Spoke Pen Review

My Spoke Pen Orange Crush arrived a week ago, and I’ve been using it exclusively for journaling and meeting notes since then. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

First comes the colour, because there’s just absolutely no way to ignore it. It’s nothing like I would have expected orange pen to be: it’s like an amalgamation of gold and bronze with a dash of copper. This is a rich and SHINY finish that sparkles and glows. You cannot ignore it, the very opposite of subtle, and yet it isn’t gaudy and doesn’t look cheap. Orange isn’t a colour that I’m overly fond of, but I’m glad that I picked it out for this pen: it’s perfect.

The second thing you notice about this pen is the weight. It’s super light, though it appears to be a solid and heavy looking pen. It shouldn’t have surprised me, as it’s made of aluminum, but the Spoke Pen still looks like it a heavy pen because there appears to be so much metal in use in it that it seems impossible for it to be so light. The first time I picked it up it really surprised me. It’s lighter than my beloved Ti Arto, even though it looks like it should be heavier. At first I had to consciously remind myself to use the Spoke Pen and not the Ti Arto when journaling, but now it’s become the pen I turn to for long writing sessions because it fatigues my hands less. Could it replace my Ti Arto as my favourite pen? Time will tell, but it’s entirely possible the way things stand now.

The Spoke Pen was designed entirely around Brad Dowdy‘s beloved Uni-ball Signo DX refill (UMR-1), but also accepts the Uni-ball Signo UMR-85N (my favourite refill), UMR-87N, and other refills of the same size. To change refills you unscrew the section, take out the old refill, and then the magic starts. When you put in a new refill it will appear to jot out quite a bit from the pen body. “There’s no way this thing will close back up again,” you think to yourself. Have faith, it does: there’s a hidden spring in the back of the pen, and you’re going to have to apply a tiny bit of force to push the section back close to the body, but once you start screwing the section back everything fits snugly back in place. The tolerances on this pen are flawless, as I’d expect from a pen with this provenance.

Machined pens seem to be divided into two schools of thought when it comes to branding: either the over the top, in your face, you can’t miss it branding style, or the barely branded one. The Spoke Pen belongs to the latter group, as there’s a discreet stamp of the Spoke logo on the top finial and that’s it. Very classy move.

The third great thing about this pen is the magnetic closure. I actually thought that this would be a more significant feature than the colour or the weight of the pen, but after using the Ti2 Techliner for a while the novelty of magnetic cap closures must have worn off for me. If the most important thing for you is the magnetic closure, then I recommend the Ti2 Techliner instead, as its magnets are significantly more powerful, and you can both cap and post the pen with them, even from a distance. The Spoke Pen’s cap magnet engages only halfway through capping the pen, basically functioning like the click at the end of a regular pen capping. It’s fun to use, and fun to fidget with, but I don’t think that it’s the pen’s main selling point.

Are there any cons to this pen? Of course, rarely anything in life is perfect. You may not like the Spoke Pen’s tactical aesthetic. If you carry the Spoke Pen in your pocket lint will probably get wedged in its “fins”. The clip looks like a determined person with something to prove could bend it out of shape (for normal use I think it’s perfectly fine). These are not issues for me personally, but they may be issues for you.

As it is, the Spoke Pen Orange Crush is one of my favourite (non-fountain) pens ever, and is looking to replace the Ti Arto at the top of my list. Kudos to Brian Conti and Brad Dowdy for creating such a great product out of the gate.

Spoke Pen Review

Ti Arto EDC Review

While the original Ti Arto is my favourite machined pen, the newer Ti Arto EDC comes in at a close second. Like its older BIGiDESIGN brother, the Ti Arto EDC is a machined titanium pen which can accept hundreds of different refills with no need for hacks or spacers and with no tip wiggle. Unlike the Ti Arto it comes in three different finishes, accepts many more refills, and can be adjusted in length.

The Ti Arto EDC looks a lot like a slightly slimmer version of the Ti Arto, with a bigger step down in the end section, and almost no gap between the section and the body.

Those looks are a little deceiving, because this the Ti Arto EDC has a completely different build. The end of the pen can be extended or retracted, unlike the Ti Arto, where it is static. In the Ti Arto EDC the end of the pen is also what you unscrew to change refills, unlike the Ti Arto, where the grip unscrews. If you assume that they’re the same, as on a cursory glance it looks like the Ti Arto EDC’s grip section unscrews (and it really, really doesn’t).

The body of the Ti Arto EDC is slightly slimmer, and the entire pen is slightly lighter than the Ti Arto. It comes in a machined raw finish (like the Ti Arto), in a stonewashed finish (which you can see in the pictures) and in a midnight black finish (which you can see on my Ti Click EDC). Of the three, the stonewashed finish has the best grip and feel, and it also shows wear and tear the best.

The trick with the extendable end section is where the cleverness of this pen lies, and that’s what allows you to use more refill types in this pen, and to extend or compress this pen’s length (to the limits of the refill size). The two o-rings make the end section action super smooth, and the same dual thread design allows you to cap and post this pen super securely. Nothing on this pen is going anywhere without your permission.

The Ti logo, elegant and understated, is the only branding on this pen. You can see how substantial the clip is and how the pen wear in the photo above. It’s like an old pair of jeans, so the stonewashed name for this finish is totally appropriate.

Fully extended, the Ti Arto EDC is the same length of the Ti Arto. However, depending on the refill you use, this pen can get pretty tiny.

I use the Uni-ball UMR-85N refill in this pen, and this is as far as it will contract. If you use a Parker or Schmidt refill the end section can be screwed in almost all the way. However, even partially extended the Ti Arto EDC is a more pocketable pen than its predecessor.

So why do I prefer the Ti Arto more? For longer writing sessions the Ti Arto’s wider girth makes it more comfortable to use than the Ti Arto EDC, although the difference is minor. The Ti Arto is also slightly less ungainly than the Ti Arto EDC, having a more streamlined design, with no step down. I don’t mind the Ti Arto’s gap between the grip and the pen body, and I don’t need a pen that accepts more refills than the Ti Arto. As you may have noticed by now, the choice between the Arto and the Arto EDC is likely going be one of personal taste and preference. Either pen is an excellent choice for a machined pen, an EDC pen, or a titanium pen.

Ti Arto EDC Review

Tactile Turn Aluminium Glider Review

I use a lot of machined pens at work, mostly because they make taking dull meeting notes a bit more fun. Fountain pens just aren’t pragmatic for meeting notes because I have to cap and uncap them every minute or so (and the Pilot Vanishing Point has the most attention grabbing click that you can imagine). Pencils are for real thinking — problem solving, brainstorming, designing — or doodling during long phone calls. So I have a fair amount of non-tactical machined pens, and they see a fair amount of daily use. So of course I’ve reviewed hardly any of them…

The Tactile Turn aluminium Glider is a pen that I bought during the popular Tactile Turn Slider and Glider kickstarter a while back. I’m not a fan of Tactile Turn’s naming convention, as I find it confusing, but I am a fan of everything else about this pen.

I purchased the blue aluminium Glider, which uses Pilot G2 refills and came with a 0.38 Pilot G2 refill, and splurged on a Damascus steel bolt.  The pen is well designed, well balanced, and features a ridged texture that makes it extra grippy. It’s a joy to write with, and although it has some heft it’s still comfortable to use over long periods of time.

The Damascus steel bolt isn’t just pretty, it’s added texture make the bolt mechanism an even better fidget toy than it already is. Click away thoughtfully at meetings to keep yourself awake, or just count the number of rings on the pen to pass the time.

Tactile Turn 2018

The only logo on the pen is very cleverly hidden beneath the formidable clip. The clip, the pen and the anodization have endured well so far after months of daily use. It is worth noting though that this pen doesn’t bash around in my bag like my Big Idea Design pens do.

The Pilot G2 0.38 spattered to its death prematurely (sadly quite common with this refill), so I grabbed a Muji click gel pen with a 0.5 blue black refill (which is a white label Zebra or Uni-Ball refill), cut it to size and I couldn’t be happier with the combo.

There are so many machined pens in recent years, and quite a few of them have bolt mechanisms. The Tactile Turn Glider is so far the best that I’ve tried:

  • The bolt mechanism is smooth and engages easily and only when you want it to.
  • The Glider’s shape and weight make it a good looking pen that’s also usable.
  • The ridges are both functional (providing traction that prevents your fingers from slipping) and add an interesting design element.
  • The clip is industrial grade strong and durable, and the anodization seems to be very durable as well.
  • The Glider is very well priced, making it the perfect introduction to machined pens.

If you are looking to buy just one machined click pen, the Tactile Turn Glider should be it.

Tactile Turn Aluminium Glider Review

Ti Click EDC Pen Review

I am a big fan of Big Idea Design’s pens (the Ti Arto is my daily carry pen), and so of course I joined the Kickstarter for the Ti Click EDC Pen. Since I hadn’t tried their black anodised pens before, that’s the finish I opted for. It arrived yesterday, and even though I’ve been using it exclusively all day, I’l be the first to admit that these are only my preliminary thoughts on it. (See updates in the end for more detailed thoughts on this pen).

The packaging, as usual with BIGiDESIGN, is compact and neat. The pen comes with everything you need to fix it, should you need to (I’ve never needed to), and in a pretty nifty box.

The finish on this pen is shiny and black, but it’s surprisingly not a fingerprint magnet, as I would have imagined:

The pen came with a Scheider Gelion 39 0.4 mm gel ink refill. This is a new refill for me, and I can’t say I’m a fan. It’s as wide as a 0.7-0.8 mm refill, and I much prefer the Uni-Ball Signo UMR-85N refill that the BIGiDESIGN pens used to be shipped with (it’s me favourite gel refill).

As part of the kickstarter, the pen came with a cool Bioworkz sticker, which you can see below:

The pen itself is about the length of the Ti Arto, when the Ti Arto is capped, but the grip is much wider, about the size of the Ti Pocket Pro. That’s a bit large for an EDC pen, and it’s definitely not a pocket pen. The grip feels weird at first, but it’s very comfortable and well designed. You can see how the Ti Click EDC compares to the Ti Arto (on the left) and the Ti Pocket Pro (on the right) in the various finish options that the Ti pens come in (machined raw, midnight black, and stonewashed). My machined raw Ti Arto shows scratches much more than my stonewashed Ti Pocket Pro, but I’ve no idea yet how the midnight black finish wears.

This brings me to the only minus that the Ti Click EDC has – the click mechanism. It’s silent (no satisfying click), which will probably turn off those planning on using it as a fidget toy, and it doesn’t always engage properly. It’s especially prone to not engaging after you replace the refill. Make sure that you use the provided instructions to switch refills (and like other BIGiDESIGN pens this one accepts dozens of refills without using any spacers or requiring any special hacks), and take into account that you might have to fiddle with the grip a bit until most clicks work. This is not a minor drawback, as the whole point of the pen is its click mechanism. It should work 100% of the time and feel satisfying, not “soft” as it feels now.

For the price of the Ti Click EDC you could buy a Ti Arto (still their best pen), or a Ti Pocket Pro (if portability is super important to you), have some change for a bunch of refills and get a much better pen. I love supporting BIGiDESIGN and I’m glad that I got to try this pen, but for now it looks like the Ti Arto will continue to reign supreme in my rotation.

Update: After using this pen almost exclusively for a week, I stand by my first impressions. It’s slightly more comfortable to use in long form writing, but the click mechanism is garbage.

Update 2: The BIGiDESIGN guys contacted me and it turns out that you can significantly improve the click mechanism with some silicone grease. Using the clip fixing kit that came with the pen and their simple instructional video on how to use it you can get to the click mechanism, and then apply some silicone grease, which you can buy at Goulet Pens for example. I happened to have grease around, so I had no problem trying this out, and it fixes the problem of the click mechanism not engaging properly.

The click is now solid, but it’s still not much fun to use – there’s no satisfying click or solid feedback once the thing is engaged. You just push past a point, and then the mechanism partially bounces back. It’s a disappointment because most $2-3 pens have more satisfying click mechanisms and even Karas Kustoms EDK pen, which has a similar click mechanism, offers more feedback and an audible click once it’s engaged.

I don’t know how many Ti Click EDC pens were affected by this problem, and I’m glad that I have at least a “mostly OK” click mechanism for my pen now, but I stand by my initial review, that for a pen that advertises its click mechanism so prominently, this is not a great buy. Spend your money on the Ti Arto, it’s a pen worth having, or go for the Ti Pocket Pro if you’re looking for an EDC pen. Those are truly great pens, while the Ti Click EDC is OK to “sort of good” at best.

Ti Click EDC Pen Review