Pen Class: Standard ($100 to $199)
Street Price:: $100
Body Material: Micarta
Nib Material: Plated Steel
Nib Size: Extra Fine, Fine, Medium, Broad
Cap Type: Screw On/Off
Filling Mechanism: Cartridge / Converter (International Sized, Converter included)
Ink Capacity: Short Cartridge: 0.75 ml / 0.03 ~ Long Cartridge: 1.45 ml / 0.05 ~ Converter: 0.9 ml / 0.03 oz
Overall Weight: 24 g / 0.85 oz
Cap Weight: 8 g / 0.29 oz
Body Weight: 16 g / 0.56 oz
Overall Length Capped: 136 mm / 5.34 in
Overall Length Posted: 170 mm / 6.69 in
Body Length (not including nib): 104 mm / 4.11 in
Nib Length: 23 mm / 0.90 in
Body Length (including nib): 127 mm / 5.00 in
Cap Diameter w/o Clip: 15.6 mm / 0.62 in
Cap Diameter w/Clip: 19.6 mm / 0.77 in
Body Diameter at Ink Window: 15 mm / 0.59 in
Body Diameter at Blind Cap End: 11. 75 mm / 0.46 in
If this pen were a movie, it would be…
A Touch of Zen (1971)
Dan: 7 – Thankfully, the packaging for the TWSBI Micarta is very different than what we’ve seen with the Diamond 530/540. Instead of glossy plastic the Micarta is packaged in what feels like recycled card stock. The outer sleeve is black and sturdy with a semi-smooth finish. In the lower right corner printed in clear, high gloss letters is “TWSBI inspired by writing”. It’s very subtle and in the right light it practically disappears.
Removing the sleeve reveals a tan cardboard box with a rougher texture who’s overall design reminds me of Lamy’s packaging for the Studio and 2000. Open each flap and you’ll find the Micarta sitting in one trench of the “W” shaped floorboard and the converter sitting in the other. I liked this package design when I first saw it from Lamy and I still like it now, even though TWSBI may lose a couple tenths for straight up copying Lamy. Overall, I’m very pleased with the packaging and think the natural, earthy feel goes very well with the theme of the pen.
Eric: 6.5 – Trenches! Thank you for that word, Dan. Each time we’ve reviewed a Lamy with this packaging, I’ve searched for the correct way to describe the zig-zag bottom of the box. I’ve settled for “valleys” in the past, but “trenches” is much more appropriate.
This packaging is so similar to that of the Lamy Studio and Lamy 2000 that I can only call it the sincerest form of flattery. And imitation seems rampant; TWSBI flatters Lamy’s packaging, Pilot flatters TWSBI’s color scheme, Sailor flatters Montblanc’s design, the list goes on. But hey, if you’re going to participate, at least choose something worthy of flattery. TWSBI has done an excellent job with this packaging. I like it very much, which is no surprise since I’ve confessed as much regarding the Lamy packaging in previous Awesome Reviews.
Dan: 6.5 – The TWSBI Micarta uses the common international sized cartridge / converter filling system and thankfully comes with a converter in the box. There is an o-ring on the section where the barrel attaches suggesting that the Micarta may be used as an eye dropper. You should be aware that whatever ink you use will most likely stain the inside of the barrel as it’s not finished as smoothly as the outside so the fibers are more exposed. But, since it’s the inside of the pen I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. I would try it with water first just to make sure it doesn’t leak.
I would also advise against dunking the entire nib in ink when filling it to reduce the chance of ink staining the section. Depending on what ink you use you may be able to wipe it clean with a damp cloth, but with more permanent inks you may not be able to. I wanted to avoid any chance of staining the fibers so I filled the converter first, then inserted it into the pen. Next, I extended the piston to force ink down into the feed until ink drips from the nib, then retract the piston about a half turn. This saturates the feed and gets it ready for writing right away. This process can use up to half the volume of ink in the converter so I removed it and filled it again, then reinserted it back into the pen.
Eric: 5 – O-ring on the section, Dan? I have no such o-ring. How do you rate? Did both of your Micartas come with this phantom o-ring?
Like you, Dan, I don’t feel comfortable dipping the Micarta in ink because I fear the section may stain. I filled my converter using a blunt syringe and then primed the feed, just as you did, by turning the converter knob (once the converter was installed, of course).
You know me, I can’t get too excited about a cartridge / converter system. Yep, it works and yes, the converter is included with the pen (thankfully). I’ve used many a converter and this one seems, well, cheap! It works, no question, but it has a 99-Cent Store feel that I don’t care for (or trust much).
Dan: 5.75 – My Test Drive with the Micarta was a mixed bag. I was incredibly excited when I received this pen. I was impressed with the packaging and intrigued by the feel of the Micarta material. When I first opened the package I got a whiff of something I don’t recall smelling from other pens. I uncapped the pen and sniffed again receiving an even more intense scent. It was intoxicating.
I filled both pens (yes, both, I couldn’t decide between clip or clipless so I got one of each) with Noodler’s Shah’s Rose and had some serious problems with the EF nib in the clipless Micarta and experienced dry flow from the Bold nib in the other Micarta. This is not what I was expecting, especially since these pens are using the new Bock nibs, which are supposed to be an upgrade over the previous Schmidt nibs, and TWSBI is supposed to be hand testing each pen before it leaves their facility.
To fix the EF nib I had to do some nib tuning that I’m pretty sure the common fountain pen user wouldn’t be able to perform. I go into more detail about this in the Performance section. So, while I was initially very excited about this pen the problem with the nibs really brought my enthusiasm down a couple notches. Once I fixed the EF nib so it would at least write some of that excitement came back, but it’s not how I wanted to spend the first hour with these pens.
Eric: 7 – Oh yes, that intoxicating (toxic?) scent. I’m calling it Eau de Micarta and I vacillate between loving it and fearing it. Is it dangerous? No need to sniff glue anymore, just whip out the Micarta. Once I recovered from the initial fumes, I ran to the pet shop and purchased two canaries to keep nearby when using the pen. So far they haven’t keeled over. If they stick around much longer, I may have to actually feed them.
Like you, Dan, I was very excited to receive the Micarta. Unlike you, I only got one (showoff). My clipless Micarta sports a Broad nib and the first thing revealed by the Test Drive was that it’s a very dry writer. It’s not so dry as to make writing impossible, but I certainly have to slow my writing speed so that the ink flow can keep up.
Truth be told, I like the pen’s scent and I like the feel of the pen in my hand. The material is warm and smooth with a subtle texture. I filled my Micarta with J. Herbin Cacao du Brésil and I like the match very much. Once I adjust the pen’s flow (after the review is complete), I know I’ll be reaching for this pen on a daily basis.
Dan: 8.25 – I’m so glad to see that TWSBI went with a larger nib than what’s in the Diamond 540. Comparing the two, the Micarta measures 23mm from section to tip vs 17mm of the 540. The gold color plating on the steel nib is more of a “vintage gold” color and not the bright yellow of real gold found on many modern pens. I like it and think it goes very well with the color of the Micarta material. Also, I couldn’t care less that the nib is steel. When properly tuned, steel nibs will write just as well as any gold nib, even the nails that come in the Micarta. Plus, the steel nib is saving me a wad of cash that I can use to buy the Vac 700.
The TWSBI logo is large and in the center of the nib with “TWSBI” stamped right underneath. On the left edge the nib is marked “EF” indicating the tip size. I love that feature and wish more companies would do the same. I can’t say I like the scroll work all that much because it comes off as an afterthought used to fill space and isn’t very elegant.
Eric: 6.5 – I have no qualms with the size of the Micarta nib. It fits the pen perfectly. Anything smaller or larger would look out of place. While I generally prefer a silver color (steel or rhodium), the gold of the Micarta’s nib is not offensive. I’m tempted to call it a matte finish. It’s not a brushed finish, but it isn’t as glaring as most polished metals.
If my nib was hand tested, the tester either writes slowly or prefers a dry nib.
The nib’s stamped logo and TWSBI name are beautiful. The nib width indication (B, in my case) is unobtrusive and very handy. The scrollwork, well, it’s generic.
The Micarta nib can’t compare to the Monteverde Invincia Stylus nib. And for the price of the Micarta, the steel nib really should be top notch in both form and function.
Dan: 3 – The problem with the EF nib was that the nib slit was not a consistent width the entire length of the slit. It would be one thing if the slit started out wide and gradually tapered to the tip with the tines touching, or vice versa. But the slit on this nib had a bulge in the area over the end of the feed. Starting at the breather hole and traveling towards the tip the slit was uniform but as it approached the area above the end of the feed the slit widened and then reduced in width so much so that the tip of the tines were touching.
I could get the nib to write in this condition by applying enough pressure to slightly spread the tines but only for a stroke or two. The width of the slit was wide enough over the end of the feed that it was breaking the capillary flow of ink. Basically, the EF nib was unusable. To fix it I had to spread the tines apart down to the spot where the bulge was at its widest, then push them back together making sure the slit was uniform with a proper gap at the very tip. Once this was complete the nib wrote smooth and consistent.
The Bold nib in the other Micarta would at least write out of the box but the flow was dry to the point where if I would write quickly in cursive the line would begin to get very thin and sometimes even skip.
My score for this section represents my experience with both nibs. It’s not as poor as if I had just received the EF nib and not as good as if I had just received the Bold nib, although the score wouldn’t improve that much anyway. I can understand having one bum nib, it’s happened to me on pens that cost several hundreds of dollars, but to get two that are poor makes a much bigger statement, especially on a run of only around 1000 pens.
Eric: 6.5 – My Bold nib is identical to Dan’s; it writes but the flow is so dry that I have to slow my writing or be annoyed by nearly constant downstroke skipping. The pen’s dry flow, however, is really the only performance issue I have with the pen – and it’s an issue that can be corrected with relative ease.
I’m always disappointed when brand-new pens don’t write well. Some part of me expects a new pen to amaze me right out of the box. Sometimes that happens, but more often than not, nibs need some sort of adjustment before I’m perfectly happy with them. Knowing that, I should probably consider lowering my expectations with regard to out of the box pens. Nah. That’s not right. Pen manufacturers should simply raise their standards. Right?
Dan: 9.25 – I was intrigued by the design of the Micarta since I first saw it. Its shape reminds me a lot of Nakaya pens and that’s a good thing. The most interesting design decision was the use of Micarta for the entire pen. Sailor has made a couple of pens from Micarta but they use plastic for their section threads. While this may give the pen a cleaner overall look by removing the fuzzy threads, I think TWSBI deserves props for going 100% Micarta.
All of the markings on the cap, the logo on the crown, the model number near the crown, “TWSBI” near the cap lip, and the three Chinese characters on the opposite side, appear to be burned into the material. I think it adds to the rustic, natural look of the pen. The clip appears to be the new design that’s supposed to be added to the Diamond 540. It’s positioned very close to the crown which reduces how much of the cap sticks out of your pocket. I like this as I wear a lot of shirts with flaps over the pockets and don’t care for pens that prevent the flap from folding down. But, in my experience with the TWSBI Micarta thus far, the pen is so long that it hits the bottom of the pocket before it reaches the bottom of the clip. It will, however, sit down deep inside of your pants pocket if you prefer to carry it that way. The cap is removed in just shy of 2.5 rotations, which I think is a bit much. TWBSI could have reduced that by half and made the section longer or just reduced the overall length of the pen by that much.
The section is thick, starting with a generous lip and gradually increasing in diameter towards the section threads. The barrel attaches snugly to the section thanks to the tight thread tolerance and an o-ring on the section. The barrel takes 10.25 rotations to remove, which at times almost seems like a cruel joke. Again, I think this could have been achieved in half the rotations. The barrel then tapers to a diameter just smaller than the crown of the cap. The end of the barrel clearly shows that the Micarta was wrapped and adds a nice bit of character to the pen. The cap does post securely on the barrel and actually feels really balanced writing in either fashion.
The TWSBI Micarta is available in a light and dark color. I got one of each and am much more fond of the dark color. You can try requesting a particular color when you order and may or may not get what you want.
Eric: 9 – I find the shape of the TWSBI Micarta to be beautiful in its simplicity. I don’t think there could be a simpler shape for a pen, and the design lines whisper of understated elegance. Neither too small nor excessively large, the size of the Micarta is exactly right. This is a well designed pen.
The fact that the pen is the only one I know of made completely from micarta (including all the threaded areas) only adds to it’s design appeal. Yes, the threads are fuzzy and yes, I like ‘em that way. They take nothing away from the integrity or function of the threads (which are excellently machined with very tight tolerances), yet they add a curious talking point – an unusual feature about which fountain pen geeks the world over will brag, “Check out the fuzz on these threads!”
The pen’s markings (logo on top of the cap, name on front of the cap, San Wen Tong kanji characters on back of cap as well as the model number) are laser engraved and as Dan points out, have a great “burned in” look almost as if they had been branded into the Micarta.
Oh TWSBI, if only the Micarta had been a piston filler, I’d be sorely tempted to give it a Design Notes score of 10.
Dan: 9.25 – The detailing on both of the pens I received is top notch, given the restrictions of the material. The threads are much different looking than on any other fountain pen I’ve ever seen. There’s a fuzz from the fibers in the laminate being cut that can’t be removed during final production like on the outer surfaces of the pen. When the pens were new there was a gritty feeling when removing or attaching the cap and barrel. I’ve been using the clipless Micarta daily and cycling the cap as often as I can while not touching the other pen. After only a few days I’ve already noticed the threads feeling smoother but haven’t detected any degradation in thread tolerance. Due to the resin used in the construction of Micarta I’m not concerned about the possibility of the threads wearing away, but only time will truly tell.
I complained about the number of revolutions used to attach the cap and barrel but one advantage of this is that it makes the pen feel incredibly solid. There’s no play or wiggling anywhere. On the clipped version the slit where the clip fits through the cap is so tight that it looks like the clip is seamlessly integrated into the cap. There’s no gaps or voids around the clip at all. It’s impressive.
There’s no doubt in my mind that you’re getting the same TWSBI quality found in the 540. This is truly a pen that deserves to wear the TWSBI name.
Eric: 9.75 – Top notch detailing might almost be an understatement. The Micarta is manufactured so well that I could find but a single flaw in my copy – a tiny notch or gouge (gougette?) near the center of the cap top which takes out a tiny piece of the logo and mars the logo’s background just a tad. I do not know if this is a remnant of the manufacturing process or the scar of some small injury the pen suffered prior to reaching the safety of my care. I’ll post a photo of the cap’s top so that others can let me know if their Micartas have a similar, barely detectible blemish.
Obviously, I don’t consider the fuzziness of the threads to be defective. On the contrary, because I know that the fuzziness does not diminish the function or longevity of the threads in any way, I’m quite fond of it.
As you say, Dan, the Micarta is top quality and truly worthy of the TWSBI name branded into the cap.
Dan: 7 – I pretty much only had two thoughts during my Road Trip. The first and minor thought: Moleskine paper is actually getting pretty good. Each time I use my Star Wars notebook I like it more and more. But, the major recurring thought was that Micarta may be my favorite material for a section, if not the entire pen! Not once did I have a problem gripping the pen even with an excessive amount of perspiration on my hands thanks to the afternoon coffee I was enjoying.
Even though the flow was a little dry I still very much enjoyed this pen. Its size made it comfortable for my somewhat large hands and the weight was light enough to prevent fatigue during the 21 minute writing session. I spent half the session writing with the pen posted and the other half with it not posted and couldn’t determine which I liked more, which is very odd for me since I prefer posting pens, even pens that are extremely cap heavy such as the Levenger Plumpster and Diamond 540.
Eric: 9 – The first minute of my Road Trip with the Micarta was dedicated to determining the maximum allowable writing speed that would still permit uninterrupted ink flow with my dryish nib. Once that was accomplished, I set my cruise control and was off to the races.
With every minute that passed, I enjoyed the Micarta more and more. It’s very comfortable in the hand, does not hesitate or skip (so long as the maximum writing speed is not exceeded), and seems to have been built for long writing sessions.
The Micarta is the first pen to have inspired me to ignore the timer indicating the end of the 21 Minute Road Trip. The timer sounded, but I didn’t want to stop. I was having too much fun and not feeling in any way like I needed to take a break.
I’d happily be writing with the Micarta right now if only this Awesome Review wasn’t digital.
The Feel of Micarta
Available w/ or w/o Clip
Threads are Fuzzy
May Stain Easily
Threads are Fuzzy
Famous Last Words:
Dan: TWSBI is continuing to build on their great reputation with this pen. They introduced themselves by offering a solid pen with a piston filler for leagues less than the competition, i.e. the Diamond 530. They’ve done the same with the Micarta. It doesn’t matter that it costs twice what the 540 does because they’re not competing with themselves. They’re competing with every other pen manufacturer out there and the Micarta is $500 or $600 less than it’s closest competitor. With the production of the Micarta, TWSBI has shown that they can branch out from simple injection molded pens and create something unique that has some character.
Eric: The Micarta has oodles and oodles of character, at least in my mind.
I admit, I was confused by the $100 price tag at first. Not because the TWSBI Diamond 540 is roughly half that cost (the Micarta is a completely different animal and should not be compared to the 540’s price point), but because the Micarta is a simple cartridge/converter pen with a steel nib. A hundred dollars? Where’s the piston filling system?
But now that I’ve had the Micarta for a couple of weeks, I realize it has some traits that are extremely difficult to manufacture. The Micarta has character, charm, mystique and allure. No doubt about it, I’d prefer the Micarta to be a piston filler, but an abundance of other outstanding qualities ensure that I am perfectly willing to overlook a filling mechanism flaw and simply enjoy the pen.
This pen was purchased for review.