Pen Class: Economy ($25 and Under)
Street Price:: $20
Body Material: Celluloid Derivative
Nib Material: Steel
Nib Size: Fine/Medium Flexible
Cap Type: Screw On/Off
Filling Mechanism: Plunger / Eyedropper
Ink Capacity: Plunger: 1.8 ml / 0.06 oz ~ Eyedropper: 5.0 ml / 0.17 oz
Overall Weight: 18 g / 0.63 oz
Cap Weight: 6 g / 0.21 oz
Body Weight: 12 g / 0.42 oz
Overall Length Capped: 139 mm / 5.47 in
Overall Length Posted: 170 mm / 6.69 in
Body Length (not including nib): 108 mm / 4.25 in
Nib Length: 20 mm / 0.79 in
Body Length (including nib): 128 mm / 5.04 in
Cap Length: 60 mm / 2.36 in
Cap Diameter w/o Clip: 15 mm / 0.59 in
Cap Diameter w/Clip: 20.5 mm / 0.81
Body Diameter at Section: 14 mm / 0.55
Body Diameter at Barrel End: 11 m / 0.43
If this pen were a movie, it would be…
Moby Dick (1956)
Dan: 3 - Same standard Noodler’s packaging. Same thorough instructions. The one thing you can say about Noodler’s is that they definitely focus on the pen. See more of my comments about the packaging in the Awesome Review of the Noodler’s Piston Fill Resin fountain pen.
Eric: 3.25 - The Ahab Flex Fountain Pen enjoys the same paper box packaging as Noodler’s Piston Fill Resin and Noodler’s Aerometric / Eyedropper Ebonite Fountain Pens. The enclosed information sheet, however, surpasses those of the other pens both in artwork and information. The non-artwork side of the sheet includes eight autopsy pictures of the Ahab, easily worth 8,000 words.
Dan: 7 - The Noodler’s Ahab features two different filling systems, a modified syringe filler and an eye dropper. The original syringe filler is a mechanical piston with a solid shaft attached to the piston. When you push down on the end of the shaft it expels liquid and when you pull on the shaft it sucks in liquid. This is the basic concept of the Ahab’s syringe filler but with a key difference: the shaft connected to the piston is hollow and there’s a breather tube connected to the feed. It fills very effectively and with two simple strokes it was completely full. The downside to this particular filler is that the piston does tend to stick when left to sit for a few days but that can be remedied by purchasing and installing the newer double-walled o-ring that Nathan released.
The other option is, of course, the eye dropper. When used this way it will darn near swallow up a whole bottle of ink. Seriously, though, it holds 5ml! And that’s a very good thing because when you’re flexing a lot you’ll go through ink as fast as a top fuel funny car burns fuel! The practicality and ease of use of the syringe filler combined with the ink capacity as an eye dropper earned the Noodler’s Ahab a solid 7 in my book, which is really good for any pen that isn’t a piston filler.
Eric: 7.5 - I like a pen that gives me options beyond the standard cartridge/converter norm, and the Ahab does not disappoint. The pen is equipped with a plunger filler, which is accessible by removing the nib/section unit as would be expected. To convert to an eyedropper, the plunger unit is easily unscrewed, one washer is moved and presto, you’ve got an eyedropper with a “whale of capacity” (as described on the instruction sheet).
Dan: 9 - The first thing I noticed about the Noodler’s Ahab is its size. It’s huge! Thick! I love it! I was excited when I pulled the pen out of the box and realized exactly how big this pen is. The nib is incredibly smooth too. I was actually surprised. Although, I don’t know why because I’ve never had a problem with any of the other Noodler’s pens we’ve reviewed. Then I started to flex it. Oh my! This nib can get ridonkulous! I’ll save those details for the Performance section. But, to say the least, I was very impressed with the Ahab.
Eric: 6.75 - My first Test Drive with an Ahab had to be canceled before it could even begin because ink would not flow. I had performed my usual post-purchase / pre-inking routine and flushed the pen with a dilute solution of dish soap followed by clear water. That was apparently not enough to make things run correctly.
Having now dealt with three Ahabs, I know the secret to ink flow: Remove the nib and feed then lightly scrub the feed with a soft toothbrush using soapy water first and then clear water. Reassemble the nib/feed and you’ll be good to go.
Once I had a fully operational Ahab, the Test Drive was surprisingly nice, followed by surprisingly fun. The pen’s wide girth made it comfortable to hold. There were no hard starts, no hesitations. I experienced no skipping. The pen wrote, and wrote well. I then moved on to testing the “flex.”
This is not your grandmother’s flex. The flex of the Ahab does not have the exact same feel as the flex of a vintage gold nib. However, the results are amazingly similar, if not identical, and if you’ve not been spoiled by long term use of vintage flex, you’ll find the Ahab Flex to be very enjoyable. I pushed it’s flex to the limits and only managed to inadvertently railroad once. All other railroading incidents were intentional.
Dan: 9 - The Noodler’s Ahab has a really cool nib, both in performance and looks. I really like it because it’s large and I’ve never seen one designed quite like this one. It’s a flexible steel nib with a longer than normal slit that doesn’t stop at a breather hole but instead continues into the section. It’s a very interesting look that I would like to see in more nibs. I also like that the imprint is vertical with “NOODLERS” on one side of the slit and “INK CO.” on the the other. It’s very simple and very clean and very appealing. The only flaw is that the imprint is not even. The left side is much lighter than the right side and it’s easily noticeable.
The Ahab does feature a large, hand made ebonite feed. People love this pen because of the nib and the flex that it has. But that flex would be worthless if it didn’t have a good feed underneath it. Thankfully, the Ahab does. Think of the feed as a fuel injector. You could have a big block V8 with a massive blower forcing 15psi of boost into the cylinders but without the fuel injectors delivering the proper amount of fuel none of that other stuff matters. The feed is responsible for regulating all that ink and making sure enough of it gets to the nib. If the feed fails to do its job the result are those unpleasant railroad tracks. The good thing about the feed on the Ahab is that it can easily be modified to increase the flow for even the heaviest of flexers.
Even if you’re not looking for a pen with flex the Ahab will still please you. The feed comes from the factory with the flow set so it’s not too wet when not flexing but will allow you to flex it to a good extent. Honestly, I could use this pen without ever flexing it and be perfectly happy with it. The nib will write with the slightest pressure and is as smooth as can be from no flex to full flex.
Eric: 6.5 - The first time I saw an Ahab nib, a voice in my head asked, “What is that?” The Ahab nib design is not something you see every day, unless of course you use an Ahab on a daily basis. The nib slit is much longer than would be expected, ending somewhere under the section when the nib is in place. There is no breather hole on this nib. The very long slit helps to allow for the separation of the tines when writing/drawing, thereby providing line width variation. There can be no doubt, this is an odd nib. But it certainly gets the work done. It’s not scratchy. It’s not butter smooth. It provides some feedback, the amount of which is determined by the paper being inked.
The ebonite feed is very nicely made. Being ebonite, it is versatile by allowing for razor blade induced modifications to increase ink flow.
Dan: 5 - The Ahab writes very well when not being flexed and I never ran into any problems when using it that way. But, that’s not how this pen was intended to be used. It wants to be flexed and flexed hard. During my Road Trip I left it unmodified and started writing. I started with slow, deliberate strokes with moderate flex and the feed kept up for about half a page from a No. 16 Rhodia pad. After that it started railroading every other letter. Like I said, I wasn’t even going fast. I was writing much slower than I normally do when using a flex nib. I’m sure if I had started to modify the feed I could have gotten it to keep up with me. But, most people probably aren’t going to do that and I didn’t want to have to go through the trouble. I’ve certainly never had to do any modifying of my vintage flex pens to get them to keep up with me.
I’m very much going to compare the Ahab to vintage flex pens. Regardless of its price, the Ahab is a direct descendant of those vintage flex pens and competes with them directly. I’m sure Nathan is extremely familiar with them, too. I’m no flex expert but I do have experience with them. I have two Parker Vacumatics with full flex nibs, one with a semi-flex nib, and numerous Aurora 88′s with varying degrees of flex to them. I have to push both the full flex Vacs to the point where I think I’m going to break the tines before they’ll railroad. Out of the dozen or so vintage 88′s I’ve handled I can only think of one with a flex nib where I had to slow down my handwriting to that of the Ahab to prevent it from railroading. There’s also the feel. The Ahab just doesn’t feel as good as my vintage pens and flexing it requires more effort. The good thing about the Ahab is that I can adjust it and it holds an insane amount of ink. It’s also excellent for getting people into flex in an economic fashion, but it can’t compete with vintage pens as far a quality of flex and uniqueness. If you buy an Ahab and it’s your first experience with flex and you like it, don’t stop there. Start searching for vintage flex pens. Greg Minuskin’s blog is a great place to look for vintage flex pens that can be had for under $100.
Eric: 8 - With the caveat that the Ahab’s feed must be thoroughly cleaned prior to its first use (and probably on a regular basis thereafter), the Ahab performs far above its Economy Class price point. While I don’t care for a pen that exhibits even the slightest hesitation after two days of rest (see Road Trip), the Ahab’s hesitation could almost be called unnoticeable. And when stacked up against zero skipping while writing and the very affordable price of the pen, certainly forgivable.
I agree, Dan, that the feel of the Ahab Flex is different from Vintage Flex. I’d also agree that the Ahab nib seems to require more effort/force, and perhaps that explains the different feel entirely. But I only had one accidental railroading incident. I wonder if a good cleaning/scrubbing of your pen’s feed would help?
Dan: 8 - The Noodler’s Ahab is designed to be practicable and affordable. It is made of a celluloid derivative and is “technically” biodegradable. I don’t know what that technicality is but that’s what Nathan says. The most prominent feature of this pen, when capped at least, is the clip. It is shaped like a whale where the tale would be where the clip attaches to the cap. I actually really like this design except when viewing the side profile. The hump the clip makes just sticks out way too far to be visually appealing to me. I may try to flatten it a bit and see what happens. The clip does provide a good amount of tension so I can’t fault it there.
One thing I really like about Nathan and the way he designs his pens is that much of his inspiration comes from pens from 1930′s, ’40′s, and even earlier. The cap band is just one example of this. It’s actually part of the injection molding process and starts at the very lip of the cap, reinforcing and protecting it from chips and cracks, especially when posting. Granted, cracking the cap lip of an injection molded part made from modern materials is probably unlikely, it’s still a smart design decision and just plain looks good.
Removing the cap and moving to the nib and feed shows several creative and useful design decisions. The most obvious is the long nib slit that allows for so much flex. Feeding that flexible nib is an ebonite feed that can be modified to adjust the flow to the user’s preference. SamCapote has done some pretty exhaustive work on modifying the feed so be sure to check it out. Modifying the feed will require removal of the nib and feed from the section. That’s as simple as just pulling straight out. Once you do that you’ll notice there’s a groove in the section to help properly align the nib and feed.
The feed has to get its ink from somewhere and that’s where the
fuel tank filling system comes in. I already covered it’s operation in Fill ‘er Up, but will go over its details here. Nathan designed the Ahab to work as a syringe filler and as an eye-dropper but suggests it be used with the syringe filler. The reason for this is because there’s air around the syringe filler inside the barrel that insulates it from the heat of your hand. When used as an eye-dropper there isn’t any insulation. Once the ink level is between 1/2 and 2/3 full the heat from your hand can make the air inside the barrel expand and increase the flow of ink. Nathan makes a valid point and I’ve actually experienced this, but I’m glad he still gives us the option of using it as an eye-dropper.
When using the syringe filler, the size and type of the piston o-ring was chosen so that it can be replaced with a faucet o-ring from any home repair store. The purpose of this was to keep it operational for as long as possible by using a very common, widely available o-ring. If you ever remove the syringe filler you’ll notice another o-ring on the threads. When switching the Ahab to an eye-dropper that o-ring should be moved to the lower step of the section where the barrel makes contact. This will prevent it from making a little mess from the minuscule amount of ink it holds.
Nathan has done a great job designing a simple, easily repairable fountain pen that should last longer than any of us. He’s also made it in like 20 different colors including the newly released black version (THANK GOD!) so there should be one that everyone will enjoy.
Eric: 9 - The design of the Noodler’s Ahab Flex Fountain Pen is lovely and inspired. First and foremost, it’s a “girthy” pen. The width not only allows for insulation between the warm hand and the ink reservoir, but also makes the pen comfortable between the fingers. I liked the unique shape of the pen’s clip from the moment I saw it. When I learned that the shape was based on the bird’s eye view of a whale, I liked it even more. Learning that the barrel is “akin” to the whalebone leg sported by Captain Ahab himself provided yet more appreciation for the design. Reading that the plunger filler is “akin” to the manual bailing pumps onboard the Pequod completed my Melville Moment.
Dan has covered the design features in such detail that I have little to add, except to say that I believe the Ahab to be revolutionary: Wonderfully well thought-out design, user serviceability, extremely affordable. How many other pens can claim all three traits? Like most things in life, I’ve always thought that fountain pens required compromise – there is no perfect fountain pen. The Ahab, however, leaves so little to desire, I’m having trouble putting my finger on the points of compromise.
Dan: 6 - The level of attention to detail on the Ahab is about what you would expect for a pen in the Economy class. The clip is a little rough as you can clearly see the folded edges that make the clip stiff and the “ball” on the end that’s created by simply folding over the end of the clip. It works well, but hardly looks good. The transition from cap to cap band could use some work, too. I couldn’t find a flush spot between the two anywhere around cap. I’m also not impressed by the profile of the cap where the clip attaches. The tip of the cap is a different profile and doesn’t blend into the cap smoothly enough.
Eric: 7.5 - Overall, I’m impressed with the detailing of the Ahab. I’ve no real problem with the clip. In fact, I’ve been on a roll recently with finding clips that appeal to me. The Ahab’s cap band seems to be hit or miss in that some pens have better flushness with the cap than other, some cap bands don’t seem to move, others can rotate easily while other can be pulled of with practically no effort. The very bottom of the pen seems to not be as highly polished as the rest of the pen. Either that or it’s slightly flattened for some reason during manufacturing. I’ve studied it with a loupe on more than one Ahab and can’t quite figure out what it is, but something’s different. The difference is slight, however, and won’t keep me up at night. All threading on the pen is exemplary.
Dan: 7.75 - I had a feeling I was going to enjoy this Road Trip. There’s just something about a big pen and a flexible nib that gets me excited. I used the blue demo Ahab and filled it with some Baystate Blue. Without flexing, the Ahab writes a bit on the wet side, which is fine with me but I noticed some slight feathering even on Rhodia Uni Blank. And it didn’t get any better once I started to flex it. The nib, however, did perform very well and the flex was quite satisfying. I almost needed a smoke afterward. The largeness of the pen helped me with control and to reduce the amount of fatigue during the entire trip. There were several times when the feed couldn’t keep up and I would have to take a short break, but this was only when I was flexing it. I could write without flexing it for as long as I wanted and the flow stayed consistent throughout. I’m sure with a little modification it would keep up with anything I could throw at it.
Eric: 8 - My Road Trip went so well that I could easily be convinced to call it amazing. The pen had been sitting for two days when the Road Trip began and there was only the slightest bit of a hard start. Once physics had corrected that momentary lapse in flow, the rest of the Road Trip was excellent. There was absolutely no skipping. With a light touch, the nib writes a lovely fine line. Flow was excellent, increasing when needed for line variation, behaving nicely when not flexing. The pen was so nice to use that I never once wondered how far from the 21 minute marker were. Three minutes after the Road Trip, my hand was only slightly fatigued. Within five minutes, my hand had completely forgotten the journey.
Numerous color options
May require cleaning
May require adjustment
Famous Last Words:
Dan: I really like this pen and what it represents. Nathan does a fantastic job of bringing us an affordable, utilitarian fountain pen. Even though it scored as well as it did I just don’t think I can recommend this pen for everyone. If you like to tinker and adjust all your pens then you’ll definitely love the Ahab. But, if you want a solid working pen right out of the box then you need to look elsewhere.
Eric: I see your point, Dan, but I’m going to take the opposite stance and say that the Noodler’s Ahab should be Standard Issue as everybody’s first fountain pen. Yes, some cleaning and bit of tinkering may be required, but I can’t think of a pen that makes cleaning and tinkering easier than the Ahab. Let’s face it, most fountain pens need cleaning and some tinkering anyway. I’d much rather be messing with a $20 pen as I get my tinkering feet wet than have a several hundred dollar Montblanc Mozart in front of me that refuses to write but upon which I am petrified to tinker.