The Nock Family: Brasstown, Lookout, Hightower, Fodderstack XL, Brasstown
There are plenty of reviews of the various Nock Cases lurking around the web. This one will have a different focus. I’m going to take a look at the cases as a group. Think of it like a review of a collection of short stories instead of just a single story.
I was a backer for Nock’s Kickstarter campaign. While others bought several cases, or even the whole lineup, I only signed up for a single Hightower case. Frankly I had concerns that the fabric they used would be too rough for pens with more delicate finishes. So I decided to try one, and see how I liked it.
In the subsequent year+ I’ve had several of these cases come in and out of my possession (which should tell you how I felt about the fabric once I had it), I’ve had several low-level email exchanges with Brad (assuming he doesn’t have someone else answering his emails), and I’ve manually modified two of the cases. And I’ve carried the cases every day. In short, I’ve had enough interaction with the cases and the company to give a thorough review.
To begin here’s a list of all the cases I’ve had. The ones in bold I still have.
- Brasstown, Forrest/Sunshine: This is the one I carry in my messenger bag when I go to work. It gets used maybe 2-3 days each week.
- Brasstown, Mandarin/BlueJay, Modified: I’ve modified this one so that it holds larger items. At this point it’s sort of a catch-all for larger items (harmonicas, knives) if I’ll be carrying them around or packing them in luggage.
- Hightower, Steel/Mango: This one has two main uses. It’s my go-to case if I just need one or two pens and a small notebook, but I also use it to transport pens in my bag on the workdays that I don’t use the Brasstown.
- Hightower, Mandarin/BlueJay: Given away as a gift.
- Hightower, Steel/BlueJay: This was the one I got through the Kickstarter. I ripped out one of the bartacks to combine two pen slots into one larger slot. Unrelated to the modification the case got dropped in the parking lot and the oil wouldn’t come out.
- Sassafrass, Mandarin/Mango: Sent in error and returned to Nock…but I looked it over first. I liked the color combo so much I bought a new Lookout in this combo.
- Lookout, Mandarin/Mango: I use the Lookout when I’m going somewhere to write and I’m taking my Midori or large Rhodia pad.
- Lookout, Steel/Mango (sold as part of downsizing pen collection)
- Lookout, Forrest/Sunshine (sold as part of downsizing pen collection)
- Fodderstack XL, Mandarin/BlueJay: The Fodderstack XL is my newest addition to the range, and I carry it around at work, loaded with a pen, a pocket notebook, and some index cards.
Appearance (Comments for all models as a group)
The Nock Cases have a rugged, casual look about them. If you’re a style conscious person it might look out of place to pull one of these cases out of your suit pocket or leather briefcase, but they go along perfectly with backpacks and casual bags. That’s not a knock against them, but cases are chosen as much for their looks as how they protect your pens. And if you’re expecting a case that looks rich, you’re going to be disappointed. These are cases designed for EDC—after all, they’re named after mountains.
Each of the cases (except for a version that I have never owned) are made of two different grades of Nylon. The color combinations change from time to time—there are seven right now, and a few more have been phased out, or were used for limited runs. The interior colors are fairly bright—with one exception—while the exterior tend to be darker, but the Mandarin and Sky colors are fairly bright. Personally I think the color choices are nice. And while I understand why we can’t mix-and-match our own color combinations, it sure would be nice. In case Brad reads this…please make the new “Halftower” in a new Forrest/Mango combo.
Construction (Comments for all models as a group)
I’ve already said these cases are designed for EDC, so it’s no surprise that construction is where these cases shine. They are sewn with a variety of seams—exposed, hidden, reinforced, and bartack—and all of them are solid. I’ve now modified two cases by ripping out stitches, and ripping them out was no easy task. It took 5-10 minutes to get out a single seam to turn two pen slots into one. Errors in manufacturing aside if you blow a seam on one of these cases you’re doing something very, very wrong with your case. Looking inward from the seams, the two different grades of nylon are strong and even after a year of use don’t have any major wear.
During the Kickstarter campaign I commented that I was skeptical that the nylon used would we be gentle enough on delicate pen finishes. While I’m much less concerned, now that I have the cases and have used them for a year, if I had any ultra-high-end, ultra-glossy pens, I still might be a little wary whether the nylon (strong, not scratchy, but not what I’d call soft either) might not dull the finish over time—BUT, and I can’t stress this enough, I’ve not had the problem with any of pens, ranging from cheap to high-end.
Price (Comments for all models as a group)
The advantages of selecting cases built to carry around, is that the materials aren’t expensive. Even taking that into account, these are a remarkable value. Prices ranging from $17 (Fodderstack XL) to $35 (Brasstown) are refreshingly low (note: there are two cases lower than $17, but I don’t have either of them). The Lookout offers secure protection for three pens, for anything short of crushing, for $20. In 2015 that’s a steal.
Company (Comments for all models as a group)
One of the advantages of buying from a small company, be it a start-up or a maker’s shop, is the ability to connect with owner or employees of the company. When I decided that I wanted to modify one of the cases I asked Brad for advice, to make sure I didn’t ruin the case. I got an email back, the same day, telling me that other’s had made similar mods, and that I should have no trouble. He even asked me to let him know how it went. Likewise, when I’ve wanted a particular model in a particular combination he can generally give me a pretty good estimate when more will be posted to the site.
All of my cases have come marked with the Made in USA label. I like this. Not for any nationalist pride, but because for this type of product it means that the work was done in one place—no wasteful shipping between manufacturing locations. It’s a few people working together to make a good product to fill a need. It’s the kind of business I’m happy to support.
On to the actual cases…
Holds: 6 pens with room for extras
Cons: Noisy Zipper, No Notebooks
This is Nock’s largest case. Closed, it looks not unlike a traditional pencil case. But inside is a “tongue” that unrolls to reveal 6 pen slots. The tongue does not have a flap that folds down over the pens’ clips, but that’s a good thing. Not only would the flap make the rolled-up tongue much thicker, but it’s unnecessary, as the rollup will be tucked into the zipper pouch anyway. The roll-up is large enough that even holding 6 pens there’s still a little room left over for small bits and bobs. I keep small UV keychain light (for using Noodler’s Blue Ghost to send letters to my kids), a FitBit charger, a USB drive and some days even a harmonica in there to keep my pens company. It can be a bit large for everyday use, but it’s ideal for packing into a backpack, or into luggage for a trip.
The one criticism I have—and I’ll freely admit this is a quibble—is the zipper. It’s noisy. If I don’t silence the zipper and put it in my backpack, I can hear the zippers rattle with each step. It’s not difficult to fix this; for one I cut off the zipper pulls and replace them with cord and rubber finger loops, for the other I wove cord through the zippers. Both of these solutions have the added benefit of allowing me to hand the case from a hook when needed. Ideally, this could be solved with using smaller zipper handles, rubberized zipper handles, or having a flap of fabric cover the zipper (like on the zippers of pants). I get that this would add a little to the price, and since it’s not hard to fix myself, this wouldn’t affect my use of this case. Like I said…it’s a quibble.
Holds: 3 pens, 1 notebook
Pros: Notebook sleeve is roomier than Fodderstack XL
Cons: Can open in a bag
A small nylon folio, the Hightower opens to reveal three pen slots inside the front cover, and one notebook slot inside the back cover. There is a flap that folds down to cover the pens clips, that serves to keep the pens from sliding out of the slots when the case is closed. I love taking this one along when I go out for the day, or over to a friend’s house for the evening. I love that it holds my preferred pocket notebook, the Rhodia Unlimited 9x14cm 60 sheets, with enough room left over for index cards or a few folded sheets of paper or receipts. In fact I can even get two of these notebooks into the Hightower, though it doesn’t close all that well.
Drawbacks? Yes, one. If I put this is a bag, it sometimes works its way open. I’ve never had a pen fall out—thanks to that flap—but I have had a notebook fall out on occasion. Otherwise I just love this case.
Holds: 3 pens
Pros: Small, Secure
Cons: No notebook
For me, this is the least versatile of all the cases. It only holds one thing—pens. Depending on the day this can be a plus or a minus. If I’m going somewhere to write, and I’m taking a larger format notebook, this case goes along perfectly—I can take three pens, or two and my ink pot. But if I’m not carrying a larger notebook with me, this one is just too limiting.
That said, if you’re packing your pens for later, the loop across the front of this case hold the pens very securely. If I toss one of these in my bag I know the pens aren’t going anywhere.
The Fodderstack XL
Holds: 1 pen (2 if you’re ok with them touching), 1 notebook and/or index cards
Pros: Crazy Convenient
Cons: Fairly limited in the size of notebooks and pens
I have frustrating relationship with the Fodderstack XL. For starters, it’s a ridiculously convenient case—holding one pen and one pocket notebook. If I just want to have somewhere to take notes or write down the stray thought, this case fits the bill. However, this is not a versatile case. If I want to use it I have to adjust to it—not vice versa. The problem is the very thing that makes it convenient—its size.
It was designed to hold the Nock pocket notebook (9x14cm), so it also holds the Field Notes books easily. However, it doesn’t like my beloved Rhodia notebooks (also 9x14cm) because they’re just a tiny bit thicker than the Nock notebooks. It also doesn’t like the Clairfontaine 9×14 notebooks. So it’s not like I can’t find something to fit in there, but it’s won’t take my Rhodia notebooks because the tolerances on the small case are just that tight.
Franklin-Christoph 02, TWSBI 580, Pelikan M200
Similarly, using this case you need to be conscious of what pen you put in there. My favorite, lately, in the Franklin-Christoph 02—a fairly large pen—and it sticks up above the top of the case. So if I’m going to take this with me I can’t just toss it in my bag, but instead need to put it somewhere where the exposed end of the pen is protected. The TWSBI 580 is just a hair too long, but the Pelikan M200 is small so that one gets plenty of protection.
I love that if I’m going to a business meeting this case tucks nicely into my Suit’s lapel pocket.
I get that these cases aren’t for everybody. If you carry around twenty pens, these aren’t for you. Likewise, if you prefer cases made of leather or fancy materials, move along. But if you’re ok with the casual look and feel, these cases almost certainly have a good way for you to carry around a few pens. Whether it’s tossing your rollerballs and pencils in your backpack, or making sure you always have your favorite fountain pen at the ready, these cases are a good bet.
I’ve seen some of the teaser pictures for the new “Halftower” case which combines featured of the Hightower and Brasstown cases. Additionally I’d love to see a case that holds an A5 notebook or pad along with one or two pens. But first and foremost I’d love to see a new color combination—fingers crossed for Forrest/Mango (if not that one, then Midnight/Sunshine).