by Daniel Wirtheim
Before I picked up a Skilcraft pen I didn’t think too much about what I took notes with. I would use pens from hotels and pharmaceutical companies — whatever was free.
A few months ago I was given a Skilcraft pen, the official pen of the US government, the pen our military uses in warzones and the pen that’s carried by the Postal Service.
Industries of the Blind, in Greensboro, has been making the Skilcraft pen for more than 40 years, under the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act, which requires that federal agencies buy a certain amount of products from nonprofits that employ blind workers.
My initial thought was that the Skilcraft has that classy, timeless look that’s reserved for a restored Oldsmobile. It’s made to fit in flight jackets, so it’s small and dense. Its density is what allows the Skilcraft such smooth, flowing movements.
The free pens that come in promotional bags are made from cheap plastic that makes them light and good for nothing. The Skilcraft pen is slightly weighted by a brass ink tube, and the barrel is made from heavy-duty plastic. The slight drag given by the pen’s weight helps get those really nice cursive letters that you thought were only capable with a fountain pen.
It took me a while to realize that gel-grips on pens are a novelty. They disrupt the balance of a good pen, and frankly, they look tacky. What I like so much about the Skilcraft is how it was designed to be simple, without simplifying anything.
The pen is built to pass 16 pages of military specifications. It has to operate in extreme temperatures, from 160 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit, it has to be bleach resistant and write for one linear mile. At one time, the military taught soldiers how to perform tracheotomies with the pen barrel and, according to company lore, the back end of the pen can stand in for a two-inch fuse.
After I lost my first Skilcraft pen, I went to amazon.com, where I bought a pack of 12 more, which I’ll probably pass onto my children.