Review: Retro 51 Hex-o-matic, Ballpoint, Medium

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Put them side-by-side, and the Retro 51 Hex-o-matic looks a lot like an ‘everyday carry‘ version of the Retro 51 Tornado. But really, aside from the knurled-metal end, the two pens share little similarity. The Hex-o-matic is thin, clickable, and durable. It has a matted, hexagonal body with a round, knurled grip, and it has an overall shape that is reminiscent of a syringe. Its metal construction gives it a nice bit of weight, and, like almost everything Retro 51 produces, I like it a lot.

One of the more remarkable aspects of the Hex-o-matic is actually its packaging. It is fairly intricate, as if it were designed by an origami expert, which makes for a great first impression. But unlike the Tornado’s packaging, which doubles as a pen holder, this elaborately-folded cardboard tube is ultimately useless. I’ll soon be tossing it in the recycling bin as I wonder, “how much did this packaging add to the cost of the pen?”

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The Hex-o-matic comes loaded with a Schmidt Easy Flow 9000 ballpoint refill, which is the same refill used by the Retro 51 Slim Tornado. It’s definitely good; much smoother and darker than a typical ballpoint, though it smears more than it ought. However, since it is a pen that seems built for ‘on-the-go’ usage, I really wish it came with a pressurized ink refill, such as the one that comes with the Fisher Space Pen. Unfortunately, that particularly refill doesn’t quite fit, at least without modification.

At $28, the Hex-0-matic feels a little expensive, especially when a decent metal pen like the Pentel Energel Alloy RT is under $10. But now having used the Hex-0-matic a while, I find it competing for pocket space against the Everyman Grafton, a favorite of mine (that costs even a little bit more money). So if you want a nice, durable pen to throw in your pocket as you run daily errands, this pen is a very good choice.

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Extra Links

Looking Ahead to 2017

Although 2016 may not have been the worst year, a lot of people were nevertheless happy to see it end last week.  But for Pens and Junk, at least, the year was pretty good. I’ve been able to keep up with posting at a weekly pace, and all said and done, average monthly views jumped from 1,650 in 2015 to 4,345 in 2016. Not too bad, I think.

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Over the last year, I’ve written more than 30 pen reviews. Some of these pens have been good and some have been bad, but the most popular review on the blog, as well as my 2016 Pen of the Year, was undoubtedly the Grafton by Everyman.  It’s one of the very few pens I’ve actually run dry.

The overall most popular post of 2016, however, was my review for Aaron Draplin’s book, Pretty Much Everything. Though, I’m also happy to have read and written reviews for Paper by Mark Kurlansky and The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting by Anne Trubek. I plan on writing at least a couple more book reviews this upcoming year, so if you have any suggestions, drop me a line.

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In 2017, you can also expect more posts about Field Notes and Retro 51 Tornado pens – I haven’t grown tired of collecting either. Baron Fig also launched their own quarterly subscription service for their popular Squire pen, which I bought. It was a bit expensive, and I don’t know what to expect. But I guess we’ll find out together.

Additionally, more Kickstarter pens should be arriving on my doorstep this year, including the TriTac and the SQ1. And though it’s not exactly stationery related, I even backed The Fidget Cube, which I may write about here.

Oh, and I have to write the final three parts to my Nib Novice series. I’ve had a blast with it, and I’ve really learned a lot. Afterwards, you may see increased posting about fountain pens and inks.

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As for non-pen/stationery/blog stuff to look forward to in 2017. Uh… obviously, Star Wars Ep. 8. Although Logan and Spider-Man: Homecoming look pretty awesome too. And, once again, I’m excited about Game of Thrones coming back on air this summer for the penultimate season (which is good since George R.R. Martin will probably never finish writing the book series). I also am looking forward to a new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is back after a six-year break. And, if I’m lucky, I might finally be able to get my hands on an NES Classic.

Overall, I think a lot of awesome stuff will happen in 2017, and I hope it makes for a wonderful year for everybody.

Notes on Dead Print Field Notes

“Posters are delicate things,” writes Aaron Draplin. So what is a poster-maker to do when misprinted, damaged, and test prints begin to pile up in the workshop? For Draplin, the creator of Field Notes, the answer couldn’t have been too difficult: use these ‘dead prints’ to make pocket-sized memo books.

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So, in October of 2015, limited edition “Dead Print Field Notes” were made for three poster-producing companies: Draplin Design Co., Mondo, and Landland. Between all three companies, only 3,000 3-packs were made, and with images of these notebooks sporadically popping up on Instagram and Twitter, these Dead Print Field Notes became somewhat of a craze.

Although the notebooks contain basic 50# blank paper, the unique covers, made from assorted posters, spurred on the collectors. Getting my hands on all three was no easy task. I’ve seen sealed 3-packs occasionally sell for over a hundred dollars on eBay (much, much more than I’m willing to spend), but with a bit of patience, I found them all individually for reasonable prices.

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The DDC Dead Prints were initially only sold at a pop-up shop run by Aaron Draplin in Portland, but eventually a handful were sold through his website. There I was able to grab a couple 3-packs before they sold out. Similarly, the LandLand Dead Prints were briefly available on their website, but many of the shipments were lost in the mail, including mine. Fortunately,  the good folks at LandLand were able to ship out replacements a couple months later.

The Mondo Dead Prints were trickier. They were initially distributed only at MondoCon, the company’s convention, but some extras were sold online. These became sold out lightning-fast, well before I was able to add a pack to the shopping cart. But, after months of scouring eBay, I eventually found a single Mondo notebook for a relatively low price (never mind that it’s mostly just a white notebook).

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After some use, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that these Dead Print Field Notes are one of my favorite editions. Aside from the special cover-paper, there’s no difference between this and a standard Field Notes notebook. However, with their wild designs and the gold-foil used for the cover text, I’ve received more comments/compliments on these notebooks than I have while carrying around any other Field Notes edition. It’s really a shame that these notebooks are so rare, but maybe, if we’re lucky, Draplin, LandLand, and Mondo will continue to damage enough posters in order to justify another run.

Additional Notes

  • The Mondo Dead Prints have no “Practical Applications” list, but a musician/artist roster for their convention instead. Both the DDC and Landland books, however, do have “Practical Applications” lists. My favorites: “02. Thick Lines Tinkerings” (DDC) and “16. Hashtag Plans” (LandLand).
  • Even the belly-bands seem to be made of inside-out posters.
  • And speaking of Aaron Draplin, I wrote a review of his book. I liked it. It’s worth checking out if you like those DDC Dead Print designs.

Nib Novice, Part 7: Noodler’s Ahab Flex Nib

This is the seventh part in a series in which I’m learning to use fountain pens. For all the previous installments, click here.


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If you watch a flex nib in action, you’re going to be impressed. It’s not only that they’re commonly used by professional calligraphers, but, due to their softer tines, flex nibs are capable of large variations in both line width and shading. I’d been looking forward to trying one out for a while, even though I already have a calligraphy pen that I rarely use.

Unfortunately, outside of the vintage and high-end fountain pen markets, flex nibs can be hard to find. The popular brands, such as the Pilot Falcon, use gold as the primary nib material, putting them in the $150+ price range. For something less expensive, the only option I’ve found is from Noodler’s Ink, which produces several lines of flex nib pens that cost anywhere from $15 to $75.

So, not knowing if I’d actually enjoy this nib style, I went with something on the cheaper side: the Noodler’s Ahab with the”Bumblebee” barrel design, which cost me about $23. For ink, I went with Thornton’s Orange – a bright color to match the bright barrel – for an extra $9.

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After inking up the pen, I experienced some initial frustration until I found this guide from Goulet Pens, and I realized that operating a flex nib demands a different touch. Typically, fountain pens glide across a piece of paper with very little (or no) need to apply force. Flex nibs, on the other hand, require pressure. The more the nib is pressed down, the more the tines will separate (i.e. “flex”) to allow for greater ink flow.

This line variability allows for some very artistic writing. However, it does take some practice to master. One guide at VintagePen.Net even asserts the importance of proper posture while writing with a flex nib. That may be overkill for a non-professional fountain pen user, but playing around with varying pressures and writing angles is still a lot of fun.

The Noodler’s Ahab – and flex nib fountain pens in general – are definitely not functional. By that I mean to say, you probably wouldn’t want to take notes with it. Flex nibs don’t seem to be very good with the block-style fonts like I typically use either. So, it would be rational to assume that I wouldn’t like this pen, but I do. This flex nib is such an enjoyable writing experience that I’ll find an excuse to use it… even if it’s only for signing holiday cards.

Review: Tombow Zoom 707, Ballpoint, 0.7mm

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The Tombow Zoom 707 is nothing if not distinctive. Between the accordion-like twist, the red ball at the end of the clip, and the protruding grip, it looks like no pen I’ve seen. In fact, it seems almost like a novelty pen.

That’s not to disparage it; the Zoom 707 is clearly a high-quality pen. It has a durable, metal barrel, a clip that secures snugly, and a twist mechanism that ejects the pen’s tip smoothly. It has a soft, rubber grip and comes with a ballpoint refill that’s comparatively darker and smoother than most (though some ink blobbing does occur).

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Due to its size, however, the Zoom 707 is the kind of pen that’s best slipped inside a planner or pocket-notebook. Despite the grip section, which is noticeably thicker than the pen’s barrel, the Zoom 707’s slenderness is simply impractical for writing longer notes or letters. Writing at any length quickly becomes uncomfortable.

The Zoom 707 will likely run you anywhere from 15 to 35 dollars, depending on which color you’re after, and, to me, that seems a bit pricey given its limited practicality. If you’re in the market for a super-slim pen, I’d recommend checking out the Pilot Couleur. If you just want a unique-looking Tombow pen, I’d suggest the Airpress. The Zoom 707 is a nice pen, but it’s hard to beat these alternatives, as they typically run in the 5 to 10 dollar range.

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