Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Pentel Excalibur Mechanical Pencils

Two Excaliburs

Sir Pencils11, Knight of the Quest, has supplied me a few Excaliburs lately.

Firstly in Regal Gold

pentel excalibur case

pentel excalibur gold pencil

pentel excalibur gold pencil crown

Secondly in Black with Gold Trims. Quite a contrast to the all gold version.
black and gold excalibur pencils

excalibur mechanical pencils plus blade

The golden crown.
excalibur pencil crown

Excalibur in regal gold or silver…that seems right…befitting a just and glorious Warrior-King like Arthur, but black? It looks great, but maybe they should have called it Mordred rather than Excalibur? Or what about The Black Prince?
pentel excalibur the black prince
The Black Prince’s sister?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

From the Desk of...

Spotted recently. "Someone" cleaned out their pencil case...and asked for more.

Well, some pencilness has rubbed off on Mrs Dave, and occassionally one or other of my mechanical pencils will go missing…only to later be spotted in her possession. Luckily though it turns out that she is more partial to wooden pencils, so that’s generally what I am called upon to supply. Of course in the beginning any old stick of wood would do, but with experience one develops certain tastes and expectations, and now economy grade pencils no longer cut the mustard. Something like a Staedtler Tradition is the minimum acceptable, and exotics like Forest Choice or Dixon Ticonderoga are required to keep the mix fresh and interesting. Eraser tipped pencils are generally preferred. Sharpeners have also become an important item of office equipment.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

PaperMate Biodegradable Mechanical Pencil Review

Paper Mate Biodegradable Mechanical Pencil

papermate biodegradable pencil
A biodegradable mechanical pencil? Like many industries, the writing instruments industry is trying to get greener these days, and this pencil is part of Paper Mates efforts. Much of the pencil, but by no means all of it, is moulded from Mirel, a biodegradable plastic made from plant derived sugar feedstock, which is currently primarily corn sugar. Now just in case you are worried, the pencil should not deteriorate from contact with skin, moisture, etc. It needs a high level microbial environment like that found in soil to degrade. Paper Mate have a website about all of this.
sketch paper mate biodegradable mechanical pencil

Well, the first thing that strikes me about the Papermate Biodegrable mechanical pencil is that it’s dull. The main body is off-white and the grip, top section and pocket clip are a light green colour. The surface finish is matt. Well strictly speaking there is a hint of sheen, but not much. The off-white body section actually sort of looks like it could be made of something “eco” like compressed cotton dust or milk powder. I wasn’t sure if this uninspiring look was due to some limitations of the biodegradable plastic, but it appears not. The small Paper Mate double-heart logo does have a gloss surface finish, and the Mirel website implies the plastic can be coloured in a full spectrum of colours, so off-white and pale insipid green, dull matt surface finish, it’s all a deliberate choice …there’s no eye-candy here! Austere eco-green only.
paper mate biodegradable mechanical pencil

Another comment about the plastic body is that it seeemd to attract more than it's fair share of dirty marks, graphite powder, etc. Perhaps its just that the surface finish and colour made them show up more than usual?

The mechanical pencil is currently available in 0.5mm and 0.7mm versions. There is also an ink pen version as well.

Lets pick this pencil up. The rubber grip is round in cross section but with a contoured profile. At 11 – 12mm diameter it qualifies as a reasonably wide grip. It has a series of curving grooved lines moulded into it, which are primarily aesthetic rather than functional. The grip material is firm but reasonably grippy to the touch.

The lead sleeve is a short retractable cone so the pencil is pocket safe. When writing, if you allow the lead to wear down and the sleeve to start sliding back up it seems a fairly stiff sleeve and your writing will become noticeably lighter.
paper mate biodegradable mechanical pencil grip and tip

The lead advance mechanism is a standard push top ratchet system. Ten clicks will get you a whopping great 13mm of the 0.7mm lead. That’s a huge incremental advance. Actually it’s almost too much. If you do a double click you might end up snapping your lead because you have advanced too much.

The pocket clip is integrally moulded as part of the top section. For a moulded plastic pocket clip it is quite strong and functional, definitely better than most. Also up at the top end of the pencil is the eraser. It is housed beneath a clear transparent cap that has a very tight push fit onto the eraser mount. Sometimes I struggled to get the cap off the eraser! It is also basically impossible to put the eraser cap back on without activating the lead advance mechanism. At 7mm diameter and with 4mm of usable length as housed, the eraser is bigger than emergency use, but is not big enough for frequent heavy use. The compound is reasonably efficient at erasing, but it doesn’t challenge Staedtler Mars Plastic. You pull the eraser out to access the lead refill magazine which is quite a wide diameter so you can decent number of sticks of lead down there.
paper mate biodegradable mechanical pencil erasr and refill

Markings on the main body of the pencil are “Papermate (some sort of eco friendly leaf logo) 0.7mm”. The Paper Mate double heart logo is moulded into two opposite sides of the top section, and in small lettering at the base of the pocket clip is “China”.
paper mate biodegradable mechanical pencil markings

• Best Points – You've got to give them points for the biodegradability, but I know how hard it is to assess eco-friendly qualities through the whole product creation chain.
• Not So Good Points – It looks uninspiring.
• Price Range – Economy.
• Does this pencil make it into the Top 5? – No

Dimensions – Length 145mm, diameter 12mm at widest point of grip. Balance point about 75mm up from the tip.

This Paper Mate Biodegradable mechanical pencil was supplied by Euroffice, an office supplies specialist in the UK, in exchange for a review of the pencil and an acknowledgement.

Future and Related Articles

Hey, what’s that buried in Dave’s garden?

Friday, July 16, 2010

6 Yard-O-Led Pencils

I’m slowly working my way to the whole nine yards. I’m at six, two thirds of the way.

Ahhh, the glory of Yard-O-Led.
six yard-o-led pencils

From top to bottom
‘Deco 34’, hallmarked Birmingham 2001 sterling silver, maker YOL.
‘Diplomat’, hallmarked London 1948 sterling silver, maker JM&Co.
‘Diplomat’, hallmarked London 1948 sterling silver, maker JM&Co.
‘Diplomat’, rolled gold, and thus not hallmarked.
‘Recorder’, hallmarked London 1953 sterling silver, maker JM&Co.
‘Yard-O-Lette’, hallmarked London 1958 sterling silver, maker JM&Co.

Now then, something for the ladies. 'Yardolette' pictured with big brother 'Diplomat'.
yard-o-lette pencil
The Yard-O-Ledettes?

Purchased at auction as second-hand, this one once belonged to Marianne Looft, whom I know nothing about.
yard-o-lette engraved

Clearly she must have been a lady of certain style back in the 60's and 70's.
yard-o-lette pencil 60's style

Sterling silver isn’t actually all that hard or scratch resistant so many Yard-O-Leds that have been used as everyday pencils have accumulated their fair share of dents and scratches over the decades. In particular I find that many sterling silver pencils seem to have been dropped and if the tip gets dented in a fraction then the lead will no longer feed properly. So, eventually the pencil gets passed along to new owners, who without the long lost instruction sheet have no idea how to refill the lead, and it’s not feeding properly anyway, and, well many of them seem to start getting…..creative.
yard-o-led diplomat pencil tip

A previous owner clearly decided unscrewing the tip section was the way to refill this 'Diplomat'. They gave it a good old winding round with pliers or something.
yard-o-led pencil damaged tip

The real problem was that the lead hole in the tip had been dented in, out of round, so the 1.18mm lead wouldn’t feed through. A little gentle persuasion with rod and reamer soon had things rounded out and good to go. Pity about the scratched up tip, although it’s not all that noticeable in real life.

Getting a pencil complete with YOL instruction sheet can be a surprise.
yard-o-led pencil refill instructions

Sorry my photography’s not really up to the job, but this shot is an attempt to show the various different decoration patterns.
yard-o-led decoration patterns

Six down, three to go. Taking my time…they ain’t cheap. And there’s all that polishing.

Monday, July 12, 2010

From The Desk 2

Many might regard them as old-fashioned, kitschy and touristy, but I've kind of got a soft-spot for them. Rulers, little boxes, etc made from selections of inlaid native timbers. They sell for rather expensive touristy prices.
wooden rulerwooden ruler reverse side

A pen turned from...?
wooden ruler and pen

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Tombow Zoom 505sh Mechanical Pencil Review

Tombow Zoom 505sh Mechanical Pencil Review

Most of my shopping for mechanical pencils is done online, so I don’t usually have any opportunity to try before I buy. Of course this inevitably leads to surprises, and sometimes you get what you expected and sometimes you don’t.
tombow zoom 505sh mechanical pencil

The Tombow Zoom is no spring chicken, it won the 1990 German International Design iF Award, but it’s never really grabbed my eye until recently when I was on a shopping spree, and suddenly, resistance was futile.

So after all those years of just saying ‘No’, I now own a Tombow Zoom 505sh mechanical pencil. Actually, just for the record, it is also known as the SH-2000CZ series.
tombow zoom505sh mechanical pencil capped

The Zoom is a capped pencil with chrome trims and black hard rubber inserts. My particular pencil is charcoal colour but there are a couple of other options. With the cap on, the Zoom makes a stylish but simple statement with its wide-bodied slightly tapering look, metallic trims, glossy body and matt black rubber centre ring. Now, I’m not a fan of rubber, but this centre ring definitely makes for an interesting aesthetic element.

With the cap off you can use the Zoom unposted, but personally I find that look a little short, stubby and incomplete.
tombow zoom 505sh mechanical pencil uncapped
With the cap posted I think things look more stylish and complete.
tombow zoom 505sh mechanical pencil cap posted

The cap has a definite push-fit click into position as it engages with that rounded button on the end of the barrel. Unposted, you can click on that button to advance the lead, but with the cap posted, the cap becomes the push top button.

tombow zoom 505sh push button

The pocket clip is a sturdy metal clip, unlikely to slip off anything you clip it to. The cap push fits on quite securely to either end of the main body so it’s unlikely you will end up with just your cap clipped to your ‘something’ and the main body nowhere to be found.
tombow zoom 505sh mechanical pencil cap

With its aluminium body, the Tombow Zoom is not a super-heavyweight mechanical pencil, but with the cap posted it is certainly heavier than most, weighing in at 37 grams. Of course posting the cap significantly alters the centre of balance, but even then the Zoom is not top heavy.

The grip zone is made from the same hard matt smooth rubber as the centre ring. The grip has a slight concave contour and the flange of the tip section produces a slightly bulbous end stop to the grip. The positioning of the grip doesn’t entirely suit me, it is about 10mm to too low down for my liking. Alternatively it is perhaps about 10mm too short in overall length. As mentioned the grip itself is made from hard black smooth surfaced rubber, and is just under 11mm diameter at its narrowest point. There is no give in the rubber under normal hand pressure, and the rubber certainly doesn’t add any extra grip factor. This then is the aspect of the Zoom 505sh that I don’t like. I can live with it, but it’s not my ideal.
tombow zoom 505sh tip

The lead sleeve of the Zoom is a fixed short thin pipe. The cap of course makes this pocket-safe. Ten clicks of the mechanism will get you 7mm of the 0.5mm lead. To refill the lead magazine you unscrew the top part of the body and…hey there’s an eraser!
tombow zoom 505sh mechanical pencil innards

Well it’s only a small emergency use one, but better than nothing. You then pull the eraser out (note the lead clearance rod) to refill the magazine.

Markings on the mechanical pencil are “ZOOM, 505 sh” on the front of the cap and “Tombow, Japan 0.5” on the back of the cap. The lead size “0.5” is moulded into the black rubber insert in the end of the cap.
tombow zoom 505sh markingstombow zoom 505sh markingstombow zoom 505sh lead size marking

As I said back at the beginning, sometimes your expectations are exceeded and sometimes they are not. For many years I never purchased a Zoom 505sh because the rubber grip put me off, and nothing about its appearance leapt out and grabbed me. So, when I bought one by mistake I wasn’t expecting much, but luckily for me my expectations were far exceeded. The Zoom 505sh is a very nice mechanical pencil, a class act and my only gripe involves the grip.

• Best Points – the cap system.
• Not So Good Points – The grip. I’m positive they could do better.
• Price Range – Mid.
• Does this pencil make it into the Top 5? - Hmmmm, No.

Dimensions – Length 135mm with cap closed on tip and 146mm with cap posted on end, diameter 13mm at widest point. Balance point about 65mm up from the tip with cap posted.

(Sorry, the photos aren't so good in this article but with winter lighting and a dark pencil...well I did what I could)

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Magic House Automatic Pencil

Early this year my pencil friend Memm was in China and sent me a few goodies from there. Amongst the things he sent, one pencil stood out because I saw the magic words, it was a Magic House automatic pencil. Woo-hoo! Finally I have one.
magic house pencil logo

Back in August 2008 I mentioned the Magic House automatic pencil on this blog and pointed out that their sales information contains dubious statements and outright lies. A quick check of their website shows nothing has changed – still the same rubbish about other pencils containing poisonous lead. They should be ashamed of themselves, what a bunch of disreputable folk.

Anyway, onto the main event…wait for it…it’s the…

Magic House Automatic Pencil

magic house autolead pencil sn-260

magic house automatic pencil markings

So, on the packaging it states the exporter is “Taiwan Magic House Manufacturing Ltd” from Taipei, Taiwan, so that implies the pencil is Made in Taiwan. I’m not surprised by that, because the pencil is actually quite good. In fact I now realize I’ve had a Magic House automatic pencil all along, just under a different brand, i.e. Eberhard Faber EFAmatic.
magic house automatic pencil and efamaticmagic house pencil tips

There’s no need for me to review the Magic House autolead pencil because I’ve already done so as the EFAmatic back in December 2006. Actually it was good to go back and look at that article. Times have changed, for the better. Back then I was doing this blog with dial-up internet access, my camera was only  1.8 mega pixels…and I won’t even mention how much RAM my PC had or the size of its hard disk because no one would believe me. The only significant thing I would write differently today is that I would rate the Magic House automatic pencil even higher today than back then. Back then I noted the annoying plunging, well this time around there was none. That’s the thing that really gets me - there’s nothing wrong with this pencil, it’s a good pencil, there’s simply no need for false advertising, it can sell on it’s own merits.

Those lead refills really are impressive!
magic house autolead pencil refills

Memm tells me there is also a triangular Magic House pencil aimed at the childrens market.