Monday, June 30, 2008

The Vikings Have Landed

Over a millennium ago the Vikings were exploring, raiding, trading, and invading their way around Europe and across the northern Atlantic to Iceland, Greenland and even on to touch Canada. They’ve been a little quiet in more recent times, but not so long ago a longship slipped quietly out to sea. Organised and equipped by Henrik of Kobenhavn, the Penol Expedition has sailed in record time from Dansk (Denmark) to the far-away lands of Udgaard. And so just a few days ago I returned home to be greeted “Heil ock sæl” the red Viking “Skjoldungen”, leader of the expedition.

Penol is a Danish writing instruments company. They (via their predecessors) were the Parker distributors in Scandinavia from 1905, and from the 1930’s they also manufactured Parkers themselves in their own Danish factory, but this ended in the 1960’s. Times change though, and these days their homepage states “The entire production of Penol products is now outsourced to leading manufacturers of writing instruments. The manufacturers are placed all over the world, primarily in South East Asia, and Europe.”

So, without further to-do, here is the Penol Party that arrived on my doorstep.

Vikings, fanning out across the world.
First the Penol P200. Obviously an economy model – hmmm, times have changed, a Viking dressed in fluorescent pink? Odin and Thor are probably rolling their eyes. I don’t know the price of these pencils but assuming the P200 is priced at an economy level then it looks fairly reasonable. Pictured with the P200 we have an unknown model. It is apparently Penol, but they do not put their name or anything on it. They are rightly ashamed of this nasty little side-clicker.The Penol Double-Click. A seemingly respectable vanishing point pencil. The rubber grip is a bit of a monstrosity though.
Another fluorescent one, this time the Penol Pastel with a long twist out eraser cartridge.
The Penol Elite. Again the rubber grip. Penol definitely seem to like their rubber grips.
The Penol Tyre. Grrrr, this is a shocker. Well, I kind of applaud the idea, but the execution is abysmal. It’s just a plain white barrelled pencil and they have glued on the tyre-tread decoration. But the tyre tread is quite raised, about 1mm thick rubber sheet, and it’s poorly glued, so that it’s starting to lift off. Surely a few hours or days of constant use would cause all sorts of skids and crashes as the tread lifted.
Keen eyed readers may have noted there is one more Penol in the original picture - . more on that one next time.

Whilst this was a Penol expedition, the ship captain was not Penol, and we finish this saga with expedition leader Skjoldungen (newly named Fafnersherre), a sturdy wooden fellow, like his longship.Henrik tells me that back in the good old days there was the Viking Pencil Co, and as he recalls things, they manufactured the Viking in three grades - No. 1 Soft, No. 2 HB and No. 3 Hard. There was an office pencil too, yellow in HB only. No ferules or erasers. Sometime in the 70’s they were discontinued and the Viking factory closed, the end of a piece of Danish cultural history. However in 2005, Esselte started to offer pencils under the Viking brandname. Apparently the demand for Viking pencils is rising and recently the yellow office version came back too.
So thanks Henrik, another saga for the annals of the people.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Pentel Forte A57, Forte Pro A67 and Forte Pro II A77 Mechanical Pencils

The Pentel Forte A57, Forte Pro A67 and Forte Pro II A77 Mechanical Pencils
A little while ago AndrewJ from Australia contacted me to extol the virtues of the Pentel Forte Pro II and ask if I had plans to review it. I replied it wasn’t really on my radar at the moment, but perhaps he would like to do a guest review…and so without further ado, here’s Andrew’s review.
Pentel Forte Pro II A77 Mechanical Pencil Review
A while ago I had a fleeting flirtation with LED flashlights (or “torches” as they are called in Australia). I would visit flashlight message boards on the internet, enjoying the exotic jargon of collectors as they discussed topics such as lumens, twisty versus clicky switches, barrel knurling, runtimes, spill and so on.

The most interesting posts were those from collectors trying to identify that one specific flashlight that would meet all their illumination needs under all conditions - the search for the holy grail, the “EDC”, the Every Day Carry. That one flashlight that they could always carry with them.

And so it is with mechanical pencils. If you had to choose, what would be that one mechanical pencil you carried with you always? It’s not that I set out to deliberately collect pencils; it’s just the modestly large number that I’ve accumulated in my quest for my own EDC-MP. I can now confidently say I may have found it: the Pentel Forte Pro II.The Forte Pro is a nice-looking and comfortable pencil. Its barrel colour is the deepest, translucent blue I have ever seen in a pencil, so it looks good in the hand as well as in the shirt pocket.

The barrel marking, in silver ink, is “0.7mm Forte Pro II Pentel A77”. (More’s the pity, then, that the writing wears off much sooner than it should.) The sturdy silver spring clip bears the inscription “Pentel” on one side, “USA” on the other.
The push-top cap makes a statement - it’s a big cap! To some it may appear out of proportion to the size of the barrel, but its shape and dimensions gives it a distinctive look. I’ve had two consignments of the Forte Pro from overseas and have noticed a slight design variation. One version of the cap has a completely solid dome while the other version sports two cut-out slots (maybe designed as cooling vents for the over-enthusiastic eraser user?).

The cap is a push-type ratchet that advances the lead out of a 3mm fixed sleeve. Not very pocket friendly but something I can live with. With constant use, the cap has a tendency to disengage from the pencil (that is, it falls off). As someone who prefers to use a full-sized eraser, I have solved this minor irritation by placing a dab of Blu Tack on the inside top of the cap, semi-permanently affixing the eraser to the cap. This stops it from falling off, but has the downside that one can’t use the eraser. However I prefer the former solution to the latter problem. (The Blu Tack doesn’t prevent the removal of the cap to insert leads.)

For those not employing my Blu Tack modification, under the cap is the PDE-1 large refill eraser with a length of 12mm.The lead capacity of the Forte Pro II was the feature that made up my mind to award this pencil my coveted EDC status. The larger-than-normal internal barrel space is claimed on Pentel’s website to store more leads than “standard” automatic pencils, whatever the capacity a standard automatic pencil might be.

I can store fifteen .7mm leads in the Forte Pro. For .9mm users, the figure drops to eight, while .5mm users the capacity increases to 25. For those who can manage using a .3mm pencil, an astonishing 35 leads can be stored - fill up your pencil on New Year’s Day and you’re good to go for the entire year!

The grip, light-blue rubber with tiny dimples, takes up 26mm of the pencil’s overall length of 143mm. The grip is only marginally larger than the 9mm diameter barrel and provides a firm grip, not squashy to the fingers as some “super comfort” grips of other pencils.With its low price point (at least for me to purchase from a US supplier as they are not available in Australia) this is one fine pencil - my EDC! Dave's Comments
1: The lead storage of the Forte Pro II is a feature that Pentel emphasise. Yard-O-Led take their name from being able to store a yard (914mm) of 1.18mm lead in the pencil. The Forte Pro II can’t compete with that in the larger lead sizes, but if you use the 0.5mm pencil with standard 60mm long sticks, that’s 25 x 60 = 1500mm of lead, so a Yard-And-A-Half-O-Led. That’s an awful lot of writing and drawing.
2: All photos were supplied by Andrew. 

3: I’d just remind you of the Made in USA status of the Fortes.

The Forte Pro II has two cousins, the Forte and the Forte Pro. Below are a few notes on them and their differences to the Pro II. Just to be clear, this stuff is mine rather than Andrew’s. The Forte Pro and Forte Pro II are very similar. The only real difference that I can see is the lead storage area. With the Pro II you pull the top cap off and then the eraser, to access the lead storage chamber. Basically the whole barrel is the chamber thus allowing a lot of leads to be stored inside. With the Pro the whole end section comes off at the pocket clip to reveal a narrow diameter thin plastic tube inside as the lead storage chamber. Only a couple of leads fit inside it. The top section push fits onto the storage tube, and probably becomes loose over a long period of time. Apart from that, I think they are identical, except for colour schemes, etc. Photo: Pro and Pro II showing different access to lead storage magazine.
The Forte is a little more different to its cousins. Rather than a rubber grip, the grip is part of the barrel moulding. Its grooved and no prize for guessing I personally prefer it to the rubber grips. The lead chamber system is the same as the Pro. The Forte doesn’t have an eraser cap.

So, you start with the Forte. You replace the plastic grip with a rubber grip, stick a cap on the eraser and you have the Forte Pro. You take your Forte Pro and modify the top section and lead storage chamber and you have the Pro II. Clear?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Parker Classic Ciselle Mechanical Pencil

Here’s a rather interesting oldie. Definitely a thing of beauty!Now, I’m far from being an expert on old pencils, but a bit of net surfing leads me to believe the following - it is a Parker 75, sterling silver body decorated in the ciselle pattern with gold trims (pocket-clip and push top button). The black lines are cut into the body to form the squares of the ciselle pattern. The pocket-clip is attached to the side of the body thus making it the “classic” style. (Editors Note, added 12 July 2008 - please read the comments to this posting to see I'm wrong. This is a Parker Classic, a different but similar looking model to the 75)
Apparently the 75 was produced from 1964 to 1994. By the 1970’s they appear to have used 0.9mm lead but mine uses a lead cartridge with 1.03mm lead. That’s a size I’m not familiar with. Being non-metric American, I guess it was called .040 or .041 lead at the time. So, I’m not sure if this means mine is one of the earlier 75’s or they offered two lead sizes, or…?

The lead cartridge is basically the same size as a ballpoint refill and contains the ratchet lead advance mechanism. The tip of the cartridge sticks out of the body so you can see the clutch jaws open and advance the lead, etc.
Photo - Tip of the cartridge (above), and below showing the tip sticking out of the end of the body when reassembled.
By today’s standards it’s a little strange to see this, and it’s not really all that aesthetically pleasing. Definitely the weak point in an otherwise very attractive writing instrument. Hmmm, time to get out the polishing cloth. Probably should have used before the photo shoot rather than afterwards.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Inoxcrom 2002 Mechanical Pencil Review

Inoxcrom 2002 Mechanical Pencil Review

Firstly I had better say I am not totally sure of the model designation for this pencil under review. I bought it as a ballpoint pen and pencil set, because that’s the only way to get an Inoxcrom pencil in my part of the world. You can buy pens as separate items, but not pencils. The labelling on the cardboard sleeve implies they are a Model 2002 chrome pen and pencil, but there are other numbers too. Down here, Inoxcrom have a rather unusual distribution model. You basically don’t find them in the normal place, i.e. in stores that sell other writing instruments. Rather you find them in homeware and gift stores, or in that kiosk at the mall that cuts keys, engraves trophies, sells torches, pocket-knives, cigarette lighters and…Inoxcrom pens. Many of their writing instruments have metal bodies, and the kiosks hope you will take up their offer of discounted engraving on that nice Inoxcrom pen you are giving as a graduation present. Well, anyway that’s how they are distributed in these parts – I’d be interested to know about where you see them in your part of the world.The Inoxcrom website doesn’t really tell you much. There’s a few graphics and so on, a very brief history of the company (started up in Barcelona, Spain in 1942) and not much else. Little to no product information. Their website doesn’t give any hint at the origin of their name, although to my English-speaking (?!?) ears the word “Inoxcrom” sounds suspiciously foreign for stainless steel. All that influence from Victorinox and chrome. Inoxcrom are certainly the only Spanish pencil manufacturer that I’ve heard of.I usually associate Spain with things like bull-fights, or some nice treats for the taste-buds or for the eyes. Right well that’s a fair amount of general introductory burble, on with the review.

I often find metal pencils surprisingly light when I first pick them up. You would think I would have learned from experience by now, but I must be slow. The Inoxcrom is one of those pencils that didn’t surprise me too much when I first picked it up. Although it’s a similar weight to many other stainless steel pencils, it is somewhat top heavy so when you pick it up the top heavy balance makes the weight more noticeable. I’m not generally a fan of top heavy balance points, but this is one case where it seems to work well.

So, now I’ve picked the pencil up the body is plain stainless steel so the grip is average. The mechanism is a standard push top ratchet, using 0.5mm lead. Ten clicks advances about 8mm of lead. The sleeve is 2mm thin round tube, and importantly it’s a retractable sliding sleeve. Somewhat unusually it takes 3 clicks of the mechanism to fire this pencil up from a standing start. The first click partially advances the sleeve out of the tip, the second and third clicks complete the extension and advance some lead out of the tip. Some folk may well prefer a fourth click to get a decent length of lead ready before they put lead to paper. The other unusual feature of this mechanism is the amount of lead cushioning. It is “extreme” on the Dave scale. The whole sleeve springs in and out about 3mm under reasonably light pressure. Certainly no one can argue that this cushioning doesn’t work, but you often feel the pencil springing in and out in your hand when writing, let alone when you make a full-stop (period). All this movement is a little disconcerting at first, but you do get used to it to some extent. Maybe I’m just heavy-handed?

I don’t know whose leads Inoxcrom use, but the leads supplied with the pencil seem reasonable, although some graphite dust often accumulated at the tip and thus occasionally left a little blob on the paper.

There is a small eraser under the top button, and there is a hole in the very top of the button so you can see the eraser through it. You pull the eraser holder out to access the lead refill chamber. It’s just a plastic tube and the eraser housing press fits securely into it with a bent metal hook pin. Sometimes getting the housing back into the refill tube can be a bit difficult, and as always, I wonder about the longevity of such arrangements.The body sections have brass inserts inside them with good quality fine machine cut threads. This type of construction compares very well with the rolled threads on some competitors, e.g. modern Parkers.Whilst we are looking at the innards, I was half expecting to see Schmidt or some other German name on the internal mechanism, but it is totally blank, so no hint as to its origin. I note with some interest that the markings on the ballpoint pen refill cartridge include “Made in Spain”.
The pocket clip is something that really stands out for me. It's an attractive enough shape and is quite strong yet springy, but it’s fixture to the body via an oversize slot just cheapens the whole pencil. It’s a little better on the matching ballpoint pen. Also, I really feel the pocket clip is a lost opportunity. It just cries out for a little brand decoration – like the Parker arrows, the Sheaffer dot, a brand name stamped into it - just something to take it that step up out of the plain generic ranks.

For me personally, when I look at the Inoxcroms down at the local kiosk, comparisons with Parker products are unavoidable. In this case the stainless steel Jotter springs to mind. Overall the Inoxcrom appears to match up fairly well, stylistically Parker have probably got the edge, but perhaps Inoxcrom win on features. I can’t comment on how the Inoxcrom will last over the years, whereas Parker has an established reputation, but it’s worth noting that Inoxcrom prominently offer an International Lifetime Guarantee. If you are a fan of stainless steel pencils then I would suggest this Inoxcrom is worthwhile adding to your collection.
  • Best Points – Cushioned retractable sliding sleeve.
  • Not So Good Points – The four-click start, fitting the eraser back into the lead chamber.
  • Price Range – Mid for the pen and pencil set.

Dimensions – Length 140mm, diameter 9mm at widest part of body or 7 – 8 mm in grip area. Balance point about 85mm up from the tip.

I get a small number of hits from Espana and I’d like to hear from any visitors from Spain as to how common Inoxcrom products are in their homeland.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Pentel Tradio TRP55 Mechanical Pencil Review

Pentel Tradio TRP55 Mechanical Pencil Review

The Tradio is a relatively recent addition to my collection. The Pentel USA website declares the Tradio as a special offering from Pentel Europe and they only offer the pencil version in silver colour and 0.5mm lead. Pentel USA also offers the matching Tradio fountain pen, but this time in a variety of colours. I haven’t bothered to do the research to see what other variants may or may not be available in Europe or Japan.

With its cap on, the Tradio definitely has that traditional fountain pen shape and look. Well, at least it does to me. I assume the name Tradio is also part of the play on the traditional fountain pen theme. The Tradio is much lighter than I expected. The size, shape and metallic look all implied something a little heavier to my eyes and brain.
To post or not to post, that is the question!The Tradio certainly has enough length that you can use it without the cap posted on the end of the main body. Unposted it looks rather fountain penish in the hand because there is no eraser, push-top button or other such accoutrement on the end of the barrel. The cap is lightweight plastic so if you do choose to post it on the end of the body it doesn’t have a huge impact on overall weight or balance. As a pencil user, it certainly looks unusual having a posted “fountain pen” in your hand when you are writing with your pencil. Ultimately I’m not sure which I prefer, so I’ll probably use it both posted and unposted as the mood strikes me.

Using the pencil with the cap posted does have one advantage, the pocket clip on the cap stops the pencil rolling on your desk when you put it down. The pocket clip is just an integral moulding of the cap, basically functional but nothing exceptional. When you put the cap on the pencil the body push fits and clicks firmly into place inside the cap so there are no worries about it coming loose. Well at least when it’s nice and new, but who knows what a good few years of wear and tear will do to that push-fit? There is a clear plastic window section towards the top of the cap and you can see the tip of the pencil through the window. Presumably fountain pen users would also be able to see the pen nib through the window. Slightly interesting, but neither really here nor there. What was the idea?The Tradio does not have an eraser hidden anywhere. The lead sleeve is a fixed thin 3mm sleeve. Definitely not pocket safe without the cap. The lead advance mechanism is a side button ratchet system. Ten clicks will advance 5mm of lead. This is somewhat on the short side and I did notice that I had to advance the lead more often than usual. The side button is right there in the middle of the black front section of the body, right in the grip zone. I certainly did not like that at first, but I tended to get used to it over time. Having said that, it is still a bit annoying as you always have to twist the pencil into the correct orientation when you pick it up, and the button really is “in the way” although you do get used to it. At least operating it is easy given that it is “right there”. Ignoring the whole button thing, this pencil does feel quite good in the hand, although the narrow diameter grip will not suit all people. The grip section itself is smooth hard shiny plastic without any particular grip enhancements. I found that the side button tended to make me a little conscious of my grip, and I gripped it a little lighter than usual.

The Pentel website states, “Ergonomic barrel design provides added comfort and control.” Well, “Yeah, right” as we say down here. Just what’s ergonomic about it? I don’t see one of those so-called ergonomic rubber grips, or a triangular grip, or a large diameter grip, or…so what’s ergonomic about it? Looks like this is just pure marketing dross if you ask me.
Refilling the Tradio is a little more complicated than most other Pentels. You will not be surprised to find I didn’t receive any refill instructions with my pencil. You unscrew the body in the middle and then pull the chrome cap off the top to access the lead chamber.Last year when I opened up my newly delivered parcel of pencils, my first impression of the Tradio was not a good one. I felt that the silver metallic finish looked rather cheap and, well, “plasticky” for a premium offering from Pentel, particularly considering the price they demand for it. I’m somewhat surprised but glad to say that my week spent using it has largely reversed this negative feeling. The Tradio is never going to be one of my all-time favourites, but I’m now reasonably happy with my purchase.
  • Best Points – Interesting fountain pen look.
  • Not So Good Points – Lead advance button is in the way.
  • Price Range – Low/Mid.

Dimensions – Length 137mm capless or about 170mm with cap posted, diameter 12mm at widest part of body or 9mm in grip area. Balance point about 65mm up from the tip when capless.