Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Wooden Mechanicals?

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just isn’t the same,
Can you guess which one is not like the others…

Yes, yes, alright! Too much time spent playing with kids watching 'Ses*me Street'.

(Trick question - actually 2 of them are not like the others)

Well…if you guessed these two, then you’re absolutely right!

Mechanical pencils that look like normal pencils. Mechanical pencils that look like wood pencils. Seems some folk want the best of both worlds – the traditional wooden pencil look with the advantages of a mechanical pencil. Well here are two that I have.

Ohto APS-280E and Eberhard Faber EFAmatic Mechanical Pencil Reviews

Ohto APS-280E
When you hold the Ohto APS-280E in your hand it really feels like a wooden pencil. That’s because it is! Yes, it’s an ordinary hexagonal wooden pencil, with the core drilled out and a mechanical pencil mechanism put in. The only real giveaway is the small brass metal tip / lead-sleeve. It’s quite a nice rather unusual experience to write with this pencil. The look, feel, weight and balance of a good quality, lacquer finished wooden pencil in your hand, but the smooth fine writing of a 0.5mm polymer lead. Great stuff.

Now the lead in this pencil is not your ordinary 60mm long mechanical pencil lead, its double length at 120mm. Personally I’ve only seen cheap Chinese 120mm leads for sale, and I wouldn’t waste my money on them. No matter what price you paid, you paid too much. But luckily you can just put an ordinary 60mm lead down the tube and happily start clicking away. Just to clarify, like most normal push-top ratchet mechanism mechanical pencils you just pull the eraser off the top and stick a lead down the tube. The tube is really quite thin, so it’s pretty much just one piece of lead at a time, no reserve storage. The mechanism is a standard push top ratchet lead advance system.

The metal tip is not retractable, and there’s no pocket clip, just like with an ordinary wooden pencil. The eraser is again an ordinary sort of wooden pencil pink rubber compound eraser. It erases reasonably well, but as usual I’d prefer a vinyl compound eraser. The eraser is mounted in a metal holder which in turn push fits into the ferrule housing. I guess you can buy replacement erasers complete with metal holder. Now this is one thing against the Ohto - the metal eraser holder rattles inside the metal ferrule as you write or wave the pencil about. I actually found this really annoying. I suppose it would be a simple thing to put a little piece of paper or something inside the ferrule to wedge it all tight and stop the rattle.

So overall, aside from the rattle bit, I’m pretty impressed with this pencil. It was great to write with for a few days, but it’s a little thin for my personal taste.

  • Best Points – It really feels and looks like a wooden pencil. Just ignore that metal tip!
  • Not So Good Points – The rattle, and no spare lead capacity.
  • Price Range – Economy/Low.

Dimensions – Just like an ordinary wooden pencil.

Eberhard Faber EFAmatic

At first glance the EFAmatic looks like a wooden pencil, but then you quickly pick up on the fact that it’s actually plastic. Well, apart from the metal eraser ferrule of course. So, nice shiny ferrule, shiny red body, gold lettering, all in all it’s a good look. There are two things though that I’m not totally keen on. The first is the beige colour of the tip. It’s supposed to be like a sharpened wooden pencil but it doesn’t quite work. The second is the barcode. It’s very clear and prominent, much more so than on most wooden pencils and I think it looks a bit ugly on this pencil.

Now the EFAmatic is a hex shaped pencil, just like the wooden ones it’s trying to imitate. The grip is reasonable despite there not being any grip enhancements. It has a reddish rubber eraser in a metal ferrule on the end. The eraser is a rubber compound, and works reasonably well. I guess you have to buy full new ferrule sections if you want to replace the eraser.

Like the Ohto, this pencil uses the long 120mm leads. There is a 0.5mm and a 0.7mm variant.
Look at that! Now that’s a stick of lead! (Pictured with a normal 60mm lead container for comparison)

You pull the whole ferrule section off to refill the lead. Like the Ohto, you can only have one stick of lead in it at a time, but you can get away with refilling it with two 60mm sticks of lead. You have to use two though, as the rod on the ferrule section pushes the second stick of lead onto the first and starts it into the auto-advance mechanism. Yes, that’s right, it’s an auto-advancer, not a push-top ratchet. There is no manual mechanism to activate the lead advance. You just write and the lead advances. It writes quite smoothly; with very little ‘scrape-through’ as you go over existing lines or letters. I guess this particular plastic tip is better at this than most others I have tried. However, there is still the dreaded “plunging”. Certainly not as bad as some others, but it still happens from time to time. It really is annoying. You are writing away and suddenly the pencil just plunges forward as the lead advance mechanism activates in a particular way. Putting the occasional plunge aside though, this auto-advance system works quite well. No pencil sharpener required here!

If you are like me and sometimes can’t resist flicking the tip with your fingernail to make the lead advance there is no way of getting it to go back in. Also of course there is no pocket clip or retracting tip for pocket safety.

But let’s not be picky. Overall, for the price, this is a pretty good pencil.

  • Best Points – The looks and the price.
  • Not So Good Points – The “plunging” when you write
  • Price Range – Economy.

Dimensions – Just like an ordinary wooden pencil.

Trivia: For some reason I thought that all the various “Faber” companies were now back under the Faber-Castell umbrella, but I looked at the Eberhard Faber website and immediately thought, “Those pencils look like Staedtlers!” I was right, because a few more page views lead me to the company profile which states, “In 1978 the company was taken over by Staedtler-Mars/Nuremburg”.

The Final Bit: If I could only have one or the other, I think I would choose the Ohto, because it really is wood. But the EFAmatic is a good pencil too.


pigpogm said...

Can you get Ohto stuff there, then? I've not seen it available here in the UK, and one of us has to review the Super ProMecha.

Kiwi-d said...

No Ohto's down here either. Like the vast majority of my pencils, I've bought them in from overseas, at an exorbitant prices. ProMecha review is in the pipeline for early next year.

Jeremy said...

I have a similar wooden mechanical pencil from Korea. The advancement is a plunger on the end with no eraser. It's a natural wood color.

Anonymous said...

For more on Ohto's fun, wood-encased, mechanical pencils:

Interestingly, they are not advertised in the English version of their site.

Unknown said...

Where can I buy one of the Ohto wooden mechanical pens? I am in the UK but have been searching on the internet and can't find anyone anywhere selling them.

Anonymous said...

Great review.
I used to love using Eberhard Faber EFAmatic, when I was in primary school.
It makes me very nostalgia. Could you tell me where can I take one of those EFAmatic, cause I serached on the Internet and didn't get a clue.