Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Parker v Turner

With the recent purchase of my Parker Duofold Centennial, I now have two Duofold mechanical pencils. Both of them cost an awful lot of money. Over the past six to twelve months I have bought a few items from a pen turner and I became aware that many of the pen kits available are rather similar to the pen designs of some well known international brands.

The Penn State Industries Executive pencil kit will look rather familiar to anyone who has a Duofold pencil. Having spent a small fortune on a Duofold, I decided that I would check out a PSI Executive mechanical pencil and see how it stacked up against a Duofold, so I contacted my friendly pen-turner and ordered one.

Firstly of course with a custom made item like the Executive you get to choose your pen body material from the hundreds and hundreds of wood and plastic pen blanks available. You also have several choices of finish for the metal trims. I decided to play it safe and chose the classic 24K gold trim with Lava Bright Classic 2 ‘black with white thread’ acrylic body.

Secondly you must talk price with your pen turner. Now Duofold pencils are well into the stratospheric price range, and pen turners charge widely varying amounts, but in my part of the world an Executive is 10 – 20% of the price of a Duofold.

So then without further ado, I present the PSI Executive pencil, black with white thread colour. (All photos are clickable for hi-res)
And along side the Parker Duofold Centennial pencil, lapis blue colour.Executive mechanical pencil and Duofold pencil
You can't see it in the photos, but if you inspect the acrylic bodies closely you will see the Duofold is finished to a much finer level of polishing than my Executive was, but that will vary from turner to turner.

Pencil tips.Executive and Duofold tipThe Executive is actually a 0.7mm screw mechanism compared to the Duofold being 0.9mm. The refill procedure for the Executive is…well lets just say it’s on the complicated side of town.

The Executive has some annoying play in its mechanism. The lead is free to move in or out a millimetre or so, thus when you first press the lead to the paper it will retract a fraction back up inside the tip. Now personally I find this rather annoying when I’m concentrating on it, but you don’t really notice it in general use. Certainly the folk in my office who have used my Executive or since bought one of their own don’t have any problem with the lead play.

Pocket clips and end caps.Executive and Duofold pocket clipsLets take a look under the hood.
Beauty versus something a little more utilitarianDuofold pencil eraserSome residue left on the Executive. I don’t imagine Parker would leave that on a Duofold.Different tops on the end caps, with the Duofold having a black resin insert.Back in one of the first photos you will have noticed the little paperclip thingy. The pen turner tossed this paperclip in as a little surprise freebie ‘thank you’ with my pencil. The half-sphere end-piece is from material left over from my pencil body. Apparently with these clips he sometimes drills a hole in the centre of the end-piece and inserts a little something colourful - in my case instead of a semi-precious stone or some colourful glass, he felt a piece of 2mm pencil lead would be an appropriate jewel.

A Parker Duofold pencil is clearly outside of the price range that most people would consider paying for a writing instrument, but for 10-20% of that price a PSI Executive seems to offer a large percentage of the looks. Sure, pencil folk like me will start looking closely and find all sorts of things we think need improving, but the general public don’t give two-hoots about most of that stuff. From across the other side of the desk, a PSI Executive is a mighty fine looking object and most people would be very happy to own it, as am I.


Penmaniacs said...

does psi excecutive have a website....i want one?

Kiwi-d said...

The link to PSI is in the article and you can find their range of pen kits and turning supplies. But PSI don't make the pencils, they sell the parts to turners to make the pencil, so if you want a pencil you need to find a pen-turner to make you one.

Penmaniacs said...

does the turner come fully assembled of if not how hard are they to assemble?

Kiwi-d said...

The pen-turner buys the components from PSI and then manufacturers the finished pencil using their lathe (machine). You get a finished pencil. You can't make one by yourself without a lathe.

Unknown said...

The turner did quite a nice job. Ultimately, nothing made by hand will compare to the tolerances achieved by a (probably) computer controlled lathe in a factory. At the same time, you can't ask Parker to make the pen your way for 1/10th the price.

If you want to polish the acrylic a bit more you can try Micro Mesh in the really fine grits (1200+). Also, you can polish the brass and protect it with Conservator's wax.

@Wynne and Wes
You can order almost the entire line of PSI kits fully fabricated and in your choice of material at

Note that I've never purchased from them and so can't vouch for the service. While there, you may want to check out the Buffalo Bullet Pencil (only US$9.95!). I made one a while ago and love it. It's compact, lets me lug along my Mitsubishi 4B wooden pencils, and gives them an eraser.

Penmaniacs said...

is pen turning hard?

Kiwi-d said...

Following on from Pauls comment, I should have mentioned more in my article about the individual customisation aspect. Of course whilst the PSI kit you choose cannot be altered, you can choose the material of the barrel (wood, plastic, etc) and its colour (100's, 1000's to choose from) and its shape. The turner I used normally makes his pens/pencils with a rounded profile, but I wanted a constant straight profile like the Duofold so gave specific instructions. Within reason you can of course get any profile you want.

Unknown said...

If you are minimally mechanically inclined, then pen turning is very easy. Learning enough to turn a pen will take a day and a significant pile of sawdust. Of course, the more time you put into it, the better you will be. In the meantime, all the pens you create can be given as gifts. I especially like that you can play around with the shape and weight of the pen to fit your hand.

The start-up cost is ~US$250 at Penn State Industries.