Retro 1951 Tornado Stealth – My Workhorse Pen

As is the case with more than a few owners of the Retro 1951 pen in it’s various forms, mine was picked up after hearing the brand mentioned (often) in the relatively early episodes of the Pen Addict podcast. The enthusiasm with which hosts Brad Dowdy and Myke Hurley talked about these pens was enough to send me searching for them online soon after. The pen in question is now almost two years old.

FullSizeRender 4My choice at the time, a Tornado Stealth model, was ordered from Cyber Space Pens, for at that time I did not have a bookmark folder full of pen shops by the names of Goulet, Jet, Chalet and the like. Although in saying that, I see Cyber Space currently stock the Retro 51 Stealth at a very competitive $US24.00.

I do not recall the exact price I paid at the time, however it was essentially half the cost of purchasing locally through one of the brick and mortar stores in town. I find this both incredibly convenient and somewhat saddening at the same time, given I enjoy nothing better than stopping by and supporting one of the local pen stores, however it becomes increasingly difficult when the cost is often one and a half to two times what can be found online.

Look and Feel

Overall I would say I am fairly conservative in my pen barrel colour choices, so of course I was drawn to the Tornado Stealth model, a sleek, all black, mysterious looking pen. The smooth glossy finish is a joy to both look at and hold.

Now, as the title of this post and some of the images suggest, it has been somewhat of a workhorse pen over the past 18 plus months or so, and developed some nice brass looking highlights on some of the edges, given most of this use occurred prior to the relative luxury it now enjoys in a Nock. Co Sassafras pen case.

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The band with the “Tornado by Retro 1951” branding adjacent to the clip, the clip itself, some of the knurling on the knock twist mechanism, and parts of the barrel have all worn, not quite to the Kaweco AL Sport washed look, however heading that way. That said, I couldn’t be happier. My pens are for using, with a little care, but heavily. They are some of the tools I enjoy using the most, and if that shows, all the better.

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FullSizeRender 7Apart from the slowly evolving outer finish, probably what I like most about this pen is the overall size and weight distribution. For my writing style, it has perfect balance, with the length of 13cm a perfect size for my hand. While the weight is on the heavy side at 28g, the stature and weight distribution ensure this pen is a joy to hold and use, either for a few notes or longer writing sessions. Although my Lamy Safari Rollerball is a light 18.5g, I do prefer the Retro 51 out of the two.

Although the barrel is a smooth glossy finish, I have never had any grip problems, and my preference for a mild taper towards the tip is well catered for by the Retro 51 shape. At the other end of the pen, the knurling on the twist mechanism provides a nice texture, and the knock mechanism itself is one of the most solid you will encounter.


Once again, you probably need to go no further than the Pen Addict Podcast to hear mention of the Retro 51 and/or Schmidt P8126 refills as being one of, if not the best liquid ink or rollerball refill going around – and I’d have to agree. I am currently using the standard Retro 51 branded refill in the pen, and as you can see from the writing samples, the line could not be smoother, broader, or more vibrant.

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The only time I have had the need to swap out the liquid ink refill was in recent weeks when I decided to try out the Field Notes Expedition edition, and needed an appropriate tip for the indestructible Yupo paper of that particular notebook. In this instance, a minor trim of a Uni Jetstream ballpoint allowed it to fit in nicely, which took me through to the and of the Expedition. Mind you, once the last page was written, out came the Jetstream and back in went the Retro 51 refill to an “ah…that’s better” moment.

The majority of use this pen sees involves day-to-day writing at my office job, which is often intermittent signatures, notes, marking up document revisions, or comments/feedback on team members work. I do not have cause (sadly) in a “paperless” office for extended periods of writing, and when I do, I tend to seek out a fountain pen from my desk drawer, though on occasion, will continue with the Retro 51 which does not disappoint.


Thinking back, when I first started searching for this pen based on a podcast recommendation (granted – not just any podcast), I had a nagging feeling in the back of my mind I would not necessarily like it. You know the scenario, something is spoken of so highly, upon finally obtaining the item in question, the expectation and excitement exceeds the experience and performance of the real thing. Definitely not the case here – the Retro 1951 Tornado Stealth is a great pen, has a great refill, and serves equally well as an everyday “workhorse” or as a writing instrument of great pleasure.

I really have no excuse not to add to my collection of these great pens – though I may have a hard time choosing colours. Perhaps a Retro 51 “Unexposed” release may absolve me of making that decision.

Wiser Web Wednesday

Wiser Web Wednesday – a weekly link to posts which piqued my interest from around the web:

Pens! Paper! Pencils!
Fancy a new stylus in the shape of a trusty Retro 51 style mini pen? Read about here and then win one in Ian Hedley’s giveaway:
Retro 51 Tornado Touch Ballpoint Review and Giveaway

The Pen Addict
Brad Dowdy takes a look at a blue-black ink from Pilot’s Iroshizuku line. A nice looking shade now on my shopping list:
Pilot Iroshizuku Shin-Kai Ink Review

The Newsprint
“Sign the paper like you give a damn”. Enough said:

Pen Paper Ink Letter
In an age of technology, and a generation seemingly growing up with nothing but, probably a fair question from Heath at PPIL:
The Ramble: Why Are There So Many Young Pen Bloggers?

David Sparks of Macsparky fame, with a few tricks for managing your calendar just that little bit better:
Scheduling success: Four tech tricks for planning meetings

Dr Drang with a proposal for more meaningful dialogue about the role of and uses for the iPad:
Revisiting the iPad checklist

For the most part, the pens have it this week. Hope you enjoy some of the above.

In Use – Nock Co. Pen Cases

The guys at Nock Co. have certainly had their work cut out fulfilling the orders of over 2000 backers since the Kickstarter funding goal was reached at the end of October last year. As a backer of the “All the Cases” level (one of each case manufactured), my order was shipped towards the end of the process, however was well worth the wait.

For a little background, Nock Co. are Brad Dowdy from The Pen Addict blog and podcast, and Jeffrey Bruckwicki. From my original post last October about the project:

Brad has teamed up with Jeffrey Bruckwicki of Old Fourth Tailoring to design and manufacture pen cases (all hand-made in the USA), and in a nice touch, we see notebook case integration into some of the designs as well. The two appear to be a great fit (pardon the tailoring pun), and have created some fantastic designs which you really should check out for yourself, as any attempt at describing the products to you in words will not do the cases justice.

After posting one final update in late October on the progress of the Kickstarter funding drive, it was a case of waiting patiently for the goods to arrive.

NockCo_LabelUpon receiving the cases (seven in total) last week, I immediately filled The Brasstown, a zippered case with a six pen internal “tongue” rollout which emerges from the centre of the case; The Maryapple, a bifold notebook case, and both Chimneytop cases (more of a traditional type pen/pencil case shape).

As far as the construction and materials are concerned, these are high quality cases, made with 1000D nylon, lined with pack cloth (unless otherwise stated) to provide a nice protective housing for those precious pens, the closures finished with YKK zippers. The design of the cases and materials used ensure each keep their shape, yet are pliable enough to be tucked into the corner of a bag or backpack with no problems.

There is no question they are built to last and to be used – not sit on a shelf or in a drawer. These are your favourite denim jeans, not a tuxedo to be kept for special occasions. This is freedom for the pens you might otherwise have to leave at home – get out and use them.

How have the cases themselves performed? Pretty well so far.

The Brasstown

Probably my favourite case of the lot. Design genius, catering for up to six pens, each within their own pocket, in an internal pen roll. There is also room for pens, pencils, spare inks, erasers etc in “general population” within the main barrel of the case. It is nice and compact when closed, however unfurls to provide a nice open display of the six pens in the rollout section. For me? This case provides both protection for any pens I would prefer not to have banging around together, however is equally useful to house whichever pens are in high rotation at the time, providing easy organisation and convenient access, ensuring I never have to dig around looking for a specific pen.

The Brasstown

The Brasstown (above and right)


The centre roll accommodates all pen sizes, with the shorter and clipless Kaweco Sport disappearing down inside its pocket, however is easily extracted by simply sliding my thumb up the front material of the pocket and popping it out the top. All other clipped pens will simply sit securely in the pockets suspended by their clips in the usual manner. I can see this being my most used case, as it is the simplest way to carry my pens to and from work, knowing I have the six in the roll, along with any others (currently a further six disposable gel ink/rollerballs and a USB stick) in the main barrel of the case. As you can see from the image, my colour of choice was the Steel Exterior/Blue Jay interior combination.

The Maryapple

The Maryapple - interior

The Maryapple – interior

The bifold notebook case that is the Maryapple was also put to immediate use, given my usual practice of carrying two Field Notes notebooks along with the pens in my messenger style bag to and from the office. Why protect a Field Notes notebook? Are they not meant to be bruised and battered, showing the scars of heavy use, and then retired once full? Absolutely, and for myself, this will continue to be the case when carrying one in my pocket, however more often than not they are in my bag whilst commuting, and this is a great way of keeping them together.

Why two? One is used as a general catch-all for notes, ideas and numbers etc. The other is my coffee notebook, containing my roasting and tasting notes, along with any other coffee related information (blog post ideas, beans to try etc). Although my roasting is obviously all done at home, a good deal of tasting is done when out and about, or through my Aeropress brewing which occurs at the office.

The Maryapple - exterior

The Maryapple – exterior

Although two notebooks is generally my limit, this case would comfortably hold four Field Notes sized (approximately 9x13cm) books (two each side), or a couple of notebooks on one side, and a few pens in the other.

I made a similarly conservative colour choice here, going with the Midnight Exterior/Foliage Interior.

The Chimneytop(s)

The Chimneytop mini (L) and standard (R)

The Chimneytop mini (L) and standard (R)

These pop-up cases are my everything else cases, with the orange mini containing my Palomino pencil sharpener, a J. Herbin ink cartridge tin containing a selection of cartridges, and a screen cleaning cloth should my phone or iPad mini require it. I love the size of the mini, as it sits in my bag taking up essentially no room, however I can be sure of where those bits and pieces are should they be required.

The standard size Chimneytop currently houses my master store of ink cartridges, which, although sitting in my desk drawer, is a nice way of keeping them together.

Both Chimneytop cases are unlined, which to me is not a problem, for if they were to be used for pens, they would be those pens you would be happy to have all in together, and if this were acceptable, I don’t believe the lack of lining would be a concern.


Whichever way you look at them, Nock Co. cases are high quality, highly functional products that fit a specific niche in the market perfectly. I have often looked at other pen cases, however never really found anything to suit. More rigid leather pen holders seemed a little over the top, whereas the Nock Co. products provide a level of protection and functionality that I believe are unsurpassed, and they look pretty good too (though I acknowledge opinion on the aesthetics of such products is a highly subjective matter).

I am certainly spoiled for choice, having received one of each case manufactured, and believe me, they will all be put to good use. The remaining cases? Most likely to be filled as my pen collection grows, and of course backing the All Cases level was simply an investment in the future scale of both my pens and their cases – very wise!

I’d highly recommend considering these cases if you or your pen collection desire (or need) them. With the Nock Co. online store yet to open (sign up to be notified when that occurs here), there will be a short wait, however as I can attest – it will be worth it, and your pens will thank you.


My Fountain Pen Day


This Friday, November 1 is the second annual Fountain Pen Day.

My original “fountain pen day”? That was sixteen years ago, the 20th day of September 1997, when I received the gift of a pen from my beautiful wife. The very same pen is with me every day, and is a constant joy and delight to use.

The irony is not lost on me as I write on a touchscreen keyboard about something so, well…traditional and analogue. However, this is the world we live in. As far as fountain pens go I entered at the deep end, the pen in question being a Montblanc Meisterstuck Classique, which has been a star performer since day one. The pen described by Montblanc:

Fountain pen with piston converter, 14 K gold nib with rhodium-plated inlay, barrel and cap made of black precious resin inlaid with Montblanc emblem, gold-plated clip and rings

Over the past sixteen years, I have used a limited range of inks, never venturing beyond the Montblanc variety, usually black or blue-black. Currently it is inked with Montblanc Midnight Blue. The nib is medium, and although a little broad for everyday work use, this is how I like it – something I use for enjoyment, not utility.

Why do those of us who use fountain pens do so? I’m sure we all have our reasons, however for myself, I would venture to say the answer would be similar to asking why I roast my own coffee – for the opportunity to be involved in what I am doing. To be a part of what is being produced, and influence the end result. My hand writing is far from perfect, and I often sit back and smile as I struggle to produce uniformity – for it’s in the struggle where you will find the worth, the reward. The never-ending search for a perfectly formed, written line is like the perfectly roasted bean and brewed cup, tantalisingly close but by necessity always beyond reach, for if ever truly achieved…

It is the slight imperfections in our endeavours that define us all and make us unique. The cup that just misses or the tail on the q being a little too short. The journey from line to line will take you towards it. Where? To somewhere you can only go in that moment of angle, pressure, ink flow and concentration. When to reposition your hand, whether the pen is rotated to the nib sweet spot, if I’m going to hit that fleck in the paper that may throw off my rhythm.

Frustrating? Absolutely.
Hopeless? At times.
Inspiring? Always.

The perfect piece of written prose in perfect cursive? Never. This pen as the perfect companion for a lifelong writing journey? Yes indeed.


Another perfect companion for a life journey on that same “fountain pen day”? Absolutely. That day sixteen years ago was my wedding day.