Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Rotring Newton Trio Review

Yes, well, this is a mechanical pencil blog so even though it’s seemingly always referred to as the Rotring Newton Trio Pen, I am going to call it pen / pencil. After all this review will be with a pencil bias, not pen.

The Rotring Newton is named after Sir Isaac Newton, the great 17th Century physicist, scientist and “thinker”. Personally I find the look of the Trio rather reflective of this idea. The round metal body has longitudinal lines along it and is shiny chrome plated, unlike the central “sleeve” section which is matt. Viewed side on, the hexagonal sleeve section looks as though it is a part of an equilateral triangle and the pocket clip attachment continues this triangular line. It all combines so the whole look of this pen/pencil is very scientific or mathematical, and I take my hat off to the stylists at Rotring, they have really come up with the goods on this one.

That hexagonal central section also stops the pen/pencil rolling around on your desk, and adds more weight giving a top heavy feel. The pocket clip is a good solid spring loaded item, no worries there. The grip is OK, about what you would expect from a plain metal finish barrel – it can get a little slippery after extended use.

My Trio has black and red ballpoints and a 0.5mm pencil. I believe other configurations are available. As a ballpoint, the refills write well, but they did seem to be the type that collects stuff on the ballpoint so you often get a small blob when you start writing again. It does seem to me that some ballpoints are more prone to this than others, but obviously the paper and other factors are also important. Being a multi-pen, the refills are only very small, probably only holding about 1/10th of a normal pen. Likewise the pencil cartridge only holds 1 or 2 spare leads, but that’s probably not a big deal. I imagine the pen refill size is more of an issue for your average user. To refill the pencil, or replace a pen refill, you have to unscrew the body from the sleeve section to access the cartridges.

How do you select the pencil or red or black pen? Well back in 1666 when apocryphal apples were bouncing off Isaac’s head, he got to thinking and came up with the theory of gravity. So, it’s entirely appropriate that the Newton Trio has a gravity controlled selector system. Up at the top of the pen/pencil there are three “dots” (‘black’, ‘red’ and ‘0.5’) set at 90 degrees to each other. You hold the body horizontal with the appropriate dot on top and that’s the tip that will come out when you push the top cap down. Obviously a little weighted spindle orientates the refills inside the body. Very cool. No twisting a section around or anything like that. I am sure the great man himself would approve. If you want the pencil you just hold it so ‘0.5’ is on top and push that big top cap down. There is a little raised button that you push to retract the tip when you have finished writing or want to select a new tip. It is spring loaded retraction, and produces a very satisfying “K-chink” as the tip slams back home inside the body. When you push down on the top cap to extend the selected tip, it’s quite easy for the pens, but you have to push fairly hard to extend the pencil out. The pencil is a push top ratchet, and it’s the same when you use the top cap to activate the lead advance, you have to give it a bit of extra oomph.

There is a small “better than nothing” eraser under the top cap, but it’s very difficult to get the top cap off when the pencil is in use because the cap is depressed into the body. You have to retract the pencil tip, and then take the top cap off. Pushing the top cap back on nearly always advances a tip out of the body so you need to be aware of what dots facing up at the time!

The Newton Trio comes in a small metal presentation tin - adequate, but nothing fancy. Overall this is a great multi pen/pencil.

  • Best Points – The looks and selector system. Surely Sir Isaac would approve?
  • Not So Good Points – The push top ratchet lead advance mechanism is not as sharp and precise feeling as a normal pencil.
  • Price Range – Mid/high.

Dimensions – Length 129mm, diameter 9mm barrel, hex section 11mm across the flats. Balance point about 75mm up from the tip.

Well finally of course we need the German / NZ connection for a good German Rotring instrument. Carl Sylvius Volkner (1819 – 1865) was a German Protestant missionary sent to New Zealand in 1849. During the period of the New Zealand Wars he effectively became a government informant against his Maori parish and certain heretical Christian sects. This culminated in his murder / execution by anti-government forces, and then of course subsequent government military actions to punish the offenders.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Lead Cup – Elimination Round

The Lead Cup is structured so that 6 competitors advance from the round-robin pool play. The top two pool winners go straight to the semi-finals, whilst the other two pool winners play off against the top two pool runner-ups, to decide who goes to the semi-finals. As there were several ties on points, a points count-back and a sudden death strength test were required to decide the final six and their placings. So, the draw is as follows:-

ELIMINATION ROUND
MATCH A: Caran d’Ache vs Pilot
MATCH B: Zebra vs Cross

SEMI-FINALS
SF 1: Winner Match A vs Papermate
SF 2: Winner Match B vs Pentel

The Elimination Round Competition

Commentators expected Match A to be close with Caran d’Ache and Pilot both having won their pool strength and blackness tests. On the other hand Match B seemed likely to surprise with Zebra and Cross having shown different areas of strength in their pool play. Bookmakers were as unsure as the spectators, and odds changed by the hour as they scrambled to ensure they had adequate cover for all eventualities. Brave gamblers stood to win or lose fortunes.

With the elimination round matches being played back to back, the fans were expecting a veritable daylong feast of sport, and they were not disappointed.

Match A kicked off with Caran d’Ache narrowly winning the blackness test, but Pilot immediately came back and narrowly won the erasability test. The smear resistance test then produced the first wide margin, with Caran d’Ache winning convincingly. So going into the strength test it was basically neck and neck, and stayed that way throughout the test. The competitors were still tied at the end of normal strength test play, so competition went into extra time. But even that was not enough to break the deadlock as every time Pilot threaten to pull away, Caran d’Ache reeled them back in. So finally the strength test was declared a tie, but spectators and commentators alike felt that Pilot was slightly ahead. In the end then it was the clear win in the smear resistance test that separated the two, and gave victory to Caran d’Ache with 11 points over Pilot on 12 points. The Japanese left the arena dejected, as they really did like their chances of defeating the Swiss and advancing to the semi-finals.

With Match A having been the close contest that was expected, the spectators were abuzz with the possibilities of Match B. The blackness test opened with a draw, and the erasability test was equally close but Cross were the narrow winners. Just like Match A, the smear resistance test was the first to produce a wide margin, with Zebra winning to keep their hopes well and truly alive. The strength test was again a closely fought contest, but Zebra established a narrow lead and managed to hold onto it, eventually winning the test and therefore match, finishing on 7 points and defeating Cross who were on 9.

And then there were four!

The semi-finals are:-
Caran d’Ache v Papermate
Zebra v Pentel

The only thing that was certain was that a Japanese competitor would reach the final.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Retro 51 Tornado Mechanical Pencil Review




RETRO 1951


With a catch phrase of “We make ‘em like they used to!”, Retro 51 market a range of “cool ‘50s inspired products and accoutrements of life” to help you take a trip back down Retro Lane. Their “cool products” include the extensive range of Tornado writing instruments, which has a large variety of mechanical pencils. I have the “Sudoku” and “Crossword” pencils, and the “Postmaster” rollerball pen. The Postmaster is decorated with real stamps, under a coat of lacquer. The Sudoku has two sudoku on it - thats the lower one in the picture for all you puzzle solving types.

The Tornado range of pencils are metal bodied with a host of different decorative styles, and they look good - attractive, unusual decorations on a big solid shortish barrel, with nice shiny metal trims. I particularly like the knurled metal top. I am not normally a fan of uncovered erasers, but somehow even that doesn’t look out of place on these pencils, at least when it’s brand new. Retro 51 do a nice job of gradually reducing the sudoku or crossword as the barrel narrows – you don’t lose any of the puzzle, it just shrinks in size. I don’t have any evidence, but I am slightly unsure of just how hardwearing the barrel decorations will turn out to be over time.

As you can see in the photos, there is no specific grip section. The finish on the barrel can be a little slippery but gives an average grip and it is a good 10 – 11mm wide in the likely grip area. Being a metal pencil it is reasonably heavy, but is well balanced. The pocket clip is a good springy piece of steel. The eraser is decent size and a rubber compound, but it only has average erasing power. Certainly good plastic erasers are far superior. Also when the eraser wears down or gets dirty it doesn’t look the best.

The Tornado comes with excellent presentation cases. For the price, I think they are the best of any brand, bar none. Each one is customised to its particular model with some witty remark or relevant decoration. For instance the Postmaster case is made out as a small airmail package, and the pen is packed loose inside with shredded materials. The Sudoku case has some sudoku on it and asks “Do You Sudoku?” I like the buttons and string tie idea on the cases as well. But wait, there’s more! With the pencils you get a container of spare leads, and a container of eraser refills. That’s another nice touch which many others could learn from. You can spend hundreds of dollars on some pencils and not get a spare eraser or stick of lead. Retro 51’s whole presentation makes a lot of premium brand manufacturers look like cheap penny pinchers.

Here in New Zealand we don’t really get tornados, not like the central USA and other places. The only tornado I have seen was just a little wee fellow, about waist high, twisting his way down the shopping centre kerbside throwing leaves and paper up into the air. Rather exciting for someone who has never seen one before! On the other hand though, the small town of Greymouth down in the South Island of NZ was recently very badly damaged by a “proper” tornado, and about 15 or 20 years ago there was a tornado just a few kilometres north of where I live. It turned a historic wooden church and the nearby very large pine trees into matchsticks. I could hardly believe it when I went to have a look. Sadly a person was killed in this incident.

With all this talk of twisters, and that name, it is hardly surprising that the Retro 51 Tornado is a screw mechanism pencil. You wind that knurled section on the top around to advance or retract the 0.9mm lead, or propel and repel to use the formal terminology. Screw mechanisms, and “thick” leads were commonplace back in the 50’s so it’s all appropriate. The screw mechanism is a bit of a mixed bag. On my Crossword it is relatively smooth, but not on my Sudoku, where you can hear it twisting around inside the barrel, like a spring turning round scraping against the cylinder walls. Also, unlike ratchet mechanism you get some forward / backward play as you advance or retract. When you advance the lead out it will push back in a bit when you press it to the paper. Overall this mechanism is not as good as others I know, like some old pencils or modern Faber-Castell E-motion or Yard-O-Led.

The pencil is pocket safe as you can wind the lead right back inside the tip. As is the case with most screw mechanisms you replace the leads via the tip. You have to do that for each one, there is no automatic refill from a lead magazine. You can store some spare leads inside the barrel but its just storage, and they sometimes tend to get broken in there.

At 0.9mm the Tornado lead is a little thicker than most mechanical pencils these days. Personally I would like them to offer it in a 0.7mm as well, certainly that would be my preference. One problem with the lead is graphite dust. As you write, a lot of dust starts to accumulate around the tip and gets onto the paper. At first I thought it might be the brand of lead so I tried out a Pentel Ain 0.9mm HB lead, but although it was a definitely better, there was still a problem. After a bit of investigation and a few trials I finally decided that the main cause of the dust is that as you write the lead is pushed against the inside edge of the hole in the tip, and that this was grinding away on the lead, creating dust. Again this is not a problem I have encountered with the Faber-Castell E-motion or Yard-O-Led pencils.

Overall the Retro 51 Tornado has much to recommend it, but personally I think its competitors like the E-motion or Lamy Scribble are better, although dearer.


  • Best Points – The great looks and excellent presentation. These really would make a great present.
  • Not So Good Points – The graphite dust and mechanism problems.
  • Price Range – Mid.

Dimensions – Length 131mm, diameter 12mm at widest part. Balance point about 75mm up from the tip.

Sometimes.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Lead Cup – Pool D

Pool D is the last of the round-robin pools, pitting four interesting contestants against each other. All four had something to keep the experts guessing - global mega-corporation backing for Papermate, good solid pedigrees for Lamy and Pilot, and rumours of secret support from Pentel for Insung Hands.

The opening event, the blackness test, saw Pilot from Japan take the honours, with Papermate a close second and Lamy and Insung Hands tied for third. Papermate from the USA quickly improved to claim first place in the erasability test. In the third event, it was Insung Hands from Korea’s turn to claim the honours. So going into the final event, the strength test, everyone except Germany’s Lamy had tasted victory.

The strength test was hotly contested. Insung Hands performed well but was outclassed. The spectators were generally disappointed with Lamy’s performance, and in the end Papermate and Pilot tied for first place.

The individual event placings were, from first place to fourth:
BlacknessPilot, Papermate, Lamy & Insung Hands (3=).
Smear ResistanceInsung Hands, Lamy, Papermate, Pilot.
ErasabilityPapermate, Lamy, Pilot, Insung Hands.
StrengthPapermate & Pilot (1=), Lamy, Insung Hands.

With an overall score of 8, Papermate from USA took first place, closely followed by Pilot on 10 points. Lamy finished a disappointing third on 13 points, and Insung Hands was last on 16 points. Pool play is now over, and with their skills honed by pool play, the big boys are ready for some serious hardball.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Rotring Core Mechanical Pencil Review

Those of you who have read this blog for a while will be aware of my recent confusion over the future of the Rotring brand. For a while most retail websites had the Rotring pencils in their clearance or end-of-line stock, some noted Rotring as discontinued and one claimed to have obtained the last stock of Rotring pencils available in the world. That retailer no longer makes that claim, and it seems Rotring will be continuing in one form or another, although it’s still all rather confusing. During this time I purchased a Rotring Core pencil because I was afraid it was now or never; that Sanford were, for some unknown reason, killing off the Rotring name and I’d always regret not having a Core, even though I didn’t really want one when they were feely available! Maybe that was the plan, threaten to take Rotring away and everyone would rush out and buy one!

The Rotring Core mechanical pencil comes in several different decorations, mine is the 0.7mm Tecnor, which reminds me of a shark with that wave-tooth pattern on the body. The body is fully rubberised in black and blue, with metal tip, cap and pocket-clip. This style is obviously aiming for a modern electronic irreverent sort of look, presumably to appeal to a younger market segment - the writing instrument for those who wear “Rugged Shark” or “Rip Curl” apparel.

So, what about all that rubber! Well it’s a hard compound and has that rubber feel, but it’s not particularly “grippy”. The body tapers quite markedly and the flared out section at the front of the grip section really is necessary as otherwise I think you would end up slipping right on down the barrel. The flare is possibly a little low down for me, but it does ensure a good solid positive grip. One thing I do wonder about is the life-expectancy of the rubber. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was starting to degrade in 10 years time, but then that would be 10 years of good use and seems a fair exchange for your hard-earned cash.

The lead sleeve is a fairly solid affair, definitely designed for writing. It is fully retractable back inside the tip which then leaves a very blunt pocket safe end on the pencil. The pocket clip is a bit of a disappointment. It’s one of those heavy steel wire ones that doesn’t really have any spring in it. It works, but it could be so much better with some sort of spring loading. I think the best point about this pocket clip is that it does stop the pencil rolling on your desk and you can use it as a sort of rest or stand. The weight of the Core is about what you would expect for a short stubby substantial pencil. It's a real "handfull" and there's no surprise that it’s “top heavy”.

The Core has that huge cap on top so obviously it is a push-top ratchet mechanism. Very occasionally the cap doesn’t seem to stay on that well, but most times it is a good tight fit. As you would expect, there is an eraser underneath that cap, but it’s another bit of a disappointment. Whilst it is a reasonably large size – about 7mm diameter (¼ inch) with 30mm (1 1/4inch) of usable length, the compound is one of those sticky ones and it’s housed in an unusual split tube sort of holder. I feel that a twist out eraser would have been a far better choice. You pull the locking collar off the split tube and then pull the eraser out to access the lead refill tube.

So overall I have some mixed feelings about the Rotring Core.

  • Best Points – Certainly an unusual looking pencil. The flared out flange on the lower end of the grip section locks you in place.
  • Not So Good Points – The eraser is a disappointment for a “big” eraser.
  • Price Range – Low / Mid.

Dimensions – Length 138mm, diameter 19mm at widest part and 10mm at the narrowest part of grip section. Balance point about 75mm up from the tip.

Well, although it’s now part of Sanford, Rotring is a German pencil company, so we need the German with an NZ link. Johann Franz Julius von Haast (1822 – 1887) was a German explorer, geologist, naturalist, writer and museum founder who arrived in NZ in 1858 and carried out many official geological surveys of New Zealand, tirelessly exploring and naming much of the country in the process. He was also interested in natural history and became a fellow of the Royal Society, and some say he was the true founder of science in New Zealand. As a geologist, I’m sure he would have been happy to discover a huge graphite deposit and start a NZ pencil industry, but no such luck. Perhaps his most well known legacy would be his name on an important alpine pass, amongst the many geographical features that bear his name.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Lead Cup - Pool C

The rain and snow which interrupted play between the finish of Pool B and the start of Pool C had some commentators grumbling about the championship being held in a small country like New Zealand which didn’t have covered stadiums. But putting that issue aside, competition was expected to be tight and even in Pool C, and after the upsets of Pool B, the fans were prepared for anything and everything.

The opening event, the blackness test, was an indicator of things to come. In a photo finish, the judges finally declared a tie for first between Cross from the USA and Caran d’Ache from Switzerland, and another tie between Germany’s Mont Blanc and Korea’s Micro for third. But the gap between first and last was very small. The erasability test was equally even and it was not until the smear resistance test that an event was won by a clear margin, with Mont Blanc finishing well ahead of the other three.

As always the strength test was the most important event and competition was fierce. Despite a creditable performance, Micro from Korea was definitely fourth, but the other three placings were very even, with the judges narrowly awarding first place to Caran d’Ache over Cross.

The individual event placings were, from first place to fourth:
BlacknessCross & Caran d’Ache (1=), Mont Blanc & Micro (3=).
Smear ResistanceMont Blanc, Cross, Micro & Caran d’Ache (3=).
ErasabilityMont Blanc, Cross & Caran d’Ache (2=), Micro.
StrengthCaran d’Ache, Cross, Mont Blanc, Micro.

So with an overall score of 8, Caran d’Ache from Switzerland just held off the strong challenge from Cross on 9 points. Mont Blanc finished a somewhat disappointing third on 11 points, and Micro was clearly last on 18 points but they performed much better than that score would imply. Certainly they were no “easy-beat”. With only Pool D left to play, the business end of the competition is fast approaching.

Guestbook 5

At over 150 comments, the previous guestbook (page 4) was getting rather long so it's time to start a new page. You can find the old one directly below this new one via the older posts link at the bottom of the page. So, here’s the place to leave any general comments, brickbats and bouquets. I won’t promise to answer questions like “What’s the best pencil in the world?”, "Whats the best pencil with features X, Y and Z", but you might get lucky. I don’t generally say much about retailers except as per my posting on the subject – use the sidebar link. I don't repair or sell mechanical pencils, and I don't give valuations. Please use the sidebar links and Lijit search for things like how to refill your pencils, etc. Other than that though, I do like to hear from you, please leave a comment, and I will try to answer or help, or even better some other reader will toss in their 10 cents worth too.

Guestbook 4

At over 150 comments, the previous guestbook (page 3) was getting rather long so it's time to start a new page. You can find the old one directly below this new one via the older posts link at the bottom of the page. So, here’s the place to leave any general comments, brickbats and bouquets. I won’t promise to answer questions like “What’s the best pencil in the world?”, "Whats the best pencil with features X, Y and Z", but you might get lucky. I don’t generally say much about retailers except as per my posting on the subject – use the sidebar link. I don't repair or sell mechanical pencils, and i don't give valuations. Please use the sidebar links and Lijit search for things like how to refill your pencils, etc. Other than that though, I do like to hear from you, please leave a comment, and I will try to answer or help, or even better some other reader will toss in their 10 cents worth too.

THIS GUESTBOOK PAGE IS NOW CLOSED.



See the sidebar "FAQ's & General" for the current Guestbook.

Guestbook 3

At over 150 comments, the old guestbook page was getting rather long so I thought it best to start a new page. You can find the old one directly below this new one via the older posts link at the bottom of the page. So, here’s the place to leave any general comments, brickbats and bouquets. I won’t promise to answer all questions like “What’s the best pencil in the world?”, but I might. I don’t generally recommend retailers except as per my posting on the subject – use the sidebar link. Other than that though, I do like to hear from you, please leave a comment, and I will try to answer or help.

THIS GUESTBOOK PAGE IS NOW CLOSED.
See the sidebar "FAQ's & General" for the current Guestbook.

Guestbook 2

At over 150 comments, the old guestbook page was getting rather long so I thought it best to start a new page. You can find the old one directly below this new one.

So, here’s the place to leave any general comments, brickbats and bouquets. I won’t promise to answer all questions like “What’s the best pencil in the world?”, but I might. I don’t generally recommend retailers except as per my posting on the subject – use the sidebar link. Other than that though, I do like to hear from you, please leave a comment, and I will try to answer or help.

THIS GUESTBOOK PAGE IS NOW CLOSED.
See the sidebar "FAQ's & General" for the current Guestbook.

GUESTBOOK

Well here's a place you can leave any general comments, brick-bats or bouquets.

THIS GUESTBOOK PAGE IS NOW CLOSED.

See the sidebar "FAQ's & General" for the current Guestbook.
.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Artline Click-it 7150 Mechanical Pencil Review

I could hardly believe my eyes when I first saw the Artline Click-it 7150 mechanical pencil. This thing was obviously way down at the end of the line when they were handing out good-looks. The colour, the rubber grip, that big mutant growth on the side, urghhhh… it’s just awful. Now even though I live in the city, I spend a lot of my spare time hanging out in the swamp. (Not just right now though because its duck hunting season, far too many itchy trigger fingers for my liking.) So out in the swamp a lot of things go quack, and I’ve seen my fair share of ugly ducklings, but I need to fess up and say I was wrong - the Artline 7150 looks like the ugly duckling, but actually it’s more of a swan.

Artline is the brand name of the Japanese Shachihata company, who are a reasonably large sized company in the stamp and marker field, and they have a couple of mechanical pencils.

The 7150 is a button ratchet mechanism pencil, and what a side button! They obviously decided to make it a feature of the pencil, like some shark fin sticking out of the creatures back. It operates on a simple sliding-wedge type principle to convert the inwards motion into a lengthwise action. It works OK, but the clicker button has a lot of free play and so it rattles around when you are writing and is annoyingly noisy. I definitely did have some trouble with the clicker button getting in the way when I was holding the pencil - sometimes I had to twist the pencil around so the button and pocket clip were facing in appropriate directions.

The small metal lead sleeve is a writing style only. It does retract back into the body, but it’s a little more difficult to achieve with the side button than it is with a normal push top ratchet pencil. The moulded pocket clip is functional in a basic way. The whole top section of the pencil pulls off to allow access to the lead magazine.

The eraser is a feature of this mechanical pencil. It is about 7mm (1/4 in) diameter with 15mm of usable length, and advances as you wind the top section around. Whilst it has reasonable erasing power, the waste doesn’t twist up into strands so it’s a bit messy. But it’s an awful lot better than most mechanical pencil erasers!

The grip section is a rubber compound of hexagonal cross-section. It is a little softer than many other rubber grips, but still basically hard. On the other hand, it is actually “grippy”. Yes, I admit it; this rubber grip really does improve your grip on the pencil. Unlike many economy / low price range pencils this one has a fairly large diameter body so the grip section is a decent 10 to 11mm across the flats. This is definitely for those who like a wider bodied writing instrument. The only negative about the grip is that the peaks of the hexagon are a bit sharp, they could be rounded off a bit more. They’re not uncomfortable, just not ideal.

So, overall this pencil definitely surprised me – and that’s in a good way.
  • Best Points – A decent eraser, and a rubber grip that actually improves your grip.
  • Not So Good Points – The clicker rattles, and when the eraser wears down if looks a bit funny in its housing.
  • Price Range – Economy / Low.

Dimensions – Length 140mm, width 10 – 11mm across the flats of the grip section. Balance point about 80mm up from the tip.

PS - My advice, watch out for swans! Nasty vicious creatures who will knock you down and steal your lunch any chance they get. Well if you're about 5 years old they will. You could end up scarred for life, with a phobia of swans, or birds in general.