09 June 2012

The Nib and the Click

Review of the Pilot Capless model from 1998.

Although I have written several chronicles on the Pilot Capless model (1964, 1965, 1968, 1971, Sesenta/Décimo), I had never thought of making a review of the current model. I had, however, spoken about the differences among the nib sets (Capless Nibs I, and Capless Nibs II) available for this family of pens, but a pen is not just a nib.

Just recently I inked a regular Capless pen (1998 model) equipped with an 18 K gold nib in F. The ink, Sailor Sei-boku (青墨)—a permanent nanopigmented blue black. The combination is wonderful, and writing this review was a real pleasure. I hope, however, I kept some critical view on this pen.

1. Appearance and design. (8/10)
This is the current Capless model, originally released in 1998. More in detail, this unit is gold plated (push button, rings, clip and nose cone), and the body enamel is green with some black details resembling the pattern of some Scottish kilt.

This pen is now so well known that all its unusual look might have vanished into the custom of seeing it on a regular basis, at least by nuts like us, stylophiles. But this is indeed a strange looking pen—a big push button, an apparently misplaced clip, how the pen opens and how the nib unit is removed… It really looks like a ball pen, save for the fundamental difference that the nib can –and must— be refilled with water-based ink. But it can also be fairly said that the essence of a Capless is an empty box.

However similar in looks to a ball pen, the clip is located close to the nib instead of to the push button. The reason lies on the need to keep the nib in upright position when the pen is clipped to a shirt. Some users complain that this position was intrusive to their way of grabbing the pen. Indeed, nothing that a proper grip could not solve.

At the end, the design works well, and the looks are attractive.

2. Construction and quality. (9/10)
As is the case with most modern Japanese pens, the construction quality is very good. The Capless model is particularly critical on this given its moving parts: the pushing mechanism not only moves the nib unit (nib and feed and ink deposit) back and forth, but also a small hinged door on the nose cone. This door closes the pen when not in use to prevent the nib from drying. The mechanism is precise and reliable. The loud click –for some— is also reassuring.

The pen is screwed together at its center. Both threads are metallic and there seems to be no reliability problem. Opening the pen and removing the nib is a fundamental part of the filling process.

3. Weight and dimensions. (7/10)
The weight of the pen –not so the size— often conceits criticism from its users who, in turn, look at the thinner and lighter Pilot Decimo. Some others might prefer a heavier tool. I think that for a long period of writing this pen might be a tad too heavy.

The regular Capless is well balanced, with its center of mass at 68 mm. from the extended tip. It fits well into the tripod of the orthodox grip.

These are its dimensions:
Diameter: 12 mm.
Length closed: 140 mm.
Length open: 138 mm.
Weight: 31 g.
Center of mass at 68 mm from the extended tip.
Ink deposit: 0.9 ml (cartridge) / 0.8 ml (CON-20 converter) / 0.6-0.7 ml. (CON-50 converter).

4. Nib and writing performance. (9.5/10)
Come for the click, stay for the nib.

Capless nibs are widely praised for their smoothness and reliability, and I have no objection to that conclusion. However, for the Japanese market, there are two nib units made of stainless steel (gold plated) whose performance is slightly less satisfactory. Following I include the list of Capless nibs currently available:

The unit under review uses an 18 K gold F nib, non rhodiated; production date of February 2008. It is smooth, nicely wet, very reliable… Event though these nibs are not new to me, I was gladly surprised when I inked this pen again. Maybe, I reckon, it has something to do with the ink—Sailor Sei-boku.

Having expressed my satisfaction, I should also add that there is nothing fancy on these nibs. They are boring symmetric points –some nibmeisters out there customize them--, and they offer no line variation. But there is something very pleasant on them, and that brings another metaphysical question—what are the elements that make a pen enjoyable? But that should be the topic of another text. Suffice to say now that this F nib is always ready for the action, and that it performs admirably.

5. Cleaning and Maintenance. (7.5/10)
This is a cartridge converter pen, and that makes its cleaning simple. Disassembling nib and feed from the nib unit requires some special tool.

To ink the pen out of an inkwell –that is, with a converter attached— it is necessary to take the nib out of the housing. Otherwise, the nose area, including the hinged door mechanism, would become filled with ink and prone to stain any document or shirt or pen case. Some ink, though, might remain in that area, and soaking the section in water now and then would be useful too keep the pen clean. I suffered of no stains coming from this pen.

The nib-retracting mechanism needs no maintenance. I have never had any problem with a Capless pen.

About cartridges and converters suitable for the modern Capless, three are the options: Pilot proprietary cartridges, new or refilled (0.9 ml); bladder type CON-20 converter (0.8 ml); and piston-type CON-50 converter (0.7 ml). In some markets –not in Japan— the converter CON-50 comes with the pen. This is the least satisfactory solution in terms of ink capacity and of the problems generated by the converter. This last issue seems to have been solved with the implementation of a metallic piece inside the converter. This new version of the converter has an ink capacity of 0.6 ml.

My favorite option is to refill empty cartridges with a syringe—optimum ink capacity and the possibility to check the remaining ink in the pen.

6. Cost and value. (9/10)
In Japan, a Capless pen with a gold nib costs (MSRP) JPY 15000, plus tax. In the US market it can be found for USD 100. Cheap or expensive is at anybody’s appreciation. I think it is a good value given the originality of the design and the quality of the nib.

7. Conclusion. (50/60, 83/100)
It took me some time to get use to the idea of this pen, but once I put my hands on one I quickly learned to love it. As I said before, I got it for the click and kept it for the nib.

Of course, this is not a perfect pen, but it works very well and it provides some advantages over regular, capped pens.

Pilot Capless 1998 model, 18 K gold F nib – Sailor Sei-boku 青墨

Bruno Taut
June 6th, 2012
etiquetas: Pilot, Capless

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