Review: Faber-Castell Ondoro Black Graphite

First impressions: this is an odd, contradictory pen and I’m not sure I like it.

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Handsome brute, isn’t it?

The Ondoro is incredibly distinctive, and that’s what attracted me to it. In a sea of cigar-shaped pens, it has a massive, hexagonal, shiny chrome cap, and a pretty massive, hexagonal matte black barrel. If you like that sort of thing, the Ondoro is very attractive. With the cap off, there’s a clean transition to a concave, circular section — it’s all well finished. The other end of the barrel, and the end of the cap, each have a neat dome.

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Shiny cap with neat logo — and off-centre clip.

The matte texture of the barrel feels warm and non-slip. The pen is light and well-balanced, while the cap is nice and heavy. This is not a pen for posting. The packaging is pretty good, and it ships with converter installed (and a single blue cartridge in the box too).

The nib is excellent. A little bit of feedback, but generally a smooth writer and a true medium. It ran neither wet nor dry with KWZ Azure #5, which means it’s probably a touch on the dry side with a normal ink. There’s no breather hole, just a pretty dot pattern across the face of the nib.

So that’s the good. Plenty of it.

But there are some (literally) agonising problems. For a start, the round part of the section is super short — probably to make sure it’s fully hidden by the cap. If you don’t naturally grip right down by the nib, you’ll be in pain in minutes, as one of the hex corners digs into your finger. I use a light grip, and even so it was uncomfortable. Because the nib is quite short too, your fingers are forced very close to the paper. This feels unnatural for me and encouraged me to hold the pen more vertical than I’d like.

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Brass threads, converter — but look how short that section is! And the clip ring to collect ink…

If you’re a neat freak — and this pen, with its perfect straight lines, will attract them — watch out. For a start, the nib is not aligned to the faces or corners of the hexagon at all. Nor is the clip on the cap straight. And the cap picks up fingerprints like a CSI agent on amphetamines.

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Yep, the nib isn’t in line with anything. On a pen that’s dominated by straight lines. Pretty nib though.

Ah, the cap. It looks like highly polished metal, but underneath it’s plastic. It’s not as heavy as its size would suggest (although it is still heavy). The cap clicks on, and not particularly well. It’s stiff both on and off, and of course you have to align the two hexagons just so. I worry that in regular use I’ll scratch up the section. The cap is actually engaged by a black plastic ring at the base of the nib. Unfortunately this is not only visually out of place on an otherwise stark-looking design, it also collects ink if you fill the pen with the converter installed.

On balance, the Ondoro is a weirdly compromised design. There’s plenty of quality and attention to detail: the logo is neatly imprinted in the end of the cap, perfectly aligned. The plastic barrel is fitted with brass threads, which mate neatly to those on the section. And, like I said, the nib really is very nicely finished. Yet the cap feels cheap and not enough attention has been paid to ergonomics.

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Lots to like. Annoying flaws.

I’ve seen some colours of the Ondoro listed for £100, and although I haven’t seen the wooden finishes around for a while, they’d be more expensive still. At that price, I think it’s very poor value, compared to pens like the Lamy 2000, which give you a piston filler, a gold nib and a design that has just as much quality and distinctiveness with twice the comfort. I paid less than £50 for my Ondoro, and I’m still not convinced — for that price, why not get a Kaweco Al Sport (if you like regular polygons!) or a Platinum 3776? Or a TWSBI, or one of F-C’s e-motion pens (which on reflection seem more comfortable)?

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The Kaweco Al Sport is cheaper — and it’s metal through and through.

I still think the design has real impact and something unique to offer. If you agree, and if you naturally grip your pens low to the nib, you might just love the Ondoro. But I think I’ll take a bit of convincing.

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One thought on “Review: Faber-Castell Ondoro Black Graphite

  1. Pingback: Thinning the herd (in other words, FOR SALE) | UK fountain pens

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