Keen Insights: EDC Bolt-Action Pen from Honey Badger Arsenal


No, this isn’t your typical bolt-action. There is a cartridge, and a bolt nob, and even a bolt body, but this is a bolt-action pen. And the appeal is magnetic.

If you’re into EDC ephemera, this is for you. As someone who writes about guns, I know I write for a relatively small group of readers. Most all of them are gun nuts. It is a smaller percentage, for sure, than the number of actual gun owners in this country.

And Keen Insights is a column about knives. We aren’t specifically trying to cover knives that appeal to guys who own guns, but that is where we end up. But knives have an even broader utilitarian side than guns, so they have a widespread appeal.

The Honey Badger Arsenal bolt-action pen next to my ancient Zippo and a moon coin from Shire Post.
The Honey Badger Arsenal bolt-action pen next to my ancient Zippo and a moon coin from Shire Post.

And here we are introducing pens. There’s a large crossover between knives and pens. A lot of knife companies make their own pen lines. And they aren’t all overtly tactical self-defense pens, either (though those do exist).

Honey Badger Arsenal bolt action pen, disassembled
The pen, disassembled (except for the tip, which also unscrews). There is a tiny O-ring missing from the picture (and missing from the pen, too, as I dropped it and it vanished).

But the best are still made by hand. And that’s where Honey Badger Arsenal comes in. These bolt-actions are addictive. They’re also rock-solid writing utensils.

The pen isn't incredibly long--just 5.5 inches. And it comes in at .375 inches wide.
The pen isn’t incredibly long—just 5.5 inches. And it comes in at .375 inches wide.

It’s All About the Bolt

This design isn’t unique to Honey Badger Arsenal. A quick google for a bolt-action pen will bring up numerous designs. They are actually quite common—and much less complicated than the ratcheting push-top click pens that sprang up after World War II.

This one has a half-dome shaped bolt nob. That part should stay reasonably polished as you will be thumbing it constantly.
This one has a half-dome-shaped bolt nob. That part should stay reasonably polished as you will be thumbing it constantly.

The first of those types were invented way back in the 1880s. The ink cartridges, though, were less effective, so it took some time to catch on. The bolt action is—in a way—an oddly primitive concept, but—at least in this case—a simple concept that is flawlessly executed.

The idea is simple enough. Inside the barrel, an ink cartridge rides on a spring. That spring pushes the cartridge back up inside the barrel until you push it down.

Inside the barrel, this sleeve acts like a bolt body. The little bolt nob connects into this.
Inside the barrel, this sleeve acts like a bolt body. The little bolt nob connects into this.

The Rifle Metaphor

There is a bolt on the upper portion of the barrel that rides in a milled channel. Pressing the bolt down will compress the spring and expose the tip of the pen. Once depressed, the bolt can catch in the J-shaped channel, and the pressure from the spring will stop it there and hold it secure for writing.

The inner-sleeve on this one is brass, as is the bolt. It is subtle, but adds a bit of contrast.
The inner sleeve on this one is brass, as is the bolt. It is subtle but adds a bit of contrast.

The bolt—this pen has a brass bolt head in a brass inner sleeve (just for that last little bit of contrast)—offers a faintly audible click as it slides in place and back out.

The end cap. When it is secured, the seam is hardly visible.
The end cap. When it is secured, the seam is hardly visible.

The process makes for a good fidget toy, too. For those of us who need to keep our hands busy, the bolt on a bolt-action pen is ideal. It may be slightly too loud for the typical classroom setting, at least if you are letting the spring slap the bolt back, but you can guide it back and forth with a slight bit of pressure and prevent it from making a ton of noise.

The bolt-action of the pen locks it in the writing state, or—when the bolt is out of battery—in the retracted state. In this way, it is very similar to a bolt-action rifle. Through the bolt, lock it down, and you’re ready to go.

The tip of the Pilot G2 is well protected in the pen body, which isn’t as fat around as some EDC pens. This one is only marginally wider than a typical throw-away ballpoint.

Writing with the Honey Badger Arsenal Bolt-Action Pen

Almost all of the writing I do now is done on MacBook. Like the pen, there’s an appeal to the sleek aluminum case of a MacBook. But it doesn’t feel handmade. And I couldn’t afford a custom-made Mac, anyhow.

But I still do a surprising amount of writing with a pen. I regularly work with writers, clients, and gun companies, and—for more than a year now—this means my computer is tied up with Zoom. I can’t see people on screen and effectively take notes, so I write. By hand. Like a Luddite.

The Pilot G2 bolt action pen refill. These are easy to find and come in a rainbow of colors.
The Pilot G2 refill. These are easy to find and come in a rainbow of colors and sizes.

I fill notebooks fast. My weapon of choice here is the Pilot Precise V5 Extra Fine Rolling Ball pen. These jokers write at the speed at which I think. They’re fragile, though. The nibs are easily bent.

The HoneyBadger Arsenal pen can take a beating, for sure. And they can take a variety of inserts. This one came with a Pilot G2 cartridge that makes use of Pilot’s roller ball for ink dispersion.

Line drawing of a tavern with Cold Beer signs. Artist: David Higginbotham, using Honeybadger Arsenal Pilot G2 bolt action pen.
The Pilot G2 refills come in ultrafine, fine, regular, and bold. This one came with a bold (.8 mm), but I’m partial to the ultrafine (.38 mm) point for illustrations. Either way, the HBA pen is well balanced for controlled line-work.

Pen geeks like Pilot. If you want something that can write underwater, or over blood or oil, the Fisher Space Pen inserts can also be used. The Fisher inserts are great for any kind of adverse condition—even outer space.

For me, the Pilot cartridges are a solid win. I used to have to translate web pages to order Pilot refills from Japan—that’s how much of a pen snob I am—but now they’re available just about anywhere that sells office supply type things.

The clip is stainless and very strong. The top of the pen threads into a hole on the top of the clip and has a rubber gasket to keep the connection secure.
The clip is stainless and very strong. The top of the pen threads into a hole on the top of the clip and has a rubber gasket to keep the connection secure. The wear that’s starting to show on this one is typical of my tools–I love to take things apart.

Bolt-Action Options

These pens come in a variety of outer materials: brass, copper, titanium.

The Honey Badger Arsenal's bolt-action bolt.
The Honey Badger Arsenal’s bolt-action bolt.

This one is stone-washed, which is why it looks worn in. You can order them polished, too—though contact with your skin will immediately begin undoing that process and adding character to the finish.

The inner sleeve can be a contrasting metal or the same material. And you can have the bolt stand out or blend in by mixing and matching materials.

Honeybadger Arsenal bolt action pen with stone-washed finish
The stone-washed finish will begin changing almost as soon as you take it out of the package. Over time, and with use, the copper will oxidize and take on its own one-of-a-kind look.

The bolt nob can be cut in several geometric shapes, too. Each would have a slightly different feel but would be roughly the same size. They’re turned, too—a close examination reveals some minute tool marks.

Prices on these are incredibly reasonable. This pen starts at $60. That’s a steal for just about anything that’s handmade, and certainly for a well-built tool that is meant to be used daily.



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Author: Joey Webster

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