PenBBS 309 - Back to the Future

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The PenBBS 309 piston filler may be the best all-around fountain pen PenBBS makes.

I'm late to the party, I know. The many terrific qualities of the PenBBS 309 are old news to many. But they're new to me.

It was only recently, when I got it into my head that I wanted to add a vermouth pen to my collection, that I decided to circle back and get a 309. I can even say that the pen sat unused in the packaging for quite a while I explored other pens.

But I'm here now and it's been fun to look at this older model from my current perspective.

An Excellent Size

As soon as I picked the pen up, I knew the PenBBS 309 was gold.

  Near ideal in size and weight, the PenBBS 309 posts perfectly and holds a lot of ink.

Bigger than a Pilot Custom Heritage 92 yet smaller than a TWSBI 580, the pen fits well in the hand, both posted and unposted. The size is nigh on perfect.

L-R Pilot Custom Heritage 92, PenBBS 309, TSWBI 580
  • Capped: 143mm
  • Uncapped: 130mm
  • Posted: 161.5mm
  • Section diameter: 10-11.1mm
  • Barrel diameter: 13mm
Unposted, you have a jotter par excellence

The weight of the pen is also very well considered. Uncapped (12.41g), the pen is an agile note taker. Posted (19.53g), it becomes a full-fledged long-form writer.

Posted the 309 becomes a serious writer.

The pen fits well among the current crop of quality pens. It's interesting that uncapped and posted, the 309 is very similar in size to the recently released 352. The 352 is just a bit slimmer.

L-R: Moonman M600S, Fine Writing Golden Armour, PenBBS 309, Natami Inception & PenBBS 352

An Expression of Classic Style

The pen has clean lines and, to me, a timeless look. Nothing flamboyant. Everything balanced. The slight conical finish on the finials is an excellent touch. 

I can see taking this pen anywhere.

I like that the 309 still has the older style clip and I'm good with the silver trim. It's a style that works for me.

Quality Construction

It was pleasant to discover that the pen disassembles so easily. Unscrew the blind cap and you have access to the piston. It just pulls out.

Complete with Easter Egg

The section has an o-ring at the base to seal the barrel and the nib unit has o-rings at both the top and the bottom. The nib and feed came out with only a medium amount of struggle. The cap finial also unscrews to remove the clip or clean the threads.

All in all, the 309 is a very serviceable pen. The manufacturing quality is top-notch.

The cap comes off in just under 2½ turns. The threads are fine but smooth. No cross-threading at all. Well done!

Sticky Pistons?

What I did find is that the piston tends to stick in the barrel. This does seem to be a thing with this pen. Chrisrap52 talks about sticking pistons in one of his YouTube videos. The detailed discussion about sticking starts at the 5:25m mark.

PENBBS 308 & 309 Fountain Pens - a closer look chrisrap52 — YouTube

In my case, the pen came with the piston well and truly stuck. I used the blunt end of a chopstick inserted from the top of the barrel to dislodge it. After sitting a day or two empty, the piston re-stuck itself, even after I'd applied silicon grease. If piston sticking is a problem, one solution is just to leave the piston in the down position and fill it like an eyedropper. Works like a charm.

Jack of Many Trades

With their first releases, PenBBS sold their pens with exactly one nib, the Bent F - something akin to a mini fude. That's still the nib that comes standard on the 309.

After a time, it got a bit boring.

As a pen for swapping nibs, the 309 is outstanding.

Now, however, PenBBS has released traditional (round) nibs in extra-fine, fine and medium. All-in-all, it's a fine set of nibs. A little variety goes a long ways.

Image source: Taobao

That means just from PenBBS it's easy to alter the character of the pen by changing to a different nib unit. Beyond that, the 309 has enough room in the cap to swap in #6 nibs from a wide range of makers: Jowo, Bock, Schmidt, Knox, Goulet, FPR, Kanwrite and now even Moonman. It's a long list.

And It Writes Really Well

The shape, weight and balance make the PenBBS 309 a pleasure to write with. The threads behind section are fine and far enough back to be unobtrusive. You can grip this pen comfortably any number of ways.

The PenBBS 309 is a pen where form and function neatly align.

I greatly enjoyed reconnecting with the Bent F nib in this pen. It wrote well from the start and didn't require any tuning. Writing with this pen took me back to the delight I experienced with my first PenBBS pen, the 308.


For roughly US$20, the PenBBS 309 could be the only pen you need.

It holds a bunch of ink so you don't have to worry if it's out every time you pick it up like many cartridge converter pens. At least in the case of the semi-transparent versions of the pen like vermouth (309-21SF), you get an up front view of the ink sloshing around in the barrel.

You get a pen the fits wonderfully in the hand posted or unposted, writes flawlessly, comes apart easily for cleaning and is perfect for swapping nibs.

And this was one of the first pens PenBBS made!

The trouble, of course, is the sticking piston. For a first time fountain pen user, I could see this being a significant barrier, leading some folks to get off on the wrong foot with this pen. Even abandoning it in frustration. It worries me.

That user is probably going to need some help. But, then again, that's one reason we all are here.

Has your 309 stayed in your rotation? Are you tempted to drag it out and ink it up again? What's your favorite nib for this pen? And color?

Given this pen has been around for some time, there are lots of stories. Share your experience!

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Article info

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Published: 2019/07/17 - Updated: 2020/05/28
Total: 1215 words

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More often that not, my desk is my pocket. But everyday desk items doesn't have the same ring.

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