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Sheaffer Taranis (Stormy Night): A Review
Lyander0012 posted a topic in Fountain Pen ReviewsSHEAFFER TARANIS (Stormy Night) Review: Someone Had To Write One Eventually Leaving my choice in tag lines aside, I'm fairly sure that the title of this article managed to turn some heads all on its own. This is, after all, a review of an extremely interesting pen, one possessing the weight of expectations that it live up to its being released in Sheaffer's Centennial year, a polarizing (read: love-it-or-hate-it) design, and one heck of a cool name. … I'm something of a mythology freak, if that explains things. Now, I've had this pen for a while now, and have had the time to get to know it fairly well. I'm one of those crazy types who attribute personality quirks and attitudes to fountain pens, so if that sort of thing disagrees with you, then I'm proffering my apologies. And yes, “proffering” is an actual word. This review will be divided into three sections, namely: Build Quality & Design, Usability & Writing Performance, and, last but not least, a section wherein I'll give my exhaustive opinion on whether or not this pen is truly worth buying; I can't think of an appropriate enough name for it just yet, nor do I really see the need to think one up. So, I'll get right to it, then: BUILD QUALITY & DESIGN: I'll be honest here: I was one of those people that nearly gagged when I saw the first pics of the Taranis emerge online. I happened to be drinking a cup of hot chocolate at the time, as I recall, so that bit about me nearly choking isn't even close to figurative. It looked to me like Sheaffer took more than a few design cues from Lamy's line of pens, to put it nicely. Really, I'm almost a hundred percent sure that there are loads of other people who'd agree that the Taranis looks something like a Lamy 2000 wearing Sheaffer colours (er, not literally, since the Lamy 2000 is also black, albeit with a matte finish). Others, however, maintain that it looks quite a bit like Pilot/Namiki's also-prolific Vanishing Point fountain pen while posted. My opinion? They're not too far off the mark, come to think of it. After all, when viewed from straight on in just the right lighting, the strip of metal that bisects the section looks very nearly as obtrusive as the VP's clip. Considering how many people defer from using the VP simply because the clip gets in their way while, that's saying something. Ah, but I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. Sorry, it's just rather difficult to avoid talking about the grip section, which I'm fairly sure is one of the reasons Sheaffer designed it the way they did. Anyway, let's start with another, slightly less controversial design element, the first thing most people will see while the pen is pocketed: the clip. …. Wow, what a clip. The clip is by no means ostentatiously designed, but it stands out all the same. To be frank, it's just... a really large clip. By my measure, the clip is exactly 60mm, or 2 2.5/8in. long, and is roughly 4.5mm wide (I am NOT getting the Imperial measure for that, online converter or no). The base of the clip, including the lengths not really attached to the top side of the cap, is 20mm long, with the company's name emblazoned in block lettering on the right-hand side of the pen, a la Lamy 2000 (see what I mean?). Also, Sheaffer's iconic White Dot is positioned near the top of the clip, as per the norm. Speaking of the White Dot, I can't be a hundred percent certain, as this is only my second Sheaffer pen, but the Dot looks to be rather smaller. The Dot on my Prelude is 2.5mm across, while the one on the Taranis is only 2mm across, give or take a few micrometers. Whether or not the Dot's diameter changes across Sheaffer's line of pens, I have no idea. I'll remember to bring a ruler, maybe even a caliper, along with me the next time I go shopping. Regardless of its diameter, though, the White Dot looks perfectly at home on the Taranis's monolith of a clip, which in turn fits in quite well with the overall design of the pen. This is in spite of its being nearly half as long as the entire pen itself. It just works. Then again, beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. Keep that in mind, since you'll probably need to repeat that to yourself ad nauseum once we get to the grip section. The cap itself is relatively plain, but in a good way. It tapers sleekly from the base to the top, and ends in a sort of rounded square shape. I'm told that these squared -off ends (it's duplicated in the barrel of the pen) are a throwback to an earlier Sheaffer design— the Imperial, I believe. There's not much else to say about the cap, really, save for the fact that it's a slip-on cap. The manner in which the clip is attached to the cap is also noteworthy. As you can see here, barely a third of the clip's base is actually in contact with the cap, there being gaps on either end, which I assume are meant to increase the springiness of the clip, which, by the by, is really rather stiff. It's a bit difficult to flex it wide enough to accommodate denim jacket pockets, but it's very secure. I tried clipping the pen to a fairly thin dress shirt pocket, and the pen stayed safely in place even while I was jumping around. Literally. Just... don't ask if there was any ink spilled. Please. *ahem* Um, so... where was I? Oh, right, the barrel. The barrel of the pen is very nearly a repeat of the cap, minus the clip. I've placed the pen next to a ruler in this picture to illustrate my point. I probably ought to have touched upon this sooner, but what the heck: The cap itself is precisely 66mm long by my measure, while the barrel of the pen is just a tad longer, at 72mm long (that's not inclusive of the silver band that separates the barrel from the grip section). As earlier stated, the barrel tapers to a rounded square end which, at first, I thought to look a bit strange. The design's grown on me in the time I've owned it, though, so I don't mind it nearly half as much as I used to. Both the cap and the are made of some sort of metal, and painted over black. There's a simple enough method I use to determine whether a pen has a metal barrel or not, and it involves using suspect barrel as a stylus for my smartphone. I've tried using my laptop's trackpad, but it's nowhere near as sensitive, so the testing gets more than a little iffy. The paint used seems fairly durable, if a bit smudgy. I came very close to hunting around for a pair of gloves to keep from leaving fingerprints all over the pen. If you're as much of a neat freak as I am, and you don't want to spend every other minute polishing the barrel of your pen, then I strongly recommend you get one of the matte finishes. I'd fooled myself into thinking that the Icy Gunmetal version wasn't really worth the 360-peso (roughly 8USD?) mark-up over the Stormy Night finish. I've rarely been so wrong. Also, yes, there's a price gap between those two finishes here in the Philippines, despite their costing the exact same amount elsewhere. I'll definitely get back to that later on in the third section of this article, as you'll see I have good reason to. Okay, now on to the busiest part of this pen: the grip section. … Well, what can I say? Sheaffer seems to have outdone itself in sheer brashness of design here. If anything, I'm both nonplussed and in awe at their having the guts to display the company name so aggressively on the section. If you're worried about the metal portion interfering with your grip, by the way, then let me put your anxieties to rest: the section is designed in such a way that one will almost always manage hold the resin bit of the section (unless they have extremely unorthodox grips, that is), which I find very pleasant to the touch. The metal band also has the bonus benefit of helping one properly orient the nib, which neutralizes the one common problem I've found with most hooded/semi-hooded nibs. On a related note: the “ears” on the Lamy 2000 help me in much the same way, which is why I'm actually grateful for them. Hmm, what with all the references I'm making to the Lamy 2k, I may as well just follow this up with a comparison of the two pens. It's a thought. Also, as you can sort of see here, there's a gold-painted indication of the nib's grade. That single strip of gold you see was a full-fledged “F” when I first bought this pen, but apparently it rubs off rather easily. I can see why some would think that displaying the nib grade on the underside of the section would clash with the overall design lines of the pen, but I personally thought it rather pleasant to look at, and vaguely reminiscent of how older, more pragmatic fountain pens would have similar markings stamped onto their barrels or grip sections. It looked a bit retro, I suppose you could say. As of the time of this writing, the demarcation has completely vanished, leaving the resin portion of the grip section completely unmarked. It's a shame, really, and I'm going to miss it quite a bit. I can just barely make out the edges of the section's metal band, which are almost in direct contact with the resin part of the section. The edges appear to be the slightest bit rough in some areas, though it's hardly noticeable to me without the aid of a magnifying glass. That is to say, unless you're really going out of your way to look for the tiniest flaws in detailing and artifacts of the manufacturing process, kinda like what I'm doing at the moment, you'll probably not notice it at all. Of course, considering how minute the flaws, I could've just been unlucky enough to pick up a Taranis with unit-specific problems, so your mileage may vary. Also, there seem to be three very slight outward-protruding dents in the metal part of the section located just above the metal band that is visible while the pen is capped. As far as I can tell, these are what keep the cap in place, though I'm not entirely certain. They're relatively unobtrusive, but it's hard not to notice them once you know they're there. You have my apologies. With regards to the pen's durability, I have to say that I'm impressed. As earlier stated, both the cap and the barrel are made of some sort of metal (I'm not an expert in metallurgy, so I can't identify the metal with any degree of certainty), which instantly raises my estimation of a pen's durability. I can't say the same for the finish, however, as the paint— or coating, whatever you wish to call it— already seems to show faint signs of posting. I'm taking great care to avoid aggravating this by posting no deeper than is absolutely necessary, meaning that I only go so far as to keep the cap from wobbling while I'm writing. This is one of the drawbacks of a friction fit, I suppose. So far, I've had a very good impression of this pen. In point of fact, there's hardly a thing discussed that I don't like about the Taranis. Of course, no pen being perfect, there has to be a point where things have to start to going downhill, even if only for a short while. For me, this is that point. And, no, it's not a minor thing to me, either. Things deteriorated rather quickly the moment I first unscrewed the barrel. As you can see in the following picture, the threads that attach the barrel to the section are imperfect. While I'm not unduly worried about long-term wear and tear, the corresponding thread on the barrel also being made of metal, it's still sloppy work, which is inexcusable in anything save for a disposable fountain pen, which this most definitely is not. Still, that could be counted as nitpicking, since it doesn't really impede the pen's performance or durability whatsoever. What I can NOT excuse, however, is the new converter that came with the pen. Sorry, I believe I've misspoken. By “new converter”, I do not mean that Sheaffer designed a new converter that's in any way an improvement over their previous one. It does not hold any more ink than the older one in my Prelude, it is not a converter you can disassemble (trust me, that would be a huge help), nor is it any easier to operate. Essentially, it is the same proprietary converter found in other Sheaffer pens. Except that this is infinitely worse. No, really, this converter initially drove me up the wall. This part of the review has been edited several times over now, since the scathing rant that it kept on deteriorating into was in no way helpful to understanding the pen, nor was it the sort of thing that one would expect in a professional, if casually written, review. Suffice to say that it revolved around the terms “penny-pinching”, “inferior quality”, and “flashing”. By “flashing”, of course, I'm referring to the artifacts left behind by a careless or unpolished injection-moulding process. You see, though it's not immediately apparent in these photographs, there is a palpable difference between the older Sheaffer converter (above, with striations) and the one that came with the Taranis (below, without striations). For one thing, the latter feels much cheaper to the touch. Whether this is the result of Sheaffer cutting production costs by switching out the original materials with cheaper alternatives or the production process merely being, I'm sorry for the word, shoddier, I have no idea. I have suspicions towards both, really, but as earlier stated, I'm no metallurgist, so I can't be entirely sure that the former claim isn't any spurious. I'll now say that I'm only basing my theorizing on what I've seen and felt (maybe even smelled) during my scrutiny of this pen. As the issues I'm experiencing may just be the unit specific (think Murphy's Law), don't make any hasty generalizations you may regret, or could get me into trouble (haha); I still recommend that you take a look at a few Sheaffer pens for yourselves and draw your own conclusions. After all, a conclusion drawn from a sample population of one can hardly be considered a statistically significant finding. Consider the above my disclaimer. Perhaps the one thing that I really can't help but hate about the converter is the fiddly piston knob. While with most converters, even the older Sheaffer one, the piston knob essentially just rotates in place, the converter in the Taranis has a whole new dimension of movement: lateral wiggling. … For some odd reason, my use of the word “wiggling” just then seemed to take a lot of the seriousness from the paragraph. Bah. Anyway, even on a full reservoir of ink, there's an extra bit of leeway one can turn the knob with. Perhaps there's a gap in the interior of the converter's mechanism, or perhaps I actually am supposed to be able to disassemble the converter, and simply didn't try hard enough (I don't really mean that seriously, mind you). Either way, it makes the converter feel as if it's about to fall apart or spit out a huge wad of ink onto my shirt. And as shown here, there are many flashing marks present on the knob and the reservoir itself (the Taranis is the one with a chunkier knob, on the right). I scratched off a few of these, but then gave up for fear that I'd inadvertently break something. To try and be fair, though, it does its job as a converter very well, and apart from a few instances when I've had to clean the inner side of the pen's barrel of ink (by my guess, some ink had escaped via the gap between the section and the converter), I've had no troubles whatsoever with it. I still fear for the filling system's long-term durability though, and find operating the converter more unpleasant than otherwise. I haven't a camera or lighting system good enough to make this out, but looking inside the grip section, you'll find a proboscis of sorts that plunges into the aperture of the converter, which I find stabilizes the inkflow somewhat, and prevents skipping even with prolonged sessions of fast writing. The one caveat I have to offer here is that you'll want to take extra care when installing a converter here, as you may accidentally damage this proboscis or the opening of the converter. And one more note on design: You'll recall that the ends of the pen taper of into rounded square shapes, yes? To my joy, when you lay the pen flat on an even surface with the “Sheaffer” branding on the section facing right up, the ends of the pen are perfectly plumb, meaning that the bottom end of the rounded square on the barrel draws a perfectly parallel line with whatever surface you're laying it on. It's an admittedly miniscule detail, but I'm still glad that Sheaffer went out of their way to be precise here, as it makes up very slightly for their supplying a low-quality converter with the Taranis. Alright, one last thing about the converter before I lay the matter to rest: If you've a stock of older Sheaffer converters, then I recommend that you take great care with them. If the supplied converter here on the Taranis is any indication of what Sheaffer will start rolling out with the rest of their pens, then you'll really want to have several backups. Some branches here in the Philippines offer Sheaffer proprietary converters for sale individually, pricing them at around $10 (an estimation). If you think it worth the price, then I needn't say that you should go for it. Now, I've been rambling for quite a while now on how durable the pen is, and how much I like its looks. Strangely enough, this being a fountain pen and all, I've yet to refer to how well it writes! I really ought to fix that: USABILITY & WRITING PERFORMANCE I've touched upon a lot of things that should've been left for here in the previous section. As such, my including “usability” here in this section is starting to seem somewhat moot. Well, they say that it's better to learn from your mistakes than to ignore them, so I'll remember that fro when I write another review. Just to recap, though: The grip section is very nice to the touch, thanks to the utilization of resin. The metal band on the section is in no way cumbersome for its being there, but then again, I have what most people would call a standard grip, I can't really speak for left-handed hook writers and the like. The paint, or rather, coating (it's a bit hard to tell, and I don't want to have to chip the finish just to find out which it is) feels nice to the touch, and is nearly as grippy as the section itself, though I'm nonetheless still very glad for the resin. This pen would have become an instant favourite with me if both the barrel and cap had been made of resin, but that's perhaps asking for too much. Take care not to drop the pen or post too hard, as that may ruin the finish. Then again, this problem could easily be resolved, perhaps, if one were to purchase any of the four other finishes, particularly the matte-textured ones. I didn't have a black a glossy black pen, which appears to be something akin to a woman's LBD (little black dress) here in fountain pendom, so I thought that this would be a good chance to remedy that situation. My Lamy 2000 (which is, sadly, away for repairs for the next month or two) doesn't really count, I feel, as it has a matte finish. As for me, I already have a polishing cloth for my glasses handy at most times, so problem solved. The clip, while a controversial design element in its own right, is very well designed, and would have gotten something like a 9/10 from me in usability if this were a scored review. Apart from being slightly stiff, which really isn't a problem for a lot of people, there's absolutely nothing bad about it whatsoever. Also, and I failed to mention this earlier, the upper 2cm of the clip is more an aesthetic projection than anything else. Looking at the clip from the side once again, and with my Prelude for comparison, you'll see that the usable portion of the clip is just as long on the Taranis as it it in the older pen. Basically, the clip on the Taranis is long simply for the sake of being long, and possibly for making the clip somewhat sturdier. As a result, the Taranis stands out a good 2cm taller than any other pen in the same pocket while clipped. All things considered, it seems to me that Sheaffer went out of its way to make this pen one you can't help but notice. That's not a bad thing per se, but there is a limit to what can be considered in good taste. Thankfully, that's a boundary that Sheaffer, at least in my opinion, managed to respect. Now, on to the part of the review that I'm fairly certain a lot of you were looking forward to: the writing sample: As you can see, the Taranis definitely has a fine nib. I wouldn't go so far as to call it an extra-fine, though it does seem to come rather close. There's been talk of the Taranis's nib grades being different from that of other Sheaffer pens, that they're closer to the Asian nib grading than the Western grading on other Sheaffer pens. I don't know about you, but if this writing sample isn't conclusive proof to that effect, then I doubt anything will be enough to set your doubts aside. The pen wrote well out of the box, though I must admit that I have it a thorough flushing before inking it up. The tines were slightly misaligned at first, but I won't hold that against Sheaffer, really, since a lot of manufacturers ship pens with imperfectly tuned tines; I'm of the opinion that any fountain pen enthusiast ought to learn basic FP care, maintenance, and repair. Sure, it'd be great if every manufacturer thoroughly tested and tuned each of their pens prior to shipping, but that'd hardly be economic of them, what with the sheer amount of manpower required for such tasks. Besides, there's almost nothing a brass shim, an extremely fine-grit buffer, and a pair of soft-nose pliers can't fix, when they're used properly. I'd say that the nib was fairly smooth, though hardly butter-on-glass smooth. Don't expect too much smoothness out of a Fine nib, especially one as fine as this. Still, for the narrow line width it offers (and let's face it, as much fun as a BB nib is to write with, such a broad nib is hardly ideal for taking down notes or writing on lower quality paper, which students such as yours truly are often forced to resort to), the nib gives off a reasonable amount of feedback. I'd say it was a bit “talkative”, but perhaps the feedback would better be described as “whispering”, since there really is very little noise when writing. It's also a wet writer. Far from being being the Nile river during heavy rains, it nevertheless leaves a reasonably saturated line that lubricates the tipping material well, contributing to the overall smoothness of the writing experience. The feed keeps up well during quick scribbling, leaving no traces of skipping whatsoever. I messed up a bit in the first scribble, as you can see; there's a portion that looks as if the line had doubled back on itself, branching off slightly from the single scribble. That was my fault, as I'd bumped my elbow into something while scribbling, rotating the pen in my hands. I'm not certain whether this pen can keep up during prolonged shorthand writing or with grand flourishes, as I do neither, but the results look favourable, based on what I've seen so far. One thing that bothers me, though, is this: Why is the breather hole covered? SO, SHOULD YOU GET IT? Yeah... that's the title I'm sticking with. Anyway, though this review has been extensively coloured by my own experiences and opinions, I sincerely hope that you've been able to draw your own conclusions. I've done my utmost to ensure that the reader will have as thorough an understanding of this pen as possible, short of actually trying it out for themselves. In other words, I just did my best to save you a trip to the brick & mortar and the local bookstore. I had way too much free time =_= Overall, the pen is a very good writer. Apart from a few complaints regarding the materials used in constructing... some of its components, such as the easily-marked finish of this particular version or the... *cough*, and the fact that the design is about as polarizing as it comes, there's simply nothing to hate about the pen. It's a wet writer, but it plays well with thinner papers, too. You'll probably still experience bleedthrough if you use it with particularly bad paper, but that shouldn't be a problem if you're okay with sticking to one side of the page. It feels great in the hand, too, in case I hadn't stressed that enough earlier on. Before I got this pen, I thought that the people who raved about resin pens and how they were highly superior to mere plastic pens were simply being elitist. Now that I've gotten to play with good-quality resin for a significant amount of time (even if it was only used in the pen's grip section), I now feel I ought to revise my opinion of resin pens, and resin pen fans, in general. They had something going for them, after all! ************ Now, if you'll recall, I made a reference to something that bothered me regarding the Taranis's pricing earlier on (much earlier on) in this review. This is, as far as I can tell, an inconsistency unique to the Philippines, so unless you happen to live there/here or are simply curious, there's no real need to read on. The pricing for the Taranis according to Sheaffer, it's MSRP, if you will, is $145 for the Stormy Night (reviewed), Icy Gunmetal, and Sleek Chrome fountain pens, while the White Lightning and Stormy Wine fountain pens both cost $165 apiece. Here in the Philippines, however, the Stormy Night and Sleek Chrome cost PHP2,700, which is under $65 at the current exchange rate, while the Icy Gunmetal costs slightly more at PHP3,060 (approx. $73), despite there being no price difference elsewhere. The real shock lies in the prices of the White Lightning and Stormy Wine finishes, both of which come with a gold-plated trim instead of the chrome of the other three pens. They're still equally priced, but at an eye-watering PHP11,500, approx. $274. I mean, I know gold is a scarce resource and is only really used with luxury items and the like, but the price disparity is silly, bordering on insane! Even considering EVAT (a tax here in the Philippines) and shipping fees, I sincerely doubt that there's any viable reason that the total is over $100 above the SRP elsewhere. The following off-the-top-of-my-head theories are pure speculation, so remember to take them with a grain of salt. Anyway, it could be that the more economically-priced three pens here in the Philippines are of an inferior quality to the self-same models sold elsewhere, which is why Sheaffer can afford to cut down so much from the MSRP. If that is indeed the case, then that'd explain certain... things that have come to my attention regarding the build quality of the reviewed pen. I find that a bit unlikely though, due to the fact that it'd be much too cumbersome a solution to really work out. But if that indeed is the case, then I'm calling out racism (just kidding )! Another possibility that comes to mind is the fact that Sheaffer could have shaved off over half the price of the three chrome-trimmed fountain pens in an effort to attract more budget-conscious buyers, then bumped up (more like skyrocketed, really) the price of the other two pens, which would be more attractive to the image-conscious buyer anyway, in order to make up for their losses. … Yeah, I don't think that makes much sense either. ************ And there you have it, my exhaustive review of the Sheaffer Taranis Stormy Night fountain pen. I hope that I managed to help out anyone who's considering this pen, even if only somewhat, and that you all enjoyed reading this review. If any of you could contribute towards solving the price discrepancy between the chrome-trim and gold-trim models, then that'd give me one less thing to idly think about Now, time for a well-deserved nap. Cheers! Kevin