Oodles of Noodler’s

Everyone loves cheap and cheerful. Who doesn’t want to get something fun for very little money? OK, so maybe the filthy rich don’t care but for me when I see something new, cool, and affordable I’m all over it. Of course the results are a lot of junk I’ve used one time or less sitting about but that’s the way it goes for those of us with impulse buying syndrome (IBS). Sure, that tiny battery operated egg whipper looked so cool in the package but when you realize what it gives eggs is more like a lashing you find a spot in the junk drawer for it. There it lives until the bi or tri-annual household junk cleansing where, if lucky, your embarrassment goes into the charity box with the unit.

Since I collect fountain pens I was thrilled to see an announcement form JetPens that they would be selling some writing instruments that fall into this category. Now let me state here that I still think the best value in fountain pens remains restored or NOS vintage models. Often the less sought after can be had for only a few dollars (Sheaffer’s NoNonsense line for example) or tens of dollars (Sheaffer’s mid-market pens from the 60s) and they are usually made to higher standards than you’ll find in cheap pens today. When I saw that the new Noodler’s fountain pens were ready to ship I couldn’t help myself and picked up a few. I also received a few extra purchased by friends in faraway places so after delivery I am swimming in Noodler’s pens which makes it good time to review them.

The pens in a row.

History

If you don’t know what Noodler’s is I’ll give you a quick summary here: Nathan Tardiff was well known a dozen years or so ago when I got into fountain pens in a big way. Considered a knowledgeable collector and ace repair person I even bought a pen or two from him. In recent years he started a line of well-respected and innovative (and sometimes controversial) inks. Noodler’s inks give you a huge color range and a good value which I don’t think anyone can dispute. Expanding his range he is now offering two models of fountain pens.

The first and lower priced line is a piston filler in a range of plastic colors with a screw cap. It’s a basic design that reminds me of German school pens of the 60s and 70s. The other is an aerometric filler in hard rubber with a slip cap. These pens come in your choice of green mottled and brown mottled. The design has tapered ends somewhat like a vintage Sheaffer Balance. This pen also has a gasket on the section so it can be converted into an eyedropper filler if you wish.

Construction

Both pens are made well enough for their price point. The plastic one has a very simple piston design which is workable and it feels solid in hand. The most noticeable exterior feature are ink view windows which are sized right to be handy. Both models have the same style nibs which are called fine-medium like they have an identity crisis. The price point is “cheap” so don’t expect jewel like details. The trim and fittings are sturdy but nothing more. The plastic on the piston filler shows changes in color where the dye must have changed concentration. The tip which retains the clip on the hard rubber model is very small in diameter giving it a “dunce cap” look. I’m happy to see a silicon sac is used in the aerometric filling system which is nice since you can see the ink level.

The insides of an aerometric Noodler's pen. Notice the two vintage nibs, one tucked up too high.

Where the ink meets the paper you have a steel nib that is functional and smooth enough. The feed is a hard rubber comb variety which is basically the same thing you’d see on a pen from the 1930s and so is reliable and simple.

As I said you get your money’s worth but don’t expect any surprise and delight. While not a piston filler the Pilot 78g is noticeably higher quality if you want a peer comparison. Noodler’s Hard rubber pen, however, seems to have no competitor at its price. Still for about 1/3 more you can get one of Steve Braun’s Varuna fountain pens that are eye-droppers only but heftier, more solid and expensive feeling.

Use

Using either Noodler’s model is simplicity in itself. Turn the knob and the piston filler fills. On the aerometric pen you compress the sac a few times. Both work flawlessly. There is a bit of effort in converting the hard rubber aero pen to eyedropper but it’s not rocket science. You remove the sac cage and the sac and that is It since the previously mentioned seal is already there to make it water tight.

Cost

I’ve been asked a few times what I think of these pens since I got them the other day because the attractive price is a draw. My major remark is they are honest and a bit unusual pens for this price point and certainly will be entertaining.

Modification

One claim to fame for these pens is that the nib and feed can be pulled out since they are friction fit. Why do that you ask? Well, if you have a #2 vintage nib lying about you could stick that into your pen and voila! A whole new writing experience! Technically a stub, italic, or even flex nib could be fitted if you wish a change. In reality there are some problems since not every #2 nib is the same nor even usable in these pens. The major issue is that the steel nibs from the factory are rather thick in cross-section and vintage nibs seem for the most part thinner. This is especially true of nibs that have some flex. What you wind up with often is a lose nib pushed way back into the section to get some purchase. This isn’t acceptable for me. I did find a few nibs that fit better but were more a #3 size so that’s something to keep in mind.

Nibs I tried in the Noodler's pens. The 4th and 5th fit. No, the last one didn't fit, are you crazy?

Quality

So far I’ve seen a few complaints about these pens from new owners. Most seem to be lapses in QC like crooked nibs or sections getting stuck when being screwed. The thin and weak product boxes don’t help since they offer little protection so when shipped caps can fall off and pens can work lose. Crushing is certainly a possibility as well. Time will tell if some of these problems are just teething pains.

Summary (and a meme reference that will be out of date in 5 minutes)

A friend joked that I should have a rating system for pens and we came up with the “double rainbow” system. It goes in half-rainbow increments from 0 (the lowest grade, equivalent to writing with a rusty nail dipped in beet juice) to 2 (the highest rating which is like a sweet flex nib Sheaffer). These pens would be a 1 rainbow from me because while unremarkable do give you value for what little you spend. Still I won’t recommend these and will suggest a Pilot or slightly more expensive modern pen, such as a Lamy, to those seeking entry level fountain pens due to some spotty QC issues. If you must have a piston or hard rubber pen I’d say look for inexpensive NOS or restored pens of this type. My Lamy 27 (piston filler) is far, far superior in construction and feel than the Noodler’s and with some looking not that more expensive.

A quick and unenlightining writing sample.

  1. July 13, 2010, 1:58 am

    Great, thorough and interesting review of the brand new Noodler’s fountain pens! The cheery plastic really look like German schoolpens – I like the design. I hope they will get better QC since I’d love to have a few of these cheapies. O, I like the pics also and that you have photographed them when taken apart. Thanks for yet another excellent review. 🙂

  2. ToasterPastry
    July 13, 2010, 3:12 am

    As I read the review, I was expecting you to genuflect at the feet of Nathan Tardiff. My goodness, a completely honest assessment of the pen, thoroughly researched, and statistically well documented (because you purchased several pens). Thank you.

  3. July 13, 2010, 10:58 am

    Yes, great, thorough review. I also expected you to sing the praises of the pen, guess I was wrong! I’m glad I got a chance to read about it from someone with lots of knowledge rather than a review that just said “This pen writes is cheap, woohoo!” Thanks!

  4. TAO
    July 13, 2010, 12:05 pm

    Thanks for you comments. I hope I’m not too harsh sounding but I think there have been a few disappointed people and I want to realistically describe what these pens are.

  5. July 14, 2010, 1:12 am

    Great review Tom! I like the mottled designs. 🙂

  6. July 17, 2010, 8:46 am

    I love I’m-not-so-over-the-moon-with-my-new-pen-that-I-can’t-see-any-flaws kind of reviews! 😉

    1. TAO
      July 17, 2010, 10:44 pm

      Thanks for the nice compliment. I’m not saying these aren’t usable and good pens but just that I think they are not perfect.

  7. July 20, 2010, 8:13 am

    Great review. Thanks for the detailed intro. I might have to pick up a vacumatic version..I really like the looks of the brown one.

    1. TAO
      July 25, 2010, 8:28 am

      The hard rubber pens are attractive. I’d say spring for those instead of the plastic piston-fill ones if you have the choice.

  8. July 24, 2010, 9:45 am

    Lovely. My uncle has an obsession with pens and he always gifts me and my brother a nice costly pen on our birthdays……since years.

    1. TAO
      July 25, 2010, 8:26 am

      I like your uncle! It’s also nice of him to give you nice gifts. 😀 Thanks for the bit of family history. 😀

  9. July 28, 2010, 5:06 pm

    Wow, glad I discovered you blog, GREAT post!!!

  10. JennyO
    July 29, 2010, 8:28 pm

    Nice comparison shot!

  11. Jack Labusch
    August 4, 2010, 5:01 am

    Nice review by someone with expertise. As a “reviving penman”, I can readily say a pen is “made well” after some examination. What I can’t say, because I don’t have the experience, as you have, is “made well enough for the price point”. Thanks for sharing. Jack/Youngstown

    1. TAO
      August 4, 2010, 7:40 am

      Thanks for the nice comment. 🙂

  12. CSharp
    March 8, 2014, 5:47 pm

    I love inexpensive pens, too. Just recently got a Reform 1745 for $13 USD, shipped. Cute little piston filler with a slightly flexy nib. I haven’t tried Noodler’s pens yet. I keep reading mixed reviews that have kept me away so far.

    BTW, I’m in the U.S., and thanks to pharmaceutical companies’ relentless advertising, I have come to associate “IBS” with a medical condition called “irritable bowel syndrome”. LOL

    1. TAO
      March 11, 2014, 9:06 am

      My Partner just got a NOS Reform. She loves them. The Noodler’s pens I’ve used go from OK to bad in writing quality. However, this is not an exhaustive test. I prefer vintage or some other modern pens to them. Yes, I know of IBS too but didn’t think of it. 😀