After obsessively testing papers since October and finally making a decision about the “right” stock in January, Skylab Letterpress and The Well-Appointed Desk is finally unveiling our answer to the gap in the market — the perfect ink testing swatch book, The Col-o-ring.
We sourced 100lb/160gsm natural white paper from a 400-year-old European paper mill through a distributor located right here in Kansas City. Each book is 2″ x 4″ with die cut rounded corners and the covers are sturdy chipboard letterpress printed on a Heidelberg Windmill then hand assembled with a binder ring so that the pages can be easily be removed, rearranged, added or swapped to your heart’s content. Each book contains 100 pages and the paper is a good clean white so your ink colors will show true.
To prove how much better our paper is to some “other” swatch books, I put the Col-o-ring paper (on the right) up against a discontinued product (on the left). Using the same tools to test the same ink– a watercolor paintbrush with synthetic sable bristles and a Zebra G dip nib pen– (you can see, the Col-o-ring paper is smoother, though there is still a little tooth, so your pens won’t slip and slide all over the place) but the good news, is that even the wettest inks in a dip nib don’t bleed or feather!
But wait! There’s more!
We tested several ink samples on both the front AND the back of the paper…. (Emerald of Chivor is so hard to photograph. It looks so good in person! Alternately, Noodler’s Tchaicovsky is pretty much as weird looking in person as it appears below… I had this sample and thought I would test it … strangely goopy ink. Don’t blame the paper.)
Can you see a difference between Col-o-ring paper on the front or the back of the sheet? Nope. Neither could we. And we got very little show through and no bleed through, even with wet swabs. I use a paint brush loaded with ink so it takes a while to dry and still there was no show through. You could do swabs on both sides if you wanted to. Talk about cost effective!
One more, front and back sample, just to show off. (Diamine Oxblood is lovely,)
If you’re more inclined to do your samples with a pen, rather than a swab and dip pen or glass pen, these cards can work for that too. I did a quick writing sample example with my Aurora Optima and the paper picks up all the shading and color variation. I would have sampled more sheening colors but I had them all packed up for the Arkansas Pen Show this weekend. So, if you prefer to sample your inks this way, these cards will work too.
I’ll have ink samples, swabs and cards to try available at the Arkansas Pen Show so if you are in the area, please come by the show and try them out for yourself. Bring your favorite tools for sampling with you too and try those as well.
The Col-o-ring books will be available in my shop soon after I return from the show. I will put a post on the blog when I get them listed in the shop. Col-o-ring books will sell for $10 each plus shipping.
This weekend I acquired a large quantity of vintage Prismacolor and Derwent colored pencils from a local printing company that used to do a lot of photo retouching work. I was asked “What’s the big deal with vintage Prismacolors?”
Besides loving the beautiful logos, the quality of the foil stamping and paint on the Eagle brand Prismacolors manufactured in the US is top-notch. But in terms of actual material quality, the cores are less likely to break, are more likely to be centered, and overall better quality. So, why wouldn’t I stockpile them?
There’s a lot of great colors in this grouping too.
I don’t have as much experience with Derwent colored pencils but these are all made in Britain/England and labelled “Rexel Cumberland” in various iterations. They are similar to a lot of the pencils I’ve acquired from clearance sales at work. I pretty much have enough of these now to build a shed in the backyard out of colored pencils. Or color in an entire city block. Either option sounds excellent.
Also included in the stash was a few miscellaneous China Markers (wax crayons), dried out ballpoint pens, a couple local advertising pencils, a couple Stabilo ALL pencils, a Hardmuth Aviator 3H pencil, and a few Berol-era Prismacolor colored pencils.
My vast love of colored pencils is directly proportional to my frustration with sharpening them. While my desktop Carl Angel-5 does a decent (and sometimes very good) job on most colored pencils of average barrel diameter, it can’t handle pencils of slightly larger girth, which happens to be the case for two of my favorite colored pencil lines – Derwent Drawing Pencils and Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles. (While I don’t use them often, I would think jumbo graphite pencils would run into the same issue.)
When I’m home, I often hand-sharpen them with a knife, but as an urban sketcher, I often need to sharpen in the field. I can’t take a knife on a plane, and it seems imprudent to stand on a street corner with a knife in my hand. So I’m left with portable sharpeners as my primary option.
I’ve tried many with terrible to fair results; none have been excellent. Ever hopeful that the grail is still out there, I decided to try four that seemed promising:
Of the four, this see-through, brightly colored, high-tech-looking gizmo “with notification” intrigued me the most. It took me a while to get the hang of the ratcheting motion, but once I did, I realized it could save wear and tear on my hand and wrist, which I appreciate. The sharpening blades turn as you sharpen, requiring only a short back-and-forth motion, so you don’t have to crank your wrist all the way around and continually regrip the pencil.
The “notification” feature – a button that pops out when the pencil is fully sharpened – doesn’t seem to work consistently. However, I get a nice sharp point on my standard-diameter pencils, both colored and graphite. Unfortunately, neither of my two thick pencils – the round-barreled Derwents and the semi-hexagonal Caran d’Aches – would fit. To be fair, the Ratchetta’s description says nothing about accommodating fat pencils, but I guess I got so excited about the design that I forgot about my objective.
Kutsuwa Stad T’Gaal
This one gets the prize for the most puzzling name. And once again I’m guilty of getting so excited about the design that I didn’t read the description carefully. When I saw the dial that enables choosing among five settings, I must have jumped to the conclusion that the settings were related to pencil diameter. (I think I was imagining the wall-mounted classroom sharpeners of my youth that had a variety of hole sizes on the dial.)
Reading the instructions that came with the Stad T’Gaal (and by “reading,” I mean looking at the diagrams, since I can’t actually read Japanese), I quickly realized that, in fact, the settings numbered 1 – 5 are not about pencil girth at all but instead enable you to choose the length of the sharpened core. Setting 1 results in the shallowest cone; setting 5 the steepest.
Chagrined at my misinterpretation, I was nonetheless rewarded – both the Derwent and Caran d’Ache pencils fit! Well, perhaps “fit” is too charitable. It’s more like I am able to maneuver them in with some effort, like squeezing into jeans from a few years ago. And like those jeans, there is an unseemly consequence: the mouth of the sharpener takes some of the finish off those thicker pencils. Nonetheless, the Stad T’Gaal does a clean job of sharpening them at various core lengths. Standard-size pencils come out beautifully, too. The steepest No. 5 setting is probably not long enough to satisfy fans of “long point” graphite sharpeners, but it exposes an impressive length on my thick-core Derwents. Bonus points for coming in several fun colors.
Kum No. 410 Magnesium 2 Hole
This no-frills sharpener is the least appealing of the four I tried because it doesn’t contain the shavings. Away from home, I must remember to catch the shavings in a tissue until I’m near a trash can, which isn’t a huge deal, but is still something to think about.
Equipped with two holes, the smaller is intended for standard-diameter pencils, and the larger accommodates pencil barrels up to 10.5mm. Paradoxically, neither of my thick pencils sharpens well in the larger hole – the blade doesn’t seem to make contact evenly – but using the counter-intuitive smaller hole, both the Derwent and the Caran d’Ache are sharpened satisfactorily. It exposes a decent length of core without coming to a deadly point (which some graphite writers covet but isn’t really necessary for colored pencils). The mechanism is not what I would call stellar, as I have to exert extra effort or pressure to get the job done, and it doesn’t feel secure.
As I was sharpening with the smaller hole, the sensation and result gave me déjà vu, and then I realized that the Kum No. 410 is probably identical to the inner workings of the dome-covered Kum 301.08.21, which is my current sharpener of choice that I was hoping to improve on. (Of the two, I like the domed one better, since it contains my shavings.)
Kum Special Diameter Pencil Sharpener for Triangular & Hexagonal Body Pencils
I had the highest hopes for this Kum because its name indicates that it’s intended for pencils of special diameter. Surely my difficult-to-accommodate Derwent and Caran d’Ache qualify as “special”! Like the Kum No. 410, this one offers two holes that look suspiciously similar to the ones in the 410. (Don’t tell me I’m having yet another case of déjà vu!) But in fact, they are not identical because neither hole accommodates the Caran d’Ache. The smaller of the two holes does sharpen the Derwent adequately.
Incidentally, although I don’t use them much, I was curious whether a couple of Koh-i-Noor jumbo triangular pencils – a Triograph and a Magic – would fit. Nope.
Since it’s the first portable sharpener I’ve found that can accommodate all the pencils I typically use and also sharpens beautifully, the Kutsuwa Stad T’Gaalis a versatile keeper in my bag. If only its mouth were just a tiny bit wider, it wouldn’t scrape the lovely matte-finish lacquer on my pricey Caran D’Ache Museum pencils. The grail search continues.
Of course, this means that I will be in Atlanta for the Atlanta Pen Show in April. I will be helping out at the Vanness Pens table for most of the weekend this year but can be found behind a mic for the Pen Addict Live event and at the bar in the evenings. Or at the Waffle House. I will need my sustenance!
Before Atlanta however, The Well-Appointed Desk and Skylab Letterpress will make its pen show debut at the Arkansas Pen Show on Friday, March 17th – Sunday, March 19th at The Crowne Plaza in Little Rock. We will be selling some vintage office supplies including a selection from my typewriter archives, some fine stationery products from Skylab like notecards and assorted paper goods. I’ll also have an array of rubber stamps for those interested.
And… we’ll be debuting a brand new product from The Well-Appointed Desk and Skylab Letterpress! We’ve been working on this for several months and a few people in the community have been privy to details about the project but it will be unveiled at the Arkansas Pen Show just a few weeks away! After the release, I will make it available online.
So stay tuned and I hope to see folks at the upcoming shows!
Future show plans include Chicago, DC, San Francisco and Dallas this year. I’m hoping to be helping out with Vanness at most of these shows this year but I’ll keep you all posted as things develop. Let the pen show season begin!
The Monteverde Intima Set is still available at a great price if you want to grab one for yourself or your sweetie! Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone and Kelly Anne, give BB and Buck and extra scratch on the chin for me.
I’d been looking for a solution to getting to the bottom of those many bottles of Robert Oster Signature inks I’ve been acquiring lately. I’d considered purchasing some empty bottles from Vanness as one option but that’s a lot of bottles and I might do that for a few of my favorites like the Fire & Ice which I seem to be using on a regular basis. But I do like how compact the Oster bottles are to store so for most of the bottles, I think I will probably leave them as they are because I had the idea to try out the Ink Miser Inkwells. I thought maybe the intra-bottle inkwell ($5) might work but as you can see from the photo below, the intra-bottle design is too wide to fit into the Oster bottles. The standard Ink Miser freestanding design ($6) works just fine though.
I decant a bit of the ink from the Oster bottle into the Ink Miser and fill a pen, then return the remainder back into the bottle and rinse the Ink Miser clean. Easy peasy.
I do have some Noodler’s Ink bottles in which I can use the intra-bottle Ink Miser so it won’t go to waste.
DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by JetPens for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.
Over the holidays, my husband and I finally decided to overhaul our communal workspace using the Ikea Kallax worktable hack I posted about a few months ago. The room is a medium-sized, guest bedroom that is used as an office/studio/catch-all in our small 2-bedroom house. We replaced a small wall shelf with the largest Kallax wall unit book shelf with a row of cupboard and a row of drawer units in an effort to try to clear away a bunch of small, assorted rolling cabinets. Then we replaced a thrifted oval conference table with the Kallax worktable-on-wheels which also includes several drawer units and usable storage space underneath.
The horror was what the studio looked like before. So here it is:
I always forget what a pain it is to assemble Ikea furniture but its such a sense of accomplishment once its done. And it really is quite sturdy. The key with this Kallax shelf unit was to build it in the room. I’m not sure we could have gotten it into the room assembled as its basically 6 feet square and rigid and would not have fit around the corners of our tiny hallways. So if you are planning a similar project, plan accordingly.
We still need to get a couple good, adjustable stools to use with the table but overall the workspace looks so much better. Its brighter, more organized and so much more usable.
Assembly in progress above.
See how clean and perfectly stained the table top is? Took me less than a week to get an ink stain on it.
Bob used the instructions from the Kallax hack and mitered the trim perfectly. So professional!
No, I do not have a book problem. And those drawers are not full of pens and ink. Nope. Okay, that is a stack of typewriters.