Review: Folded pens from Tim's Pens

A calligrapher friend of mine in the US recommended Tim’s Pens (http://www.timspens.com/) to me about 2 years ago. At the time, I’d heard about folded pens but wasn’t willing to spend US$40 for a pen that I could make at home. I mean, If you do a google search, you could find instructions to make your own folded pen using a tin can and something that would work as a handle. And I did. I made a crude one and it worked alright.

If you are new to folded pens, let me describe it. It’s basically a folded piece of metal with a curved edge and attached to a handle. You need to dip it in ink, which then collects within the fold. When you write and draw with it, the curved edge allows you to create line variation depending on the angle you hold your pen, much like a fude nib in a fountain pen.

2 years later, when I saw a friend using a home-made folded pen, the interest in folded pens was sparked. I’d not used my own crude one for a long time. It just looked bad and it didn’t really feel great when drawing with it, although it got the job done. Looking at timspens.com again, I wanted to try out one of his well-crafted folded pens. Everything just looked well-made and refined, from the finishing of the wood to the polished blade. I started to believe that a pen made by him will feel significantly different from a quickly made home-made one. So I emailed him.

THE ORDERING PROCESS

I told him I was interested and he emailed me a poster catalog displaying various designs of folded pens he makes. He also showed me an extra picture with a different design. He also mentioned that the pens can come with a “radius” blade (most flexible and easy to use), A dagger (for wide marks) or an argentine (deep arc). He recommended the “radius” for a first pen.

Photo by Tim Leigh

Photo by Tim Leigh
I told him I wanted that same design as the ones in the extra picture (above) and with a “radius” blade. The next day, he told me it was ready!

To save on shipping, I combined my order with 4 other friends, each wanting a different design. Here, we had some complications. One friend ordered a design #6 in the poster catalog but when we saw the photograph of the pen, it looked quite different from the one in the poster. Then pen was longer, and the shape at the bottom didn’t seem to match. We highlighted it to Tim and were very grateful to him as he did a new one to match the design more closely. 
Another friend noticed that Tim had added a knob at the end of his pen. I believe it is for the purpose of tying a string so one could hang it upside down to dry. Although it wasn’t what he ordered, he didn’t mind it and so let it be.


I spoke to Tim about the differences between the designs in his poster catalog and the pens he finally makes for his customers. He highlighted that no two pens will be exactly alike. So what you see in the poster catalog will not be what you will get exactly. He also stated that “everyone gets a unique pen, and each one is a product of my sense of aesthetics when I craft them.”

So my conclusion with my email conversation with him is this: The pen your order will deviate from the design you point out in the poster catalog he supplies. He will have some free-play in the design of your pen- It could be longer, shorter, fatter or thinner. Knobs might be added. The shape may change. And so might the wood material you point out. 

BUT if you are more particular, Tim recommends that you email him the following information when you are ordering. This will help him make the the pen close to what you imagine.

1) A picture or detailed description of the nib and shaft style they prefer, including overall length
2) Indication of how the person wants to use it — writing, drawing, fine work, etc.;
3) Measurement of the writer’s hand from tip of forefinger ton the crotch between thumb and forefinger
4) Wood color preferences.

If your instructions are not tight, be prepared for some surprises.


2 weeks later, I got the pens in the mail.

PACKAGING 8/10

The five pens came in 3 complimentary hard plastic containers. The containers were a good idea because they would serve as a carrying case to protect the blade if I wanted to go on an outdoors sketching trip in the future. I wished there were 5 containers since they were for 5 different people. But perhaps it couldn’t all fit in the package. Anyways, they were complimentary, which is nice. And they protected the pens very well.

Here are the pens (with labels) and a signoDX gel pen for a size reference.

Aesthetics 6/10

I liked the feel of the wood. Smooth yet had a matt feel to it. Toward the back, there is something that looks like a crack but I think it’s part of wood. On another of my friend’s pens, there was what looked like a crack. I’m not an expert on wood but I think that when it comes to wood, these flaws might be hard to avoid. Though I wish the more obvious wood cracks would not be so evident in the final product. The other 3 of my friends' pens didn’t have any obvious flaws in the wood.




The ends of some of the pens had, what looked like, a metal screw or nail inserted in. I think that was for the balancing of the pen.

The part that did bother me was the gashes in the brass that held the blade to the handle. It was about 0.5mm deep and is pretty obvious. On another pen, there was a smaller accidental dent in the brass, perhaps made by a plier or cutting tool. I highlighted it to TIm and he was very kind to offer to replace the brass section on my pen without charge. But then, I decided to keep it as it was since it didn’t affect the performance. Still, he made another brass section that would fit my pen and mailed it to me!

The blade was very well polished. It looked very well crafted.



Now compare this to my crude home-made one.

PERFORMANCE 10/10

My pen was very well balanced.

When I dipped the pen with sumi ink and put it to paper, the blade was singing. It has a nice feel to it when it is sliding around on paper. The pen lays down a lot of ink very quickly and so takes a bit of time to dry. However, I was surprised how fine the hairlines went. It was comparable to the lines drawn by my 0.38 signo DX gel pen. As for the wide stroke, I could do a 5mm wide line. The wide lines will have a rugged edge.

Here are a few drawing samples:







I drew most of these small. As you can see, it can handle very small details and not just big wide marks.

Here is a line comparison between my new pen and my home-made one:


Here is the amount of ink each pen can hold. Tim's pen vs my crude pen:

As you can see, it is almost the same. If I polished and smoothed and improved the radius of my home-made pen a little more, It would be possible to produce the same kind of lines and hold as much ink as a US$40 pen from Tim. However, it takes time and skill to make a pen to that standard. And more time to make a wooden handle as nice as Tim can make. It might be more worth it just buy one from him.

I tried it with Winsor and Newton’s black indian ink. But that was hard to wash off because it contained a lot of shellac. Sumi ink worked a lot better. I could also recommend Calli ink. Different ink will affect the performance of the pen.

DELIVERY 9/10

He made my pen very quickly and he also answers his email very promptly. The pen was shipped shortly after payment via Paypal and I got it within 2 weeks.

Overall, I recommend a folded pen from Tim’s pens if you are either a calligrapher or an artist that enjoys quick expressive strokes. And you have an appreciation for handmade one-of-a-kind crafted art tools. Tim's pens are also more balanced and they feel good in the hands, which could translate to better art by you. Note that the pen you order may deviate somewhat from what you instruct him to make. But if you are more particular about it, do provide him with very tight instructions about how you want your pen to look like.

Another thing you should note is that the pens need to be cleaned well and dried after every use. This will maintain the quality of the pen or else it may rust or the ink may not flow so smoothly. It does need more maintenance than a fountain pen. But not too much.

To order your pen, visit http://www.timspens.com/ and contact Tim via email.

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