Sunday, August 12, 2018

Vintage Sale, Lamy Plus More

I have to rationalize my collection which means getting rid of a whole bunch of stuff. In the pages header up above there are Sell/Swap pages where you can see what is going. Make an offer, I am a "motivated" seller and want to do a deal. Ebay is no match for my pricing! :)

Email me direct - address is in the View my complete profile link of 'About Me' in the blog sidebar.

Do me a favour and tell your friends to come shopping too.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

About You

Now that this blog has been going again for a few months I thought I would have a little look at visitor data. I’m always interested in stats about the blog, so here's a little bit of data and comparison with the old days.

April to July 2018.
The Top 10 countries by pageviews

1 = USA (always #1 every week)
2 = France (always #2 every week)
3 = UK
4 = Canada
5 = Russia
6 = Germany
7 = Spain
8 = Australia
9 = Brazil
10 = Italy
The Top 10 account for about 77% of all pageviews.

Others who have made it into the Top 10 for more than one week - El Salvador, Japan, Netherlands, Poland.

Others who have made it into the Top 10 for just one week - Czechia, Georgia, Thailand.

Comparing that to long term stats… where are you Turkey? There used to be lots of Turkish visitors. Also France, number 2 every week, that’s a big difference from the old days. I like France - wine, cheese, rugby... but I'm not blogging in French, so it's a bit surprising. I also note the absence of India, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Taiwan.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Cult Pens Double-Knock Mechanical Pencil Review

Cult Pens Double-Knock Mechanical Pencil Review

This mechanical pencil is a house offering of well-known retailer Cult Pens. Despite their company name they often describe themselves as pencil people, and so true to that, back in May 2015, they introduced their own house brand mechanical pencil, the Double-Knock. It is available in 0.5mm and 0.7mm lead sizes. On their website it is model CU43621 so my 0.5mm version is item CU43621-05.
Cult Pens Double-Knock Mechanical Pencil

The only colourway is silver metal, with the main body being a quite glossy satin finish and all other parts being bright shiny plate. Personally I am always a little wary of this sort of colour scheme, I often don’t like the difference in gloss levels of the same base colour, but this pencil carries it off, I think mostly due to the relatively high gloss level of the barrel. The only markings on the pencil are ‘Cult Pencil’ and the lead diameter. There is no country of origin marked on the pencil but the Cult Pens website states it is made in Japan by a contract manufacturer. The pencil is supplied in a small clear plastic carry case.
clear carry case

The Cult Pencil weighs in at 16 grams and in the hand is a little lighter than its all metal construction might suggest, but it is of course made primarily from lightweight aluminium. Another thing is it somehow looks shorter than its actual measurements. There’s some strange magic or optical illusion or something else going on here… or maybe I just need glasses or drink too much?

The grip zone is round knurled metal, just under 9mm diameter. Knurling is of course a classic feature of drafting pencils, but it can be rather aggressive on the fingers, particularly if you are not used to a knurled grip. I would say the knurling on the Cult Pens Pencil is just right, not rough enough to cause short term irritation but rough enough to ensure solid long term grip. Being round, you can of course rotate the pencil at will if that is your practice, but the pocket clip and side button might get in the way if you have large hands.
knurled grip

Now, hold on; just give me a minute to climb up onto my soapbox. The name. I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again, I really dislike the term ‘double-knock’ that has snuck its way into the English of the writing instrument industry. As I understand it, it is a literal translation from the Japanese, but it’s meaningless in English. How has it ended up being used in preference to elegant meaningful alternatives like ‘vanishing point’? Grrrrr… Okay, climbing back down now. Take a deep breath. Keep calm and carry on.

The vanishing point double knock system is a relatively standard one. The first push of the top button pushes the tip section out of the main body and locks it in place. Thereafter it functions essentially like any other fixed sleeve push top ratchet mechanical pencil. Ten clicks of the mechanism will get you about 6.5mm of lead. When you are finished applying graphite to surfaces you simply push the small button located towards the top of the main body and the spring loaded mechanism will slam the tip section back up inside the body. The lead sleeve is now protected and the pencil is pocket safe. I quite like the push button on the side.

To retract or not to retract?
The lead sleeve is a 4mm long metal pipe so this definitely counts as a drafting pencil, just as its overall looks would suggest. Now, as a vanishing point mechanical pencil there is of course the possibility of tip wobble, and indeed I can confirm there is tip wobble. I would say the amount of wobble is about average, or possibly a fraction more. The amount also seems a little variable and is sometimes also audible. Again that’s not unique, perhaps its temperature related? Personally I don’t find tip wobble a major problem but I know it is a source of annoyance for a significant number of pencil users. I guess I’m just not that precise.

The pocket clip is a simple plain metal one, springy and utilitarian, but not quite as strong as I expected. Under the push top button is the usual small emergency use eraser which also includes a lead cleanout rod, which is always a nice touch.

One unusual thing about this mechanical pencil is that the Cult Pens website details the nine point design brief that lead to its creation. I won’t reprint that here, you can cruise over to their website to read that. Of course it begs the question, “How well does the finished product compare to the design brief?” I won’t say 9 / 9 but it’s not far off it.
Suitable for Walter Gropius?
So, overall, the Cult Pens Double-Knock mechanical pencil is a very good mechanical pencil, and well worth your consideration.

•    Best Points – Vanishing point, good knurled grip.
•    Not So Good Points – Tip wobble will annoy some.
•    Price Range – Mid
•    Does this pencil make it into the Top 5? – No

Dimensions – Length 136 mm extended, diameter 9mm across the grip section. Balance point about 65mm up from the tip.

This mechanical pencil was provided to me free of charge by Cult Pens. Utu, Cult Pens.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Link About

Here's a couple of links I want to share. You may have already read them, but if you haven't then I thoroughly recommend them to you.

Leigh Reyes. My Life As a Verb - Pen Zero.
What is your type of infection and your pencil zero? I've read this blog for 10 years or so... pity I don't like Disqus.

Cult Pens Blog - Mechanical Pencil Innovation
Mechanical pencil innovation. Surely one of the main reasons why we like them.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Winner - Giveaway - Filofax

Right, I said I would choose a small pool of potential winners and the first of those to then contact me wins. Well as suspected there were very few entrants so the pool of potential winners is everyone who commented on the Giveaway-Filofax post before entries closed.

Potential winners, please contact me to claim your prize. My email address is available from 'About Me - View my profile' in the sidebar. If you've got some problem finding or using that email address then leave a comment here on this post and we will figure something out.

***We have a winner****
Sorry 'Sharon from Long Beach', but Dan Goldman has beaten you to the prize cupboard. Better luck next time.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Giveaway - Filofax

Filofax parted ways with Yard-o-Led a few years back, and now its time for me to part with my Filofax Organiser Pencil... but not my Yard-o-Led.

This Filofax mechanical pencil was used carefully for a week or so back in 2009 as part of my review. I promise you though, if I hadn't just told you I'd used it, you would think it was new and unused. So, if you want it, it's yours. But wait! There's more! A free set of steak knives to the first four callers... no wait, sorry, I'm getting confused. But there is actually more. This giveaway has a catch. You have to have a Filofax. This mechanical pencil has to go home to its family. Now it's not that I don't trust you, but I will insist on photographic proof when you receive the pencil - a shot of pencil and Filofax happily hanging out together. I might even post it on this blog.

I hope someone out there uses a Filofax. Tell your friend if you know one who does, otherwise this might be the Giveaway that no one wins. How embarrassing :) Or am I just ignorant and there's still a lot of Filofax Folk out there? I hope there is.

Anyway, if you want to enter just leave a comment on this blog post. A small pool of potential winners will be selected randomly in a weeks time, and the first of those to then contact me wins, so  check back on the 30th. As always if you comment anonymously then leave some identifier in your comment so I can tell one anonymous from another, e.g. "Call me FaxoFreddy" or "I'm Felicity Filofax from Florida."


Saturday, July 21, 2018

Mechanical Pencil Day Giveaway - Part 2

Ahhh… well... neither of the winners Gary F or Evander have contacted me and the week is up, so their pencils go to new possible winners.

This time I have chosen a small pool of potential winners - first in first served as they say, so the first two to contact me win.

The new potential winners are some chosen at random, and those kind hearted souls who took the time to congratulate the first two winners. They are

Alexandra Ferreira
Anonymous - Vasco from Portugal
Alana G.

So, new potential winners, please contact me to claim your prize. My email address is available from 'About Me - View my profile' in the sidebar. If you've got some problem using that then leave a comment here on this post.

UPDATE - We have our two winners - Blackbeard (TWSBI) and Stefano (Lamy).

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Mechanical Pencils for Learners

There is quite a range of writing instruments for learner writers. Many manufacturers have woodcase pencils, mechanical pencils and ballpoint pens that they market for children who are starting to learn to write. For the slightly older learner there are also fountain pens.

There are some common design features shared by most of these writing instruments such as oversize or wide grips and heavy duty construction. I want to restrict this post to mechanical pencils, talk a little about a few learner MPs, and ask you readers a few questions.

Here are the learner mechanical pencils that I am aware of. Large ergonomic rubber grips, short bodies and thick leads are the order of the day!

  • BIC Kids, with 1.3mm HB lead.
  • Faber-Castell Scribolino, with 1.4mm B lead. This is my personal favourite from an aesthetic standpoint, and as a mechanical pencil also usable by adults.
  • Lamy abc, with 1.4mm HB lead.
  • Pelikan Griffix, with 2.0mm lead, unknown grade.
  • Stabilo EASYergo in two lead options – 3.15mm HB and 1.4mm HB. The 1.4mm is marketed as suitable for 8+ year olds. EASYergo has left and right hand versions. Stabilo’s design criteria aimed for a minimum of parts to discourage disassembly by inquisitive children and the subsequent loss of parts or creation of choking hazards. I have come to appreciate this pencil and Stabilo’s concept more than when I first reviewed it. Also they got rid of that atrocious ‘s move bit 
  • There is also the Staedtler graphite 771 with 1.3mm HB lead, but this seems to be discontinued in much of the world, although for example is still on the Staedtler Australia website. I don’t think Staedtler really marketed the 771 as a learner pencil, but it has some of the attributes, hence my mentioning it here.
My Learners - Stabilo EASYergo, Faber-Castell Scribolino, plus Staedtler 771

Question – What other learner mechanical pencils are there?

Now, another feature of these learner pencils is where they are sold. Rightly or wrongly I am under the impression that learner pencils are very much a ‘Germany and nearby’ product. That is their stronghold. For example, the Lamy website states this about the abc, “This model is available in: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Switzerland and United Kingdom”. The BIC Kids website states “Recommended by Teachers (89% out of french (sic) teachers interviewed by Eurosyn recommended BIC Kids for learning (July 2013))”. The English speaker in me can’t miss the opportunity to wonder about “french teachers”. Is that teachers in France, or teachers that teach French somewhere? Now, I know that learner mechanical pencils are available outside of Lamy’s list of countries, for example the BIC Kids is on the BIC Australia website, and I have seen Stabilo EASYergo in my part of the world, but I definitely wouldn’t say it was commonly available.

Question – In your part of the world are learner pencils commonly available, and are the commonly used?

I would appreciate your comments. Even a “Hey, I live in XYZ-Land and have never seen a learner pencil in any stores or heard of any local children using them” would be of interest.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Winners - Mechanical Pencil Day Giveaway

Okay, its 14 July in my time zone, so once again, a big thank you to Cult Pens, here are the winners.

The most popular pencil was clear, with about twice as many wanting to win the TWSBI as did the Lamy. So you Lamy lovers have twice the chance of winning !!

Right then, the winners are...

For the TWSBI Precision Fixed
  • Gary F
For the Lamy Al-star
  • Evander..... I guess this is a double surprise :)
So, winners, please contact me within a week, otherwise your pencil will go to a new random winner. My email address is available from 'About Me - View my profile' in the sidebar. If you've got some problem getting to that then leave a comment here on this post.

Boy, that Bleistift guy has really socked it to me this Mechanical Pencil Day, he's even got video for the winners! :) I'm going to have to up my game for Round 2.

Also, coming soon to a blog near you, another Giveaway!

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Mechanical Pencil Day Giveaway

So, today is Mechanical Pencil Day over at Cult Pens, and as part of the celebrations they said "Hey Dave, choose a pencil or two from our range and give them away on your blog", so I did, and I am.

I wanted to try and be as inclusive as possible so decided to select a technical drafting type mechanical pencil for those who are into precision, and a general writing mechanical pencil for those who apply their graphite in a more relaxed manner. With that in mind I ended up selecting the Lamy AL-star 171 pencil black 0.7mm and the TWSBI Precision Fixed mechanical pencil silver 0.5mm. The very ones pictured below, that you now have a chance of owning. Thanks Cult Pens.

All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog post  and say which one of the two you would like to win. If you comment anonymously then make sure to also include some identifier in your comment, e.g. "I'm Laura from SIU Carbondale", or "Call me PencilPaul". The winners will be selected at random on 14 July and announced on this blog. Winners have a week to then email me back and claim their prize.


Sunday, July 01, 2018

Mechanical Pencil Day

Cult Pens are having a Mechanical Pencil Day... well it will last longer than a day, but you get the idea. July 05. Specials, promos, blog posts and other stuff. So, head on over there to check it out.

Also, check back here on July 5 for a giveaway provided by Cult Pens.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Sailor Professional Gear Mechanical Pencil Review

Sailor Professional Gear Mechanical Pencil Review

Continuing on with a bit of a recent theme, here’s another mechanical pencil with a nautical connection. Sailor Pens, founded in 1911, is a well-respected but I would say not particularly well known Japanese manufacturer.

The Sailor Professional Gear writing instruments come in a range of colourways and formats – fountain pen, ballpoint and mechanical pencil. There are also two versions of the series, the Professional Gear and the ProGear II. From the Sailor catalogue, the difference between the two versions seems to be that the ProGear II is 3mm longer and has the Sailor anchor style pocket clip. My pencil is the Sailor Professional Gear mechanical pencil, model 21-1036-720.

sailor professional gear mechanical pencil

Right up front, I should stress that I am only an amateur sailor so my credentials to review Sailor Professional Gear are questionable.

The Sailor presentation box is modest and nice enough, but not nice enough to warrant a picture. Open the box up though and we have a nice mechanical pencil. The overall style and shape of the Professional Gear is relatively similar to a number of other manufacturers. The body is a nice shiny black PMMA resin (acrylic) and the 24K gold plated trims look good.

The larger diameter top half of the body gives the pencil a top heavy sort of look, your choice if you like that style or not. The gold centre rings also contribute to the wide top heavy look. The wording “SAILOR JAPAN FOUNDED 1911” is engraved into the centre ring.

Moving up the body, the pocket clip is equally substantial with some spring but quiet firm.
On the top of the end cap there is the gold anchor emblem of Sailor. All nice good looking trims.

Down at the business end of the mechanical pencil the lead sleeve is a simple cone suited for general writing. My pencil is 0.7mm lead. The lead advance mechanism is a push top ratchet and 10 clicks advances 6mm of lead.

Here are the refill instructions that came with the mechanical pencil.

So, the question dear reader is how to get to the pictured eraser and lead refill chamber? Does one simply pull the whole top half of the body off, or does one unscrew the top half of the body? I have seen both options on other mechanical pencils, and using the wrong option is generally not good. A little bit of gentle twisting and pulling did not really indicate which is the correct option so it was off to the web. Buried in the Japanese language website, not the English language site, is a clearer set of instructions which show that you unscrew the top half of the body. The Japanese site is also more specific about the excess lead overfilling warning, stating 2 sticks of lead.

The eraser is bigger than some but having to unscrew the body means access is a bit laborious.

In the hand the Sailor Professional Gear pencil is as mostly as expected. It is top heavy but at about 22g it feels lighter than its looks might indicate. The 12mm diameter lower body is still quite wide so this is definitely not a pencil for those who like a slim grip zone. The grip zone is of course plain acrylic without and grip improvement features so again that will not suit those who like a very positive grip.

Overall then the Sailor Professional Gear mechanical pencil is a nice but not spectacular high end general writing pencil.

•    Best Points – Aesthetics
•    Not So Good Points – Does not really feel as substantial in the hand as it looks.
•    Price Range – High
•    Does this pencil make it into the Top 5? – No

Dimensions – Length  139mm, diameter 12mm across the lower body section. Balance point about 80mm up from the tip.
Through the mists of time

Monday, June 18, 2018

Barunson 2.0 Multi Sharp Mechanical Pencil Review

Barunson 2.0 Multi – 2B Sharp Mechanical Pencil Review

This pencil was sent to me 9 years ago by my friend Kent from Korea. I suppose anyone who has a collection of something has a few guilty items in their collection. You know, a couple of items that they really shouldn’t like, but they do. Well, this Barunson mechanical pencil is one of mine. I really like it, but it’s not a particularly good pencil.

Online searches show this Barunson pencil is usually sold as a combo pack deal of two or three different colourways of the pencil along with a mixed pack of coloured leads. This seems to imply Barunson are aiming at the arts and crafts market. Searching online also seems to only bring up this one pencil so perhaps it is the only one they market under their brand. My Korean friend tells me that Barunson were a reasonably significant stationery company in the school and childrens market segment but in 2014 they sold their stationery business to a small company called Barunson Plus. Barunson Plus have themselves been in financial difficulty for quite a long time and have been applied to the courts for various protections. Apparently because of the rapidly declining younger demographics within the Korean population many commercial sectors such as dairy products, paediatric medicines and stationery are facing very difficult market conditions in Korea. Wikipedia even states

“In fact, the speed of aging in Korea is unprecedented in human history…”

Firstly then, I quite like the way it looks. A long slim lightweight white plastic body with silver and chrome trims. I don’t have many white pencils so perhaps that’s part of its attraction for me. The pocket clip is very sturdy and, like the body, seems of very good quality.

The body is round but the grip section is triangular. It’s ridiculous. The flat sections of the grip which your fingers make the main contact with are smooth and the rounded corners of the triangle which you don’t touch have grooves on them. Surely it should be the other way around?

The lead advance is a standard push top ratchet. Ten clicks will advance 11mm of lead. Having said that, the mechanism isn’t totally reliable, and very occasionally a click will not advance any lead.

When writing you should not hold the pencil too vertical and/or push too hard as the clutch system is not very strong and the lead will slide back up into the tip if too much pressure is applied. A few economy grade pencils have similar problems, e.g. the BIC Matic Classic.

The tip of the pencil is a short fixed sleeve but being plastic to suit 2mm lead this means it is fairly blunt so is basically pocket safe.

Being a 2mm lead mechanical pencil it does not hold any spare leads inside the pencil body. You pull the push top button off to insert a new lead. Not too surprisingly there is no eraser under the top button. On the other hand there is a lead sharpener inside the push top button. It is fairly vicious and one of those styles that can leave a long thin shaft projecting out from the conical tip.

Like many 2mm pencils the Barunson has a lead hardness indicator, a simple twist ring to show the grade, with grades HB through to 4B available.

The adhesive label on the body includes the word “China” so that must be the country of manufacture.

This mechanical pencil is a mixed bag. The actual body moulding and pocket clip seem of very good quality, the design seems aesthetically pleasing but functionally questionable (grip section, sharpener) and the mechanism is definitely questionable. Still, somehow, I like it, and am glad to have it in my collection.

•    Best Points – Looks. Good external body build.
•    Not So Good Points – Grip section, weak lead clutch.
•    Price Range – Low (when you divide the pack price up)
•    Does this pencil make it into the Top 5? – No way.

Dimensions – Length 150 mm, diameter 9mm across main body. Balance point about 80mm up from the tip.

Friday, June 08, 2018

More Ravages of Time

I have two acrylic body pencils made by a pen turner. The first (top, 2-piece) one he made for general sale and the second (bottom, Duofold style) was commissioned by myself.
I really liked both these mechanical pencils when I bought them. Now... not so much.
I must admit I was very surprised to see what has happened to these mechanical pencils over time. Firstly the gold fittings are in excellent condition, as good as the day I first saw them. I really never expected much from the gold trims and would not really have been surprised to see some corrosion showing through. But, as I said, nothing. They are as good as the day they were made. So what has gone wrong and surprised me? Well the acrylic bodies have deteriorated. Unfortunately you can’t see it in the images, but you can see and feel it in real life. The acrylic has developed small ridges / waves / indents / dimples… whatever you like to call them. The Duofold style pencil is definitely worse than the other, but both have the same deterioration. The Duofold style pencil acrylic body also has an actual delamination in one part down where it joins the tip.
Ouch! Nasty sharp little protruding delamination.
The two piece body pencil also has another problem. The two halves have started to separate so that there is now a 1mm gap between the bodies and the centre joining ring.
Gap between body and centre ring joiner
These two pencils are about 9 years old and I thought I would contact the maker to get his comments. I wasn’t really complaining, just giving him feedback, and he replied quite promptly. He is no longer in the pen game, the quake of 2011 put an end to his business, and he is now retired. Nevertheless he was interested to hear from me and had a few comments in reply, slightly paraphrased below.
The issue with the ridging etc sometimes occurs right from the outset. It seems to be caused by the ribbons that are inserted in the acrylic pour to make the swirls. The technique involves two separate consistencies of mix, one always harder than the other. The gaps in the two-piece pencil centre are the brass inner tubing slipping on the joining knuckle (possibly from heat fluctuations). The pencils have a solid brass tube skeleton and are pressed together. Consequently they are held in place by friction only. I can't say what may have caused the delamination of the acrylic near the tip. Atmospheric humidity maybe?
It’s disappointing to hear the acrylic wave problem basically being a known-problem. I doubt the modern high end luxury manufacturers who use marbled acrylics have the same problem. I can confirm that my marbled Parker Duofold Centennial doesn’t have this problem, nor do my vintage Conway Stewarts.

In the old days I know that a couple of pen turners used to be regular readers of this blog, so I would be very interested to hear any comments from turners, or from readers who have had similar problems.

Don’t worry, this is last planned post about the Ravages of Time.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Old Friends

A couple of old friends from the desk, still going strong, but probably not for much longer :)

Jeopardy is updated, now down to 655. And from the comment archive, this gem put a smile on my face.
Maybe we collectors are the villains here - why does any of us need so many pencils? (My wife told me to say that. I'd like to know why any one with only two feet needs that many shoes.)

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Spoke Design Interview

Spoke Design Mechanical Pencils

I first became aware of Spoke Design back in July 2012 when they launched a Kickstarter campaign for a mechanical pencil. The campaign was a success with 318 backers funding US $16,782. That was the original Spoke mechanical pencil, Spoke 1, and now they are onto the Spoke 4 mechanical pencil. I have recently been in touch with Brian from Spoke and thought it would be interesting to do an interview with him. Happily, Brian agreed.
1 - So, Brian, tell us a little about yourself and Spoke Design.
I’m a mechanical design engineer and I live in Charlotte, North Carolina USA.  I have spent my whole career in new product development.  The majority of my career has been working for corporations in various industries (telcom, barcode equipment, security devices).  The bulk of my experience is actually in plastic part and product design, but I am a hobby woodworker and a very hobby machinist. I have been working full-time on my own for over a year now.  The Spoke brand is a part of the product design and development company I run with my brother Dan… aptly named Conti-Bros, Inc.  It’s a small enterprise… it’s just us two and Dan is part-time.

2 - I imagine as a mechanical design engineer you have used a pencil or two throughout your career?
Absolutely… I sketch out ideas constantly, so pencils are my preference for that.  I’ve always been a user and fan of the Pentel Sharp pencils… probably because they have been somewhat of a standard throughout the years.  I’d say I use .5mm most often… and I prefer 2B lead.

3 - Let’s quickly go through some history. Spoke 1…. Was it a case of one day you were just sitting there and thought “I want to design and make a good mechanical pencil and sell it to some people.” So you did? Perhaps though there was a little bit more to it than that, a long evolutionary process?
Years ago I was browsing online and I ran across a news article about how this new website called Kickstarter had just had their first million dollar project (a machined iphone stand I think).  I had never heard of Kickstarter or crowdfunding… when I looked up the site I became fascinated with how it could be used to find, test, or create a market for new unique products.  I had to give it a try.  My first two submissions were actually rejected by Kickstarter… they were designs for ‘active foot rests’.  As I spent so much time at my desk, I had made prototypes of these for myself to allow some ‘fidgeting’ with my feet.  Back then, Kickstarter didn’t allow ‘exercise products’ so they rejected my submissions (they have since changed their policy and others have successfully funded several similar products to what I had originally submitted).  Undeterred, I noticed a few machined pens really becoming popular on Kickstarter… so I decided I could try to see if there was a similar interest for a machined body mechanical pencil… my preferred sketching instrument.

Many of the pens on Kickstarter are simply ‘minimal’ cylinders… largely indistinguishable from each other.  My goal was to make something very distinct and immediately recognizable by its design… after lots of sketching and prototyping… I settled on long slot features to be the signature design element.  The Spoke name seemed a natural description of these features.  The project was a moderate success on Kickstarter (after all pens are a much bigger market versus mechanical pencils), and that’s how Spoke got started.

4 - Spoke 1 was obviously a success by whatever measures you personally use because you have carried on and now there is Spoke 4. What’s the one big thing you learned from the Spoke 1 campaign? By the way, what do you call the original Spoke mechanical pencil now there’s more than one?
Spoke 1, Spoke Original – I’ve called it both.  From the outset, I had planned to do versions of the pencil… the initial pencil is designated by a machined ‘dot’ on its end… so I also refer to it as Spoke Pencil single dot.
There were three big takeaways from Spoke 1 (single dot)…

First, while I can make various types of prototypes, for production quantities, I had to develop a capable supply chain for my intricately machined and anodized parts.  It’s fun creating relationships with machine shops and working together to produce cool parts.  It’s always exciting and fulfilling to take something from sketch to physical product, but volume manufacturing has its own set of challenges and learnings as well.

Secondly, the initial project provided an introduction to the Kickstarter system.  Crowdfunding is a unique process with lots of things to learn. Since the original Spoke Pencil we’ve used Kickstarter to fund several other products (most notably a brand of magnetic products under the brand of Strong Like Bull Magnets.

The third thing I’ve learned is that selling products online is quite difficult.  As a design engineer, I had little experience with e-commerce, marketing, website creation, etc.   I’ve since learned quite a bit through the years… and continue to work on this area.

5 - With perfect hindsight, what would you have done differently?
While I’ve learned a lot along the way and have definitely had some missteps… those things were part of the journey so to speak.  Overall I’m happy with the path I took.

6 - The wood turning folk have always had pen and pencil mechanisms readily available for their use. One of the intriguing features of Spoke 1 was your use of Pentel P205 mechanisms. I’m imagining you buying a few hundred Pentel’s from a local store, ripping their mechanisms out (sacrilege!) and assembling them into your Spoke bodies. Is that what actually happened? Where are you sourcing your pencil mechanisms from now?
I buy the standard pencils wholesale from a distributor.  The great thing about the Pentel P200 series is that they are readily disassemble-able.  This makes it easy for me to utilize the mechanism and also easy for customers to get ‘replacement parts’ if ever needed.

7 - Tell us about Spoke 1, 2, 3 and 4. What’s different about them? What did you learn from each and think you would like to try on the next variant? Has feedback from users influenced you much?

Spoke mechanical pencils 4 to 1
The Spoke Design series of mechanical pencils. Top to bottom, 4 to 1.
Photo courtesy of Brian
Spoke Pencil (single dot)… the original.  A one piece pencil body utilizing the P200 series mechanism.  The body is machined from aluminium, has a swooping profile with hexagonal cross section and of course the six signature slots.  There’s quite a bit of machining going on there.  It was funded on Kickstarter and now retired from sale, although I do have a few reworked pencils I sell occasionally.

Spoke Pencil 2 (double dot).  Spoke 2 was a follow up design that was more a refinement than new design. The main change was a slightly smaller profile and a bit narrower slots.  It was released on my website and not a Kickstarter project.  Spoke 2 is now retired from sale, although again, I do have a few reworked pencils I put for sale occasionally.

Then there was Spoke Inverse.  The inverse was a shift to a more simple cylindrical design, with the main feature being an inverted taper in the grip area.  Inverse was a smaller pencil altogether, using the Pentel P225 mechanism (since discontinued).  It was released on my website only.  Inverse is retired from sale, although I do have a few reworked pencils I sell occasionally.

Spoke Model 3 (triple dot).  The model 3 was a big departure in design and material. I decided to go with Titanium.  Design-wise it has a stepped profile with circular cross sections, bevelled edge slots, and a heavily grooved grip.  The model 3 proved to be quite difficult to machine… and ultimately only 100 were made.  Model 3 was released on my website… and is now sold out.

Spoke 4.  By this point I had received a good amount of feedback and requests from customers for various materials, colors, and grip sizes.  There’s no one perfect pencil configuration to satisfy everyone, but I thought it would be unique to offer a degree of customization to try and address common requests.  The solution was a two piece body design in order to provide a range of material, color, and size options to customers.  This level of customization has proven to be popular.  The model 4 is an interesting pencil in that depending on configuration it can vary significantly in how it looks and feels… many customers order 2 or 3 and mix up their order configurations a good bit.  I’ve decided to make the model 4 a ‘standard’ pencil with no plans to retire it any time soon.  In fact, I plan to add some additional colors.

8 - As you have mentioned, the Spoke 4 mechanical pencil is a pick ‘n’ mix of 5 different grips, each in 2 diameters, and 5 different barrels, so that’s 50 combinations. Which combination if your personal favourite? Is there any clear preference from customers for grip diameter, grip material or barrel colour?
I have several pencils on my desk, so I do mix up what I use quite a bit.  Overall I probably favour the smaller diameter 8.3mm grip in Titanium with a blue barrel.  The titanium moves the balance point closer to the tip while not adding too much overall weight, and the blue provides a nice contrast to the spoke grooves.  As for customers, the classic look of Titanium with a black anodized barrel is most popular.  Orders are generally split pretty evenly between the 8.3mm and 9.2mm grip diameters.  While the dimensional difference seems quite small… the result is a big difference in feel.

9 - You have offered your various Spoke pencils in 0.5, 0.7 and 0.9mm lead sizes. What has been the most popular?
The .5mm is the most popular… I’d say half of all orders are for .5mm with the remainder spilt pretty evenly between .7mm and .9mm.

10 - You have also branched out into some other stationery related items. I guess anything on your desk is fair game?
I have quite a diverse background in the types of products I have developed.  Under Spoke, I’ve done a machined ring holder and more recently a machined note holder… both on Kickstarter. While I do enjoy the challenge of working on a variety of product categories, I really enjoy working on writing instruments… and expect to keep releasing new Spoke designs going forward.

11 - Okay, well thanks for telling us this Brian. All the best for the future… so Spoke 5 is already in your thoughts?
Yes, Spoke 5 is coming!  I’m at the prototype stage and hopefully it’ll be ready to go in the next month or so!  However, the model 5 is more exploration of the spoke design… not a model 4 replacement.
I will leave you another nice photo supplied by Brian.
Spoke pencils 1 to 4
L to R - The history of Spoke pencils to date

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Spoke 4 Mechanical Pencil Review

Spoke 4 Mechanical Pencil Review

Long-time readers of this blog may well remember the original Spoke Design mechanical pencil from back in 2012. Well, the years have gone by and Spoke Design are now up to Spoke 4. They are still sticking to their origins of exploring designs with a spoke theme and using the Pentel P200 Sharp mechanical pencil mechanism.
spoke 4 mechanical pencils

The Spoke 4 mechanical pencil is a mix and match two piece design. You choose what combination of the two grip diameters, each available in five different materials, the five different barrel colours and the three different lead sizes you want, and Spoke assemble that mixture to make your pencil.
• Grip: 8.3mm and 9.2mm diameters
• Grip Materials: Aluminium (Anodized Black & Grey), Titanium, Brass, Stainless Steel
• Anodized Aluminium Barrel, colours:  Black, Blue, Red, Grey, Silver
• Lead Size: 0.5 / 0.7 / 0.9mm
The assembly is permanent; you cannot later undo and swap combinations around.

Learning from my mistake with the original Spoke pencil I decided to go for a nice bright red barrel. The 9.2mm stainless steel grip and 0.5mm lead seemed like the options to suit me so that’s the pencil I have. However, Spoke generously threw another pencil into the box when they sent my order, so I also have a 8.3mm titanium grip blue barrel 0.5mm pencil as well.
red and black spoke 4

Right then, first off the Spoke 4 mechanical pencil in my two colour combinations is a nice bright visually pleasing writing instrument. The black slots, sorry spokes, make a particularly nice contrast with the red bodied pencil. I sometimes thought that the bright chrome of the pencil tip did not quite go with the duller stainless steel or titanium grips, but then other times I thought I was just being stupid.

The Spoke 4 is lighter than I anticipated. The blue pencil weighs in at 18 grams and the red at 25 grams. In the hand you can notice that difference in weight, but what you really notice is the difference in balance.  The 9.2mm stainless steel grip moves the centre of gravity about 10mm towards the tip compared to the titanium. That may not sound like much but that extra weight and lower balance is definitely noticeable in the hand. The 0.9mm difference in grip diameters might also seem minor but again it is definitely noticeable in the hand. Being able to use and compare two non-identical twin pencils like these has been very interesting.
spoke 4 grip sections

The grip has concentric rings cut into it. As expected they give a positive vertical grip but allow for quick easy rotation. All bets are off though if you live in, shall we say, a hot sweaty humid environment.

Given my recent ramblings on the durability of mechanical pencils I think I should make it clear that the Spoke 4 is an all metal mechanical pencil, and in particular that the titanium and stainless steel grips are machined from solid metal. There’s no PVD coatings here, so those of you in the space game can rest easy knowing that your titanium grip will undoubtedly prove resistant to hypertrophic alien slugs and their corrosive slime.
spoke 4 titanium grip

With the mechanical pencil mechanism being taken from a Pentel P205 Sharp, the Spoke 4 has a fixed 4mm lead sleeve and so is suitable for draughting but is not pocket safe. There is also of course the emergency eraser under the push top cap.

Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed the lack of a pocket clip in the various photos of the Spoke 4.  Now, that in itself is not too much of a problem for me personally. Indeed, some pencils come with removable pocket clips to suit those who find them an impediment, but the barrel of the Spoke 4 pencil is round, and the spoke sections are depressed into the barrel, so when you rest the pencil on your desk it can roll, and there is no pocket clip to stop it. Yes, I know there is the desk dock, but that may not travel with you to the meeting room, and I prefer to just put my pencil down anywhere rather than having to specifically place it somewhere. That then is a significant negative for me. Great pencil, love the mix and match options… please stop it from rolling around on my desk.

Spoke Design have always gone the extra mile and their mechanical pencil comes with a tube of replacement erasers, a refill tube of Pentel leads and a desk dock. The dock works well and is made from acetal plastic so it won’t mark your pencil grip but will be very durable and hard wearing itself.
spoke 4 mechanical pencil and accessories

spoke 4 pencil desk dock
Spoke Design logo in the rubber base of the desk dock.

In my review of the Spoke 1 mechanical pencil I suggested a small number of minor points for improvement. This review would not be complete without revisiting those. So, back then my comments were
• This is a great pencil, be proud, put your brand name on it. I would also love to see "USA" on it too.
• Spoke 4 = Spoke yes, USA no.
• The pencil stand is a great idea and works really well. I wonder though that over time the metal on metal contact with the pencil tip section may lead to some wear on both. Perhaps a plastic insert in the stand is worth considering.
• Spoke 4 = The dock is now much larger and made from hard wearing acetal plastic.
• The edges of the hexagonal body are just a little sharp for me. Some more rumbling or perhaps some deliberate rounding in the finger grip zone would be in order.
• Spoke 4 = No uncomfortable or sharp edges to be found anywhere
• In the right light, at the right angle, with good eyesight... boy, I'm being very picky here... you can see some very minor tool marks. A little more rumbling might help.
• Spoke 4 = Picky, picky…Spoke 4 looks good, no tool marks in sight.
spoke 4 name and lead size

Overall then the Spoke 4 is a very good mechanical pencil which you should seriously consider adding to your collection.

•    Best Points – It looks great and you can customize to suit yourself.
•    Not So Good Points – It rolls when you put it down.
•    Price Range – Mid
•    Does this pencil make it into the Top 5? – No

Dimensions – Length 142mm, diameter 10.5mm body. Balance point for stainless steel grip variant about 60 mm up from the tip and 70mm for titanium grip variant.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Caran d'Ache Ecridor Yacht Club Mechanical Pencil

Caran d’Ache Ecridor Yacht Club

caran d'ache ecridor yacht club mechanical pencil

Those marketing folk always have to tempt us. Most weeks I get out on the water for a quick sail and so nautical themed objects have some allure for me. I like Swiss Army knives and I eventually succumbed to temptation and bought the Victorinox Skipper, and recently I gave into temptation again and got a Caran d’Ache Ecridor Yacht Club 0.7mm mechanical pencil.
ecridor and skipper
Two Swiss classics

I have previously posted about my two other Ecridors, the standard Ecridor and the Artiste. The Ecridor Yacht Club is available in fountain pen, ballpoint pen and rollerball, as well as my mechanical pencil format. These days Ecridors are palladium coated rather the rhodium coating used in the past.

The engraving on the body is what makes the Ecridor Yacht Club different from other Ecridors. The guilloche engraving features two nautical themes. Firstly a rope motif to link with yachting, and the main feature which is the wording “Caran d’Ache” engraved on the body in nautical flags.
ecridor yacht club rope motif
Rope motif
ecridor yacht club flags
Caran d'Ache in flags
ecridor mechanical pencil yacht club engraving
Ropes and flags

For those of you who are not aware of maritime signal flags, in the old days before radio, ships could communicate with each other by flying flags that had meanings. Nowadays flags are still officially used and there is an internationally agreed set of flags that represent numbers and letters so messages can be spelled out, as well as specific individual flags or combinations having a specific meaning. For example flying a black and yellow quadrisection flag means the ship is quarantined and should not be approached. Of course you may want to send private messages, e.g. instructions to your battle fleet without allowing the enemy commanders to understand your signals, so navies historically had flag codes as well, with a code book of common messages and words and the corresponding flags to fly to represent them.

I leave you then with arguably the most famous maritime message ever sent.
Signal sent by Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, from his flagship HMS Victory as the Battle of Trafalgar was about to commence, 21 October 1805.
Image by Ipankonin - Vectorized from raster image , CC BY-SA 3.0, Link