The Wing Sung 618 Is the Good Kind of Chimera

To behold a Wing Sung 618 is to behold a chimera: that Parker-esque clip, that Sailor-esque cap band, that TWSBI-esque piston mechanism. With all these -esques, is it any surprise this pen is made in China?

But the Wing Sung 618 isn’t the typical Chinese clone, and in fact I hesitate to call it a clone at all. It’s more of a mash-up of good ideas from some very good pens, and the big question is: did Wing Sung put them all together to make a coherent whole?

Let’s start with the basics. The 618 is a plastic pen with a piston filling mechanism. Originally available as a clear demonstrator, there are now several different colors to choose from, all demonstrators, ranging from red and blue to sparkly pink and green. The trim is available in silver or gold. There’s even a 12k gold nib option if you’re feeling extra fancy.

My 618 is the clear version with silver trim and a steel nib.

The cap opens just shy of a single turn, revealing something interesting: a hooded nib in demonstrator form.

A clear feed with a hooded nib? INSTANT HEART EYES. 😍

The section is generally narrow, but its conical shape means the diameter varies depending on where you hold it. I’d say that the section width ranges from a Pilot Metropolitan to the Lamy Safari in size.

In terms of dimensions, the 618 is comparable with the Lamy Safari/Vista.

I found the 618 comfortable to use for all kinds of writing, from short notes to multiple pages. It’s not a heavy pen, but it still feels substantial. When writing with it unposted, it’s nicely balanced in my hand. Posting the cap threw the balance off in a way I found unpleasant. I also couldn’t make the cap post securely without it wiggling loose after a while. Lucky for me, I only post pens for science.

The cap is transparent, accented with silver-colored fittings. The clip is a clear knockoff of the venerable Parker arrow. It’s nothing special, just a simple one-piece with a bend into the finial, but it’s secure without being too tight. The cap finial is a simple silver dome. Inside is a cap liner made from a slightly smoky-colored plastic. It’s one of the better cap liners I’ve seen in a demonstrator because the nib is still easy to see when the pen is capped.

The cap band is another design knockoff, this time from Sailor. It’s engraved with “WING SUNG 618 MADE IN CHINA”.

I don’t know what the fittings are made from, but in the two months I’ve had this pen, they’ve kept their silver color.

Demonstrator fans will enjoy looking at the barrel end of the 618, because there’s a lot to see. There’s a piston mechanism that’s similar to the ones in TWSBI pens, and a blind cap that operates the piston when twisted.

It’s here that Wing Sung has added a feature that I’ve never seen on a piston pen: a locking blind cap. Look closely at the next photo, and note the notch in the silver ring where the blind cap meets the barrel.

This notch has a corresponding mate on the blind cap itself. To unlock the blind cap, pull it away from the barrel. To lock it, line up the notches and push the cap in until it clicks. It’s a simple design that keeps the blind cap from rattling and spinning around.

Once you understand how the blind cap locks and unlocks, filling this pen is a breeze. Unlock the blind cap, dunk the nib into the ink far enough to cover the opening in the hood, and twist until the pen loads up about a gallon of ink. Lock the blind cap and you’ll be writing for a long time before you need a refill.

The nib on this pen is steel, though the 618 is also available with a 12k gold nib for five times the price of the steel nib version ($50 vs $10.)

This pen was advertised as having a fine nib and it makes a line somewhere between a Japanese fine and a Japanese medium. Like most steel nibs, it’s a nail, so don’t expect any flex or line variation. The nib wrote smoothly out of the box and didn’t require any tuning. I enjoy writing with it, though I wish it was a smidge wider. Fine and extra fine nibs are available for the 618, but nothing else, alas.

The overall construction is excellent. The plastic appears to be high-quality, and there were no mold lines or sprue left over from the manufacturing process. In my opinion, this pen is better constructed than the pens offered by the major manufacturers in the $20-$40 price range.

As with most Chinese pens, if you want a 618 and you don’t speak Chinese, you’ll have to look on eBay. Buyer beware: it’s like the Wild West out there, and counterfeits of Wing Sung pens do exist. FPN is a good resource for locating reputable eBay sellers. I purchased my 618 for $12.90 from seller art-pen-book-dy. The price has actually dropped to $9.52 since I bought mine in September, making the 618 an even better deal today. I like my 618 so much I’m not even mad I missed the lower price.

The Wing Sung 618 is like a Parker 51 and a TWSBI ECO got together and made a beautiful baby. It’s the best parts of other pens put together and the end result is perfectly executed. And you can buy one for less than $10! Hot damn, I want to see more of this from Chinese manufacturers. More mashups, less clones!

This Wing Sung 618 was paid for with my own funds. My opinions on this blog are always my own. Please see my review ethics statement for more details.


The Kaweco Sport Puts a Workhorse In Your Pocket

Why hello there! I’ve just rolled out from under a small mountain of Thanksgiving leftovers, and all that feasting has put me in need of a digestif. Some pen talk about this minty-fresh Kaweco Skyline Sport sounds just about perfect.

I originally wanted to open this post with a size joke about the “wee little Ka-wee-co Sport” but I’ve been told by a German-speaker that’s it’s actually “Kah-veh-ko”. So much for that joke, but I learned something new, and maybe so have you.

The pen we call the modern Kaweco Sport has been around nearly twenty years. In that time, the model range has expanded enough to require things like this comprehensive guide that covers every model of the Kaweco Sport from fountain pen to mechanical pencil and every color from classic black to carbon-fiber-and-ferrari. (That last one is the name I made up for the red AC Sport.)

This is a pen that’s been thoroughly talked about, reviewed, and recommended as a beginner and entry-level pen, and now that I’ve had my Sport for a few months I’m ready to weigh in with some thoughts of my own.

First of all, this pen is truly a wee little thing. It’s adorable.

Spin the cap slightly more than a turn and it’ll slide free, and like a magician’s trick it reveals a pen barely larger than the cap protecting it, crowned by a tiny, tiny nib. It’s almost comical.

I knew this was a small pen after reading about its dimensions, but seeing numbers on a screen is not the same as holding the actual object in your hands. It’s one of those rare pens that I have to post to use comfortably. When posted, the pen is a perfect fit for me, but I have smaller hands than most. This is definitely a “try it before you buy it” pen due to its weird proportions.

Your first instinct upon opening this pen is going to be to post it, even if you’re like me and rarely ever post your pens. It’s okay, this pen’s made to be posted. The downside for me is that posting this pen brings out some of my latent OCD tendencies. I have to have the “Kaweco Sport” logo on the cap in line with the nib slit or it drives me bonkers.

For a plastic pen that costs around $20, Kaweco has managed to make it feel like a more expensive offering. Much of that has to do with the design, which is unique and visually interesting. The faceted cap also adds a tactile dimension; I often find myself using this pen as an impromptu fidget toy, spinning it around in my fingers. This is something I just don’t do with other pens.

The design details continue with the silver-colored finial set into the end of the cap and the clean font used for the “made in germany” at the end of the barrel. It’s here that you can see the dimple and molding sprue left over from the manufacturing process. This is a cheap plastic pen! But it doesn’t feel like one.

Compared to a Kaweco Sport, the TWSBI Diamond Mini looks big, and the Lamy Vista looks enormous.

The Sport is a cartridge/converter pen. I’ve been using the cartridge of Kaweco Blue that came with it, and I don’t plan to buy a converter as I have plenty of short international size cartridges. There’s no metal in the barrel or section so an eyedropper conversion is an option.

I found the Sport’s section to be wider than I expected. It’s slightly wider than a Pilot Metropolitan’s section, and it’s comfortable to hold. The cap threads aren’t sharp and there’s not a large step up to the barrel. However, the section itself is rather short, and those with larger fingers might find it constricting.

The only flaw with this pen is that it has visible mold lines on either side of the section. You can see one of the lines in the next photo. They’re prominent enough for me to feel them when I grip the pen, but not so annoying that I don’t want to write with it.

As for the writing experience, the Kaweco Sport is fine. Not spectacular, not awful, just fine. I was slightly surprised that I didn’t need to adjust the nib out of the box, given the reputation of Kaweco nibs.

The nib is a steel nail, with a smidge of feedback reminiscent of a Lamy Safari nib. It’s a bit on the dry side. The only thing I don’t like about this pen is that it’s a hard starter if I pause too long between words. The nib dries out so quickly that I end up priming it over and over and over again, which is annoying. It’s a good pen for quick notes, but not so good for writing long, thoughtful pieces. The cap does a good job of sealing the nib during storage as the pen starts up nicely after being uncapped.

My pen has a fine nib, and it puts down a Western fine line.

I can definitely see why the Kaweco Sport is so popular. It’s not too expensive, it’s a decent writer, and it has a unique look. But it really has that it factor that all classic pens have. Not bad for a pocket-sized workhorse.

This Kaweco Skyline Sport was paid for with my own funds. My opinions on this blog are always my own. Please see my review ethics statement for more details.

Pentaloons Fit Your Pens Like a Comfy Pair of Pajamas

My pens work hard for me. So when it’s time to give them a much-needed rest, I let them lounge around my desk in something comfortable. Something warm and silky. I let them slip into some Pentaloons.

What could be a better place for pens to rest than in a custom pen wrap handmade from luxurious fabrics? If you know your way around a sewing machine, you’ve probably made yourself a pen wrap or two, but for those of us who don’t know our bobbin winders from our feed dogs, Amy Bowman at Pentaloons has got us (and our pens) covered.

I first heard about Pentaloons on the FPN forum way back in March. I immediately hopped on etsy and started perusing the available pen wraps at the Pentaloons store. At first, none of them jumped out as a must-have, but I noticed fabrics and colors that I liked. They just weren’t available in a pre-made combination. Thankfully, Pentaloons specializes in custom orders, so I dashed a message off to Amy with an idea in mind, and received a response from her in a few hours that yes, she could make the pen wrap I had envisioned, and at a very reasonable price, too.

Once the fee was settled, I expected to hear back from her with a shipping notice in a week, maybe two, so imagine my surprise when I received a tracking number the very next day. Four days later, I was greeted by this lovely package:

The wrap I commissioned has a charcoal grey wool exterior and a lining of blue dupioni silk, with seven pen slots.

The slots are generously sized, and fit all my pens from the super-slim Pilot Murex to the chunkier Lamy Vista. I don’t care for large pens, so I don’t know if a King of 149 Emperor or whatever will fit, but it’s a moot point as your wrap can be completely customized to fit your needs.

The fabrics are just awesome. The wool gives the wrap some heft while the silk is soft and luxurious. To close the wrap, simply fold the top edge over, roll it up, and wrap the tie around snugly. I like the simplicity of the fold-over style because it can accommodate pens in a wide range of lengths. I’m almost certain that the pens don’t touch each other when the wrap is rolled up, because the slots are wide and I can’t hear any clicking or rubbing noises.

While this pen wrap looks great on my desk, I’ve also thrown it into my messenger bag and taken it work, and to pen meetups in Portland to give my pens some social time. None of them have emerged damaged in any way.

I chose to use the blue silk for the tie, which gives the wrap a nice color contrast. The fastening pin is handmade from paper micarta.

I feel seven slots is a good number for a pen wrap. When filled with pens and rolled-up securely, this wrap is about the same diameter as a 12oz pop or beer can. But if seven isn’t your lucky number, you can commission any number from one to… well, I guess you’d have to ask Amy what’s feasible.

The pen wrap is well-made, with good sewing throughout. One seam is slightly uneven, but that’s nitpicky even for me.

I love the Pentaloons tag sewn into the lining — the punny name, the nibs en pointe — but even this is optional if you don’t want it.

So let’s talk price. This particular custom, handmade pen wrap made from wool and silk cost me $35, plus $3.25 for shipping. The price of a Pentaloons pen wrap will vary depending on a number of factors: custom vs pre-made, the fabrics chosen, the size of the wrap, etc. If you have something specific in mind, drop Amy a note and ask for a quote. I splurged on my pen wrap and I don’t regret it, especially when it’s supporting an independent business and a craftsperson making a quality product.

I’m delighted with my Pentaloons pen wrap. The fabric and stitching has held up perfectly during the eight months I’ve had it, and my pens rest in safety and comfort. It’s been a struggle not to keep hitting that order button — seriously, look at this one in wool tweed and rust silk! And this one in velvet and satin. I suppose my pens could use a smoking jacket to go with their pajamas…

This Pentaloons pen wrap was paid for with my own funds. My opinions on this blog are always my own. Please see my review ethics statement for more details.

The Jinhao 992 Is the Clone Trooper of Pens

Consider the Clone Trooper:

Clone troopers were genetic copies of the renowned warrior Jango Fett that were produced in great numbers to fight the Galactic Republic’s battles. Unfortunately, clone troopers who survived in battle ultimately succumbed to accelerated aging, a side effect of the cloning process.

Now consider the Jinhao 992:

The Jinhao 992, a copy of the renowned Sailor 1911 pen, is produced in great numbers in the People’s Republic of China. Unfortunately, Jinhao 992s that survive daily use ultimately succumb to cracking, a side effect of the production process.

I don’t even like clone pens, but I’m going to talk about the Jinhao 992 because I’ve had a few people ask me about it.

The Jinhao 992 (aka the Jinhao 922) is an inexpensive clone fountain pen currently being made in China. You can find these pens for sale on eBay for $1.79 including shipping to the US, which is ridiculously cheap even by Chinese pen standards.

It’s a rather small pen.

L to R: Pilot Metropolitan, Jinhao 992, Lamy Vista
L to R: Pilot Metropolitan, Jinhao 992, Lamy Vista

The 992’s small size and relative lack of metal results in a lightweight pen that fits nicely in my hand. I find this pen to be comfortable posted or unposted, which is rare for me as I prefer the balance of unposted pens.

The Jinhao 992 is a nice looking pen, but the design credit really ought to go to Sailor. I try to avoid clones as much as possible, but in my ignorance of Sailor pens, I picked up these 992s before I knew they were copies of a Sailor design. Oops.

Anyway, 992s are available in demonstrator or solid color form. They have silver-colored fittings on the cap, and a stainless steel nib that comes in one size: fine.

The section is round and measures 9mm in diameter, which makes it slightly larger than the Pilot Metropolitan’s section. The step up from the section to the barrel is gradual and the cap threads aren’t sharp. I hold my pens with a standard tripod grip and found the 992’s section to be very comfortable.

The screw-on cap takes 1.5 turns to remove, and it features a utilitarian-looking clip that’s surprisingly sturdy. The wide, silver-colored cap band is engraved with Jinhao branding.

The business end of the pen has a stainless steel nib with ball-shaped tipping. The nib is tastefully engraved with a castellated pattern and the Jinhao chariot logo. It’s a fine that writes like a Western fine. The nibs on both of my Jinhaos were excellent out of the box. They’re smooth nails, though a little on the dry side with certain inks.

The 992 comes with an international size converter, but it can easily turn into an eyedropper, as the barrel is completely sealed and the section threads come with an o-ring installed.

However, before you eyedropper a 992, you should be aware of this model’s history of cracking. There are reports that more recent 992s don’t have this cracking problem, but I can’t confirm that as fact. I can only speak to my own personal experience, which is that my blue 992 hasn’t showing any signs of cracking yet, but my clear 992 quickly developed cracks around the plug at the end of the barrel. I removed the plug in an attempt to stabilize the cracks, which seems to be working so far.

In the Star Wars universe, clone troopers were meant to be cannon fodder, and the Jinhao 992 is a cannon fodder pen. I use mine with temperamental inks like J. Herbin’s Rouge Hematite or Platinum’s new line of iron galls.

The Jinhao 992 is cheap and easily replaceable, so does it matter if it doesn’t last very long? That’s for you to decide, but for me, I’ve never liked clones much anyway so I won’t be replacing these after they’re gone. I’ll stick with pens on the light side of the Force.

This Jinhao 992 was paid for with my own funds. My opinions on this blog are always my own. Please see my review ethics statement for more details.

Six Months with a Traveler’s Notebook

After spending ten years longing for a Traveler’s Notebook, I finally bought one to use as a travel journal. I’ve now had my TN for more than six months, and I love it so much you’ll have to forgive me as I gush all about it right here.

Ten years is a long time to resist a notebook’s siren song, but remember that back in the bad ol’ days before everyone decided analogue was cool, Traveler’s Notebooks were hard to find and expensive to import. At the time, I couldn’t justify spending so much on something I wasn’t even sure I would like. But things are different today: Traveler’s Notebooks are damn near everywhere, including Amazon, where they’re finally available at a reasonable price. An entire cottage industry of knock-off (aka fauxdori) notebooks has sprung into existence, and companies are churning out refills and accessories by the dozens.

But why buy a Traveler’s Notebook now, especially when I already have a Hobonichi Techo that I also love? Well, I had trips coming up, I wanted to start keeping a dedicated travel journal, and after trying to use my Hobonichi for that purpose I found that its page-a-day format was too small for the journaling I had in mind.

So far, I’ve carried my TN with me on several weekend motorcycle trips and a three-week trip to Europe. It’s certainly not the pristine brown it was on the day it arrived.

Motorcycle travel is hard on your belongings. Staying clean and dry is tricky enough, even in decent weather, but it’s the constant vibration that’s the real troublemaker. On my first trip with my TN, I threw it into one of the aluminum panniers on my touring bike before I left, and by the time I reached camp, spots of silvery aluminum had rubbed into the leather from the side of the pannier.

The silver spots have faded with time, but they remind me of that ride whenever I see them.

Right after my new TN arrived, I modified it to move the knot for the elastic closure from the middle of the back cover to the spine. This makes the notebook smoother to write on since there’s no longer a bumpy knot underneath the paper.

I also added a second elastic strap in the spine so I could carry an additional insert and a pair of kraft folders that I bought on

The first kraft folder has a pocket with a string-and-button closure. I use it to keep stamps, ticket stubs, receipts, and other ephemera that I want to save during my journeys.

Next is a regular Traveler’s Company insert where I do my travel journaling. I’m not a huge fan of blank paper but I’m using this insert since it came with the notebook. Once it’s full, I plan to switch to a grid insert.

Here are a few pages from some of my travels this summer.

When I went to Europe this summer, I used my TN to hold my boarding passes, itinerary, and some sightseeing guides I put together before I left. Now I understand why the regular notebook is sized the way it is — boarding passes fit perfectly, you can fold US letter (8.5″ x 11″) sheets in thirds and they’ll fit nicely, and the notebook fits on those teeny-tiny airplane tables.

In addition to my travels, I also take my TN with me when I go to pen gatherings. I use it to record the various pens and inks I’ve gotten to try. I’m pleased to report that the paper in the regular Traveler’s Company insert is very good. It’s fountain pen friendly, and it also works well with gel and rollerball pens. It’s not Tomoe River paper, but it’s perfect for travel journaling, which requires a sturdier paper for pasting in photos and other items while withstanding the rigors of the road and the occasional gas station ballpoint.

The back flap of the kraft folder has a simple pocket where I keep business cards and other random papers.

Now we’ve reached the middle of the notebook.

The back half of the notebook is much like the first, with another kraft folder sandwiching a second Traveler’s Company insert. But this time, the insert is the lightweight version instead of the regular.

The lightweight Traveler’s Company insert has twice the pages of the regular. The paper is similar to Tomoe River paper, but not the same. Using a fountain pen doesn’t result in the same amazing sheen effects. It’s still nice paper to write on, and I use this insert to draft longer pieces of writing. I’d love it if Traveler’s Company made a ruled version of this insert. When this one runs out, I’ll probably replace it with a ruled Tomoe River insert from Goulet Pens.

And that’s the beauty of the Traveler’s Notebook — you can put yours together however you want. I’ve seen slim TNs with only one insert and TNs stuffed to overflowing. If you can think of a paper and ruling combination, someone’s probably making an insert with it, and if not, it’s not horribly difficult to make an insert yourself. The original Traveler’s Company notebooks only come in the regular (110mm x 210mm) and passport (89mm x 122mm) sizes in a limited number of colors, but there are plenty of fauxdoris out there sized anywhere from A7 to A4, in all colors of the rainbow.

Why didn’t I buy a fauxdori myself, as a budget-conscious stationery nerd? To be honest, I didn’t want to take a chance on iffy quality leather. I was able to hold a friend’s Traveler’s Company notebook in my hands before I bought one, so I knew exactly what I’d be getting. I ended up paying $32 for mine on Amazon, which is not much more than a fauxdori would cost. As with all purchases, your personal budgetary comfort will vary.

This notebook is one of those rare stationery purchases where I’m truly thrilled by how it turned out. I now feel weird when I don’t have my TN with me when I’m out and about, like I’m missing something important. I’m so looking forward to having this notebook with me for many years to come.

This Traveler’s Company Traveler’s Notebook was paid for with my own funds. My opinions on this blog are always my own. Please see my review ethics statement for more details.