Notes on Utility Field Notes

I’ve always thought of pocket-sized notebooks, especially Field Notes, as a utility product. They’re meant to be carried around to jot down small notes or ideas, and they are durable enough to take a bit of abuse. But now, with their 34th Quarterly Edition, Field Notes has formally made a Utility themed notebook. It has a black and safety-yellow color scheme, extra-thick cover stock, and even a pop-out ruler to make it just a little bit more useful.

With this Utility edition, I was especially happy to see that two options available for the ruling of the inner paper: engineer graph and ledger. Graph is my go-to ruling and a pretty standard options with Field Notes, and the engineer graph essentially just adds fatter lines at intervals. The ledger ruling is used less often, but it’s a favorite of mine. It’s a ruling that is meant for bookkeepers but works really well for anybody who makes a lot of lists.

img_6996

Overall, it’s bright, durable, and a great edition, but Field Notes did have a couple of quality problems along the way. First, there was some complaints online that the corners of these notebooks were arriving frayed. My notebooks definitely had this issue, but it was to a minor degree. Some other people’s notebooks were a little worse off, but I can’t say I’m bothered by it. My notebooks tend to get abused anyway, so I consider this to be – at worst – a quality hiccup.

Second, the “After Hours Utility Tool” – a key chain/bottle-opener that was given to Field Notes subscribers – is just cheaply made. The front logo decal popped off after some light use, revealing a big “CHINA” inscription. That’s not a good look for a company that prides itself on manufacturing in the U.S.A. Beyond even that, it’s still a pretty crummy bottle opener. However, it’s just a little extra goody, so I’m certainly not overly upset about it.

In fact, I’m more than willing to put these issues aside. I like these notebooks. The Utility theme is neat, the books are extra-durable (with 80# cover stock and 70# inner paper), and I love the ledger ruling. I tend to give a lot of my Field Notes notebooks away, but I’m definitely going to make sure I have a couple of these saved for myself.

img_6998

Additional Notes

  • Of the 30 “Practical Applications” listed in the notebooks’ inside-back cover, my favorites are the following: “02. Union Dues Owed;” “15. Good Caulk Jokes;” and “16. Riveting Stories.”
  • The only other Field Notes I’ve used with a ledger ruling was the Ambition Edition. Those, unfortunately, have become pretty difficult to find.
  • Concerning the pop-out ruler, it’s one of those “oh – cool!” features that quickly turned into a “but why?” for me. But I never use the ruler that’s usually printed in the back of Field Notes notebooks. Does anybody?
  • Check out more Utility Field Notes reviews at The Well Appointed Desk, Fountain Pen Follies, and Office Supply Geek.

Review: Skilcraft U.S. Government, Ballpoint, Medium Point

img_6963

The Skilcraft U.S. Government pen, like the Fisher Space Pen or the Parker 51, is a classic pen with a storied history. Created decades ago by the National Industries for the Blind, this pen was made to comply with a 16-page government document that mandates the specifications for ballpoint pens to be used by federal employees. For example, in order to comply with these specs, these pens must perform between -40°F up to 160°F. The ink cartridges have to write for at least 5,000 feet, and they can averaging no more than 15 ink blobs per 1,000 feet of writing. The average ballpoint wouldn’t be up to the task.

img_6964

At it’s core, however, the Skilcraft U.S. Government pen is a basic, retractable ballpoint pen, albeit one that has a professional, yet frugal quality to it. In my experience, it writes reliably with little smearing. It’s a light pen, though it still feels fairly durable, and the retracting mechanism provides a satisfyingly chunky ‘click.’ The clip is on the tight side, and it’s neither the smoothest nor is it the fanciest ballpoints around.

But, overall, I like it. Maybe the main reason I like it so much is that it’s so easy to imagine a cupful of these ballpoints atop an FBI agent’s desk. So, if I had to order pens in bulk for the government (or even for an office or a restaurant), I’d probably go with these by Skilcraft. It’s a retractable ballpoint that works well and looks nice.

img_6962

Extra Links

  • If you’re interested in more history about the Skilcraft U.S. Goverment pen, The Washington Post has this good article. Apparently, Skilcraft used to produce 21 million of these pens per year (about 30 years ago).
  • Here’s a review from No Pen Intended. It points out that this pen, mainly due to its smaller-than-average size, wouldn’t be great for marathon note-taking sessions. If find this to be true of most ballpoints, as they are not as smooth as gel or rollerball pens.
  • There’s a lot more info about Skilcraft and this pen on the Tiger Pens blog. Apparently the length of this pen equals 150 nautical miles on a Navy map. I’m sure that comes in useful from time to time.

Nib Novice, Part 9: Pen Cleaning & Retro 51

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


img_6938

It’s probably an understatement to say that I have a fondness for the Retro 51 Tornado. Not only do I have an embarrassingly large collection myself, I’ve also given away many of them as gifts, hoping that others will appreciate the pen as I do. Of course I’ve been aware for a while that Retro 51 offers a fountain pen version of the Tornado. I even ordered one a few months ago, but it has been sitting, unopened, on my desk. Before cracking the packaging open, I promised myself that I’d do something I’ve been putting off: fountain pen cleaning.

While I like the fountain pen collection I’ve built up over the course of writing this blog series, the simple fact is that I just don’t consistently use all of them. For example, my Parker 51 is great, but I feel guilty letting ink just sit inside a vintage pen. And I think it’s neat to have that counterfeit Lamy Safari in my collection, but I’m never going to actually use that piece of junk ever again.

img_6916

The good news is that Goulet Pens has a wonderful guide to pen cleaning. The bad news is that it is tedious as hell. The procedure goes like this: fill a cup with room temperature water in a sink, then pull the water into your pen (via whatever filling system the pen happens to have), then flush the water back out. Keep doing this over and over, replacing the water every once in a while, until the water being flushed out of the pen comes clean. Wiping the nib down with a paper towel after a few flushes can speed the process up, but the whole thing still feels endless.

The Parker 51, with its aerometric filling system, was pretty easy to clean. The counterfeit Lamy, on the other hand, required quite a lot of clockwise and counterclockwise twisting of the cartridge-converter. I have a couple more pens that I should probably clean, but, in all honesty, I currently lack the patience. So while letting the pens dry out overnight, I decided it was time to finally break out the Retro 51 Tornado Fountain Pen.

img_6929

In typical Retro 51 fashion, the Tornado fountain pen is available in a bunch of styles. My choice was The Lincoln,  a vintage-looking pen with a shiny, copper-colored coating. It’s got some weight to it, and it feels like a substantial pen. It uses a medium Schmidt nib and comes with both a cartridge-converter and a generic ink-filled cartridge.

Initially, I was going to use the cartridge converter, and I even started filling the pen with some bottled ink. Then I remembered all the tedious cleaning I’d just finished, so I did an on-the-fly switch to the pre-filled cartridge. That probably wasn’t my best idea, as it caused a bit of a mess.

After using the Tornado fountain pen for a few days, I’m sad to say that I grew a little tired of it. I had some trouble with ink flow, particularly whenever I’d set the pen down for a few hours. But mostly, it worked just fine. I guess this one just didn’t blow me away in the same way that the TWSBI Eco did. It’s almost as if this Tornado fountain pen is one I’d rather look at than use – or maybe I’d rather just buy the rollberball version of the Lincoln instead.

As someone who collects Retro 51 Tornado pens, that’s fine. I’m glad I have this pen. However, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to anyone else. Hopefully my next fountain pen pen – the final one I’ll be purchasing for this series – will leave more of an impression.

img_6939

Review: Linc Glycer, Ballpoint, Fine

img_6908

I don’t recall where I found the Linc Glycer (and I have absolutely no idea what the name Glycer means), but it’s a pen that’s remarkably similar to the Pentel R.S.V.P., only a bit smaller (or, rather, more average-sized). The Glycer is a fine-tipped ballpoint and writes cleanly with little smudging, smearing, or ink-blobbing to speak of. It has a small rubbery grip area that does little, yet is still fairly comfortable to write with.

img_6910

Besides a somewhat rinkydink clip, it’s a decent ballpoint pen. My only big complaint is that the Glycer purports to be a “super smooth ball pen,” but that just isn’t true. Its smoothness is average, at best, and it comes nowhere close to the smoothness of a hybrid ballpoint like the Pilot Acroball or a pressurized ballpoint like the Fisher Space Pen. Not that I’d expect a standard ballpoint to be able to compete with those pens, but when “super smooth” is the set expectation, it just ends up feeling more sluggish by comparison.

Anyone that would rather opt for a much cheaper ballpoint (like the BIC Round Stic, for example) instead of the Glycer won’t be missing much. Though, as a fine-tipped ballpoint that works well, nobody would be too disappointed by the Glycer either. In other words, it’s a relatively good pen, but it wouldn’t be worth expending any effort to obtain one.

img_6907

Notes on Red Blooded Field Notes

img_6165

As far as I can tell, Red Blooded Field Notes were made for two reasons. First, so that a Field Notes designer could make a really adorable/cheesy/cute video for his wife on Valentine’s Day. And, second, because the Fall 2011 quarterly edition, Fire Spotter, was so well received that Field Notes wanted to have a similar edition with an open-ended production run (unlike Fire Spotter, which Field Notes limited to 4,000 3-packs).

The all-red cover, including the subtly-embossed logo, looks pretty good, so it’s not a shock that Red Blooded went through a total of three printings before it was discontinued in 2013.  I bought this pack a couple of years ago when they could be found through re-sellers, who were still hawking them for a reasonable price. But these days you’ll have to go through eBay to get them, and a 3-pack often runs $40 or $50.

That amount of money definitely isn’t worth it. Compared to recent editions like Lunacy or Black Ice, Red Blooded is fairly basic. It’s the standard pocket size with 48-pages of 50# white paper and a gray, grid ruling. You might think the books would be bound with red staples – that would make sense – but run-of-the-mill silver ones are used instead.

That’s not meant to knock the good people over at Field Notes HQ. A red edition was obviously a good idea, but I’d recommend holding onto that wallet for now. You never know – a fourth printing is still a possibility. And if it comes, hopefully it’ll have red staples.

img_6879

Additional Notes

  • Of the 30 “Practical Applications” listed in the notebooks’ inside-back cover, my favorites are the following: “03. Lists of Suspected Communists”; “16. Loves Me/Loves Me Not Stats”; and “30. Tape to Cut Through.”
  • According to Jinnie at Three Staples, this edition shipped out with a red “Field Notes Loves You” pencil. Blarg! I wish I had gotten one of those.
  • What about the edition size? Exactly how many Red Blooded Field Notes were made? Nobody knows!