Kanilea Pen Co. Kahakai Review


Seattle is a beautiful place to live and work. For about half the year, it is sunny, warm (but mild), and with no major extremes of weather. The scenery is beautiful, the people friendly. But starting each year in late October, the gray clouds move in and blot out the sun for about six months straight. Despite popular perception, it doesn’t actually rain a lot in Seattle: it just drizzles. Non-stop. Always, always drizzling and gray. Come January, after the warmth and twinkle of the holiday season have been packed up and stored away, and with the ludicrously short days of our northern latitude, the first part of each new year becomes an exercise in dodging Seasonal Affective Disorder and eating vitamin D supplements like they were Tic-Tacs. That’s why, come February or March, Seattleites start flocking to sunnier climes such as Mexico or Hawaii. (We rarely leave during the summer. Instead, that’s when everyone comes to visit us.)

I don’t travel a lot these days (traveling solo isn’t nearly as much fun as traveling with friends or loved ones), so my own personal approach to combatting the suicidal grays of Seattle winters has been largely limited to dressing in bright colors and keeping all the lights on in the house all the time. With my immersion into the fountain pen hobby, I found myself often supplementing my colorful clothing choices with colorful inks. That why I love bright colors like turquoise and green…they remind me of the upcoming spring. But I’ve never really had much luck finding pens that matched the bright, sunny mood about which I was trying to reminisce.

At the DC Pen show this year (2016), I came across the table of Hugh and Karol Scher and their son Matt. (Very masculine, virile name, by the way.) They had started a new pen company called Kanilea (which means “joyful sound” in Hawaiian) and the company’s product line was based around the family’s frequent trips to, and love of, the Hawaiian islands. (And, now that I think about it, that’s a really great way to make your family vacations tax deductible. Hmmm. I wonder if I could start a New York City-inspired pen line…)

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Now, I’ve been around the fountain pen hobby for only about four years now, and in that time, I’ve seen a lot of new companies and pen makers come along (and in some cases, go away as well.) The folks at Kanilea approached their entry to the pen world in a way that was quite unlike anything I had ever seen. Many businesses (in many industries) sort of grow up organically: they start from a germ of an idea, and over time they evolve into what they were meant to become. The Kanilea Pen Company, however, felt fully realized from soup to nuts right out of the gate with beautiful branding, packaging, a solid thesis around which their products are built, and an attention-grabbing, unique product line. With only a couple of minor exceptions, Kanilea immediately felt like a company that had been in business for years and years.

The idea behind Kanilea’s pen products is that they are based on the family’s photos from their many trips to the Hawaiian islands. Each photo represents some aspect of the Hawaiian ethos: the wildlife or the natural beauty. From photos of bright orange sunsets to neon green lizards to stark lava flows, the pens seem to capture what it is to be in Hawaii. Starting from that point Kanilea has contracted with a custom blank maker to create exclusive materials for the pens which mirror those photos. When I came across them at the DC show, they were heart-stopping. And within 10 seconds of talking with Hugh, I spied the pen I knew I needed to own.

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This model is called the Kahakai, which is translated to “beach.” As you can see from the photo above, the material from which the pen is made is a beautiful abstraction of the major elements in the photo. Looking closely at the materials, everything from the color of the blues and the turquoises of the “water” to the copper and gold-dust accented “sand” are just full of details you wouldn’t expect from a cast resin. The blanks themselves are a work of art, but then the Kanilea team gets ahold of the blanks and turns them into writing instruments.

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At present, the only model of fountain pen available on the Kanilea website is this “Classic Flush” design. It is a nearly tubular shape, with the cap and barrel being perfectly flush with one another, and a very slight taper toward the back of the pen. In many ways, the decision to start with this flush model is a wise one: I can’t imagine a form factor that would better show off the brilliance and motion of the resin. However, the simplicity of the design does have a bit of a drawback: this pen rolls around the desk like crazy. With no clip or no roll-stopper to interrupt its motion, you have to pray for a perfectly level desk; otherwise, you may end up chasing your pen around the table.

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Inset into the top of the cap is a small metal medallion with gold plating and black enamel featuring the brand’s hibiscus flower logo. It’s beautifully inset, with super-tight tolerances, and feels very solid. The corners of each end of the pen are rounded down slightly to create a smooth transition from the flat ends to the cylindrical barrel, but aside from that, there is no other hardware or accent to detract from the beauty of the material. Personally, I would have loved to see a small hibiscus flower roll-stopper on the cap just to help keep the pen in place. I could also see a small flat spot cut into one side of the pen to allow it to lay flat on the desk.

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Under the cap is a long, concave section of the same material as the body of the pen. This longer section means that the threads and the step-down (a natural result of the flush design of the exterior of the pen) stay well out the way of most grips when you’re writing. The section unscrews from the barrel on tight, smooth threads, revealing a standard international converter (or cartridge, depending on your preference.) Kanilea Pen Company has done the (I think) wise thing and has decided to incorporate threaded converters into their design. The included converter appears to be a Schmidt K5-style converter, albeit with threads to hold it in place. The pen could also be converted to an eyedropper-filled pen with only a bit of silicone grease if you so desired.

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The pen features a #6 Jowo steel nib with no marking on it at all. In some ways, the nib was the only disappointment of the pen for me. Almost all small manufacturers and custom penmakers use #6 Jowo nibs. I’ve used dozens of Jowo steel nibs in my admittedly short time in the fountain pen hobby. With the attention that Kanilea paid to the soup-to-nuts feel of the brand, it was something of a surprise that the nibs were blank and contained no branding at all. At the very least, I expected the hibiscus flower logo to make another appearance on the nib face. It may be a question of the volume not being high enough to justify having the logo manufactured into the nib, but I feel like it ought to be engraved at the very least. It would be nice for the nibs to match the pen a bit more.

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The other problem with most Jowo nibs is that the writing experience is good, but rather pedestrian. (Jowo makes their default nib to appeal to the middle-of-the-road consumer in terms of smoothness, wetness, and feedback, assuming, I suppose, that the manufacturer will do the final tweaking on the nib.) Whatever the case, the medium steel nib on this pen is, I believe, the single best steel Jowo #6 I’ve ever used, and among one of the best overall steel nibs I’ve ever used. The Kanilea folks likely did some extra work on the nib to turn it into one of the wettest, smoothest experiences I’ve had with a steel nib. There was no indication of any writing problems (ink starvation, baby’s bottom, hard starting, or skipping.) And even after being capped and unused for weeks at a time—done sheerly as a test, not because I wasn’t aching to pick up the pen and write with it more often, mind you—it started up without any problems.

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In the hand, I find this pen extremely comfortable. As mentioned earlier, the longer, concave section feels quite ergonomic, and the larger size coupled with a light weight results in a pen that I felt comfortable using for several consecutive pages of writing. The smooth nib and wet ink flow did cause me to empty the converter a touch more frequently than I liked, but that’s a really good problem to have in my opinion.

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The Kanilea Kahakai fountain pen retails for $395 with a steel nib. (Steel nibs were the only option available at the time of purchase, but gold nibs are now available for an up-charge on the website.) That is, to be honest, a pretty steep price for a steel-nibbed pen. I have only one steel-nibbed pen in my collection that cost more money (a custom pen out of some pretty special materials), and it beats the Kahakai’s price by only five dollars.

I have heard from several folks in the community that they feel that price is too high for what you’re getting, and I can understand what they’re saying. You can go so custom pen makers and have custom pens made (in some cases, from custom materials) for less. But as the owner of my own brand, I also understand that there is often a lot that goes into the making, adjusting, marketing, packaging, and fulfillment process that the public doesn’t see. So, while the price seems rather high, I can also see the value in it. I can tell you this much, though: if given the choice to purchase this pen over again at the same price, I would do so in a heartbeat. In fact, I’m looking into ordering a second pen from them shortly, because there are a couple of other models that I’ve been eyeing.

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Another quick note about the nib: as much as I like the steel nib (and I do), I feel like this is a pen that deserves a nice, juicy, bouncy gold nib. So, I’ve ordered a semi-flex gold nib from fpnibs.com to replace the included nib. Once I install it (which I’ve been waiting to do until after the review was recorded), I expect this pen will remain inked for most of the rest of this drab, gray Seattle winter and until my flowers start blooming in the spring. I won’t be traveling to Hawaii this year, but at least I can carry a little bit of it around with me.

  • Material: Resin
  • Nib: Steel #6 Jowo Medium Nib
  • Appointments: Gold-colored
  • Filling System: International Standard Cartridge / Converter
  • Length (Capped): 149.1
  • Length (Uncapped): 134.7mm
  • Length (Posted): N/A
  • Section Diameter: 11.2mm
  • Barrel Max Diameter: 16mm
  • Cap Max Diameter: 16mm
  • Weight, Uncapped (with ink and/or converter): 18g
  • Weight, Capped (with ink and/or converter):27g

Disclaimer: The pen in this review was purchased with my own funds. Kanilea Pen Company has not been a sponsor of The Pen Habit at the time of this review, but they have included Inky Fingers notebooks in some of their promotions. Despite that, all opinions expressed herein are my own. 

 

 

  • Jean Chonot

    Certainly, the object does not lack charm. I like their “Mauna Kea” model too. Beautiful job.
    However, it begins to be a bit painful to see prices soaring for what remains a pen with a ten dollars nib…
    It’s like I was preparing a Ferrari with a two-cylinder engine …
    Passionate I am, but I remain a user first and foremost.
    And seeing an objet of 395$ with a 12$ nib, it seems a little comical.
    Frankly I would not deny a 1901 FC with a nib that made you take such a tenor voice for so little (even if it’s the same brand of nib)
    Simply because “so little” seems to be 2x more expensive and the nib wasn’t worked by MM…
    It’s a bit like pouring cider into a bottle of Chanel No. 5.
    Matt, I despair so that there can be in this world as much creativity to work nibs as there are (and this is the case in the USA) to work resin.
    At the end of the year I put down my prayer at the foot of the Christmas tree…
    I love the job you do and your professionalism. Do not change anything 🙂
    Bests regards

  • PS

    My word, that IS a beautiful pen.

  • Ted

    truly, a beautiful material

  • Uniotter

    I was born and raised in Hawaii, and so watched this review with interest. When I first heard of their company, knowing it was started by non-residents, I viewed it with a bit of caution. I am not native Hawaiian, but the kanaka maoli (indigenous peoples) are sensitive about having their culture appropriated, especially by those who earn a profit from it. However it does sound as if the owners of the company are approaching their endeavors with the proper spirit, and from a purely fountain-pen-user point of view, their products are gorgeous. (FYI, they do offer other styles and pens with clips, though not in this beautiful Kahakai finish that you own.)

    Thank you for a great review of a pen I loved hearing about but will probably not be able to afford. It’s been awhile since I’d first seen your reviews, and I must compliment you on the production values of the videos! The best I’ve seen anywhere, and I really appreciate seeing how much you’ve grown over time and with so much more experience (and purchases! *g*) under your belt. It’s a valuable service you perform providing these reviews….I’m grateful for the time and expense you put into it.

  • Dave

    Matt, why do you assume that we – as pen fans – don’t appreciate the background costs that go into making such pens? It makes it sound like those of us who question the price are in some way bashing, or are bitter about costs. This is very far from the truth. Custom-poured acrylics, alumilites, and so on, are not new and not especially expensive in general. There are plenty of creators – Jon Brooks springs to mind – whose creations are a whole order of magnitude less expensive than Kanilea. So how Kanilea justifies such a high price for their materials is something that intrigues, and not in a good way.

    There is also a danger in your review that you are (perhaps inadvertently) suggesting
    that the Kanilea makers are somehow quantifiably better than other
    well-established custom makers.

    As Jean Chonot below notes, it’s a Jowo nib holder. While you attempt to re-define this in the video review, it remains a fact. Furthermore, such well-adjusted nibs can be had from other sources. Not everyone likes a ‘floating’ nib. It’s not the objective be all and end all, though I appreciate that to you it obviously is.

    Overall I would love to purchase a pen such as this, but at $395 the company is stepping into the arena with makers such as Pelikan, Aurora and so on. They are not able to compete on anything other than the acrylic. Therefore I must conclude that their prices are inflated and somewhat unrealistic. This is a pity. Put them out at $250 (as with Edison custom range, of Scriptorium base price) and you’ve got a market presence. Beyond that it’s aimed at a very much smaller audience and runs the risk, as Conid have, of being seen as a luxury good pretender.

    • BadassMcKill

      I agree with most of your points but why would you put Conid in that same group? As far as I know titanium is an expensive material and their filling system seems fiddly enough that it probably impacts the price

    • While I think some pen fans do appreciate all that goes into the background costs, I would argue that a great number of them don’t. Even in my own little piddly notebook line, I am constantly having people ask, “The paper only costs $0.50 per notebook, so why are you charging $8?” Having purchased many custom pens, I will tell you that many of them end up being in the same basic price range as this. Some have additional features (like unusual filling systems) or hard-to-find materials. But of the custom pens I’ve purchased, only one was under the $300 price point, and most have been closer to $400 or $500. So in my experience, the comparison between other custom makers and Kanilea is not so cut and dry.

      I don’t know what their costs are, be it the cost of blanks, labor, overhead, equipment, packaging, etc. I have called out I think they are expensive. But I think that expense is worth it. Other don’t, and that’s fine too. But I do disagree with the assertion that these pens are “just” Jowo nib holders. Yes, they use Jowo nibs, but for me, anyway, they’re far more than that.

      (I also don’t agree with you that Conid is a luxury goods pretender, but that’s another argument altogether.) Whether or not the market as a whole thinks Kanilea’s prices are too high will bear out over time, I’m sure. If the market in general thinks that a pen isn’t worth the cost, they won’t buy it.

      • Dave

        I respect your opinion, Matt, and I enjoy your reviews generally, but I cannot help feeling that your points are a bit reaching. I’ve had a similar thing come up with Edison with regard to their production models that are attractively priced at $150ish (and I believe you own one yourself). When I inquired about using a different, easily obtainable, acrylic (one of their own in fact). I was basically told that it would add $100 to the price. That’s $100 to put in a different rod of acrylic into the CnC lathe. I didn’t buy it.

        Look, I really like the stuff that’s coming out from the pen makers. Some, however, appear to be pushing the barriers of decency with regard to price. I think that is a real shame because there are a lot of pen fans out there who would jump at the chance to grab one of these beauties if it was more realistically priced.

        And a Jowo nib is just a Jowo nib. I have many that write superbly. None cost more that $20, including the special grinds.

        Regarding what the market thinks… well, I would agree with you, and if this was the pen maker’s only source of income that would really put that to the test.

  • vis

    Great review, as always. As for the pen well – material is impressive but the nib is deal-breakre for me.

  • Tamara

    My first reaction to the Kanilea pens was, “Wow, too expensive for what you get!” But, then the Kohala Sunset stole its way into my dreams and would not let me sleep or eat or think about another pen until it was mine. I worried that I would be disappointed and regret my purchase. I received the pen in September, and I have not regretted it for even one moment. The nib is a Jowo nib, a really well adjusted one, as is yours, Matt. It’s as good as the gold nib I paid extra for on my Edison, and if I decide I have to have a gold nib, I can add that later. The material, though, is like holding a piece of nature in my hands. Even after a few months of using the pen nearly every day, I find additional detail in the acrylic, and I continue to be impressed with the pen overall. It is a large pen for me, and I worried that it would be uncomfortable to write with. It is actually very comfortable, with the girth and length all perfect for long writing sessions. For me, the writing experience with this pen is about the wonderful relationship between the body of the pen, how it feels in my hand, the nib and the way it lays down a beautiful line of color, and the way the ink flows from a really stunning instrument. It is a multi-layered experience that requires the harmony among each element. Add a really great paper and words from deep within, and the writing experience is magical.

    This probably isn’t a pen for jotting down quick notes. It may be best suited to quiet and contemplation while in the act of writing.

  • Ted

    Any chance for an update on this pen with a gold nib?