As mentioned in my survey of bolt-action pens, I decided to buy The Right Choice Painting Company’s bolt-action pen. Just as I was finishing that post, the pen arrived. Here’s my review!
Specifically, I bought model 20 – "Titanium stone wash, groove grip, zircuti bolt handle, G2 refill, SS clip." Here’s what those qualifiers mean.
- Titanium: There are also copper and brass models.
- Stone wash: The pen body is tumbled around with stones to give it a (consistent) worn-in look, rather than being shiny. It’s the only option for finish on the bare titanium parts. If you get a Timascus (Damascus-style) tip, or a Timascus or zircuti bolt handle, I assume those parts are not stonewashed since you wouldn’t want to dull the fancy finish.
- Groove grip: This is the only option; it means the rings near the tip that help you hold the pen.
- Zircuti bolt handle: Plain titanium is the default, matching the pen body. Zircuti gives a patterned appearance; Timascus gives a patterned and colored appearance.
- G2 refill: This is the size of the pen, and G2 is the longest, meant for Euro-style (e.g. Pilot G2) refills. The "Schmidt" size is for the slightly smaller Parker-sized refills, and "Mini" is for Pilot’s proprietary G2 Mini refills.
- SS clip: The clip is stainless steel rather than titanium. Timascus clips and black cerakote-coated clips are also available.
Materials and finish
The stonewashed titanium finish is quite nice; I think it looks better than my poor photography can show. In their pictures, it looks almost gold, but it’s a normal silver color. The stainless steel clip matches it perfectly. I was considering other pens with black coatings, but this looks very professional and I’m confident it won’t easily show damage.
The barrel is perfectly smooth, the tip rounds off nicely, and overall, I can’t see any defects. It’s certainly well-made. You can just barely see the line that separates the body from the tip (just above the ringed grip). Inside, you can see the threads and O-ring.
The grip is a bunch of tightly packed rings cut around the circumference. This leads to a "zip" feel when your skin rubs against it, which I don’t care for. It does provide a good grip, though. You don’t feel it when you’re handling the pen body, because it doesn’t extend too far up, and you don’t feel it when you’re actually writing, because it’s held still – just when adjusting your grip.
In future iterations, I hope they can offer different styles of grip. I’d love deeper grooves, spaced further apart.
At the top of the pen is the slot for the bolt. There are no burrs, it’s not uncomfortable, but if you slide your thumb across it laterally, it catches your skin. In future iterations, I think it could use a bit of a chamfer or rounding so it’s totally smooth. This is the area you’ll be fidgeting with most, after the grip, so it deserves special attention.
The slot has about 1mm of extra space side-to-side. Unfortunately, this means that the bolt handle jiggles around and makes noise if the pen is even slightly shaken. In future iterations, it’d be nice to have the slot width closer to the diameter of the bolt handle so this noise is lessened.
The reason we’re here! It’s very satisfying. The spring isn’t too loose or too tight, assuming you haven’t modified the length of your pen refill to the point of ruin. It won’t activate accidentally, and it doesn’t require too much effort to activate – just a pleasant motion.
I can’t detect any grittiness in the movement. Some reviews of other pens called that out, and said they needed cleaning and lubrication before use, but I didn’t need to do that. I just feel the texture of metal on metal, and the tension of the spring.
I like the appearance of the bolt handle. I chose the zircuti variant, and it’s not colored like some Damascus-like alloys; it looks more like a large-scale fingerprint or zebra stripes. It adds some visual distinction. I think their Timascus bolt is more blue.
The bolt moves the right way for right-handed people! As I mentioned in my survey post, most have an "L" shape movement that requires your thumb to move back toward your palm, the direction in which you probably have less flexibility. This is "J" shaped, as I think it should be, and it feels good. Releasing the bolt only requires a straight lateral movement, so dexterity in that direction isn’t as important.
I was curious whether the bolt would press against my leg when clipped into a pants pocket, or press against my chest when clipped into a shirt pocket. Nope! It sits at about a 15-20 degree angle when retracted, and apparently that’s enough; I couldn’t feel it when sitting or moving around.
It’s a simple, sturdy clip made of stainless steel, perhaps slightly wider than average. As mentioned above, its appearance matches the titanium pen body perfectly.
They also offer a black cerakote clip. I emailed them at the same time as my order and asked about it, since I couldn’t add it through the site. Unfortunately, I never heard back, but looking back on it, I think I’m just as happy with the steel. The bolt handle is distinction enough.
The clip is fairly stiff. There’s a gap of about 0.5mm between the pen body and clip at rest, and I can only open it to about 2-2.5mm without straining. It clips easily onto pants and shirt pockets and feels safe there.
If you want to clip the pen to a notebook, and the notebook’s cover is thin, the 0.5mm gap might not be enough to secure the pen. My Stalogy 365 notebook has a fairly thin cover – just some vinyl attached to one thicker sheet of paper – and the pen does slip off. I just clip in a few sheets of paper, too.
In future iterations, it might be nice if the clip had no gap at rest and was slightly more flexible to compensate.
Note: the pen came with instructions for removing or tightening the clip, which requires a 7/32 hex wrench. You have to remove the bolt assembly first, which it doesn’t explain how to do. I’m not sure why the clip would need tightening, as mine seems solid; I hope it doesn’t loosen over time.
The sound is different than a standard retractable "clicker" pen because it’s asymmetric. Activating the bolt is rather quiet – quieter than a clicker pen. Your thumb is controlling the entire movement.
Releasing the bolt is different, because the spring is pushing the metal bolt handle up against the pen body, and because there’s an air cushion above the bolt that’s pressed upward in the cavity. I quite like the "puff" sound of the retraction, but it is louder than a clicker pen.
I sat playing with the pen for a while after receiving it, and the noise bothered my wife, but she’s sensitive to sharp noises like cracking knuckles, too. I don’t think it would be inappropriate to use in an office, but you shouldn’t sit and click it, just like you shouldn’t with any other retractable pen. (If you want to be quiet, you can hold your thumb on the bolt handle while retracting it.)
Weight and balance
I was looking for something heavier than a standard plastic retractable pen, but nothing that would weigh down my hand. I think this came out perfect. It weighs 24g, compared to 13g for an EnerGel RT, so not quite double. It just slightly presses down onto the paper for you, but doesn’t require any effort to hold upright. I think titanium was the right answer here. This won’t be true for everyone – my wife thought it was a bit too heavy.
The balance isn’t perfect; it’s slightly top-heavy. I don’t think it affects writing, because the weight is just resting against your hand. It does make it harder to twirl in your hand, though.
In future iterations, I would suggest they slightly narrow the clip, because it seems a bit wider than necessary, and removing some steel at the top could even out the balance. Or it could be made of titanium to reduce weight at the top.
Pen refills and writing
I wound up choosing this pen because of the price and because multiple reviewers said it fit my favorite Pentel EnerGel refills without trimming. Turns out… it doesn’t. I don’t know if they had a different refill or my pen was machined differently. With an EnerGel refill inside, you can’t press the bolt down far enough to lock it in place. I had a sad.
I found an easy way to trim refills, though. I had previously used scissors and hated the process. The right answer is wire strippers. I have some Klein 11057 for electronics work, and they made it trivial to cut through my EnerGel refill because the slots for different gauges of wire hold the refill in place while you squeeze through. You can also use a craft knife, but it’d be trickier.
Just trim about 1mm off the top and an EnerGel fits perfectly. There’s no wiggle when writing; it’s quite nice.
Unfortunately, when the tip is retracted, the refill does jiggle around inside the pen cavity a bit. [Update: I realized this is actually the bolt handle jiggling in the slot; see above.]
The pen does fit a Pilot Precise V5 rollerball refill with no trimming. There might be a very slight tip wiggle, it’s so faint it’s hard to tell, honestly. It’s not bothersome to me, and I’m sensitive to pen wiggles.
This pen is often on a "super sale" for $35. I find that quite impressive for a titanium pen with this level of quality. There are a number of finish and material options, and copper and brass options as well. If you like standard-sized G2/Parker refills, or you’re sure your preferred refill fits, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.
I’ll admit I’m jealous of the adjustability of the BIGiDESIGN (Home, Amazon) but I wasn’t ready to spend $60 more for it. (If they want to send me one, though…)