Hi there! I have a treat for you today. If you want the performance of a high dollar Mont Blanc rollerball without spending the $250 entry price, this is a cheap way to get an awesome writing tool.
So here’s the deal. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now. I finished the block edit on the monster book early, and I had some time and a little spare change. I decided that today was the day I’d get my $5 Montblanc rollerball. Unfortunately, it ended up costing a bit more, because I had to buy multi-packs and also, the refills cost a bit more than I anticipated. Still, the whole setup with enough to make two really nice (yet cheap looking) pens for just over $20 with tax. Not bad considering the entry-level price for the pens that normally take these refills is about $250. That’s for one pen.
I’m not a huge fan of rollerballs to begin with, because I like my fountain pens, but I always feel awkward when someone asks if they can borrow a pen. I don’t want them damaging my pricey writing utensils, or getting their non-writer bad juju all over them. I use those pens every day, and they are like trusted friends. But back on track.
So basically, the refills run 7-10 bucks apiece and the three pack of Pilot FriXions was around five bucks. There is a very important note about this hack that you absolutely must know if you experiment with other pen bodies:
The Pen MUST Have A Cap!
Montblanc refills are meant to go on expensive, capped, writing pens. If you put them on a clicker, they are going to dry out on you. So if you want to experiment with other pen bodies, feel free, but make sure they have a sealed cap. This is pricey ink, not that oily ink substitute stuff that Bic uses. I chose the FriXions because they are capped, the refills were close in size to the Montblanc refills, and because they have that cool tribal thing on the side. Knowing nothing else about the pens, I walked out of the store, wondering if I just blew $20 on a failed experiment.
I tried a direct replacement in the car. The Montblanc refill didn’t fit because of the internal sizing, it came out around 9-10mm too long (eye ball estimation). But I noticed that the internal sizing is actually controlled by little plastic fins. Easy enough. Get back to the house and find a screwdriver.
It should be noted at this point, that I tried a couple of different things before I got all of this working, and destroyed one of the refills in the process. It still writes, just not as good as the other. I also tested the FriXions by themselves, and the writing experience was, in a word, horrid. I received some grief from my uncle about that, as for him, it worked just fine. He’s used to ballpoint junk, and I am not. Even for a $1.75, I expected a little more from Pilot. I guess that erasable ink and tribal tattoo are the spendy part of this pen, and not the nib. If you want a pen that you don’t have to mess with, get a G2 or one of those new soft tip things. If you want erasable ink and you don’t mind it writing like a Bic, then I guess these are okay.
Moving on. The size of screwdriver ended up being a fickle matter with this. The idea is to jab the screwdriver in enough to engage the fins in the pen, then twist to break them. This requires a little finesse, so work slowly, and ensure that you are removing only a little material at a time. Work on the section first (the part the pen point pokes through) until the tip of the Montblanc goes through about the same distance as the stock refill. Then work on the other side until you remove enough to hold the refill securely, but you are still able to screw the pen all the way together. You don’t want extra ventilation, because it will dry out your ink. I used a rather large, blunted, Phillips head screw driver (the one that looks like a plus sign) for good results. Smaller screwdrivers caused me problems. I would say go as big as you can without worry of it being too large for the pen body, it should have some wiggle room.
Make sure you blow out all of the broken plastic bits too. Don’t want them getting lodged in there and breaking your point. When I finished, the magic happened.
How does it write? Well, like a $250 Montblanc. This is going to be my new “sleeper” pen when I’m out and about. Plus, if someone needs to borrow a pen, it’s much less likely that they will destroy a rollerball than a fountain pen, and even if they have lead hands, I’ll only really be out the price of a refill. The writing is smooth and the lines are crisp. the above picture was a “medium,” but the line is thinner than my extra-fine-point Goulet nib on my Monteverde, but that pen does have a juicy feed. Still, fine is going to be really, really fine lines. Medium is about the same line size as a Bic Round-Stick. If I were to do this again, I’d probably go with a bold point. But then, I’m not squishing numbers into tiny squares, I’m usually scribbling prose. Your mileage may vary.
There’s one more adjustment that needs to be made. This might just be on American pens, but since these are manufactured in Japan, they are probably all like this. Modern pen caps have a “safety feature” to reduce the possible choking hazard. There are actually small holes at the top of the cap, which you will want to fill in to keep you ink from drying out. I made a puddle of super glue, dipped the cap, and cleaned the excess, which worked nicely. The groove in the top works well to attract liquid fillers. This isn’t specific to this Pilot, you will find the “feature” on most inexpensive pens, and even pricey ones will have a two-stage cap so that air can pass when it isn’t clipped on the pen.
Now, note. When I’m talking smooth here, this pen is on a level with gel pens and other rollerballs. It’s still not a fountain pen, and my tuned nibs are still much slicker writers than this guy, but overall, I can write with this pen without being annoyed, and that’s a plus for any pen. The stock FriXion, no freaking way. I have one left. If you see me and you want it, you can have it. I might just go buy some more refills and turn them all into Montblanc sleepers, I’m not sure yet. Like I said, if you want a smooth writing experience, FriXion would not be my first choice, but they work well for this hack, and they have another added bonus. The pen body is semi-transparent, so if you look at it real close, you can read the Montblanc logo on the cartridge inside 😉
So there you go. I tried this project out and got lucky on my first try. I am considering getting some lead paper to jam into the section and body of the pen, to add a little weight, but that’s another project for another time. Hope you enjoyed this. It would probably work well with parker refills also, if you want something even more affordable. Now you can write on napkins without tearing them up. You’re welcome.
Keep writing, keep playing, and if you followed this hack, enjoy your $10 Montblanc ink pen 🙂 What’s your favorite cheap pen? (I guess I’ll set a maximum price of $20, though feel free to drop in any category you want) Would you like to see more pen and ink articles infecting my blog?