Titanium Retro Pencil by D Caston Design

There are people that design things for pure function and then there are others that make an art out of meshing unique (maybe even perceived as "odd") designs that also serve a purpose. Personally, I appreciate that marriage of interesting and utility.

A designer that does just this is Darriel K Caston. If you've been following the blog for awhile, you may remember a pen previously reviewed on The Clicky Post called the Rocket Oval Bolt Pen, designed by Darriel, which successfully funded on Kickstarter a few years ago.

I feel I'd be doing him a disservice if I didn't provide a little more background for Mr. Caston as he really is a well-known figure in the machining world, particular when it comes to higher-end, small pocket knives. He has been at the design game for 25+ years and has created several unique product designs that were ultimately picked up by larger brands like Boker and Spyderco to name a couple.

One thing I appreciate about Darriel's work is that he is ok with pushing some boundaries, but does so in a well thought out way. His designs usually carry a futuristic, spacey theme and could seriously be straight out of a sci-fi movie. But, rather than being mere props for a film, his products are meant to be used.

Today's product is extremely interesting, seemingly impractical (sort of...), and maybe even a little weird (Darriel's own words), but fantastic nonetheless.

He is calling it the Titanium Retro Pencil which, in essence, is a machined, mechanical sleeve to hold a small piece of a woodcased pencil, but with some style. Darriel was kind enough to send me his prototype of the Titanium Retro Pencil on loan to review. 

Pencil holders/extenders are not a new concept, but are designed to take your last stubs of pencils and keep their life going until they completely run out.

A similarly functional product might be something like a bullet pencil, but not quite as interesting. I do own and enjoy some bullet pencils, but they can be a bit awkward and unbalanced depending upon which material they are made out of.

The pencil holder has a long cylindrical shape like a pipe, a clip for pocket carry, and an internal slide mechanism that is loosened and tightened by a round knob on the side which extends/retracts the pencil.

From a utility standpoint, this really is such a clever design and unlike other pencil extenders I've seen. Others leave the pencil stub sticking out, but this allows it to be stowed away and carried without a chance of the tip breaking or stabbing something.

Speaking before of Darriel's design aesthetic, this pencil could easily fit into some sort of futuristic toolkit (although they might write with lasers or something...). It's highly mechanical looking style, tumbled, uniform metal finish... all of these things combine into a vibe that doesn't quite fit everyday life and I'd say this is a product that tends to transport you to somewhere else while using it.

In purpose alone, this machined beauty is built to hold a wooden pencil that would otherwise be unusable.

From a purely practical standpoint, I think there are a lot of people that will be lost on this product (or similar products) because it seems just too excessive. But, speaking to Darriel - I totally get you man.

A product like this is not designed to be practical, although it does serve a purpose (and really well). If the logic of the value of writing was tied to complete practicality, really ANY pen or pencil that doesn't simply do the job for as little cost as possible is by definition excessive. If practicality was such an issue, we'd be beating down the doors of the big name companies that take $20 worth of material and sell it as a $250 pen. (or they would be going out of business if people weren't buying them...)

All relative and subjective. We are writing utensil enthusiasts, are we not?

DSC02371 E.png

The clip is a blocky, rectangular shape with some curved edges that is fastened to the barrel with two torx screws. It is very stiff, yet works, but may be more of a prototype clip for design and overall look.

I could actually see a clipless version being really, really cool as well...

A crazy thought, it could be clipless and open on both ends allowing for two pencil stubs simultaneously if the internal pencil holder was double sided. The stubs would have to be pretty short to accomplish this though... I digress.

Compared to other more full-size writing instruments, the Retro Pencil is right on par and not overly large.

While writing I did find the end to be a bit top heavy (not uncomfortable), but it is likely due to the density of the clip. Overall it is quite light coming in at just over an ounce when loaded with a pencil stub.

Extending the tip takes a few seconds due to the unscrewing and screwing of the knob. The internal sleeve that holds the pencil is held tight and stationary due to the knob screw extending all the way through to the opposite (internal) side of the barrel and applying pressure.

I did find with the knob that it was occasionally a little tricky to get started being small and a little slick. If you tighten it down like crazy, getting it unscrewed might be tough. Although it would impact the overall look and feel of the pencil a little, an idea may be to add some knurling or grooves on the sides of the knob to make it a little easier to grip.

To add new pencil stubs, the current one is unscrewed from threads machined in the internal sleeve, and then a new stub can be screwed down in it's place. This one came loaded with a Blackwing 602 (great choice) and appeared to have the sides trimmed a little to get it inside. Since wooden pencils can vary in size and shape, some slight trimming with a knife may be required. This would not fit larger, oversized pencils unless trimmed down a bunch.

So, how would you get your hands on one of these? If these interest you, Darriel has them as part of a current Kickstarter campaign as one of his two Fidget Tools series. These aren't cheap coming in at a starting price of $150, but are in-line with D Caston Design's other product line.

Thanks again to Darriel for sending it for review!

Modern Fuel Minimal Mechanical Pencil 2.0 - Stainless Steel Review

A product that has been getting a bit of buzz lately is the newest iteration of the mechanical pencil by Modern Fuel, a design company run by Andrew Sanderson out of Texas.

Now, this is actually the second time Modern Fuel has made an appearance on The Clicky Post, the first being back in January of 2015 (has it been that long?!...) when Andrew released version 1.0 of his pencil. If time permits, I'd recommend reading the previous review to gain some context of what makes version 2.0 different or special.

When Andrew approached me a few weeks ago prior to his newest Kickstarter launch, I was actually really excited to see what he'd done. For many companies, they run a Kickstarter campaign that maybe does well, and then usually move onto a new model or product altogether.

Not Andrew...

What I'm most excited to discuss today is how he took the feedback from his first product (some of which was harsh) and worked at perfecting it for this release. It's almost as if he worked at the design from the ground up which is most impressive.

The pencil, by design is sleek and somewhat simple in overall appearance. It definitely encapsulates the term "minimal" as it has been named. The barrel is cylindrical in shape with the only taper at the tip. The tip and barrel are separate pieces, but intentionally machined and finished to represent as seamless a design as possible which I feel he accomplished splendidly. 

An odd thought; most mechanical pencils follow a somewhat "stick-like" style. There are the exceptions, but compared to pens, mechanical pencils seem to follow design cues more from their wooden predecessors than your average pen. From disposable to even high-end pens, they tend to have some form to them in either the grip section or barrel. Not a lot to do with the overall review, but an observation I made while writing...

The pencil is being offered in four materials: copper, bronze, titanium, and stainless steel. His previous pencil was also offered in aluminum, but made it extremely lightweight which may have prompted the use of heavier metals.

For the review, I received the stainless steel version which is hefty, but comfortable 1.6 oz.

For the prototype, Andrew also sent a myriad of interchangeable parts and tools to take it apart, swap pieces, and get an overall feel for how the pencil works.

Being a heavier pencil, you would think it may run the risk of being a bit unwieldy, but on the contrary it is extremely well balanced and just the right length at just shy of 6".

A great new feature of 2.0 (not present in the first version) is a retractable tip. Now, I may be splitting hairs, but the version 1.0 didn't actually have an extended tip/pipe at all as it was incorporated into the metal. I love the idea of a retractable tip though as one little ding in the previous model would have spelled long term disaster. Making the parts interchangeable allows for a lifelong product.

Continuing on the them of product longevity, one piece of feedback I and others provided Andrew in the previous pencil was concerning its internal plastic mechanism/parts and how it didn't really jive with the "pencil that will last you a lifetime" slogan the project carried. The most impressive piece of this pencil I'd say was his loud and clear response to this feedback... he engineered and built his own proprietary, all-metal mechanism that is definitely more along the lines of "lifetime" quality.

I am completely impressed by this mechanism. When removed from the pencil it appears as an intricate mechanical blend of tubes, brass couplers, and threads that harmoniously work together for one purpose: writing and drawing. 

This type of innovation excites me and shows a level of commitment and determination Andrew has to his work. Engineering like this we would presume would come out of larger writing instrument companies, but what he has created is almost a functional work of mechanical art. (I'm fawning a bit... can you tell?) Seriously though, major kudos to him for spearheading and creating something so involved for himself and the world to enjoy.

When using the pencil, the knock works smoothly with some metal-to-metal sound (being all metal of course) with the first audible click extending the tip, while subsequent clicks push around 1-2mm of lead each time. There is a noticeable "click" feel, but not stiff. The movement is easy and fluid.

The pencil comes with a black eraser, but can be swapped out for a hex head eraser plug. I'm a bit torn about this as I love the look of the design with no eraser, but may find myself wanting one... Regardless, if you ever needed to swap in and out it is easy enough to do.

The only real issue I could see with the plug is the need for an allen wrench to get it out if you were in a crunch to add more lead. "Professor, Can I run out to my car during the middle of the final exam to get my allen wrench?..."

I suppose you could just feed a piece of lead through the pipe if you were that desperate. This isn't the first writing product that requires an additional tool to use, but does add complexity.

As far as writing goes, the pencil performs tremendously. No movement in the lead or tip whatsoever and is a pleasure to use.

Another feature of the pencil is an ability to swap lead sizes as you please and I mentioned before the variety of tools and pieces Andrew sent along for this purpose.

From an intuitive standpoint, swapping parts isn't necessarily plug and play. There are some specific ways that parts need to be taken off and in a certain order, and specific wrenches for different components. Andrew did mention that for the prototypes there may be slightly more complexity than in the final product, but that based on our feedback adjustments could be made.

First step is removing the knock piece which requires inserting an allen wrench into a hex nut inside the pencil mechanism, holding it stationary, and then turning the knock piece counter-clockwise until it is free. Total transparency, I initially struggled with this and Andrew had to provide some clarity for me.

My first inclination was to turn the allen wrench (which is wrong) while holding the pencil and knock stationary, but since the internal mechanism won't turn this can strip out the brass piece which is no bueno. 

Second step once the knock is free is to unscrew the tip of the pencil from the barrel (which the mechanism is attached to), and then to unscrew the mechanism from the tip. Whew! All this engineering can have some steps, but ultimately creates an amazing product.

Although, for the normal consumer all of these steps may cause issues, breakage, and a lot of customer service requests by Andrew. I don't want this to be a deterrent for anyone (it won't be for me), but something to call out from a usability perspective, particularly if the pencil is meant to be somewhat customized.

Regardless, this pencil is fantastic and I'm most impressed with what he has created.

Andrew's Kickstarter campaign is already well past it's funding goal, and I'd presume it will continue to climb. The pricepoint on this model during the Kickstarter is $70 (with a projected retail of $120) which isn't cheap, but I can't think of anyone that is doing a product quite like this. Buying something designed, engineered from the ground up, and then produced in the US from durable, quality materials, I feel the asking price is fair and in-line with what you're getting.

The titanium version is quite a bit more with a price of $130 (retail projection of $200) if that is more your style.           

Special thanks to Andrew and Modern Fuel for sending the prototype for me to check out! Definitely give his campaign a look.

Aurora 88 Minerali Fountain Pen - Azurite (Blue)

Over the past several months Aurora has been releasing a series of their 88 model pens known as the Minerali. In essence, Aurora is taking color and design cues from a variety of minerals that exist in nature and pairing those colors with a demonstrator barrel.

The model I'll be reviewing today is called Azurite, which is inspired by a blue mineral/stone which develops from copper. It has been used for thousands of years for jewelry and pigment in painting.

This particular pen is on loan from Goldspot Pens, so many thanks to them for providing it.

The Minerali series are a limited edition product, each color being produced 388 units in total worldwide. Aurora seems to be doing a lot of limited edition runs of the 88 series which some could see as a bit fragmented (myself included a bit), but in thinking more about it I actually like that they are doing it this way. Many brands seem to stay a bit stagnant with their lineup, or only offer a slim variety in new additions or materials.

Being an upper price point product, the 88 Minerali comes in an elaborate packaging box with a sleeve, internal cardboard (nice though), and wooden silver box with a puffy black leatherette padded area for the pen to rest. It provides for a strong presentation, but not completely suited to my personal taste. It is a rather large box as far as pens are concerned so if you plan on collecting the whole set, you'll need some storage space...

The 88 series is a full-size fountain pen, but not overly large at all. It is in-line in size with pens like the Sailor 1911 large, Platinum #3776, and even the LAMY 2000. It is actually an extremely comfortable size.

Overall, the pen is a demonstrator style with an all clear barrel, cap, and section, except for the finial and piston knob as well as a small slice in the very center which are a shimmery blue "azurite" acrylic/resin. These parts are a bit more of a patchwork of a few different shades of blue some being dark and opaque looking, while others are lighter with more of a metallic shimmer when it catches the light.

I actually found filling the pen to be a pretty delightful experience as the piston and knob felt sturdy and solid. With some piston mechanisms there is a bit of "play" which always makes me feel like it is going to come apart. I have a Montblanc that does this even, but the 88 felt smooth and secure.

My ink choice was one of my favorites, Pelikan Edelstein Topaz which I intentionally did to try and pair. The Topaz is a bit more on the lighter side, so not a perfect pairing... but, a great ink nonetheless. Lots of lovely shading and even a few hints of sheen here and there on the darker spots. Highly recommended and I probably ought to do a review all its own soon.

Like most in the Aurora 88 lineup, the Minerali also comes with an 18k nib. I requested a medium for the review and it is a comfortable and generous line. I haven't had any flow issues, hard starts, or scratchiness.

There is a slight feedback on the page, but just the right amount for my personal taste. Too glassy and I almost can't tell whether I'm writing! Like other Aurora's I've tried, this one seems a bit on the stiff side, although does have some slight give.

Unlike many pens I try or review, this one I actually prefer posted while writing. The cap overtakes the barrel by about an inch and a half while posted which puts total writing length at 6.25", an extremely comfortable size considering it's lighter weight.

In design, the 88 is a bit on the more conservative side with soft, rounded ends, and limited "bling" in the clip and center band. By comparison, the 88's close cousin, the Optima has larger, bolder garnishments and a flattened finial which gives it a bit more edge. Think the Sailor 1911 vs the Pro Gear...

I find I prefer the looks of the 88 over the Optima. The cursive Aurora name around a thinner metal band in the middle of the 88 is a bit more tastefully done in my opinion.

As far as fountain pens go, Aurora is a bit on the higher end of the spectrum, particularly their limited editions. This particular pen retails at $795, but street price right now is just over $700. This puts it in range of pens like the Pelikan M800, Sailor 1911 King of Pen, or even a Nakaya.

When you start to float into this price range, the word "value" becomes I highly subjective term from person to person so I won't be making a recommendation or attempt to sway.

What I do know, is that this pen is solidly built, probably one of the more sturdy feeling acrylic pens I've used in a while, the nib is a fantastic writer (even though it is on the stiffer side), and the overall quality of the pen is all there. No corners cut and nothing stands out as being out of place or looked over. So, is $800 a fair price for this pen? If the design calls your name and it's within the budget, I doubt someone would be disappointed with it.

Special thanks again to Goldspot for loaning the 88 for review!