Baron Fig Squire - The Insightful Spectre Limited Edition Rollerball

This may actually be my first official post about Baron Fig products here on The Clicky Post although I've tried and own several...

A little bit of history: Baron Fig is a small design/creative firm out of NYC that hit the stationery scene in 2013 with a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign for their flagship notebook series called The Confidant. Since then, BF has run two additional Kickstarter campaigns as well as grown their brand into a more household name within our community.

One of their signature products is a pen called The Squire, a small-ish, teardrop shaped rollerball pen machined from aluminum and fitted with the ever-popular Schmidt P8126 refill.

Their main line of Squire pens comes in either silver or charcoal grey, but every quarter or so they've been releasing limited editions of the pen in various colors and themes.

Today's review is for one such limited edition, a spooky, Halloween time themed pen called The Insightful Spectre.

I actually really liked their metaphoric product description of this ghostly pen: 
Whether you're in a fog or in good spirits, the Spectre will guide you on your journey.

Baron Fig was kind enough to send me a sample of The Insightful Spectre for review, so special thanks to them.

The pen comes in a nicely designed, grey cardboard tube with the limited edition's name inscribed on the top, a graphical representation of the pen's silhouette, and the pen safely nestled in a foam insert standing upright and ready to be plucked out.

Being an all-aluminum pen, it has a sturdiness to it and slight heft (although actually quite light due to it's size), but feels like a well made product. The price tag on the Squire pen line (regardless of edition) has been at $60 and I feel this is a fair price based on the quality you receive.

To maintain the spooky theme, the "Spectre" the pen is named after appears as a small little ghost logo engraved just below the knock. The body and floating waves underneath match the color of the pen, but the little eyes are a stark white which shows up in contrast to the barrel. The only thing missing is glow-in-the-dark eyes...

From a branding standpoint, the pen has a pronounced BARON FIG name laser engraved on the side which runs parallel with the barrel. It is tastefully done in their thin lined font which blends with the aesthetic nicely.

The Insightful Spectre edition color is a bit of a tricky one which Baron Fig is calling "Phantom Black" which they've described as a dark grey, but with some sheen. In some lighting it does appear to be a dark grey color, but in brighter lighting or held up against other colors it can have a more purple hue. Very mysterious, and fun for this type of edition.

Where this gets confusing I think is in most of Baron Fig's marketing materials they used black and white photos which made the pen appear...well, like dark grey or black. But in person it has the more colorful hue at times which may throw some folks off. I took a photo next to their Alphabet edition Squire which is black to show the comparison.

The pen silhouette on the cardboard tube is an obvious grey color as well which contrasts the pen when you open it up which surprised me some.

Now, I don't think that BF was trying to intentionally mislead anyone into thinking this is an all black/grey pen, but I imagine some customers will feel like that was what they were getting. I wouldn't call this a criticism of the color at all as I really enjoy it, just the way it was presented may not have been super clear.

Regardless, it is an extraordinary color and picks up the light in so many different ways! 

The Squire has a twist mechanism system that is smooth, easy to execute, and has a "snap" into place assisted opening once you get it far enough. Once extended, the tip is extremely sturdy while writing and I haven't run into an movement or play which is a huge plus.

In appearance, the Squire could seem like a somewhat small pen, but in hand it is excellent. It is just about the perfect length for me where the end of the pen only hangs over the fleshy part of my hand about an inch so there is zero chance of being top heavy.

To replace the refill is pretty neat. You simply twist the knock mechanism backwards a few times (well, several actually...) and it unthreads allowing the refill and spring to pop out. I like that they did this instead of creating an additional break in the barrel so that it was solid and seamless.

With the pen taking the Schmidt P8126, this refill is about a perfect match in size with your standard Parker style refill and is interchangeable (which I've tested) if you like a ballpoint instead of the roller.

I really, really like the Squire and could see myself recommending it to people due to its overall feel, quality, and performance. Aside from the possible confusion in color, The Insightful Spectre is a fun and solid addition to the Squire lineup.

Special thanks again to Baron Fig for sending it for review! Do you have any Baron Fig products you love (or would like to try?).

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?

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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.