Made in Taiwan

The Confidant’s Secret

Today: a quick look at Baron Fig’s Confidant.

The Confidant and the Bleistiftverlängerer


Like many people, I found out about Baron Fig’s 2013 Kickstarter from The Pen Addict podcast (it was episode 71). Back then the notebook didn’t have a name yet.

After the Kickstarter goal was reached the notebooks were sent out, got very good reviews and luckily Baron Fig kept making them post-Kickstarter and even created more products, becoming the Baron Fig company you see today.

Some of the early good reviews can be found at The Pen Addict (2014), Woodclinched (2014)The Well-Appointed Desk (2015) and even Cult of Mac (2014).

The European Perspective

I don’t think there’s is much I can add to the existing reviews in terms of new information, so instead I want to give you the European perspective on this notebook.

Importing and Shipping

The Baron Fig is difficult to get on this side of the pond. I haven’t found a shop selling it in the UK, but luckily shipping from the States is actually quite cheap. Postage for the $12 Confidant Pocket, for example, is only $2.95. This seems to be achieved by sending the notebooks through Germany (Field Notes send their notebooks through Sweden). The problem in the UK is that the moment you spend more than £15 you have to pay VAT1, which usually goes hand in hand with a hefty surcharge, how expensive depends on the carrier. When I was still living in Germany I was less often hit by these charges, but I don’t know whether this is still the case. The point here is that depending on which country you live in there might be unwanted extra charges if you order from the States.

The Count in Disguise

$12 (+$2.95) for a notebook, roughly A6 size2,3 is not cheap, but once you look at this notebook’s competitors the price seems quite reasonable.

The Confidant on previous cloth bound notebooks

Cloth bound notebooks sell for a premium. They’re somehow even more expensive than leather bound notebooks. The closest competitor for the Confidant is probably the Linen Bound Notebook from the late Count’s4 Graf von Faber-Castell5 series, which you can see in this previous blog post.

The GvFC notebook and the Confidant

In fact, they are so similar, the Confidant is basically a version of the linen bound GvFC notebook with rounded edges and perforated pages (that’s where the title of this blog post comes in). I’m not sure whether this is accidental or a result of Baron Fig’s Kickstarter approach of  ‘asking people all over the world what they like in a notebook’. The GvFC notebook has been around for a while6, so some of the people asked might have suggested features based on the GvFC item.

In terms of similarities: both, the Confidant and the GvFC notebook are cloth bound and probably7 use 100g/m2 paper. I have mentioned two of the differences already: the Confidant has rounded edges and perforated edges. Other differences are: the Confidant has more paper to choose from (dot grid, blank, ruled), the GvFC notebook has more colours to choose from (five different linen colours), the bookmark is different (width and colour) and most importantly: the price is different – quite different.

A4 / plus$22£30 (~$39)
A5 / flagship$18£25 (~$32)
A6 7 pocket$12£20 (~$26)

My experience

My Confidant is well made, but not as well made as the Graf von Faber-Castell notebook. Inside: mine has some materials/bubbles under the paper inside the lid, making it uneven. Outside: the cloth isn’t tight around the spine and some pages were not separated properly, as you can see in the video below. Stephen from Pencil Talk had the same problem with his Flagship (A5) Confidant8.

One way of looking at his would be to say that it shouldn’t happen to a small notebook that costs $12, but on the other hand, the similar GvFC notebook costs more than twice that amount, so the Confidant still seems good value for money.

First I thought my notebook doesn’t lie flat, a problem also described by Discover Analog, but then I realised that the Baron Fig description of ‘Opens Flat’9 refers to the pages being flat enough to write on, it doesn’t mean that the covers should lie flat on the table.

One more thing to mention about the paper: Andi Talarico from Baron Fig told me that the Vanguard and the Work/Play II use Baron Fig’s new upgraded paper, while the Confidant is still using the previous paper.

The Paper

Graphite Performance

Let’s have a look at the paper in terms of graphite performance.

As part of this comparison I have only compared the paper to Field Notes paper10.

To find more about how the paper is tested, please check the Ingersoll post.

The violin plots show that this is a great paper: It produces very dark lines of graphite (the violin plot for the Confidant’s paper ends very low) while the paper is quite light and bright (the violin plot starts quite high).

The confidant sample used for the violin plot

Violin plots, Confidant on the left

Ink Performance

Most of my inks are quite well behaved. Not surprisingly the paper dealt well with ink.

So I thought I take some of my slightly less well-behaved inks out, in this case, a waterproof ink, just because waterproof ink often goes deeper into the paper. The images below show that the waterproof ink didn’t bleed through and the reverse side of the paper was unaffected (open images in a new tab to see the high-res version).


To sum this blog post up in a few words: Quality control could be better. The paper is excellent. The notebook isn’t cheap, but good value for money compared to similar notebooks.



Price and exchange rates: June 2017

I would like to thank Andi Talarico from Baron Fig for the review sample I used for this boig post.

  1. ..but sometimes customs forget to charge you []
  2. The Confidants are all a bit smaller than the equivalent A paper size []
  3. ..reminds me of the Lichtenberg drawing from this blog post. []
  4. Usual disclaimer as mentioned in previous blog posts: He is not really a count. According to Part 2, Section 1, Article 109(2) of the Weimar Constitution privileges based on birth or social status and titles of nobility were abolished in the Weimar Republic in 1919. Graf (Count) is just part of his surname. In reality no one seems to care about this rule though. []
  5. Abbreviated: GvFC for easier reading. []
  6. I am not sure when it came out. I got my first one in 2010 []
  7. I am not 100% sure. The Baron Fig Kickstarter mentioned 100g/m2 paper, but in an email I got from Baron Fig they mention 90g/m2 paper. []
  8. Mine is the Pocket one (A6). []
  9. Found at the bottom of this page. []
  10. they are the paper samples I have redone after discovering the colour base paper shift issue discussed in the Black Ice post. []

Staedtler’s Mars 501 180 – the Wopex sharpener 8

Welcome to a slightly delayed blog post. The video for this blog post was put on YouTube quite a while ago, in February, but the blog post is only out now as a busy period at work meant that I didn’t get round looking for my protractor earlier.1

The Wopex

Unfortunately there’s a lot of Wopex hate going on in some parts of social media where people discuss pencils – and there are very few people defending the Wopex2. Luckily the Wopex can convince in the long term: I was very happy to read Deirdre’s blog post where she turned from a Wopex hater (‘I HATE WOPEX’) to someone not only tolerating the Wopex, but even accepting it and it’s advantages (Some quotes: ‘graphite […] actually isn’t that bad’, ‘point retention is great’, ‘if you are writing on toothy3 paper, the WOPEX really shines’).

Suffice to say4, I love the Wopex.

Just a quick reminder: Unlike normal wood cased pencils the Wopex uses a wood-plastic-composite instead of wood. The wood-plastic-composite consists mainly of wood and is, in my opinion, orders of magnitude better than pencils that use plastic instead of wood. Not only does the Wopex sharpen better, the lead – extruded together with the pencil – is also of much better quality, too.

The pellets before they’re extruded into a pencil

In the vial above you can see how the material looks like before it is extruded into a pencil. I got this vial at the Insights X trade fair. The pellets remind me of a company I worked for during my holidays in the 1990s. They were manufacturing extruded pipes and had similar looking pellets. The recycled pellets smelled very much like washing powder. As far as I remember extruding from recycled material was not easy, the material kept expanding in the wrong place resulting in uneven products. Unrelated – but there must be so much knowledge going into the production of a product like the Wopex…

The new Noris eco pencils in 2B, HB and 2H

The Staedtler 501 180

I first mentioned the 501 180 in a blog post from 2014, but a few months ago I finally got my hands on one – they are not very common and not easy to come by in the UK. The article number has gives some clues to this sharpener’s purpose: Wopex pencils have article numbers starting with 180 (e.g. 180 40). Staedtler has now switched to using the word Wopex to describe the wood-plastic-composite material, and is not using Wopex anymore to describe pencils made from this material, but independent of how the name Wopex is used, the pencils made from Wopex material still use article numbers starting with 180 (e.g. 180 30 for the new Noris eco).

Article numbers for Staedtler’s rotary (i.e. hand crank) sharpener start with 501 (e.g. the Mars 501 20 rotary sharpener) so 501 180 is the perfect5 article number for this sharpener, 501 for a rotary sharpener and 180 for Wopex. The 501 180 was designed by Helmut Hufnagl and is made in Taiwan.

Left to right: Deli 0635, Staedtler 501 180, Deli 0620

The Video

Here’s a video where I compare the 501 180 to two other rotary sharpeners.

Clipping the pencils’ points off at about 7:30 really hurt and felt rather wasteful, but wasting so much good pencil when the auto stop of the other two sharpeners didn’t work was of course even more wasteful (…even though it didn’t hurt so much, maybe because the machine did the crippling of the pencils).

Left to right: Deli 0635, Staedtler 501 180, Deli 0620

Tip: Open the video in YouTube, you can then play it at higher speeds, e.g. 1.5x.

Here’s a little table comparing the different points created by the three different sharpeners.

Sharpener:Deli 0635Staedtler 501 180Deli 0620

..and here are the different points made by the different sharpeners.

Left to right: point sharpened by Deli 0635, Staedtler 501 180, Deli 0620

The Auto Stop

There is just so much less material wasted when the auto stop works. If you don’t have the 501 180 and your sharpener’s auto stop doesn’t work, have a look at the end of the video where I show a way of dealing with this problem. I am mentioning this simple trick here because my simplest videos seem most appreciated (e.g. how to refill a mechanical pencil), while my complex videos (e.g. the DelGuard pen force test) remain rather unloved.

Left to right: point sharpened by Deli 0635, Staedtler 501 180, Deli 0620


I have added the Wopex Mars 501 180 to the list of sharpeners, sorted by angle.

Many thanks to Benedikt Schindler for his help in getting the 501 180 to me in the UK.

  1. …because I switched to using a protractor when measuring angles I want to stick with this method so that all pencil points are measured the same way. []
  2. …with Johnny being the most determined defender in the Erasable group on Facebook. Thank you for that. []
  3. As expressed previously, for various reasons I am not keen on the expression ‘toothy paper’, but since this is a direct quote it will be one of the few occasions you can find this word in this blog []
  4. Yes, I learned that expression when I watched the English version of Star Trek Voyager. []
  5. I try to avoid using the word perfect, but in this case it is justified, I think. []

Handicraft with Bleistift V – reusing a pen loop 2

After my initial disappointment with Leuchtturm’s pen loop, my pen loops caused problems because of protruding plastic with glue at the bottom, I adjusted my pen loops by cutting the bit of the plastic off that put glue on the pens put in the pen loop and that scratched their surface.  I wonder whether the pen loop has improved since 2011, maybe the problem is gone from later version of Leuchtturm’s pen loop. I haven’t found out yet because I haven’t bought new ones, but reused my old pen loops, as you might already have seen in this blog post. This weekend I have reused the last of my original pen loops, so I took some photos along the way.


Leuchtturm’s pen loop in my old diary.


Removing the old pen loop. The glue is quite something.

removedThe old pen loop removed

toolsI’ll attach it to the new diary with a paper riveter I bought in Shanghai many years ago.

finishedReady for another year of action…

Disappointed with the Pen Loop 5

The Pen Loop in the diary provided by my employer.

I recently bought Leuchtturm’s Pen Loop, a pen loop you can affix to any notebook to add a pen loop. A good idea, but I have to say that I am quite disappointed. The loop itself is stitched to a squary pad that is self-adhesive on one side. The problem is that a small ‘tab’ of this pad protrudes into the loop. This tab is self-adhesive, like the pad, which means that pens in the Pen Loop will get in contact with the self-adhesive side and some of the glue will stick to the pens. As a result the pencils I put in the Pen Loop so far got very sticky. I assume this will improve once all the glue has rubbed off to my pencils. The tab is also quite hard, I wouldn’t be surprised if it can scratch the surface of delicate pens. I only used painted pencils1 so far – no pencils with a natural finish, so I was able to either remove the glue from the paint or sharpen the pencil to remove the ‘glued’ paint.

The gluey tab that makes my pencils sticky...



A great idea, but the execution is lacking.

It would be interesting to know  whether all Pen Loops have this problem or whether it’s a Quality Control issue and the one I bought has been sewed too close to the pad…

  1. General’s Semi-Hex and the AMOS Dixon Ticonderoga []

Black n’ Red polynote A7 plain 2

Last week I bought Black n’ Red’s pocket-sized, i.e. A7, polynote in my local Tesco’s. The polynote is a reporter notebook that flips open at the top and features a polypropylene cover and an elastic band. I bought it because it was half prize, only 60p (97¢; 68c), and because I was quite happy with my previous Black n’ Red purchase, a hard cover Black n’ Red recycled notebook.

Black n’ Red recycled hard cover notebook

My previous Red n’ Black purchase, the recycled notebook is really nice. Unlike the US version reviewed at Office Supply Geek it features British and European maps and information. I only paid £ 3.50 in my university’s library, but the price is probably either subsidised or they do not earn any money from this notebook as I have never seen anywhere else for a similar price. I have used this notebook for several months, but have only used pencils in this notebook, so I cannot comment on the suitability of the paper for fountain pens. It does however feel like good quality paper. I did contact Hamelin / Oxford brands with some questions about the paper, probably about a year ago, but unfortunately I never received a reply.

Back to the polynote

There seems to be a ruled version, too, but I bought the plain version. It contains 192 pages of 90 g/m² Optik Paper. The polypropylene cover seems durable and robust and can be wiped easily if dirty. The polynote does also contain a page with reference information, similar to the one found in the recycled notebook, but this time restricted to metric / imperial conversion tables. There is no danger that pages would fall out by mistake, but they can be removed easily if you wish to do so. The paper has a high quality feel to it and is more opaque than other 90 g/m² paper I have used in the past.

As you can see in the first photo I tried a pencil and two fountain pen inks on the paper.Erasing the graphite works well. The paper feels extremely smooth when erasing, but seems to retain more of a dent where the graphite was than other paper. This means you can see or guess the writing because of the slight indentation. Both inks worked well on the paper and did not bleed through the page.

Bach’s Purpur-Tinte

I bought the ink used with the TWSBI Diamond 530 at Eberbach Abbey, where some scenes of the film “The Name of the Rose” were filmed. This ink is from a small ink manufacturer called “Bach’s Tinten” (Bach’s inks). I have an iron gall ink from the same manufacturer, which is absolutely fantastic when used with a dip pen. Unfortunately, I was not able to find out more about the manufacturer of this ink. All I know is that it seems to be sold in some German museums and other tourist attractions. If you know more about this ink, please let me know.

TWSBI Diamond 530

I used Bach’s Purpur (purple) ink in my brand new TWSBI Diamond 530, which I bought from The Writing Desk for £36.79 (~$59.35; €41.75). TWSBI, originally an OEM manufacturer, make mechanical pencils, too. You can read more about their history and the meaning of their name at Okami Whatever. I first thought about buying this pen from the TWSBI ebay store, where it is slightly cheaper than in the UK, but the price is just above the threshold for VAT and customs (and therefore handling) charges, so buying it from The Writing Desk was the better option. The pen is quite big and made for fountain pen geeks: it is a demonstrator that can be disassembled and even comes with sililcon grease and the wrench needed for disassembly. As far as I know it is using a Schmidt nib, but a limited edition pen with a Bock nib will be released if there are enough orders. The pen is great and offers fantastic value for money. When it comes to fountain pens I am a fan of Pelikan, a Malaysian owned writing instrument manufacturer headquartered in Switzerland with manufacturing facilities on several continents, so – naturally – I compare the diamond 530 with Pelikan fountain pens and I have to say that the Diamond 530 is very big in comparison – much bigger than, for example, a Pelikan Souverän M600.  I do own a few fountain pens from manufacturers other than Pelikan and quality-wise the TWSBI is certainly one of the better ones, especially for this price.

Noodler’s Baystate Blue

Noodler’s, from Massachusetts, “the smallest ink company in the world with the largest color selection” is, without a shadow of a doubt, my favourite ink company. I do like inks from other companies too, but Noodler’s is my overall favourite. Baystate Blue is a very unusual ink, unusual in its rebellious colour and the high, i.e. alkaline, pH value. You can read more about it on Noodler’s web site. The first time I saw this intense ink on paper it reminded me of a pen I got in the late 1970s / early 1980s. At that time Pepsi ran a big marketing campaign worldwide – and in Germany, too: “Mach den Pepsi Test” (Take the Pepsi Challenge)1. Afterwards you got a “I took the Pepsi Challenge” pen. As far as I remember it was a Staedtler pen and looked like a Lumocolor with a yellow body and with a Pepsi logo and reference to the Pepsi test printed on it. As far as I remember it  had a colour very close to Noodler’s Baystate Blue …and I completely forgot about this pen until Baystate Blue reminded me of this pen and this unusual colour. It’s not really my favourite colour, maybe because it is a bit too unconventional, but it might actually look quite good with a fine nib. I will try that out after I used up the Baystate Blue in my Pelikano junior.


The Black n’ Red polynote is a great little reporter notebook. I think I might carry one with me in the future. There is a plain and a ruled version, both probably ref. number M67072. The robust covers makes it a notebook you can carry around with you all the time and the current half price offer is really good, but even if you pay the full price it offers good value for money and nice smooth and unusually soft (maybe even a bit too soft) paper.


Prices and exchange rates: March 2011

You can find a review of Noodler’s Baystate Blue at Without ink.

Office Supply Geek has a great review of the TWSBI DIamond 530.

  1. At that time RC Cola and Afri Cola were still commonly available in Germany []