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The Surefire Pen: 2 Year Review w/ 20+ pics

Discussion in 'Gear Reviews' started by Mark Greenman, Nov 29, 2011.

  1. Mark Greenman
    • Sponsor - Manufacturer

    Mark Greenman Loaded Pockets

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    I’m a gear nerd at heart, and a writer by trade, so over the last 2 years I’ve looked at the Surefire pen from both perspectives. I've used this pen every single day, more than any other piece of kit in my EDC, and it is now my favorite piece of gear.

    The most obvious feature of the Surefire Pen is its durability. The shaft is made from hard anodized aircraft grade aluminum, while the nib, pocket clip, and end cap are made of 303 stainless steel.

    The result is a 1.8oz bruiser of a pen that will probably last as long as the written word.

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    My Montblanc developed a hairline fracture in the cap after only a few months of back pocket carry, and had to be sent back to the factory to be repaired. By comparison, in two years of serious use, my Surefire barely has a scratch on it – proof of the excellent hard anodizing used in its construction.

    When you consider the Surefire costs about 1/3 the price of a Montblanc, and is made in the USA, it’s even more impressive.

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    I realized just how ludicrously tough the SF pen was a few months ago, when I visited a camping store in lower Manhattan. The owner showed me his own EWP-01, and how he practiced striking by smashing it over and over again into a 2×4. This is the second 2×4 he has gone through, and he told me he has also struck concrete blocks a few times- and chipped the concrete!

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    The other famous feature of the SF pen is its “glassbreaker” end cap, which is actually why I bought the pen in the first place. This ended up being rather ironic, as the glassbreaker is the least useful feature of the surefire pen — its just a 3/16” stainless steel ball bearing built into the cap, rather than a purpose built glassbreaker.

    I went to a junkyard and tested it on some loose automotive glass and was unable to break the window. However, other people have managed to break windows with theirs when they tested glass still attached to a car, so the glassbreaker does work, just not very well.

    Here it doesn’t work- if that car was under under water he would be dead.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LePGf94tYaY

    Here it works, although not as well as the Benchmade with tungsten tip:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfzdZyQOjAY

    I believe that Surefire should either re-design the glassbreaker so that it works reliably, or they should remove it entirely. Unreliable tools can get people killed, and this glassbreaker does not jibe with Surefire's legendary adherence to high performance and reliability.

    One simple way to improve performance is to replace the Stainless Steel BB with an ultra hard ceramic BB. Added cost per unit would be less than $1.

    I pimped mine out by adding a silicone nitride ceramic BB to my end cap, and that worked much better.

    Here's a photo from the prototype glassbreaker, which was just a ceramic BB in an aluminum rod. Notice the powdered glass from the impact.

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    More importantly, the Silicone Nitride BB has a much higher cool coefficient.

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    An interesting thing I discovered when working on the glassbreaker is that the EWP-01 has a “secret compartment” under the cap.

    I don’t believe this was intentional, rather, it is caused by the hollow cavity beneath the glass breaker and the space above the ink adjustment screw. Regardless, it gives about 1″ of space for hiding a small object.

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    I was originally going to glue a miniature firesteel into mine, but decided that was kinda mallninja so I decided to go for something a bit more practical, a folded up piece of paper for taking notes should I not have my notebook handy. The cap holds half a sheet from my Molleskine notebook.

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    So far I have never had to use this backup piece of paper, because I always carry my SF pen in my red Molleskine Vollant notebook. Carrying a pen and paper is infinitely more practical than just carrying a pen, and it also helps keep the pen from getting lost, since the notebook is bright red.

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    What makes the Surefire Pen such a pleasure to write with is its ability to adjust to almost any ink cartridge in the world. Let me repeat — the Surefire Pen has an internal screw that can be adjusted to allow it to use almost any ink cartridge you want.

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    This is, far and away, the best feature of the Surefire pen. While there are many durable pens on the market today, to my knowledge the EWP-01 is the only pen that has this magnificent capability. If you’re a gun guy, this is the pen equivalent of having a handgun that can shoot every pistol caliber in the world.

    This capability cannot be overstated. The ink cartridge is the soul of the pen. It’s what people are talking about when they say, “wow, nice pen,” which is what people tell me when they borrow my Surefire.

    Instead of using the standard “tactical” Fisher Space Pen refill, which provides a mediocre writing experience, I use the delightfully luxurious Montblanc Medium Ballpoint refills. Made in Germany, they write exceptionally smoothly with a sexy, metallic flecked black ink that makes writing a pleasure.

    And I would know. I just wrote the rough draft of my first novel in long hand, using my Surefire Pen and Montblanc refills. Here is the typed up version – 265 pages, not including all the other writing I have done with this pen over the last 2 years.

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    The ability to accept “battlefield pickups” is an essential feature if you like to write while traveling. While Fisher Space Pen cartridges, or the factory Schmidt® brand are available here in the US, they are not universally available all over the world. I spent 9 months living abroad last year, and being able to use locally available ink cartridges was essential.

    Part of the reason this is necessary is because if you drop the pen while the ink is extended, the heavy mass of the pen will cause the tip of the ink to become dented and dysfunctional. I have broken several ink cartridges in this fashion and it is an annoying, but unavoidable byproduct of the heavy-duty nature of the SF pen.

    Another annoying habit the EWP-01 displays is that the stainless end caps tend to come loose. I wrapped mine in teflon tape, but the problem persists and I have to periodically tighten the caps.

    Other than the unreliable glassbreaker, my only real complaint is with the pocket clip. It is the best pocket clip I have ever had on a pen, but its still not perfect. My first clip broke after being clipped to a thick pair of Duluth Firehouse Dungarees, and while Surefire did replace the clip free of charge, it took them a while to do so, and I ended up spending the first leg of my Europe trip without my SF pen, until my family mailed the clip out to me.

    The other issue with the clip is that it has the Surefire emblem laser engraved in the clip. Now, this is a cool, discrete logo, but it does open up the possibility of the pen being confiscated if a security officer recognizes the logo, and deems it a “tactical pen.” For this reason, I would prefer a sterile pocket clip in the future.

    Still, in the grand scheme of things, these are two minor flaws in an otherwise outstanding product. The Surefire Pen is the toughest, most versatile pen I have ever come across, and as a writer, it has become a very sentimental item for me.

    There will be a follow up article which will discuss the tactical use of the Surefire Pen, and compare it to other pens in its class.

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    suburbDad, hiljentaa, SWSon and 4 others like this.
  2. Cobra 6 Actual

    Cobra 6 Actual Loaded Pockets

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    Great review ... thanks. This has motivated me to order one.
     
  3. Rob001

    Rob001 Loaded Pockets

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    Great review and pictures, makes me want to buy one now. Thanks for taking the time to write this.
     
  4. mhphoto

    mhphoto Loaded Pockets

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    Excellent review! The internal screw is ingenious, can't believe it's not on more pens.
     
  5. Mumbojumboo
    • GITD Manix 2XL Owner

    Mumbojumboo EDC Junkie!!!!!

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    awesome. Thanks!!
     
  6. ATF

    ATF Loaded Pockets

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    I want one now!
     
  7. MedicX

    MedicX Loaded Pockets

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    Excellent review. I own both a SF 3 and 4. I love them both, but really love my Benchmade 1100-1.
     
  8. Omning

    Omning Loaded Pockets

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    Best review for one of these styles of pens I've read yet, and the first one that made me want to go get one!
     
  9. Mark Greenman
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    Mark Greenman Loaded Pockets

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    I'm glad you like the review guys. I really like the surefire pen, so this was one of the more fun reviews to do.

    I'm surprised as well- its a very simple system, and Surefire barely mentions it in their add copy, I wonder if its even patented?

    All I know that it's so simple that there is no reason it should not be included in more designs.
     
  10. Riggs

    Riggs Loaded Pockets

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    Nice review i enjoyed reading it, i almost bought one of these once. Maybe i should have.
     
  11. wfochris

    wfochris Loaded Pockets

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    Surefire needs to contact you for marketing and contract testing :)

    Nice review. I'm looking for a leak proof pen and will add this one to the decision making matrix.
     
  12. FlaRider

    FlaRider Loaded Pockets

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    I had never been happy with the Schmidt ball pen cartridge provided with the pen. After reading this thread I went out and bought a Mont Blanc ball pen cartridge. However, it is too short and does not fit this pen even when adjusted all the way down. Does Mont Blanc make different ball point refills of different sizes, the one I purchased at Staples was the only size that was sold.
     
  13. takenaway

    takenaway Loaded Pockets

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    Great review this is going on the wish list!
     
  14. cltypes32

    cltypes32 Loaded Pockets

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    Fantastic write up
     
  15. Mark Greenman
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    Mark Greenman Loaded Pockets

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    That sounds very unusual, as all the montblanc refills i have used were quite long. Silly question, but you're sure you're using the internal screw?

    Here are the refills I use, they are 4 3/8" long:
    http://www.amazon.com/Genuine-Montblanc-Rollerball-Refill-MB15158/dp/B0030RFVUY/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1323539752&sr=8-5

    Let me know if you're still having issues.
     
  16. FlaRider

    FlaRider Loaded Pockets

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    Thanks for the response. That link you provide is for the Rollerball. I had bought the ballpoint. That could be the difference. I will give the rollerball a try. Thanks again.
     
  17. aphex2k

    aphex2k Loaded Pockets

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    When using the glass-breaker, isn't there a temptation to cover the sharp end with your thumb? Would it not work better if your thumb was on the "blunt" end which would get you more PSI through, not only reducing risk of self injury, but also converting glass-breaking energy through a point?
     
  18. Mark Greenman
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    Mark Greenman Loaded Pockets

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    Glad to be of help Rider, let me know if that works out for you.

    There is the temptation, but luckily then the pen will (usually) be retracted inside. But ideally you would just hold it in a hammer fist w/out a thumb cap grip. The surefire pen bulges out at the top, so this provides a natural break to prevent the hand from sliding down on hard impact.

    You could attempt to break the glass with the tip, as it is made of steel, but I would not suggest it. The glassbreaker hurts like hell when it hits your thumb, and it is probably less effective.
     
  19. echo victor
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    echo victor Previously "YankeeHotelFoxtrot"

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    Hi Mark,

    I'm considering a Surefire pen, either the original EWP-01 (in black) or the EWP-04 (also in black). To that end, I've been perusing every online comment and video I can find, but I still have a couple of questions (it is difficult to actually find a brick and mortar store to visit and perhaps hold the pens and examine them). I was hoping that you could shed some light:

    1. After using this pen for as long as you have, would you say that the end cap and/or the cap nearest the pen-point come loose after awhile? I've seen comments here and there that others have experienced this issue.
    2. I'd keep this pen in a cargo-pants pocket most of the time. Because the cap must be loosened to retract the ball point (an odd design IMO), have you ever had the upper segment unscrew itself from everyday motion?
    3. How did you remove the stainless steel BB and how did you insert the ceramic BB?
    4. Looking back, would you buy the -01 pen again, or would you perhaps go with an -02, -03 or -04 model? I'm considering the -04 because it is all-black and seems to be an improvement over -02 & -03.

    I guess that I'm struggling with spending $125+ for the -04 and it's just a pen; at least the -01 has a potential second function. But the idea of walking around with a slightly loosened pen (in order that the pen tip be retracted) seems almost courting the possibility that the pen would come apart.

    thanks!
     
  20. Mark Greenman
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    Mark Greenman Loaded Pockets

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    Hey w2,

    I would deff go with the 01 over any of the other surfire pens. There's really no contest between them, either tactically or practically. The 01 is far better as an impact device due to the glassbreaker, while the others can only be used as piercing tools, and pens as piercing tools suck (basically, its like fighting with the worlds shortest, dullest icepick.) Meanwhile, from a practical standpoint, EWP-01 can use any ink cartidge in the world, while the others can only use the shmidt. The 02-04 are better than any other tactical pens on the market, but the EWP-01 is simply the best period.

    1. As stated in the review, the tip and glassbreaker do tend to come loose, but this problem is largely solved with a few wraps of teflon tape- it will still become slightly loose, but will never unscrew all the way with the teflon tape.

    2. The upper segment is attached with very sturdy threads, and requires 2 full rotations to unscrew completely from the ink retracted position (where the little white line is.) Nothing is impossible, however I'm willing to bet that it will never, ever unscrew all the way in your pocket.
    -- meanwhile, if you had the 02-04 clickie models, it would almost certainly click open in your cargo pockets while walking.

    3. I had help from a very cool member of the USN forum to remove the glassbreaker, and he wished to remain nameless. You can try two different ways- 1) heat the glassbreaker till its red hot while holding it upside down, and the metal may expand enough to allow the BB to fall out. 2) you could try and drill the BB out from below the glassbreaker with a 1/8" drill bit using a drillpress. I cannot say with certainty that either will work, and you do so at your own risk.

    4. The O4 looks very sexy, but I would always take the 01 over it. It's ability to convert to any ink cartridge is a feature not found on any other pen, and it is worth its weight in gold if your a writer or like to travel. Meanwhile, the glassbreaker makes the EWP-01 superior for use as an impact device as well. There is no other pen on the market today that I would take over the EWP-01. Its not perfect, but it's pretty close.