Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sketch Pencils

Sketch pencil is the name often given to those mechanical pencils that use very thick leads - by that I mean leads like 3.2mm and 5.6mm. Personally I don’t normally include 2mm clutch pencils in the ‘sketch pencil’ category because they were usually used for draughting and other purposes, whereas the thicker leads are really specifically for artists to draw with. At least that’s my view of things.

Actually perhaps “leadholder” is a more appropriate term than “mechanical pencil” as most, if not all sketch pencils are clutch mechanism pencils.

I’m no artist and I don’t really have many sketch pencils, but here are a few photos of two that I do have.

The Koh-I-Noor ‘Versatil’ 5347, 5.6mm clutch pencil

You can see how thick the 5.6mm leads are, pictured here with an ordinary wooden pencil. They are huge!

Some 3.2mm Kaweco leads – graphite and coloured. There doesn’t really seem to be a lot of coloured leads available, certainly not compared to ordinary wooden coloured pencils.

5.6mm and 3.2mm pencils.

The Kaweco “Sport” bunt 3.2mm clutch pencil is short and wide, of octagonal cross-section. It is 104mm long x 13mm wide across the flats, that’s about 4 x 1/2 inches.

Now, for the artist who likes a pencil with a stratospheric price tag, there is the Montblanc Leonardo Sketch Pen (it’s a pencil), as reviewed over at Paper and Pencil.

“Ladybug” and “Butterfly” in graphite and coloured pencil, by one of my young relatives. The Leonardo is definitely beyond her price range, but if she grows up to be a famous artist…

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Pentel Twist-Erase III QE519 Mechanical Pencil Review

Pentel Twist-Erase III QE519 Mechanical Pencil Review
The Pentel Twist-Erase seems to have a bit of a following amongst people who like a big eraser on their pencil, so I thought I’d better get one and check it out for myself. Like most Pentels, the Twist-Erase comes in a wide selection of colours and lead sizes. Mine is dark blue, 0.9mm lead, the QE519-C to be exact. And if we are being exact, then Pentels website calls it the Twist-Erase III, so I guess there has been some product development over the years.
The Twist-Erase is a fairly substantial looking pencil, although there’s nothing startling about how it looks. Plain dark blue one-colour scheme with chrome tip and pocket-clip. “Twist-Erase 0.9” and other details are printed in silver at the top of the body. Weight-wise it’s a bit lighter than I anticipated.

The pocket-clip is a strong stiff metal clip. There are three holes punched out of it for decoration. Something about it just makes me suspect it’s a generic buy-in rather than a specific Pentel item. This could well be complete rubbish, but somehow that thought just occurs to me whenever I look at it. The tip section is chrome with a 3mm fixed lead sleeve suitable for draughting, but the sleeve isn’t retractable, so it’s not a pocket safe pencil.

This is a push top ratchet mechanism pencil. The whole top section is the push-top to activate the mechanism, rather than just a button on top. The whole section also pulls off to give access to the lead magazine. The top section is secured to the main body by push-fitting back onto the plastic lead tube. Now I always harbour a few doubts about that concept so I’d welcome any comments from long time users.

The rubber grip is very slightly contoured with a small flare out at the base to help keep your fingers in the right place. It’s a reasonably firm compound but there is a very small amount of ‘give’ under the fingers. It is a fairly ‘grippy’ material that does improve your grip, and it’s a reasonably wide diameter at the grip section so that also helps.

I must say that I don’t use 0.9mm lead very often. Writing with it was definitely somewhat smoother than with my usual 0.5 or 0.7mm. A long time back I had a comment about thicker leads lasting longer than thin leads. I wasn’t particularly sure about that whole thickness vs life expectancy thing so I have done a few writing tests with this 0.9 vs 0.5mm leads and I now agree, 0.9 lasts an awful lot longer. A lot more words per piece of lead.

Onto the main event, the eraser. Well it’s certainly a super size eraser, and you twist the top section around to extend it out. It’s a smooth twist action, and it only advances a short amount with each turn. The eraser appears to be a rubber compound. As much as I love Pentel, I’ve always thought their erasers were their weak point, and it’s the same here. The eraser rubs out reasonably well, but leaves a lot of messy waste. It doesn’t twist up into strands. I just feel that a PVC eraser would be better, like Staedtler or Faber-Castell, better erasing power and less mess. I certainly became less impressed with the eraser as time went by - size isn’t everything! You replace the eraser by simply push-fitting it into its holder - it’s the Pentel E10 jumbo eraser, roughly Ø7mm by 30mm usable length (c ¼ x 1 ¼ inches).
  • Best Points – Well you certainly get plenty of eraser.
  • Not So Good Points – Not pocket safe. Because of the eraser, I could see this being a pencil that some would want to carry around as their everyday writing / sketching pencil, and not being pocket safe could be a point against that.
  • Price Range – Low.

Dimensions – Length 136mm, diameter 11mm at widest part of grip section. Balance point about 70mm up from the tip.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Day In The Life Of Scribble

This posting is a bit of a change of tack. I’ve written a few reviews and articles about pencils, but never really gone into what I actually do with my pencils. It’s easy to just say that they get used in everyday routine office work, because that’s what happens most of the time, but I am interested in what people actually do with their pencils - great artwork, sketches of future architectural or engineering masterpieces, scribbling down breaking news, whatever. So I thought I would post a little something about what I do with one of my favourite pencils, good old Lamy Scribble 0.7mm mechanical pencil.

I do a bit of volunteer ecological conservation work, and here in New Zealand I think it’s fair to say that birds are the main focus of conservation. Many of you may not realise, but New Zealand was the great “avian experiment”. Basically there are no land mammals native to New Zealand. That means no mice, rats, rabbits, cats, dogs, weasels, ferrets, foxes, wolves, pigs, deer, antelope, lions, buffalo – nothing! NOTHING! Just birds, lizards and insects. We don’t even have snakes or scorpions, and only one rare species of mildly venomous spider. The birds of New Zealand filled all those ecological niches that mammals take elsewhere – huge flightless gigantic moa took the place of all the grazing animals, kiwi as badgers, small species sneaking through the grass as mice and rabbits, etc, etc. When humans first reached NZ about 1,000 years ago and introduced mammals it was all over. Massive ecological destruction. Many native species were wiped out; most of the remainder were decimated.

For many years I have studied the small number of shorebirds that live along a part of the local coastline. Some of them are endangered species, so when the adjacent motorway was to be expanded there were a few issues regarding the birdlife. The motorway construction has many requirements for environmental protection, and because of my familiarity with the area I ended up getting hired to monitor the impact on the shorebirds. So, on the weekends I get paid to pursue my hobby! Sure it’s only a few dollars an hour, but I was doing it anyway. I have reviewed the Lamy Scribble over on Pencil Revolution, but here’s some real life, what my Scribble gets up to, because it’s my first choice when heading out into the field.

Getting ready for a monitoring round of the motorway construction sites, here’s some of my basic equipment. Roughly clockwise from top left – gumboots, high visibility vest, safety helmet, tripod & telescope, binoculars, notebook & Scribble, flashing beacon for the car. I have to wear vest and helmet on site – there’s no chance of sneaking up on the birds!

Scribble clips nicely into a small notebook (76 x 112mm, 3 x 4 ½ in), which in turn fits nicely into the chest pocket on my bushshirt. I find that the chest pocket is convenient to get to, and it’s high up so stays dry if I stumble in a swamp, etc.

WARNING: The following images are not the New Zealand of The Lord of the Rings, The Last Samurai, King Kong, NZ Adventure Travelogues, David Attenborough documentaries and so on. Stop now if you if you cannot stand the pain of having your illusions shattered.

Here’s a few shots of one main construction area. The shoreline is only a few hundred metres away, and the wide open, bare areas are quite attractive to many nesting shorebirds. Basically the foreshore has been tar-sealed over, so any wide open flat area, close to the coast, with not much vegetation, will do as a substitute beach.

One pair prospecting for a nice place to nest. They nest on the ground, just a little scrape in the sand or dirt. There are only about 500 pairs of these birds left in the world. I have a licence to catch and band chicks, but it’s a fairly even contest, as the chicks hide very well, and out in the mud they run pretty much as fast as I do. If they are near the water they also swim well, and in desperation they may dive under and “fly” underwater. That’s an interesting sight – their wings haven’t grown enough to fly in air, but they can fly in water.

Another motorway section is accessed through this tunnel.

You emerge here. At low tide there are large areas of mudflat exposed, which is good feeding for shorebirds – lots of tasty crabs, shellfish and so on. It’s a bit of a grey old day looking across the harbour to the city centre.

It’s a muddy job but someones got to do it.

Luckily most of the mud is pretty firm in this area so you don’t usually end up more than ankle deep, but I once came here to find a lady sunk up to her waist in the mud. She and her husband were “rock-hounds”, collecting little rocks and stones and she found a soft-patch in the mud. Once you are in, the suction is really strong, no way out. As rock collectors they had shovels, but it still took nearly an hour for her husband and I to dig her out without getting stuck ourselves. The tide was coming in and the tidal range here is about 3.6 metres (12 feet) so in a couple of hours she was going to be six feet under, literally.

Here’s a shot from the same place looking the other way – back to shore, rather than across the harbour to the city centre. The little shellbank pushed up against the sea-wall is an important place for the shorebirds. The motorway is not all bad – not many people, cats or dogs make it alive across the motorway to disturb them on their little shellbank! They have habituated to the traffic so don’t recognise it as a threat. Wheels = OK, 2 or 4 Legs = Danger.

So, as I’m wandering around in the mud, Scribble is busy recording how many birds are seen, where, evidence of nesting, etc. All good data. I suppose I could argue that Scribble is actually the provider of my pencils. To try and keep my pencil expenditure under some sort of control, I have this idea that my pencil budget is the income from this part-time job. Sort of seems appropriate, one hobby funding another. But on the other hand, if the pencil budget has been spent, and my wife has just had one of those really expensive haircuts, well…..

If any of you are serious movie fans, then the tunnel and shellbank area shown in the photos above are one of the locations in Vincent Wards movie The Navigator.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Staedtler Triplus Micro 774 Mechanical Pencil Review

Staedtler Triplus Micro 774 Mechanical Pencil Review

The Staedtler Triplus “writing system” consists of a large selection of writing instruments – ballpoint, rollerball, fibre tip, mechanical pencil, highlighter, etc. I quite like the look of the Staedtler Triplus Micro mechanical pencil. Its an aesthetically pleasing package – long thin triangular shaped body, grey plastic with a slightly metallic looking finish, light grey bands around the body, chrome tip, straight pocket clip, black concertina section at the top – it all goes very well together. Remember I have a bit of a history of not liking the ‘Staedtler look’; well this time I do.

An obvious point of difference about the Triplus Micro is its triangular body shape. This is becoming more common in woodcase pencils, but is a bit rarer in mechanical pencils. It feels good in the hand, easy to grip. There is no particular grip section or grip enhancement so you can hold it wherever you like. The stripes around the body might look they are something to do with the grip, but they are just pure decoration, but I like the look! Overall though the grip is not the best, the surface of the body is smooth and it did get a little slippery after extended use – not bad, just not great, so overall a ‘pass’ rather than a ‘above average’ grade for the grip. The balance point of this pencil is close to the tip. With long length and a low balance point this pencil feels quite light in the hand – going for that old fashioned quill ‘light as a feather’ approach?

The lead sleeve is a conical cone so it’s for general writing only, not draughting. It is retractable, so it is fully pocket safe. The lead advance mechanism is a push top ratchet. Mine is 0.5mm lead, but there is also 0.7mm. The pocket clip looks good but isn’t all that great, about average as far as simple moulded plastic ones go. Now for the eraser – it’s one of those twist out ones, with about 15mm (5/8th in.) of usable length and is 6mm (1/4 in.) diameter. It’s a very good eraser, exactly what I would expect from Staedtler who I regard as leaders in the field of erasers.

The whole top from the black concertina section up, pulls off to give access to the lead magazine. It’s only a narrow tube so you can’t store too many spare leads in there. The top section is a friction fit onto the lead tube which I’m always a little dubious of re life-expectancy. If the top section started falling off then the pencil would be pretty useless.

Overall this is a good pencil, no, it’s a great pencil, better than the Faber-Castell Grip 2011. Obviously the 2011 has better grip, but the Triplus Micro is ahead on everything else. Any serious fan of the mechanical pencil needs to try this one. In my review of the 2011 I said, “If you are a pencil person, you need this pencil.” Well it’s true for the 2011 and it’s even more so for the Triplus Micro – go get one today.

  • Best Points – The decent eraser, the auto-advance, the ….., just about everything really.
  • Not So Good Points – The grip isn’t the best.
  • Price Range – Economy / Low.
Dimensions – Length 151mm, triangular body is 9mm along the sides. Balance point about 65mm up from the tip.

Note: Thanks to reader Henrik Neble from Denmark for making sure I got around to reviewing this great pencil. And just in case by some amazing coincidence they ever trip across this blog, hello to my long lost friends from Denmark – Inge, Liv, Malika. Yes, it’s me - Dave “S and K”.

Monday, September 11, 2006


Rumours have been swirling around the city. A dark shadowy figure has been seen raiding dumpsters outside office supply stores, pencil company warehouses have been broken into, inner city commercial offices report that someone (something?) has been going through their waste baskets at night, ... people are starting to get worried! Well none of that’s anything to do with me, but I have been spending a bit of time down in the lab, just, ahh, seeing what’s on the slab. MechFrankenPencil is coming! The ultimate creation. Take the best of the best, and discard the rest. I just have to wait for one really good lightning strike.

I started out with the heart of the mechanical pencil, the lead advance mechanism. What could be better than a fine mechanism from Pentel? Answer – nothing! So we have it, the Pentel P205 mechanism. Now we need a body – we all know that MechFrankenPencils life isn’t going to be easy, there will be jealousy and envy from lesser creations, so something tough, but with a soft heart and soul. What could be better than a suit of armour like Caran d’Ache’s Varius Ivanhoe, the hero of the great romantic novel? Or perhaps big strong steel rods like Porsche Design P3130 to give him a more modern look? After all, Porsche are the designers of some of the most famous cars (and armoured fighting vehicles) in history. Maybe the best of both worlds – steel rods with Ivanhoe armour wrapping?

For an overall shape though, Scribble from Lamy is a nice friendly look, so we’ll go for that short friendly rounded shape.

Maybe even have the whole armoured rod set up as a telescoping system like the magic pencils of old?

Now what size lead? Why stop at one? Let’s take the wonderful gravity multi-tip selector out of a Rotring Newton Trio and have 0.5, 0.7 and 1.18mm leads.
When it comes to a pocket clip, you can’t go past the Faber-Castell E-Motion clip. Let’s also have a fully retractable tip like the Pilot Vanishing Point. Now you see it, now you don’t. That’s the ultimate in safety.

But I really like the Pentel Sharp Kerry cap so we’ll have a cap too.
Everyone needs their own space, and after a hard days pencilling, MechFrankenPencil will need somewhere to rest his weary head. There’s the Parafernalia wooden stand that he can use at break-time during the day, and of course it will help make him feel closer to his wooden cousins, but the Parker Duofold drawers seem the place for a good nights rest.

Sometimes it can be a lonely existence, being a unique creature, so to while away those solitary moments we could have some puzzles - crosswords and sudoku. What we need is to adapt the Retro 51 Tornado Crossword and Sudoku pencils, so the puzzles are stored inside the body and you just pull the tab to unfurl your puzzle. Actually Postmaster would be handy too. When things heat up and MechFrankenPencil needs to leave town then he is already “Post Paid”, 1st Class mail, all ready to go.

What about a name? If his heart is Pentel then that’s who he should be.
But also some hallmarks like on the Yard-O-Led so we know his history. Proudly stamped with name, rank and serial number!
Grip is very important, so something with a bit of variety, like the interchangeable grips on the Lamy Accent.

Hey, I hear thunder in the distance. An electrical storm is coming – gotta go.

“I really like this jacket but the sleeves are way too long”-Motorhead. Now if The Lead Cup raised a few questions about my state of mind, this posting surely answers them!

MechFrankenPencil is of course inspired by Ninth Wave Designs [Broken link]wonderful Franken Pencil posting, and I thank them for most generously allowing me to use their idea. You know that saying – the one about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery? So thanks NWD, and if you haven’t already read the original then click through to Frankenpencil [Broken link]. Actually of course, thanks also to Mary Shelley, Boris Karloff, Kenneth Branagh and all those other Frankenstein folk.

Hmmmmm…., MechFrankenPencil might get lonely, and there was that sequel movie…….. “Bride of MechFrankenPencil”?

Thursday, September 07, 2006


A little while ago I received an email from a reader asking if I would accept a guest review of their favourite mechanical pencil. I hadn’t really considered the idea of guest postings, and although I don’t think I’ll make a habit of it, a little bit of variety every now and then is surely a good thing. So, here’s Eric’s review of his favourite pencil. (Dave)


In this day and age, there are countless automatic pencils out there to choose from - pencils that have textured metal grips and rotating lead degree indicators all the way to pencils that have customizable tension settings for the lead as well as settings for the length of the lead sleeve. The choices, it seems, are truly endless.

The Papermate Technician II 0.5mm pencil is the pencil I use. I am an artist and it's the only pencil I draw with. I really like this pencil. I had been using a Pentel Sharp 0.5mm previously and it was a great pencil. The only thing it lacked was a good eraser - an eraser of substance, and every good pencil artist needs a good eraser. The Technician II is armed with a unique 1-inch twist eraser cartridge. The diameter of the eraser is the perfect size - great for erasing tiny spots on a drawing without ruining the rest of the drawing; or perhaps great for the draftsman using an erasing shield. One thing people may not be aware about mechanical pencils - most of us don’t draw directly on top of the paper - we draw using the side of the lead (at an angle). So for me, my 0.5mm pencil doesn't draw true .5mm lines on a regular basis. I rotate my pencil constantly as I draw with it - creating a chisel point. I use the broad side for shading and tonal work and the sharp tip for fine line details. Also, I only use HB leads. I am a simple guy and the less tools I have to work with the better. I find that I can achieve all needs with 0.5mm HB leads.

The Technician II is a solid yet lightweight mechanical pencil that fits very comfortably in my hand. Perhaps some of this is due to a rubberized grip. Normally I don’t care much for metal/rubber grips. I don’t think you need them all that much. But this particular grip is pleasing.

So, instead of having a wood pencil, metal sharpener, and vinyl eraser at my drawing desk - I have just one item that encompasses ALL of those and it comes with the convenience of never changing length or weight and gives me storage space for 10 extra leads. That particular item is the Papermate Technician II mechanical pencil - the only pencil I draw with.

Papermate Technician II 0.5mm

PROS: 1-inch twist eraser
Rubberized Grip
4mm Fixed Sleeve for Drawing

CONS: Absolutely NONE.

I would like to thank Dave for extending me the opportunity to put in this review. I think this is one of the best, most affordable drawing pencils out there.

Houston, Texas

Peregrine Falcon - The fastest thing alive.
(All images and artwork by EF)

Footnote: Note there is no pocket clip shown in the photos. Eric mentioned that he removes the chrome pocket clip because of the way he rotates the pencil whilst drawing. Sound familiar? (Dave)