HANDS ON: WINGBACK MECHANICAL PEN ON KICKSTARTER
- Description: A brass retractable pen designed and machined in the UK.
- Refill: Fisher PR4 Space Pen refill
- Material options: Brass or Stainless Steel
- Size: Length 117.5mm, Width 10mm
- Weight 58g / 2.0 oz
- Where to buy: Here!
The Wingback Mechanical Pen is a brass twist-action from the UK-based design company, Wingback. Founded in 2014, they offer various everyday carry (EDC) goods designed in-line with their core principles: to be a pleasure to use, designed to last and to get better with age. Let’s see how their first foray into writing instruments stands up against these values.
Form & Finish
As far as pens go, the Wingback appears to have a very simple design. Other than a knurled grip and twist mechanism, which frame a polished brass barrel, that’s pretty much it. And I like that. Because when a pen is machined this well, it doesn’t need much else.
Every part of the Wingback has been finished to a high standard. The finely brushed surface of the brass barrel has a deep matt sheen, which contrasts with the knurling. And the machining of the knurled parts is also top notch. Turn the pen and you’ll notice just how consistent each diamond point is as the light catches it.
Mine did arrive with a few very small scratches, but when I reached out to Wingback, they explained it was something they’d addressed with their machinists and was only present on their very first batch. To be honest, after I started using it, these were soon eclipsed by patina and the inevitable little use marks.
Towards the back of the pen you’ll find “Wingback” subtly laser-etched on the barrel. Alongside the standard pen reviewed here, Wingback are teaming up with various designers, illustrators and tattooists to launch some limited editions featuring intricate laser-etched designs.
The only packaging the pen arrives with is a fabric bag and card with a message from the founder and designer, Alasdair MacLaine, outlining their brand values and highlighting that all their packaging can either be reused or recycled. The lack of a box or other packaging definitely took me by surprise. Nevertheless, it is in keeping with Wingback’s conscientious approach towards reducing their carbon footprint.
The size of the Wingback gives it a great feel in the hand and the knurling provides just the right amount of grip without feeling sharp.
The pen’s shorter length, weighty brass construction and wider than average diameter give it a solid, compact feel. Although I usually prefer lighter pen materials to brass, the Wingback feels comfortable to write with. It’s difficult to explain, but it really doesn’t feel heavy once you’re writing – any weight seems to be centered on the ballpoint nib, which means there’s no need to push hard.
When I first started writing with it I figured the pen for a quick jotter – but after longer periods of use I didn’t notice fatigue or discomfort. If you’re looking for a lighter option, Wingback are also launching a stainless steel version which is 5 grams lighter than the brass pen.
A half-turn, twist-action mechanism extends and retracts the Wingback’s nib. Fresh out the bag, I found the mechanism to be a little stiff but after a week of use it had broken in nicely.
Thanks to the knurling on the Wingback’s body, which is just the right distance from the mechanism, you can securely grip the pen with your little finger (or Digitus Mi’nimus Ma’nus if we’re being technical) whilst you twist the knurled knock with your thumb and index. This allows you to easily operate it with one hand.
The single-piece body means there’s no risk of accidentally unscrewing the pen when you turn the twist-top. It’s something that can be easily overlooked and it’s a pet hate of mine with many metal pens. Kudos to Wingback for making sure their pen doesn’t have this problem.
I didn’t truly appreciate the engineering behind the Wingback until I took a look at the internal construction. Twist the knurled crown anti-clockwise when the nib is retracted, and with a bit of effort the whole mechanism unscrews.
Even on this seldom seen part, build quality is remarkable. The mechanism itself is almost entirely made from brass and consists of a bolt carrier (with the knurled top) which is held in an internal sleeve. The sleeve itself screws deep into the pen on sturdy brass threads and is secured with a rubber O ring – the reason why it takes a good grip to unscrew.
The Wingback’s retraction mechanism is very simple. It’s definitely not going to wear out or jam, there’s no chance of it going off accidentally in your pocket. They could have just anchored the twist mechanism in the body, and had the pen break in the usual place where you grip it, like most designs, but that would cause the issues we’ve talked about. And this way, you get to appreciate its construction every time you refill the pen.
The Wingback is entirely designed around the Fisher Space Pen refill, which loads into the back of the pen after you’ve unscrewed the twist mechanism. Unfortunately the pen’s spring isn’t captive, and spares aren’t included, so you’ll need to be careful when you change over the cartridge.
By opting for the Fisher PR4 refill, Wingback have ensured their pen takes on all the traits of this resilient, write-anywhere cartridge. It’s a refill choice consistent with the rugged simplicity of the pen, and it’s easy to imagine the Wingback becoming the companion of designers, architects and anyone else who needs something they can write with anywhere or on anything.
That said, the Wingback’s pre-set refill option is a bold move. It’s rare you find a machined pen that doesn’t take the usual Parker or G2 refill selection, and its sure to alienate a few people out there. As a diehard gel fan myself, I assumed I’d probably find the Wingback a fun pen for occasional use or perhaps some extreme writing space pens are known for. But ultimately I didn’t see it replacing my pens loaded with my favourite refills.
Yet unexpectedly, after carrying the Wingback as my regular pen for the last month, I haven’t found myself missing my gel pens as much as I thought I would. The Fisher refill is definitely a cut above your typical ball-point and thanks to the Wingback’s ergonomics it’s very easy to write with. The consistent flow and resistance to smudging has already made it my preferred choice for quick note taking on the move. If you’re an established gel fiend but have yet to try the Fisher PR4 – definitely don’t rule it out. I was surprised.
Although I liked the rugged look of the Wingback when I first set eyes on it, I wasn’t instantly grabbed. That all changed as soon as I held it and got a closer look. And the more I used it the more I began to appreciate that it isn’t just another retractable metal pen jumping on the bandwagon. It’s a fresh design that has had a serious level of thought go into every aspect.
I’ve used and owned many nice retractable pens that look great but require you to make allowances when it comes to functionality – whether it’s a chronic unscrewing barrel, slightly awkward mechanism or something else. The Wingback feels like it was designed with issues like these solved first and aesthetics coming after. The design sacrifices nothing for function: It’s comfortable to write with, consistently easy to use, and has a secure mechanism that rivals the best bolt-action.
Form has been entirely lead by function. And that gives the Wingback Mechanical Pen a very honest feel. “Less but better” is the company’s motto, which is printed on the card in the bag. As someone who works in marketing, I always try to take company slogans and branding with a pinch of salt. But their words really do apply to this pen.
The lack of refill choice is probably my main gripe with the Wingback, however I’m not 100% sure I can really stand by it. Wingback assessed the refill options and decided on arguably the most reliable and certainly one of the most popular out there. If they’d gone with the typical one-size-fits-all approach to take the usual gamut of refill options, their pen wouldn’t look and feel like it does.
There are no compromises here – sliding a fresh refill in the Wingback is like loading a bullet. There’s no rattle, nib wobble or loose parts. Everything feels solid and precise. And the dependable Fisher PR4 feels like a very appropriate match for this uncompromising pen. Gel users (like me) can either jog on, or get onboard.
The Wingback Mechanical Pen is available on Kickstarter at £63, and will retail at £95 once the campaign ends. The full price is slightly north of some machined pen RRPs – but once you get one in your hand, I’m fairly confident you’ll be able to tell exactly where your money’s gone.
Disclaimer: I received the Wingback Mechanical Pen for review purposes without condition and (other than the sample itself) without compensation of any kind.