Retro Talk: The Pen Addict Tornado


Over the past year, I’ve become a fan and collector of the Retro 51 Tornado, but it was an old episode of The Pen Addict Podcast that first brought the pen to my attention. So, last month, when Retro 51 announced a new Tornado made in collaboration with Brad Dowdy, the creator of The Pen Addict website, I jumped at the chance to order one. And it turned out that I was lucky to act so fast, as this edition – limited to 300 pieces – sold out within a week.


Made in the image of The Pen Addict, this Tornado has a shiny, orange lacquered barrel (like the one first reviewed by Dowdy in 2012) with weathered, metal hardware. However, the principal element is the finial, the little disk inset at the top of the twist, which features The Pen Addict logo. I’ve always felt that the pen-syringe hybrid is one of the more clever logos I’ve seen.

Though you can no longer purchase The Pen Addict Tornado, it is very similar to the orange Classic Lacquer Tornado, which is still widely available.  Personally, I would have preferred a brighter orange, like a safety yellow or an umbra orange, but I’m not complaining. Cheesy as it may sound, I feel like I’ve got myself a small piece of history.


…and if you haven’t had your fill of orange, check out this, this, and also this.

Notes on Byline Field Notes

I’m a die-hard user of 3.5″ x 3.5″ pocket notebooks, especially those made by the ever-creative people at Field Notes. In fact, I subscribe to their Quarterly Edition notebooks just so I can get their latest designs as soon as possible. And though I’m usually excited when I get a new set of pocket notebooks in the mail, when Field Notes announced the new Byline edition earlier this summer, my enthusiasm wasn’t as immediate.


Instead of the standard pocket size, which I’m used to, Byline is a 4.75″ x 7.5″ reporter-style notebook. It flips open vertically and uses wire binding. After ripping open the shrink wrap and looking it over, it’s likely that most Field Notes subscribers like me were forced to ask themselves, “what the heck am I going to use this for?”

Putting that question aside for a moment, I think it’s obvious that the people at Field Notes put a lot of thought into this product. According to their website, they are frequently asked for a reporter-style notebook, but they didn’t commit to producing one until the request came from the host of CBS’ Face the Nation, John Dickerson, who also offered to lend a hand in the project.

Together they came up with this 70-page, wrought iron (gray) book. It has durable, 120# cover stock, and it contains 70#, college-ruled inner paper. The pages are double-sided, and they are wire-bound with precision for easy flipping. The inside of the front and back covers are loaded with information, much of it more interesting than useful, such as an explanation of why the news media is sometimes called “The Fourth Estate.” The back cover also has a little pocket that comes with a promotional chapter from John Dickerson’s latest book printed on a cutesy mini-newspaper.


Where the traditional Field Notes pocket notebook is great for keeping lists or taking down shorter bits of information, the Byline edition is much better when longer notes are required. The obvious application is for in-the-field interviews, as Byline slips nicely into a jacket’s vest pocket, but I found that it works great for things like writing out book references or keeping notes for movie reviews. I tested out that latter use case, taking notes for brief movie reviews (which I’ve published on Rotten Tomatoes).

Still, I don’t currently have much use for this format, though I can’t deny that it’s a good notebook. Many others will certainly love the classic aesthetic of the Byline edition, and Field Notes has produced a limited number of 2-packs, so they may sell out sooner rather than later. So if you think you’ll find it useful, it might be a good idea to order soon. But, sadly, the amazing Byline sticker that came with my subscription cannot be purchased separately.


Additional Notes


Review: TUL Retractable, Gel Ink, 0.5mm


If you find yourself doing some back-to-school shopping at Office Depot, OfficeMax, or any subsidiary thereof, then you’ll probably spot some of the company’s TUL brand of pens. There’s actually a whole TUL family, which includes ballpoints, rollerballs, and mechanical pencils. But, of course, I was drawn to the TUL retractable gel pen – it has a needle point, a 0.5mm tip, and is exactly the sort of pen I typically like for daily use.

The look of the pen is right on. The black and gray fade on the barrel looks pretty cool, and the TUL logo right in the middle is simple and bold. I even like the demonstrator-ish look of the knock and the plastic, black accent on the clip. Although, in hand it feels a little cheaper than it looks. The aforementioned clip seems a bit flimsy, and the rubber grip could use a little extra cushion.


In terms of performance, the TUL retractable is good but not great. Its gel ink is dark and smooth with minimal smearing, though I had some issue with ink flow consistency. It sometimes fluctuated between finer and heavier lines, but this happened to only be an occasional problem.

Overall, it doesn’t fall on the top of the “retractable gel pen” heap alongside my favorites (e.g. the Energel Deluxe RTX and the uni-ball Signo 207), but I do like it nonetheless  If these go on sale after the back-to-school shopping season, then I might just have to pick up a couple more packs.


Extra Links

Review: BIC Bu3 Grip, Ballpoint Ink, 1.0mm


In most aspects the BIC Bu3 Grip is a standard, if not slightly-below-average, ballpoint pen. The ink flow is on the sluggish side, it has a tendency to skip in and out while writing, and there’s more ink blobbing and smearing than one should expect from a $1 pen. On these points alone, I’d hesitate to recommend this pen to anyone, but there’s a little button on the side of the BU3 that pushes it into the “I’d never want to pick this pen up ever again” category.


The button, located near the clip, acts as a retracting mechanism. The tip still ejects by clicking a knock at the top of the pen, like you’d typically expect, but you can only retract the pen’s tip by pushing the button. Why? The Bu3’s packaging states that it’s “for added convenience,” but it really isn’t convenient at all. I’ve seen similar retracting mechanisms that actually do serve some purpose – the Pilot Down Force comes to mind – but the Bu3’s retracting mechanism is, at best, mildly annoying.

Really, I’m having trouble finding good things to say about this pen. The grip is somewhat comfortable, I guess, but that’s hardly redeemable. So, unless you have no other options, my suggestion is to just avoid the BIC Bu3 Grip.

Retro Talk: The Tiger Shark


The Flying Tigers – officially called the 1st American Volunteer Group – were a band of Air Force squadrons sent to defend China against Japanese attacks during Word War II. They were successful and popular in their time, but they are probably best remembered for the creative paint jobs they gave to their P-40 Warhawk fighter planes. So, in August 2015, 70 years after the end of WWII, Retro 51 announced a Tornado pen in tribute to the Flying Tigers.

The Flying Tiger Tornado turned out to be a very successful product: 500 pens were made, and they sold out fast. I missed out, unfortunately – I hadn’t gotten my first Retro 51 Tornado until a couple weeks after the Flying Tiger was released, so it was long gone by the time I caught wind of it. To my delight, the design was so popular that Retro 51 decided to release two more versions of the pen earlier this year, the Tiger Shark (the one I have, pictured above) and the Fortress (pictured below).


All three pens feature a design printed on a lacquer wrap with acid-etching for detail. The acid-etching is especially cool, as it adds texture to the rivets and grooves in the paneling. To give the pen a grittier look, the metal of the nosecone, clip, and twist have been artificially weathered. All three pens look great, but I especially like the camouflage on the Tiger Shark. The “Dear Becky” insignia on the Fortress design is also pretty great, but it lacks the iconic set of shark teeth at the pen’s tip.

This has got to be one of my favorite Retro 51 Tornado pens. Like the Albert Tornado, the pen has a great design along with an interesting history. Both the Fortress and the Tiger Shark are also easy to get a hold of – unlike the Flying Tiger, the Fortress and Tiger Shark aren’t being sold in limited quantities. However, they both still have a production number stamped near the twist. I’m not sure I understand the reason for this, but if you have a higher number than mine (#180), then I think you should owe me a drink.


On a side note, Vanness threw in a blue Retro 51 refill with my order. I don’t usually use blue ink, but I decided to throw it in the Tiger Shark anyway. To my surprise, I’m actually liking it. It’s smooth and has a nice, deep hue …though I suppose a green ink might make more sense with this pen.

Update 8/29/16: Retro 51 pointed out on their Twitter account that the Fortress Tornado is actually based on the designs painted on B-17 Bombers (also known as a Flying Fortress).