This is the third in a short series about pens, pencils, writing paper and ink.
In this episode I look at two Chinese fountain pens, a mechanical pencil, a gel pen, some inks and some paper.
A few years ago I was tempted by the Jinhao range of pens from China. These are (to my mind) quite good-looking pens, usually quite solidly made with an attractive finish, which are quite low-priced.
I bought two: the Jinhao X450 (eBay in 2013, £5.28) and the Jinhao 500 (eBay in 2016, $8.99 USD). I think the 500 has been discontinued, but the X450 is available from many pen sellers.
Picture: The Jinhao X450 and 500 with their caps on
Picture: The Jinhao X450 with its cap off
Picture: The Jinhao X450 nib close-up
Picture: The Jinhao X450 disassembled
Picture: The Jinhao X450 writing sample
Picture: The Jinhao 500 with its cap off
Picture: The Jinhao 500 nib close-up
Picture: The Jinhao 500 disassembled
Picture: The Jinhao 500 writing sample
Both are heavy pens which feel as if the barrel and cap are made of metal. Both have a colourful finish which is described as celluloid in some sources and have gold-like embellishments (slightly tacky for my tastes, but acceptable). The caps on both are push-fit, though they seem quite secure.
The cap on the X450 cannot be posted easily. It falls off unless pushed very securely onto the end of the barrel. It’s heavy and feels uncomfortable to me.
The 500 cap can be posted but the balance seems wrong as far as I am concerned, so I tend not use it that way.
Both pens use converters which were included. I have not tried either of them with cartridges, but I believe they take the international standard size.
Both write smoothly and quite pleasantly, though the X450 nib seems very large! The X450 has a shaped grip with indentations which seem to be there to guide you to hold the pen properly (similar to the LAMY range discussed in an earlier show). The 500 has no such shaping of the grip, which I prefer. Both pens have steel nibs of a medium size. Both feel like they would be called fine on a European pen.
These pens suffer from drying out when left unused for a time, even with the cap on. The impression I get is that the caps do not seal very well. This makes me avoid using them, and makes me reluctant to carry them about with ink in them for fear of leakage.
As I was writing this section I was going to say that I would not recommend either of these pens. However, I inked up the 500 and used it for a few days and I have to say I came to enjoy it more than I did when I first bought it. I even used it posted for a while and gradually got more used to the weight of it being more towards the back of the pen. The nib is smooth and ink flow is good (so long as it hasn’t had time to dry out significantly).
I keep a journal (or Commonplace Book) for thoughts, observations and general jottings, as well as for my writing practice to ensure I use a fountain pen regularly. The Jinhao 500 was good to use for this purpose.
The X450 had been left with ink in it, and had dried out, which you can see if you look at the pictures very closely. I cleaned it out and re-inked it. I have written with it a little, but my overall conclusion is that this is not my favourite pen. It’s too big, and the nib is not fine enough. I will continue using it for a while to see if my opinion changes.
So, to conclude, if you have a hankering for a chunky old-fashioned fountain pen at a very reasonable price I wouldn’t dissuade you from buying either of these. Don’t leave them for more than a few days with ink in though!
I have a number of these, which I use regularly for jottings, making lists, etc. I do a little wood working from time to time though I tend to use a traditional pencil when marking wood for cutting and similar. The mechanical pencils are used mainly for writing and sketching. I am concentrating on my latest purchase here.
Pentel Graph Gear 1000
This is a very robust mechanical pencil made of metal with a knurled grip area which has translucent rubber inserts to stop it sliding through your fingers. It’s quite heavy so might not be to all tastes.
Picture: The Pentel Graph Gear 1000 - ready to write
Pressing the button on the top causes the lead and a surrounding sleeve to extend. Pressing the top part of the pocket clip or just clipping the pencil in a shirt or jacket pocket makes the lead and sleeve retract.
Picture: The Pentel Graph Gear 1000 - retracted
As with most mechanical pencils, removing the cap reveals an eraser. Removing that allows more 0.5mm leads to be added.
Picture: The Pentel Graph Gear 1000 - cap removed
The pencil is very popular with engineers and woodworkers since it is strong enough to survive use in a workshop quite well.
Personally, I’m not keen to use such a pencil in the woodworking context at the moment because I feel I’d ruin it. Once I have a better workshop I may think again.
I bought a set of three of these pencils from Amazon for £19.99 in February 2020. I have kept one for myself and have passed the other two to my children.
There are other sizes of this pencil available as well as the 0.5mm I bought: 0.3 mm, 0.4 mm, 0.7 mm, and 0.9 mm. The size is marked on the barrel and colour coded in the writing on the pencil, the grip, and other places.
There is a rotatable indicator on the pencil barrel which can be set to show the type of lead being used. I use HB lead for mine, but other options are available.
Picture: The Pentel Graph Gear 1000 - using HB leads
I was slightly put off by the weight of this pencil to begin with, but after a few weeks of use I have grown to like it very much.
One minor downside as far as I am concerned is the lack of a thing to clean out the section where the lead protrudes for writing. Mechanical pencils I have owned in the past have had a very fine (0.5mm presumably) piece of metal inserted into the base of the eraser. This can be used to clean out the lead channel should there be problems.
I actually dropped my pencil on a concrete floor straight onto the protruding lead. It didn’t damage the pencil but the lead was shattered and plugged up this channel. I didn’t have anything fine enough to clear out the pieces - a process that can take a bit of work and the ability to apply pressure. A bit of fuse wire would have done the job but my house has circuit breakers! I got there in the end and the pencil works fine again.
Zebra Sarasa Clip
When I’m not using a fountain pen or a mechanical pencil I’m likely to write with a gel pen.
Picture: The Zebra Sarasa Clip
In late 2019 I bought one of these Zebra pens, after having heard them recommended. The one I have is black with a 0.5mm tip. The point is retractable and there is a strong spring-loaded clip that holds fast to a pocket or to stationery. There are many other colours available.
Picture: The Zebra Sarasa Clip - showing the rubber grip and 0.5mm tip
It’s a comfortable pen to use. It has a rubber grip and is quite chunky; suitable for larger hands. The water-based gel ink dries quickly and is moderately water resistant.
You might be able to see from the ink level that I have used up about half of the original quantity, so It’s certainly a pen I turn to a fair bit. A slight downside, though not a surprising one, is that there are no refills. The pen needs to be replaced when empty.
All of the inks I own are of the simpler type – coloured and water soluble.
The fountain pen (and dip pen) ink ranges include inks with tiny particles in them to make the result shimmer, inks with scents, and permanent inks. I have not yet found the need to use any of these!
J. Herbin Bleu Pervenche (Periwinkle Blue) ink
J. Herbin is a French company that produces pens, ink, sealing wax and other stationery supplies. It is an old company; see the website for some historical information about it.
Picture: J. Herbin Bleu Pervenche ink (box)
My favourite ink is the Bleu Pervenche (Periwinkle Blue), though I also have some brown cartridges called Terre de feu (Tierra Del Fuego or Land of Fire).
There are many inks to choose from, including some with glitter in them and others which are scented.
Diamine Inks have been producing inks since 1864, and are based in Liverpool in the UK. They sell fountain pen ink in cartridges as well as in 30ml, 40ml, 50ml and 80ml bottles.
Picture: Diamine Inks 30ml and 80ml
Since the 80ml bottles are moderately expensive (though they last quite a long time for me), I often buy the 30ml bottles to test out the colours. Then if I really like them I’ll buy a larger bottle.
In case you are interested, in the 30ml range I have:
- Ancient Copper
- Apple Glory
- Autumn Oak
- China Blue
- Chocolate Brown
- Eau de Nil
- Tyrian Purple
- Ultra Green
In the 80ml range I have:
- ASA Blue
- Onyx Black
- Sherwood Green
You can see demonstrations of these colours on the Diamine website.
Paper for fountain pens
I already mentioned Rhodia paper in the last show of this group.
There are other brands that make a point of stating that their paper products are fountain pen friendly.
Clairefontaine is a French company with its main site at Etival-Clairefontaine, located 90km from Strasbourg, along the Meurthe river. The Clairefontaine mill has been making paper since 1858 and other stationery products since 1890.
Currently I have one Clairefontaine notebook, with the strange name Age Bag. It’s A4 size, contains ruled paper simply stapled into a card cover which has a leather-like pattern on it. I bought it to try it out. The paper is great for ink and the notebook opens flat – an important consideration in my case.
Picture: Clairefontaine notebook detail
Oxford Black n’ Red Casebound Notebook
I bought a number of these from Amazon when the price was £5 each several years ago. They are A4 size and have 192 ruled pages. The paper used is white 90 gsm Optik, and there is a hard cover with a sewn-in spine and a ribbon marker.
The paper in these notebooks is excellent for fountain pens in my experience. The only downside as far as I am concerned is that there is only one type of line spacing, and it is rather wide for my writing.
I was going to add a photograph of these notebooks, but a recent spate of tidying seems to have made them temporarily unavailable!
Oxford Campus Refill Pad
When my children were at school I used to look out for these prior to the start of the school year when they were cheap and plentiful in the supermarkets. I amassed a stock of them – somewhat more than were needed! I use these with my fountain pens since they also have 90 gsm Optik paper which is very friendly to this type of pen.
These pads are also wide ruled, which is a slight disadvantage, in my opinion.
Picture: Oxford and Clairefontaine Stationery
I don’t have a great deal more to talk about on this subject at the moment. If I think of any other topics or find any more pens, pencils and inks I think might be of interest I will do another show.
If you are at all interested in the subject and have your own collection of stationery items please do a show about them!
- Mechanical Pencil: