Nathan wanted to prove that an inexpensive fountain pen can be...
Noodler's piston filler is on the thin-and-light side. Mine is a transparent demonstrator. I love demonstrators so if a fountain pen comes in both opaque and transparent, I'll probably end up getting the transparent one in most cases. I just love seeing the color of the ink and the fountain pen's internals.
Here are some dimensions for those interested:
length capped: 13cm (5 3/16")
length uncapped: 12cm (4 3/4")
cap length: 5.5cm (2 1/4")
length posted: 14cm (5 1/2")
Though the body is thin, it is not as thin as the Sailor HighAce Neo. As a result, it is more comfortable to hold. It is also not as shiny as the Sailor, which again makes for a good holding experience. The cap is a screw-on and it's something I like because I don't have to worry that it might fall off. It takes 1.5 turns to unscrew.
The pen tapers down to the piston knob but despite this, the cap can be securely posted on this end because it isn't actually held by the knob itself but rather it goes beyond it and catches on the barrel.
Apart from the looks, one of the first things that will assault your senses when you unbox one of these Noodler's fountain pens is a powerful chemical smell which emanates from the material the pen is made from (vegetal resin from what I hear). I haven't smelled this in any pen before but I knew what to expect because everybody else had complained about it. Don't worry though, in a few weeks most of the smell goes away. Some people have mentioned washing the pen thoroughly with water and soap and perhaps surgical alcohol.
One of Nathan's goals with these pens was that he wanted them to be easy to maintain and he accomplished this by allowing the user to disassemble them to their basest components. Self-maintenance is always a desired featured and, in my case, it came in handy right at the beginning because the nib and feed weren't aligned properly. No problem. I pulled both of them out using my fingers, re-aligned them and then stuck nib and feed back into the section. Since the nib/feed combo is friction-held inside the section, this is easy to do.
I haven't taken apart the piston mechanism but that is also doable if one desires to do so. Removing the nib and feed also comes in handy when cleaning the pen because you don't have to flush it a dozen times by only using the piston. Instead, you can just pour water inside the wide opening in the section and flush it this way.
The nib is a generic steel affair with the words "Noodler's Ink Co" embossed on it. It is not a flex nib, of course. The width is given as a rather ambiguous M/F but I find that it writes in between these two designations. The feed is rather interesting, being made from ebonite, which I hear is always a good thing.
I've now arrived at one of the major disadvantages of Noodler's fountain pens. This pen cannot be stored with the nib pointing down because it slowly leaks ink. I've been lucky to notice this behavior with the demonstrator because an opaque cap would have left me oblivious until all the ink had drained out. You can still see tiny drops of green ink in the cap, in the photo below. To be fair, this isn't the only fountain pen which leaks ink if stored like this but it is certainly the worst example. I used to store my pens with the nib downward so they would start right away but since I caught my Noodler's leaking, I've flipped them all around.
One other thing that bugs me, but I can't quite put my finger on it, is the impression that ink evaporates from this pen. Maybe I'm just hallucinating but until someone else confirms or denies it, I'm stuck with my suspicions. There's a breather hole in the cap and I covered this with scotch tape and now I'm imagining that the ink isn't evaporating so quickly. Again, maybe I'm spouting rubbish but if you have experienced a similar issue with yours, drop me a line.
Before I get to the writing experience, let me mention one other annoying thing. This fountain pen tends to dry up rather quickly and it takes some time to get it started. Often I will have to twist the piston knob to get some fresh ink on the nib before it will even consider writing. I guess that's the price you pay for simplicity of design.
The nib, as mentioned, is somewhere between a fine and a medium. In fact it is almost exactly like a Japanese medium, like the Pilot Prera I reviewed a while back. Once the pen starts, inkflow is consistent and I would put it on the wet side. Writing feels very smooth and it's certainly up there with my best writers. There's no skipping and no scratchiness whatsoever. It doesn't quite match the dime-a-dozen Noodler's eyedropper creaper which is included with Noodler's Nikita but that pen is helped to a large extent by the flexibility of its nib. Speaking of which, I'm seriously wondering if the nib/feed can be transplanted between these two pens.
My major regret in buying the Noodler's piston filler is that I didn't opt for the flex nib variant. At the time I bought mine, the flex nibs were in stock. Now, alas, it's impossible to get one. I'm sure a flex nib would improve on the good points even more.
To summarize, Noodler's piston filler fountain pen is probably the most inexpensive piston-fill pen on the market and one of its major strengths is the fact that you can completely disassemble it for cleaning, maintenance and adjustment. Likewise, the nib and feed can be adjusted to change ink flow. If you can put up with a few annoyances such as the strong initial smell, the dripping ink and the slow start, the smooth writing should convince you to give this pen a try.
The two writing samples I've included are done on photocopier paper and a Staples journal (which I'm discontinuing starting with my next ink review), in J Herbin Vert Olive. I'm not sure this is the best ink with which to test how a fountain pen writes but hopefully my next review will showcase an ink better suited to the task, which was also loaded in this pen.
Here are some videos by Nathan Tardiff, explaining how to:
- adjust the nib and feed
- repair and restore a piston filler