Sunday, February 15, 2015

Epic Pen Search and Discovery, Part 4: Pilot Custom Heritage 912 with Falcon Nib

1/16/15 Platinum Carbon ink, Van Gogh watercolors, Stillman & Birn Alpha
(This is part of a multi-post series about my ongoing search for the ultimate variable-line-width fountain pen. To read other posts in the series, choose “Epic Pen Search” in the label cloud at right, below.) 

Long before my research of music and flexible nibs began, I had briefly tried a couple of different so-called semi-flexible nibs: the Noodler’s Ahab and the Platinum Cool. I found that I had to apply so much pressure to get either of those nibs to flex that my sketching line immediately lacked fluidity. Perhaps the degree of flex these nibs offer is enough for writing with a variable line, but I couldn’t get them to work for sketching.

1/14/15 Private Reserve Velvet Black ink, Pilot Petit1 pen,
Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook
The Pilot Custom Heritage 912’s Falcon (FA) nib is a whole different story. (If you missed last weeks post, its important to note here that the Pilot Falcon (FA) nib is different from the Namiki/Pilot Falcon pen, which has a much stiffer, less flexy nib. Yes, I know its confusing.) While still not as soft as a vintage “wet noodle,” the 14kt gold nib is certainly soft and flexible enough to produce variable widths without having to exert an unnatural degree of pressure for sketching. As soon as I got it, I filled it up with waterproof Platinum Carbon Black ink and took it out for its maiden flight.

Immediately I noticed that the nib puts out a ton of ink – the proverbial “fire hose,” I learned that it’s called – even without applying any pressure, and when I did apply pressure to make the line heavier, I could see that the ink flow was fast and heavy, which means it takes a significantly longer length of time to dry. (I didn’t know this at the time, but I learned shortly thereafter that flexible nibs require a generally heavy ink output to keep up with the sudden additional flow needed when flexed; otherwise, when the flexed tines split, they leave an uninked space in the middle, called “railroading”).

Writing samples done with Pilot Custom 912's Falcon nib.
I’ve been using Platinum Carbon consistently for the past couple years with various pens, so I’m very familiar with how long it needs to dry before I can apply watercolor. Generally, it’s only a minute or two, but it took several times longer with the Pilot Falcon nib – that’s how much ink is going down. My first few sketches with it, the Platinum Carbon kept smearing when I applied watercolor because I kept assuming it was dry when it wasn’t. (A sketcher with more patience or who typically waits until later to paint after drawing would have no problem using the Falcon nib with a waterproof ink.)

The next day I emptied the remaining Platinum Carbon from the Pilot’s converter (I was astounded to find that I had used up half the converter’s contents the day before on only a couple of sketches! I think it uses twice as much ink as an average pen) and filled it with water-soluble Pilot Iroshizuku Take-sumi, which I know to be a fast-drying ink. It was a good choice; even though I could see that the pen was still putting out a lot of ink, it dried relatively quickly. Since I usually wash the lines for shading anyway when using a water-soluble ink, it doesn’t matter if the line was still a little damp when I applied water. In fact, the additional ink put out by the pen made the wash richer than usual, which I like. (The Falcon nib might also be good to use with some of my wimpier inks, which I’ve avoided using for sketching because the washes are too pale.)

In addition, the Pilot Custom Heritage 912 flows beautifully, immediately and consistently. Even with that plentiful stream of ink, it never leaves a puddle. I love simply writing in my journal with it (but since it lives in my sketching bag, I rarely do).

1/5/15 Iroshizuku Take-sumi ink, Pilot Custom 912 with Falcon
nib, Clairefontaine notebook
As for the flexiness of the nib, how does it respond while sketching? When I want a medium-to-broad line, the flexy nib responds immediately, and that fire hose output of ink keeps up with me just fine. On the other hand, its finest line – which I get by turning the nib upside-down, because even the lightest of pressure produces a line that is a little too broad for my definition of a fine line – still isn’t as fine as the finest line I can get with my old trusty Sailor fude (note the fur around the baby cheetah’s head, below). And when I want broad areas of ink, such as on the cheetah’s spots, the old Sailor makes nice wide marks easily with single strokes, while the Pilot Falcon nib (at right) requires making circles and filling them in.

1/5/15 Private Reserve Velvet Black ink, Sailor fude pen,
Clairefontaine notebook
One issue that I discovered almost immediately is that the soft, flexible Falcon nib can snag on the toothy surface of cold press paper – splattering ink on the page. This happened a few times on early sketches, though not so badly that the sketches were ruined. The obvious solution would be to use a hot press paper or other paper with a smoother texture. Or I could decide that ink splatters give a sketch some organic character, which I’m not opposed to. I’ve decided that the nib’s potential for splattering is something to be aware of but not a deal breaker.

Aside from differences in line variation, I’d say the main difference between the Sailor fude and the Pilot Falcon is the hand movement requirement to get that variation. It took me quite a while to get used to the forward-and-back angle change of the fude nib, but now that I am used to it, the motion comes naturally to me. Though it seems like it should be intuitive (if I push harder on a crayon, I get a darker, broader stroke), the Falcon’s reliance on pressure to change the line width is still taking me a bit of time to learn, and it’s not quite second nature yet. I might have a different review after I’ve used the Falcon for a year or more.

But will I? The line variation I get from the Sailor is wider, and my trusty favorite uses considerably less ink. The jury is still out on the Falcon.

2/1/15 Iroshizuku Take-sumi ink, Pilot Custom
912 with Falcon nib, Clairefontaine notebook
But have you heard of the “calling the dog” concept? I’m hazy on its origin, but apparently it’s a story about two people who both claimed a dog as their own, so they both called to it, and let the dog choose. The concept (as applied to real-life situations, not a hypothetical dog) is that if you are trying to decide among a few things, and evaluating their various attributes objectively has caused confusion, one way to choose is to stop analyzing and just see which one you tend to go to intuitively. In other words, you are the dog, and you “choose” the one that calls to you in some way.

I have been carrying around the Pilot – along with the other pens I’ll be reviewing in this series – in my bag for the past couple of months, and I’m finding that, more often than not, the Pilot is the pen I grab first. Well, I have to condition that: I grab it first as long as my Sailor fude is not in my bag. (I’ve lately left it at home to give the other pens a fair trial.) But among the pens I’m testing, especially when I have limited time and need a pen I can count on quickly and with no nonsense, this dog often chooses the Pilot.

12/27/14 Iroshizuku Take-sumi and Fuyu-syogun inks, Pilot
Falcon pen, Caran d'Ache Museum water-soluble colored pencil,
Canson XL 140 lb. paper 
I’ll end this review with one comment about the Pilot Custom Heritage 912’s body, which is the more contemporary flat-top style (as opposed to the classic tapered cigar shape). I find the weight and shape very comfortable to hold and sketch with as well as more esthetically pleasing than the more commonly found cigar shape, which I characterize as “plain black fountain pen.” (Next week’s review of the Platinum 3776 will include more comments about my discovered preference in pen body size and weight.)

Now what about that music nib. . . ?  (stay tuned next week).

(Just in case it’s not obvious, unlike many blogs that review fountain pens, my blog has no sponsors or affiliates. Every pen I mention here was purchased by me at retail price.)


  1. Very thorough, Tina! I find it much easier to just have my 2 Lamys. lol I get crazy with all the other pre-filled pens. I can never remember which are soluble inks and which aren't. I plan on spending some time testing each of them and then I'm going to mark them so I can tell at a glance.

    Hope you are having a good President's Day Weekend. We had a touch of snow last night (not the 4-6 inches they predicted) and it is just bitterly cold. Did I stay inside and keep warm? Nah...I went and painted the fresh snow from my car.

  2. Great review and thoughtful comments, Tina. The more I chase the 'flex' concept the more I come to believe that either a fude pen (if you don't mind drawing all your fine lines with the pen vertical) or simply having a couple pens with different thicknesses. Truthfully, while I like the natural variation that comes from using any fountain pen, I rarely draw lines that are thicker on one end than the other, at least not on purpose :-) That probably makes me a bad person but mostly I need very fine lines and then a slightly thicker line. If I need really wide lines I'll break out my Pentel brush pen.

    Cheers --- Larry

  3. It's interesting that you should refer to the Pilot Custom 912 as having "the more contemporary flat-top style (as opposed to the classic tapered cigar shape)." In the 1920s, most fountain pens had flat tops (and bottoms) -- think of the Parker Duofold of that period, or the Waterman 52. It wasn't until the 1930s that pens started being made tapered (think of the Sheaffer Balance). So it's interesting that some people now consider flat tops to be contemporary-looking. Everything old is new again, I suppose.

    1. Thanks very much for your historical perspective, Daniel! I know nothing about fountain pen history, so this is very interesting to learn.

      - Tina

    2. I have a feeling it's because when we think of cigar shape it will be always 1 brand that turns it into an instant classic while yes the duofolds are kind of old the straight lines of a flat top design still invokes a more "modern" taste no matter the age


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