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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Maxmadco Bolt Action Pen Review

I've been searching for the perfect ballpoint pen to sketch with, something that felt good to draw with, elegant and simple, well made, and a little unusual without it being flashy. I've found the pen, it's the Maxmadco Bolt Action pen.

Hand made in the USA
Maxmadco Bolt Action Pens are hand machined pens, and at the time of this post, comes in aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium (Bronze is sold out). These pens are truly works of art, understated, with tighter machined tolerances than any pen have the right being.

Top to bottom: Stainless Steel, Aluminum, Titanium
The minimalistic and simplistic design, is what first drew me to them, but the quality of the machining is what I really appreciated, once holding one of these puppies. I'll be reviewing these base on how well they work for purposes of loose sketching. This is completely subjective, of course, as a pen's "feel" really differ from person to person. It's also skewed for art, so the "feel" may have different goals for art vs. writing.

Because I am reviewing this for art, the ink refills are very important. These take any "Parker style" refills. There are lots of ballpoint inks to choose from, but you can also use gel refills that are Parker styles. In fact, these pens comes with a gel refill, which is great for the writing. I do use gel pens for sketching (Previous post about Hi-Tec-C gel pens with water brush), but I wanted a simple ballpoint for sketching and to carry with a EDC sketchbook. I'll post a comprehensive review of ballpoint ink types for drawing soon, where I've tried over a dozen types. But for now, let me just say that the Schmidt and Shaeffers are the best ballpoints for art, and is what I've been using for this review.

One of the objectives for me, is the size and weight of the pens. Too heavy, fat, skinny, slippery, or gummy could be affect line weight, or are uncomfortable. Of course this is all very subjective, I just prefer the skinnier pens - too many of the refillable ballpoints are too heavy, and taper at the end, or feel like you're holding a squishy guppy. I like the simple stick type, something more like the shape and size of a normal pencil. So maxmadco pens hits the spot, at just barely thicker than a typical #2 pencil.

Balance is perfect. I have some pens that are too heavy in the tip or the back, which I find fatigues the hand too quickly. I like pens that rests nicely on your hand, and not too long or short. Short pens tend to feel too front heavy, and long pens just feels awkward to hold.

Bolt action:
Of course the big difference with this pen, is the bolt action mechanism (aside from being hand made with unusual materials). It is fun, addictive, I can't stop playing with it. The simplicity in the design, means that it won't break.... seriously, it's ingenious, I'm not sure why more pens aren't bolt action instead of clicky type. The mechanism is super smooth, and requires no lubing, in fact lubing will just end up attracting dirt and gunk. The clip is simple and well made as well. However, I wouldn't rely on it for pants pockets.

It's important to mention that these come with a gel pen refill, but also comes with a really nice leather pen case. They provide good protection, and has a magnetic flap. If you look around the internet, these type of leather single pen pouches costs around $35 and up, so it's nice to be included with your pen for free. The shipping is also super fast, and reasonable. Jim Madrid is the master craftsman who makes these pens by hand, and is very responsive to any needs or questions that you may have. These pens come in different materials, here's a breakdown for each:

Stainless steel:  (1.66oz / 47.1g with refill)
This is the heaviest of the three. Maxmadco is sold out of the bronze, otherwise that would be the heaviest. This pen is substantial, it feels unusually heavy in the hand, like a you're holding a solid metal rod, which I really love. However, once I started drawing with it, it felt a bit heavy and fatigues the hand faster. Because of the weight, it is more difficult to control line weight, after using it for a while. If you like heavy pens, you won't be disappointed.

Aluminum: (0.78oz / 22.5g with refill)
After using the Stainless Steel version, the aluminum felt comically light. I had to examine to make sure that it was metal, lol. The pen is still well balanced, and the lightness makes it feel more like a normal disposable ballpoint pen. You can only get this in the anodized black, but it is sleek and cool.

Titanium:  (1.04oz / 29.5g with refill)
Titanium pen, how freakin' geeky-cool is that? It is a bit heavier than the Aluminum version, but not nearly the weight of the Stainless Steel. I find it great to sketch with. I think that if I could only have one of these bolt action pens, this would be my choice. However, it is also far more expensive than other materials.

Because these are hand made by a single skilled craftsman, they are not cheap. I suppose they are not expensive when you consider the work involved, or start looking around high end pens that are in the hundreds of dollars. But starting at $85, they are high enough to turn away most. For me, I love having fine tools and machines that I use a lot of, especially tools to dream and create, so the Maxmadco bolt has quickly became my favorite ballpoint tool of choice.

I'll do a comprehensive ballpoint refill post soon, as well as my EDC sketching setup, so stay tuned!



  1. Your weights are incorrect. I think your titanium weights are shown with the steel pen and the steel weights are shown with the titanium pen.

    Steel is heaviest, then titanium, then aluminum. Your measurements do not reflect that.

    Great review!