Getting back to some good, old-fashioned inexpensive Chinese fountain pen action. Is it cheap? Or is it good? Could it be Both?
Baoer 508 Fountain Pen Review
Nib: Medium (on the finer side)
Filling System: Standard International Converter & Cartridges
About the Pen:
Exploring the world of Chinese fountain pens is an adventure. Some are inexpensive, others are less so. Some are outstanding performers, while others are absolute disasters. And there seems to be no real correlation between price and quality. Some of my best finds were in the $4 to $7 range, while some of my biggest disappointments cost between $12 and $19.
Some Chinese pens lead to adventure not because of the price-to-performance ratio, but because of some of the crazy things that happen with them. The Baoer 508 is a perfect example.
I filled the 508 with ink from a sample, so I used a syringe. I was also filling another pen, so I stood the 508 up on its cap to let gravity help the ink find its way to the nib. After about three minutes, I came back to it and took the cap off. Ink went flying all over the place!
The pen couldn’t have sat there for more than three minutes, but every drop of ink had drained out of the converter into the cap. Every. Drop. It’s a miracle that no ink got on my carpet or laptop. I knew the issue was either a faulty converter or a problem with the feed letting in too much air.
So I refilled the pen with a different ink and started to write. Within a minute or two, ink was pooling in a big blob from between the nib and feed and dripping onto the paper. I have a few other Baoer pens, so I grabbed a converter out of one that I knew worked. I transferred the ink to the new converter, and voila! It worked just fine.
I disassembled the converter and did a “blow” test to see if air could get around the seal, and it couldn’t. The plunger was perfect. So I broke out my loupe to inspect the converter’s chamber. I found some stress cracks and a couple “spots” that could be holes in the walls of the chamber. It’s just a bad converter.
And I have to say that I’m pretty surprised. I’ve never had or seen a converter that was bad out of the box. And I’ve had really good luck with Baoer pens so far. They typically have better build quality than big sister Jinhao…at least the ones in my collection.
Note: Jinhao is the parent company of Baoer.
Okay, that’s enough ruminating on the past. Let’s talk design.
Baoer has no shortage of interesting designs, and no shortage of knockoffs of other, more expensive pens. The 508 is pretty unique and interesting looking. Everything in the pen is metal, likely brass. The barrel and cap have a translucent red and black mottled material over top of the underlying metal. You can see the brass showing through, but that gives it some depth and a nice faux pearlescence. The effect is actually quite pretty.
All the pen’s accents and furniture are chrome (or some other silver-colored material). The barrel is widest at the mouth, where it sports a chrome section coupler, and tapers gently down to the end cap, which flares out noticeably before ending in a gently convex surface. The end cap and barrel are separated by a plain, narrow chrome band.
The section is brass that’s been painted black. It gently tapers down toward the nib, then flares out a bit, giving it a bit of an hourglass shape. I find the section to be a little narrow and a little slick, although I didn’t have any issues with it being slippery while writing.
Baoer pens use a number of different nib styles. The one on the 508 is pretty sleek in appearance (check out the glamorous profile pic below). It has a low profile, a finless feed, and no breather hole. And—fortunately for me—it writes on the finer side of medium. Win!
The steel nib has a very simple design stamped into it, consisting of a crescent shape around the outer edge and the BAOER logo stamped lengthwise down the center. The lack of a breather hole doesn’t seem to matter because the ink flow is wet and consistent. Whatever they have going on under this nib is working.
Mostly cylindrical in shape, the cap has an ever-so-slight bulge in the center. The cap has a completely unadorned chrome cap band. No name. No logo. No model number. Just chrome. There is a slightly wider band at the end of the cap that separates the cap from the finial and secures the clip in place.
The 508’s finial is kind of crown-shaped. It flares outward away from the clip band, then angles sharply back toward a reflective, chrome disk.
I’m not sure what to make of this clip. It’s functional, but kind of pitiful at the same time. It’s not an especially ugly clip, but it is kind of weird. Looking at the clip straight-on, it kind of resembles a dagger. It consists of a single piece of metal, folded in about 47 places, including the sad, little tongue that slips up under the clip band. This tongue both connects the clip to the cap and serves as the spring mechanism that secures the pen in a pocket.
While this tongue provides ample pressure to hold the pen in place, it’s folded wrong, making the clip sit crooked on the cap. It’s also pretty loosey-goosey, allowing the clip an annoying amount of side-to-side movement…which resulted in a big scratch in the finish. The folded end of the clip doesn’t feel especially sharp, but the sideways movement was enough to gouge the finish.
Build Quality (2.5/5):
Here’s where Chinese pens often fall short. Many people (including me) believe that some Chinese brands keep their prices low by eliminating the quality control process. They crank out tons of pens made with inexpensive materials, and they don’t bother to check the final products for defects. It’s just a theory, but it makes sense given the hit-or-miss aspect of buying most Chinese brands.
For example, Baoer’s parent company Jinhao gets wildly mixed reviews. So many people love their Jinhao 159s, but mine was a disaster. It fell apart and writes like crap.
The bad converter that came with the Baoer 508 is an anomaly…but it could have easily led to the wreckage of my laptop or carpet had I thrown the ink in a slightly different direction. Throw in the cheap, wiggly clip and the easily scratched finish, and you get some pretty shoddy build quality going on. Thankfully, the pen only cost $3 and the nib is fantastic.
The action of the cap is excellent. It snaps into place very securely, but uncaps easily. The cap is not going to fly off at any point, but also doesn’t take an unreasonable amount of effort to remove. It’s pretty much perfect.
One last thing that I want to mention is the loose fit of the section and barrel threads. When the section is tightened, there’s no issue, but there is a lot of side-to-side play when screwing or unscrewing the section from the barrel. There is also a LOT of squeaking involved as the threads of the metal pieces slide over each other. This doesn’t affect the function of the pen at all, but it is one more symptom of a lax (or nonexistent) quality control process.
Now that I’ve got a working converter in there, the Baoer 508 writes like a champ. I’ve had no issues with skips or hard starts, and the pen writes every time I use it. Even if I let it sit for a couple weeks, ink flows immediately without any argument. Also, while I’m writing for long periods of time, the feed and nib have no problem keeping up.
And if I leave the pen uncapped for a minute or so, it immediately starts to write again with no hint of a hard start.
For the most part, this pen is comfortable to use. As I mentioned earlier, the section is pretty narrow and has a slick, painted surface. Although I haven’t had any problems with the pen feeling slippery, I have had some hand cramping while writing due to a tendency for me to grip the pen tighter than I need to.
Writing Experience (4.5/5):
Baoer fountain pens routinely provide me with a good writing experience, and the 508 is no exception. I can’t get over how smooth, wet, and relatively fine the nib writes. It’s a very dependable and consistent writer. While the section is a bit narrower than I prefer, I don’t find the pen uncomfortable to use as long as I remember to loosen my grip.
I think the pen is well balanced when not posted. Posting the cap makes the pen pretty back-heavy and I don’t recommend it (not to mention how easily scratched the pen’s finish is…so I wouldn’t suggest posting it for that reason, either).
I’m very happy with the line weight the pen provides. It’s bold enough to showcase the properties of the ink (like shading), but fine enough for daily writing. It’s also smooth enough and wet enough for serious note-taking in class or at work, as it can keep up with fast writing and also handle moments of inactivity.
Bad converter. Sad clip. Poor tolerance on the threads. Flimsy finish. Typically, these issues would deserve a low value rating. But the truth is that the 508’s writing ability far outshines its shoddy build quality. This pen has many faults, but the nib is not one of them. A pen doesn’t have to look perfect to successfully serve its purpose…but it does need to write. And this one writes beautifully.
For $3, this pen writes too well to be considered anything other than a superb value.
The Nutshell: Overall Score: 20/25
|Best Qualities||Worst Qualities|
|Extremely smooth, wet & consistent nib||Bad converter (more of a problem with QC)|
|Writes on the finer side of medium||Clip scratched the finish|
|Nice/interesting design||Poor finish easily scratched by clip|
|Excellent cap function||Loose & squeaky barrel/section thread coupling|
I always say that part of the fun of experimenting with Chinese pens is the adventure that goes along with them. Some of them don’t work very well, and others shock me with awesome. The Baoer 508 did a little of both. I could have done without the unexpected ink-flinging episode over my dining room table…that’s probably a little too much adventure for my taste. And honestly, I’m disappointed in the lousy build quality, especially when I compare the 508 with the other Baoer pens I own.
Luckily, the faults with this pen don’t hinder it’s ability to be a fantastic writer. Once I cleaned up the spilled ink and got the converter situation solved, the Baoer 508 blew me away as a writer. The other problems are simply cosmetic. If you want a rugged pen that maintains a stunning exterior, look elsewhere. But if you don’t mind some blemishes or aesthetic weirdness accompanying your wonderful writer, then I can only recommend firing off $3 to China and picking up one of these babies.