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Karas Kustoms Fountain-K

karas aluminum esterbrook tough

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47 replies to this topic

#1 tonybelding

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Posted 17 February 2016 - 13:12

The Karas Kustoms Fountain-K is one of the first pens in a while that has piqued my interest.  I wasn't sure if I would find time for a full review, but here we are!

 

First some background:  Karas Kustoms (headed by Bill Karas) got their entry into the pen business by machining rollerball and ballpoint pens out of aluminum.  The "Ink" was their first venture into fountain pens, and the Fountain-K is their second model.  However, the Fountain-K is closely derived from an earlier rollerball design, the Render-K.  The Ink is their full-sized fountain pen, and the Fountain-K is the more compact model.

 

Karas Kustoms is a machine shop, and these are machined metal pens.  They are available in aluminum, brass and copper.  The brass and copper pens are, of course, more costly and much heavier, and they are sold with a bare metal finish that can tarnish and develop a dark patina over time -- attractive to some, and perfectly in line with their industrial style.  My personal view is that people new to the pen hobby are often attracted to heavy pens at first but then come to prefer more lightweight pens as they gain experience.  (This was definitely true for me.)  Thus, I tend to view the copper and brass pens as novelty items to some extent, and I think the aluminum pens will be the real mainstays in the long run.  Also, the aluminum pens are available in many anodized colors, or in a "raw" tumbled aluminum finish for that industrial look.

 

Karas Kustoms does not make "custom pens" in the sense of a company like Edison.  What they do, however, is offer all the interchangeable parts that can be assembled in many combinations.  You can choose your material and color for the pen body, your material and finish for the grip section, and then choose from EF through B nib tip.

 

fountain-k_04.jpg

 

I got my pen with a gold-anodized aluminum body, silver-anodized aluminum section, and a F nib.  The price was $75, which is perhaps more than an impulse buy, but still nicely within the sub-$100 affordable category.

 

Even though the Fountain-K looked very attractive to me in pictures, I also had some points of skepticism.  Would the pocket clip be too stiff?  Would the cap seal well and not dry out?  Would the cap come loose in my pocket?  This is a product from a relatively new-and-unproven company without a track record in fountain pens.  Do they know what they're doing?

 

After having the pen for a while, my conclusion is. . .  Yes, they do.  Mostly.  I did have a few issues to sort out with mine.

 

First there was the burping.  Immediately after filling the pen, it burped ink onto the page.  It did this with every ink that I tried, and it did it twice in quick succession, and then the ink flow continued to be erratic for a little while, but gradually settled down.  I blamed this at first on the nib or feed, but then a FPNer suggested that I try a different converter.  I was lucky enough to have an identical spare converter (from Goulet) on hand to try, and it fixed the problem.  I can only presume the original converter wasn't making an airtight seal onto the feed nipple.  As far as I can tell, this was a freakish problem that few will encounter, and it could happen to any pen that accepts a converter.  It's not a Fountain-K issue, as such.

 

The second difficulty was with ink flow.  As is all-too-common with new pens, it was a dry writer.  Too dry.  I pondered a nib swap, but the Fountain-K nib has an unusual profile and doesn't swap easily with other No. 5 nibs.  You really need to change out the entire nib-and-feed assembly.  However, I noticed it seemed to get a little better as I wrote with it, and I thought, "Maybe it just needs some breaking-in?"  I made a series of firm strokes down the back cover of a notebook, flexing it pretty hard.  Suddenly the flow was good!  Easiest nib adjustment I ever made.  Once adjusted, it performs as I expect a contemporary, made in Germany, fine steel nib to perform: firm, smooth and perfectly serviceable.  No surprises there.

 

Now, with the pen writing as it should, I could focus on more details of its design and construction.

 

Cosmetically, I agonized a bit over the choice of color and finish, even though (or perhaps because!) they all looked good in the photos.  The gold color pen I picked does not disappoint.  The anodized aluminum has a satin luster that cannot be mistaken for gold metal, but it does somewhat resemble clean brass.  The cap has one tiny "flea bite" ding, but it's only visible when I look closely.  The knurled (checkered?) cap, slightly rough edges of the pocket clip, and exposed clip screws all reinforce the industrial styling.  It does look good!  It's sharp looking without being at all pretentious.  In that sense I think it falls into the same stylistic category as a Lamy 2000 or a stainless steel Sheaffer Targa.  Nobody's going to take it for a "status" or prestige pen, but nobody's going to see it as shoddy either.

 

This is a very easy pen to carry in a pocket or pen loop.  I often wear a canvas vest with a pen slot sewn into the pocket, and the Fountain-K fits very neatly into that space.  The tension on the clip is perfect, and it does not snag or chew on the fabric.  The knurled portion of the cap makes a perfect handle when pulling out the pen to use it.  The smooth profile of the body and cap also allows it to slide in and out easily, and I don't have to worry about wear from the canvas upon the super-tough anodized finish.  Portability is a strength of the Fountain-K.

 

The "guts" of this pen are pretty standard.  The nib-and-feed assembly is German made, and the converter is a standard Schmidt K5.  It's not a screw-in converter, which I would usually prefer (and which might have avoided the problem I had with that first converter), but the pen body is perfectly sized without any extra space for the converter to shift about.  The only unusual thing to see here is the very small nib.  It's a No. 5 nib, but it's shorter than most and has a very specific profile to fit into a recessed area of the feed.  I don't think I've seen a modern fountain pen that puts my fingers this close to the page, and I don't particularly like it.  For my money, I would have preferred a more standard No. 5 nib like you'll find in a TWSBI 580, for example.  On the other hand. . .  If you are accustomed to writing with ballpoints and want a fountain pen you can hold similarly, then you might love writing with the Fountain-K.  If you have very small hands, then you might love it.  For me it's not going to be the most comfortable for long writing sessions.  However, in the context of a "carry" pen that I'll be using away from the house, scribbling down quick notes, signing documents or writing a check -- then it's OK.  (And let's not forget, the Karas Kustoms Ink is bigger and has a larger nib!)

 

fountain-k_03.jpg

 

After using the pen lightly for a few days, I encountered another problem.  The two tiny screws holding the pocket clip in place came loose!  Luckily I caught them before they fell out.  The fix for this was easy: use a small screwdriver to remove them, put a tiny dab of threadlock compound on each screw, then put everything back together.  It should be good now.  However. . .  This is not a fault that I can easily dismiss.  It would have been very easy to lose those screws, and then my pen would have been out of service until I could get replacements.  Not everyone has a tube of threadlock laying about in their toolbox either.  Pens have had pocket clips for many decades, and the vast majority have been designed in such a way that the clips won't spontaneously come loose.  Even simply applying threadlock when the caps are assembled would probably solve this.  Why don't they?

 

fountain-k_05.jpg

 

After carrying and using the Fountain-K for a while, I realized this is no Lamy 2000 and this is no Targa.  It's a less expensive, less sophisticated pen.  A better comparison might be the good old Esterbrook J.  The Fountain-K is actually very close in size to an Esterbrook J, and it shares the traits of toughness, compactness, customization and affordability.  If Esterbrook was still in business today -- and was owned by Alcoa -- this is the pen they might give us.

 


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#2 TonyTeaBags

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Posted 18 February 2016 - 20:55

That is a great review. I enjoy your honesty and desire to be unbiased, it is well done. My very next fountain pen purchase will be a fountain K; I have been eying this pen for a while. Most all of my other pens are bigger, but my Franklin-Christoph model 20 comes close. Similar in that it has a recessed nib, letting me hold the pen closer to the paper. I must say that it is very comfortable, and Karas Kustoms seems like they make a good product.

If I may, I would like to comment on your 'burp' experience. Once, I thought to flush a pen by leaving the converter in the pen and unscrewing the back end to remove the plunger. I thought that I would use the remaining tube as a long flush nipple. I was surprised for a second that whatever ink was left in the pen just ran from the nib into the sink. But that should've been expected, no? As soon as I removed the plunger, I released the vacuum and ink just ran out. So, now, whenever I have a flow problem in either direction, I check the vacuum chamber (in whatever form it happens to be) for leaks.

Enjoy your new pen!

#3 mehandiratta

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Posted 19 February 2016 - 03:12

Thank you for the amazing unbiased review...
And actually even though it might lack more pictures but your write up actually covers everything.. I must thank your review.. It saved me 75 USD..

vaibhav mehandiratta                               

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#4 visvamitra

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Posted 19 February 2016 - 08:41

Good review, thanks. I like the look of this pen, especially in Olive. I'm not sure if I would like it that much as EDC pen.

 

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#5 Hangglidernerd

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Posted 19 February 2016 - 09:59

 Nice review.I also find it reminds me of the Easterbrook J...and that's not a bad thing.

I bought the brass fountain K because I have been wanting a way to carry a fountain pen in the warm months when I spend most of my days clothed in a t-shirt.I have never found a way i can really trust to carry a fountain pen in my jeans pocket with my knives,keys and flashlight.I know from experience any kind of finish is going to look like it's been drug behind a truck in no time at all.The black anodizing on my flashlight has been worn off of every edge and several spots of bare aluminum appear all over.Same goes for the black finish on my Gerber knife.I've tinkered with leather slip cases and the like but I never really trust it.No way will I risk my Carmine red Sheaffer Balance demi in my pants pocket.Great nib,perfect size for a pocket and great looks but 80 year old plastics and my pockets?...nope,nope,nope!

 The brass is insanely heavy but it's worth it for me.It's not for long writing sessions,just ultimate portability.I never have to be without a fountain pen now.My fountain K already has some deep scratches but being solid brass it still looks good.I now have a pen safe to carry year round anywhere....even into the skies under the wing of a hang glider,if I die in a crash I bet the pen survives....that said,I do agree that the aluminum will likely be the majority of their sales.



#6 plumista

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Posted 19 February 2016 - 11:45

I am afraid I will have to bring some shadow into all this light.

 

I cannot stand the KK pens: so cold, so tech, so unrefined, and worst of all: the paint over the aluminum parts won´t last, it will peel off easily (in the threads, the colour begins to disappear the very first time you unscrew the cap), leaving evident marks, so prominent against the crude metal background...

 

Not to mention that the nib (I mean, the one that came with my violet Ink model) was terrible: no QC at all (skipping, misaligned tines, misaligned feed), it is the simplest, cheapest, unbranded version of a Bock nib... it in fact seems that the maker has just thought the pen to be fitted aftersale with a true nib by the buyer...

 

Returned for good. No more KK for me.

 

plumista



#7 tonybelding

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Posted 19 February 2016 - 14:17

I cannot stand the KK pens: so cold, so tech, so unrefined, and worst of all: the paint over the aluminum parts won´t last, it will peel off easily (in the threads, the colour begins to disappear the very first time you unscrew the cap), leaving evident marks, so prominent against the crude metal background...

 

 

I don't see any signs of this on mine yet.

 

I know some people really dislike the way colored anodized parts show wear.  If that's your view, and it's something that concerns you, then you can still go for the silver anodized finish, or the raw tumbled aluminum finish, or of course the brass or copper.



#8 Abner C. Kemp

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Posted 20 February 2016 - 23:57

Thanks for the review, interesting enough pens, but not worth the price tag imo. Hell, you could almost get a gently preowned Lamy 2000 for nearly the same price. 



#9 TonyTeaBags

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Posted 21 February 2016 - 00:29

Someone made reference to the paint chipping off on these pens. Anodizing is not a painting process, it is more like electrolysis. The aluminum undergoes a few acid baths, then the aluminum piece becomes the 'anode' in a chemical bath. Then the electric circuit is completed allowing the bath to chemically alter the surface of the aluminum. The anodizing bath can be dyed any color. The purpose of anodizing is to deter corrosion, and it does that extremely well. But, the dye penetrates only a few microns, so it can wear off with extensive use. It doesn't make the aluminum stronger. I, myself, sort of like the way that looks, like hand worn tools or comfortable jeans. It won't happen tomorrow; you and your pen need to become good friends first.

As for the cost, well, I suppose there are very good pens fo $50 or so. But aluminum (and brass, and copper) are pretty expensive, and the work, by all accounts, is first rate. As far as writing reliability, for me that waits to be seen (at least until my birthday in April). But I think that for what is presented, it seems a fair price. A matter of having a unique pen for me.

#10 tonybelding

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Posted 21 February 2016 - 04:26

Thanks for the review, interesting enough pens, but not worth the price tag imo. Hell, you could almost get a gently preowned Lamy 2000 for nearly the same price. 

 

 

That's great if a Lamy 2000 is what you've got your heart set on.  I had one once, but some of its quirks rubbed me the wrong way.  I have toyed with the thought of getting another, but you know. . .   I have my Targas.

 

The Fountain-K (aluminum) is half the retail price of a Lamy 2000.  It's a less luxurious, more utilitarian pen.  It's probably even tougher than the Lamy 2000, and easier to maintain or troubleshoot.  It has a more practical pocket clip too.  Also, you have more choice of colors and finishes.

 

 

Not saying it's better.  The point I'm groping towards here is. . .  It's a different thing, and it has its purpose.  This is why we have all different kinds of pens on the market.



#11 tonybelding

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Posted 01 March 2016 - 16:13

Today I flushed out the remaining Legal Lapis from the Fountain-K and filled it with De Atramentis Steel Blue.  And then it burped.  Again.  I thought I had this fixed!   :angry:

 

It's not a fatal flaw, but it's a persistent and nagging one.  On the other hand, I've been impressed by the pen's resistance to drying out over time while capped.



#12 tinta

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Posted 01 March 2016 - 21:53

Tony, although I don't own a Karas Kustom pen, my problem with ink flow may be similar.

 

I own a Kaweco Dia2 that uses the same Bock 060 "short" nib unit.  I have googled the Karas website which has the various nib-units on offer,  but it does not show what the feeds look like (viewed from the bottom).  I am very curious if the design of the 060 feed on the Karas is indeed the same as the Kaweco version.

 

I've had some ink flow issues with my Kaweco/Bock 060 14K (BB) custom stub.  Though Pendleton Brown ground me a terrific stub nib (his speciality), adjusted the nib to 6/10, made sure that the nib was well seated, centered & conforming to the top surface of the feed,... yet the ink flow has not been what it should be. 

I believe that Pendleton did his very best with this 060 nib-unit.  I do not fault him for the balky ink flow,...I strongly suspect the Kaweco/Bock feed system.

I'm seriously considering getting another PB stub made, using a similar gold Kaweco/Bock 060 nib-unit, but I'm a bit worried about the efficiency of the Kaweco(Bock?) feed system.

 

After I received the nib back from Pendleton, the ink flow at first was a wet 'normal' (as I wanted), but eventually the flow started to thin out, then stopped flowing altogether.  :(

I thoroughly bulb flushed the 060 nib unit & changed from Kaweco's twist converter (much less reliable than the K5) to a Kaweco blue/black cartridge.  I squeezed the cart (even though I'm not supposed to),  allowed the ink to flow through the feed till it filled the gap between the nib's tines.    For a while my pen wrote as expected.

 

I could write about 8 to 10 lines on a 5A sheet before the ink started to fade to  ...........nothing. :(   If I then flicked the pen down (not hitting the table of course), just enough to give a jolt to the ink column inside my pen, the pen would write normally again,... a nice & dark blue/black for about 8-10 lines, then again fading to .......nothing.    This process would repeat itself, over & over.

 

I remember that our school pens had horrible nibs & feeds.  Inconsistent ink flow was always a big problem.  We used to flick our pens downward to get the ink started again,... sometimes throwing huge blobs of ink on our work (much to the chagrin of our teachers).

To get my Dia to write again, I began to flick my pen.   The ink started immediately & the pen wrote for a few more lines again.

At least with the better quality Bock nib/feed system I did not throw any blobs.  Not yet anyway!

 

Could the source of your flow problem with your Karas Fountain K & with my problem with my Kaweco Dia2 be the same wonky 060 feed system?  Attached is a picture of the Kaweco feed's underside.  Wonder if the feed for your Karas is similar? 

There doesn't seem to be a big enough contact area between the underside of the nib & the feed on my Dia2.  Seems like there may be too much nib & not enough exposed feed.

 

 

Does having less contact area between a nib & the exposed part of the feed influence the way the nib-unit's capillary action works?  

I don't know. :unsure:


Edited by tinta, 02 March 2016 - 02:17.

*Sailor 1911S, Black/gold, 14c. 0.8 mm. stub(JM) *1911S blue "Colours", 14c. H-B "M" BLS (PB) *2 Sailor 1911S Burgundy/gold: 14c. 0.6 mm. "round-nosed" CI (MM) & 1.1 mm. CI (JM) *Sailor Pro-Gear Slim Spec. Ed. "Fire",14c. (factory) "H-B" *Kaweco SPECIAL FP: 14c.,-0.6 mm BLS, (PB) *Kaweco Stainless Steel Lilliput, 14c "M" -0.4 mm.BLS, (PB)

#13 TonyTeaBags

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Posted 08 March 2016 - 20:57

I pulled the trigger on a Karas Kustoms Fountain K, grey anodized body, and a fine nib today. I have my "locktite" thread lock at the ready for the clip screws (thanks, Tony!), and I will report its performance after it is inked with Aurora blue ink. I think the nib and feed is the same unit as that of the Kaweco Sport. If that is the case, I will have no problems because that nib unit and I are old friends.

Edited by TonyTeaBags, 08 March 2016 - 21:00.


#14 tinta

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Posted 09 March 2016 - 19:08

Congratulations on your new K pen.

I may be wrong, but I believe the Karas Kustoms-K uses the screw in 060 nib-units (made by Bock) rather than the press fit nibs,  used by the regular Classic Sport models.

Sport AL pens also use the screw in 060 nibs.

 

I pulled the trigger on a Karas Kustoms Fountain K, grey anodized body, and a fine nib today. I have my "locktite" thread lock at the ready for the clip screws (thanks, Tony!), and I will report its performance after it is inked with Aurora blue ink. I think the nib and feed is the same unit as that of the Kaweco Sport. If that is the case, I will have no problems because that nib unit and I are old friends.


*Sailor 1911S, Black/gold, 14c. 0.8 mm. stub(JM) *1911S blue "Colours", 14c. H-B "M" BLS (PB) *2 Sailor 1911S Burgundy/gold: 14c. 0.6 mm. "round-nosed" CI (MM) & 1.1 mm. CI (JM) *Sailor Pro-Gear Slim Spec. Ed. "Fire",14c. (factory) "H-B" *Kaweco SPECIAL FP: 14c.,-0.6 mm BLS, (PB) *Kaweco Stainless Steel Lilliput, 14c "M" -0.4 mm.BLS, (PB)

#15 TonyTeaBags

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Posted 10 March 2016 - 20:21

You are correct! Bock 060. Thanks. I'll wait to see what fate will bring to me in this pen. Soon enough...

#16 Bobje

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Posted 13 March 2016 - 14:22

Beautiful photography and comprehensive review, Tony.

Here is an obsessive-compulsive question, which I know everyone will appreciate since we are on a forum discussing details of a pen that we do not own. Is it possible for the slots in the screw heads holding the clip to line up? If they could both stop in some regular position, such as straight vertical or dead horizontal, or at consistent 45-degree or 135-degree angles, then they could provide a kind of industrial mark of precision that serves like a brand identifier for this extremely visible portion of the pen. For me, when the slots line up at random, both catawampus, it signals a lack of interest in precision. But everything else about the pen suggests precision, tight tolerances, and delight in iconic machined instruments such as old Starrett tools.

For that matter, if the top screw slot lined up at 45 degrees and the bottom slot lined up at 225, then they would create the extensions of the letter K for "Karas".

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#17 tonybelding

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Posted 13 March 2016 - 23:30

Is it possible for the slots in the screw heads holding the clip to line up? If they could both stop in some regular position, such as straight vertical or dead horizontal, or at consistent 45-degree or 135-degree angles, then they could provide a kind of industrial mark of precision that serves like a brand identifier for this extremely visible portion of the pen.

 

I think the most pragmatic way to achieve this would be to get a whole bin of screws and test them randomly until you find a couple with heads that come to rest in the position you want.

 

I don't see any way that it's worth the effort.



#18 jconn

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Posted 14 March 2016 - 05:18

 

I think the most pragmatic way to achieve this would be to get a whole bin of screws and test them randomly until you find a couple with heads that come to rest in the position you want.

 

I don't see any way that it's worth the effort.

 

1. Use any other type of screw-head than slotted, such as Torx or Hex.

2. It is possible to drill and tap the holes using a holding fixture such that the cross-slots in the machine screw would align at a given rotational torque.

 

If it is purely an aesthetic concern, then #1 is probably the best option; #2 is probably not economical or efficient given the low volume of production and low cost.



#19 TonyTeaBags

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Posted 15 March 2016 - 00:28

I took delivery of my Fountain K today. Now that I can hold the pen in my hands, I can attest first hand that the materials and workmanship are exemplary. It is beautiful. 6061-T6 is extremely light and strong, and it is the material that they make railroad cars and airliners from. The anodizing of this pen is done very well, there are no flaws that I can discern. If you read Tony Belding's review, you will know everything.

So, on to the nib and feed questions. The first thing I did was to disassemble the entire pen. I pulled the nib and feed from the housing and soaked them for a time in a drop or so of dishwashing detergent and a glassful of water. The feed had some oil or some such fluid on it because I could see the shiney reflection and feel the slickness.

While the nib parts were soaking, I pulled the screws from the cap and applied some threadlock to the tapped holes, then reattached the clip. The tapped holes in the cap go all the way through into the inside of the cap, so I cleaned the exess threadlock from the cap interior.

Now to check the nib tines. They were well finished, but they were touching at the tip and the nib was polished that way. I separated the tines so that they remained a hair separated, cleaned and inspected the feed, and reassembled the nib section. By the way, the feed has a large air channel running along the bottom, and I think it is the same feed used in Kaweco Sport pens. The nib, while the same size as that of the Sport, seems to be of a slightly better quality.

Finally, I checked the setting of the feed to the nib (nice and tight) and filled the pen with Aurora blue. I immediately got the globule of ink that Tony talked about, but since I had the nib and feed unit apart I knew what it was. The air channel in the bottom of the feed gets filled with ink and will drip out. So, after filling the pen, make sure to soak up the ink in the channel and free up the feed's regulating system.

The pen skipped while starting. After it started to write, it wrote very well, but if I lifted the nib from the paper, it skipped the start. I guessed it was because I adjusted the tines, so I smoothed the nib to remove the baby's bottom that I had caused by the nib separation, and -POOF- the pen writes beautifully. No unreliable starts or skips. Smooth, even flow.

I'm glad that I bought the pen. I like the way it looks. I like its different feel and small size. Only time and use will tell if the pen will remain reliable.

#20 TonyTeaBags

TonyTeaBags

    Near Mint

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Posted 18 March 2016 - 01:40

I thought that I would add my impressions after carrying the pen for a few days.

The Fountain K writes very well indeed. No hard starts or skips. Startup is immediate after many hours in my shirt pocket, and also after resting all night. Very reliable. This pen is slightly barrel heavy, and I do not post my pens, so I feel the slight imbalance but it is not at all uncomfortable. I'm quickly learning that I really like using this pen.

After refilling, I was careful to clean all the ink from the air channel in the lower part of the feed, and the flow is smooth and consistent. No problems at all.

I think that this pen will be a great shirt pocket carry pen for me in any setting.





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