The Amazing All-angle Sailor Trident

(The Sailor Trident sales page can be found here.)

Japanese fountain pen companies are famous for their innovation in basic pen designs. Pilot leads the way in pen body designs with such ideas as the Murex and Vanishing Point, while Sailor is known for its radical nib designs such as the Concorde, Naginata and Cross Point.

In the late 70's and early 80's Sailor wanted to create a new fountain pen with a nib design that could compete with the ballpoint pen (a.k.a. Biro). The ballpoint pen uses a ball bearing that picks up thick ink from a tube and transfers it to the paper. With a ballpoint pen you can write at just about any angle or pen rotation, and you can also press down to make carbon copies without damaging the pen nib.

Of course, you have to press down anyway to get the ball bearing to roll, which often results in tired hands, and even physical problems resulting from stress to the hands and wrist. With the advent of the ballpoint, writing became a chore. It also contributed to the widespread terrible handwriting that plagues the world today. The oily ballpoint ink often clogs and smudges, and some blobs never quite dry.

So Sailor set out to design a radical new fountain pen that had all the advantages of the ballpoint pen while retaining the advantages of the fountain pen. Fountain pens can glide effortlessly over the paper without pressure, and you can choose your favorite ink if you use a converter or other filling system. Also, there are no oily blobs.

As Sailor did the research this new pen design concept, it came to their attention that this very nib had already been designed by a company called Spacer.

Spacer had gone back to the basics and threw out the notion that a fountain pen nib had to resemble the old quill and dip pen with single slit between two tines. Just as three legs are sufficient to make a table stand on its own, so Spacer discovered that three sets of tines would allow a pen to write at any rotation and angle. The combination of these tines coming together would make the tip strong enough to bear up under the pressure required to make carbon copies.

So Sailor bought the nib design from Spacer and in 1983 the Sailor Trident was born in Japan, named after the three pronged fork of King Neptune, and thus preserving Sailor's nautical imagery.

Sailor was not the only company to buy this nib design from Spacer. At least one other company, Ohto, also produced pens with this nib.

The three tined Trident nib was far more difficult and costly to produce than a traditional fountain pen nib. Unfortunately, This pen did not spark the writing revolution Sailor had hoped for. Most ballpoint pen users were not so easily persuaded. Let's face it, a disposable ballpoint pen is still more convenient than an expensive fountain pen that needs filling and periodic maintenance.

But for those who already loved fountain pens, but had to grudgingly set them aside when making carbon copies, the Trident offered them liberation from the tyranny of the Biro. Also, left handed writers could finally use a fountain pen without having to learn how to write at odd angles to avoid a mess, and Sailor was quick to point this out in their advertisements. In addition, Trident allowed one to write with the pen at an even lower angle than was possible with the ballpoint since it did not depend on maintaining firm contact between the ball bearing and the paper.

An illustration taken from a 1980's Sailor catalog

The one new hassle that comes with this type of pen, however, is that extra attention is required in care and maintenance. Sailor's nib designer Mr. Nagahara cautions that these extra tines and slits come with the increased probability of clogging, and the Trident must be cleaned or flushed more often than a traditional fountain pen. Sailor's Nib designer Mr. Kawaguchi (a.k.a. "The Pen Doctor") adds that the Trident pen must be used often because if ink is allowed to dry inside the nib, it is very difficult to clean. The nib cannot be taken apart for a thorough cleaning. However, if you use your Trident often it is truly a wonderful pen to own.

Added later: see Disassembling a Sailor Trident at the bottom of this article

Many Trident owners, however, used their Tridents only once or twice, set them aside and then tried to use them a few weeks or months later. The dried ink inside the nib caused the pen to clog or write very dry, which in turn made the nib feel scratchy. This was such a problem that Sailor was forced to cease production of the Trident. Today these pens are very difficult to find.

Here is the instruction paper that came with some Trident pens. It's all in Japanese, and I may translate it into English one of these days. Still, the pictures are pretty self explanatory.

So what is it like to actually write with a fresh, new Trident? I used one to write the first draft of this article. It was filled with Private Reserve Naples Blue ink in a standard Sailor piston converter. The line is incredible smooth regardless of the angle. I can write with this pen perpendicular to the paper, or at an angle too low for a ballpoint. The line width is fairly consistent even if I rotate the pen as I write. Although the point is supposed to be a fine size, it writes more like a medium. This pen was fun to write with, and I didn't want to put it down. It reminded me of a glass dip pen.

I tested it on four sheets of carbon paper forms I had from the post office, and the bottom sheet was perfectly crisp and legible. Yet when I balanced the pen on the side of my hand between the thumb and index finger and allowed it to run across the paper with no pressure except the weight of the pen itself, it made the exact same dark line as it did when I pressed down.

The ink is contained in six slits and fed by three ink channels which control the flow so it is never excessively wet. That's apparently why left handers can use it without smudging. It's a shame such a miracle pen never caught on!

The fatter Trident models will actually take a Sailor piston type ink converter so you can use any color ink you like. Some tridents models, however, are too slim and only take cartridges.

I have seen Trident pens with the numbers 767 or 727 printed on the cap, yet the pens themselves were identical. I asked a Sailor representative about this and learned that this was an arbitrary naming of the pens to give them a modern image like a 747 plane. Notice the natural gap between 727 and 767 is 747!

I sometimes have Trident pens for sale. Please see the Trident sales page or feel free to inquire about availability.

Disassembling a Sailor Trident

This article had been on the web for several years when pen lover E. K. Hornbeck (web forum pseudonym) contacted me, asking for some advice on how to disassemble a Sailor Trident pen. I had to reply that I had no idea (and Sailor's Nib designer Mr. Kawaguchi had once told me that the Trident pen's nib cannot be taken apart).

Undaunted, he continued to search the web until he found a photo of a dissassembled Trident pen on this web site which had in turn copied the photo from this Japanese blog which has even more photos.

Taking his clue from these web articles, he successfully disassembled his Trident pen for cleaning, and accomplished what they said could not be done.

He then posted his account on one of the local pen forms. I have not personally tried this, but I'm sure I will someday.

E. K. Hornbeck kindly gave me permission to include that post here:

I found a photo of a disassembled Trident on the net, which I will include with this post. It showed me enough structure that I was able to work out how to disassemble the Trident. Here are the steps.

  1. Before starting, if the pen is really gummed up with old, dried ink, you may want to soak the front of the pen in water or Koh-i-noor pen cleaner, possibly overnight, to loosen things up. Flush it with a bulb syringe to ensure your solvent of choice gets where it needs to go and to clear out junk as it comes loose.

  2. Unscrew and remove the barrel; remove the cartridge or converter.

  3. Unscrew and remove the connector ring from the section; this may require some heat if it's stubborn. Alternately, leave the connector ring in place; see below. Be careful with heat -- I don't know what plastic was used for the section, but it looks softer than lucite and it might be polystyrene, in which case it would deform & melt at a lower temperature than lucite. I didn't need heat, but if I had, I would have chosen a hot-water bath, so I could be sure the temperature did not exceed some safe limit. This part is the silvery cylindrical component on the right side of the photo.

  4. At the front of the pen, at the interface between the nib/feed unit and the section, there is a small metal collar. Unscrew and remove the collar. Again, this might require some heat -- see above for warning. This part is the small, gold-colored cylindrical / truncated-conical component at the center of the photo.

  5. When you pull the metal collar off the section, the nib/feed/collector unit may come forward with it. That's fine.

  6. If the nib/feed/collector unit stayed in the section, pull (or possibly push) it out through the front of the section. If it came out with the metal collar, pull the metal collar forward off the nib/feed/collector unit. Inside the collar -- or perhaps stuck onto the feed/collector -- is a little black, soft, rubbery o-ring collar. Do not lose! This part is the small, circular black component at the bottom of the photo.

  7. It appears from the photo that the nib can be pulled forward out of the feed/collector unit, but I could not extract it. It's hard to get a fingertip purchase on the nib without pulling on the iridium tip, which I did not want to stress. Perhaps soft nib pliers would do the trick, here. My do-no-harm rule of thumb here was to apply force with my fingernails, limiting me to the maximum amount of force that would not cause my fingernails to fold back.

To reassemble, I insert the feed/collector into the section, then seat the o-ring collar on it, then screw on the metal retaining collar. Screw in the connector, insert the cartridge or cartridge converter, screw on the barrel, snap on the cap, and you are done.

Note that you can extract the nib/feed/collector from the pen without removing the connector ring, as you access all these parts from the front of the pen.

Once you have the nib/feed/collector unit out of the pen, it is simple to give it a thorough cleaning, in particular removing any deposits made by inks with high dye loads or nano-pigments that could clog the ink flow in the pen.

The Trident is known for being difficult to maintain, but now that I know how to disassemble it -- which is actually very easy -- it's no problem at all.

exploded trident

Photo taken from Japanese blog:
(Data Journal: Stationery and Fountain Pen Blog)