Friday, February 22, 2013

MaxMadCo Bolt Action Pen Review

I am not a pen expert.  If you are looking for a pen expert, try Pen Addict.  That said, I am a huge fan of good design and I do use a pen a lot.  Us lawyers are an old fashioned bunch and while folks in the tech industry have a iPad or other tablet as their main note taking tool, we still like pen and paper.  After I posted the review on the TuffWriter Ultimate Clicky, a reader suggested I get a copy of the MaxMadCo Bolt Action Pen (MMCBA Pen for short, as that is quite a lot of text to write over and over again).  I contacted them and they sent over an aluminum version.  MaxMadCo is a company run by Jim Madrid.  He is a machinist by trade, but his talents aren't limited by that training.  He has made a well-regarded run of friction folder knives, a series of fixed blade utility knives, and he offers a number of aftermarket watch face upgrades.  The entire product line can be seen here.  The pens are available in both stainless steel and the lighter aluminum version (which was the sample I was sent).  Here is the product page.  Here is a picture of the pen they sent:


The pen is accompanying the Peak Solutions Oveready Edition Eiger and the TAD Gear Production Dauntless.  The blacked out EDC was quite handsome, with every piece having a bit of silver on it as a highlight.

Here is a good shot of the pen all by its lonesome:


The pen is significantly smaller than the Ultimate Clicky, both in terms of girth and length.  Unlike the Clicky, the MMCBA looks and feels like a normal sized pen.  The review sample was made of aluminum and it takes a Parker insert, allowing it to have a huge variety of possible ink cartridges.  The pocket clip is bolted on with two small fasteners and the clip itself is incredibly strong.

 
The bolt action mechanism is quite impressive.  I was afraid that the down-over-up path would be cumbersome to navigate with one finger, but it was perfectly shaped and the spring made deployment nothing more than a quick flick of the thumb.  Disengagement was equally fast and simple.  It is a huge improvement over both a normal clicky and a twist mechanism, allowing for one hand use like a clicky, but preventing accidental actuation like a twisty.  Normally bolt action pens are bulky, but here, the MMCBA gets it right makes the whole mechanism small and discreet.  Overall, I'd have to say this is my favorite pen actuation method ever--truly excellent.     


The parts were incredibly well machined, smooth to the touch.  The threading possessed no wiggle or play.  The two pieces were so expertly fashioned that the seam between them is almost invisible.  The overall presentation of the MMCBA pen is subtle but superb.  It is utilitarian in the extreme with little flourish and no curve to the barrel.  Its appearance makes a clear statement--this is no nonsense writing tool.  This has none of the excess "tactical" bullshit that seems to dominate the EDC pen market and none of the gilded lily appearance of fancy pens.  It is an aesthetic I appreciate but some pen addicts might see as boring.  Its simplicity is made up for in terms of its craftsmanship.  Fit and finish is simply outstanding.

The MMCBA ships with a Parker gel cartridge, mine was black.  The writing experience with that ink is so so, a little to splashy and watery for me.  I swapped in two other cartridges during the testing period, a Fisher medium blue insert and the Moleskine 0.5mm black gel insert.  Both fit with no problem and both provide a superior writing experience to the stock cartridge.  That said, this is a matter of taste and I can see some folks liking the Parker insert.  This highlights the benefit of choosing the Parker cartridge format--there is an insert that suits just about everyone and every writing task.

The pen is very light overall and light in the hand.   I had a two long hearings in court while testing this pen and I had to use the pen to take notes (I have developed a shorthand, but still real time recording of witness testimony is difficult).  I never experienced hand fatigue.  The pen is slick though and that can be a challenge for writing with cold, numb hands, something that can happen from time to time here in New England.  There is no defined grip area and that is something I would count as a drawback.  A little texturing, some machined cross hatching for example, would go along way in making the pen easier to hold on to.  Having used this after the Ultimate Clicky, I am still not sure if I like heavy or light pens, but I do appreciate a well defined grip of some sort.

In the pocket the pen carries like a dream.  It is very discrete, both in terms of weight and appearance.  It is a friendly pocket companion, neither beating up other things in your pocket or being especially pokey.  I would note that the overall slick feel to the pen might make it difficult to retain in thin pants or fabric, such as in a suit.  I'd clip it to a breast pocket or inside jacket pocket if I were you.

Overall, I'd say this pen is a better everyday user than the Ultimate Clicky.  It is a bit cheaper, a bit more staid and pen-like in its appearance and only very marginally less sturdy.  Given its price, I'd look here first.  If you like heavy pens though, this isn't your game.  The aluminum version is especially light.  The only improvement I would make is some texture to the body, but other than that, this is a great EDC option and my preferred cartridge format.  Plus Jim is a great guy.  His logo is pretty sweet too: 


NOTE: I was sent this review copy.  As you know, I never keep anything I review.  NEVER.  During the testing (actually the last planned day of testing) it, um, walked away from me in court.  Court is a busy place with lots of different kinds of folks.  I had everything in a chair saving my spot while arguing and when I came back the pen was gone.  Maybe it fell and someone found it.  Maybe someone got confused and thought it was theirs.  I have no idea.  Either way I contacted Jim and insisted on paying for the pen.  He politely refused.  I do not keep anything I review and I never will.  With no place to send money to for the pen, Jim asked that I make a donation on his behalf.  Using funds from the next AdSense check, I will make a donation to the Wounded Warrior Fund on Jim's behalf, making sure that there is no possibility that anyone thinks I benefit from this site or doing reviews in any way.  All this just tells me that Jim is an awesome guy. 
  

8 comments:

  1. Love the blog, been following it for about a year now, don't see many other urban EDC blogs. I definitely ascribe to the just enough, but never too much EDC philosophy. The MMCBA sounds awesome.

    Had a question about the Big Skinny you have it paired with. How do you carry your wallet (front pocket, back pocket, shirt or jacket)?

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    1. Back pocket most of the time, but front pocket about 25% of the time.

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  2. Cool looking pen. If I had the dough, I'd grab one for sure.

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  3. Quote- 'Either way I contacted Jim and insisted on paying for the pen. He politely refused. I do not keep anything I review and I never will. With no place to send money to for the pen, Jim asked that I make a donation on his behalf. Using funds from the next AdSense check, I will make a donation to the Wounded Warrior Fund on Jim's behalf, making sure that there is no possibility that anyone thinks I benefit from this site or doing reviews in any way. All this just tells me that Jim is an awesome guy.'

    This says a little about your character as a person as well Tony! Like to hear things like this! ;-)

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  4. My older review of the SS version cash be found here:http://edcforums.com/threads/maxmadco-retractable-tactical-pen.88424/

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  5. Tony, this was an excellent and informative review. Bravo on the handling of the "walked off" pen all around.

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  6. Great review! I'm very interested in this pen, but I was wondering how does the aluminum hold up? And, by that I mean does it dent or ding easily? Looks like a sweet pen which I'm sure it is. That's for taking your time to review all these great products.

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  7. This is the finest "tactical" pen made, among the ones I tried. It balances superb, the machining is top-notch, and it looks classy. Very few pens can balance toughness and classy looks, and this takes the crown. There is no fatigue after hours of writing, something very few pens manage to get at as well.

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