Saturday, March 18, 2006

Two Bad Buys

As a person who likes mechanical pencils I generally manage to find something good in every pencil, but I have made two bad buys that deserve mention.

The Sakura 125
Sakura are a reasonably large Japanese manufacturer of markers, pens, etc but I don’t know that much about them. Their mechanical pencils don’t appear to be widely available via online retailers. About 7 or 8 years ago some NZ office supply companies started selling their mechanical pencils. I assume it was an unsuccessful venture, as they didn’t last long in the market. However, during this time the Sakura 125 pencil became commonplace at my work, but there are two things wrong with it. First the pocket clip is useless. You can see that it doesn’t go anywhere near to touching the body, so it doesn’t grasp any fabric between the body and clip, unless it is a really thick garment. Secondly, the mechanism is very unreliable, which is strange as even cheap pencil mechanisms generally seem quite reliable. Within a few months I had half a dozen or so pencils with jammed mechanisms, and my work colleagues had similar experiences. So basically a poor quality pencil, not worth the money you pay for it.

Now, poor quality is one thing, but when you really start scraping the bottom of the barrel, you find ….

The Papermate Advancer
Now this one really gets me annoyed. A non-refillable mechanical pencil?!? Yes, that’s right, when the lead runs out you cannot refill it. I always thought that refillability was an inherent functional concept of mechanical pencils. Apparently it says non-refillable on the packaging, but even today I only ever see them as loose open stock in retail bins. There is no mention anywhere on the bins or on the pencil itself about it being non-refillable. Even worse, lots of them have half the lead already used from people trialing them, flicking the tip to see how the auto-advance mechanism works, etc. When I bought mine I had no idea it was non-refillable, and it had no lead left in it at all! It was the only one of that colour in the store, I knew it was empty but I just thought I’d refill it at home! Imagine if you bought a woodcase pencil and there was only lead up the first ¼ of the pencil, and the rest was just solid wood. Or a car that had a tank of petrol that you couldn’t refill. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong! That’s what it feels like. Poor quality is one thing, but I think this is just outright misleading, I feel completely and utterly ripped-off!
Luckily there is a hack that allows you to refill it, but I still feel like I’ve been scammed. Papermate now also make a refillable version called the Auto Advance. I will review that in the future, and try to be objective.

19 comments:

Dorai said...

If the PaperMate Advancer is anything like the Dixon Sensematic -- which is also a pencil that automatically advances just enough lead with no clicking ever, and which also, for some weird reason, was advertised as disposable (though not anymore) -- refilling is not that hard or even really deserving of the term "hack". I take off the end-eraser and shove a stick of lead carefully down the really tight tunnel inside the barrel. Since the tunnel opens about an inch or so below the rim of the pencil barrel, a little delicacy of aim is required. Also, since the tunnel's length is typically longer than the lead's, you need another stick of lead to push the first one all the way in so that the latter barely peeks out of the sleeve, ready for writing.

One horrible thing about these pencils is that occasionally too much lead shows, and when that happens you can't just coax it back in as you would with a regular mech. You have to pull the whole darn lead out from the nose (which is easy to do) and re-shove it into the pencil from the back all over again. Sometimes I think the pencil does this on purpose because it likes being so ministered to.

One good thing about the Dixon Sensematic is that you can replace the eraser with those cheap but excellent little conical eraserheads that are sold as accessories for wood-cased pencils. These cones fit perfectly on the Sensematic (I don't know if the PaperMate is as lucky), are available everywhere, and are volume for volume about a hundred to ten thousand times cheaper than dedicated mech-pencil erasers. So tricked out, the Dixon Sensematic looks exactly like a wood-cased pencil from a metre away, and may thus be the perfect mech pencil for someone who likes the form and heft of the wood-cased but covets the convenience of the mech.

Pencil Revolution said...

That PaperMate seems terribly wasteful. It's bad enough that a lot of the PaperMate pens are non-refillable and turn into trash, but pencils, too?

Dorai said...

The Advancer isn't Papermate's worst offender. Their very popular Sharpwriter is truly tragic. It is a nice pencil in terms of look and feel, but is unfortunately nonrefillable, even via hackish means. I broke open one to see what was going on, and found that it works by affixing a T-junction to the far end of the lead and snagging the T on a long spring. You rotate the pencil's nose clockwise or counterclockwise to get the lead in or out. But you can't insert a new standard lead. Also you'd better be careful that the lead already in the pencil doesn't break -- the broken off part can no longer take part in the twisting mechanism.

The Sharpwriter is possibly Papermate's most popular mechanical pencil -- prima facie, it seems very inexpensive, but it's hard not to see it as a cynical way of ensuring continuing purchases, even though the barrels have no business becoming trash when the lead is exhausted. I guess if you have as commanding a marketshare as Papermate/Sanford does, you can pretty much dictate what is considered acceptable design.

kiwi-d said...

Plenty of food for thought here! Actually Papermate aren't all that big here in NZ. They are certainly common and have grown over recent years. I'm not familiar at all with Dixon, it sounds like a Eberhard-Faber mechanical pencil I have that looks like a woodcase pencil. Actually there are a number of these mechanicals that look like woodcases and pens that look like woodcases. More future blog postings!

Johnny said...

Dixon is one of the best (some say the best) American pencil makers around today. I am pretty sure I sent you some, so I hope the package arrives soon:) They smell very good.

Dorai said...

Speaking of Sakura, have you sampled their Sumogrip? It is short and fat (hence the name), and has a scored triangular rubber grip section -- i.e., it is not very elegant-looking by your standards. However, people, especially artists, seem to love it. Both Papermate and Staedtler have their own versions of the Sumogrip (called PhD and Remedy respectively, I think), and they too look quite ugly and (because of the rubber grip) potentially dirty. But what I find tempting about the Sumogrip is its long long ("jumbo") vinyl eraser, which screws in and out as needed. A modest engineering victory! I don't really know why most mechanical pencils come with such stingy erasers. I love my Pentel EZ#2 for its weight and just-wide-enough-for-me grip and lack of rubber, but gosh do I wish its eraser were the "jumbo" kind. That would make it the complete, zero-maintenance writing tool for any journey...

Anonymous said...

My favorite mechanicals with the long erasers are the Sanford/PaperMate Logo series. Other PaperMate mechpencils that take long erasers include the Syncro & ClearPoint (side-clickers) and the Titanium.

kiwi-d said...

Sakura - no I haven't seen or tried any of their pencils other than the 125. I have seen the Sumo Grip online, but only as a pen I think. They seem to have very little online presence unless you can point me somewhere. I have ssen some refernces to Alvin-Sakura so perhaps there is a tie up there?

Yes the state of mechanical pencil ersers is generally pretty bad. These screw out types really are a huge improvement. I'll have to start getting a few more examples just for their superior eraser.

All pencils were created equal with an inalienable right to write, draw and receive lead..... but I guess some are just more equal than others.

Dorai said...

An update on the Sakura SumoGrip pencil: I purchased some (.7mm and .9mm -- I did not get the .5mm) from www.gellyroll.com (gelly roll -- get it?) and much to my surprise, found them very comfortable and enjoyable immediately. This quite apart from the long eraser, which was the only reason I was willing to try them in the first place. The weight, barrel width, and yes, the rubberized grip, seem perfectly calibrated for comfort. It does not look sleek (d'oh, it's Sumo after all), and yes the grip does get dirty (especially visible on the .9mm whose grip is white), but it seems churlish to worry about such things when the pencil is so pleasurable to write with. I do hope the pencil is robust and won't fall apart and that the parts that rely on friction to stay together won't smooth out, but I won't know that until I've used it for a while. Right now, I don't believe I've ever used a nicer pencil. Cost: about $4 US.

Anonymous said...

Hi, can't you feed the mechanical pencil via the sleeve? Sometimes I'm too lazy and I don't feel like removing the push button and the eraser so I insert the leads that way.

kiwi-d said...

Unfortunately you can't feed lead in through the sleeve. There is no push button to open up the lead holding collet inside the mechanism. Even retracting back the sleeve just locks it. Those Papermate folk made sure that once the lead was gone that was it!

However, I have seen some long leads (120mm) advertised for sale and these would probably be long enough so you could feed them in through the top. A normal (60 - 75mm) length lead is no good as you don't have enough length to aim and push it inside the pencil. At least without enormous skill, dexterity and another thing to "push" with.

Anonymous said...

The Sakura Sumo Grip is definitely not svelte, but it is durable and hard working, even more so when the eraser is considered. As a special ed teacher of young children, I have found the Sumo Grip helps kids write, regardless of their fine motor skills or lack thereof. The Sumo Grip pen was a disappointment: not as comfortable to hold, and the refills consistently either leaked or clumped.

brett said...

I guess I'm in the minority here, but I love non-refillable mechanical pencils. They are cheap, which is good because I tend to lose things. In addition, I find refilling pencils (and erasers) to be a hassle. I'd rather just throw it away when I run out of lead or eraser.

I actually have been buying boxes of Papermate Sharpwriters for years. My main gripe with it is that the eraser is just plain bad. Another minus is that it gets slippery in sweaty hands.

I was wondering if anyone knew of another mechanical pencil similar to the sharpwriter but with a better eraser.

brett said...

I meant to add that the Advancer looks to fit my bill, but how is the eraser quality?

kiwi-d said...

Hello Brett
No worries about possibly being 'in a minority'. All pencil people are welcome here. Personally I don't know the Papermate Sharpwriter, I guess its not around in my part of the world. The eraser on the Advancer is 'average' in size and quality. Worth a try seeing they only cost something like 50c or $1. (I think)

Anonymous said...

It's just like the Sharpwriter--- despite what they claim, its actually not refillable.

Liwei said...

About the papermate one, I totally agreed with you~When I first saw it, I fell in love with its streamlined shape. But when I got home, I tried several hours to figure out how to refill the lead...... No possibility to refill it from the top. The only way to refill it is to pull out the head part of the pencil~It's very tough work and very very inconvenient...

Anonymous said...

Actually the Sharpwriter is easy to refill. When you get to about an inch of lead remaining, extend the lead completely. Pull the lead straight out with a firm grip. Get a new stick of 0.7 mm lead and press it into the writing tip, grasping the new lead at the end closest to the writing tip.

You could also twist the plastic slider out the back end and press the lead into the pinhole in the slider and then place the slider with the new lead back into the body from the back, but this is more complicated and requires removal of the eraser. If you break the lead when you remove it, it may be easier to remove the slider to eliminate the remaining lead fragments.

When you use the above method, keep track of the relationship between the spring, the slider, and the inserted lead. If the spring falls out, you will have to replace these components appropriately. [I never remember the order. I just look at the order before I remove the pieces.]

If you can get a longer lead, similar in length to the original that would be even better. Using a long lead from a "Bic Matic" works as well, but this would defeat the purpose.

For the eraser, I believe Papermate supplies an eraser refill of the appropriate size, but forcing/twisting a Pentel PDE-1 eraser into the eraser cavity, once the old eraser is removed is quite effective. The PDE-1 is the eraser used by the Pentel Techniclick and a number of other Pentel products.

Bob S. from Phoenix, AZ

Anonymous said...

yeah i have one of those sakura 125 pencils. They seriously suck. When I first got mine it was pretty nice, then after a few days it got jammed. I can't get the pointy part of it to untwist and I got really pissed. I'm STILL trying to fix it.