It may interest you to know that I’m committed. To what you ask? Simply to the belief that a good writing experience should not be the preserve of the affluent; rather it should be available to all. It is therefore no surprise that I have a soft spot for budget fountain pens, at least that is, in principle. But what about the practice? Well actually fountain pen history has been kind to us. There are many accounts of outstanding achievements in providing pens for the masses in the past. But what about today? Well here is a review that tests the water in the bargain basement end of the fountain pen pool.
The Kaigelu 356 (K356) is a Chinese manufactured pen that is, errr how shall I say, ‘closely modelled’ on the Parker Sonnet *cough* (it happens…) It, like this brands other models, is mostly available over the internet and this one sells at between £3 and £5 and therefore exists at the extreme budget end of the buying spectrum. So the burning question is, what do you get for your money?
Description: The 356 can be found in a number of finishes. I know of at least three: a polished black model; a brushed steel lookalike; and the one I have which is a blue with a matte powder finish. Mine arrived in a nondescript plastic sleeve which is not really worth mentioning further.
The pen is all metal with a black grip section and chromed fittings. There is a chrome ring at each end of the very smooth grip which tapers toward the front before flaring out at the end. The cap too has a chrome plated ‘arrow’ style clip and a chromed centre band with the make and model etched into it. The clip is firm and the cap has a black button on the end with a Kangaroo discreetly sculpted into it ( I’m told Kaigelu means Kangaroo).
The barrel of the pen is fairly slim, as per the Sonnet and tapers nicely down toward the base which is rounded and finished with a small black button.
The nib is small but in proportion to the rest of the pen. It is branded with the Kaigelu name and the ubiquitous kangaroo but lacks a size marking. I believe that the pen only comes in a medium.
Overall I would have to say that in terms of its looks it belies its meagre price point. Sure it wont win any awards but is finished fairly well for the price. I’ve seen a lot worse.
Dimensions: The K356 fountain pen weighs in at a respectable 25g empty. It is 136mm long capped. When uncapped the pen is 120 mm long and when posted it is 150mm long.
On Test: When dealing with cheaper pen it is always worth tempering your expectations somewhat; mind you, that’s sometimes also true when you’re dealing with an expensive pen too. Let’s deal with the positives first. The first thing is that the pen writes (no small matter for a pen). It is also fairly comfortable in hand and is surprisingly well-balanced. The finish of the pen is nice enough and though it wouldn’t pass for a really expensive pen it would not look out-of-place among other journeyman pens. Thankfully the nib and feed function effectively, combining to deliver what I deem as a thicker than normal, juicy medium line without much problem. On the pen I have the nib is fairly smooth without being in any way exceptional. In longer writing sessions I find I need a stouter pen so I did tire of using this pen after a while.
Now for the negatives. First up, the converter supplied with the pen is truly, truly cheap and horrible; in fact it’s worth either destroying out of hand or sending as a present to someone you know who likes pens whom you truly despise, it’s that bad. Please don’t send me any ;).
I found the grip section tended to be too slick for my taste with the pen slipping somewhat between my fingers after writing for a while.
I also found that the nib, while writing eagerly enough, lacks a certain refinement that for me is the essence of writing with a fountain pen. In fact if I had a criticism of this pen overall it would be that it lacks its own soul or personality. It does what the maker set out for it, in that it resembles another pen, but it doesn’t really carve out a niche for itself in any meaningful way.
Summary: In the end you have to ask yourself what you want from a budget pen like this. It certainly exceeds its price point. It writes well enough and looks fairly good. I was and still am pleasantly surprised without being overwhelmed.
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