Thursday, July 27, 2006

Pentel Techniclick PD105T Mechanical Pencil Review

Pentel Techniclick PD105T Mechanical Pencil Review

The Pentel Techniclick comes in a small selection of colours and 0.5 or 0.7mm lead thicknesses. There are also another couple of Techniclick variants with different grips etc but they are separate pencils in their own right, so are not discussed any further here. My Techniclick is the green 0.5mm model, PD105T.

The body is clear plastic with a tinted end section. It is round in cross section with a flattened area on one side where the “clicker button” is. The clear plastic has good optical clarity, without flow lines or flaws, exactly the sort of quality moulding you would expect from Pentel. These guys really do know a thing or two about injection moulding.

The tinted top section pulls off to get at the eraser, and to refill the lead chamber. I am a little dubious about how long the friction fit of the top section onto the body will last as it will get a lot of use over time. The pocket clip is part of the top section, and one of the better plastic moulded clips around. Being a separate section has allowed them to get some extra clip pressure onto the main body. The eraser is the standard mid-size Pentel rubber eraser.

With that side clicker button this is obviously a button ratchet mechanism. As expected the button uses angled wedges to activate the lead advance mechanism. Now I am not generally a fan of side button pencils. In this case the button is fairly small and conveniently positioned for fast easy activation while writing, but when I’m just idly holding the pencil in my hand, the buttons right there under my fingers, just asking to be pushed. (Mmmmm button - must push!) The button has a good firm but easy action to it.

There is a 3mm metal lead sleeve so this pencil is suitable for draughting, but it’s not retractable for pocket safety. The grip section is a series of smooth shallow ribs, reasonably effective and comfortable.

Like most, but not all Pentels, this one is made in Japan. The barcode label on the body peeled off easily in one go and didn’t leave any of that annoying sticky residue behind. More evidence of Pentels attention to detail. Overall a good economy price range mechanical pencil.
  • Best Points – Good plastic pocket clip and interesting optical effects as you rotate the pencil around.
  • Not So Good Points – Not pocket safe. Personally I’m not that much a fan of the side button clickers.
  • Price Range – Economy.

Dimensions – Length 148mm, diameter 10mm. Balance point about 80mm up from the tip.

This is my little Japanese theme thing. The Pentel Techniclick in front of NZ's Mt Taranaki, which was the stand in for Mt Fuji, in those parts of the Tom Cruise movie "The Last Samurai" filmed in NZ .

Monday, July 24, 2006

Nudie Pencils

WARNING - PG Rated Post.

Children please ask your parents before reading any more.

This is, and always will be, a “G”- family rated blog, but from time to time standards slip and a little bit of “PG” rated stuff sneaks through. This is one of those times.

Here we have some late 1960’s mechanical pencils. The handsome man and beautiful young lady are posing in their bathing suits, but if you hold the pencil up the other way……well I think you can guess what happens to their bathing suits! Mechanical pencil pornography! (Wonder how many hits that search phrase will generate over the next few months?) But it’s not equal opportunity smut – there is only one man on the “man” pencil, whereas there are two different ladies on the other pencil. Three for the price of two?

The lady who sold me these claimed to know they were over 35 years old. Personally I would have guessed them as late 60’s to mid 70’s, so it seems to fit together. They are screw mechanisms, you turn the metal tip section around to advance or retract the lead. Although these are in pretty good condition, like many cheaper plastic pencils from that era they seem to be a bit warped. I suppose that’s not entirely inappropriate.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Caran d'Ache Ecridor Mechanical Pencil Review

Switzerland’s Caran d’Ache are one of my favourite pencil companies. Even though they are a smaller company, they still try to produce a full product range. At one end of the spectrum they have drawing and artists supplies - pencils, pastels, oil paints and even face paints, competing with the likes of Faber-Castell; while at the other end they have fine writing instruments, lighters, mens jewellery and leather goods to fight it out with Mont Blanc, Tiffany, Bvlgari and others.

The Ecridor is one of Caran d’Aches traditional writing instruments, a part of their history. It is available in a wide range of decorative styles (rhodium plated, gold, with Swarovski crystals, different engraved patterns, etc) and writing formats – fountain pen, rollerball, ballpoint and pencil.

My Ecridor mechanical pencil is the silver-plated, rhodium coated, chevron design. Fine straight lines are engraved along the length of the body and then rows of chevrons are superimposed to complete the design. Rhodium is a very expensive, shiny hard-wearing member of the platinum family, often used to plate silver to stop tarnishing. Lots of silver and white gold jewellery that is made from, and described as “silver” or “white gold”, is actually rhodium coated so you are looking at rhodium, not silver or white gold. Medic Alert even makes a range of silver rhodium coated bracelets. People with some medical conditions like diabetes or who take Warfarin often have problems with silver tarnishing, so the rhodium coating stops that. (No, I don’t wear a Medic Alert bracelet. Somehow I just trip across this sort of stuff and it gets filed away for future recall. But as a conservationist in New Zealand I am well aware of rats, and Warfarin is just diluted rat-poison, so I’m familiar with that. OK, enough of an aside, back on track now!)

The Ecridor is a made from a solid metal body. Maybe it starts out as a piece of hexagonal bar stock, has the tip section machined down, the centre drilled out, and hey presto, we’ve got a pencil. Of course, that’s just a theory that I personally like, could be complete rubbish. Anyway, this construction means the Ecridor has a good solid heavy feel to it, especially for a pencil of this size. Although it’s not “super-heavy”, it’s heavy enough that if you drop it onto your desk everyone in the office everyone hears and you worry about the desk being damaged. The hexagonal shape is very reminiscent of woodcase pencils. Overall this is a very classy “understated” pencil - art deco chevron styling, shiny silver finish, hexagonal body, good solid weight - a look and feel that I really like.

The engraving on the body is just deep enough so that you only just feel it when you grip the pencil, but it’s enough so that the grip is reasonably good despite the relatively smooth metal finish. The hexagonal body is a bit wider than normal woodcase pencils so this helps with the grip. The pocket clip is a fixed design but is quite strong and springy. The pencil mechanism is a push top ratchet, taking 0.7mm lead and there is a small eraser under the top button with a needle to help in the unlikely event of a lead jam. The lead sleeve is an angled cone, for writing rather than draughting, and it isn’t retractable, so this is not a particularly pocket-safe pencil.

The Ecridor comes in a simple nice red presentation case. The “CdA” logo is stamped into the pencil body just above the pocket clip, and “Caran d’Ache Swiss Made” is stamped into the top cap.

  • Best Point – Good solid look and feel.
  • Not So Good Point – Would prefer the sleeve to be retractable.
  • Price range – High.

Dimensions- Length 131mm, width 8mm across the hex faces. Balance point about 75mm up from the tip

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Lead Cup - In Review

So, what has this whole Lead Cup and related postings revealed? Well here are a few thoughts.

Firstly it got a few folk questioning my mental state, although most of them at least said “strange but interesting” so I’ll just concentrate on the “interesting” bit! Personally I just thought it was worthwhile to try and decide which leads were the best and a “competition” seemed like one way of livening the whole thing up . A bit of harmless online nonsense. Anyway, no big deal, onto more lead related things.

How reliable are the results? Well the elimination, semi-final and finals were all blind tests, in that I didn’t know which lead was in which pencil, so there wasn’t any personal bias to a particular lead. All the tests were pretty subjective though, as I didn’t have machines breaking the lead, or measuring blackness, etc. On the other hand if we track back and look at Caran d’Ache’s results in the pool, elimination, semi-final and final (in that order):

Blackness = first, win, win, “losing draw”.
Erasability = second, lose, lose, lose.
Smear Resistance = third, win, win, win.
Strength = first, draw, win, lose.

Overall that’s a pretty consistent pattern which implies my judging was reasonably consistent, though the pool result for smear resistance looks anomalous.

What I don’t know is things like:
  • How good is the manufacturers’ quality control? Was I testing a lead from a particularly good or bad production batch?
  • Does age matter? I tend to think not, but some leads could be brand new but others I’ve had for a few years and they could have been in the wholesale to retail chain for a few years prior to my purchasing them.

Do some of the tests matter? I just arbitrarily decided that blackness was a good thing. You could just as easily say “Hey Dave, use a darker grade” and therefor blackness is irrelevant. Some artists might like a lead that you can smear out a bit. As for erasability, well they all rub out with a good PVC eraser, just some a little easier than others. Perhaps strength is really the only absolute.

Can you extrapolate these 0.5mm HB grade results to other grades and sizes? Probably, but then I note that most of my Faber-Castell 0.5mm leads are made in Brazil, and the 0.7mm ones are made in Germany, but there is a bit of a mixture. Also, does strength matter so much with 0.7mm? An average strength formulation might be borderline in 0.5mm, but all you would ever need when made into a 0.7 or 0.9mm diameter lead.

I was rather surprised to see how much the Japanese manufactured leads dominated, and how no German leads did that well. Not all the leads clearly state their country of manufacture, but there were 5 leads made in Germany, and none made it out of pool play. On the other hand 5 of the 6 that did make it out of the pool play into the elimination round were of Japanese manufacture – Pentel, Papermate, Cross, Zebra and Pilot, all made in Japan. So it seems pretty clear where the centre of excellence is. I was surprised at the Faber-Castell result, so much that I “cheated” and did a re-test, but the results were the same. Maybe I had a really bad batch?

At the end of the day though, all the leads from the major brands are actually pretty good. I use Staedtler quite a lot simply because it’s the one in the supply cupboard at work, and even though it’s not the strongest, it’s not that bad. Happy pencilling.

Monday, July 10, 2006

An American Revolutionary Wooden Week

A few months ago I put my mechanicals away and spent a week using woodcase pencils. Now I chose pencils available here in New Zealand which means they were from the German pencil companies, Staedtler and Faber-Castell. About that time a very friendly American comrade sent me a selection of fine pencils from some American companies, and as July 4 approached, it somehow seemed appropriate for me to once again put my mechanicals away and have an “American Revolutionary Wooden Week”.

When I first opened the package containing these American pencils I was astonished. How could something as simple, basic and generic as a pencil be so different in the USA to NZ? Now my wife has picked up a small amount of pencilness from me and she brought in the mail that day, and was curious to see what was in the package from America. When I opened it up she just took one look and said “Wow, they’re nice looking pencils”. So what’s so different about them? I think the first thing I noticed is that they pretty much all have eraser tips, and lots of fancy ferrules, whereas here in NZ, pencils just have plain ends. Then most of them were unsharpened, whereas here you get sharpened pencils. Most of them are plain one colour paint jobs whereas here they are often multi-coloured and/or striped. Several of them were “natural” wood-grain finish which I have never seen before, and none of them were brands that I had seen before - I didn’t really even know Papermate made woodcase pencils! So from this sampler of America’s finest I chose these for my working week:

  1. Papermate American Naturals HB 2
  2. California Cedar Products Forest Choice
  3. Papermate Mirado Classic HB 2
  4. Dixon Ticonderoga Black 2 Soft
  5. California Republic Palomino HB

So first up the American Naturals. I recalled Raven’s Revolutionary posting on sharpening with a knife so I thought I would give that a go with this plain simple piece of pencil wood. Actually I quite enjoyed it, and was surprised at how easy it is to carve the wood away, but let’s just say I need a lot more practice! There are far too many Health & Safety issues for me to get away with knife sharpening at work in the long-term. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the finish on the Naturals. Some sides of the hex were quite rough compared to others, but on the positive side it would improve the grip properties. The lead was OK, not particularly smooth feeling, but the eraser was just useless, smearing stuff around and not fully erasing.

Tuesday was Forest Choice. I just love the finish on this pencil, its fantastic. A smooth light lacquer really showcases the wood, and feels great to the touch. The lead was better than the Naturals, but perhaps not quite as dark. The eraser was miles better. On the one hand it’s good to have minimalist markings on a “natural” finish pencil like this, but I would prefer them to mark the grade (2, HB?) on the pencil. Overall a great pencil.

Wednesday was Papermates turn – who even knew they made woodcase pencils? The lead in the Mirado seemed pretty good to me. A fraction on the light side, but very smooth - I guess that’s extra wax in the core or something. A nice paint finish but not as good as some.

Thursday was Ticonderoga Black day. Obviously the marketing team at Dixon decided they were going to expand their export markets and start selling to New Zealand. So they sat down and came up with the Ticonderoga Black. Matt black body and eraser with silver writing, just like the uniforms of New Zealand national sporting teams, making us think of the All Blacks or the Silver Ferns every time we see that pencil. But then those clever Dixon marketing folk went even further, and just to clinch the deal, thought “Hey, lets paint the ferrule in the Australian national sporting colours so those Kiwi’s will not only be reminded of themselves but also of their constant rivalry with the Kangaroos”. Boy, it’s easy to see why those exec’s at Dixon get paid the big bucks. But then something went totally wrong and they forgot to send some to New Zealand. Go figure! The lead is really smooth and if it was just a little darker, this might well be the perfect pencil.

So onto Friday, and the much vaunted Palomino. It’s a great pencil with an excellent paint job, but without the eraser tip it was the odd-man out in this American sampler. I think this is the pencil I had to sharpen the most often, implying its lead was the softest.

Overall I really liked the extra weight and top-heavy balance provided by the eraser tips. These are all great pencils, (except perhaps the Naturals) but there are two stand-outs for me - the Forest Choice and the Ticonderoga Millennium Black. Both are now regulars in my wooden pencil holder.

OK, Long live the revolution!, but back to the mechs.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Lead Cup - Finals

At last, Cup Final day was here. Would Switzerland’s Caran d’Ache finish the day like David in his match with Goliath, or would Japan’s Pentel continue their seemingly inexorable march to victory? Many felt that the match was there for Pentel to lose, that whatever happened, Caran d’Ache would be heroes as they had already far exceeded all expectations, whilst anything other than victory for Pentel would be an ignominious disaster.

The format of the final was significantly different to all previous matches. The contestants would compete for points in the following events:
Blackness – Heavy Pressure – 1pt
Blackness – Light Pressure – 1pt
Smear Resistance – 3pts
Erasability – PVC – 2pts
Erasability – PVC Free – 1pt
Erasability – Rubber – 1pt
“Writing Feel” – 1pt
Packaging – 1pt
Life – 3pts
Strength – Drop – 1pt
Strength – Long Length – 1pt
Strength – Short Length – 4pts
This gave a total of 20 judging points, the highest score winning, and taking home The Lead Cup.

The opening match up of the blackness test was hard fought, but Pentel won by a small but clear margin. Caran d’Ache immediately fought back with an emphatic victory in the smear resistance test. Stung by the Swiss counter-attack, the Japanese pulled out all the stops to win the PVC and rubber erasability tests, and tie the PVC free test. So at the half way point the Japanese had a handy lead over the Swiss.

Photo - competitors, officials and judges inspecting the blackness and erasability results.

After the halftime interval things started slowly, the “Writing” test was a draw with both being judged good smooth writers. Then packaging was a win to Pentel. The judges felt that Caran d’Ache’s minimalist approach just went too far and they should at least put their name on their product. The Pentel packaging was good visually, but sometimes it was a little difficult to dispense leads. The “Life test” was closely fought, but a winning draw to Pentel, who managed to squeeze a few extra words out of the set length of lead.

With a total of 6 points at stake in the strength tests, it was not too late for Caran d’Ache to reel Pentel back in, but it would be a massive task. The drop test ended in a draw with both exhibiting great strength when dropped from heights, but from then on things went Pentels way. Although the Swiss racked up a few points, Pentel were clear winners in both short and long length strength tests, and the crowds went wild. The final score was 7.7 judging points to Caran d’Ache and 12.3 to Pentel.

AND THEN THERE WAS ONE. The pre-cup favourites had come through to win the inaugural Lead Cup. The Japanese were clearly elated and relieved at their win, but the Swiss took solace in the fact they had exceeded all expectations to reach the finals. See you again in 4 years time!

Some photographs of the awards ceremony. The victorious captain of Pentel collecting the Lead Cup and hoisting it in victory as a salute to the fans.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Lead Cup - Semi-Finals

Semi-final day dawned cold, clear and crisp, the last day for two of our competitors. The fans streamed into the arena knowing they were in for some competition with back to back semi-final matches. Commentators, “experts”, betting agencies and fans alike were all in reasonable agreement about the match ups. In Semi-Final A, the lesser known Caran d’Ache was expected to put up a creditable fight, but eventually succumb to the corporate weight of Papermate. The all Japanese Semi-Final B was expected to be a fairly one sided affair with surprise semi-finalists Zebra going down to Pentel, who were the favourites to eventually win the finals.

Semi-Final A kicked off with a clear win to Caran d’Ache in the Blackness test and sent a murmur of “upset” through the crowds, but Papermate immediately countered with a win in the Erasability test. The Swiss then took the narrowest of leads in the Smear Resistance test, so all the elements were in place for a real race right down to the finish line. The Strength test started with Papermate scoring an emphatic opening goal which silenced the growing buzz of an upset win, but the match hardened Swiss marshalled their forces and came back with a withering counter attack. Although no one knew it at the time, the match was over, for Caran d’Ache then continued on and utterly destroyed Papermate in the strength test, taking out the semi-final 6 points to 8. Standing proud, the Swiss felt they were ready for whichever Japanese opponent they were to face in the final.

After a short intermission the crowds were again hushed and ready for the Japanese teams to slug it out toe to toe in Semi-Final B. The Blackness test went into extra time and still no winner emerged so eventually it was called a tie. The stalemate was then broken when Zebra won the Erasability test. The crowds could barely contain themselves with excitement. Several elderly spectators were overcome and required medical assistance. Pentel then evened the contest up with a win in the Smear Resistance test. As was the case in so many other matches, the Strength test would decide the winner. Although it was more even than the previous semi-final strength test, there was no doubt that Pentel was the stronger of the two, and so they booked their place in the final with a 6 to 8 win over Zebra.

Whilst no one was surprised to see Pentel in the final, at the start of the tournament Caran d’Ache were a rank outsider. Could the giant killing Swiss take out the ultimate prize?