Tactile Turn, Karas Kustoms, Maxmadco and Inventery Co. – Bolt Action Pen Shootout
- Karas Kustoms Bolt v2.0, Black anodized Aluminium. Pilot G2 refill.
- Maxmadco Bolt Action, Brushed Titanium. Itoya Aquaroller gel Parker style refill.
- Tactile Turn Slider, Copper. Schmidt Megaline Parker style refill.
- Inventery Co. Bolt Action ‘M’, Brushed chrome finished brass. Schmidt Cap-less Parker style refill.
OK, so maybe the title is a little misleading. When I started this article I thought I’d ruthlessly rate each pen and come out with a clear winner. But the more I considered each offering, the more I realized how subjective the whole thing was becoming and that actually it would be far more useful to stay as objective as I could. So a shootout maybe not, but more a comparison. Either way – I couldn’t resist the wordplay.
During the write-up, I learned that the Maxmadco bolt pen was no longer in production. I did think about taking it out, but in the end, chose not to. It’s a great bolt action pen that many people recognize as a benchmark for these types of writing instrument. That, and it was one of the first to appear, and probably influenced a lot of what we have available today.
That out the way, if you’re in the market for a bolt action pen it’s more than likely you’ll have come across some of the brands covered in this piece. If you’re short of time – I can tell you now that you probably won’t be disappointed with any of them – all are well designed and solidly built. But each has its own characteristics. Read on to find out which will suit you best.
The Bolt Actions
Probably the most important aspect of any bolt action pen is, of course, the mechanism itself. All of these pens have great bolt actions, but each offers a slightly different experience. The Maxmadco, Inventery Co. and Karas Kustoms Bolt all employ a ‘J slot’ mechanism with a J shaped bolt channel, whilst the Tactile Turn uses a ‘C’ shape channel. Let’s take a look at the J slot bolt pens first.
The Maxmadco’s action is well respected for a reason. Everything feels just right. The action is quick and easy, with a bolt carrier made from Delrin (a high strength polymer specifically developed for machine applications), which minimizes weight and friction. In my opinion, the spring tension is just right, providing enough pressure for everything to feel secure but not too much to make deploying or retracting the nib a conscious operation. You can either choose to idly appreciate the mechanism’s engineering or just forget about it.
The ‘J’ bolt action on the Inventery Co. is very similar to that found on the Maxmadco. But the all-metal internals, coupled with a stronger spring, means that it takes a little more effort to operate. This doesn’t feel out of place on this heftier pen though, and the ‘snap’ when you retract the nib is pretty satisfying. Inventery Co. haven’t broken any ground here, but they have executed a superb bolt action mechanism. Unlike the other pens here, the Inventery Co.’s bolt cutaway isn’t chamfered, which is noticeable if the sharper edges come into contact with your thumb during operation.
The Karas Kustoms Bolt puts a twist to the ‘J’ bolt setup – quite literally. Dispensing with a barrel mounted thumb stud, the pen’s bolt carrier extends out the back of the pen to form a plunger-like control. You push down and rotate the plunger to extend the nib and lock it in place. Although the action is easy enough to operate with one hand, the sides of the plunger could probably do with some knurling for better grip.
Departing the well-trodden path, the Tactile Turn Slider features a unique ‘C-slot’ bolt action. Unlike the down and across movement on the J-slot pens, actuation is accomplished in a single fluid movement. As you pull the bolt down through the ‘C’ shaped cutaway you roll your thumb on the button to keep the pressure in the right direction. It’s not quite as easy to get the hang of as the other pens, and you might get occasional misfires – but after a few clicks, it becomes second nature. Retracting the nib is easier than the other pens and is accompanied by a pretty satisfying whoosh sound. This might be the air inside the pen being displaced by the bolt – testament to the Slider’s tight machining tolerances. Unlike the other pens here, when the Slider is retracted its bolt carrier does have some play. Not enough to make it any less secure than the others but it certainly contrasts with the tightly sprung Inventery Co.
Bolt action pens are less prone to accidental activation than other one-handed retractable pens, and often touted as a great option for everyday carry. The Slider, Inventery Co. and Maxmadco all make excellent pocket pens thanks to their side mounted bolt buttons. The Karas Bolt’s push-top means its mechanism isn’t as secure as those found in the other pens but it still beats a click pen for pocket carry.
Depending on how you like to carry your pen, you may prefer the Tactile Turn or Inventery Co. which are the best of the bunch for deep-carry, showing just the cap when clipped to a pocket. The Karas Bolt’s clip is sturdy enough but obviously the plunger will protrude from your pocket. Similarly, the tapering clip of the Maxmadco coupled with its lower position on the pen body means you end up with a fair amount on show.
I could wax poetic about the overall looks of each pen, but hopefully, you can see those for yourself. Here are a few points that I noticed up close:
Differentiating the Tactile Turn Slider from the rest are finely machined grooves running the length of the barrel. The grooves add grip without breaking the streamlined form and also hide scratches. It feels like a much more durable finish in comparison with the fine brushing of the Maxmadco and Inventery Co. They also do a great job of hiding the Slider’s barrel break, which literally appears from nowhere when you take the pen apart.
One thing typical of bolt pens is a gaping hole in the side of the barrel, where the bolt channel is cut away. The Tactile Turn Slider and Maxmadco both reveal the inside of the pen when the nib is deployed. I actually don’t mind the working parts on show. If you’re not a fan, the Inventery Co. and Karas both provide a solid, engineered aesthetic that definitely has its appeal.
If you’re heavy into the industrial vibe, you’ll probably be satisfied with any of these pens. Each has a tool-like appearance and this is particularly emphasized on the Karas Bolt, Maxmadco and Inventery which feature visible screws for that rugged look. The first two use torx screws for the clip and bolt button, which add some nice visual details.
The Tactile Turn offers a more refined aesthetic. Eschewing torx screws, the clip is held in place by the screw down cap, and the bolt button is made from a specifically machined component.
Similarly, the Inventery Co. also uses a screw down cap to keep the clip in place but unlike the others, it is designed to allow you to remove it without leaving unsightly holes. Sans Le clip, the Inventery Co. has a very modern feel which I actually prefer. The weight of the brass makes it feel like it would make a great desk pen, and the bolt button means that even without the clip, it’s not rolling anywhere.
Build quality is often something prioritized on machined writing instruments and it’s certainly the case with the bolt pens here. Each feels like a well-engineered machine and certainly won’t disappoint. But despite even the best machining, metal pens can still have a tendency to unscrew. For a pen nut, pulling a fancy pen out in front of colleagues only to find several expensive pieces falling to the floor is probably on par with having your trousers fall down in public. And bolt pens are especially susceptible to coming apart due to the different rotational forces applied to the pen’s body during operation.
Getting around this ignominious fate, the Karas and Tactile employ a rubber O ring beneath the section threads – keeping everything tight. You lose that nice metal-on-metal feel of a precision instrument when you take either pen apart, but in my view, it’s a worthwhile sacrifice.
Both the Maxmadco and the Inventery Co. require tightening, particularly the latter due to the substantial forces the mechanism is putting on the pen. Long screw threads mean you’ll definitely notice long before the Inventery Co. actually comes apart, but you may find yourself frequently checking everything’s in place.
The pen that stands out here is the Karas Kustoms Bolt. The plunger at the back of the pen means there’s no need to line up a bolt button. This also makes the Karas Bolt suitable for left-handed use – a rare feature in bolt action pens that typically are only designed for right-handed use. Karas Kustoms are probably one of the very few offering an ambidextrous bolt action pen, so kudos to them.
The variety of materials used across these pens mean each feels very different – so I’ll talk about the range of weight options the manufacturers offer for each pen. The Maxmadco, Tactile Turn Slider and Karas Bolt ranges all offer lightweight and heavyweight options, with aluminum at the lighter end of the spectrum and brass or copper at the opposite. The Slider can be selected in the widest range of metals, with titanium (not an option with the Karas Bolt) and copper (never an option with the Maxmadco). Although offered in a choice of very different finishes, the Inventery Co. bolt pens are all constructed from brass making them a heavier option whichever you choose.
Size wise, the Karas Kustoms Bolt is easily the longest of the bunch, mainly due to the push-top. But it’s worth noting that this one is also the only pen here that can be altered to take either G2 refills or the shorter Parker type, with the refill specific kit included with the pen depending on which setup you choose.
In contrast, the Maxmadco, Tactile Turn Slider and Inventery Co. M only accept Parker style refills. Choosing a G2 in Tactile Turn (called the Glider) or Inventery Co. (the ‘L’) will mean a longer pen, which puts the Karas Bolt’s length in perspective. In case you’re wondering, there isn’t a G2 version of the Maxmadco.
Machined pens are often a little wider than your average writing instrument, possibly to give them a more presence or heft in the hand. The exception here is the Maxmadco, which feels very much like a normal pen thanks to its slender dimensions. Alongside the other three, it actually looks a little small. The other pens definitely don’t feel too big in my largish hands but bear in mind each is a little chunkier than your average retractable pen.
As I said earlier, there is no clear winner here and proving one wasn’t the goal. I could say which pen is my favourite, but it’s not actually down to its performance over the others – just my own subjective opinion.
All the pens here make for a solid bolt action offering. None should give up through normal use and each will probably last you a lifetime. All of them suffice as great everyday writing tools that won’t let you down. Whilst none is quite as intuitive as the humble click pen, each is relatively easy to operate with one hand. Here are some final thoughts on each writing instrument:
Karas Kustoms Bolt V2.0
Great to handle and perfect for those who don’t dig a bolt button or are left handed. The pen’s plunger design is pretty unique and stands out from the crowd. Not such a great choice for pocket carry (in comparison to the others) but an excellent bolt pen that’s perfect if you like to experiment with refills.
Tactile Turn Slider
A beautifully finished pen with a streamlined appearance, the Slider’s a good choice for those who want the machined look but like things clean. Despite its occasional quirks, the C-bolt action gets a lot of love from me because it’s original and clearly differentiates the Tactile Turn offering from the rest. The disappearing barrel break reminds you of the level of care and precision that’s gone into the making of this writing instrument.
Inventery Co. M
The hefty weight coupled with a nice overall finish gives this bolt pen a high-quality feel. The over-built bolt mechanism clearly has a very nice action, and Inventery Co.’s decision to maintain the solid internal appearance, even whilst the nib is extended, just adds to the pen’s sturdy feel. O rings would definitely keep everything tighter, and chamfering the bolt channel would certainly improve the ergonomics – but neither are deal breakers.
Maxmadco Bolt Action
The predecessor to all of the above, it’s probably directly and indirectly influenced each of the other pens. This one was my first bolt action pen, so I’m probably biased, but it feels like a great balance of usability, construction, and aesthetics. The design has definitely stood the test of time and it’s a shame they are no longer manufactured. Luckily there’s plenty of other great options!