I was recently contacted by Bart Creasman of Baltz Fine Writing Instruments about their line of hand-turned, luxury pens. He and his business partner, Cass Baltz, have been fans of the site here and even drew inspiration from the ‘pocket dump’ layout to style their product pages. Bart graciously offered to send me one of their pens to try out and review for you guys. I’ll be giving my thoughts and impressions on one of their base models, the Exemplar ‘Holden.’
I know a hand-turned, wooden luxury pen might be a bit of a departure from all the rugged aluminum or titanium pens you might expect to see on this site. However, representation in the community outside of tactical/survivalist circles, especially amongst urban EDCers and the style-conscious, continues to grow. I would imagine that regardless of what end of the EDC spectrum they identify with, an EDCer would appreciate a quality, hand-crafted, fundamentally practical piece of gear. I intend to review the pen not only in its design and performance in writing, but also on its ability to be carried.
Baltz’s vision when making these pens was to design something that stood apart from the homogenous offerings from his wooden pen competitors. This inspiration reflects in their slogan: “Make a statement without writing a word.” My initial impression of this pen is that it definitely succeeds in that regard. The ‘Holden’ model boasts an African Blackwood and Redheart body, with all stainless-steel hardware. The fit and finish is superb and the attention to detail is impressive. Both the inlay and the interface between each species of wood is flawless, and the barrel is uniformly shaped and comfortably smooth in finish. The tailcap has slight grooves to aid in grip when turning, all while preserving that sleek aesthetic. A distinct curve in its robust, casted clip and an engraved “B” at the pen’s tip finish off the pen without overdoing it.
The overall writing experience with the pen does feel luxurious and enjoyable, and I would attribute that largely to the feeling of heft and substance to the pen. A combination of the SCHMIDT EasyFlow 9000 rollerball insert and a weight of 1.48 oz (42 g) makes writing fairly effortless. It writes smoothly without the extra pressure sometimes needed with ballpoint pens, reducing the strain on the wrist and fingers. It doesn’t flow as freely as say, a fountain pen, but overall, writing is consistently smooth, easy and comfortable. I think the super smooth finish of the pen also adds to this comfort. While those accustomed to a grippier barrel might find something left to be desired with the Holden, I think the weight also comes in to help prevent slippage.
So far, I’ve been very impressed with the Holden’s aesthetic appeal and writing performance. However, I’ve noticed that some of these attractive design features ultimately hamper the pen’s usability, and the pen is less impressive when it’s not being used to write with. For example, the signature Baltz curved pocket clip is robust and clamps tightly — but so much so that I have trouble clipping it to my pants pocket or shirt lapel without using two hands. Similarly, I find retracting or advancing the tip using the twisty tailcap is much easier using both hands (although it is possible to invert the pen and activate it with one hand and more effort). While the amount of rotation needed to advance or retract the tip makes activation more difficult, it does dispel concerns of accidental pocket activation. This is because the tailcap has no true ‘lockout’ position, as the tip is retracted when the cap is twisted in between two ‘on’ positions. I am not sure if it’s because of the lack of a true lockout, but with the tip retracted, I can hear a minor rattle/shake in the pen as I walk, presumably caused by the spring. The tailcap also does protrude a bit when clipped, so the pen does not ride deep and concealed. However, this is an attractive luxury pen and not a potential self-defense item, so concealment isn’t too relevant. Lastly, the heft and weight makes the pen noticeable in the pocket, but its smooth finish lets it play nicely with whatever else might be sharing pocket space.
Despite these faults, I think the pen is still worth considering for the serious writer or pen enthusiast. The pen’s writing experience far outshines its use as a quick, easily retrievable EDC pen to sign or jot notes really quickly — so keep its purpose in mind. Overall, I still reach for this pen first when I’m at my desk, but as it grows on me it sneaks into the EDC rotation once in a while. The guys at Baltz have come a long way from their original Kickstarter campaign, and once said they needed to build their credibility first. After using their base model pen I’m convinced they’re the real deal.
See for yourself: