Den’s approach to pen making has been slightly different from the norm. Using a lathe for work he moved towards combining a newly discovered love for fountain pens with his professional skills, with the twist being a very public learning experience as he has covered his trials and tribulations on his Facebook page, warts and all.
Starting commercially in June 2019, the March 2020 London Pen show was his second time out, though he had been producing commissions since the beginning. With the world being in the early stages of lock down, attendance numbers were low, but this also meant I got time to have a chat with Den while looking at his wares and settling on one of his pens in his Roman collection, the Aequitas.
Now I must admit with Den still being new to pen making I have been nervous about reviewing this pen and have been putting it off as any issues I may have encountered could well have already been picked up and corrected in his newer produce. In some respect the fact that Den has been showing his mistakes as well as his successes on line has made this easier for me. As with all reviews, these are obviously my personal opinions based on my writing preferences.
With quite a few different styles of pen my eyes were quickly drawn to the single Aequitas on sale. Partly it was the bands of lustre in the dark resin, partly the proportions. As can be seen it is a clipless model where the cap and barrel merge. This means a thinner section, but not unduly so. I’m not sure what the origins of the material are, but it is an interesting dark blue with stretches of shining, light blue coming through like reflections on a mill pond. There is a lot of chatoyance to the patterning and it does go along the whole length of each part of the pen, with two opposing stripes on both the cap and barrel and one on the section. As much of the time you look at a pen with it’s cap on I suspect this was why the ‘weaker’ patterned part of the rod was used on the section. What ever the reason, it does work.
The long grip section, very slightly tapers down towards the nib then curves in to a subtle stop. It is quite long and makes for a comfortable hold as a result. The threads are on the hard side, but far enough back to be out of the way for most people, plus they also act as a stepping stage to the barrel so there is no sudden edge if you do want to hold the pen further back, as I do on the second picture below. One thing of note, this particular pen may be a tad bit too sort for some one with large hands.
Many pen manufacturers do not try to line up patterns between the cap and barrel, so I’m not sure if it is by accident that the two attractive stripes almost manage it and can be made to do so by just unscrewing the cap by about 15 degrees. This does bring me to one thing that does not bother me but I do know will be an issue for others. The number of turns of the cap to remove it. Close to four full rotations. There are worse, but it does mean this is not a pen to grab to make a quick note. I’d be interested to hear if Den has changed this in more recent times, but as an upside, with the exception of a blip I will cover in a bit, this pen does not suffer from ink evaporation, even when left for weeks at a time.
Unsurprisingly with this design the cap does not post, never an issue for me, as is the lack of a clip. Den does make a number of models with either or both options.
The nib is a screw in Bock unit. At the pen show I was asked what size #6 nib I would like/like to try and this was brought out of a box and screwed in and the pen passed to me so I could dip test it. The upside was I could make sure this tipping was aligned and the pen wrote smoothly, which it did. The downside was there was no way to tell that this particular nib was very dry. To the point of barely allowing any ink flow. Easily fixed and the pen now writes nicely and relatively wetly. Hard to criticise Den for this as very few small pen manufacturers can do nib work and Den’s whole sales pitch included dip testing, so bad tines and baby’s bottom would have been spotted straight away.
As you would expect, the pen uses standard international ink cartridges and converters and the latter is included with the pen. I do not remember if I was offered any cartridges, I suspect I may have declined some (as I just use bottled ink – I have to much) and the pen came in a velvet like pouch.
The fit and finish on this pen are very good, but do show the signs of someone who is/was still new to the trade and learning their way. There are no machining marks and the polishing is first rate. The domed finials are smooth and shiny. There were just two slight let downs.
The first being the cap opening is just very slightly off axis. What this means is for around half the surface where the cap and barrel meet it is very smooth, as you would expect, but for the other half there is a slight step out. It is visible when you look for it (you would not see it if you were not paying close attention), but you do feel it if you run your hand along the surface. I suspect the cause behind this has already been remedied as a look through Den’s Facebook page shows the purchase of more and better equipment since I bought the pen.
The second issue was that at first the pen suffered very badly from ink evaporation. We’re talking an entire converter in under a week. However after three refills this went away and now the pen is exceptionally good at ink retention. I suspect there was a little manufacturing detritus in the threads preventing a decent seal and over time and usage this was dislodged.
It is always interesting to look at the pens of new manufacturers, particularly the one man bands and small companies. There is one thing that does personally make me slightly nervous though about the Den’s Pens range. The sheer number of designs. Putting aside one off commissions presently Den produces twelve different models. I do understand that he is interested in different shapes and styles and this gives a lot of choice to the buyer, however it is also a lot to keep track of, especially when making new stock for pen shows. Now in reality Den might be quite comfortable with this number, as I said it’s my personal view.
This does lead me on to another observation which may well have just been down to his early stock and may no longer be an issue. At the show there was no consistency in size. There would be two or three pens in the same model, all of different lengths. I can understand on demand bespoke adaptations, however in an ever increasingly crowded market space with a limited audience (and one which mostly will be with a budget for the show they are at), seeing multiple pens of the same model which are different lengths can give the impression of a lack of care for quality – which we know is not true just from Den’s own honest posts. I fear it could unduly hurt his sales. I’m hoping this was just a case of old pens from a new start up at an early pen show and now the consistency is there. This sounds like I’m being critical, but Den has put a lot of effort in to his pens and designs and has been very open about his negative as well as positive experiences in his public posts and so if I think he’s at risk of hamstringing himself I’d prefer to give a warning rather than keeping quiet.
So would I recommend a Den’s Pen fountain pen. Yes if you’re happy with the number of turns it takes to remove the cap. Ideally a pen show would be the best place as you can handle and try the pens, but his website does give dimensions as well as a picture alongside a measure for each of the pens he presently has for sale. Price wise he is competitive with other small British manufacturers, and while there seems to be an inconsistency in the cost of pens within the same range I suspect this will be down to the cost of the blank and the time taken to make the pen (as some materials need more work and time than others).
Pros (this particular pen):
- Nicely balanced and comfortable in the hand.
- The resin.
- Reasonably priced.
- Four rotations to remove the cap.
- Prices vary within the same model.
- Pens which can not be posted should be ideally tried before buying in case they are too short.
- My pen has a number of issues which I would associate with a new maker (as Den was when this pen was made) – hopefully these no longer occur (and are minor).
- Too many different models (to me).
- Too much variation is size between pens of the same model (may be by design, or may have been remedied with practice and time).
Size Comparison Pictures:
Den’s Pens can be found at various UK Pen Shows and also online at https://denspens643598967.wordpress.com/ Link to his blog on Facebook can be found in the opening paragraph of this review.