My quest for the perfect “Inexpensive Chinese Fountain Pen” brings me to a brand I’ve never touched before…
Dikawen 839 Fountain Pen
Nib: Fine/Extra Fine
Filling System: Screw-Type Piston Converter & International Standard Cartridges
About the Pen:
I’ve done a fair amount of cruising around eBay looking for cool Chinese fountain pens. Why? Well for starters, many Chinese pens have interesting and unique designs that are different from more mainstream brands. And the fact that they’re typically dirt cheap doesn’t hurt.
When perusing the world of Chinese fountain pens, you’ll probably notice a huge number of brands available. Some are different brands owned by the same companies (like Jinhao & Baoer). Others appear to be different “translations” of the same brand name (like Wingsung & Yongsheng). I could probably rattle off another 20 Chinese manufacturers (I won’t) whose names are fairly well known.
But there are a handful of brands that seem to fly under the radar. One pen manufacturer that came up every so often was Dikawen, but I couldn’t find any chatter around the Innernets to tell me if they’re any good or not. I found a cool-looking swirly brown and gold Dikawen 839 for under $10, and decided to pull the trigger, despite the lack of information.
The pen itself elicits feelings of both delight and disappointment. Keep reading for the final verdict.
The Dikawen 839 is a smallish, cigar-shaped pen, about the size and shape of a Pilot Metropolitan. The entire pen is made of brass, though, so it’s pretty heavy for its size.
I like the way this pen looks. It has a very simple, yet pleasant design. The barrel is rounded off at the end, so there’s no endcap. And the finial is a simple dome.
The barrel and cap have a brown and gold swirl design with red and amber accents. All the hardware is gold-colored (finial, clip, cap band, and center band). The clip is simple, yet decorative. The deep swirls and gold accents look nice together. It’s a pretty classy-looking pen.
The pen’s only branding appears on the center band, which has DIKAWEN 839 on one side and the Dikawen logo on the other, applied through a reverse screen printing process. The center band is gold in color, and the negative space is what was screen printed around the band. I like this design choice, as it gives a “gold on black” appearance.
The section is brass with a glossy black painted finish. It has several strips of very fine knurling, which add just a touch of grippiness (Yeah, I know that’s not a real word. Tough.). The knurling works. I’ve used this pen a ton and it’s never once felt slippery.
When I first started collecting fountain pens a couple years ago, I had no interest in hooded nibs. To me, the hooded nib seemed like the redheaded stepchild of the more proper “normal” nib style. But the more I use them, the more appreciation I have for hooded nibs. As I’ve stated in probably every review I’ve done, I have small handwriting, so I prefer Fine and Extra Fine nibs. Hooded nibs typically get me a line weight that I can use on an everyday basis.
I’ll get into the nib in greater detail when I talk about Build Quality and Writing Experience. For now, let’s just leave it by saying the Dikawen 839 has a hooded nib that writes in the F/EF range.
Finally, the pen comes with a middle-of-the-road, typical Chinese converter present on a lot of pens I’ve gotten. It’s not a bad converter, but it’s not the nicest one, either. It does the job fine.
Build Quality (2.5/5):
I’ll start by saying that the overall construction of the pen is excellent: It’s a solid, well machined pen that’s not rattly or in danger of falling apart. But there are a couple issues that bring the score down. I just can’t let them go.
But first, let’s start with the great stuff. The barrel and section threads marry up perfectly, giving a smooth and wonderful metal-on-metal action when screwing and unscrewing the section. No catches or dings, no misalignment. They’re perfect.
The clip is springy enough to hold the pen in a shirt pocket, but won’t rip your fingernail off trying to lift it from the cap. I’d say it’s pretty much a perfect clip. Looking inside the cap, I see a rivet holding the finial in place. I’m pretty sure the finial isn’t going anywhere.
The pen just feels solid. I would have no problem bringing this pen anywhere, including work, school, travel, etc.
Now for the not-so-great stuff, starting with the paint job. I love the finish of this pen. The swirling is brown and gold, but I can’t tell if the brown is mixed with the gold, or if the gold is the underlying brass showing through. Either way, it’s a very rich, very pretty effect. Lacquer was applied over the paint to make the colors pop and add a nice, durable coating over it. The problem I have is in how the paint was applied.
Clearly, the barrel and cap were turned/rotated as the finish was painted on, so the starting point and end point are the same. Because the pattern is different at the beginning of the rotation than it is at the end, it leaves behind a “seam” in the paint. Of course, this doesn’t affect how the pen writes, but I think it cheapens the look of the pen…and it bugs me.
Now: The cap. I will say that the cap’s snapping action is very good. It snaps tightly in place with little effort, and you can remove the cap without requiring too much effort (or throwing ink across the room). Although the cap will never come off the pen by itself, there is a little bit of a wobble, as if the cap’s inner sleeve is just a little wider than the pen. With the pen capped, if you take the barrel in one hand and the cap in the other, you can wiggle them separately. Like I said, the cap isn’t going anywhere. But it’s hard not to look at this as a design flaw.
Now let’s tiptoe through the tulips. This is what really makes me knock points off the Build Quality (I would have given it a 4.5 if not for this issue).
Look at the pictures below. Notice that the nib, feed, and section are all misaligned from each other. No two pieces are aligned. The nib and feed are really off from one another. And as is true with most hooded nibs, there’s no way to disassemble it to fix everything. Nope, I’m stuck with it that way.
I appreciate a nice design and solid construction. But the pen’s gotta write, you know? The first time I uncapped the pen and saw all that misalignment going on, my expectations for how well it would write went down the drain.
I wrote several pages of (very small) text with the Dikawen 839 over the course of a couple weeks. I encountered maybe three or four skips and hard starts along the way, but it worked flawlessly the rest of the time. The line it puts down is very consistent, with no burps or blobs.
On a couple of occasions, I left the pen uncapped for a couple minutes to see if there would be any startup issues. There wasn’t a single time where the pen failed to write. It started up right away every time.
There is a very large, sharp step where the section and barrel meet, although with the way that I hold the pen, it was never a problem. I hold the pen on the knurled portion of the section, and never encountered the step while writing. I can’t guarantee that you’ll have the same experience, but it didn’t give me any trouble.
The pen is well balanced when not posted. Although the cap does not post, I set the cap on the back of the barrel to test the balance. This made it very back-heavy, to the point where it was uncomfortable to write with. Even if the cap did post, you probably wouldn’t want to write with it that way, anyway.
The section is fairly narrow, and I found if I gripped it tightly, my hand would cramp up a bit. And being somewhat heavy for its size didn’t help. But I found that by loosening up my grip, the cramping went away.
Writing Experience (4.5/5):
Given the wild misalignment of the section, nib, and feed, I fully expected this pen to be a nightmare of a writer. I was wrong. Very, very wrong. To my complete shock and delight, the Dikawen 839 wrote beautifully.
The line it puts down is fine and consistent. I mentioned earlier that there were a few skips & hard starts, but they were few and far between, and only lasted a millimeter or two.
The nib is smooth, but there’s a bit of feedback. I think that’s pretty common for F/EF nibs.
It’s kind of amazing how well this pen writes given the way the internals were slapped together. I have to knock the pen on Build Quality for the misalignment, but when it comes down to writing, this misalignment doesn’t seem to have any negative effect. It simply writes beautifully.
So given that it looks nice and writes well, and given what a nice, fine line it puts down, the Dikawen 839 is, in my opinion, a great value at $9.50. It’s a pen I can use every day, bring to work, and put in my pocket without worrying about whether or not it will work or make a mess.
The Nutshell: Overall Score: 20/25
|Best Qualities||Worst Qualities|
|Well constructed||Misalignment of Nib/Feed/Section|
|Beautiful, Fine Line||Couple Hard Starts/Skips|
Despite the careless way the pen was put together, I really like using it. It’s a great and reliable writer, and it’s nice to look at.
I can’t help but worry about the misalignment, though. Did I get lucky with the writing quality? Would others have the same pleasant surprise upon putting nib to paper? Was the misalignment an anomaly? No way to tell for sure.
So while I recommend the Dikawen 839, my recommendation comes with a strong caveat of “your mileage may vary.”