About this project
So, why do I want to make a pen?
I manufacture my own high-end LED flashlights, but I'm also a huge pen fanatic. I have bought nearly every pen I've seen in search of the ultimate writing experience. When I discovered the Montblanc Starwalker (with Fineliner cartridge) I lost interest in searching for the ultimate pen...because I thought I'd found it.
I used to think of a pen as one item, "a pen," but after looking at Montblanc prices I realized a pen was really two pieces, a cartridge ($7) and a holder ($320-$15,000). I was really in love with the cartridge, and realized wanted to make my own pen to hold it.
I love to make things. I've machined a few pens for myself over the years, but people are always trying to sneak off with them. I've always wanted to make more so that I can share the awesome...and now I'm finally getting around to it! I might even get to keep one for myself.
Choose between Nickel Plated Aluminum (left) and Pure Titanium (right)
Option 1: Electroless Nickel Plated, 6061T6 Aluminum (left)
This is the same finish I use on my custom flashlights. The only way I can describe it is lustrous! It looks awesome and feels even better in the hand. The coating is super-hard and...unlike anodize...covers every inch, inside and out. The nickel will develop a patina over time, to reflect the individual owner. It can be removed with any silver polish if you want to bring back the original shine.
- Early Bird = $65
- Second Chance = $75
- Late to the Game = $90
- FUTURE RETAIL PRICE = $130
Option 2: Commercially Pure Grade 2 (CP2) Titanium (right)
This is 99% pure elemental titanium You know, like from the periodic table. Ti is heavier than aluminum, but it's not too heavy. It's heavy like a boss. Titanium is also hypoallergenic and impervious to oxidation. I mean, it's titanium, do you really need to know more than that? Vibratory tumbling provides a satin finish.
- Early Bird = $100
- Second Chance = $120
- Late to the Game = $150
- FUTURE RETAIL PRICE = $200
Really, another pen project?
If you really love pens (and also love awesome) just take two minutes and keep reading. I'll appreciate it, and I'm sure you will too. You might find my approach is a little different than what you've seen before:
Designed from the ground up to complement only the Montblanc Fineliner cartridge (epic) or the Montblanc Rollerball cartridge (great). This means no extra parts to lose, no fiddly springs, a thread-in cartridge, and a body that fits the cartridge like a German car door.
Made right here in California, by me. I like to support people that take pride in their work, people who do a job the right way because that's the only way it should be done. When you back an Alpha Pen it makes a real difference to me and the vendors I use. It pays the power bill, puts food on the table, and keeps us looking forward to the day's work.
Precision that's not marketing hype. I don't deal in hype. I machine precision parts for a living and you can (and should) expect world-class craftsmanship. If you are buying a pen that is machined, you are going to feel the difference when it's designed and manufactured by a machinist!
I know it's not cheap to back this pen...and that's because you get what you pay for...just like your dad told you. It represents the real cost of manufacturing quality goods, in small volume, right here in the USA. The Alpha won't be for everyone, but if you know quality and demand the best (right down to the screws) you're my backer!
I have spent most of my career as product designer and eventually got tired of carpal tunnel from sitting in front of the computer. I set out to learn how to make the things I was designing and wound up in trade school for machining and welding. I've worked as the lead fabricator at a Hollywood special effects house and ran my own prototype and custom fabrication shop. After years of making other people's ideas real, I decided to put everything on the line and actually start manufacturing my own products.
For the last couple of years I've been designing and manufacturing the world's finest LED flashlights in my own shop here in Mountain View, CA. I love to take an idea, apply it to some raw material, and create something that looks amazing and functions even better. I love technology, I love old school, and I also love putting them together. Feel free to check out my work at www.darksucks.com
Why the 3-piece design?
Because the 3-piece executive is a classic. Because I love the ceremony of the screw cap. Because they just feel like a pen should. No gimmicks, no tricks, just simple and purposeful. It's like drawing a sword, and you know what they say about pens and swords.
For me, the writing experience is about feel. The feel of the pen in hand and the stroke on paper. Period. I love the way a Montblanc writes (I do actually have one) but I don't carry it around because I like to fly under the radar. So, it sits in a pouch on my desk, which is sad. I like to own things that I actually use, otherwise why own them?
Why the Montblanc Fineliner Cartridge?
Writing with a Montblanc Fineliner...it's like the Matrix, it cannot be explained, it must be experienced. However, Montblanc's entry level pen is $325 and goes up to $15,000. That brand premium is so high most people have never had the opportunity to try one. I want to share the Montblanc experience.
The Fineliner cartridge ($7) sports a fiber tip, but it's very firm and doesn't break down over time like a marker. The fiber tip allows differing pressure and angle to vary the stroke weight. It writes a lot like a fountain pen, but without all the hassle. It's phenomenally smooth. I make a lot of people try my pen, just to see their reaction, and people are blown away. When's the last time you were blown away by a pen?
The Montblanc Rollerball (if ball-point is how you roll) is the exact same price and size as the Fineliner so you can choose that if you like. It's a great cartridge too, but it won't freak your mind.
I'm a lefty, how fast does the Fineliner ink dry?
The Fineliner dries wicked fast...depending on the paper of course. On "normal" paper (printer, notebook, etc.) it dries as fast as a Sharpie. I've received the "thumbs up of approval" from several southpaw testers. If you are trying to write on something glossy, it will smear, just like most other pens. Can't have it all right?
Can the Alpha accept other cartridges like the Hi-Tec C or Fisher Space Pen?
Absolutely not. Versatility equals compromise. Like a Swiss Army Knife, "it's good for some and great for none," as a friend once said. You might need to read that again if you didn't get it the first time :) I think it's hilarious...and completely spot on.
The Alpha experience is the expression of a single purpose: be the best. This means the Alpha won't be the pen for everyone, but I'm okay with that.
Is a Montblanc cartridge included with the pen?
Cartridges are not currently included as part of the reward. I'd like to provide cartridges, but at this time, I don't have a source to purchase them wholesale. That's okay though, because you can get them all over the internet. I'm going to keep looking for a supplier, because I think it's annoying when "the batteries aren't included." If I find a wholesaler after the campaign launches, you'll be able to get a cartridge by modifying your initial pledge.
What are the weight and dimensions of the Alpha pen?
What is Your Production Plan?
As with my custom flashlights, I have only one standard for quality, the highest, and that's what my work is known for.
The bodies will be machined in my own shop, by me, right here in Mountain View, CA. There is a time and place for foreign manufacturing, but this isn't one of those times. The Alpha will be machined from solid bar stock and is one of the things that makes it more expensive. No flimsy tubing, no "mass production" techniques to reduce cost.
How serious am I?
I've already made a down payment on a new CNC lathe (Computer Numeric Control). Help me make sure that's a good decision and back my project! :) Why invest in a lathe instead of "shopping it out" to a CNC shop? Because I believe there is value in me making things for you, not just acting as a middle man and collecting a check.
I'm just a one-man shop so I can't actually manufacture everything. The pocket clips will be cut at a local waterjet shop from domestic 6Al4V titanium alloy and formed by the vendor that makes all of my flashlight pocket clips. Working with local vendors also means I can keep on top of the manufacturing and minimize delays and errors.
What is Your Delivery Schedule?
Buying a lathe means delivery will take a little bit longer because it takes about 8 weeks for them to make a machine, just for me. Don't worry though, as an experienced CNC machinist, it won't take me long to start cutting parts.
Once the campaign is funded and the lathe is on my shop floor, my estimate is 8-12 weeks to get the CNC programming dialed in, clips manufactured, pens machined, finished, assembled, packaged, and then shipped out.
You can expect regular progress reports and transparency regarding any problems or delays. I know problems happen. I know you know it, so I'm not going to try and pretend otherwise.
What is the Status of Engineering and Design?
-- Finalized -- I've made a few pens over the years. When I got a Kickstarter project in my head I started making prototypes to refine the engineering and design. I've considered everything from diameter, to weight and balance, to how many turns the cap takes to remove.
As the campaign progresses, I'll be transferring the measurements from my prototypes into technical drawings used for programming the CNC control. This might involve some minor tweaks for performance and manufacturability, but what you see here is 99% what you should expect to receive. At this point I'm ready to start manufacturing!
Risks and challenges
Design, manufacturing, and fabrication is what I do for a living, so this kind of project is bread and butter.
You can expect to receive what was promised in a timely fashion. If problems arise I guarantee clear and transparent communication. That's what I've built my flashlight company on and that's just how I do business. No matter how simple a project is, something goes off the rails at some point; I have the experience to deal with those problems.
Manufacturing locally also goes a long (long) way to manage risk. I'll be working with vendors I have established relationships with so I won't waste time trying to find the right shop to do the work.
1) Purchasing a CNC Lathe- I've already had several conversations with my local sales rep and they are standing by with my order. By the time you read this I will have already made a deposit. Delivery lead-time is "normally" 60 days.
2) Programming the parts - I run a CNC mill on a daily basis. I've had formal training on both CNC mills and lathes. It's been a while since I've run a lathe, but it's more or less the same thing. I don't expect any issues, but I'm just being transparent here. It will take me a while to get up to speed, but I've attempted to budget that into the time lines I've already discussed.
3) Shipping - I have no idea how many backers there will be (hopefully a lot), but I already have commercial shipping accounts and equipment that I use for my current business. If this goes crazy, I'll need to hire some people to stuff envelopes and get pens out the door as fast as possible.
4) Assembly & Packaging - both take time and cost money. I've designed the pen for easy assembly. It often takes more time to assemble the fancy packaging than the product--and that costs money--so we are going to skip fancy packaging, focus on the product, and go with simple packaging. Less busy work means you'll get your pen sooner, and I prefer to put all of the money into the product instead of the land-fill. I know fancy things are "supposed" to come in fancy packages, but I don't actually believe that.
5) Quality Control - I already manufacture CNC-machined products and making the pens in-house means I can inspect the parts as they come off of the machine, not after some vendor has already made 1000 of them.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
You can buy refills directly from Montblanc on their website for the same price as anywhere else. "Fineliner" and "Rollerball" are the specific product names. You do NOT want the "Ballpoint" refill because it's not the same size. Amazon is another easy source.
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