Monday, February 27, 2006

Wooden Week

For quite a while I have been inspired by the zeal of the comrades of the Pencil Revolution. Now whilst my main interest is mechanical pencils, I am certainly not immune to the charms of wooden pencils, so I thought that it was time to put my mechanicals away and have a “wooden week”.

Anyone visiting a selection of shops here in New Zealand would quickly get the impression that Staedtler was the market giant, with Faber-Castell a fairly distant second, and so I decided to trial three Staedtlers and two Faber-Castells.

I chose the following HB grade pencils as a reasonable selection of different price ranges, qualities and designs.
Monday - Staedtler (Australia) Pacific 830
Tuesday - Staedtler (Australia) Tradition 110
Wednesday - Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100 (Made in Germany)
Thursday - Faber-Castell Grip 2001 (Made in Germany)
Friday - Faber-Castell Goldfaber 1221 (Country of origin not identified)

Rather than a lengthy or formal review of these pencils I am just going to concentrate on some general points and a few selected issues. First is, I had forgotten just how loud wooden pencils are! Writing with them is really noisy compared to mechanical pencils. Amazing. The next thing is how important your choice of sharpener is to the whole situation. I used a KUM (Germany) metal wedge (no other ID markings) and a Dahle 53443 sharpener, also from Germany. The really big difference between these two sharpeners was the “bite”, i.e. the thickness of the layer they peeled off the pencil. The KUM was taking a much thicker layer off the pencils and left a rougher finish on the wood with more flaking or fracturing of the lead. The Dahle left a smoother wood point and lead. Another thing common to all the pencils was how much thinner they are than mechanical pencils and because of that I didn’t initially find them as easy to grip as mechanicals in general.

The three Staedtler pencils are a progression of price and quality levels. Staedtler advertise the Pacific as “economy, general purpose”, Tradition as “high quality” and Mars Lumograph as “premium quality”. In practice it’s easy to see why. The Pacific has a one-colour paint job, with the end simply sawn off square and unpainted. The lead is definitely the softest of all the pencils and I had to sharpen this more frequently than the others. It’s lead was also the scratchiest and noisiest. The Tradition has a two-colour paint job, and it’s three colours for the Mars Lumograph. The actual paint quality on the Lumograph is also clearly superior to the other two as you can still see some wood graining under the paint of the Pacific and Tradition, but not on the Lumograph. That’s all nice appearance stuff, but I didn’t really notice a huge difference in the hardness and blackness of the leads, except for the Pacific.

Faber-Castell are a little less forthcoming on categorising the quality levels of their pencils. The paint job on the Grip is a single colour and you can see wood grain under it. The Goldfaber is a two-colour of similar quality to the Staedtler Mars Lumograpgh. I felt the lead on the Grip was possibly a little harder and not quite as black as the Goldfaber, but I guess this could also just be my opinion, routine manufacturing production batch differences and so on.

Overall the quality of the actual wood and leads on all these pencils seemed pretty good to me, as you would expect from these long established reputable companies. The paint finish on the Lumograph and Goldfaber produced a much better grip than on the Tradition and Pacific. The Grip 2001 was actually a bit of a disappointment to me. The comrades of the Pencil Revolution generally rate it pretty highly, and its mechanical cousin the Grip 2011 certainly impressed me. Perhaps this all built up an unrealistic expectation, but the Grip 2001 was the only pencil I was actually disappointed with. Its triangular cross section made it the thinnest of the pencils, the “grip dots” were very uneven in size and didn’t really seem to make up for the reduced ease of holding caused by the thin cross-section. Sharpening was also a little erratic which I put down to the triangular cross-section. Personally I would rate the paint finish and larger cross section on the Mars Lumograph and Goldfaber as combining to produce a better grip than the Grip 2001.

So that’s the end of my “wooden week” - a nice change and it was good to try out a few different pencils.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Pentel Sharp Kerry P1035 Mechanical Pencil Review

Just in case you haven't read the "The Start" of this blogsite, in the interests of fair and free journalism everywhere, I again declare my allegiance to Pentel.

The P1035 Sharp Kerry mechanical pencil is perhaps the premier pencil in the Pentel range. It is a rather unique two piece design where there is a cap (much like with a fountain pen) that fits onto the front end of the pencil when not in use and onto the top end of the pencil when in use, when it becomes part of the pencil and its mechanism. When clipped on to the top end the push button top on the cap then pushes on to the button on top of the body to activate the ratchet lead mechanism. This cap system is an intriguing design and it introduces a deliberate extra step into the process of getting ready to use the pencil. Thats great if you are one who likes the steps and feeling of "getting prepared". I must mention that sometimes my pencil has an annoying little rattle when first used, but it seems to go away fairly quickly, as if it was temperature related.

The Sharp Kerry comes in a variety of colours and lead sizes. Mine is 0.5mm lead, and a very attractive blue colour. There is a milky sort of opalescent lustre to the blue. The cap is metal whereas the blue body sections are plastic. There are flow lines in the plastic which some might consider decoration, but really I just see a flaw. The chrome metal trims complete the picture but the front tip is matt which I find a bit questionable. I think it might look better with all trims being chrome.

The pocket clip is the standard Pentel metal clip - functional but not spring loaded. There is a small eraser under the cap button, and the leads are refilled under the body button. Putting the body button back on doesn't usually activate the lead mechanism! The long metal lead sleeve means this pencil is usable for draughting work. It's not retractable, but the cap eliminates the need for that anyway. At 9mm diameter the grip section is a little smaller than my preference, and this pencil is defintely not top heavy.

"Kerry, since 1971" is marked on the cap, along with "Pentel, 0.5, P1035, Japan". That's great, I always like the full details. The Pentel website calls this the Sharp Kerry, which did produce some comments about Pentel expressing their political preferences, and would they be releasing the Dull Bush model. But wherever you are on the political spectrum, there's no denying that the Sharp Kerry is another mechanical pencil masterpiece from Pentel.
  • Best Points - The cap design concept
  • Not So Good Points - Can't think of anything significant!
  • Price range - Low / Mid

Dimensions - Length124mm capped, 132mm in writing mode. Diameter - 11mm at widest part, 9mm at grip section. Balance point 65mm up from tip.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Lamy Scribble Mechanical Pencil Review

19 September 2009

Before I started this blog I was a fan of the Pencil Revolution, and I had a couple of submissions published there. One of the first reviews I ever wrote was a review of the Lamy Scribble mechanical pencil which was published on P Revo back in February 2006. Unfortunately the Revolution has since wound down and I guess at some stage it might disappear from the web, so I have decided to repatriate a copy of my review and publish it here on my own blog. My Scribble review was written in Revolutionary style, which is somewhat different to the style of this blog.
So, from Feb 2006

Lamy Scribble Model 185 / 186 Mechanical Pencil Review.

Lamy Scribble mechanical pencils black and palladium
Something about the Lamy Scribble just makes me want to pick it up every time I see it. Perhaps it’s the short, fat, sturdy look reminding me of a child’s favourite pencil or crayon. “Pick me up, and lets have some fun” – that’s what Scribble seems to whisper to my sub-conscious.

Technical data:
Material: Plastic body. Metal end-cap, front cap and pocket clip.
Shape: Round cross-section, 13mm diameter at widest part. 121mm overall length.
Finish: Black plastic body “sandblasted” satin sheen finish. Metal trims either black coated (Model 186) or palladium plated (Model 185).
Core: 0.7mm lead. (A 3.15mm model also available)
Point Type: Retractable metal sleeve.
Mechanism: Push top ratchet.
Top: Capped eraser.
Eraser: Miniature eraser under top button, white (unknown) material, needle attached.
Markings: “LAMY” printed in silver at top of body, “7” (for lead diameter) on top of the top button.
Packaging: Folded card presentation sleeve.
Availability: Readily available worldwide in shops and internet retailers.
Origin: Germany.

Scribble looks short and sturdy, and that’s what it feels like in your hand. The thick, gently tapering body makes it easy to hold anywhere you like – down close to the tip or halfway up the body - and the smooth yet slightly textured sandblast finish lets you get a good solid grip. Add in a reasonable weight, and everything combines to produce that overall look and feel of a no-nonsense, ready for action pencil. Scribble is also very well balanced to just idly twirl around in, or thread through, your fingers whilst contemplating the state of the universe.

The pocket clip is good and springy. It’s also removable for those who don’t like pocket clips. Unfortunately it just doesn’t stick out quite far enough to readily stop the pencil rolling around on your desktop. I always use my Scribble when I am out doing fieldwork. The short length means I can clip it into a small notebook and stash them in my pocket so I always have pencil and paper ready to record those important observations. The thick body helps when things are a bit on the wet side, and the short metal lead holding sleeve tip is retractable so you won’t get that nasty stabbing pain through your trouser pocket!
Like most mechanical pencils, Scribble has a small eraser under the top button. I am always in two minds about these mechanical pencil erasers – they seem like such a good idea and yet are nearly always such a disappointment. Well Scribble sets a new standard. It’s absolutely useless. I will say no more on this subject.Lamy Scribble mechanical pencil tipSo far I haven’t mentioned the lead. That’s the thing with mechanical pencils; if you don’t like the lead then you just get some that you do like. Scribble takes 0.7mm which is thick enough to provide good strength, but still thin enough to provide fine sharp lines. The push top ratchet mechanism is quiet and positive. I haven’t had any problems, but just in case, the eraser comes with a needle to help clear any lead jams.

The finish on the Scribble seems a good quality. The plastic body and metal trims are scratch resistant. Mine have spent a lot of time rolling around in carry cases with other items and they still look as good as new. There are actually two trim colours available – black for the purists and palladium plated for the slightly more up-market look. The small “LAMY” printed in silver at the top of the body adds a touch of distinction.

Lamy advertise the Scribble as “For strong sketches and fine notes. If you like getting your ideas down on paper in a few telling strokes, you’ll love the Lamy scribble”. Well, they’re absolutely right. Whether I’m out wading through a swamp or doing the Sunday morning Sudoku, Scribble is the one for the job.

Porsche Design P'3130 Mechanical Pencil Review

When I first saw a picture of the Porsche Design P’3130 Micado mechanical pencil I knew I had to have one. That whole twisting rod design just really appealed to me.

The P’3130 looks like no other mechanical pencil. Basically 17 stainless steel rods slowly spiral around to form the body, and two end caps secure them and complete the pencil. The rods are the dominating feature and you grip them when you write. There is something good about the feel of the cold hard steel when you first pick it up and idly roll or twirl the pencil around in your fingers. But when it comes to actually writing, the grip is not the best. I often want to grip where the rods join into the front cap, but that’s not a comfortable place. The rods are actually quite comfortable, and good and sturdy, but after a little while my grip starts to slip and I have to start squeezing tight to stay in place.

I did have a thought about dust and dirt and other things getting stuck down in the rods and causing problems, but I don’t think its really anything to worry about.
Porsche decided against an in-built eraser on this mechanical pencil. The spring loaded pocket clip is very practical, and removable. If you choose to remove it a small raised dome on the end cap stops the pencil rolling. That’s good attention to detail.

This is a twist action ratchet mechanism pencil taking 0.7mm leads. The metal sleeve point is not retractable, but is not too sharp either so it’s not a problem. The twist action is of course twisting (actually un-twisting) the rods to advance the lead. Unfortunately this is basically a two handed operation. If you have good manual dexterity you can do it one-handed, but it’s not easy. Inside the body of the pencil, the leads are held in a cartridge which takes 5 leads. You refill the leads by unscrewing the front section of the pencil to get at the cartridge. I must admit to some initial trouble refilling it. The instruction “Open lead holder” was a bit beyond a simple person like me. “Open it how, where, which end?” perplexed me for sometime. The answer is that you pull the tight-fitting brass end cap out of the plastic tube.

This is a big bold heavy pencil, proudly, but not ostentatiously marked with “Porsche Design, P’3130, Germany”. I like a writing instrument that’s marked with its name and model, it says to me that it’s prepared to stand up and be counted.

Porsche Design are the heirs to a world famous design legacy. They claim to be “The epitome of unique design combined with technical and functional perfection. The uncompromising standard of ‘engineering’ products instead of just giving them a perfect look has paid off ”(sic). I am sorry, but the problems with grip, and the need to use two hands to advance the lead just don’t go with these claims of world class design excellence. Originally I had clichéd thoughts of “a triumph of form over function, style over substance”, but that’s being far too harsh. As much as I love the Micado pencil, I do not think they have totally met their own high standards.
  • Best Points – The rods, they are an amazing and totally unique idea, look and feel.
  • Not So Good Points – Lead advance mechanism, grip not the best.
  • Price Range – High to Stratospheric.

Dimensions – Length 147mm, diameter 12mm at the ends, narrowing to 10mm in the middle. Balance point about 85mm up from the tip.
Note – The Porsche Design range of pencils were designed for and manufactured by Faber-Castell.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Rubber Grips

If there is one thing that separates one mechanical pencil from another, its rubber grips. A lot of people have a preference for or against rubber grips. I’ll be up front and say I don’t like them, basically I hate them. If a pencil or pen has a rubber grip, I look around for something else to write with.

So what exactly is my problem with rubber grips? Well here’s a list of some of the issues I have with them:
Ø They get dirty
Ø They get discoloured
Ø They wear out, crack, crumble, etc
Ø They stain your skin
Ø They get sweaty and soggy
Ø They feel spongy
Ø They force you to grip the pencil in that particular designated rubbery place
Ø They look “cheap” on more expensive pencils

Of course not all rubber grips have all these problems, but you get the idea.

On the positive side the better ones do usually let you get a decent firm grip on your pencil. Some manufacturers have attempted to overcome some of these issues by making their grips replaceable. Some have gone even further with “mix-and-match grips” promoting “choose your grip to match your mood” or some other such story. Not for me, because I’d always have to choose the one for “annoyed with my pencil” mood.

Well then, now is the time to express your opinion!

Footnote: This posting drafted with Cumberland 5 Star Pencil, perma bond lead, grade 5H, (made in England). A nice stick of wood.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Faber-Castell Grip 2011 Mechanical Pencil Review

Faber-Castell Grip 2011 0.7 Mechanical Pencil
I should not have purchased this pencil. It doesn't fit the themes that my collection is based around. It breaks the rules, but rules were made to be broken and I'm glad I did. I had a great week test driving (writing?) with this pencil. It has really challenged a few of my prejudices and pre-conceived notions.
So, lets get straight to the point, the Faber-Castell Grip 2011 0.7 silver mechanical pencil is the best buy I have made in quite a while - its not the best pencil, but it has certainly made me sit up and take notice.
One of the themes or rules of my collection is that I don't really like or collect pencils with rubber grips. They wear, they get dirty, they discolour, I don't really like that spongey feel, the list just goes on. The Grip 2011 has rows of rubber grip dots up its length! This is probably the main feature of the pencil, after all they did call it the Grip. These dots certainly do let you get a good firm grip on the pencil without having to squeeze hard, and going all the way up the body you can hold it wherever you like, you are not forced to hold by the hated "designated rubber grip section". The rows of dots actually become decorative, not just functional, and somehow they don't trigger my "anti-rubber grip" response. Perhaps this is because they are just small thin dots. You are still grasping a fair amount of good hard normal plastic as well. At the end of the day these dots look good and work.
The body of the Grip 2011 is a medium sized triangular section which also helps you get a firm grasp of it. The tip section is metal, tapering to a point. The final part is a retractable metal tapering sleeve. As such this pencil is clearly not intended for draughting work. With a 0.7mm lead it is an everyday writing pencil. The weight is about what you would a expect, but a little light for me considering its reasonably substantial size. The pocket clip is a nice solid looking spring loaded metal design. You can tell that they put some real thought into the overall look and feel of this pencil.
Obviously this is a push top ratchet mechanism pencil, but under the top button lurks a real surprise - a serious eraser! The eraser is a relatively normal 5mm diameter, but it is loaded into a screw cartridge that lets you wind it out as the eraser is worn down. You have about 16mm of length to use, so its a mini auto-eraser. And its a decent vinyl compound that really works. This really is a great idea for a mechanical pencil, other manufacturers should take note.
Unfortunately it is also flawed. The cartridge isn't really all that secure within the body of the pencil, so when you pull the top button off sometimes the eraser stays in the pencil and sometimes it comes out, stuck inside the top button. Maybe thats what's supposed to happen, but it should do one thing or the other. It just takes the gloss of an otherwise fantastic idea.
This mechanical pencil comes as loose open stock - no packaging.
  • Best Points - The rubber grips dots that don't feel like rubber grips, and the eraser.
  • Not So Good Points - The eraser.
  • Overall Rating - If you are a pencil person, you need this pencil.
  • Price Range - Low

Dimensions - 147mm long, triangular body with 11mm sides. Balance point about 80mm up from tip.

NOTE - The Faber-Castell Grip range is available as wooden or mechanical pencils. Fantastic!! See Pencil Revolution ( for a review of the wooden Grip 2001.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Mechanical Pencil Mechanisms

Without getting too technical, it seems to me that these days there are effectively three different types of mechanical pencil mechanisms, namely:

  • Ratchet – the lead is advanced by a fixed amount every time the mechanism is activated.
  • Screw/slider – the lead is advanced in a continuous manner as the mechanism screws or slides its way down the pencil.
  • Clutch – a set of jaws grip the lead and the mechanism opens and closes the jaws allowing the lead to slide freely.

Well that’s the mechanisms, and then we have the means of activating them. These days there don’t seem to be many variations on the screw/slider and clutch. A twisting top on the pencil usually activates screw/sliders, and a push button top usually activates clutch mechanisms. It’s the ratchet mechanisms that have the variety of activators. So as a generalisation, we can break mechanical pencils into five groups based on their mechanisms.

  1. Push Top Ratchets – this would have to be the most common mechanism by miles. It’s a total guess, but I would expect 90 to 95% or even more of the mechanical pencils manufactured each year would be push top ratchets. They cover all the price ranges and thin to medium leads.
  2. Button Ratchets – a button, lever or similar is located on the side of the pencil (anywhere except the top!) and that is used to activate the mechanism. It seems reserved for lower cost pencils and thin to medium leads.
  3. Twist Ratchet – part of the pencil is twisted to activate the mechanism. Usually the whole top half, but sometimes just a small upper section, and sometimes the whole body. After twisting it then springs backwards to its original position, it does not stay permanently screwed around. It seems most common on mid and upper price range pencils, and thin to medium leads.
  4. Screw/slider – part of the pencil is wound around to advance the lead. This was a common mechanism in yesteryear but now seems reserved for upper price range, thick lead pencils.
  5. Clutch – a push top (or other means) activates the clutch jaws. Again a mechanism that is far less common now than in the past. These days it seems reserved for thick lead pencils across the price range.

That’s all the technical details dealt with, so what are the good and bad points to discuss?

Personally my first contact with mechanical pencils was with clutch pencils. Actually I think they are my least favourite because you generally have to sharpen the lead to get a writing point. Now I quite like sharpening wooden pencils, but I feel one of the attractions of mechanical pencils is that you don’t (or shouldn’t) have to sharpen them. So I’m left with mixed feelings. I am sure this would be completely different if I was artistic and using it as a sketch pencil where I wanted a good thick lead. Indeed that’s often what the current clutch pencils are advertised as – “sketch” pencils – but I’m not using them for that. On the positive side, you get to use virtually all of the lead as the jaws can grip down to the last few millimetres.

Button ratchets are probably my least favourite mechanism. I always feel that they are somehow going to get in the way of where I want to hold the pencil, or get inadvertently activated when I put the pencil down, or something! They just strike me as wrong. It’s irrational, but it’s the way I feel. To be honest I never really liked twist ratchets all that much, but they have really grown on me over the years and now I quite like them. You can generally operate most of them one-handed. Last of the ratchets is the push top, the most common of all mechanisms, and rightly so. The push top is easy to activate one-handed, but it does have its drawbacks. Most push tops are refilled by removing the top button, and many also have an eraser under there. When you push the button back on you invariably activate the mechanism, which may not be what you wanted to do. Ratchet pencils usually take standard 60mm long leads and the mechanism can’t hold the last 13 – 15mm of lead. That’s a lot of wastage. Basically 25% of your lead is thrown away! Think of all the words you could have written, the doodles you could have drawn – it’s an outrage!

Last but not least then is the screw/slider mechanism. I don’t really know too much about these, as I only have a couple of pencils that use this. They are a bit of an effort to reload – each lead has to be fitted to the mechanism, there is no automatic loading of a new lead from the spares inside the body. But at least like a clutch mechanism you get to use virtually the entire length of the lead.

Footnote: Original draft prepared with Faber-Castell Grip 2011 0.7 mechanical pencil.