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Thusly's Handwriting Improvement Log: Starting From Zero


thusly

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Hi everyone,

 

I started writing with computers back when I was still in high school, and having

continued in the field afterwards, found very little use for paper and pen. In turn,

I've forgotten almost entirely how to handwrite, and my printing is atrocious. I set

about improving all of this at the beginning of this month, and thought that others

might benefit from seeing my progress as I work through.

 

http://i.imgur.com/hh18s.jpg

 

I'll start by providing an overview of the book I am using, Fred Eager's The Italic

Way to Beautiful Handwriting: Cursive & Calligraphic. Looking into reviews for this

book is actually how I first discovered FPN. A number have recommended it within these

forums, and yet more elsewhere. I bought a used copy off of AbeBooks.com.

 

It is a workbook, in that you are expected to write within the book itself. As it is

no longer in print, however, the last thing I want to do is mark mine up. So I have

instead been scanning the pages, stripping out the instructive text, and printing off

copies to trace. Here's an example of what the exercises in the book look like:

 

http://i.imgur.com/Pmu3o.png

(Note that the beginning exercises have you work with a felt marker, not an italic nibbed

pen, hence the lack of line variation in this sample.)

 

The author teaches both calligraphic and cursive modes of Italic writing, believing that

through a combined knowledge of the two, the student will have a better understanding

of writing as a whole, and will further be able to use aspects of both in their own

unique, derived hand.

 

Samples at the beginning show you the two styles you will be taught.

 

The Calligraphic Mode of Italic Handwriting:

http://i.imgur.com/rvJal.png

 

The Cursive Mode of Italic Handwriting:

http://i.imgur.com/2rd4C.png

 

I do not expect to have a perfect, beautiful hand by the time I am finished this book,

but instead wish for it to provide me with fundamental knowledge and techniques which

I can use to continue improving after its completion.

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The pen. It was after I opened the book above, and checked its list of materials, that I

became interested in obtaining a fountain pen. Having already been on FPN due to reviews

of the book, this is where I returned to see what consensus indicated to be a good, cheap

starter fountain pen.

 

http://i.imgur.com/sl3Ee.jpg

 

I opted for a Lamy Safari in charcoal black. I ordered it with a broad nib due entirely to

my own ignorance. My knowledge of FPs was not unlike that of the people many FPN users

find to be rather bothersome (if the thread about worst comments said to an FP owner are

any indication), which is in thinking that they are inextricably tied to calligraphy.

 

Essentially, I assumed that all nibs are italics (please put away the pitchforks), and

ordered a broad thinking that it meant a broad italic nib, which is what the book requested.

I realized my mistake a remarkably short amount time afterward, via an exquisitely minimal

amount of research. The order was already en route, so there was little I could do.

 

http://i.imgur.com/UPkw2.jpg

 

Oh, and along with the pen, I ordered the converter, and a 30ml bottle of J. Herbin's Perle

Noire ink. I decided that I would use the broad nib with the blue cartridge the pen comes

with during the felt marker exercises, and then switch to the converter and use the black

ink when I purchase and receive the right nib.

 

On the subject of the ideal ink colour when learning a script, I went with a black, reasoning

that it will provide the best contrast between itself and the paper, allowing me to better

view my mistakes. While reading Writing & Illuminating & Lettering by Edward Johnston

last night, I came across a thought-affirming and wonderfully written paragraph:

 

"Jet black is the normal hue; it will also test the

quality of the writing; it shows up all the faults;

pale or tinted inks rather conceal the faults, and

lend a false appearance of excellence." -Edward Johnston

 

The last thing I'd like to portray is a false appearance of excellence. Black it is.

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Are you ready for this? I sure hope so. Brace yourself. Below this paragraph you will find a

sample I wrote to the author of the book, as advised by him, before I began any other reading

or practicing whatsoever. In other words, were you to receive a note from me at any point

before this month, it would look roughly like this:

 

http://i.imgur.com/W9K6d.jpg

(Sept. 2)

 

Now, that is me writing "at speed", but what a monstrous thing it is. To give you some sense of

how little I remembered of the proper procedures for writing, there are many letters that I would

form differently each time I wrote them, depending on what came before them and where my pen was.

The lowercase letter 'l', for example, would sometimes be written by starting at the baseline.

Sometimes an 'e' was two strokes, other times, just one. And so on. The only place to go is up, yes?

 

http://i.imgur.com/AgpKv.jpg

(Sept. 2)

 

This is the same day, working through some of the first exercises in the book. As mentioned above,

you start off with a felt pen while paying attention to other aspects of writing. The first 30 or so

pages are all done in felt, and help you to understand the benefits of maintaining a consistent

x-height, slant, inter- and intra- word spacing, and so on, while also teaching you the proper way

to form each letter, how the letter forms relate to ovals and boxes, etc.

 

http://i.imgur.com/06b8N.jpg

(Sept. 5)

 

A few days later, and I was already making progress. You'll have to pardon the sometimes silly

word choices or phrases that I've written in these first few samples, I wasn't initially planning

on scanning and making public these photos of my progress; it was very much either just stream

of consciousness, or wanting to try out a specific letter combination. (And I hadn't learned

all of the lowercase letters yet, so word choice was somewhat constricted.)

 

You can see at the top I wrote "no ruler". This was exciting to me because with my old chicken

scratch, I could not maintain anything even close to resembling a straight line without a guide.

My words would veer down, or up, and maybe get bigger or smaller in the process. Being able to

write even a single word and have it look relatively straight was already so far ahead of where

I was, and all it really took was slowing down. A recurring theme, that. Slow down.

 

http://i.imgur.com/IPiw2.jpg

(Sept. 10)

 

It would be a day or two before this that I looked into fountain pens, and ordered the broad-nibbed

Lamy Safari, with the ink and converter. Comparing that writing to only 8 days prior, I felt good.

Sure the x-height varies and the slant is inconsistent and I used a gel pen and... , but it's legible.

 

http://i.imgur.com/kZQHY.jpg

(Sept 15.)

 

Lamy Safari arrived, of course with the non-italic broad nib, so I tried using it with the guide

sheet that is meant for a felt pen. No, that's definitely not a 4-5 nib widths tall x-height, but

it helped me to get used to the smoothness of the FP. (Again please note I was not planning on

scanning these and posting them online.)

 

On the fourth line up from the bottom, you'll see I wrote "pointed at shoulder". What I haven't

discussed yet, that I was also going through these first two weeks, was numerous adjustments in

how I write.

 

Grip & Posture

 

My pen grip was the first change, as the book covered the proper grip, and I realized that I have

been holding pens wrong my entire life. Death grip? Better! Death grip, with my middle finger kept

on the shaft right below my pointer finger. It was a super death grip. Thankfully, it was not that

difficult to give up. After about three days, I no longer even had to remind myself of the proper grip,

my fingers just assumed it automatically when gripping the pen.

 

Then I came across this thread, here on FPN:

Orientation Of Writing Arm And Paper

 

Lots of great discussion and links to external sources, but damned if I didn't realize I was still

doing things wrong because of it all. This next change was much more difficult, mostly because of

some conflicting information, and some confusion.

 

When writing, I would put weight on my right arm. Specifically, the weight would be handled by the

edge of my right palm, causing it to stick to the paper and preventing anything even remotely

resembling flow. All of this I now knew I had to fix, but how best to position myself? I read

through the section on it in a book linked from the above thread, called Practical Penmanship.

 

I somehow mis-read one section and thought that my entire right arm needed to be off the table. You

can imagine the results. After a re-read and some Google searches, I found something that works well

for me. My right palm lightly touches the desk, and my hand glides on the nails of my pinky and ring

fingers. I keep my left foot a little bit forward, as well as the left side of my body. This ensures

that I put my weight on my left arm beside the work, and not on my right arm, allowing it to flow

more freely. I do still slouch a bit, but this is something I can slowly improve with practice, and

I fear the height of my desk relative to my chair may primarily be responsible.

 

I then started to teach myself how to write with my arm and shoulder muscles instead of my finger

muscles, only to realize that the large-scale felt work I'd been doing had already been forcing this

upon me. If you want to be able to match the strokes he makes, at the same size and slant, you have

to involve your arm and shoulder.

 

There were of course still a number of days spent adjusting to this all. In a way it was kind of

disheartening, as the forms I was drawing were looking like I was back at square one, but I

caught up with myself quickly enough and am all the better for it. It seemed better to get this

all sorted out when I'd just begun, rather than months down the line when I'd formed habits.

 

Oh, the images I'm posting are just randomly pulled from a stack. I printed off numerous copies of

each page from the book to practice with, along with a bunch of guide sheet pages. Up until this

point, the 15th of September, I have probably around 50 practice sheets.

 

 

http://i.imgur.com/35OeP.jpg

(Sept. 26.)

 

Life got in the way, and I spent almost a week and a half without practicing. I got back down to it,

working through the final felt-oriented pages, as my italic nib was now on the way. The felt I was

using started to die as I finished that last page, which is why the line thickness is varying so much.

 

While browsing FPN mostly at random I came across someone discussing Lamy's italic nibs, who mentioned

that the 1.5mm nib laid down a line roughly 1.1mm thick. I was able to save myself some time and money

because of him, ordering the 1.5mm nib instead of the 1.9mm; I measured the thickness of the guides

found later in the book, where it turned to using a fountain pen, and they were 1.1mm exactly. If I had

ordered the 1.9mm, I would have had a nib that was much too thick for the guides in the book.

 

So, thanks, random FPN member!

 

http://i.imgur.com/OI5uI.jpg

(Sept. 27.)

 

Some miscellaneous practice while waiting on the nib, and having completed the felt section. I have

a rather hard time with f's, for some reason. The back-stroke is usually not long enough, and I always

end up giving the stem too much of a slant. You can also see that my slant as a whole straightens for

the second half of the page, where I lack the slant guide.

 

http://i.imgur.com/8EycI.jpg

(Sept. 29.)

 

I am currently also learning French, and figure the two should make for a good combination -- I will

gain practice with writing by answering the review questions on paper, instead of on my computer. This

was me in fairly bad circumstances, and trying to write a bit faster. I wrote on a stack of paper inside

of a binder, in a cramped area. For all of that, I am happy with it compared to my writing a month prior.

 

http://i.imgur.com/oMJSf.jpg

 

(Sept. 29.)

 

The italic nib came, so I switched everything over. Removed the cartridge, added the converter,

flushed the pen with the old broad nib in it, then switched nibs and inked up with the J. Herbin

Perle Noire.

 

This is just me toying with the pen and trying to maintain the right angle. Haven't yet started any

of the book's lessons designed for fountain pens.

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Whew! Goodbye past tense, I am all caught up. I'm not sure whether anyone will care to read my experiences as I go, but I thought I'd put this together all the same, as it's helpful even just to me.

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Whew! Goodbye past tense, I am all caught up. I'm not sure whether anyone will care to read my experiences as I go, but I thought I'd put this together all the same, as it's helpful even just to me.

Perish the thought - already, your posts are both enlightening and inspiring. TBH, I did the same thing, and got the Eager book on ABE about 2 months ago. Unfortunately, life intruded, so I don't have the time to dedicate at the moment. That said, however, *please* continue to post your progress, it will be fun to follow and give incentive to dive in when the time frees up.

 

And congratulations - you are already making great strides!

"When Men differ in Opinion, both Sides ought equally to have the Advantage of being heard by the Publick; and that when Truth and Error have fair Play, the former is always an overmatch for the latter."

~ Benjamin Franklin

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Whew! Goodbye past tense, I am all caught up. I'm not sure whether anyone will care to read my experiences as I go, but I thought I'd put this together all the same, as it's helpful even just to me.

Perish the thought - already, your posts are both enlightening and inspiring. TBH, I did the same thing, and got the Eager book on ABE about 2 months ago. Unfortunately, life intruded, so I don't have the time to dedicate at the moment. That said, however, *please* continue to post your progress, it will be fun to follow and give incentive to dive in when the time frees up.

 

And congratulations - you are already making great strides!

 

Thanks for the kind words, I'll be sure to continue. I'm glad my

own words will be useful to more than just myself. Life does have

a knack for getting in the way of things, but if you find time to

begin, I would love to see how someone else fares following the

same instructions.

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Great stuff. You seem to have made fantastic progress, and this will be an inspiration to many. Well done!

Sincerely, beak.

 

God does not work in mysterious ways – he works in ways that are indistinguishable from his non-existence.

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Great stuff. You seem to have made fantastic progress, and this will be an inspiration to many. Well done!

 

Thank you.

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http://i.imgur.com/zwtu3.jpg

(Sept. 30.)

 

This was my first time attempting to seriously use a fountain

pen with an italic nib. The exercises seen span two pages in

the book, I trimmed the text out so I could double them up and

fit it all onto one page.

 

The purpose of this introductory section is to ensure that the

angle at which you write with the pen, relative to the baseline,

is at a consistent 45º angle.

 

When I first put the pen in the correct position, I had some

serious doubts about my ability to maintain it, but having

now completed a page's exercises spent mostly in that position,

I can see that it is entirely possible for me to do it comfortably,

and that I will just need some time to get used to it.

 

There were three main factors I had to keep in mind in order

to keep my lines (relatively) smooth and straight, and when

I forgot any one of them things would quickly go askew.

They were:

 

  1. The feel of the nib on the paper. As soon as I paid attention to this, my grip
    would relax.
  2. Keeping my weight shifted to the left, and off of my writing arm. Immediately
    after realizing I was putting too much weight on my right arm, and making the
    switch, the difference in feeling was immediate. Less robotic, much more fluid.
  3. The position of my elbow. Near the end of each line I'd begin to have trouble,
    then remember to move my elbow out as well, and found the writing smooth
    once more.

 

I have a few more copies of this practice sheet printed off,

which I'll be using daily to help familiarize myself with

the pen positioning, while improving the uniformity of my

lines.

 

--

 

(Editing this post instead of creating another. It's an hour

past when I originally posted.)

 

Had another go at the practice sheet, taking into account the problems

I had last time. Still not ideal, but a definite improvement.

 

http://i.imgur.com/CHMPo.jpg

 

The lines I skipped are ones designed to show you what it feels

like to write incorrectly -- not exactly something I wish to

practice repeatedly.

Edited by thusly
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Great stuff! My hat is off to any autodact! You have focus and determination. And patience. Good for you. :notworthy1:

 

I'll be watching for updates. :->

 

 

http://i.imgur.com/zwtu3.jpg

(Sept. 30.)

 

This was my first time attempting to seriously use a fountain

pen with an italic nib. The exercises seen span two pages in

the book, I trimmed the text out so I could double them up and

fit it all onto one page.

 

The purpose of this introductory section is to ensure that the

angle at which you write with the pen, relative to the baseline,

is at a consistent 45º angle.

 

When I first put the pen in the correct position, I had some

serious doubts about my ability to maintain it, but having

now completed a page's exercises spent mostly in that position,

I can see that it is entirely possible for me to do it comfortably,

and that I will just need some time to get used to it.

 

There were three main factors I had to keep in mind in order

to keep my lines (relatively) smooth and straight, and when

I forgot any one of them things would quickly go askew.

They were:

 

  1. The feel of the nib on the paper. As soon as I paid attention to this, my grip
    would relax.
  2. Keeping my weight shifted to the left, and off of my writing arm. Immediately
    after realizing I was putting too much weight on my right arm, and making the
    switch, the difference in feeling was immediate. Less robotic, much more fluid.
  3. The position of my elbow. Near the end of each line I'd begin to have trouble,
    then remember to move my elbow out as well, and found the writing smooth
    once more.

 

I have a few more copies of this practice sheet printed off,

which I'll be using daily to help familiarize myself with

the pen positioning, while improving the uniformity of my

lines.

 

--

 

(Editing this post instead of creating another. It's an hour

past when I originally posted.)

 

Had another go at the practice sheet, taking into account the problems

I had last time. Still not ideal, but a definite improvement.

 

http://i.imgur.com/CHMPo.jpg

 

The lines I skipped are ones designed to show you what it feels

like to write incorrectly -- not exactly something I wish to

practice repeatedly.

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Keep up the good work, Thusly!!!!!

 

You are an inspiration to me. On July 31st, I suffered a severe stroke- leaving me with problems in my right hand, meaning that I can no longer write properly. Along with physical therapy, I am also relearning to write. Your example motivates me, and therefore, THANK YOU!!!!!

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You have inspired me! I have this same book, bought it almost a year ago and have done nothing with it. I now write with fountain pens but don't have any italic nibbed pens, might try try and start with my medium regular nibs, at least for starting. I'll start... tomorrow (so I can also photocopy the pages).

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thusly,

 

I am trying to improve my handwriting too, and that book caught my attention as well. I am new to fountain pens, and I would like to ask if the Italic style of handwriting requires an italic nib. The italic style of writing is very similar to my current & natural handwriting.

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Even George S. Patton could get choked up over your progress. Good work!!!!

Jeffery

In the Irish Channel of

New Orleans, LA

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It is very encouraging to see your progress. Your successes show the great effort you have put into it. I too am new to FPs and am looking to improve my hand writing. Thank you for taking the time to post this, it gives beginners like me inspiration and ideas on how to improve.

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Thank you! I like the day-by-day journal style you're using in this thread. I feel very caught up in your practice. My handwriting needs a lot of improvement, and your thread is inspiring. You've improved a lot in one month, can't wait to see what you'll be doing at the beginning of November. :thumbup:

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Thank you, everyone. My apologies for not responding individually to all of your

kind words. I am very glad to see that so many are interested in my progress,

and that it has even managed to inspire others.

 

 

thusly,

 

I am trying to improve my handwriting too, and that book caught my attention as well. I am new to fountain pens, and I would like to ask if the Italic style of handwriting requires an italic nib. The italic style of writing is very similar to my current & natural handwriting.

 

I believe an italic* nib is a necessary aspect of Italic cursive and calligraphic

handwriting. Without that 45º angle, you lose the verticals and horizontals showing

equal line weight, while the upward and downward angles consist of thicker/thinner

strokes. I will happily defer to someone with more knowledge of calligraphy, scripts,

et al. than I, but I believe that these aspects are part of what defines the Italic

script.

 

If you're asking whether one could complete the book without an italic nib, I

wouldn't advise it. You could follow through the first 30 pages with a broad

enough nib, and learn the strokes used to form the letters, but given my own

experience so far, switching to an italic nib is like being hit with a bucket

of cold water. It's very different, and the remainder of the book relies on

its characteristics.

 

 

* Moreover, a nib whose line variation is dependent upon the angle of the stroke

relative to the nib, and not, e.g., dependent on pressure (flex nibs). You could also

achieve this script style with an oblique nib, for example, however the illustrations in

the book showing the proper pen angle will not be accurate for you.

Edited by thusly
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On the one hand, I do not want to fill this thread with every

single exercise that I do. On the other, I really want to

avoid making my progress look like a "Learn to Draw an Owl"

instructional booklet, where step #1 is a series of circles,

and step #2 is a fully shaded and perfect looking completed

drawing, with all of the grueling work in between left out.

 

I would much rather make my progress, and occasionally the

lack of it, apparent to all.

 

So, after doing a sheet designed to help you get used to the

proper pen angle, I moved on to trying to re-draw the

alphabet that I learned in the 30 introductory pages, but

this time with the italic nib at the proper angle.

 

At least, that was the idea. In practice....

 

http://i.imgur.com/k1AlB.jpg

(Oct. 1.)

 

Not so much. It is considerably more difficult to manage

the same strokes as you've learned with a felt, when you are

also trying to maintain a consistent pen angle -- an angle

which, I might add, puts your hand in a position it is

altogether not used to being in.

 

Some of my issues were ones listed above coming back, like

too much pressure, or too much weight on my right arm.

Other issues were new altogether. I found myself tilting my

head along with the pen, for example. And maintaining the

requisite slant? Oof. I kept defaulting to no slant at all.

 

Here's my second attempt, probably 20 minutes after

completing the first:

 

http://i.imgur.com/N46Im.jpg

(Oct. 1.)

 

Mildly improved, but the strokes are far from smooth, and

my slant is all over the place. The purpose of this exercise

isn't actually to make sure you get the letterforms perfect,

but to help you to get used to how those forms should feel

when you're maintaining the correct pen angle. On that front

I feel I've done okay.

 

http://i.imgur.com/vUBEu.jpg

(Oct. 1.)

 

A final attempt done last night. Certainly improved over the

two prior, but it's still wrought with issues, and writing it

all out was quite uncomfortable, with the angle not feeling

natural at all.

 

I decided it would be better for me if I took a break from

trying to follow forms, and just wrote a bit on a blank sheet

of paper.

 

http://i.imgur.com/54XvC.jpg

(Oct. 1.)

 

While still a mess, it helped me to get used to how things

should feel when writing like this -- including what it feels

like when I write something badly. A number of issues

stemmed from me not positioning my arm correctly.

 

http://i.imgur.com/lMgGO.jpg

(Oct. 2.)

 

Done this morning, this was my best one yet. Slant continues

to plague me, but all of the letter forms were done much more

accurately relative to the example forms. And the real purpose

of this initial exercise -- pen angle -- seems, to me at least,

to be satisfactory enough for me to move on.

 

Given that the book itself only provides one copy of this sheet,

I may be going a bit hard on myself, as it's quite likely the

future exercises will help my other problems.

 

http://i.imgur.com/NvYzE.jpg

 

Some more French work, done this afternoon. I'll try to keep

including recent non-italic writing samples along with my

progress in the book, to allow both myself and others to see

how much the one improves the other (after all, it is my

every-day writing I set out to improve).

 

I should note that my daily routine involves no writing at all,

so in between these French exercises I'm not getting any other

practice in.

 

The only fountain pen I currently own is the Lamy Safari, which

is of course fitted with the italic nib and is being used for my

exercises, so my other writing will to continue to be written

with a gel pen (Pilot G-2 0.7mm).

 

With that said, I can really see why everyone finds FPs so

addictive; the amount of pressure I need to use in order to

write with the gel pen feels Herculean in comparison.

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Done this morning, this was my best one yet. Slant continues

to plague me, but all of the letter forms were done much more

accurately relative to the example forms. And the real purpose

of this initial exercise -- pen angle -- seems, to me at least,

to be satisfactory enough for me to move on.

 

Thanks for sharing your progress. It's amazing how far you can go with the proper tools and a little practice.

 

I think everyone has problems with slant. I know I did and still do. Have you seen this thread? Slope Angles for All Scripts The idea is to tilt your paper such that when you make a stroke straight down, you end up with the correct slant.

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      Hi Smug Dill,   Nice project.  If it were me, I'd cover stuff like: - nib types available, i.e. styles, materials (SS vs gold), flex vs nails; - filling systems (I love the "thingie" comment) and how once can use them in practice (e.g. fill cartridges with a syringe); - pen body materials and their consequences (pen not balanced of too heavy and big for the hand); - and, whilst you've made it clear that you do not like vintage pens, a discussion of these beyond "I d
    • A Smug Dill
      Thanks for your input! Yes, not putting wood in the list of body materials warranting a mention was an oversight. I love pens with wooden bodies, but my main concern, or chagrin, is that I have not come across a wooden-bodied pen with a wooden cap that seals well. Actually, there is one, but it isn't really wood per se: the Pilot Custom Kaede's maple body is resin impregnated. All other wooden pens I have can dry out while capped and undisturbed; that includes several Platinum #3776 models.
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