Pen Review: Pilot Custom Heritage 912 with FA Nib
Nib: 14k Gold
Filling System: Pilot Proprietary Cartridges/Converters
Length (Capped): 139mm
Length (Uncapped): 124mm
Length (Posted): 158mm
Section Diameter: 11.1mm
Barrel Max Diameter: 12.5mm
Cap Max Diameter: 16mm
Weight, Uncapped (with ink and/or converter): 14g
Weight, Capped (with ink and/or converter): 24g
One of the questions I get asked the most from fans and viewers of The Pen Habit is, “What modern pen has the best flex.” Flexible nibs gets talked about (and drooled over) so much in this hobby that many times, new FPV (fountain pen virus) victims want to get into flex, but don’t want to spend the money or deal with the inevitable difficulties that come from vintage flex. Goodness knows that, as I have journeyed through the fountain pen hobby myself, I too have had that issue. I, like many folks, first tried a Noodler’s “flex” pen, and found it…lacking. I then got a Pilot Falcon, lured in by that video (you all know the one I’m talking about.) Eventually, I bit the bullet and won a real vintage pen with a vintage flex nib, and I finally understood why people continued to tell me, “If you want flex, you have to go vintage.” As time has gone on, I’ve come to parrot that same mantra, especially when vintage flex can be had for quite reasonable prices. But I understand: vintage can be a crap shoot, and vintage pens come with their own limitations and problems. And not all fountain pen users necessarily want to have to deal with those. So they want modern flex.
While I understand and agree that modern flex is vastly inferior to vintage flex, that hasn’t stopped me from continuing to search for and appreciate modern pens that have some give. I like the Extra Flessibile nibs on the OMAS high-end pens. I like the Dreamtouch nibs on my Viscontis. I love the bounciness of the nib on my Pelikan M1000. I even like the feel of the Titanium T-Flex nib on my Stipula Model T. I’ve learned that I appreciate a nib with give. It makes my writing look better, and I prefer the way it feels when I put nib to paper. If given the option, I will always choose a bouncy, semi-flex, or flex nib over a rigid nib. It’s just my preference.
It was that preference that led me to try the Pilot Custom Heritage 912 with the FA, or Falcon, nib. (This is not to be confused with the nib on the Pilot Falcon, which is a “soft” nib…it’s very convoluted so I’ll just call it the FA nib from here on out.) I had seen several reviews of the FA nib online, and was intrigued. It wasn’t without its quirks, but clearly, this was a nib that could put out a whole heck of a lot of line variation. But it had never been available in the US, and I wasn’t yet comfortable ordering from overseas. (A fear, I’m sure you’ve noticed, that I have LONG since overcome.)
The 912 with an FA nib became available via Pilot USA several months ago, about the same time that I got over my irrational fear of international purchases and ordered the pen from a Japanese eBay seller. Pilot pens and I have a bit of a storied past. Without recapping it here in full, I have always appreciated the workmanship of Pilot pens, but haven’t seen eye-to-eye with the community about the overall amazingness of them. It turns out that the Custom Heritage 912 is the Pilot pen I had been looking for all along.
Like most of Pilot’s production-line offerings, the Custom Heritage 912 (heretofore known as just the 912 because I’m a lazy, lazy man) is a streamlined, understated, professional looking pen. It is a standard-shaped pen with flat ends, almost identical in design to the Sailor Professional Gear, albeit a bit longer and a touch slimmer. The pen is made from black, ingestion-molded plastic, polished to a mirror-like piano black shine. It features classical, restrained, rhodium-plated furniture.
The clip is flat and bill-like, with design cues taken from Pelikan’s clips. The cap flares out slightly, coming to a couple of cap bands, the larger of which features the words “CUSTOM HERITAGE 912 PILOT JAPAN.” The threads between the cap and the barrel are slick as hot-buttered glass, and the cap can be unscrewed with only 1 1/2 revolutions.
The barrel of the pen has a very slight outward bow before it tapes down to another silver washer and the flat black finial. The pen has a fairly standard, slightly concave section. The section itself is plastic, but the core of the section, as well as the threaded tenon that connects it to the pen’s barrel is metal. This gives the pen a nice bit of extra heft, and lends to a pen that feels much more solid in the hand than some of Pilot’s other offerings (e.g., the Falcon).
What’s particularly special about this pen, as mentioned previously, is the FA nib. While I have yet to find a modern pen that can compare completely with the vintage 14k gold flex nibs, the 14k gold FA nib on this Pilot 912 comes closer than any other pen I’ve ever tried. The nib is long and slender, and has semi-circular cutouts just behind the shoulders to lend the tines extra flexibility. You can get really ridiculous line variation out of this nib, assuming the ink will cooperate with you. (More on this momentarily). Where the FA nib falls down in comparison to vintage nibs is in its responsiveness, or what I like to call “snapback.” The nib can get crazy line varation, but it tends not to be as snappy returning to its original position. It lends an ever-so-slightly spongy quality to the flex feel.
Despite that, writing with this nib is a lot of fun. It takes very little pressure to flex the tines, so even if you don’t “flex” the pen, you’re going to get some attractive line variation. The nib’s point when not flexed is very fine, and gives a bit more feedback than I generally like. I’ve come to realize that this is pretty common for flex pens, especially those with very fine points when not flexed, and I now can appreciate the feedback as part of the whole flex thang. It takes a little getting used to (like all flex nibs) but once you get into the flow of the nib’s “bounce,” it results in a very enjoyable writing experience.
All is not sunshine and daisies, however. There are a couple of issues that plague this pen. The first is ink flow. Flex writing requires a lot of ink. And unfortunately, this pen just doesn’t seem designed to deliver the volume of ink that the nib requires to work all of the time. It also tends to be very persnickety about which inks it likes for flex and and which ones it does not. The problem, I believe, can be tied to two aspects of the pen: the converter and the feed.
Like all of Pilot’s pens, the 912 can accept the CON-20 (aerometric), the CON-50 (piston), and the CON-70 (button) converters. The CON-20 and CON-50 are some of my least favorite converters on the market today. The CON-20 is cheap, the CON-50 has a miserably small ink capacity. The CON-70 is the largest and best converter of the Pilot offerings, but it is a real beast to clean. And based on some of the reading I’ve done, it can also be a large contributor to the ink flow problems in this pen. A recent post on the Google+ fountain pen group mentioned that disassembling the CON-70, cleaning the individual parts, lubricating everything, and reassembling it helped fix a pretty significant railroading problem for one user’s 912. It is unfortunate in this case that the pen’s tenon is made of metal, because otherwise, this pen would be an ideal candidate for eyedropper conversion.
The feed is the other part of this equation that appears not to have been fully thought out. In most vintage flex feeds I’ve come across, the feed itself is flat and broad, lacking all of the fins that are so common on modern pens. While I’m not an expert on fluid dynamics, I would assume that the flat feed with multiple, broad ink channels would be capable of serving a huge amount of ink to the nib, which is why, for instance, I have never once railroaded my Waterman’s Ideal #7. The feed on the 912, by comparison, is long and tall, with deeply-cut fins in the lower half of the feed. I haven’t disassembled my 912 (yet) but I likely will; I’ve read that many folks have had to remove the feed, deepen the ink channels in the feed and reassemble the pen in order to get ink flowing enough to eliminate railroading.
The pen is also sensitive to inks. I’ve inked my 912 with three different inks: one from Diamine (Red Dragon), one from Kaweco (Ruby Red), and one from Pilot (Iroshizuku Tsuki-yo). Of the three, it’s clear that the Iroshizuku is the highest performer—which makes sense. Likely, Pilot has tuned their nibs to work best with the properties of their own ink. The Diamine performed all right. The Kaweco was a disaster in this pen: Hard starts, skipping, railroading all over the place—it was ugly. Until I modify the feed on this pen, I suspect I’ll be limited to using it with Iroshizuku inks, which is fine because I really do love Iro inks. (I’ve got 15 of them, after all…)
There is one final “downside” to this pen I should mention. I have seen many folks, including several video reviewers, indicate that this pen has a tendency to skip or hard start. At the time I recorded the video above, I hadn’t seen this behavior at all. Recently, I have started seeing it a little bit, although only when I have been doing a lot of fast, semi-flex writing. If I go slow, or don’t flex the pen, I don’t have the issue. One user on the Google+ fountain pen group mentioned that his FA nibs needed a period of “breaking in.” And once he wrote with them heavily for a few weeks, the skipping and hard starting went away. I will need some more time with this pen to know for sure, but my guess is that any hard starts I’m seeing are a result of pushing the ink flow beyond the feed’s ability to keep up. If I end up modifying the feed to increase ink flow, then I suspect I will see the hard start issues go away entirely.
Like every Pilot pen I’ve ever used, the manufacturing quality of the pen is superb. Pilot clearly prides itself on top-notch manufacturing, tight tolerances, and thorough quality control. Unlike every Pilot pen I’ve ever used, I really loved the feel of this pen in the hand. I usually ended up using this pen posted, which is unusual for me, but I found that posting the pen actually helped to improve rhythm of my writing. While it does tend to make the balance a touch back-heavy, it also seemed to help me keep the pen at a better angle for flex writing.
I also, surprisingly, love the way the pen looks. As I mentioned above, the pen’s design is similar to the Sailor Profesional Gear, but I find that I like the look of the 912 a little more. The measurements of the pen seem better-proportioned. It looks refined, and classy. It’s a power-pen. And while that’s not normally my style, this is is a black pen to which I find myself regularly drawn.
Despite the problems with the ink flow on this pen, I have to say that this 912 with the FA nib is easily my favorite Pilot pen experience thus far. It’s probably not the pen I would turn to for a daily carry pen, or for taking notes at work (although I have used it for that). Instead, this is the pen I reach for when I want to take the time to write a nice letter to a friend or loved one. I love what the nib’s bounce does for my handwriting, and I appreciate that Pilot, of all modern pen manufacturers, is actually trying to do something to resurrect the feel of a vintage flex nib. They’re not quite there, but they’re not very far off, either.