Sunday, March 30, 2008

Zebra M-301 Mechanical Pencil Review

Zebra M-301 Mechanical Pencil Review

The M-301 is a rather dinky looking smallish polished steel and black plastic pencil. As you might expect it is also rather lightweight. These factors combine to make me think of it as a notebook or compendium pencil, rather than a fulltime everyday office pencil.

The plastic grip section has horizontal and vertical grooves which cut the surface into tiny squares and actually make quite a good grip. I commend them for not sticking a rubber grip on instead! The lead sleeve is a fixed 3mm thin pipe. I’m a little surprised by this. A retractable sleeve would fit better with my idea that this pencil is aimed at the pocket, purse, notebook, compendium segment of the market. The lead advance mechanism is a push top ratchet – 10 clicks will get you 6mm of lead. My pencil is 0.5mm lead. “Japan”, “Zebra M-301” and “.5” are clearly printed in black on the main barrel of the pencil. The “0.5” is particularly prominent, which is good. Underneath the top cap is a small eraser and you remove that to access the lead refill chamber.

The pocket clip is a plain but strong and functional steel strip.
  • Best Points – Small solid pencil, good for a compendium, etc. The price is probably a good point too.
  • Not So Good Points – Lead sleeve not retractable.
  • Price Range – Low.

Dimensions – Length 133mm, diameter 9mm. Balance point about 75mm up from the tip.

Now that was a pretty short review by my standards. I’ve got to admit that overall Zebra is one of those brands that tend to leave me a little flat. I’m not really sure why. Their pencils are perfectly good products, I guess it’s just that somehow I don’t associate them with innovation or cutting edge design or outstanding quality or…, they tend to be just more of the same. Am I being unfair here?

Footnote – It was a long time ago, but my M-301 was a freebie from Cult Pens.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Even More Pelikans

Just when you thought the Pelikan Parade was over…

Well, this time it’s not actually more Pelikan pencils, rather a few bits of Pelikan ephemera that I’ve picked up over the years. So, here’s a few images from some catalogues and other Pelikan stuff that I like.

Here’s the front cover of one Pelikan catalogue. It’s an A5 size softcover catalogue, “The Fine Writing Instruments From Pelikan” with the catchphrase, “Time changes many things, but not their intrinsic value”.

Like most luxury brands, Pelikan stress their history.
And their standards of design and quality. As you know, I might not actually be totally convinced of this aspect.
They market their writing instruments from several different angles, e.g. as an element of the creative process.
Or direct as a collectors items.
Here’s the Soverans, showing the increasing size as the number series increases.
Some of the more recent additions to the Pelikan range, e.g. the Pharo being inspired by the Egyptian Pharaohs.
Of a less direct commercial nature are this series of 10 Pelikan Nostalgia cards. They are reprints of historical Pelikan advertising posters from 1899 to 1929, and are reprinted as actual postcards – if wanted you could get out your Pelikan, write a few words, lick a stamp and cruise on down to the local post office. Here are my favourites.
Phew, that ones likely to scare small children. So, for something less scary

Monday, March 24, 2008

Staedtler 925 25 Mechanical Pencil Review

Staedtler 925 25 Mechanical Pencil Review

A year or two ago when I was browsing Leadholder, [Broken link removed] I noticed the Staedtler 925 25, one of the many ‘Made in Japan’ Staedtlers that don’t really seem to make it off-shore. Leadholder made the extremely interesting statement that the 925 25 was the only leadholder model that included thin lead versions (e.g. 0.5mm) and a 2mm lead version in a series that was stylistically the same. To quote Leadholder, “This is the first and only 2mm drafting leadholder I am aware of that is genuinely a member of a set of thin lead mechanical pencils. From the model number to the mechanism, the 2mm version works just like the thin versions…” Sure some other mechanical pencils have a 0.5 and 2.0mm option, but the thin lead MPs are generally ordinary ratchet advance systems whilst the 2mm lead version is a clutch mechanism and there are other obvious stylistic differences between them. Now, that whole concept wasn’t something that I had really thought about before, so obviously the Staedtler 925 25 had to go on the shopping list. But my shopping list’s pretty long, and things can take a while to reach the top, but one day, a parcel arrived in my letter box. Inside was a Staedtler 925 25-05. The parcel appeared to have been sent direct by a retailer I hadn’t ever dealt with, and there was no indication of who it was really from. Eventually some enquiries with the retailer revealed the identity of my anonymous benefactor. It was a very nice surprise gift to receive, and forced to me stop mucking around and get its 2mm sibling, the 925 25-20.

It was then, with considerable anticipation that I got my two Staedtler 925 25’s out for their turn at “review week”.

These pencils certainly look “technical” with their all-metal silvery appearance, diamond cut grip, concentric ring patterns on the grip and the top button, long thin lead sleeve, etc. They look like they mean business.
The diamond cut grip on the 925 25 is very fine, and then has concentric grooves cut into it which add an interesting element to the aesthetics. Certainly there is no way you are going to lose your grip on this pencil, although as always the sensitive skinned might possibly find it a little rough and irritating. Kind of like grasping a pencil wrapped in “nail file”. One very slight negative about this grip is that the grooves in the grip tended to catch on the lip of the holes in my wooden pencil holder.

The weight of the pencil is about what you would expect for an all-metal pencil. The 0.5mm pencil is 17grams whilst the 2mm pencil is 21grams. Obviously the differences in the internal mechanisms, and the lead itself make the 2mm pencil heavier. I am surprised at the difference of 4 grams; I would have guessed a bigger difference as in the hand the 2mm pencil is very noticeably heavier. I don’t have the 0.3mm, 0.7mm and 0.9mm versions, but I assume they essentially weigh the same as the 0.5mm. Despite the weight difference, the balance of these two pencils is basically the same, fairly neutral midway balance. Overall though I definitely prefer that little extra weight of the 2mm version.

There is a lead hardness indicator window just above the grip. You unscrew the grip a fraction to loosen the indicator and turn it around to display your chosen lead hardness. I always have an irrational thought of the whole front of the pencil springing off during this process, or working loose later and exploding everywhere, but it hasn’t happened yet. On the 0.5mm pencil the lead indicator has grades B through to 4H, including F, but on the 2mm version it has a very different selection, namely 4B, 2B, B, HB, H, 2H and 4H. This would imply Staedtler see the pencils being used for very different applications. The 0.5mm version indicator is a fairly standard selection for draughting purposes, but the 2mm version is apparently aimed at artists or a mixed market.

Up at the top end of the pencil, we have a fairly standard sort of top button or cap. On the top of it is a very large clear “.5” or “2.0” indicating the lead diameter of the pencil. This is excellent stuff. The printing is even in different colours so there is no doubt about what lead size your particular version is. Not surprisingly this is a push-top ratchet lead mechanism, you push the top button to advance the lead. 10 clicks will get you about 7mm of the 0.5mm lead or 12mm of the 2mm lead. This is a good solid feeling clicky mechanism, but I must say its very strange clicking away and seeing the huge 2mm lead charging out of the tip. On the 0.5mm version, you pull the top button off to reveal a small white eraser. You can pull the eraser out to access the lead refill chamber, and there is a needle attached to the eraser to help in the event of lead jams. You can’t really push the top button back on without activating the lead advance mechanism. Now, things are a little different beneath the top button of the 2mm version. Firstly, there is no eraser - the lead chamber is right there, and there is no room to store a spare lead inside it. The top button does not double as any sort of lead pointer, so users of the 2mm version basically have to carry a separate lead refill and lead pointer – but that’s not anything too unusual for 2mm leadholders. Both versions sometimes had a small rattle when in use which I believe is the top cap rattling inside against the side of the main body, particularly when writing at speed.
The lead sleeve is a fixed 4mm thin pipe on the 0.5mm version, and a rather fatter pipe on the 2mm version – but still fixed and 4mm – so no stylistic difference. Obviously these are not pocket safe, although the 2mm sleeve is so “fat” that its not really in the same pocket-stabbing league as most mechanical pencils. Perhaps the only stylistic difference in these pencils is the tip section, where the general tip section of the 2mm version is a noticeably larger diameter than the 0.5mm version.

The pocket clip is a rather simple plain polished steel clip – strong and functional is about all you can say. The Staedtler logo is stamped into the clip, but it looks a rather generic clip that’s probably a standard buy-in part just stamped for Staedtler or whoever the final brandname customer is.

“Staedtler” and logo, plus the model designation “925 25-xx” and “Japan” are boldly printed on the top half of the body. Overall then, the 925 25 is a good pencil, and I think the rather unusual addition of a 2mm version to the model makes it a pencil that mechanical pencil enthusiasts and collectors should definitely consider adding to their collection. Of course the Japan-only aspect of its distribution means you might have to pay a premium price and shipping, but there are a couple of online retailers who have it.
  • Best Points – Having a lead diameter series inc 2mm in the same model. The grip looks very efficient.
  • Not So Good Points – Not much really – they could have done a little better with the pocket clip. Maybe included a lead pointer with the 2mm version.
  • Price Range – probably Mid because of the limited distribution.
Dimensions – Length 143mm, diameter 9mm at grip section. Balance point about 70mm up from the tip for 0.5mm pencil and 75mm for the 2mm.

Leadholder says, “The history of thick lead leadholders, I think, is nearly closed. In the 1950s there were hundreds of varieties, many of superior quality and with unique features. Now there are few manufacturers still producing them, and even fewer, I'm sure, with any desire to improve them” Sadly, I guess he’s right, but then I like to think that the 925 25-20 shows that the door isn’t fully closed just yet.

Staedtler Japan remains a bit of a mystery to me. So many Japan only products, but some do get exported to the USA and other places. It all smacks of contract manufacturers, complicated distribution contracts with different parties for different countries, etc. A Staedtler, made in Japan, it just seems strange, a struggle to me, torn between two great pencil nations…this Flags of the World seems to fit exactly.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Taste of Pencil

A few weeks ago, Pencil Talk put up a posting on the Mitsubishi Pure Malt leadholder. The main body of this pencil is wooden, wood from retired whisky casks to be precise, although apparently any whiff of the fine liquid is long gone, although who knows what you might taste if you chewed on your pencil.

Well it got me thinking, what about that other drink that the enthusiasts rave about and ascribe seemingly limitless tastes too? Yes indeed, a quick online search revealed there are plenty of wines described as having the taste or aroma of, having hints of, being reminiscent of, “pencils”, “pencil shavings”, “pencil lead”, “old pencil boxes”, and so. I’ve been known to swig a glass or two, so the challenge was set.

Unfortunately the reviews of the pencil wines were all ones that were not readily available here in my country, but reading the reviews it was obvious that any wine that had been matured in oak barrels was likely to be described by somebody as pencilish. So, I have been research drinking for several weeks now, an arduous task with very little reward. Pure research in the name of science can often be a thankless task.

My recycling wheelie bin is full of evidence.My cellar is full of holes. But still, the taste of pencil eluded me. Today, in a final effort, I journeyed to a winery, to sit in their fine restaurant, eat their Moroccan Spiced Lamb with aubergine and nasturtium pesto, and begin the final research session.Oak, yes, Smokey Wood, yes, Wood, yes, but Pencil, no. Not even a glass of their finest red, “The Epihany” could produce "Yes – Pencil !". Time to give up. Oh, well, I’m sure the fault is really mine, uneducated taste buds unable to distinguish French Oak from California Incense Cedar. Printed on the wine list - “If God forbade drinking, would he have made wine so good?” – Cardinal Richelieu.

Hmmm, maybe I should have tried chewing on the wine barrel out in the carpark?But hey, before lunch we went to the local farmers market, and I bought a sampler pack from the local brewery. Maybe with that name, their beer will taste of cedar and pencils?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Boston Cube

Boston Cube Eraser?

There’s an art supplies store at a shopping centre that I occasionally visit, and they have a small selection of erasers. This is one of them.“Boston” is about the only legible marking on the eraser or its display box. It’s a cube, each face being about 24mm or just under 1 inch wide. Colour is a beige brown, and it appears to be natural rubber. The erasers sort of stick to their neighbours in the box, one face usually looks like its got a bit of a skin on if from being cooked or heated or cured or something. They appear slightly brittle as small pieces are missing from most of them – corner knocked off, bite taken out an edge, that sort of thing. I kind of like the look of it.I decided I’d risk my dollar and get one. I had read that crumbly art-gum erasers were quite good at erasing very soft dark pencil marks as the eraser crumbled and therefore didn’t smear the lead around like most firm erasers. Sounded interesting, a good theory, turned out to be complete rubbish. Well, maybe that's a bit harsh, what I really mean is this eraser is complete rubbish.I tried erasing some HB, 2B and 5B markings. It got worse as the B’s went up. Barely adequate at erasing HB, it was a smeary joke by 5B.In this photo, after erasing I have circled where the original marks to be erased were. On the left is the Boston, on the right is Staedtler Mars Plastic. No contest. Maybe they are not an eraser at all, but a lead blender or smearer for artists?


You know, it is actually the thought that counts. Since I’ve been writing this blog, a number of people have very generously sent me pencils or other things just because they thought I might appreciate it. There’s nothing like the nice surprise of a totally unexpected gift, no matter how small - it is the thought that counts. So, to all those who have sent me something, thanks, I very much appreciate it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

10 Pencils That Aren’t

  1. Pencil moustache – Vincent rules!

  2. Pencil skirt – always popular and fashionable.

  3. The Flying Pencil – Dornier Do17, a German bomber from World War 2.

  4. Pencil pine – various species of tall slender conifers, pines, etc. Got a few in my garden.

  5. Pencil pleating – thin pleating on curtains, etc that looks like a row of pencils?

  6. Pencil pusher – the typical office/clerical worker, as shown by this little graphic. Guess I could also stick in a photo of me here, but there are much more interesting looking people who self-associate with the term “pencil-pusher”, like this person:Or the more mechanical interpretation?

  7. Pencil head – rather similar to the pencil pusher. However, this x-ray shows a very extreme case of pencil-headism.

  8. Pencil fish - various species of long thin fish.

  9. Styptic (or Caustic) pencil – used to stop bleeding by barbers, boxers, etc.

  10. Pencil boat – typically a long narrow inflatable type boat. However, there is also the more fundamentally pure interpretation.

OK, well I stopped at 10, but feel free to suggest more. I imagine there are many others in different languages and countries.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Pelikan Four

Well, here's my little flock of pelicans, or "mein schwarm pelikane” as they would say in their native tongue, but since they are writing instruments I think we should be a little more poetic and adventurous with our collective nouns, so lets call them “my scoop of pelicans”. In German perhaps something like “meine parade der pelikane” might be appropriate.
I haven’t previously reviewed all my pencils of a particular brand in quick succession, so it seems appropriate to have some sort of a wrap up at the end.

Price points and marketing indicate that Pelikan position these 4 pencils with the Souveran D800 as the leader, followed by the Souveran D400, then the Pura and lastly the Technixx. I must say I disagree significantly with this order. The Souveran D800 is the top of the line, but in my book the Technixx is second, not really all that far behind the D800 and definitely way ahead of the Souveran D400. It’s a little debatable, but I’d put the Pura ahead of the D400 as well, although it’s a fair way behind the Technixx.

So, here's my version of the pecking order within the flock.