Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pilot Workhorse

The day I picked up from Moriyama-san at Fullhalter the new Pilot Custom 823 fountain pen is a day I still remember. Something of a surprise to get the call saying the pen was ready a good three weeks ahead of the promised date. It was July 17, 2006 and according to my summer schedule, perfect timing. It’s usual to expect a six-week waiting period when ordering a customized fountain pen at Fullhalter, the tiny pen shop owned by Nobuhiko Moriyama in the Oimachi neighborhood of Tokyo, and I was not expecting the pen to be ready before my departure for the US three weeks later. In the shop Moriyama-san filled the pen with a bottle of ink I had brought along, carefully explaining the plunger-vacuum filling system.

From an old journal, my first scribbles with the new pen…

‘Restaurant in Oimachi called Sun Room with Kumiko after picking up the Pilot Custom 823. First time to write with the pen—ink is Montblanc Black, a bottle bought in 1985. Moriyama-san, who worked for Montblanc almost thirty years, says the ink is even better today than at the time I bought it. Black ink in a pen ordered primarily for that color and the old Montblanc ink is a happy surprise, a sumi-like shade of black that strikes the perfect chord. Always thrilled with a new pen from Moriyama-san, this one no different. As smooth as cream, nib a perfect width, the weight and size in my hand comfortable…’

That pen is today still one of my favorites. During five years of regular use it has never failed to satisfy in the same way it did that first time back in 2006. Most would not call it inexpensive, but Pilot’s fine engineering and classic design of the Custom 823 are worth the higher price. It is nothing less than a rock solid writing instrument. My original idea of using the pen for only black ink wore off in time and these days it sees a wide range of inks from half a dozen makers.

Pilot makes the Custom 823 in three choices: clear, amber-brown and black. The barrel of the black model is smoky and like the other two shows the amount of ink in the pen. The black one caught my attention from the beginning. As with most of my pens, I ordered a medium nib, but had it customized by Moriyama-san to suit the line and flow I prefer. The 14k gold nib is the largest one made by Pilot, the No. 15. There is sometimes fear that a fountain pen will leak during airplane flights, but that will never happen with Pilot’s engineering of this pen. Tightening the barrel end cap seals off the ink chamber from the nib, cutting off the ink supply and preventing the possibility of leaks. When ready to write, twist the end cap a turn or two and ink is released into the nib.

Nothing too modern or avant garde about the shape of the 823. It is the classic cigar shape with a gold pocket clip. This ball clip seems a little tight, but for those who don’t often put a pen in their shirt pocket this feature is of little concern. There is a broad gold band at the bottom of the cap engraved with ✭✭✭ PILOT MADE IN JAPAN ✭✭✭ CUSTOM 823. Not anything that could be described as unusually large, neither is it a small pen. It measures 5 and 7/8 inches long capped, 5 and 1/8 inches without the cap, and 6 and 3/8 inches posted; the diameter measures a half inch.

The pen’s plunger-vacuum system for filling uses a washer mounted on a thin rod to create a vacuum in the barrel. Releasing the vacuum fills the barrel with ink. Unscrew the barrel end cap and pull out the plunger; put the nib into the ink then push the plunger back in. Wait about ten seconds and then lift the nib from the ink. The 823 will hold 1.5ml of ink. That’s a lot of ink.

Few will find anything to complain about in the smooth ink flow from this pen. Neither will skips ever be a problem as long as there is ink in the pen and the barrel end cap is open a turn or more. For a year or so I used only black ink in the pen but have since filled it with an assortment of inks and colors from J Herbin, Iroshizuku, Montblanc and De Atramentis, getting superior results with each. The only ink that proved troublesome was the Sailor Kiwaguro carbon ink, but this is a risky ink in any pen because of the carbon nanoparticles and surfactants in the ink.

Because of its reliability the Custom 823 is what might be dubbed the workhorse fountain pen, one that will always put the words on paper in a smooth trouble-free flow of ink, day after day, year after year.


  1. As usual with your pen reviews, this one also made me want one. Even Googled it and read another (older) review about it:

    Who knew my introduction to my Lamy canary yellow pen would ignite my collecting yearnings in a different direction than books?

  2. I have been looking for the Masters of the Fountain Pen video series. It seems to have disappeared. I loved the one by Nobuhiko Moriyama. Is he still around?


About Me

My photo
Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America