Thursday, April 24, 2008

Uni Kuru Toga

Uni Kuru Toga

OK, here’s a new one. Fresh out of the postie’s satchel, sent to me by my friend in Japan. I believe it’s a relatively new release on the Japanese market. It is the Uni “Kuru Toga” (M5-450 1P) mechanical pencil by Mitsubishi Pencil. uni kuru toga packageWhat does Kuru Toga mean? Well, apparently ‘Kuru’ is a sort of Japanese sound symbolism that we don't really have in English, but anyway it's associated with ‘turning’, and ‘Toga’ is the shortened form of ‘togaru’ which means ‘be sharpened’. The pencil itself has 'Kuru Toga Engine' printed on it. uni kuru toga engineQuite simply, the idea is that as you write the lead is auto-rotated around so that it maintains a sharp point and doesn’t get a chisel edge on it, leading to changing line thicknesses as you write or if you rotate the pencil in your hand. The pencil comes with a 12 page little cartoon style A6 size booklet explaining the virtues of Kuru Toga. Now I don’t read Japanese, so no idea what it actually says, but here it is reproduced in full, so I think we can all get the general idea. I scanned it lay flat, so six scans of A5 size. kuru toga instructions 1 kuru toga instructions 2 kuru toga instructions 3 kuru toga instructions 4kuru toga instructions 5 kuru toga instructions 6I haven’t pulled the mechanism apart but clearly the concept is that the lead-holding jaws are mounted on a toothed clutch. Each time you press down to write the clutch teeth engage and the sliding faces cause the lead to be rotated around a fraction. kuru toga mechanism diagramThe trick then is the constant lifting and pressing back down as you write. The clutch is springing apart and back together, rotating each time. Now this is a 0.5mm pencil, so a chisel edge on the lead isn’t a huge deal, but still, it’s a heck of an idea. There is also a 0.3mm version. Now that would be a sharp point! Still, Uni extol the virtues of the constantly sharp point for neat precise writing, and a reduction in lead breakage.

Right then. Does it actually work?

Well… yes, it does. Whether you really care, well…that’s another matter.

So, first thing I did was get an ordinary pencil (Lamy 2000) and the Kuru Toga and make sure they had good clean leads with a square end. Start writing. Clearly normal started out a thin line and got progressively thicker as the end wore down to a chisel point. I did not rotate the pencil in my hand. The picture below shows ‘normal’ at the start and then ‘normal’ after a line of writing. At the bottom of the picture are three lines – the middle one is at the start, the one above and below are after the chisel edge has been worn on the lead. So, we can see what happens normally, things get thicker as the lead wears. (Phew, it's like rocket-science)kuru toga comparison 1 Now Kuru Toga. Below is a picture of ‘normal’ and ‘kuru’ after a couple of lines writing with each. Normal has worn to a chisel point and makes thicker lines. Kuru stays sharp.kuru toga comparison 2To recap – here’s the 3 line test for both, shown together. For each, the middle line is the start with a fresh new lead, the lines above and below are drawn after a couple of lines of writing with that lead.kuru toga comparison 3One thing I did note with Kuru Toga was that it always felt slightly scratchy on the paper. You know how when you pick up a pencil and by chance you start writing with the sharp side or tip of the chisel point and it digs or catches a little on the paper. Well, that’s basically what kuru is doing, always presenting the sharp edge to the paper, so it’s not the smoothest of writing experiences. Still, nothing to get too hung up over.

You know, to some extent it almost doesn’t matter how well this pencil works or not, it’s the thought that counts. These sorts of ideas and innovations are occurring in Japan, not elsewhere. Just look at that booklet! This is clearly the product of a design team and company that really think about their product and their market, see a future, try something new, move forward, and not just think, “Oh, it’s a pencil, we’ll always sell them, but there’s nothing much ever going to happen with pencils! They’re a cash-cow, just milk them.”

Link to the new Uni Kuru Toga High Grade

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Just a quick note to point out I have added in a few new links in the sidebar. Also I have added in a Latest Comments widget which shows the last 5 comments on this blog. 'Latest Comments' though is quite slow to update - reading a few other articles indicates this is normal, a few hours is about as quick as it gets, half a day is common, and every now and then it can get stuck or broken for extended pariods. We'll see how it goes.

If you have already read the below article of the 1971 Sticks you might want to read again and check the comments as there is some interesting new information.

Some Sticks From 1971

I recently had another rush of blood to the head and bought a mixed lot of pencils online, described simply as “Old pencil case full of pencils – some used, some not”. I am rather pleased with my purchase.

The pencil case had a persons name and school class number written inside, along with the year “1971”. This all seems about right. Basically all the pencils are new to me. Here’s a few.

“Eberhard Faber, Made in USA, 1924”, and on the other side “Do Unto Others As You Would THE GOLDEN RULE that They Should Do Unto You” “Koh-I-Noor, Made by L & C Hardtmuth In Austria” and on the other side “2B, British Graphite Drawing Pencil, Compressed Lead”. So, it’s British yet made in Austria? I wonder if they mean the graphite came from Britain?
“Made In China, THREE STARS, 600, HB”. Well it doesn’t look any better or worse than all the other pencils. “Berol, EAGLE JEANS, USA, HB, 2”. The paint finish appears to be an attempt to imitate denim fabric, as in a pair of blue jeans. (Note - please read the comments. This pencil really is made from jeans !)A square unpainted, unmarked, raw pencil.

A bunch of those little tiny notebook pencils.
A round pencil, "Made In Bavaria, A W FABER, Established 1761, 150, A W Faber, HB"No photo because its gold on yellow and so doesn't really show up, but a Made in Bavaria Swan Manifold Ink Pencil.

To finish - a number of used coloured pencils. They are just plain bare wood, round, with the markings simply pressed into the wood.The first few letters of the marking have been sharpened off, but reconstructed it would apparently read, “Creta Laevis, E Wolff & Son, Inventors, London, (the colour)”. The colours I have are Green No 1, Green No 3, Olive Green, Sepia No 1 and Bn Pink. The web seems strangely silent on these Creta Laevis, but apparently they are a sort of pastel pencil. Anyone know anything interesting about them? Are they still made, etc?

Note how the core does not go through to the end of these Creta Laevis pencils, unlike their graphite cousins to the right in the photo. I guess if the pastel core is expensive, it makes sense for it to stop a little short of the end so that none of the core is wasted when the pencil becomes too short. (Note - please read the comments - I have added the photo below to show how this pencil is not made as two equal halves, rather the join is about 2/3rds of the way through.)

An old pencil packet was also part of the mixed lot.

A Little Artistic Justice

In my recent post on the Ecridor Artiste I displayed my current level of artistic skill with aquarelles. Just for the record, I am a little further advanced with plain old graphite. Not much, but a little. Kind of stuck on Still Life and objects.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Caran d’Ache Ecridor Artiste Fixpencil

Caran d’Ache Ecridor Artiste Fixpencil

Now I like to think that I’m without pencil-prejudice or snobbery, but equally it’s true that I am partial to many a so-called luxury brand pencil. So, I was downstairs re-arranging the collection, and … Woo-hoo! The Caran d’Ache Ecridor Rhodium Chevron Fixpencil Artiste set. Now there’s a mouthful of a name if ever there was one. Actually you can find it called various related things, just mix and rearrange the words a bit. So, the nice rosewood glass-topped presentation box contains a 2mm clutch pencil - the silver-plated rhodium coated, chevron pattern Ecridor Fixpencil. You also get an eraser, a set of coloured leads and an art booklet.
The set of leads is one each of red, blue, green and yellow. Even better, they are actually aquarelles, or watercolour leads. So you use them like normal coloured leads, but also you can brush or wash them over with water to blend and create new colours. The little booklet tells you all about the various different techniques. It appears though that I have some way to go before my first exhibition.
I also bought a set of ordinary graphite leads too. The eraser is rather impressive. Far too good looking to actually use, so no idea how well it really works.

So, a great pencil. But let's just say the price is probably a bit outside the range of the average struggling young artist.

Poll 6 - Readers

It’s been gnawing away at me for ages. Just how many of you are there? These days my Sitemeter records 11 or 12 thousand hits per month for this blog, but most of these hits are just simple Google searches. My Blogger profile view counter is over 2,100. Anyway, shades of narcissism if you like, but I’d really like to know how many pencil folk there are out there, how many “regular readers”? So, time for a Poll, “How often do you read this blog?” I’ll leave it up to you to self-describe whether you are a frequent or occasional reader.

Sorry, no voting button for just plain old “No”.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Pentel PG1505AD Mechanical Pencil Review

Pentel PG1505AD Mechanical Pencil Review

For several decades the PG1505, sometimes known as the “Accu Graph”, has been one of Pentels top offerings in their draughting pencil range. I believe it was formerly distributed throughout North America and Europe, but sadly its range has now retracted to Japan and nearby places. Even there it is apparently no longer plentiful. Hmmm, population decline, range retraction…classic signs of a species heading for extinction. I assume poor sales, as design (and art) continues its evolution as a software rather than paper based activity, is forcing the PG1505 onto the ever expanding list of endangered species.
So as well as being a review, the outlook for the PG1505 is perhaps not all that rosy, so this all has a hint of eulogy and obituary about it. At first glance the PG1505 is a rather long, slender shaped pencil. The serious ‘technical aura’ is enhanced by the simple colour scheme of black and silver. The styling of this pencil has always reminded me of a long thin tapering calligraphy brush, and I’ve always thought that was appropriate for one of Pentels finest - I like to imagine that the Japanese calligraphy tradition played some role in inspiring the styling of this pencil.As a serious draughting pencil of considerable lineage, the PG1505 has many classic features. Starting at the tip, this is a 0.5mm lead diameter pencil and you will not be surprised to find we have a 4mm fixed sleeve. In the past, a couple of readers have raised the issue of “lead wobble” inside the sleeve. Well, I can assure you there is none with this pencil. The lead is rock solid inside that sleeve. Obviously though a long fixed lead sleeve makes this pencil pocket unsafe. Actually if you take the overall look of this pencil into account it’s sort of a mini-javelin so maybe I should rate it as super-pocket unsafe?
Moving on up from the sleeve the next feature of significance is the knurled grip. This of course provides excellent non-slip grip, but sometimes I did pick up a hint of roughness. Of course you must remember that I’m just an office-wallah, not a thick-skinned toughened engineer or mega-structure architect who would laugh at such lily-livered sensitivities. The grip is not a particularly large diameter so might not suit all. The grip and other componentry give this pencil a slightly tip-heavy balance point, but not so much that the tapering upper body feels like its flapping around in the wind. So, well balanced and weighing in at 21 grams, the PG1505 feels reasonably substantial in the hand.

At the top of the grip there is a lead hardness indicator window. You unscrew the grip just a fraction to allow rotation of the window. The indicator grades available are B through to 3H, including F. You have to screw the grip back up rather tight or it can work loose over time.

Above the hardness indicator the body changes from metal to black plastic. It’s a good hard shiny resin that obviously won’t break, dull or scratch in a hurry. Printed in silver on the black body just above the hardness indicator is “0.5 Pentel” and “PG1505 JAPAN”. As always I am a fan of good model identification on a pencil.

The pocket clip is a fairly plain simple piece of steel, not spring loaded, and is quite efficient and strong. Its visual austerity fits well with styling of the pencil.

Finally at the very top of the body we have the small metal end cap. This pencil is of course push top button ratchet mechanism. 10 clicks of the button will get 5mm of lead out the tip. And when I say clicks, I mean clicks. This is a very positive, loud “clicking” mechanism. Beneath the eraser cap there is…well there isn’t the small little emergency use eraser that one usually expects. Instead there is a needle for clearing lead jams, and the end of the lead magazine is right there so fill’er up. Clearly, users of this pencil are expected to be the type who are fully prepared with a proper eraser. Overall then this is an excellent pencil and I’m sorry to see it gone from Pentels general international range.
  • Best Points – The looks, and the courage to not put an eraser under that top cap.
  • Not So Good Points – I haven’t actually mentioned it above, but there was sometimes a bit of a rattle when using this pencil. The grip is perhaps a fraction too abrasive.
  • Price Range – Mid, if and when you can find it.

Dimensions – Length 149mm, diameter 9mm at grip section. Balance point about 65mm up from the tip.

Photo - The PG1505 free in the wild

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sanford Tuff Stuff Eraser Stick

Last year I was contacted by a reader, Mark from California, who suggested I might be interested in trying his favourite eraser, the Sanford Tuff Stuff Eraser Stick, and he offered to send me a couple as “they only cost peanuts”. Well I am interested in finding the ultimate eraser, so I accepted his offer and duly received a package in the post. So, thanks Mark.Well first off the Tuff Stuff seems a fairly typical mechanical stick eraser. Just like many a mechanical pencil, you push the top to advance the lead, oops, sorry, the eraser core, and you can push the core back inside the tip if necessary. I think this eraser stick counts as “pocket-safe”. The pocket clip top section pulls off to allow refilling with another eraser core. I’m not completely convinced by the security of the top section to the main body and I could imagine it coming loose after much use, but then this is not an expensive item , so just get another one if that ever happens.

The Tuff Stuff comes in a rather nice selection of colours, and the concentric rings on the grip section look nice, and add some security to the grip for large erasing jobs. The body has a slightly unusual feel, almost a hint of rubber, a hint of sponginess – I actually quite like it.Now, the main event, the eraser core. Well it’s fairly narrow for a stick eraser, just under 4mm diameter (a bit over 1/8 inch). Mark pointed out to me that this diameter fits several mechanical pencil eraser cartridges (e.g. Faber-Castell). The compound appears to be a fairly hard vinyl, but don’t take the “vinyl” bit as gospel. I have noticed a bit of a general trend for eraser compounds to get harder as their diameter decreases, which does have some logic to it. Being a fairly narrow diameter the Tuff Stuff is well suited to smaller more precise erasing jobs, e.g. rubbing out an individual letter as opposed to whole lines of wording. The waste doesn’t readily twist up into strands so it’s a little messy, particularly on larger jobs. The eraser core often ends up with a dirty half-rubbed off stringy-blobby bit stuck on its tip (yes, that’s a technical term), which rather irritates me. (Dreadlocks for erasers?)

In a quick comparison test with the test bench Staedtler Mars Plastic eraser, the Mars did a better job of erasing ordinary woodcase pencil HB lead and mechanical pencil 0.5mm HB lead from ordinary photocopy type paper. Tuff Stuff did a reasonable job, it’s just Mars was better. The difference was slightly more evident with woodcase pencil lead. In the photo below you can see there is some graphite residue left behind on the Tuff Stuff erasings (left half of page), and how the eraser waste is scattered around compared to the two twisted up strands of eraser waste on the Mars (right hand) side of the test page.Overall then, I do like this eraser, but to date, Mars Plastic plus an eraser shield remains virtually unbeatable.
  • Best Points – The grip and feel, “pocketability”, and suited to finer erasing.
  • Not so good points – The eraser compound is a bit messy for frequent large scale general office work.

Dimensions – Length 126mm, 11mm diameter body. Eraser stick – c4mm diameter x 100mm length, of which about 85mm is usable.

Footnote - I have started to become suspicious that larger erasers like the Mars plastic are better at erasing hard pressed pencil lines that are indented into the paper. Paper is rather flexible and I half suspect the extra pressure from a bigger eraser pulling and stretching at the paper (compared to a narrow eraser) allows for better graphite removal. Something to check out one day in the future. Any thoughts?