Friday, January 18, 2013

TuffWriter Ultimate Clicky Review

One good sign that you need to upgrade your tools or gear is when you have maxed out the capabilities of what you currently own.  I am probably never going to max out the capabilities of my McGizmo Haiku, but I did so with my "extra durable" everyday carry pen.  I have used and loved the Zebra F-701 for over five years.  I posted it about it here.  But alas, the daily grind and wear and tear of court, travel, prisons, and jails took its toll on even the hearty F-701.  About two months ago it took a fall from the second floor of a building and broke.  The Fisher insert I had modded to take it was fine.  The barrel of the F-701 was okay.  But the knock (or clicky) no longer worked and no amount of disassembly could fix it.  Fortunately this was right around my birthday and so I asked for and received the TuffWriter Ultimate Clicky pen as a gift.

It is an outstanding pen.  Really, though, the writing part is what you make of it as it accepts standard Parker inserts (I have a Fisher refill in it right now), which is a very good thing as there are a bevy of choices.  The body or barrel of the pen is what makes this tool so impressive.  I'll detail all of the problems I have had with past pens and the solutions that are incorporated into the TuffWriter Ultimate Click that makes it so amazing.

The Ultimate Clicky began as a Kickstarter project by Jack Roman, the head honcho over at TuffWriter.  You can find the Kickstarter page hereHere is the TuffWriter product page.  Note that there are small differences between the Kickstarter version and the retail TuffWriter version.  I got the raw Aluminum version (which is $10 cheaper), but there two other models: a Black anondized pen and a Red anondized pen.  Here is the Pen Addict's brief write up on the Kickstarter version.  There are no written or video reviews of this pen, which is surprising as it hits a button for gear geeks and pen addicts at the same time.  Here is a place to buy the Ultimate Clicky, though you can buy it from TuffWriter as well.  Here is my Ultimate Clicky:


The overall design is significantly different than the large majority of the ridiculous "tactical" pens out there, free of silly crenelations and spiked ends (which seem like a bad idea for something that gets shoved in your pocket close to your junk).  This is a pen first and foremost and I appreciate it for that.  I also like using o-rings for added grip.  It is unnecessary but an interesting touch.  The clip is perfect for a pen, though more on that later.  I loved the design of the clicky or knock as it is called.  It is brilliantly simple and the satin finish is nice.  The only thing, design wise, I wasn't thrilled about was the series of scallops with o-ring accents under the clip.  It serves no real purpose and gives the pen a 1950s ray gun look to it.  Overall it is a very good design.


The pen is quite long, coming in at roughly 6 inches.  Here it is up against the iconic Zippo lighter (which makes everything look cooler when it is next to it, the Zippo is just a gorgeous piece of design).  The pen is also weighty, something that pen folks generally like, clocking in at 1.66 ounces.  Generally, the logic behind weighty pens is that they help your hand do detail work, as items that are too light feel difficult to control.  Additionally, the weight helps put the pen to the page, something that tends to happen a lot with pens.  Many of the extremely high end pens are quite weighty, the Montblanc Meisterstuck 149, for example has an internal brass piston for ink intake making it both large and very weighty.   As a person that likes to carry as little as possible that is as light as possible, I am not sure I LOVE a weighty pen, but I can tell you this--it is easier to write with this pen than it is to write with the Fisher Bullet Pen, which is both slimmer and shorter.

The balance of the pen is good for a pen this heavy.  I had a deposition a few days ago and it was a long one.  I took about fifteen to twenty pages of notes over a two and half hour period.  Knowing this review was coming, I used the pen the entire time.  My hand was tired, but not that much more than it would be writing that long with any other pen.  It is not that all of the weight is forward, that's not the case.  It is that enough of the weight is towards the writing end that the balance isn't an issue.  That is, it is heavy but well balanced. 

The weight helps with the carry of the pen.  I know that sounds a little contradictory, given what I just wrote and what I have espoused for 20 months now, but here is what I mean.  I have had a bunch of pens before this one, a Retro 51 Tornado or three, the F-701, and a half a dozen other lesser pens that looked nice on the sale rack, but were crap everywhere else.  Even the F-701 was a little too light.  I would forget it in my pocket or leave it in a jacket.  The Ultimate Clickly's weight makes that very, very hard to do.  It also makes it easy for you to remember you have it with you or not when traveling from place to place.  This is one of the best aspects of the pen and helps you make sure not to lose what is, in essence, a $100 pen.  Also, honestly I don't know if the 1.66 ounces is all that big a deal in the long run.  It is just slightly more than my beloved DF2, so I can't complain all that much.

This brings me to the pocket clip.  I love the pocket clip, love, love, love it.  So many pens have flimsy metal or even worse plastic clips.  They simply cannot withstand years of regular unpampered use.  I killed all three Retro 51s by breaking their clips.  I killed two Parker Jotters clip first.  Pulling a pen in and out of a pocket, taking it to a jail and a prison, and through countless court house security checkpoints means that my pens see a lot of action and their clips are especially vulnerable.  The Ultimately Clicky LAUGHS at these things.  They are nothing.  If the Vikings designed a pen clip, this would be it.  It is one BAMF pen clip.  It is at least twice as thick as a normal clip and pinned in place with two torx screws.  This last bit is important as almost every clip first got loose and then broke.  Other clips, like the washer style clip on the F-701 can pivot even when fulled tighted down, but there is no movement whatsoever here.  Brilliant job Jack.  

The thing that really kills it for me though is the knock or clicky on this pen.   Here it is in its polished splendor


Using a cam mechanism instead of a spring, it is incredibly smooth.  So smooth in fact that the name is something of a misnomer.  There is no click in the Ultimate Clicky, only a glide smooth approach and release.  If anything makes this pen rank very high on the fidget factor scale, this is it.  Press, release, press, release.  I love it.

It is not all roses though.  This pen is complex.  There are a lot of pieces and like the Novatac springs of old, some fall out when you open the pen.  It is not a deal breaker by any means, but there is a spacer plug, a spring and both ends screw off.  Then there is the bearing clicky itself which also comes apart from the pen.  Do not change the refill in your car.  Don't think you can do this while standing up.  Find a desk or a table, sit down, and go to work.  It will make you look like MacGyver or an old world horology craftsman.  

Also, the tolerances on the pen are REALLY tight.  The cartridge from Fisher can be a little snug and I had to sand mine down to get it to work.  It was only one cartridge in five, but still.  But here is the thing that makes this okay.  I emailed Jack, not telling him I was writing this review, and he responded within the day.  Actually he responded within the hour and then two other times to help with the issue.  In the end, he wanted me to send it back, but I fixed it myself and held on to the pen.  All of the design genius and mechanical gee whiz means little if there isn't good support behind it and at TiffWriter, my experience indicates you get the best support there is--fast support from the man himself.

This is a great pen with a really good choice of refill--the Parker-style insert.  This gives you a ton of options.  I am not going to bother with a writing sample like so many straight up pen reviews do because, really, this is a Fisher insert that we have all seen a hundred times before.  The included refill, a Fisher, is very hardy and writes forever, but isn't the boldest or smoothest of inks (The Pen Addict recommends the Moleskine Gel Insert 0.5 mm, if you really want a gel insert; the standard Parker gel inserts are TERRIBLE).  I have also tried out the Moleskine (on the Pen Addict's recommendation) and it works fine in the TuffWriter Ultimate Clicky.  The .5 mm tip is very fine, perhaps too fine for everyday use, but perfect for sketchnoting (which is why I bought it).  Again, the tight tolerances made for a snug fit, but after a few clicks everything was fine.  There are simply a ton of options for refills because it uses the Parker-style insert.  You can switch to gels, roller balls, or ballpoints as there is a Parker insert for any style you like.  A Hi-Tec-C version of the Ultimate Clicky would be nice for artsy folks, but for those of us that write for utility's sake, the Parker insert choice is the best.

The pen has also proven to be durable.  In the month I have owned and used it I have dropped it, lent it to folks, taking into prison, court, jail, and juvy.  It has fallen in the water (a puddle) and the snow (everywhere).  It still works perfectly with that trademark gliding knock.

If you need a hard use pen and have already killed your F-701 or what something a little nicer but still need a clicky, this is definitely worth a try.  I like mine a lot and loved the support and service even more.     


  1. It sure looks purdy, but purdy enough to spend an extra $80 or so over an F-701? I don't know. I admit I get a special kick when I lend my Zebra to people with $100+ executive pens, and have them look at it and say, "nice pen" when they hand it back.

    The clip looks bombproof, but does it ride high in a shirt pocket?

    BTW, I kinda like the "ray gun" scalloping. It appears to be a signature motif for TuffWriter, and probably a nod to the pen's ostensible use as a kubaton.

    I'd also question it's effectiveness as a kubaton, but I'll leave that to more knowledgeable people to argue.

    1. It is an outstanding pen. Really, though, the writing part is what you make of it as it accepts standard Parker inserts (I have a Fisher refill in it right now), which is a very good thing as there are a bevy of choices.
      Reinforced Concrete
      Post Tension Concrete
      Steel Reinforced Concrete
      Reinforced Concrete Houses
      Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete

  2. My 701 has had a battered life... but will be replaced with another 701.. 80 bucks for a pen? No way. Looks nice.. but the cost means it would last me a week or so before some stranger would find it somewhere. Due to it costing him zilch, and not knowing it's an expensive pen, this guy would have it forever.

    I'm looking at getting a Pilot Birdy. Thin little pen... well made and about 6 bucks. Check the Jet Pen EDC section. I'd appreciate a writeup on it.

    1. It is an expensive pen, but I am pretty good at hanging on to it, do ism not worried that it will get stolen. The birdy is a pen I tried but it is not big enough to use for extended periods of time. It is too thin.

  3. Mine stopped working although I don't carry it much and don't use it 'tuff'. Wrote to TuffWriter, and they said it was probably dropped and bent the top. I don't think that happened, but either way, it's not very durable if a drop can cause a problem. Tuffwriter has awesome cs though and said to send it in plus $5 for return shipping, and they'd fix it.

  4. Did you guys know that the middle sections can be scewed off to fit different replacement ink cartridges such as Parker?