Saturday, June 21, 2014

Autopoint All-American Mechanical Pencil Review

Autopoint All-American Mechanical Pencil Review

Two Autopoint articles in a row, what’s going on? Well, when Jason Bender of Autopoint contacted me a few months ago and I suggested an interview to him, he also offered to send me a pencil for review, and I said “Yes thanks”. So, here we have the Autopoint All-American mechanical pencil.
Autopoint All-American Mechanical Pencil, light blue, 0.5mm

The All-American is available in a variety of colours and in four lead sizes – 0.5, 0.7, 0.9 and 1.1mm. Multiple lead sizes per model is definitely something I approve of. There is also the related model, the Jumbo All-American. For this review I am using a 0.5mm light blue All-American, which was supplied in a cardboard package.

Like most Autopoints, the current All-American is a child of the 1970’s, and it looks it. I don’t mean that in a negative way, I mean that in the good way - it looks like what it is; a design object of its times, a contemporary of the Pentel P205, vinyl LPs and the Apollo spacecraft.

The main plastic body of the All-American mechanical pencil is 10 sided, a decahedron in cross section. It transitions rapidly to a conical tip section which itself finishes with a metal tip. At the other end of the pencil there is a round metal eraser housing and non-removable pocket clip. The plastic is hard and shiny, a good quality product. The pocket clip and body shape combine so that this pencil does not tend to roll on your desk.
Autopoint of Janesville

In the hand the All-American is a fairly lightweight pencil. The grip zone is smooth without any enhancements so that might be a problem for some when held for a long time. The lead sleeve is a short fixed 2.5mm long metal pipe, so this pencil is not pocket safe. Although shorter than the usual 3 – 4mm long draughting sleeves, the sleeve is probably just long enough for draughting work so this pencil is something of a generalist, suitable for general writing and some technical work.

I believe Autopoints main point of differentiation and claim to fame is their Grip-Tite lead holding mechanism. The lead advance is a screw mechanism, you hold the tip and twist it to advance the lead. To retract the lead you twist the tip the other way and then press the lead back into the tip. The metal pipe tip itself has a small slit in it. The split pipe tip is essentially fractionally undersize for the lead and so squeezes and holds the lead right at the extreme end of the pipe. This prevents lead wobble and rotation, and Autopoint claims it reduces lead breakage. I agree with them. I certainly did feel that lead breakage was much less than usual during the two weeks I used the All-American as my daily mechanical pencil. On the down side, the screw mechanism is not as convenient as a push top ratchet mechanism, but I certainly did get used to it, particularly as recently I was using the Uchida Drawing Sharp S which also has a screw mechanism. The Autopoint mechanism is markedly firmer and stiffer to rotate than the Uchida, which I found to be good, and means you are less likely to over extend the lead. Overall then, I am impressed by the Grip-Tite system.

To replace your lead with a new stick you must remove the tip section of the pencil and reassemble. It is not difficult, so nothing to be too scared of. Just a note though about the leads. The Grip-Tite system requires that the lead and metal tip match together. As we know, the various lead manufacturers around the world have some differing and wide tolerances on the diameters of their leads and as such you may encounter problems using brands of lead other than Autopoint brand lead refills.
Autopoint Grip-Tite refill instructions

The All-American’s eraser is uncovered and obviously intended for general use rather than the tiny emergency only use erasers that many mechanical pencils have. I am not a fan of the appearance of uncovered erasers, but this one is coloured grey so won’t show unsightly graphite smears on white when it has been used. Putting the eraser to the test, it performs quite well as shown below. The eraser is replaceable, and the holder allows you to extend it a small amount.

You remove the eraser to access the lead storage chamber. Remember though, this pencil is a tip feeder, so the lead is stored inside the body but it does not self-feed when your current stick of lead is used up.

With the name All-American, and Autopoint being both proud Americans and that rare beast, a survivor of the American writing instrument industry decline, I am a little surprised that their American origin is not featured more prominently. The packaging has no reference to country of origin and the pencil body is unmarked with any model number or name. The markings on the pencil are all on the metal pocket clip – “Autopoint” and the lead size e.g. “.5” on the face of the clip, and in very small letters on the side of the clip, there it is, “USA”.
Pocket clip markings, note USA on the side edge.

Overall then, the Autopoint All-American is good pencil, and you should have one in your collection.

•    Best Points – The Grip-Tite system.
•    Not So Good Points – Requirement to use Autopoint brand lead
•    Price Range – Low.
•    Does this pencil make it into the Top 5? – No.

Dimensions – Length 143mm, diameter 8mm across flats of body. Balance point about 80mm up from the tip.

Disclaimer – For the purposes of this review, Autopoint supplied 2 All-American pencils and 2 tubes of lead refills to me free of charge.