My favorite pocket notebook

There is a pocket notebook that offers great quality, lots of pages, is cheaper and more easily available than the competition in Europe, and almost nobody is talking about it. Well, that’s a shame. Let me tell you what you are missing out on.

Why pocket notebooks?

Pocket Notebooks
The pocket notebook in its inofficial but de facto format of 14cm x 9cm is defined on the market by Field Notes and Moleskine Cahiers.
As the name implies, this format is very portable, not too small and in an aspect ration that’s close enough to more regular notebooks or writing pads to be instantly familiar and comfortable. It’s been adopted by many smaller manufacturers that have been carried by the popularity of the format. .Word, Calepino and others have quickly gained popularity and success in the enthusiasts market. Accessory manufacturers have reacted and many like NockCo have tailored their products towards this size.

My use case

So what am I looking for in a pocket notebook? I mostly use fountain pens, so paper quality is a concern. Digital ink has been spilled on what “FP friendly” means in the context of a pocket notebook, especially about the absorbent qualities and the resulting drying times. My position is pretty much this:
If you have the time to use a fountain pen, you have the time to wait for the ink to dry.
I am using these tools for the superior experience and the paper I use is a big part of that. Get the best paper you can and write with a gel pen if you are in a hurry.
I would prefer to carry a single notebook. My Raydori (or Timbori) comes close to that ideal, but even that is getting too fuzzy for me lately. I flip-flop between a Raydori with 2 books and a Nock Co Fodderstack XL on my person and a Sinclair in my backpack.
Finally, availability is an issue. A notebook that isn’t readily available in Europe/Germany for a reasonable price is not an option.

And the winner is…

Clairfontaine Pocket Notebooks
Why aren’t more people singing the praises of Clairfontaine pocket notebooks?
You get the amazing 90gsm paper that will hold up to any ink in any nib that you could possibly use on the go. No feathering, no bleedthrough or showthrough, reasonable drying times.
And they are huge!
96 pages make them flexible enough to be my only notebook for the day, even if I have to work on several different subjects and projects. They are attractive and well made, and you can find them at big online retailers for less than 2€ per book with short delivery times. Get a pack of ten, put a spare in your backpack, order new ones when the stash is running out.
The one downside that I can think of is that they only come squared or ruled. Blanks and dot grid would be welcome additions to the product line.

The competition

So what is disqualifying the other pocket notebooks for me?

Moleskine Cahiers

Moleskind Cahier Pocket Notebook
The Mole is everywhere. You can’t escape them. So in a pinch, you can get a pocket notebook in pretty much every town center bookshop. You can get them in a variety of 3 (bland) colors and they come ruled, squared and blank. The paper is… bad. Not as bad as it’s made out to be sometimes, but I get the feeling that Moleskine is using especially cheap paper for these smaller books. The pages in the back are perforated. Interesting, but not that useful for me. Cahiers are competitively priced at 2-3 Euros per book, and they offer only the “standard” 48 pages that you find in most pocket notebooks.

Field Notes

Field Notes
The O.G. pocket notebooks. They put a spin on the blandness, they examplify this simplicity that gets so often mistaken for sincerety nowadays, and I have to admit that they look pretty cool. They offer the colors editions. These have been hit or miss for me. The paper varies from version to version, and even with the best ones it’s not great. 48 pages. Standard, but tiny compared to the Clarifontaines. But the worst part is that they are very rare in Europe, so they are expensive and a hassle to import. Lately I’ve become burned out by the special edition. I was never a subscriber, but most of the seasonal editions in the last years where either disappointing to me, and when I got one I liked I found it harder to use them, spoil them, than I thought.

Make your own

I have been making my own notebooks in the past. I got card stock for the covers, got nice paper, printed a dot grid on them. I ordered Tomoe River paper and cut it to size. I got tools to do all this…
It’s a hobby. It’s fun. But it takes so much time. It makes a mess, and since I don’t have a workshop, basement or garage, that mess and cleaning it is somewhat more inconvenient. The flexibility to get exactly what you want is nice, but it’s not worth the hassle.

All the other books that I am aware of seem to fall in line with either the Moleskine Cahiers or the Field Notes. They are either complicated and expensive to get, offer the standard 48 pages or use paper that is less than ideal.

Conclusion

So there you go. Clairfontaine pocket notebooks in their different designs are fulfilling my needs for paper on the go pretty much perfectly right now. Flashier designs and more absorbent paper seem to be selling points for users with different needs, but I’m not tempted so far. If you know of a brand of books that offers what I’m looking for tell me in the comments, I look forward to checking them out!

What others say about the Clairfontaine Pocket Notebooks:
Clairefontaine 1951 Collection Notebook Review by Jeff Abbott on penaddict.com
Clairefontaine Pocket Notebook Review by Cody on thepenhaul.com
Review by Azizah on gourmetpens.com
Ed with a counter point to my use case

Namisu Nova

Namisu, the design collective from the United Kingdom, have recently shipped the Nova, their second fountain pen. Just as their first pen, the Nexus, the Nova was funded via Kickstarter. And just like every Kickstarter project, the Nova shipped with some delay. Not as bad as some other pens though. I’m looking in the general direction of the TactileTurn Gist…

Design

The Nova is a very sleek and understated pen. The aluminium version comes in either grey or black, and there is a version in polished titanium, too. I got the grey version. The color is lovely, and the finish of the aluminium is perfect. The Nova is a very handsome pen.

Many people are comparing the overall shape to Nakaya pens, and if that is true I want a Nakaya even more now. It comes in at 14cm capped and the aluminium material feels light but sturdy.
The barrel is tapered to the end. Both the top of the cap and the end of the barrel end in pointed tableaus. The cap is clipless. I knew that when I ordered the pen, but I can’t get over it. Both the pen and the cap keep rolling around on the desk, and since the cap can’t be posted you need to be careful where you put it. This is my single biggest complaint about the design, but I understand that this is a very conscious decision and that it is a matter of personal preference.

The cap unscrews and the threads are amazing. The threaded area is short, the threads themselves are wide and the peaks are flat and finished in the same way as the rest of the barrel. The flat tops should be very comfortable to people that grab the pen high on the section close to the threads.
The section itself is tapered with a very average diameter, not too thin, not too wide. The grey finish keeps the section from being too slippery. I would have liked a lip around the tip of the section before the nib, but I don’t think this is going to become an issue with me.
The Nova uses size #6 nib units made by Bock. You can get them in steel, titanium or gold and in a variety of grinds. With KarasKustoms switching over to Bock and TactileTurn going for the same models, Bock is gaining popularity with the artisanal pen manufacturers and we’ll be seeing a lot more of them.

Writing performance

I ordered the Nova with a titanium nib in extra fine. When I first got the pen it had massive problems with hard starts. I cleaned the nib unit and adjusted the nib tines. As a result the hard starts have gotten less severe, the pen starts up sooner, but they still occur very frequently. The ink flows very wet, and with titanium nibs being slightly softer than steel, the extra fine writes closer to what I would consider a medium.
The soft titanium makes the nib pleasantly bouncy. Titanium has a very distinctive feedback on the page and you can get a bit of line variation out of the pen, but nobody would mistake this nib for flexy. And, unfortunately, the softish titanium apparently makes the nib a bit prone to losing alignment.
Bock doesn’t mark their nibs with the grade. I hate that. I got a variety of steel nibs by them, and not being able to tell them apart is the reason why they don’t see much use by me.

Final thoughts

Another pen by a small manufacturer that is lovely in principle but held back by it’s nib. I love the design, the finish, and I love that you can get it all for a very reasonable price.
The titanium nib is interesting, but unfortunately I don’t consider it much of an upgrade.
I am very curious for the Gist now.
And I really want a Nakaya Neo-Standard.

KarasKustoms Ink

Introduction

After falling in love with KarasKustoms Retrakt and being less impressed with the Bolt I was hesitant to try the Ink. A fountain pen was a deviation from their progressively improving ballpoint line, and it is the most expensive pen that they offer so far. But my hope that their experience producing pens would carry over (and a discount code supplied by a friendly soul over at r/fountainpens on Reddit) convinced me to try the Ink.

Design and construction

The Ink has a very interesting look that combines classical fountain pen aesthetics with the modern industrial design that KarasKustoms has become known for. Like all of their pens, the Ink was machined from aluminium and gives off a rugged and robust impression.

Cap and barrel

The cap and barrel have a very understated look with some eye-catching special features. The cap screws on to the barrel flush with no visible step down, giving the pen a clean line. The pen feels wide when held in the had, very appropriate for the solid aluminium material it was made from.

The cap is straight with a little groove going around it at the top. Above that we find the clip, that has been cleverly attached to the cap.

The cap has a slot going through it all the way, and the clip sits in there. It’s attached by 2 hex screws, a common design trademark with KarasKustoms pens. A welcome sight that establishes similarities between the ink and it’s siblings. The clip is made from steel, solid and extremely stiff. KarasKustoms left a little gap between the clip and the cap so that you can attach it to a notebook or your pocket more easily.

The barrel is conical, slimmer at the end, with a beveled edge that gives the impression of a modern finial. The design is reminiscent of cigar shaped, classical fountain pens and contrasts nicely with the cap to create this interesting mix of styles.

KarasKustoms offers the Ink in 10 different color finishes for the pen body. I have always preferred the plain aluminium myself, but the color options look very attractive and fit the overall style of the pen very well. (Hm. The Retrakt Tu-Tone in blue thought? Worth a thought…)

The section

The section is much thinner than the barrel, to achieve the clean lines of the capped pen. Coming from the barrel, there is a step down towards the threads for the cap and a section that is flared towards the nib to keep your fingers from slipping during long writing sessions.

The threats are cut well and not too sharp, but people that grip their pen higher towards the threads have told me that they notice them while writing.

The section offers a second option to customize your Ink, after the color finishes. You can pick between 3 different materials, aluminium, copper and brass. You can also chose weather you want your Ink to be a rollerball or a fountain pen.

The fountain pen version uses Schmidt nib units, KarasKustoms offers them with steel nibs in the sizes F, M and B.

Filling system

The Ink is a cartridge / converter pen, a versatile, uncomplicated filling system that fits the pen well. The supplied converter is a Schmidt unit that works well and without leaking.

Writing experience

Uncapping the ink for the first time was a bit of a let down for me. The size #5 nib looks too small for the pen, the otherwise well proportioned and balanced looking Ink could have used a #6. I understand that the smaller nib makes it possible to achieve the streamlined look of the capped pen, but I can’t help but wonder from time to time if the nib unit would accept a bigger replacement nib that got worked on a little.

The nib comes a little short when it it hits the paper, too. I got all 3 nib sizes, and I prefer the fine nib. All the nibs performed adequately, but I would describe the experience as a little uninspired. Not exceptionally smooth, or flexible, but passable.

Where it excels is practicability. The ink is incredibly sturdy and well thought out. You can carry it everywhere, take it out of your pocket, and it will work. The aluminium material is light enough make it comfortable to write with for longer periods. It fits perfectly into the fountain pen shaped hole in your every day carry. It’s uncanny, really. Despite it’s average writing performance I find myself using the Ink even if I have other pens in front of me.

Final Thoughts

I’ve been living with the Ink for a few months now, and I am stumped by it.

The Ink has been designed to be an attractive, dependable everyday companion, and I have never encountered a fountain pen that fits this use case better than the Ink. I can’t even think of any improvements to make it better in this regard.

For somebody that is into buying and collecting pens because they like to use pens, the Ink might be the last pen that they have to buy. It is that reliable, that useful, that perfectly designed to fulfill it’s role.

But that would be a shame, since there are so many nibs out there! If you have ever experienced a steel Jowo nib (in my opinion the best widely available steel nib on the market) or a firm but smooth and slightly springy gold nib, you might find yourself in the same position I ended up in: looking at gold nibs that cost more than the Ink itself to swap in.

Until I make that jump, I consciously make myself pick up pens with gold nibs, or just great steel nibs.

The Ink is an amazing tool, so good that I wish it was a slightly better pen.

Update and Correction:

Dan Bishop of KarasKustoms points out on Twitter:

I did not know that, and I honestly can’t explain why I have had better experiences with Jowo nibs in other pens. I can’t change my opinion on these nibs, but please take my criticism with a grain of salt. The nibs on the Ink are fine, but the Jowos on Edison and TWSBI pens feel better to me. I still use my Ink more. It is quite the conundrum.