Wednesday, May 20, 2009

TŪL Mechanical Pencil Review

TŪL Mechanical Pencil Review

The proliferation of housebrands and private labels by retailers and distributors is testimony to the profit there is to be made with them. A few years ago Office Max introduced their private label, TŪL. Initially limited to writing instruments the claimed aim was to bring the experience of a $30 pen to the public, but with a $3 price tag… to be a BMW but with a bit of fun and not so pricey. With the addition of a mechanical pencil and other items, the range now consists of eight writing instruments. I found one website where a company spokesman stated, “That brand (TŪL) is the most successful writing instrument brand in the company. It’s private label but it doesn’t look like an OfficeMax housebrand. It’s a sophisticated product.”

Office Max are big boys in the world of stationery, and if anyone should be able to get contract designers and manufacturers to produce a good product at a sharp price point then it should be them. Obviously we should expect quite a lot from a TŪL brand writing instrument.TUL mechanical pencil

(click to enlarge photo)

Personally I quite like the TŪL brandname and its logo. It looks and sounds strong, foreign, efficient and tough.

TUL logo I believe you pronounce TŪL like “tool”, but I prefer to pronounce it like I imagine Ahh-nuld the Terminator would, “I’ll be back. I just have to get my TŪL”. Taking the fun irreverent theme a step forward, you can go to the TŪL website to learn about their products and have graphologist Dr Gerard Ackerman analyse your personality via your writing style, and then suggest a pen for you. I don’t know, but I imagine that only pens are suggested, and the mechanical pencil isn’t in the running. Still, I took the test, and clearly Dr Ackerman is a genuine graphological expert, correctly categorising me as having “great inner strength”, and being both “efficient”, and “a wonderful lover”. Still, graphology is both a science and an art so and he wasn’t 100% correct, and I am still chewing on his pronunciations of me being “quick, callous, vindictive and vengeful”, and having “unfulfilled sexual expectations”. Hmm, younger readers please ask your parents for guidance.

A big long plain matt black barrel, silver metal trims…plain but classic styling again reminding me of efficiency and reliability. The black insert at the end of the pocket clip and the interesting method of attachment of the clip to the body all show the influence of design. The TŪL logo is tastefully positioned on the body and the clip. Overall then I like the look of this pencil. To my eyes, the only thing that lets the side down is the clear sections in the eraser cartridge which let the white of the eraser core be seen.TUL pocket clipApart from the top end section the whole main body has a rubberised coating on it. This is one of those rubber coatings that I can accept. Sure, it’s not my favourite thing, but it’s plain, stylish, and actually improves the grip without being slimy or icky-squishy, or ribbed and contoured, or garish and bulbous. Another advantage is that you can grip the pencil anywhere you like as it’s all the same up the length of the body.

The pencil is fairly lightweight and feels neutrally balanced. The pocket clip is a piece of steel, lightly engraved with TŪL, and is attached to the body by an interesting moulded clip section. Down at the end of the pocket clip there is a black plastic insert to press against the body. The whole assembly looks good and works well; this is a pretty classy piece of design and manufacturing.TUL pocket clip(click to enlarge photo)

Also up at the top end of the pencil there is a twist out eraser. As I said earlier, I don’t really like the look of the eraser cartridge, and the twist out mechanism on mine was a bit of a weak point. Many times the twist action was smooth and easy, but other times it was uneven, sometimes clicking or being hard to twist. The eraser itself is a vinyl or PVC-free type and erases quite well. It is about 5mm diameter with 23mm of usable length. You pull the whole eraser cartridge out to access the lead magazine.


The eraser cartridge is the push top button for the ratchet lead advance mechanism. Ten clicks will get you 8mm of the 0.5mm lead. I believe a 0.7mm lead option is also available. The mechanism feels nice and smooth to operate. The TŪL website says this is a semi-automatic lead advancement system. I'm not really sure what that means, and they don't explain it.

The lead sleeve is a short cone suited for general writing. It is retractable for pocket safety. The lead has a lot of spring cushioning to help prevent breakage – you can really push it in and out a long way. There is a small amount of wobble of the lead sleeve within the front tip piece, but nothing out of the ordinary.

So, you folk out there who live in the homeland of OfficeMax, ever seen any TŪL products out in the wild? Are they prominent within the OfficeMax stores?
  • Best Points – The looks, the interesting pocket clip attachment and strange but true, the rubberised body.
  • Not So Good Points – The twist out eraser cartridge.
  • Price Range – Low.
  • Does this pencil make it into the Top 5? – Worth a thought, but No.

Dimensions – Length 152mm, diameter 10mm. Balance point about 65mm up from the tip.

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dave, how can I comment on a pencil that isn't even in our market (is anything? sarcasm tut,tut) - the answer is I CAN'T. However, that said, a great in depth review and yet another pencil I can only wish was available down under. 2 1/2p

kiwi-d said...

Ah my friend, just take comfort from the fact that no matter how few pencils are available in your market, its many times as many as in mine. This is one time where us Kiwis must concede defeat to the Land of Waltzing Matilda.

Anonymous said...

Faber castell wider choice in NZ according to website - you get the TK Fine Vario we don't. Staedtler website more choices in NZ - the Graphite777 has a wider range in NZ 0.5/0.7 in more colours. Zebra pencils rarely seen here but I gather they are obtainable in NZ. I'm lucky with a KINOKUNIYA in Sydney for a reasonable Pentel and some Pilot but I don't consider them part of the usual stationary scene as they source there product direct from Japan. Pilot Nextage and sometimes Supergrip - little else. Uni not sighted here. Then of course low end supermarket stuff like BIC, papermate etc which I'm sure you have over there. From what I've seen on Google search you have a fantastic vintage pencil auction house for which I have seen no equivalent in Australia other than EBAY.

Are you really that much worse off? 2 1/2p

Alexa Matthews said...

I actually like this brand a lot. Their stuff has real quality and their products are all really good

-Alexa Matthews :) ( too lazy to sign in )

B2-kun said...

Looks like a nice addition to a collection of writing pencils, but it might not perform so well for drawing applications. Those conical sleeves tend to break the lead in my experience.

Anonymous said...

I'm always looking for a good mechanical pencil to add to my collection. Where can I find this officemax pencil in Australia?

~lenneth

Anonymous said...

lenneth (Dave will know why I'm providing a comment on this) - OfficeMax surprisingly to me have a presence down under (mainly corporate) but they do have a retail online shop at www.officemax.com.au. Click on The OfficeMax Shop and enter your postcode, click on office products, then writing instruments/mechanical pencils. You won't find the TUL there but they do have the Papermate Pacer Executive which was reviewed recently by Dave and a Logo Technician (Papermate?) and some nice Faber-Castell. Hope this helps. 2 1/2p

dodgemannfs said...

I have a pencil a lot like this one (except for the clear eraser cartridge) and it is made by Foray which is Office DEPOT's brand and although it says it has automatic lead advancement I think it might be semi-automatic like yours. It seems to pull out just a tiny bit of lead but not enough to keep you from having to click out more lead

Wes said...

I have this pencil, and so far I have been unable to determine whether the clutch is plastic or metal. The tip does not unscrew from the pencil mechanics to reveal it, so it is hard to tell. My guess is that it is metal, because it is such a high quality pencil. I guess you could find out if you were willing to destroy the pencil, but have you been able to find out without destroying it?

kiwi-d said...

I haven't gone looking, but i can't imagine it would be plastic.

Anonymous said...

I just bought this pencil last night at OfficeMax. Actually, 2 pencils came in the same package, a 0.7mm and a 0.5mm. I love these pencils. I do like the twist out eraser cartridge and the appearance of the clear plastic barrel around that portion of the pencil. Nice looks, good balance and high
quality make the money I spent for these two writing instruments well worth the investment.
By the way, when they say, "semi-automatic" I think they mean that the user needs to perform an action (click the button) for the lead to extend out a bit. If that is the case, then every mechanical pencil that I have ever used is semi-automatic. If the user did not need to do anything for the lead to extend, that would be "fully-automatic" (I guess). If what I have said is true, this mention of "semi-automatic" on their package would then only be a marketing gimmick.

kiwi-d said...

On further investigation of other claims of semi-automatic, it just means a sliding sleeve.

Anonymous said...

Regarding my Sept 12th comment about every mechanical pencil that I had ever used was semi-automatic: Later that day I had to go to Stop & Shop to buy a few groceries and upon perusing the small stationary section, I noticed that there is a pencil made by Dixon Ticonderoga that looks pretty much like a regular wooden case pencil (painted silver), but has "Sensematic" written on the package. It was cheap so I bought one. You don't have to do anything to extend the lead. The lead seems to be spring loaded and keeps extending out as the lead wears down. No action is needed even to start the process. I would call this a fully automatic mechanical pencil. I noticed that I had to hold the pencil nearly completely vertical to make it work properly though. These pencils come in 0.5mm and 0.7mm and are entirely plastic. They're very cheap, so if you love and collect mechanical pencils like me, it might be worth having at least one in your collection.

Time Waster said...

Pick this TUL on my lunch break because Office max is in the same parking lot where I work.
Picking up a Mech. pencil at 8:30 pm seems kinda kooky =) I think the employees were cackling when I left =)

I tried it out seems like there is too much tension on the lead and the sleeve I like the width of it and the rubber gripa works out well
but it's kinda like drawing or writing with a stick.

kiwi-d said...

Hi Time Waster. I'm afraid I don't follow the bit about too much tension on the lead and sleeve. Could you try explaining for slow folk like me :-)

Time Waster said...

It just seems brittle playing around with it it might be the sleeve or something else.
Could be the reason why sleeves are usually thin to begin with.

I tried a different HB lead and it was to the same effect.

Anonymous said...

I have the 0.7mm TUL; it's my favorite mechanical pencil thus far. The eraser tends to retract while erasing though

Anonymous said...

whats with the tools underneath the pencil this is a weird website

Anonymous said...

I have the Tul 0.5 pencil, ran through the first bit of lead that came with it, and now I can't seem to get the new lead loaded into it. I pulled out the eraser unit, loaded the 0.5 lead, and it will not extrude through the end no matter how many times I click it. Any thoughts as to why?

Kiwi-d said...

I'd try holding the top button down and sticking some lead into the tip to refill and see if the mechanism is then still advancing OK, just not feeding new lead in from the top. See also 'Clearing A Jammed Pencil' in the sidebar.
Also how many sticks of lead did you refill it with? Try just 2 or 3 so there's plenty of room for them to move around.

Anonymous said...

Hi...thanks so much! I managed to get it all taken apart using your 'clearing a jammed pencil' and the link to the Pentel website (the mechanism looks much the same after I got it apart). I think there is a piece of lead jammed right in the very tip of the pencil, but without a clean out rod (or a needle) I can't get to it. Aggravation! I'm going to put all the pieces in a baggie and take it home...hopefully I'll have the right tools at home for this operation.

I very much appreciate your help, without it I might have just given up!

Carol

Anonymous said...

I have had this pencil for a couple of years now and I love it! Can't stand to be without it! I really like the thinness of it, fits anywhere for carrying purposes, and I also love the grip that covers the entire pencil, really appreciate that it isn't sticky or weird feeling and I can grasp it anywhere rather than being "forced" to hold it like on other pens/pencils that have a fat section. Absolutely love the sleek, elegant and classic look. Great pencil at a great price!

Anonymous said...

OfficeMax? OfficeMax? OfficeMax?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

Anonymous said...

I have been a closet pencil enthusiast for just over a year now, as I have gone back to school for a degree in mechanical engineering.

My favorite pencil so far in the cheap category is this Tul. Its a great tool.

I do have two complaints, the eraser mechanism retracts the eraser when you use it. Perhaps this is a design feature? Automatic retracting eraser? ha! My second complaint only becomes obvious after moderate/heavy use, the Tul logo printed on the barrel is long gone.

Some debate here, as I continue to get compliments on the Tul, sans printed logo.

...and the only mechanical pancil I have that has an eraser worth using is my Pentel "Twist Erase" which is a horrible excuse for a pencil otherwise. It gets some duty as a handy single unit .5mm, for some fast paced exams. Not having to reach for a block eraser honestly has saved me time.

I have a Lamy 2000, a Pentel Graphgear 500, and a crap load of inferior pencils. The ones that I carry to class are the Tul, and the Pentel 500.

The Lamy stays at home, where it gets the majority of my homework duty. I can't stand thinking about losing it, so home duty is what it gets.

The Tul is my favorite cheap pencil, honestly I reach for it above my Pentel Graphgear.

There is something of the timeless in its simple design, and the balance is excellent if you are like me and twirl the thing about your thumb for no apparent reason.

Kiwi-d said...

Glad you've got your courage up and ventured out of the closet, out into the bright sunlight.

Anonymous said...

The sunlight is bright, and antiseptic.

I've now started talking about pencils to my fellow students at Cal Poly...

...I think they might be planning a raid on the local stationary store.

lol.

you rock Dave

Jason said...

Any idea of what brand of lead refills to use with the TUL mechanical pencil. I bought some a couple months back but it doesn't feel like the same lead that originally came with the pencil. I know there are different levels of hardness for the refills but, I don't know which one originally came with the pencils? I checked the website and they don't seem to have any info posted. Thanks.

Kiwi-d said...

I'd suggest you try Pentel leads and find a hardness that suits.

Anonymous said...

This might help
http://www.jetpens.com/cms.php/content/Article:_Picking_the_Perfect_Pencil_Lead_Hardness

Jason said...

Thanks for the suggestion and the article link.

Anonymous said...

I will not write with anything but this pencil

PSIS said...

I've used this for a long time now, and enjoy it a lot. It was inexplicably difficult to find a mechanical pencil with both a retractable tip and an extending eraser, but on top of that I wanted a relatively small eraser rather than the standard large size. On the downside it's very difficult to find replacement erasers without ordering online and paying for shipping, though at least you can use the Papermate Megalead erasers, which are 1/3 the price and identical.

Daniel Beaver said...

Just a quick note: the clutch IS plastic, but it seems to work quite well regardless.

Chip said...

This is the best Mechanical Pencil I have ever used. I am hard on pencils and break lead A LOT! I have yet to do it with this gem. I use it mostly for Calculus and Geometry equations and idea sketching. The Eraser is the only issue I can half way make as it mysteriously shrinks back into the barrel, but the action has been very consistently smooth. I love my Pencil

Anonymous said...

I got arrested trying to steal 2 pencils of this kind I was in the cop car for 10 minutes they'd be asking me question... I ended up buying the pencils