Pen Review: The TWSBI Vac 700

Well, it seems like it has taken forever, but the day has finally come.  Yes folks, we’re talking about the release of the TWSBI Vac 700, the very same pen that has been talked about since late 2010 in some circles.  Today the pen arrives and we are presented with three choices, Amber, Sapphire, or Smoke in XF, F, M, or B nibs.  Clear and other nibs and bottles are on their way in the near future.

I must admit, I’m in the same boat as many of you.  I’ve wanted this pen for quite some time and so much so that I can’t believe I’m not playing with it right now instead of blogging about it.  But here it is, sitting in my hands, ready to go.  Last time I chose the Sapphire in the Diamond 540, and after much debate, decided to match the 540 and went with sapphire for the 700.  I’ve opted for the Medium nib again this time as it most suits my general writing habits.

TWSBI Vac 700 Sapphire

TWSBI Vac 700 Sapphire Showing Back of Cap

The first thing we notice about the TWSBI Vac 700 is that unlike its 540 counterpart, the cap and plunger knob are faceted and the barrel is smooth.  The barrel also has a taper to it moving towards the filler knob.  Another departure from the 540 is the addition of a frosted clip.  While at first I wasn’t terribly keen on this, since every other piece of metal on the pen is shiny metal, I’ve grown to like it.  When I have both a 540 and a 700 in my pocket, I can now tell which is which (Yes, yes, I know.  I should’ve gone with the Amber, which would have made it all the more easier).

TWSBI Vac 700 Sapphire

TWSBI Vac 700 Sapphire Showing Frosted Clip

Speaking of trim, we also have a metal ring on the barrel end, and a trim ring on the section by the nib.  The only reason I can think of that TWSBI would have put the trim ring on the section was because it was needed.  I’m not crazy about trim rings by the section, but I’m sure there’s a reason for it.  As for the trim ring on the barrel end, this facilitates the number 1 complaint of the 540.  THE TWSBI VAC 700 POSTS!!  That’s right, you heard it here, this pen actually was designed to post and it rests on the metal trim ring on the barrel, not on the filler knob.

One other noticeable difference is the filler knob and the section are less translucent than the cap and barrel.  Perhaps this is for enhanced rigidity as we know there were problems in the section during pre-production.

Ok, we’ve gotten past the overall look and design differences of the pen from the 540, now let’s get on with the technical marvel that is the vacuum filling system in this pen.  I have to admit, at first, I was disappointed in the capacity of this pen.  I was hoping for a one-push-down-fill-the whole-pen kind of thing, but that is not the case.  I’m sure I uttered some choice four-lettered words I hadn’t said in a while the first ten tries filling this.  Then it occurred to me, I’m doing it wrong.

I first wanted to fill with some burgundy ink, but all I had was some small samplers of Noodler’s Black Swan Australian Rose, and some Herbin.  Neither had enough in the bottle (I couldn’t actually fit the pen in the sampler bottle I had) to completely cover the nib past the section.  Let me re-state this as it is important: You must insert the nib into the ink past the section.  If you don’t it won’t fill properly.  This was a-ha moment number 1.

TWSBI Vac 700 Sapphire

TWSBI Vac 700 Sapphire Posted and the #6 Nib

Now that I had that figured out, I realized I didn’t have any open bottles of ink with enough depth to them to allow me to both properly fill the pen and to avoid frustration.  I wasn’t going to open another bottle of ink just for this event.  I sat for a minute, took a deep breath and looked around.  On my desk was the answer, the Diamond 50 ink bottle.  Yes, I know, this is for the 540, but here’s where we use that internal well.  Flip the bottle over to fill the internal well and take off the top, plenty of ink to cover the section.  Push down on the filler knob and what?  It fills only half the barrel.  Ok, I must be doing it wrong.  Try it again (and again, and again) with the same results.  Now here’s the thing, without the designed ink bottle (or adapter, not sure which one TWSBI is making) the pen will only fill about half the barrel on one stroke.  Any subsequent attempts will not fill the pen any more.  After looking online, I once again found the answer.  To fill the pen fully, you must invert the pen, expel the air and do it again.

Now in my case, this meant I had to make sure the ink well was full, so cap the bottle, invert the well, and take off the cap.  Now take the Vac, invert it, slowly pull back on the plunger knob all the way, then slowly push the air out of the pen until you see ink coming from the feed.  At this point, since there is a vacuum in the pen, you must keep pressure on the knob, invert the pen and place back into the ink and push the knob the rest of the way down.  Just for sake of completeness, I did this a third time and my barrel was completely full, although the third time did not give me much more ink for the hassle.  I expect when the specially designed bottle comes out this elaborate song and dance will no longer be necessary.

Now that we’ve filled the pen, let’s take a look at the writing characteristics.  First off, the nib is a larger #6 sized nib, as opposed to the #5 sized nib in the 540.  I don’t know why they didn’t just use the same sized nib and keep them interchangeable, but they didn’t.  Esterbrook offered different length and sizes of nibs in the same holder, so there’s no reason they couldn’t have tried to do it here.  Oh well, it is what it is, and individual nibs will be available soon.

TWSBI Vac 700 Amber

TWSBI Vac 700 Amber

After I have the pen inked up and ready to go I come to perhaps the only minor complaint on the pen.  As opposed to the 540, the 700 nibs seem to run drier, and my Medium nib writes more like a Fine nib.  Were I to do it over, I’d probably go with a Broad nib and see if that was more my style.

The pen has one more interesting feature in the ink shut off valve.  When the filler knob is screwed tight, the ink shut off valve is turned on.  That is, you can write for a couple of pages this way before you run out of ink.  For extended writing, turn the filler knob counter clockwise which backs off the plunger rod and allows ink to flow.  Note since the cap posts to the metal trim ring on the barrel, you can have the knob backed off and it does not effect the posting at all.  This ink shut off is a nice feature for those that travel as it will not give you problems during take off or landing with changes in air pressure.

Outside of the minor nib issue, I give the pen high points for style and ingenuity.  To get a modern vacuum filling pen for less than $200 is awesome, and the amount of ink held in the barrel when completely full is a sight to behold.

Brian & Lisa