Friday, October 23, 2015

Tactile Turn Gist Review

When the Gist slid from its package and into my hand I was immediately struck by how much I liked the way it felt--its weight, its shape, and its machined surface all felt just right.  When I unthreaded the cap and saw the gleaming gold nib and damascus section I was blown away. This was a pen that felt great in the hand and looked amazing.  I really wanted to know if Will Hodges had pulled off the hat trick and made a pen that wrote well, but alas, I got it on a Saturday and my ink is all at work (two kids, 5 and under equals ink at work).

Monday rolled around and I was so excited to try the Gist out that I was actually skipping steps as I walked up the stairs to my office.  A few dips later and the Gist was ready to write.  Quick aside: I got the fine gold nib with a polycarbonate body and a damascus finial and section.  I then used the Gist exclusively for an intense week of writing.  In one emotional, battering three hour court hearing I took a positively massive amount of notes and the Gist never skipped a beat.  At the end of the week, the notetaking continued as I attended an all day continuing education seminar.  In all, I probably took between 75 and 100 pages of handwritten notes, written fast and in tense situations.  I took notes that I NEEDED for later.  And in the end, they were clear, my hands didn't feel like eagle feet, and I knew all I needed to know about the Gist.  It was only a week, but I imagine I took more notes with this pen than some pen collectors will take with their favorite pen in a whole year.

I could stop here and just issue a simple command--BACK THIS PEN, but Will's work in designing, sourcing, and making the pen deserves more than that.  This is a pen that sits easily next to my all time favorite pen, the Pilot Vanishing Point.  I should warn you going forward this review is like gourmet comfort food--all pleasure, no pain and nothing to challenge your sensibilities.  The Gist is writing greatness with nothing remotely resembling a drawback.  Its Pixar movie good--so good that film snobs and popcorn munchers alike enjoy it.  My non-pen friends raved about it as did my fellow pen addicts.  The experience everyone had was universally good.

Here is the product page.  Here is the Kickstarter.  UPDATE: All of them come with a converter for bottle ink, but they accept standard international ink cartridges.  Also the sections and nibs are user swappable, so you can mix and match.  There are dozens of options.  As configured, the review sample costs $180 ($99 for the polycarbonate/damascus body and $79 for 14K nib).  Here is Dowdy's first look.  Here is my review sample (Can I mix gear blogging photography tropes with stationary?  I just did):


Twitter Review Summary: Great fountain pen for everyday use.

Design: 2

Will's design video mentions that he wanted the pen to simple, and through that simplicity, a better pen.  It is a better pen.  Compared to something like the Schaeffer Sagaris, which is not a bad pen at all, the Gist is just leagues better.  The ridged barrel is great for grip.  The pocket clip is outstanding.  The finial is a nice touch.  Everything is very good.


I do think that this version is probably the version to get.  A metal version of this pen would be exceedingly heavy and here, while it is light it is not Kaweco Sport light, i.e. insubstantial.  This is not to say that weight=quality, but in a pen weight does bear on your ability to use the pen for long periods of time.  The combination of the polycarbonate body and the damascus section is great.

A note on damascus for those reading this review from the pen world and not the knife world.  There were two kinds of damascus--wootz damascus and pattern welded damascus.  Wootz damascus is not available anymore and the pieces that remain are in collections or museums.  It is truly the stuff of legend, with hardness and toughness that only modern steels in the last fifty or so years have equaled.  The recipe and the main ingredient (wootz) are lost in the mists of time.  Pattern welded damascus, which is probably just as old as wootz damascus, is different.  Unlike wootz, pattern welded damascus is a combination of steels forged together and processed to produce contrasting elements.  These contrasting elements give the steel its swirled appearance.   In the knife world, high end blades often have pattern welded elements as a sign of craftsmanship and a bit of luxury.  Such luxury exists here.  

Fit and Finish: 2

Will's work on the Shaker was top notch.  The Gist is as good or better than the Shaker.  Every line is considered and every shape is perfectly cut.  The tension on the clip is fantastic, something that many pens seem to be lacking (at least for me and my dress clothes).  The threading on the cap is tight and smooth with zero slop and the two pieces fit together very well, just like they did on the Shaker, though, given the difference in material its hard to see the difference. 

Carry: 2

The clip, as I just mentioned, is remarkably good--not too tight and not too loose for use in dress clothes.  If you are jeans person it might be a bit snug.  The milled barrel does ad a bit of grip too.  That said I would not change a single thing about this pen in terms of carry.  Its light, discrete and the ribbing will work to hide dings and scratches especially on metal versions of the Gist.  

Appearance: 2

With a pen as plain as this, no swirling acrylic or blinged out sparkles, its the contrast of simple and complex that give the Gist its powerful appearance.  The damascus finial is especially captivating, seemingly shifting in appearance at all times.  Here it is in direct sunlight--almost gold and gleaming:


and here it is indoors--bold and contrasting:


I am a man that likes the spare look of the Sinn 556i, so I don't need the glitz of a Mont Blanc.  But the Gist's appearance is eye catching enough for someone that does like MBs.  I showed a pen friend of mine, a man with dozens of MBs, the Gist, and he was taken by its looks.  That is an impressive feat--works for minimalists and for bling folks.  Great job Will. 

Durability: 2

The materials here aren't "will it blend" tough, like some of the pens I have reviewed (Tuff Writer), but they are sufficiently durable for normal use.  I probably wouldn't use this pen as a police officer on the side of the road in the middle of winter, but for non-extreme note takers this is well beyond strong enough.  

Writing Performance/Refill: 2

14K gold Bock nib.  Thanks, that's all you need to know. 

Okay, maybe not, but really that is a good combination of features.  I really like the nib here as did all of my coworkers who tried the pen.  Its a fine, which is smaller than I prefer, but even with the needle tip, it was still glass smooth.  I found there was little to no bloom or excess ink.  Its not as clean a nib as my VP, but it is still pretty darn nice and a superb writer.  

Balance/In Hand Feel: 2

Its not right to say that the pen danced across the page, but "glided" is not much of an exaggeration.  This is a pen that has a sublime sense of balance, thanks in part to the strategically placed bits of steel.  The section is very inviting and the whole pen, despite the ribbing, is very comfortable.  


I am not sure how else to describe this so I will tell you what one of my non-pen friends said: "Oooo...this is so nice.  It feels JUST right."  Yep, JUST right.

Grip: 2

Its not the space ray gun look of many of the more crudely finished machined pens on Kickstarter and elsewhere, but the ribbing is effective.  The Gist has a very fine texture around the section and you never have the feeling that it is about to slip away.


Fortunately, you also never have the feeling that its rubbing your fingers raw.  Overall, the feel and look of the section is just superb. 

Barrel: 2

Other than its damage hiding properties and superior balance, there is not much here.  But again, that is the design idea of the pen--a simple, elegant fountain pen.  So not much here is actually quite a complement.  Gilded pen fans, look elsewhere.

Deployment Method/Cap: 2

Try as I might through a week of stressful writing, the cap was never lost, the clip never wiggled, and it posted each and every time with ease.  The threading, as I mentioned before, is quite good.  


Simply put, I love the cap, and this from a card carrying member of the We Hate Pens with Caps Club.

Overall Score: 20 out of 20, PERFECT

Go back this pen.  Its amazing.  If it is your first fountain pen, you will be very happy, at least until you try to find another pen that is its equal.  My pen friends and non-pen friends alike loved it.  I enjoyed using it every time I wrote with it.  It is superbly made, expertly designed, and very functional.  Its a very close call between this and my VP as it which I think is better.  It smokes a lot of the pens in its price range, murdering things like the Sagaris.  Decked out as it is here, the pen is in the same price range as the VP and they are comparable in virtually every performance criteria I could think of.  It literally is a toss up.  And a toss up with a perfect pen, means the Gist is also a perfect pen.

This is Will's second product I have reviewed and the second perfect score.  This might be the beginning of something very special.  Cal Ripken streak special.


  1. Glad to read this Tony. I own a Shaker, and because of that, I backed this pen on day one without hesitation. I didn't suspect Will would under-deliver Can't wait to have it in hand.

  2. Tony, This is a problem. It's right before I need to start picking up Christmas gifts, I just went full ham purchasing an out of print minis game, and I have an order for an SM100 Kiridashi coming up. You can't do this to me.

    1. It's the reviews of the Gemini and TRE that I'm "dreading." I have a thanksgiving trip and Christmas coming up, but his brief comments on those knives are already making me worry the full on reviews will make them irresistible.

  3. I don't know much about fountain pens. But if I were to order this thing as my very first FP, but I were trying to save money, is it worth the money to upgrade from a steel nib to a Ti nib? Or do I need to go for the Au nib? I'd be going polycarbonate everywhere else. Will the nib upgrade really make that much difference?

    1. I have the same question. I want to order this as a gift for someone who does use fountain pens, so I don't know if it's worth the extra money for the upgrade nibs.

    2. Opt for the steel nib. It will feel smoother than the titanium. Gold is best, but steel is definitely my preference as between steel and titanium.

      Also note that you will have to buy either bottled ink for use with the included piston filler converter or buy international sized ink cartridges.

    3. Thanks! Also is the Gist built in such a way that the nib(and other parts) are user-changeable? Could I buy it then upgrade the nib and maybe finial later?

    4. Never mind; apparently I completely missed the update up there.

    5. Patrick:

      I just visited Will at his shop to "test drive" his new pen. I am pretty confident that all the items are user-changeable, especially since he offers extra grips. The finial might be the only exception. I would drop him a line and he should respond pretty quickly.

      And by the way, the pen feels great in your hand. Even though I went by to test drive the pen, we spent an hour talking about various EDC things. A very enjoyable time.

  4. I bought a Mover and loved everything about it but it's girth. How does this compare?

    1. The grip area is basically identical in diameter, maybe a bit smaller on the Gist.

  5. Although Tony may have some interesting things to say about knives, a pen connaisseur he clearly is not.
    Some giveaways: gold nibs do NOT write better than steel ones, a Pilot VP is not the nec plus ultra of the pen world (the clip crossing the grip section is uncomfortable for many - little 'affordance' in Tony speak), the scoring system does not take into account the filling method.
    General design, materials used and price range of the Gist all remind us of a true classic of the FP world: the Lamy 2000. Giving a perfect score without any reference to that pen is quite ridiculous.

    1. Matthias, these are all really great points.

      I do prefer gold nibs to steel ones. The difference, in my experience, has been noticeable. The Sagaris and the VP write very differently.

      Second, I agree that the VP is not the end all and be all. In fact, I think it is fair to compare it to something like the Sebenza (as Dowdy did in his review of my Sebenza). I also think it is very good in an EDC role, something many fountain pens don't do well.

      Third, I have not found the Lamy's I have handled, the Safari and the 2000 in polycarbonate or plastic, to be as sturdy, especially in the clip area.

      All of these things said, you are right I am not a pen connoisseur. All my reviews are from the perspective of EDC use and there I think the Gist is a gem.

    2. Also Matthias, the Lamy 2000 is around $30 more than the Gist, as I got it configured sans the gold nib. Steel nib to steel nib the Lamy is not insignificantly more money.