Tale of a Vandal Pen User: Two Pilots

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If you want to stay away from fountain pen acquisitions, it helps to not talk to people about pens, read fountain pen forum posts, blogs, or listen to pen chatter. If I were not in command of my own self-discipline, I would blame my friend Thomas—aka @trhall aka the Pilot Enabler—that I now have two Pilot pens in my tiny hoard. Thomas was the kind soul who sent me the Pack of Pilots to examine in the Fall of 2011.

Pilot Vanishing Point Obsessions
The specter of the Vanishing Point’s delicious nib would not leave me alone. In March 2012, Pilot released some new colors for the VP’s sister, the Pilot Decimo (light blue, violet, black, and red). The new violet color was exactly what I was wishing for in a Decimo. When your wish comes true, well, have at it. Now the hoard includes a violet Pilot Decimo with an F nib. The Decimo is not for sale in the USA. Instead, Americans have to obtain it from a Japanese pen seller or via eBay. The Decimo uses the same nib as the Vanishing Point.

Pilot Decimo in Violet

With its cool capless design, the Vanishing Point weighs around 31grams. Too heavy for moi. The Decimo weighs 21grams inked, and is approximately 5 1/2″ in length. When the nib is unsheathed, the pen is still about 5 1/2″ in length. A cartridge/converter (c/c) pen, it takes a CON20 (.7 or .8ml) or CON50 (.5 or .6ml) converter. The coveted CON-70 (1ml) does not fit the VP or the Decimo. I have not used the proprietary Pilot ink cartridges which provide .9ml of ink. (Some people even refill their cartridges, an appealing idea, yet at some point those carts still have to be thrown away. I prefer to use the converter for its longevity.) In fact, I’m using the lower capacity Con-50 converter which, believe it or not for the capacity maven that I am, suits me just fine in this particular pen configuration.

The Decimo is a very pleasing note-taking pen. I’ve enjoyed clipping the pen to the V or collar of my shirt. The Decimo often accompanies me this way on errands or during a fitness workout. The clicking noise to release the nib is way too loud for me to use this pen in the dark of a performance hall or movie theater. New to the hoard, and it’s hard to know if the Decimo will stay or be re-homed. In the meantime, we are having a fun dalliance, the Decimo and I.

FYI: When buying capless fountain pens off of eBay, be sure you understand whether you are getting a steel or an 18K nib. In the USA, the Vanishing Point comes standard with an 18K nib. In Japan, steel nibs are also offered in F and M. The Decimo pens are available in EF, F, M and B nibs. (In the USA the Vanishing Point EF nib is also available.) Bruno/Crónicas Estilográficas (also, as I’ve updated based on his comments below) informs us there is also an FM 18K nib available for the capless pens in Japan. Thank you, Bruno—it helps having a reader living in Japan!

An Afterthought added 5/3/12: The Capless nibs are among the smoothest nibs I’ve used. The F, however, even in these nibs will not be as smooth as an M or a B, especially if you don’t write with a light touch. This rule of, uh, point holds true with many F, EF Japanese nibs. And so, as always, a point that is smooth to me, you may be disappointed in because you hold and write differently with any given pen. Here’s a good use of the word “never:”  Never, ever take someone’s word for how good a pen is. You can only know when you try a pen out yourself! The best we can do, when unable to go to pen shows or retail outlets, is to take the preponderance of anecdotal stories, and then try to figure out who may have similar pen tastes to our own.

The PiloTWSBI
From the Pack of Pilots examination, one of the nibs that lingered in my memory was a Pilot SF (soft fine) nib in a Custom Heritage 91. I pondered what I could do with the SF nib: put it in an ED’able Heritage 91 (some exist without metal sections), put it in a Blue Custom 74, or put it in a piston-filling Heritage 92. As you can tell, actually using the Custom Heritage 91 itself did not enter serious consideration.

The piston-filling Custom Heritage 92 holds 1.2ml of ink. The pen appears limited to being purchased with fine, fine-medium, medium or broad nibs. However any Pilot #5 nib could be swapped into the 92, right? The problem (remember to think “problem” as in fun to ponder and not a real life problem) with the Heritage 92 was it came as in only a clear acrylic. I wanted one in blue like that darn Custom 74 demonstrator blue.

TWSBI Diamond 540 in the box

As luck would have it, TWSBI released the Diamond 540 in a transparent richer, deeper blue than the Pilot Heritage 92’s version. Both Bruno over at Crónicas Estilográficas and my pal Thomas had successfully fitted #5 Pilot nibs on TWSBIs (the Diamond 530 and 540 ROC100, respectively). I thought a blue TWSBI might make a fine home for the Pilot SF nib, too, and acquired a TWSBI Diamond 540 in “sapphire.”

As pen people often discover following pen purchases, the very next week Pilot released the piston-filling Custom Heritage 92 in blue, amber, and “smoke” demonstrator colors. What would have happened had these two releases from Pilot and TWSBI had coincided on the same week? There’s no way I can answer that. I don’t know! I can only live in the here and now, eh?

And so, for the moment, a blue TWSBI Diamond 540 has taken residence in the pen hoard. Installed with a Pilot nib, we call it the PiloTWSBI. What I like about this pen beyond the wonderful nib: the deep blue color of the acrylic, the faceted pen barrel (it won’t roll off the table when uncapped), and the 2ml ink capacity.

A TWSBI Diamond 540 is about 5 5/8″ in length when capped. Uncapped, the pen is 5 1/8″ long, nib to barrel end. Inked up, the 540 is approximately 29g in weight. While the pen is very cap heavy (mine weighs 14g), without its cap the 540 is similar in size and weight (15g) to my Edison Huron and (small version) Danitrio Cumlaude, two of my favorite core writing pens.

A lot of other people have already written about TWSBI fountain pens, and I won’t re-cover all that material—instead I encourage you to explore some of the links listed below. In brief: TWSBI fountain pens are made by a Taiwan based company that has used the Fountain Pen Network as its development and testing base for their pens. The development of TWSBI pens has been rapid. Or so it has seemed from the outside watching TWSBI happen. When pen issues develop (leaking, creaking, whatnot), TWSBI has been generous in replacing and upgrading pen parts for TWSBI pen owners. Remember they (TWSBI) are still actively developing and adjusting the design as they learn more about the design quality of their pens. And so, I bought the Diamond 540 knowing (1) it may have a problem, and (2) TWSBI would mostly likely fix the problem.

Taking TWSBI apart to get at the piston

My pen arrived with such a stiff piston, that when I took it apart to apply silicon grease the piston head detached from the piston rod. Now, a feature of the TWSBI Diamond series is that the entire pen can be taken apart by the average pen user, and put back together. This feature (1) makes it easier for compulsive demonstrator pen cleaners to ferret out ink from every nook and cranny, and (2) more importantly, makes the pen more easily servicable/fixable by the owner. TWSBI even supplies a piston wrench, along with a bottle of silicon grease.

Still, I don’t want to take my pen apart unless I really have to, and it did annoy me to have to do so after one day of use. I contacted TWSBI customer service to ask about how to get the piston head out of the pen. I got a quick helpful reply, and got the piston fully dismantled, greased up and put back together. This piston operates normally now. Hopefully it will continue to.

The solution to the stuck piston head, you ask? It’s the same as what happens with a vintage Pelikan, should the head become separated: push it via the nib end of the barrel with a thin object. (Yeah, have had that happen with a vintage Pelikan, and that was my expert’s solution then, too.) The head was quite stuck, and took a bit of force.

TWSBI provides a tiny bottle of silicon grease that is unlike the kind I normally use. My grease is a gel. The TWSBI grease is liquid. I could not get the liquid out of the bottle onto the piston head, and so I used my own silicon grease supply. As stated already, the piston now moves easily.

The color Diamond 540 pens are fitted with Bock steel nibs imprinted with a TWSBI logo, and a TWSBI-made feed. I ordered an EF to see what the out of the box quality of such a nib would be like. It’s a perfectly serviceable, smooth western/european nib. Hard as a nail without the crispness of my Sailor EF or Pilot SF nibs. (Note: not a fair comparison, of course.) For someone merely wanting a smooth nib that will (most likely) write without tweaking, the standard steel TWSBI nib is as good as many others.

Remember that the only reason I bought the pen was knowing I could replace the steel nib with something more suitable to my personal tastes. I would not have bought this pen otherwise. No matter how serviceable and well-made it was/is. While I’ve tried very hard to love the standard steel nibs of the world, honestly I find them too boring to encourage their proliferation in the tiny pen hoard. (Currently there are three steel nibs: a good Levenger F nib, a wonderful Edison Mina 1.9mm italic nib, and a JoWo steel nib stubbed by Pendleton Brown for the Danitrio Cumlaude.)

Having taken the TWSBI EF for a spin, I replaced it with the Pilot SF nib. It is an excellent fit. So far so good, the pen writes perfectly. After a month of good use, having gone through a fill of Namiki Blue, followed by Noodler’s Black, the pen still writes wonderfully, without issue.

Levenger True Writer Tortoise

Aesthetically, the TWSBI 540 carries the same problem as the Edison Mina.The nib unit sticks out a wee bit, above the section. Yeah, this still bugs me. Levenger manages to make it’s version of the same size nib flush in the section of the True Writer fountain pen, and so I know I’m not crazy. Just picky.

My friend Thomas found his 14K Pilot #5 EF nib’s writing a little too wet in his Diamond 540 Smoke. He put a Pilot EF in a TWSBI Diamond ROC which has a different style feed from the Diamond 540. He seems to find that combination writes drier, and he likes that pen/nib combination an awful lot. I tried my TWSBI’s Pilot SF nib with both old and new style TWSBI feeds, and I didn’t see any significant difference.

People have tried with varying success to make what we call a frankenpen out of the TWSBI, using 14k nibs from other pen brands. (A frankenpen is any pen—not merely a TWSBI—assembled with parts from dfferent pens.) There is no guarantee your frankenpen will be as pleasing as mine. Remember, the “correct nib” is the one the pen came with, eh?

Left to right: TWSBI EF Steel nib, Pilot SF 14K nib

You will want to take into account the size and shape of the nib you are trying to fit with your TWSBI or whatever pen you are nib swapping into. The length of the TWSBI #5 nib is 19mm. The length of the #5 Pilot nib is 18mm. Your nib exchange must work with the TWSBI’s own feed, because it’s likely your original feed will not fit the TWSBI’s nib housing. Be aware, the feeds among TWSBIs are not necessarily the same (530 feed is different than the 540 feed). The nib also must have enough clearance in the cap so that you don’t damage the nib when you close it up. A nib that is too long or wide may not only cause stress on the section making it crack over time, it will probably not clear the top of the cap. That is, the top of the cap might hit the top of the nib when you screw the cap on. Of course, the ink must flow properly with no starts, stops, skips or burps. Some nibs will look like they should work. Yet they won’t work (for reasons I’m not educated enough to explain).

Bruno at Crónicas Estilográficas has fitted not only a Pilot nib on a Diamond 530, he’s also fitted a small Sailor nib. Leigh Reyes has fitted a vintage Eversharp Skyline nib on her TWSBI Diamond pen. As so many of us like to point out: YMMV.

The TWSBI pen was relatively inexpensive ($61 shipped to me) for its piston filling design. The Pilot #5 nib cost a little more than the TWSBI. My frankenpen’s total cost was less than a Pilot Heritage 92 off of eBay. (Like the Pilot Decimo, the piston Heritage 92 is not available in the USA.)

The PiloTWSBI just might sit in my personal category of “core writing pen.” The Decimo, too, is fun―yet I already have a great note taking pen in the Sailor Realo. Both these pens were paid for with the sale of previous pens in the hoard. That’s a kind of recycling, ain’t it?

Currently at 11 pens, I would still like to reach my goal of a 9-pen hoard. (Sometimes, honestly, I even see clear to 6 pens!) While I truly like both the PiloTWSBI and the Pilot Decimo, the question remains—do I like these pens more than any other pen I already have? The nibs are the key elements with these two pens. I’m unsure, despite their wonderful Japanese nibs, if they’ll make the final cut for the collection. Time will tell, eh?

Only two years ago, my pen hoard hovered around 35-40 fountain pens. Finding the optimal number for the collection, and which exact pens to hold onto to use, has been both fun and daunting—in the good sense of “daunting.” After all, it is fountain pens we’re talking and writing about, not important things like peace or revolution.

Our tendency is to be interested in something that is growing in the garden, not in the bare soil itself. But if you want to have a good harvest, the most important thing is to make the soil rich and cultivate it well.—Shunryu Suzuki

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More Reading for the Curious:

Pilot Decimo

TWSBI

5 thoughts on “Tale of a Vandal Pen User: Two Pilots

  1. Thanks for the links, Peaceable Writer.

    Now, my comments:
    1. Up to my knowledge, the EF nib is only available on the Decimo. At least, in Japan.
    2. There exists an FM nib in 18 K gold.
    3. The Capless steel nibs are only available on F and M points.

    Cheers,

    BT (estilofilos.blogspot.com)

    • Julie

      Thank you, Bruno! I appreciate that info.

      I also neglected to mention that 18K nibs are found in both gold and rhodium-plated versions. At least as I’ve seen here in the USA for the Vanishing Point.

      Readers: if you want fascinating and good information on Japanese pens, BT’s blog is the best! Crónicas Estilográficas is at http://estilofilos.blogspot.com/ IMHO.

  2. trhall

    Too bad the colored Custom 92 came out after you made your purchase, but glad to hear you like the PiloTWSBI. I am in love with mine as well. I love the capacity and design on the TWSBI, but it isn’t anything without a good nib, and the Pilot EF nib is perfect on it for me (with the drier old-style feed). I’m happy we found this was possible via a mention on FPN that pointed to Bruno’s excellent article. It is one of my favorite pens, and a frankenpen at that!

    Thanks for letting me know about the new Decimo colors, in EF no less! It has replaced my VPs as my go-to note taking pen. I love how much lighter it is. I love the design of the Pilot Capless Fermo for the reason that it doesn’t make the “click” noise, as you twist the back to extend the nib. But it is much heavier.

    –The Pilot Enabler :)

    • Julie

      The PiloTWSBI is a great frankenpen!

      Wow: the Decimo has usurped your VP! I did consider the Fermo, too. Great pen design. The weight is a tad more than the VP: 33g.

      The Decimo is so light, I often forget it’s clipped to my shirt.

      Now we just have to move YOU into a nice urushi fountain pen. heh, heh, heh…

      • trhall

        I really do wish the Fermo was lighter. The quiet aspect is nice, but it really is more of a two-handed way to get the nib exposed, unlike the VP/Decimo. I _love_ the lighter Decimo! Thanks for your help in that regard.

        Urushi pens… A dangerous, slippery slope! I do think I’ll have one or two eventually. Not quite yet, but a Raden pen, at a minimum, is in my future.

        So happy that Bruno blazed the trail for us with the PiloTWSBI!

        Curious to see if either or both of these pens stay in your hoard, long-term. Looking forward to reading in the future to find out.

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