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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Pen Review - Noodlers Ahab Flex Pen

Today's review will focus on the extremely popular and relatively new Noodlers Ahab Flex Pen.

Marketed as one of the few modern flex pens in existence, and purchasable for under $25.00, the Ahab Flex Pen is has been the subject of much talk in the world of FP's over the last few months.

Stay tuned for the review folks, it's going to be a long one. ;)


I will give the Ahab a solid 75/100, which I consider very good for pen only costing $20.00.

Body Material: Transparent blue plastic resin (many other colors available)
Price: $20.00 give or take depending on the retailer
Nib Material: Steel
Nib Size: Flexible Fine/Medium
Cap Type: Screw-cap, postable on body
Filling Mechanism: Push-pull plunger filler/eyedropper
Overall Weight: 18g (0.63oz)
Cap Weight: 6g (0.21oz)
Body Weight: 12g (0.42oz)
Overall Length (capped): 139mm (5.47in)
Overall Length (posted): 170mm (6.7in)
Body Length: 128mm (5.04in)
Cap Length: 60mm (2.36in)
Cap Diameter (no clip): 15mm (0.59in)
Cap Diameter (with clip): 20mm (0.79in)
Body Diameter: 14mm (0.55in)
Nib Length: 20mm (0.79in)

The good:
  • Very inexpensive
  • Large pen - very thick and comfortable
  • One of the few modern flex pens available on the market today
The bad:
  • I find the shape of the grip-section a bit uncomfortable
  • the celluloid derivative it's made from is very soft. I can easily dent it with my fingernail...
The ugly:
  • Nib and feed can be so grimy from the factory, they will not work at all without severe cleaning
  • The fit and finish is less than optimal...
Overall, the Ahab Flex Pen is a great choice for those who are seeking to get started in the world of flex-pens. It offers a decent semi-flex nib, and is priced low enough to allow anyone a chance to obtain it. Your only problem with obtaining one will be finding a retailer who has them in stock! They've become immensely popular, and there are quite a few good reasons why.

Let's find out what those reasons are, with the full review:

Tyler, why was the Ahab Flex review delayed?
That's a great question, and lucky for you, I've got a good long answer. :) I you listened to my Weekend Reads Podcast, you'll have a good idea already of what this is about. 

So, my Ahab Flex review was delayed because I had a last-minute change of mind about the entire pen. I was 1" away from writing the pen off as a $20.00 loss, and essentially chucking it. Thankfully I gave it a second chance.

The reason I was going to toss it? Horrible performance. I hated the way this nib wrote. Skipped, railroaded, dry, scratchy. Ugh! Not a nib I enjoyed in any way, shape, or form. The Ahab is a cheap pen, so the nib was all I really cared about on it. Since the nib was horrible, I had no use for the pen.

Why was the nib so horrible? I didn't know at first. I had cleaned out the nib and feed with soapy water, just as recommended. I had adjusted the nib. I had done lots of different things to try and make it work. Eventually, I narrowed it down to one problem: Noodlers BayState Blue. Before you go nuts trying to defend this ink, let me assure you of something. ;)  This is not my "opinion" of BSB, this is what it actually did to my pen. Maybe I got a bad batch, who knows...

BSB  made my pen write horribly. All the above mentioned problems, and it stained my Ahab blue, well just the converter. :( It also feathered on Clairefontaine paper like it was a Moleskine or something. Went through a whole sheet, and onto the next page... *gasp!*

So, how do I know it was BSB? Because I decided to re-ink. Right before I was going to put this pen away for good, I decided it would be wise to try a more reliable ink in it. You see, I had made the foolish mistake of putting a new ink (BSB) into a new pen. Baaaaad idea on my part...

Now, with Noodlers Black inked up in my Ahab, it was like a brand new pen - and a good one too! It was smoother, had reliable flow, and was a joy to write with! I couldn't believe how big of a difference a change of inks made.

Because of this, I immediately decided to re-write my review, and that is why it was delayed till today (Sunday). :)

Now, with that aside, onto the review!

The Ahab Flex Pen has one of more unique designs I've seen this year. I'd really be wanting to call it ugly, but then, it's really not.

Most of the Ahab Flex Pens are offered in opaque colors. There are however, a few Ahabs that have recently come out in solid colors.

We'll talk more on the design of the nib later. I actually really like the way the nib looks.
Both the back of the pen, and the section, have a "stepped down" area. I do not really like this. It seems a little out of place, and I find it very uncomfortable on the grip section.

The clip... Ugh... I am not a fan of this clip at all. :)

Something about the bulbous design is very wacky, and a bit too eccentric for me. It's definitely made by Nathan Tardiff, that's for sure. :)
Another design element that I find a little bothersome, is that the dome which holds the clip on, is not ground to the same profile as the cap. There's a bulge where the two meet, instead of a smooth transition...

The Ahab most definitely wins points for being unique. I find it's design nice, and ugly at the same time. Not sure how that's possible, but it is. 

For the price, one can't expect much in the way of details. The pen falls rather short when you start to pull out a loupe, and examine the QC on it. I noticed quite a few defects in mine such as:
  • The cap band is not well set on the cap. There's a good gap around it where it should meet the cap-edge.
  • The imprints on the pen are less than perfect. They looks a bit cheaply (because they are) stamped.
  • The clip is rather cheaply folded.
Still all of this is for a reason - to keep the pen under the $25.00 mark. I really can't criticize it too much, and  I say kudos to Nathan for making the pen so affordable. The price (especially) and the design remind me of the vintage pens of "yesteryear". It's like being taken back to the good old days, when you could buy a Parker or Sheaffer for just a few dollars.

Overall, I'd score the Ahab at 15/25 for design.

For me, if this pen just had some slight design tweaks, it could make a huge difference in how it looked. This is of course, all from my perspective, and some might love the design as is. For me, I'd really dig the following changes:
  • Make that clip more "squared", like an old Esterbrook J clip! That would look great!
  • Take away those quirky "stepped" areas on the section and barrel.
  • Offer the pen in some retro coloring. :)
A few tweaks like that would make this pen a true ancestor of those "pens of old". Who knows, maybe Nathan will read this and make another version. :)

Size and weight:
The Ahab Flex pen is big, and I love it! when I saw the original Noodlers Flex pens, they looked way too small for me. Well, too thin to be specific. I'm okay with short pens, but I cannot stand thin pens!

The Aha is not a mammoth pen, but it's just right, at slightly less than the size of a TWSBI 540.

Shorter than the 540, and about as thick.

Posted, it is again, shorter than the 540, and the grip section is about the same, considering the annoying step.

It is a very comfortable size without being posted.

Posted, it is off balance for me, and not very enjoyable. If you have huge hands... Maybe you'd like it posted, I dunno. :)

The weight is light, and not very noticeable. Not too light though, which is nice, but it's definitely not heavy.

I find most pens, when posted, are just waaay too top-heavy for me. The only pens I post, are vintage pens, and a few select modern ones that are made for being posted. I find most modern pen makers simply do not make their pens "post-able", even when you "can" post them.

My one major quibble with this pen, is the way the grip section tapers, or steps down. I really don't like that! I not only find it ugly to look at, but very uncomfortable. I am totally unsure of why Nathan chose this for the design. Maybe it does something I'm unaware of? All I know, is that I find my my finger a little sore from using the pen, and it's really hard to keep them on the grip while writing. Especially for a flex pen, I think god grip is crucial. I would really like to see this grip re-designed... Maybe someday. :)

The Ahab gets a fair 19/25 in weight/size.

Overall, the pen is a good size, and it's fairly comfortable to hold and use. Fix the grip section, and I'd easily give this pen a 22/25!

The Ahab is a $20.00 pen, and thus, I do not have extremely high expectations for it. Nonetheless, I feel it performs well, and is a very functional pen on the whole.

There is little talk about here however, as this pen is very simply. No bells and whistles to function ,or fail. This is probably for the better considering the price.

One of my huge problems with this pen the material it's made from. It's a celluloid derivative, and it's very soft. I can easily dent my Ahab by just pressing my fingernail into it. Unlike modern day plastics, it does not take abuse well.  If you dropped this pen on, say gravel, it would get severely mangled. Mine already has some good dents in it, and I've barely used mine...

That aside, it seems like well built pen. Because the material is soft, I have little fear of it cracking or snapping on me. And I will say, I'll take denting any day over cracking...

The clip works well. Gets the job done, even if it's not stylish looking. :) The tension is just right for me, although it does seem a little prone to bending, since it's not very thick.

The clip is made of somewhat thin folded steel, or maybe aluminum. I honestly don't know, but it doesn't feel all to sturdy to me.

Filling system: The Ahab sports a very retro-styled plunger filler, using a push-pull piston to draw ink. This is an extremely convenient design, and works very well. I do find it hard to clean out however, due to the fact that (by design), ink is allowed into the plunger rod. This makes removing ink for flushing, a rather difficult procedure.

Still filled with the dreaded BSB here. The converter screws on, and seals very securely with a rubber gasket. I like it a lot.

The pen also be filled as an eyedropper! Just remove the covnerter, pull the gasket up to the section threads, and voila, you have a pen with a MONSTER ink capacity. It was incredible, when I re-inked this pen, to watch it gracefully drink an 1/8 bottle of Noodlers Black, without any hesitation! Just delightful. :) And I've had no problems using it as an eyedropper either.

Overall, I am apt to give the Ahab a 20/25 in functionality.

It  really has all I ask of in a FP. Good filling system - two options in fact, converter or ED. Good cap and clip, and it does post, if necessary.  There's not a lot that I would improve about this design, by way of functionality. A better clip would be nice, but for the price, who am I to complain. :)

The nib:
Well, as we all know, the nib on my Ahab has taken a radical transformation from horrible, to great! I will be only reviewing the great nib, not the nib when filled with BSB. :)

The Ahab flex pen nib is cool! I genuinely like the design of it, a lot. It is unique, looks nice, and it gets the job done.

The Ahab nib, instead of having a normal slit and breather-hole, has nothing but a huge slit all the way down through to the section. The nib is in two halfs basically, except it's connected down inside the grip of the pen.
This allows for flexing, since the nib is steel and steel does not normally flex very well.

Here's the feed. It's large, and made of ebonite. I think it's a very nice feed, and it keeps up well with the nib, now that it's inked with Noodlers Black. :)

Here's a writing sample I wrote with it. Zero to Hero describe my experience with this nib. :)
My writing with a flex nib is not so great, but even so, I can get some pretty good variation actually.

Comparing to vintage flex: Well, let's face it guys - the Ahab doesn't even come close to a vintage flex nib. It's just not there, and never will be. The art of making good flex nibs is almost gone now, and there are currently no modern pens manufactured with flex nibs like "those of old". A Waterman wet-noodle nib is like another animal compared to the Ahab. The main differences, for those who are interested:

The Ahab is very stiff, and requires a lot of pressure to flex. - Vintage flex is very soft most times, and can be super flexed with an extremely light touch.

The Ahab is what I would call a semi-flex. - Vintage full flex and super-flex nibs can easily produce 2-3 times as much variation as the Ahab.

It's steel, the Ahab nib. - Vintage flex nibs were almost always 14k gold. Gold is simply a lot more flexible than steel. :)

But overall, I find the Ahab flex nib is superb for those looking to try out flex on the cheap. A good vintage flex nib will run you about $100.00 or more in most cases, and many of us just want to try out flex. The Ahab is the perfect entry-level flex nib.

Good work Nathan on making flex available to us all!

A bit more on the nib: It only comes in one size. It's like a F/M cross. More of a fine to my eyes. My nib is very smooth with Noodlers Black, and lays down a consistent, slightly wet line, every time. It's a very enjoyable nib, flexed or not! The nib size is also very big. About Pelikan M800 size if I were to guess. Here's it compared to a TWSBI 540 nib:

The Ahab Flex Pen has a large nib!

All things considered, I think the Ahab nib deserves a good 21/25!

If you're looking to get your feet wet in the world of vintage flex, the Ahab will provide you with a solid foundation, for a bargain price. This pen was really made for the nib, and I think it's a great nib!

In conclusion here, I will say that I am really blown away with the Ahab flex pen. I initially thought I would sort of like it, and then I ended up hating it, and now I am totally loving it! Heck, I bought a second one too! :)

The Ahab Flex Pen is a bargain, and well worth your hard-earned (hopefully ;) $20.00. If you've been dying to try your hand at some flex, I encourage you to pick one up right now. They can be had from our favorite retailers for just $20.00, and you best grab one before they're out of stock again. 
That's all I have for this review! I do hope you enjoyed this, and I'd love to hear from you if you did. Please leave me a comment and give me your thoughts on the review, and the pen.
Lastly, don't forget to subscribe to the blog if you want to keep up to date with all the new reviews and blog posts here!

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