Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Guest Review: Lucky Pen @PilotPenUSA Petit1 & Varsity @JetPens @Toaster_Pastry

Gather around for this site's very first guest review! I am most honoured to have (Dr.) Toaster Pastry (yes, the infamous Toaster Pastry from the Anderson Pens podcast chat room!). Enjoy, and do leave a comment to thank Wayne for a great read!

I have used a non-refillable Pilot Varsity fountain pen daily. It costs $3, but someone gave it to me. I will bring two or three other brands into rotation, much like a rotisserie baseball league, only involving pens. But the Pilot Varsity pen stays with me wherever I go. I call it my Lucky Pen. It works on just about any paper, and is virtually indestructible. So yes, I have become emotionally attached to an inanimate object. The only drawback is that the non-refillable pen must be refilled, or else it won’t be the Lucky Pen.

I was expressing my love for the Pilot Varsity to a shop clerk at Flax Art & Supply in San Francisco. She was trying to sell me a $650 Visconti pen, $500 that day only, but I wasn’t buying it. Much like me, she admitted that she tends to keep the more expensive fountain pens at home, and carries the $4 Pilot Petit-1, not normally available in the United States, but was available at Mai-Do, a stationary shop in Japantown. I later learned it’s also available on-line through Jet Pens and Amazon. I set about trying to find a Petit-1 at Mai-Do.

After I began using the Petit-1 and the Varsity, I began comparing and contrasting the two Pilot entry-level fountain pens. Which one would I recommend to a friend?

The Pilot Petit-1
Image from JetPens
The pen comes in a lovely cellophane wrapper and has a single ink cartridge. You never really needed the presentation box. There is a Petit-2, a fiber-point pen, and a Petit-3, a tiny brush pen. The cartridge is proprietary and its smaller size is unique to this model of pen. Of course you can refill the cartridge with a needle and syringe if you like. The pen comes in a variety of pretty colors, with its corresponding ink color matching the tinted plastic of the pen.
Image from JetPens
Every component of this pen is made of plastic with the exception of a stainless steel fine-point nib. The elaborate feed system is actually more of a mount for the nib. Within the cosmetic feed is a channel that contains a fiber wick.
Image from JetPens
It’s not technically a fountain pen because you can’t fling ink, and that’s no fun. But it works really well for daily writing. The pen closed is about 10.5 cm, 9.5 cm with cap off, and 13 cm with cap posted.
Pilot_Petit
What I Like About This Pen

It’s around $4. I paid $3.95. If you break it, you toss it. If you lose it, you don’t cry or drive miles out of your way in that vain hope of finding it, unless it’s your lucky pen. It writes consistently well on just about any paper type. It makes a nice clean line without the ballpoint skips.
Writing_sample_Pilot_Petit
The cap pops off (I’ve come to abhor screw-off caps), and then posts with a little pop onto the blind-cap end. It’s refillable. If you don’t want to mess around with a needle and syringe, like I did, you can purchase the Pilot proprietary cartridges. They come in a 3-pack for under $2. That’s about 2 to 3 weeks of active writing.

What I Hate About This Pen

While I appreciate the pop-off cap, I found the pen too small to write with the cap not posted on the back. To post it requires one to align the clip perfectly in line with the nib, otherwise it digs into your hand. This small ceremony just to jot a quick note takes about 3-seconds of my life that I could better spend grouting tile or reading ‘War and Peace.’
Image from JetPens
I found the fine nib to be a tad too fine, and would prefer the medium if it was available, which it is not. It’s not an expressive nib, meaning it doesn’t flex, but I want the pen to write well and trouble free, and it does that adequately. I purchased this pen right before a conference, and was actively writing into a small notebook throughout the day. At the end of the third day, the cartridge had run out of ink. It has probably one of the smallest ink cartridges in the industry, and you’re stuck with the proprietary cartridge. Jet Pens provides a nice tutorial on how to turn your pen into an ink-camel by removing the cartridge and refilling the body with ink. Frankly, I wouldn’t recommend it. The plastic in this pen is PTFE, or some similar grade of cheaper polymer. You drop the pen, you’ll crack the body, and that’s potentially 2 cc of ink spilling everywhere. Eric Brown has an online tutorial on how to disassemble the pen to its components, which you’ll probably never need, but it’s nice to know if you love taking things apart for no apparent reason.

The Pilot Varsity
Image from JetPens
This is a completely solid disposable fountain pen with all-plastic components except for the nib. Naturally, this flies in the face of the basic tenant of a fountain pen in that it should be reusable, so a number of us have hacked it because that’s what we do. The pen can be usually purchased as a single unit for $3, and is available on Jet Pens, Amazon and various other online stores. They come in a variety of ink colors. The blind-cap reflects the ink color. They are also much more widely available at office supply stores in the United States than the Petit-1. You can purchase them in packs of three for $9 or as a multi-color pack of seven pens for $20. Like the Petit-1, it has a stainless steel nib, but it only comes with a medium. It also uses the same feed technology, using a fiber wick that draws down the ink through the center of the feed.
Image from JetPens
The pen is just over 13-cm closed, 11.5-cm open, and about 14.5-cm posted. On any given day, I will carry about 4 pens. However, this appears to be my go-to pen for just about every form of writing, whether it’s short notes, or longer paragraphs. I find this pen to be the perfect size for my hand. Yes, we all covet an oversized writing instrument. But my control of the pen is better here, and my handwriting reflects it. The pen was given to me by a colleague who gets these through his office. He just throws them out when he’s done. Sacrilege!
Pilot_Varsity
What I Like About This Pen

If you haven’t already figured it out, this is The ‘Lucky Pen.’ So I’m a bit biased. It’s made of a much more durable plastic than the Petit-1, so it’s practically indestructible. It is the perfect fit for my hand, and it writes flawlessly. I prefer the medium nib with this pen than the fine point with the Petit-1.
Writing_sample_Pilot_Varsity
It holds a larger amount of ink than the Petit-1. In fact, it typically lasts a couple of weeks before refilling. The ink doesn’t fill the whole body of the pen, but someone has figured out how to drill out the reservoir to allow the ink to fill the whole body. It’s not worth the extra effort. For the most part, I prefer this pen far and above a roller ball or ball point, even if you plan to dispose of it. The ink lasts much longer than a roller ball. The lines are clean and smooth and the medium nib is not as toothy as a fine.

What I Hate About This Pen

If this pen was truly refillable, it would probably be coveted by more people. Some people get excited by certain pens, and they have to have them in every limited edition color. This is not a pen to get excited about. In fact, it’s really ugly. But it writes very well, and will handle just about any ink mixture or color you want to throw in it. I mixed Diamine Oxblood with Peach Haze. There are some people who hate taking things apart. But I’m not one of them. Sometimes I can’t get it back together, but we won’t talk about that. To really master refilling this pen, I have gone through some trial and error. This best tutorial is provided by Bill at Peninkcillin. There are other methods but this one is pretty much the easiest. I find the best way to disassemble the pen is to remove the nib first, then take a soft-sided pliers and grab the feed at the sides and pull it out. It should pop, and then slide out easily. Wash the feed and pen thoroughly. Let it dry before refilling with a needle and syringe. The problem is that if there is a slight manipulation of the nib during disassembly, the pen is pretty much cooked. Don’t try to wedge anything under the nib as you will probably damage the wick feed, as I have. I have tried multiple times to restore flow on the nib, and I consider myself pretty handy with nibs. But I often can’t restore flow to its original specification, and its time to throw the whole pen out. I can usually get a pen through about 10 refills at best before it’s time to replace it. I have contemplated filling it from the blind end, but this would require a drill press to modify the pen, which I don’t have.

Which Is My Preferred Pen?

Without a doubt my preferred pen is the Pilot Varsity. It holds more ink, and it feels better in my hand, despite the sexier looking Petit-1. In fact I prefer this $3 pen far and above pens that I have paid a 100 times that. You may prefer the ability to refill the Petit-1. However, unless you like manipulating an eyedropper or needle-and-syringe, the cost of replacement cartridges will overshadow any savings on Petit-1.

Who is Toaster Pastry?

ToasterPastry is the nom de plume of Wayne, a cardiologist and cardiac electrophysiologist from San Diego. He collects both vintage fountain pens and ink bottles. He has written several reviews on fountain pens and inks for FPN, as well as the Pen Club of America's "The Pennant" magazine.

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