I had no issues with my F and HB leads.

Final Thoughts

If you are fountain pen user with an affinity for broad or stub nibs and color ink, you may not be happy with this edition of the Field Notes brand notebook.  If you use finer nibs and a forgiving ink like Noodler's Black or an iron gall type ink, you may be quite happy with the results.  Ditto if you are a pencil scribbler.  I am not sure what papers are used in their other notebooks, but I hope that Field Notes will try to use some that are less absorbent in their future editions.

Feathering is clearly evident with my stub nibs and color ink.

There is quite a bit of bleed-through with everything except Noodler's Black and pencil.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Rhodia Clic-Bloc Mouse Pad Paper

by Tony Thomas

I decided to participate again in Rhodia Drive's Paper Project.  The project allows you to test free samples of their most popular products.  Up this week (13) is their "Clic Block" mouse pad paper.  

According to the Rhodia web site, this product has a non-skid backing, iconic grid (5x5), 80g paper and a smooth surface for mouse and pen.

First, I tried it as a mouse pad.  Works great.  Next, as a writing pad.  Although the grid lines are darker than I would like (I prefer the faint violet lines), it performed flawlessly for writing using a variety of fountain pens and inks.  No bleed through and very faint show through.  I also tried it with pencil and was very impressed with its smoothness.

Another great product from Rhodia and highly recommended!

For more information:

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Pilot Metropolitan Roller Ball Gel Pen

by Tony Thomas

The Pilot Metropolitan is probably my favorite cheap fountain pen.  I carry one with me daily.  It is well balanced, writes beautifully and the construction is great.  (See my review here.)

Although I write with fountain pens as much as I can, I also use pencils and gel roller balls.  My favorite gel roller ball of all time is the Pilot G4.  It is a great and reliable pen.

You may not realize it, but Pilot offers a Pilot Metropolitan in a gel roller ball version and it accepts the standard G4 refill (yea!).  It is the best of all worlds in my opinion.

Check one out if you get a chance.  They are available from my friends at Jet Pens!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

My Pencils

by Tony Thomas

Although I adore fountain pens and use them whenever I can, I find myself using pencils more and more for practical reasons.

With fountain pens, you have to worry about bleeding and feathering on cheap paper.  Not so with pencils.  They will write on just about any kind of paper including a brown paper bag.  And given the amount of cheap paper I encounter daily, that really helps!

Also, when I am trying to capture thoughts and ideas on paper, pencils just seem to work better for me.

With fountain pens, I have to keep capping and uncapping the pen lest it dries out after several minutes of just sitting in my hand.  That stifles my thought flow and gets really annoying.

And with pencils, I always have the ability to erase mistakes.  With fountain pens, all I can do is cross things out and rewrite them, leaving an ugly mess.

When I am at work, I have to jot down quick notes while talking on the phone and pencils work much better for that as well.

I really do love pencils.  I have mechanical, wood-cased and lead holders in a variety of hardnesses.  I carry a pencil bag with me as a part of my EDC and have a few Rotring mechanical pencils tucked away in my Maxpedition Fatty.

If you are a fountain pen lover, give pencils a try.  You may just find a new love!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Jinhao 599 for Less Than $2!

by Tony Thomas

Believe it or not, I scored a Jinhao 599 on eBay for less than $2.00 with shipping and handling from China!  I have reviewed this pen before and gave it high marks for the price.  Now, it is an even better value.

Is this an anomaly?  Actually, no.  The solid color versions are pretty easy to find at that price as this goes to press (The transparent versions sell for a bit more).

This has got to be the best fountain pen deal out there right now!  They look and feel very similar to the popular Lamy Safari and the nib is a smooth (if boring) Jinhao medium.

I decided to break out a four way nail buffer and do some surgery on the nib to turn it into a stub.  I am not the best nib grinder in the world, but I was able to end up with a nice smooth nib in about 15 or 20 minutes.  You can clearly see the line variation between horizontal and vertical lines in the picture to the left.

If you are looking for a really cheap pen (or 10) that you can carry around in your purse or pocket and won't be afraid to lose, this is the pen to get!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Kaweco Ice Sport

 by Tony Thomas

The Kaweco Ice Sport is a bit overpriced (about $27).

That said, it is a handy little fountain pen.

Don't let its small size fool you.  It writes great and feels pretty good in the hand when capped.

I wish there was a decent converter for it (there isn't) and that the optional clip was included in the price.  With the clip, it costs $30 or more and that is about the price of a Lamy Safari or two Pilot Metropolitans!  Kaweco should really consider lowering the price to less than $20 with clip.

I generally use cartridges in this pen, although  I also use it as an eyedropper by putting a bit of silicone grease on the threads.  Do this with caution as the threads on the pen are fairly coarse and leaking is possible (although I have never had this problem).

The Kaweco Ice Sport comes in six colors and five nib sizes, so take your pick.

For a tiny pen, it doesn't get much better than this!

Not exactly a fine point, more like a medium.