When shopping for a new “next level” pen, there are a lot of factors to consider. Value for the price, style, brand reputation, and functionality are all important contributors to the buying process.
When I decided to pick up a new pen above my typical price range, I knew it had to be something different. Maybe a gold nib, a unique design and material, or an uncommon filling mechanism. Then came the TWSBI Vac Mini. A vacuum-filled demonstrator from a trusted brand priced very reasonably at around $60. Everything looks good on paper, but lets take a closer look at the pen.
The Vac Mini
As the name would suggest, the Vac Mini is a slightly smaller version of TWSBI’s Vac700R. The pen features a removable grip section which houses the stainless steel nib. Replacement nibs are available for around $21, and they ship as complete grip section so swapping and storage is very simple. Some forums indicate that the nib used is compatible with a Bock #5, but I have not tested that as of the time of this post.
As introductions to completely new filling mechanisms go, this is a great entry point. Just like with the Eco’s plunger-fill is clear and easy to use, the Vac Mini is very user friendly and simple to get going with minimal instructions. The “Vacuum” mechanism works similarly to the plunger-filler, but almost in reverse. While the Eco’s plunger pulls ink into the chamber, the Vac Mini’s pushes air out creating a vacuum inside the chamber. Once the piston’s gasket reaches the wider opening near the front of the pen, a channel opens up and the ink rushes in to equalize the pressure. Richard Binder does a much more thorough and scientific job of explaining it here.
Using The Pen
The fine nib on my Vac Mini writes very smooth and has a slightly lighter flow than my TWSBI Eco’s Extra Fine nib. The line put down by the fine width is comparable to Lamy’s fine, making it great for most writing styles. The pen itself is small, which isn’t surprising for something with “mini” in the title. Uncapped it measures in at 4.5 inches, which is manageable for writing in shorter sessions. Although I rarely post my pen caps when writing, the Vac Mini’s is actually designed to thread on to the back of the pen increasing the practical length to 5.7 inches. This lands it just about half an inch longer than the Lamy Safari and Twsbi Eco.
There is a trick to using the Vac Mini, though, and it takes some getting used to. When the pen is closed and the piston is in its most forward position, the feed and nib are sealed off from the ink reservoir. While there is enough ink in the feed to write for a page or two, the feed needs access to that ink to do its job. So, to ensure smooth and consistent flow, you have to unscrew the fill mechanism and draw it back (very VERY slightly) so the gasket clears the chamber and the ink flows free. If you’re paranoid about ink spills or damaging your pens like I am, this can be a little nerve-wracking while you’re getting a feel for it. But, just like writing with a nib instead of a ball point, it soon becomes second nature.
But the beauty of this pen isn’t restricted to its inner-workings. The outside of the pen, while clean and smooth in its appearance, the body and cap are faceted. This gives the pen a very comfortable and secure grip.
Clean up is a breeze as well, due in no small part to TWSBI’s design decisions. The whole pen can be taken apart and thoroughly flushed and cleaned in a matter of minutes. TWSBI even includes a small wrench tool to pull out the piston, and a bottle of silicone oil to keep is moving smoothly. TWSBI really takes the user experience seriously when it comes to packaging a final product.
Time For An Upgrade?
As I mentioned, if you’re looking to spend a little more on your next fountain pen, it’s worth-while to get something unique that stands apart from your typical cartridge/converter pens. The Vac Mini delivers that with in style and at a very reasonable price. I picked this pen up from Goulet Pens for $60, and I am very happy with my investment.
Disclaimer: The product in this review was purchased by The Poor Penman for the purpose of review and to feed the addiction. All opinions stated are those of the author.