Review: TWSBI Vac Mini

The Numbers:
Weight: 25g
Length (capped): 123mm
Length (uncapped): 113mm
Price: SGD$78 from Straits Pen
Body Material: Plastic
Nib Material: Stainless steel
Filling Mechanism: Vacumatic
Colours: Clear only

Intro:
My thanks to Straits Pen for loaning me the TWSBI Vac Mini for review. Now on with the review!

The TWSBI Vac Mini was teased way back in 29 April 2013 on TWSBI’s Facebook page. The pen has been worked on and refined since. Every time a new photo got posted about it, the main response is “When is the pen coming?” It goes without saying that the Vac Mini has been released to much anticipation and expectation.

Packaging:
The Vac Mini comes in the standard TWSBI Diamond 580 and TWSBI Mini packaging. It has a brown outer cardboard box. Inside you’ll find the clear plastic box. The TWSBI Vac Mini is secured by two plastic locks on a bed of white plastic. It is a clean cut design. And I like the aesthetic of it. You will find a wrench and a small bottle of silicone grease in the plastic box as well. You can use both for the maintenance of the Vac Mini.

Performance:
If you are not familiar with TWSBI fountain pens, at the first glance you might think it is the same size as the TWSBI Mini. However, size wise the Vac Mini is slightly longer than the TWSBI Mini. It is most similar in length with a Sailor Pro Gear.

The Vac Mini is a demonstrator fountain pen with silver accents. I enjoy being able to see the ink sloshing around inside the chamber. It has the standard red TWSBI logo on the finial of the cap. The Vac Mini has the regular silver clip as well. As I have complained before, the clip has way too much sideways play. The centre band of the Vac Mini is the same width as the Mini’s. The words “TWSBI Vac Mini Taiwan” is engraved on the band. The transparent cap is faceted unlike the Mini’s cap which is plain without any facets. The facet design compliments the facets found on the barrel of the pen. The shape of the facet on the Vac Mini are rectangular while the Mini’s is triangle shaped like the Diamond 580’s.

It takes 1.5 revolutions of the cap to uncap the pen. If you find the pen too short for you, the cap can be posted. Simply screw the cap onto the end of the pen to secure the cap. Underneath the cap, you will find the nib and the grip section. The Vac Mini’s grip section is straight clear while the Mini’s has a slight taper. The Mini’s grip starts broader and tapers to a narrow diameter towards the nib. Here comes the deal breaker for me. The step between the grip and the barrel is harsh. The threads are not exactly sharp but my finger rests right over them. If I am just taking quick notes, it’s fine. However if I am writing letters to my penpals, I find writing with the Vac Mini a painful affair.

The filling mechanism is the main differentiating factor here. This is a vacumatic or plunger fountain pen like the Vac 700 but in mini form. This is the appeal of the pen for me most of all. A vacumatic in mini form is the perfect traveling fountain pen isn’t it? A vacumatic or plunger system works by having the plunger pulled all the way up and then submerging the nib and into an ink bottle. Take care that your bottle of ink isn’t too full! Then pushing the plunger all the way down, that creates a vacuum which sucks the ink into the pen and viola! your pen is filled. It is a cool filling system and the best part for a vacumatic is you can seal the chamber of ink off by tightening the plunger knob. That way you can fly without fear of ink spewing everywhere. Of course, you still have to contend with the ink that’s still in the feed. This also means if you want to write for a long time, you have to remember to loosen the plunger knob so that you don’t seal the ink chamber off.

The nib that comes with the Vac Mini is a extra fine stainless steel nib. It writes well albeit a little dry. However, I think the EF nib is just right for a travelling fountain pen. One of my favourite things about TWSBI fountain pens is their interchangeable nib units. Based on size, I suspect that the Vac Mini nibs are the same as the Mini. However, the nib collar is different from the Diamond 580 and the Mini so a nib swap between either of those nib units is a no go. I have also confirmed with TWSBI that they have plans to release nib units for the Vac Mini.

Personally I have had issues with TWSBI’s fountain pens before. My Diamond 580 and Mini’s nib collar cracked 3 times. Maybe it was due to over tightening on my part, I can’t be sure because I had nib collars broke on my Diamond 580 which I hardly use. Every time this happened, I’ll email TWSBI and they would take care of it. They ship me the relevant replacement parts at no cost. I have lauded them for their great after sale service. Recently however, they have informed me that they are charging for the shipping of the replacement parts. Maybe I have been pampered by their service previously, maybe I am having unrealistic expectations of them. Regardless, I am not sure how I feel having to pay $5 for a nib collar. The Vac Mini's grip section would still have the same problem since they are two seperate components. However you can leave the grip section attached to the barrel and removed the nib unit by itself. You can then interchanged nib units similar to how Pelikan nib units are done. My thanks to readers rafaelpapp and Tom Rhoton for the correction.

Conclusion:
The Vac Mini is a nice little fountain pen. The step and the threads might be a deal breaker for me. I have yet to decide one way or the other. I might still buy one just to have a vacumatic fountain pen.

Cons:
* Harsh step, sharp-ish threads

Pros:
* Affordable vacumatic fountain pen
* Great travel fountain pen
* Post-able
* Demonstrator!
* Solid grip and barrel

Additional Reading:

This pen has been loaned to me for review purposes. I am not compensated for this review. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Posted on January 8, 2016 and filed under Fountain Pen, review.