When I was searching high and low for a flexible nib pen in the past, I wondered if anyone had managed to invent a fountain pen that uses regular steel nibs. I mean, it can't be that hard right? Just make a barrel and feed that fits a regular steel nib. And when the steel nib wears out, just stick a new one in. So I asked around and got a few reasons for why it was not being done. (If you are a nib expert, you might know better.) But still, I heard rumors that someone actually tried to do this. So after months of searching in forums and review sites, I finally found the Ackerman Pump pen site (http://www.ackermanpens.com/en/). It's a company based in Berkeley, California.
As it turns out, a Charles Ackerman managed to attach standard steel nibs (G-nibs, hunt, crowquill, etc) on pen bodies he makes himself. But it works differently from a regular fountain pen - You have to pump the ink onto the nib whenever the ink runs out on the nib. The "pumping ink on the nib" thing replaces the action of dipping your dip pen into an ink bottle. Since pressing a button on your pen is quicker than dipping ink into a bottle, it does make things a little more convenient. You would also be able to carry the pen out when you travel. And withOUT a glass bottle of ink (added weight). Here's an analogy. It's like using a mechanical pencil. You need to "pump" the lead out every time the lead "runs out".
I ordered the pens from his website on April 10th 2012 using a credit card. I was amused to notice that the shipping of the pens cost a flat US$2 anywhere in the world. Cheap!
While waiting for the pens to arrive, I did research on the Ackerman pens. To my horror, I found a LOT of negative reviews about the Ackerman pump pen company. Some people were complaining that they waited and waited for months. Some claimed that they received pens with missing parts. Others claimed that when they emailed Charles Ackerman, the inventor, they seldom got a reply. They claimed he'd give an apology and sometimes took forever to follow up on his promises. Granted, some of these complaints were many years old and he could have improved his customer service by then. So I emailed him to check on the status of my pens since it'd been a couple of weeks with no word. A few days passed and no reply. After 3 emails, he replied that he thought he had sent the pens off a week ago but he had to double check and get back to me. He explained that he has a day job and he only tries to reply his emails on weekends. (It sounds like it's a solo business and he has no assistants during the week.) Days passed again, and always, after a few emails he would reply once with very short messages. Finally, he gave me a US customs shipping number displayed on my account page in his website. That's when I realised that he wasn't going to give me a proper tracking number. There was no way to track my package. And there was no website to check if the shipping number was a real number. That's why his shipping only cost $2! All I could do was wait.
Today is May 18. And the package finally arrived. It took 38 days but it arrived! I was so relieved.
I ordered 3 pens as you can see here. They came in 2 slightly smashed up boxes with the receipt and instructions.
I bought 3 pens. They are Ackerman pens with a G-nib section, a crowquill nib section, and a Hunt 101 nib section.
These hard plastic pens feel sturdy and a little heavy. But lighter than a metal pen. They feel like a good quality product with a matt finish. The pump button is thick green rubber. It feels like Mr Ackerman used good materials to build these. These are generation 6 pens. He has revised these pens and worked out the bugs up till now.
The pen bodies are the same. But the front sections are made different for each nib. They come with the nibs. (but you can easily buy these nibs elsewhere when they wear out)
As you can see, the feed is also designed differently for each pen.
I pulled the cap open (very stiff) and found that it is a very long cap. It covers more than half the body of the pen. It covers the rubber pump button and well as the front section. You can't cap it on the back because it just doesn't fit. So you have to put it somewhere while you draw.
The pen cap can be extended for longer nibs. (A nice touch)
The pen cap also has an air vent which you can open and close by rotating the clip. (Another nice touch)
Let's start with the Hunt 101 pen:
I dismantled the pen (by pulling) into it's 3 basic parts.
I also dismantled the nib section into it's smaller components for easy cleaning.
After that, I used a syringe to fill the pen. Instructions say you can also fill the pen by pressing on the knob at the back with the nib in a bottle of ink. (I used a syringe because it's quicker and probably neater). I filled it full.
After pumping a number of times and checking that the nib and feed were back in place, it worked. I drew and wrote until the ink thinned down. And then I pumped a few times again. I pumped too fast and hard once and the ink splattered out. After a little while, I got the hang of it. Just pump gently until you see ink bubbling up through the nib's air vent and it should continue flowing. If it's not enough ink, just pump a bit more. Not a problem.
Next was the G-nib pen:
There were a few false starts. I also didn't put the nib and feed back in its proper position. After pumping many times and having ink drip here and there, it finally worked for awhile. But the flow kept stopping. (Take note that when using this pen initially, pump it somewhere else. Not over your drawing.) I tested the same nib on a regular dip pen holder and found that the ink collects in blobs on the nib. That means that there is oil residue on the nib (most steel nibs have oil residue on them). Holding the dip pen over a kitchen flame, I QUICKLY passed the nib over the flame once or twice. After that, I tested it still in the dip pen holder and it flowed nicely. The flame had burned off the oil. I put it back into the Ackerman Pump pen and it worked flawlessly. Remember this when you are using these pens!
Next was the Crowquill pen:
This is the smallest nib. And the feed is white in color. And the design is different from the other feeds. Dismantling it was rather tough. I had to take extra care not to damage the nib. Again, after a few initial drips and controlling this new pump system, I got it to work. Note that I used chinese ink in the pen, not regular fountain pen ink. In fact, you can use ANY ink in this pen. Even india ink, because each pen part is washable. And so there is nothing that will clog your pen permanantly.
This is the result of all my testing. As you can see, it takes a while to get used to pumping just the right amount to it doesn't drip everywhere. And also getting used to the rhythm of pumping and drawing, pumping and drawing.
All in all, I think these pens are a fresh and innovative invention. They feel and look good. And they work. They may not be a necessary tool if you enjoy dipping dip pens in ink. (It isn't that much hassle, really) But if you want to try using steel nibs in a different way and perhaps outdoors (without a bottle of ink) you should try these. It is also an interesting alternative to a vintage flex nib fountain pen if you don't have the budget to afford one. It isn't the same of course, but the experience is 3/4 ways there. Steel nibs are sometimes a LOT more flexible than fountain pen nibs. Just less durable. Also these pens allow you to use any ink you want. Even india ink. (Fountain pens can't do that)
Each pen costs US$19.95. You can also buy the nib sections separately for US$15 if you already have a whole pen. Mr Ackerman has also invented a Double Ended Pump Pen. (Like Darth Maul's lightsaber) if you are interested.
But one thing you should be VERY prepared BEFORE you order his pens.
1) Expect slow customer service (He is usually busy with his day job to attend to all his customers quickly. He might not reply too.)
2) Expect the pen to be mailed out a couple weeks after you order. (I think he makes them himself so it's slightly slow.)
3) Expect a month or more for delivery. (You will need LOTS of patience.)
4) Expect NO tracking for your packages. (I'm not sure what happens if your mail gets lost)
5) Expect an interesting pen
6) Expect that you will take some time to get used to the pumping.
I'd like Mr Charles Ackerman to improve on only one thing. I would like him to set a option on his website for customers to choose and pay for an international shipping tracking number (US$20). I feel that will solve almost all the frustrations customers have with the Ackerman Pens.
You can buy the Ackerman Pens here: http://www.ackermanpens.com (Nowhere else for now)
You can purchase Hunt 101 nibs on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Speedball-Hunt-Pen-Nibs--Imperial-No/dp/B004BNH9EW...
Crowquill nibs: http://www.dickblick.com/products/speedball-crow-quill-dip-pen-and-nibs/
If you are in Singapore, you can also find these nibs at Straits Arts Co.
Also check out his other products on his site. My friend Don bought the brush section from him. Perhaps he will do a review on it soon.
UPDATE MAY 28
I've had the Ackerman Pens for 10 days now. So here are my observations after carrying them around and using them.
1) Ink does leak out into the cap if it has been bouncing in your bag either sideways or upside-down.
My recommendation: Always keep`them upright when travelling with them. Use the clip to secure it if you have to.
But even then, expect a bit of ink to mess the nib and inside of the cap a little. Especially if there is leftover ink puddled in the feed when you keep it.
2) The cap is pretty tight and very long. If you just pull it out hard, the air pressure and the force of the pull may splatter ink if there is leftover ink on the nib.
My recommendation: Pull the cap off slowly`in a twist motion or at least do a slow careful pull a bit at a time.
3) The nibs do not perform well after ink has collected on them after a few days. Plus my hunt nib had rusted and began skipping. Ink needs to flow down the nib smoothly and without obstruction.
My recommendation: When not in use, take the nib off, wash it and keep it separately from the pen. Only put it back on when you are going to use it for the day or hour.
This seems to be the standard practice even when using these nibs on regular dip pen holders. The nibs are easy to pull off. They slide right off. But when it comes to the crowquill, you will need to pull off the whole front section together with the nib. That part is more challenging to dismantle.
After you store the nib somewhere dry, Keep the body of the pen in an upright position so ink does not flow out.
4) The feeds of the pens have wide chan.els. So there is no worry of it clogging. I don't see any problems with the feeds in general. Little can go wrong. Only the nibs seem to need some troubleshooting when left on the pens.
5) I noticed that the top feed channel for my g-nib wasn't cut all the way to the tip but my hunt nib was. And I was facing some flow problems. So I used a pen knife to cut the channel all the way to the tip and the G-nib worked a lot better.
6) I think we should take note that the Ackerman Pens are home-made pens. They are made by hand at his residence or workshop so I think it is reasonable not to compare it to a perfect mass produced pen by a big company. Usage wise, I'd see the pen somewhere between a dip pen and a fountain pen. But definately not to the level of fountain pens in terms of convenience and lack of hassle. But in my opinion, it still works well to a good degree, especially if you keep the nibs clean and seperate after every use. And it is the only pen I know of that allows me to use regular steel nibs without dipping in a bottle of ink. But if you are the kind of person with zero patience to troubleshoot pens, it might be better for you to stick to dip pens or a good vintage fountain pen.
UPDATE MAR 1, 2013
The other Parkablogs reviewer for this pen still has not gotten his pen since April 2012. That's almost a year. We sent a few reminders to Charles Ackerman and he said he has sent the pen off. But nothing. Mr Ackerman mentioned in a recent newsletter that he has hired a new staff to handle the customer service. I've tried emailing that staff several times. But it's been near a month and still no reply. Interesting product as it may be, you may never receive it in the mail. I recommend that no further purchases be made from Ackermanpens. The delivery is inconsistant. Customer service is still dismal. Until you see that he has included a proper tracking system in his pen delivery, included a customer accounts page so customers can keep track of their purchases, and emails are responded to promptly, and you hear that people are receiving their pens on time (within 2 months) please STAY CLEAR of this seller to avoid disappointment.
UPDATE APR 1, 2013
Ackerman has set up a customer tracking page. Please look into it if your order is delayed. http://ackermanpens.com/shop/customer-issue-tracking
UPDATE APR 23, 2013
My friend, Don, has finally gotten his pen. But as it turns out, it wasn't Ackerman's fault. Don did not give the right address. So there. Please make sure your address is correct when ordering the pens. After he corrected the address with Ackerman Pens, the pen was delivered within 3 weeks. This is a good sign that Ackerman Pens is doing something to fulfill all those overdue orders. I might be ordering another pen soon to see if a repeat order will be as quick or as consistant as Don's.