Friday, August 29, 2008

BIC Matic Classic Mechanical Pencil Review

BIC Matic Classic Mechanical Pencil Review

At the time of writing this, the BIC Matic was the last ever pencil reviewed on Pencil Revolution. In one of those pencil coincidences that seem to strike me, around about that time (mid 2006) I was thinking how I should stop mucking about and do a review of the BIC Matic, seeing how it was a pencil that I used quite a lot. Well, the Pencil Revolution review put that thought on hold, until now that is. Let me explain my use of the BIC Matic. In the good old days at my work if you went to the stationery supplies cupboard for a mechanical pencil you were treated to a Pentel P205, 7 or 9. Fantastic. But you know, expense budgets always seem to get tightened, and so Pentel became the much less satisfactory Sakura 125, and then the BIC Matic Classic. So, my pencil cup at work has plenty of BIC Matics in it, and somehow they migrate to my pencil cup at home. It just sort of happens; I’m not deliberately stealing them. Maybe it’s some kind of natural dispersal mechanism? Anyway, all said and done, I use the BIC Matic quite frequently and BIC are a super-power in the field of writing instruments so it’s rather remiss of me to have not done this review earlier on.

A few retailers seem to market this pencil as part of the BIC 10km series, i.e. the ballpoint pen or pencil will write a line 10km long. Some also categorise the BIC Matic as disposable. For example, from one online retailer, “This 10K disposable mechanical pencil contains three 0.7mm leads & will write for 10 kilometres”. I don’t really like the concept of disposable mechanical pencils, it just seems gratuitously wasteful to me. Without any real evidence to base this on, I don’t think BIC exactly discourage the disposable concept - after all it keeps sales ticking over. I must admit to being continually amazed at the number of people in my workplace who believe this pencil is disposable and non-refillable. Despite my office going through boxloads of these pencils, apparently I am the only person who has ever asked for lead refills, and they had to be bought in as a special order item.

The transparent main body of the pencil is hexagonal, presumably in imitation of woodcase pencils. The black front section is round in cross-section and tapers to a short fixed lead sleeve.“Pencil #2” is printed on the pocket clip and on packaging to help push the idea that this is a standard pencil. A wooden #2, just made from plastic. The pocket clip is a rather cheap attachment which always seems likely to break but then generally does seem to last the distance. It is at best, acceptable, as a pocket clip. The eraser is a waste. Well, it does sort of erase, but not very well, and it ends up looking grubby. It appears to be one of those PVC-free type compounds. For me, its only purpose is plugging the hole to the lead chamber. Rather unusually this pencil comes loaded with three 90mm long leads. BIC claim “Each pencil contains 3 full-length HB #2 leads, which outlasts normal wood-cased pencils! This pencil is never dull and never needs sharpening.” Most of us would struggle to find 90mm leads but there’s no problem refilling it with normal 60mm leads. I only ever see the 0.7mm lead version, but apparently there is a 0.5mm version as well. As you would expect the lead mechanism is a push top ratchet, ten clicks will get you a whopping 13mm of 0.7mm lead. Strangely though there is some variability – I said 13mm but it varies anywhere from 10 to 14mm. That’s with the same pencil. Most unusual.Photo: 90mm and 60mm leads

The ones in my part of the world seem to all have “Mexico” moulded into the pocket clip, but according to the review on Pencil Revolution they are made in several other countries.

There’s not really much more I want to say about this mechanical pencil, so maybe I should re-categorise this as a mini-review or something. Clearly the BIC Matic Classic is a pure commodity item, priced to compete for and win all those office supplies contracts. As such, you can’t really expect too much from it, but on the other hand it is a BIC so you do expect it to actually do a pretty good job. Overall then, for the price that your boss paid, BIC gave value for money. My only gripe with this pencil is that after a while the lead mechanism starts to lose its grip. By that I mean if you push down reasonably firmly the lead starts to slide back up into the body. This can sometimes become so pronounced that the pencil becomes unusable.

Amongst other things, the BICworld website has this to say about the BIC Matic Classic

#1 Selling Mechanical Pencil in the US

This product is available in:Europe, Near and Middle East, North America, Central America, Oceania, South America, Africa and Asia
(Hmmm, where’s missing?)

  • Best Points – Well, it doesn’t cost your boss much to buy a boxful.
  • Not So Good Points – The lead sliding back inside under pressure.
  • Price Range – Economy.

Dimensions – Length 150mm, width 8mm across the hexagon flats. Balance point about 75mm up from the tip.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Few More Vikings

A while ago I wrote about the Penol expedition that made its way halfway around the world and into my letterbox. Well, a follow up arrived a while ago.Shiploads of Viking Skjoldungen 400’s, numbers 1 through to 4. Not sure why these Vikings would use the (American) number system in the (European) HB system heartland.
Lots of information on the box.Treesort high quality wood.
Also the Viking Bylanter 029 yellow number 2 office pencil.
Made from cedar trees. Phew, here’s a big one. So heavy you just about need the strength of Thor to lift it. Penol PL56 eraser. At 27 x 14 and 72mm long it’s a bit of a jumbo, nearly twice the size of Staedtler Mars Plastic 526 50, and it weighs a ton. Well 48 grams to be slightly more accurate. I had to put my nice new digital cailpers to some use so a quick bit of measurement and calculation tells me Penol PL56 is over 20% more dense than Mars Plastic. Heavy stuff. The texture makes it feel like there are plenty of fillers or additives in the compound.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Lamy Spirit (Model 163) Mechanical Pencil Review

Lamy Spirit (Model 163) Mechanical Pencil ReviewHere we have another rather unusual offering from Lamy of Germany. The Spirit mechanical pencil comes in two variants – model 161 in high gloss stainless steel and model 163 in palladium. My pencil is the palladium variant, and it is palladium plated rather than pure palladium, because, well, palladium is really expensive. Rough ballpark figures, but depending on the grade, US $10 would get you something like 1 or 2 kg (2 -4 lbs) of stainless steel or alternatively you could exchange your US $10 note for about 0.001 kg of palladium. Thus I feel comfortable with my theory of palladium plated rather than pure palladium.

The Spirit is clearly intended for storage in confined spaces – inside a compendium, cheque book, purse pocket, etc. Its construction is reasonably simple, the whole pencil consisting of two major assemblies, which I think of as the “mechanism” and the “body”. The “body” starts out as flat sheet metal punched to the correct shape. The edges are then folded up and around to make the traditional round body and the end folded over to form a pocket clip. The "mechanism" (including tip section, etc) is then secured inside the body and the pencil is essentially complete. You can see the join where the two wings of the body are folded around to butt up against each other.In the past questions have been raised about some expensive pencils having push top mechanisms whereby over time the push top will scratch and wear against the body thus becoming unsightly. I am pleased to report that Lamy have placed a plastic sleeve inside the top folded section up by the pocket clip so that the push top button should not scratch and wear over time as it is clicked up and down. You can hopefully make out the black plastic sleeve in the photo below.The whole central column is the “mechanism”, and moves up and down when you activate the push top ratchet lead advance mechanism. You can’t hold that section when you push the top button or it won’t “push”. Ten clicks of the mechanism will get you about 8mm of 0.5mm lead.

Beneath the push top button is one of the smallest erasers around. On the other hand they give you quite a long length which you can adjust up as required. There is also a needle for clearing lead jams. (No, I will not be putting the Spirit onto my list of mechanical pencils with extendable erasers.) The tip section is a fixed short conical sleeve. General writing purposes only and only semi pocket safe. Up at the other end of the pencil the pocket clip is quite strong and flexible. Its does a good job although the ball on the end of it didn’t always facilitate an easy slide on to papers or pocket.The rows of tiny holes punched in the main central grip section of the body provide an interesting aesthetic element. To one degree or another they must also help improve the grip. However, this pencil is narrow, thin even. At only 6mm (1/4 in) diameter the main grip section is not going to win any awards for comfort. You’ll never see one of those “Recommended by the Arthritis Foundation” stickers on the Lamy Spirit. For a person like me who has a medium sized hand and good dexterity the Spirit is perfectly fine for short duration occasional use. Taking some notes at a meeting, scribbling a list in a notebook on the run – no problems; but regular daily use for lengthy durations at a time, well, I suggest you look for another pencil. That is not what the Spirit was really made for. To give you an idea just how thin the Spirit is, here below it is pictured with a Forest Choice woodcase pencil, a Lamy Scribble and a Lamy 2000.The Spirit is an all-metal mechanical pencil, and despite being so narrow it weighs in at 15 grams and outweighs many a much bulkier plastic pencil. The balance point is obviously down towards the tip and that combines to make the Spirit feel surprisingly substantial in the hand. Deep in thought? Need something to help keep those mental cogs turning, well I thoroughly recommend this pencil when it comes to twiddling around with in your fingers.

Thought for the Day: Imagine the shock if Lamy produced an “ordinary” mechanical pencil. Now that would be radical.
  • Best Points – Unusual looks without looking cheap or fragile.
  • Not So Good Points – For its intended role as a compendium type pencil there aren’t really any bad points that i want to mention.
  • Price Range – Mid / High.

Dimensions – Length 143mm, diameter 6mm at grip zone. Balance point about 65mm up from the tip.

Note: I have tagged this posting with the mini pencil label because although its length precludes it from being a true mini pencil, the Spirit is intended for many of the same applications as a mini pencil.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Magic House

A month or two ago a reader left a comment on this blog about liking the Magic House automatic pencil. A quick Google search found Magic House and their website. Here’s a copy of the full text from the Magic House webpage Why Auto Pencils.

The Auto Pencil is the world's most advanced & user-friendly pencil. It saves on the need to shave and the usual pressing of normal mechanical pencils. The design of the lead chamber allows even a child extraordinary ease of usage. The Auto Pencil is a revolutionary product, and it will gradually take the place of other pencils. When the tip moves, it means that the lead has to be replaced. Our product has been awarded many patents, it also enjoys stability in manufacturing and its quality is assured. Using our product benefits both the environment and human kind, since there is no cutting down of trees, thus safe guarding the well-being of the next generation.
Traditional wooden pencils are a waste of time and money, and there is also the issue of safety, particularly with regards to lead poisoning. (the coat on the pencil's exterior does contain traces of lead, given that children are prone to putting things in their mouths, there is a risk of lead poisoning which can result in damge to eyesight and brain development.)
Sharpened pencils face the effects of wear after prolonged usage, and this might indirectly affect your children's work and grades. None can deny that preparing your child for the future and giving him a good headstart are important. A quality pencil is the first step to a brighter future for your child. Your child will leave a lasting impression on teachers, and shine among his classmates.
Our company's pencil lead uses graphite instead of lead, and is the result of intricate worksmanship. Traditional pencil leads are made using lead & clay. Prolonged usage of such pencils by your child can lead to lead accumulation within his body. Since graphite is non-toxic, you can be assured that you will face no such problems when using our product. Our company has been awarded a certificate by SGS, an international company for inspection, verification, testing and certification. Your rights are guranteed when you make purchase of our product.

Crikey! At first you have to give them some benefit of the doubt, English is obviously not their native language. My friend Henrik from Denmark was equally surprised by their website, and sent them this short email

Dear Sir,
Much to my surprise, I read at your website that ordinary pencils are made from lead (and clay).

To the best of my knowledge it is not so. Check any manufacturer you like.
Consequently, there is no risk of lead poisoning using regular pencils. I therefore urge you to remove this information from your website.
I’m sure your pencils have many virtues and can sell without wrong information being used for promotion,
Good luck with your business

Over a month has gone by and no response or changes. Perhaps there are no rules about false or misleading advertising where they come from?

Traditional wooden pencils are a waste of time and money – Strong words, but everyone’s allowed their own opinion.

Using our product benefits both the environment and human kind, since there is no cutting down of trees, thus safe guarding the well-being of the next generation. – Excellent news. I guess their plastic is special stuff and good for us all, is not made from petrochemicals, doesn’t use any electricity from coal or oil fired power stations in any part of the manufacturing process, etc…an opinion is one thing, but the debate of wooden versus mechanical pencils is heavy stuff. I wonder what scholarly research they have to back up this opinion?

the coat on the pencil's exterior does contain traces of lead, given that children are prone to putting things in their mouths, there is a risk of lead poisoning which can result in damge to eyesight and brain development. – Actually this could be true of dodgy manufacturers, but reputable wooden pencil manufacturers use non-toxic paints. They conveniently seem to ignore how a disreputable manufacturer of mechanical pencils could use plastics that are not safe to chew on.

Our company's pencil lead uses graphite instead of lead, and is the result of intricate worksmanship. Traditional pencil leads are made using lead & clay. Prolonged usage of such pencils by your child can lead to lead accumulation within his body.– Pencil lead made from lead?!? Pencil leads leading to lead poisoning? They clearly know of graphite so it’s hard to claim any misunderstanding.

Finally, for a bit of humour, I know I’m stretching things a little, It saves on the need to shave – Well this would actually be great if it was true. Think of all those extra minutes every morning. Better sell those shares in Gillette and Wilkinson Sword because it’s a no-shaving future.

Maybe I'm just being mean, but sometimes you just can’t walk on by without taking a pot-shot.

For the record, I’ve never seen a Magic House pencil, although I suspect they are probably quite reasonable. Anyone out there got a Magic House pencil? Seriously, I’d love to hear from you. Even better, please send me a few words or photos or something. I’d love to balance the scales and say something good about Magic House.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

S55: A Pentel Timeline

For a little while now Germ of Pencils11 and I have been meaning to swap blog postings. A little variety never hurt anyone. Not surprisingly he’s completed his part of the swap before I’ve even started mine. So, here’s Germ's article, a little history on the Pentel S55 Classic Deluxe.
Ciao, Dave.

S55: A Pentel Timeline
Pentel has made a lot of pencils over the years. When you think of the sheer number of models produced since the introduction of their first 0.5mm pencil, it can be boggling to the mind. (and the wallet, if you are a serious collector…) I doubt many have even thought about the evolution of their manufacturing techniques, processes, materials, construction, etc., from the beginning to ‘til now. Very few have been in the lineup for all of these years. The Sharp p200 series, Sharplet, and the S55 are the only ones I can think of, that go back to at least 1975. Today we are going to discuss the S55, and it’s several variations over the years.

As far as I can surmise, the S55, or at the time, the Pentel 5, has been made since about 1970. How do I know this? Check out this picture:

Notice the bottom left corner? Expo70. Osaka's 1970 World Fair, Expo 70. So, for 38 years or so this pencil has been made, in one form or another. That’s older than me!!!!

Ok, check out this next picture:
From left to right, you can see the progression of styling that the pencil has undergone. #1 thru #4 all have the same clip. #5 and #6 are different. (#5, a different model, was thrown in to show how the styling of the S55 influenced other models). Next the model indication. #1 - #4 are engraved with the original Pentel logo and lead diameter, while #5 is the logo of today, and #6 is a silkscreen of todays logo with the lead diameter. The last outside difference is with the ribbing on the upper barrel. Notice #3. It’s ribbing is the deepest, while the silkscreen S55 is the shallowest. Yes, I know it is hard to determine from a photograph, but please trust me on this. :)

What can we surmise from this? There is a good possibility that the red and gold pencil is older, due to the depth of the ribbing. Molds are cheaper to produce, if accents are kept to a minimum of depth. Plus, I think they look sleeker with a shallower depth, or newer.

Now, for the guts, and the true indication of age.

Notice any differences? #2 and #3 are the same, #1 and #4 are the same, and #5 and #6 are close. I can also tell you that the guts of #1 thru #4 are fixed, and can not be removed. However, the method of attachment differs between them. #2 and #3 are glued in, #1 and #4 are held in by a c-clip. #4 and #5 can be removed, and are only held by the nosepiece when screwed on.

From what we have learned so far, what does this tell us? We know #2 is from 1970, and its collet system and attachment is the same, or almost, to #3. #2 and #3 are going to be from at least 1970. #1 and #4 will be later, and #5 and #6 will be later still. From the depth of the ribbing, I will have to say that #3 is the oldest, probably from 1969-1970, with #2 definitely from 1970, but later in the year.

Now, #1 was in the Pentel Expo box. I kind of doubt it was in that box originally. I think it was just #2. Why? Because its guts attachment and threads are different. It is possible that it came from 1970, and between #1, #2, and #3 we are seeing a change to a different attachment method and thread size. Who knows? We may never find out.

So how old is #4? I don’t know. But, Pentel changed over to the plastic internal barrel sometime in the late 80’s early 90’s. I know this because I have a PS535 that I purchased sometime between 1990 and 1992 with a plastic barrel and green eraser. During this time, I also purchased a PS513 with metal internal barrel and a PS45, plastic.

#6 is a later S55, having been made within the last 10 to 15years, with a white eraser and plastic internal barrel. #5 has a metal internal barrel. I wish I knew its model #. It is probably a P515, Similar to the PS513, but in .5mm and no sliding sleeve.

Another interesting piece of trivia, is the red and gold one is actually a .9mm, with a Pentel 5 barrel. This is how I received it from an auction house, who was auctioning off old stock from a stationery store. Weird.

All of the above is based upon personal purchases, reading, a fair bit of supposition and a bit of knowledge about efficient manufacturing processes. I am 95% sure that I am right, and if I am not, I hope somebody will put me in my place, and correct/edgyoumuhKeight me.

Ok, that’s it for now. I hope I haven’t confused the issue for anyone. Don’t really care, I understand me……:-)

Friday, August 08, 2008

Attack of the Clones

Mechanical Pencil clones - there’s lots of them about, but to me clone isn’t really the right terminology, since to my way of thinking they are either variants or copies. By variants I mean they are made by the same manufacturer with just some minor alterations, and by copies I mean made by a different manufacturer. Then of course there are outright counterfeits, but that’s another subject. But anyway, clones is a great word, so much better than boring old ‘copy’ or ‘variant’. After all Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, has got plenty of us Kiwis in it, and the clone army are New Zealanders, so I should be happy with the word clone.

Today I want to have a look at 3 rather similar mechanical pencils.
From top to bottom:
Faber-Castell Grip Plus
Penol Jumbo (1.3mm lead)
A No Name No Identification Unknown pencil
At first glance these are all very similar pencils, the only feature that obviously separates them apart is the pocket clip which is a classic variant component. Keep the body, mechanism, etc all exactly the same and just put a different pocket clip on to make a different variant that you can sell under another brandname.

A second glance reveals that the rubber grips are not quite the same either. Penol & No Name are very similar to each other, but a little different to Faber-Castell - I doubt your average man in the street would pick up on it though.

So, putting aside colour schemes, brandnames, etc that’s pretty much all that separates these three clones to the casual observer.

Right, lets take a serious look and play spot the differences. I’ve done my best with the photography, but some of it was really beyond my camera and "lighting facilities".

Rubber Grips
Penol and No Name are very similar, but close inspection reveals differences in the grooves. They both have 16 grooves per side, but you can see differences in alignment, depth, etc between the two. Internally the two grips are quite different. This would suggest they are not the same manufacturer as each other. Eraser Cartridges
Pull the cartridges out and No Name has some side grooves and depressions that the other two don’t have. The other two are very similar, even having mould cavity identification letters in the same place. I’d suggest therefore that Penol and F-C eraser cartridges were made by the same factory. Hopefully in the enlargement below you can see the grooves depression in the main shaft of No NameMetal Tips
All three metal tips are very similar, but under close inspection No Name’s tip is a little longer and thinner. Unscrewing them reveals significant differences. No Names tip is clearly completely different. Penol and F-C are quite similar, but see how the shaft on Penol is slightly longer than F-C. Internal mechanisms
The black housings that screw into the main body are all quite similar, although No Name is different because of its different metal tip.
Now if we unscrew the black housing and pull out the mechanism. No Name and F-C are different to each other. Penol and F-C have different white storage chamber shafts, but this could be a difference caused by the difference in lead diameters. Mould markings on the black housing section really make me think Penol and F-C are the same. No Name’s black housing is clearly different when held up against the others. All three mechanisms actually screw back into any of the three different bodies! It’s basically to close to call, but I’ll go with the theory that Penol and F-C are the same.

So, where does this leave me. I could carry on dissecting and investigating, but I’ve had enough. So at this stage, my guess, and it’s only a guess, is that Penol and F-C are made in the same factory. They just make the body in a different colour, use a different pocket clip, a different rubber grip moulding, and print different brandnames on them. I’ll explain the metal tip difference as just part of the difference between 0.7mm and 1.3mm mechanisms, but I admit it’s the weak point in my theory. Thus I would say Penol and F-C are variants of the same manufacturers pencil, and No Name is a copy. If I’m wrong then one of Penol or F-C is a really close copy of the other, almost worthy of the name Clone.

Many brands we think of as manufacturing their own products actually source some finished product from other manufacturers, and I'm sure all would buy in a lot of components from sub-contractors, e.g. pocket clips, internal mechanisms, erasers, etc are often made by sub-contractors who then supply the same item to many different assembly factories.

Another view on this clone

For the record – Thanks to Henrik from Denmark for sending me the Penol Jumbo and No Name.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Faber-Castell TK-Fine Executive Mechanical Pencil Review

Faber-Castell TK-Fine Executive Mechanical Pencil Review

I have previously reviewed the TK-Fine Vario L, Faber-Castell’s top of the line offering in technical or draughting pencils. Now it’s time for the closely related TK-Fine Executive, whose name would imply it’s their top of the line pencil for general writing and office work. Faber-Castell’s website actually makes the statement that this pencil is “Ideal for time-planning systems”. The Executive and Vario L share the majority of their componentry.
Photo: top= Executive, bottom = Vario L
I was looking forward to using the Executive, after all, clearly I am 'executive material' and deserve a writing instrument to match! :-) From the moment I first picked up the Executive, my time using it was a comparison with the Vario L, rather than a start from scratch new review. That wasn’t what I intended or wanted, and might be unfair, but it’s the way things were. My first thoughts were along the lines of, “This isn’t a Vario L, and it isn’t as good”. Why did I think that? Well the looks don’t help. The model names and stylings are so close that comparison is just inevitable. To me, the Vario L just looks better. The metal grip on the Vario L makes it look a bit more expensive and technical. Without it, the Executive looks a little cheaper, but it’s supposed to be an Executive pencil, so it shouldn’t look “cheaper”. Maybe a different name wouldn’t lead my thoughts down that pathway. The Executive doesn’t have the lead hardness indicator nor the long draughting lead sleeve, so again, to the engineer in me the Executive looks like the poor cousin. Instead of the draughting sleeve the Executive has a tapering metal conical front tip and a retractable short conical lead sleeve. So, definitely for writing only, and fully pocket safe – no surprises there.
Just like the Vario L up at the top end of the pencil is the twist out eraser. The Executive comes in 0.5mm and 0.7mm lead options. Mine is 0.7mm. Ten activations of the lead advance mechanism will get you about 6mm of lead, which is perhaps not quite enough for a general writing pencil in 0.7mm. Like the Vario L, the Executive has lead cushioning, but unlike the Vario L it is not adjustable.

The grip on the Executive is plastic rather than metal as on the Vario L, but that’s basically the only difference in the grips. For me, this grip still had the problems of the Vario L’s grip. Basically it is just too narrow and not really comfortable for me. Faber-Castell advertises it as an “ergonomic grip zone”. Well, I’d say it was an unsuccessful ergonomic grip zone. It is perhaps a little less slippery than the Vario L’s metal version of the grip, so that still leaves the Vario L holding the title of “the worst grip I have used in a very long time.” This review has ended up a bit shorter and more of a mini comparison than I intended, but it’s what my fingers ended up typing when I started.

The label stuck on my pencil includes the wording “Made In Japan”.
  • Best Points – the eraser.
  • Not So Good Points – the grip.
  • Price Range – Low.

Dimensions – Length 153mm, diameter 8mm at grip section. Balance point about 70mm up from the tip.

Broadband connection, new digital camera, new 19-inch LCD monitor, what's next?If you thought doing this blog via dial-up until a few weeks ago was crazy, wait until you hear that until last week I only had a 13-inch CRT monitor! Won't be able to call myself a Luddite for much longer.