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Freud may have said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but sometimes a pen isn’t just a pen. The Tuff-Writer ‘Operator’ tactical pen functions very nicely as a pen (more on that later) but it’s also a Kubotan, a stiletto, and an escape tool that nobody will notice you’re carrying. Unless they wand you with a metal detector. Is that cool or what?

Just like the folding knife and the compact strike-bezel flashlight (both from other manufacturers) that it’s pictured with, the ‘Operator’ pen is a discreet EDC tool and weapon. It’s a six-inch ballpoint pen made from hardened aluminum, with a .40″ secant ogive stiletto point at its non-writing end. What in blue blazes is a secant ogive, you might ask? Don’t ask me to define it mathematically (Ask Leghorn; I was hopeless at analytical geometry) but it means that the Operator’s none-of-your-business end is almost exactly the shape and size of the super-sized boattail bullet from a .416 Barrett cartridge.

It’s A Pen

Until you have need of its more nefarious capabilities, the Operator pen functions as an ordinary screw-cap ballpoint pen. Unlike a lot of mall-ninja gadgets, it’s not just a weapon masquerading as an everyday item; it actually works well as a pen. The writing tip is secured onto the barrel with well-executed reverse threads, so it’s impossible to over-tighten either the writing tip or the cap.

At literally a hair’s breadth over six inches long, it fits and clips comfortably anywhere a normal pen does. Weight-wise, the 1.6 ounce Operator totes a bit more jock than a disposable Bic, but it’s not noticeably heavier than a deluxe aluminum-bodied Parker rollerball that I sometimes carry. When you store the cap over the stiletto tip it handles a bit tail-heavy when writing, but the balance is just right when you leave the cap off. If you’re a fashion plate you’ll put the cap on anyway: just like a balding hipster, the Operator pen doesn’t quite look right without its cap on.

I took a lot of notes and signed a pile of legal documents with the Operator. This isn’t The Truth About Pens, so suffice to say that it writes smoothly and evenly and the checkered barrel is easy to grip.

The ballpoint cartridge is filled with a special ink that Tuff-Writer claims will function anywhere from sea level to 12,000 feet and at temperatures from -30 to 250 Fahrenheit. To see if this claim was complete BS, I put the Operator pen at the bottom of my freezer for a few hours until it was deep-frozen. When I pulled it out covered in frost, it still wrote legibly, although the ink didn’t have quite the same silky flow that it had at room temperature. I’m not sure I’ll ever need to take notes at 0 degrees F, but the Operator is up to that peculiar task.

Can the Operator pen write at 250 degrees F? You’re welcome to fact-check that for yourself, but I’ve got no desire to scald myself with a blistering-hot writing implement to find out.

It’s a Stiletto

To test the Operator pen’s ruggedness as a stabbing weapon, I clenched it in my right fist and drove it as hard as I could into a somewhat weathered (but not rotten) length of deck planking. The rounded and enlarged cap provides an excellent striking grip, and I could drive the tip nearly 3/4 of an inch into the fairly soft wood without hurting myself. I didn’t even gouge my hand on the spring-steel pocket clip; it has a low, rounded profile for just this purpose.

After burying the stiletto point in the planking several times, my hand got sore and it was clear that I wasn’t punishing the Operator pen hard enough. I needed a bigger hammer.

I grabbed my sight-adjustment mallet and flailed away (with considerably more vigor than I’ve ever applied to even the most recalcitrant drift-adjustable rear sight) until I’d driven the Operator pen completely through 2″ of deck planking up to the barrel. I expected that this would rupture the ballpoint cartridge, and maybe even jam the cap permanently onto the pen barrel, but I was wrong. Once I twisted and pried the pen free (no easy process) the cap unscrewed easily and the pen wrote as normal. It was completely unharmed.

But Wait! There’s More!

In the unlikely event that the Operator pen itself isn’t quite badass enough for you, it ships in a nearly-indestructible tubular polymer case that itself functions as an expedient (although less effective) striking weapon/Kubotan, as long as you don’t have small hands. The case is nearly airtight, and it will float for hours with the pen inside it.

I’m not sure why it occurred to me to test this.


A last-ditch weapon like a stiletto or Kubotan is no substitute for carrying a concealed firearm, but the Operator pen can vastly improve your odds against an assailant who doesn’t have a gun. With training (such as I sadly lack) it can be used for ingenious compliance holds, but even in the hands of an untrained defender it greatly magnifies the effectiveness of closed-fist blows by inflicting large-diameter puncture wounds nearly 2″ deep through thin clothing, tissue, cartilage, and even bone.

The Operator pen’s greatest defensive utility lies in the fact that it is almost completely unnoticed. You can carry it anywhere on the street, without breaking any laws or attracting any undue attention. An observant TSA screener might not let you carry it on an airliner, but you won’t be arrested for trying; you’ll just have to spend $10 to mail it to yourself at your destination.

The Operator pen is finely crafted and every bit as rugged as it looks. If I could change one thing, I would get rid of the ‘Tuff-Writer’ logo on the cap; it’s the only clue that you’ve got anything but a normal ballpoint pen in your hand.

I think it makes a worthy addition to an EDC loadout, but at a price of $80-90 the Operator pen’s concealable coolness doesn’t come cheap. It’s still about $30 less than the tasteful and classic (and defensively useless) Parker Sonnet I’ve had for years, and I’ve no doubt it will outlast it.

Rating (out of five stars)

* * * * 


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  1. My wife has one of these, here in IL we cant ccw so the next best LEGAL thing is something like this. Knives without training are not very useful, no collapsable battons or anything so i picked up a tactical pen at a gun show. She is a small woman but damn does it hurt when she strikes.

  2. “Can the Operator pen write at 250 degrees F?”
    — You could stick it into your oven for awhile and then while wearing heat-safe grilling/bbq gloves experiment writing with it.

    Seriously, I think the pen or something like it is a good close-quarter self-defense tool to carry. One of the Jason Bourne featured a fight scene with Matt Dillion using a pen as a stabbing weapon. The kubotan also interests me. For the amount of money they charge, they should have kept their name off the pen: ‘tuff’ – anything is a takeaway name.

  3. This is weekend warrior EDC tacticool jumping the shark. I don’t buy pens to stab people with anymore than I buy knives to write with. If I am going to cough up $80-90 for a pen, It’s going to say Waterman on it and have to be filled with ink from a bottle.

    • Not for everyone, tough guy. There are some places where one is forbidden to carry weapons…this pen is ideal for people in these situations. I’m one of them.

      As a prison guard in my state’s largest facility, this pen could mean the difference beween life or death for me or my partners. Nothing replaces awarness and training, but this kind of product certainly serves a real-world purpose as a force multiplier…and one that can be carried “behind the walls”.

  4. Reminds me of a story….years back I read about the Gulag of the old Soviet Union. Inside prison, a pencil was used as a stabbing weapon. One could find oneself at St. Peters gates as a result of a pencil in the eye socket. Gruesome but effective.

  5. My new Tuff=Writer quit writing after writing 12 checks over a 3 week period. That’s 50 cents a check.
    That’s extremely expensive after paying big bucks for the pen.

  6. This is probably the biggest waste of my hard earned dollars. I hate medium ball point and it seems the only replacement option is the space pen. i will stick to my “zebra” go to pen. I can stab someone in the head with that just as well; who needs a “tactical pen” to gouge out someone’s throat when you have 3 pens to choose from in a set of ACUs? Worst 80 bucks i’ve ever spent.

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