The CONID Bulkfiller is a new take on one of the oldest filling systems ever conceived for a fountain pen. That said, how well does this pen embody its filling system, and how well does it perform as a pen?
The pen I tested is the Regular model, a full-on “demonstrator,” with clear barrel and cap. I’m not usually a fan of modern “demonstrators,” which aren’t really demonstrators in the original sense of the word, but this pen got my attention the minute I slid the aluminum military ammo-style box out of its slipcover. Inside the box, I found a clear-bodied pen whose appearance is tac-tech enough to justify the box and is also just downright attractive. And again, in quasi-military style, the pen comes with two wrenches, one of them custom made, so that you can disassemble it for repair should you be clumsy enough to break it or for filler modification (see below).
Appearance/ Finish: 6 out of 5
I know that’s mathematically impossible, but this is without question the finest fit and finish I have ever seen on a pen. This is not a Mil Spec piece of hardware, but it could be. Every part is precisely made and finished, and everything is perfectly fitted. Quite honestly, I’m not surprised at this level of quality. The pen was designed by Francis (Fountainbel) Goossens, a retired engineer who is passionate about pens and is well known in the pen community, and many of its parts are made by Werner Helsen’s Komec company, a Belgian high-precision contract manufacturer whose “Say what you do. Do what you say. Prove it.” philosophy speaks for itself.
Filling System: 4.5 out of 5
The Bulkfiller is a Post (syringe, or pull) filler. The Post filling system, patented in 1894 by the Rev. Woodruff Post, is still around in pens by other makers, but all of them suffer from a common deficiency: even with improvements like a hollow plunger and a breather tube to increase ink capacity, they still have that plunger shaft sticking out behind the barrel, hidden under a blind cap but still taking up space that could be filled with ink. To circumvent this deficiency, the Bulkfiller uses a simple concept patented in 1898 by George Means but never satisfactorily exploited until now. The plunger shaft unscrews from the plunger’s head, but instead of coming out of the pen and becoming a candidate to be lost, it slides inward into the barrel.
The pen is built with a double-reservoir system. With the filler knob screwed down, a relatively small amount of ink, about as much as the capacity of a short International cartridge, is held in the primary reservoir. When that runs dry, you unscrew the knob about a turn and a half to permit ink to flow forward from the much larger secondary reservoir. (Using the supplied wrench, you can remove the punger from the barrel and take off the small O-ring that seals between the two reservoirs, changing the pen into one with a single reservoir.) The idea behind this design seems good, but in practice it limits the pen’s ultimate ink capacity because the plunger head cannot come forward into the primary reservoir. This means that the primary reservoir holds an air pocket that cannot be ejected from the pen, and that’s how much capacity the pen loses.
The Bulkfiller solves a problem inherent to every piston-or syringe-filling pen ever made: stiction. When the plunger in one of these pens is allowed to sit for a period of days or weeks, the fluid that lubricates its travel is gradually forced out from between the plunger seal and the barrel, and the plunger head doesn’t want to move. In the Bulkfiller, after you’ve screwed the plunger shaft into the plunger head, you turn about another half turn, and a cam forces the plunger head away from the back of the barrel, releasing the stiction. From then on, the plunger operates as smoothly as you could ask.
Because of the filler’s unusual design, I recommend strongly that the purchaser read the instructions completely BEFORE attempting to operate the filler for the first time.
Design/Size/Weight: 4.5 out of 5
The barrel and cap are cylindrical, with no taper at any point. The filler is actuated by a metal knob that has two O-rings set into it to provide a good grip and also to conceal the small hex-keyed set screw that secures the knob to the plunger shaft. The barrel is stepped down 1.095″ (28 mm) from the distal end of the pen, and the cap posts onto this area. The cap’s inner diameter is such that it contacts the O-rings, and as it slips down onto the barrel the O-rings provide a posting fit that is smooth, positive, and very impressive. You cannot post the cap at a rakish angle, and there will be no split cap lips.
In my opinion, an inner cap is essential to keep a fountain pen from drying out. With more and more pen makers omitting the inner cap and relying on a jam fit at the cap threads, I was pleased to see that the Bulkfiller’s cap includes an integrally machined inner cap.
With the exception of the nib, the plunger shaft, and the screw that secures the plunger knob, every metal part of the pen I tested is made of titanium, even the washer-style clip, which must have been machined out of a solid piece. (You can’t bend titanium at that tight a radius.) This is a no-cost-spared way to make a pen, but it’s not just for show. It has created an incredibly sturdy and aesthetically pleasing writing instrument. Here are the Bulkfiller’s vital statistics:
|Length capped: 5.387″ (13.68 cm)|
|Length uncapped: 5.159″ (13.10 cm)|
|Length posted: 6.523″ (16.57 cm)|
|Barrel diameter: 0.518″ (13.16 mm)|
|Dry Weight: 1.044 oz (29.6 g)|
|Measured ink capacity: 2.0 ml|
Nib Design and Performance: 4 out of 5
My test pen arrived with a single-tone 14K gold fine nib bearing a simple but attractive CONID imprint. The tip is noticeably smaller than the tips of many modern fine nibs; it’s closer to the size of a typical vintage fine nib. I like this. The nib was also perfectly aligned — but it was set the way almost all modern nibs are, i.e., with the tine tips pressed together. As I expected, the pen wrote very dryly, with a significant amount of feedback. I adjusted the flow and smoothed the nib, and the pen writes beautifully.
How does the pen handle? Unposted, it’s balanced very well, and it’s nimble and comfortable to use. The barrel threads are a bit farther back than is usual, and this I like because there’s less chance of their interfering with the fingers. Posted, I found the pen a little back-end heavy; but I think that people who post their pens and are used to pens with a little extra weight in the cap will have no trouble with the Bulkfiller. All in all, it offers a truly pleasant writing experience.
Cost: 4.5 out of 5
The Regular Bulkfiller that I tested is priced at € 388 ($422.87). Four other models span the range from the black Delrin Minimalistica at € 292 ($318.24) to the black ebonite Kingsize at € 588 ($640.84). (Dollar prices are given at the exchange rate of $1.09: €1.00, current as of the date this review was written.)
Bulkfillers are definitely not bargain-priced writing instruments. They are more highly engineered than other pens, and their manufacture involves expensive techniques for working exotic space-age materials. The time and effort and cost that go into them come back out in the form of superlative writing instruments. If you want the best and are willing to spend for it, these are pens you should consider seriously.