Tuesday, February 01, 2022

Lead In The Real World

I’m sure pretty sure all of us mechanical pencil people have our own favourite lead sizes, grades and brands, but I’ve always been interested in what lead sizes are actually used by the population at large, out there in the real world. Twelve years ago I started making some efforts to actually answer the question, by asking industry sources – retailers, distributors and manufacturers. Some didn’t want to say anything, but a few were happy to give some quite specific answers. On the one hand the information wasn’t particularly confidential, but they also generally didn’t want it shouted from the rooftops. However, over ten years have gone by, and I don’t think they will mind this post. So, here then, a little snippet of real world lead facts.

five containers of mechanical pencil leads
Leads - 0.3, 0.4, 0.5, 0.7 & 0.9mm

Firstly then, the New Zealand importers of two major worldwide international brands of mechanical pencils replied to my questions.

I asked each of them what percentage of sales was each lead size of their biggest selling technical drafting model of pencil, and of their general writing pencil. The results were surprisingly similar between the brands, and so I average them as below. These are the figures for the NZ market.

Technical Pencil

  • 0.3mm = 8% of sales
  • 0.5mm = 48%
  • 0.7mm = 33%
  • 0.9mm = 11%

General Writing Pencil

  • 0.5mm = 57% of sales
  • 0.7mm = 43%

Sales of lead refills, HB grade only

  • 0.3mm = 2% of sales
  • 0.5mm = 55%
  • 0.7mm = 40%
  • 0.9mm = 3%

Secondly, a member of JWIMA, the Japanese Writing Instruments Manufacturers Association, supplied the association statistics for the then three-monthly annual quarter. So, that’s essentially the production of the entire Japanese lead manufacturing industry.

Leads, all grades, standardised as 60mm lengths.

  • 0.3mm = 4.3% of production
  • 0.4mm = 0.3%
  • 0.5mm = 67.8%
  • 0.7mm = 24.8%
  • 0.9mm = 2.7%

And yes, production was in the many hundreds and hundreds of millions of sticks of lead. 

Just as a point of interest, of the 0.4mm lead, only 4% was noted as “for export”. As you might suspect, in the 0.7mm and 0.9mm lead sizes the great majority was noted as “for export”.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Faber-Castell Lower Price Range Mechanical Pencils

A Comparative Review of Some Faber Castell Low Price Range General Writing Mechanical Pencils

Guest Post by Tom

About half a year ago, I discovered Dave’s mechanical pencils blog. As someone who just got into the hobby of collecting woodcase pencils, the blog opened up a whole new world of mechanical pencils to me. I enjoyed reading through the reviews, so I decided to get in touch and offered to contribute one.

In this review, I will talk primarily about the Faber Castell Grip 1345/1347, which, at the time of writing this, is still missing from the review list. However, I will also compare it to the GripMatic and the TK-Fine Exectutive (which have already been reviewed on the blog), since these are also general writing pencils in a similar price range.

Faber-Castel Mechanical Pencils
Top to Bottom: GripMatic, Grip 1347, TK-Fine Executive

The Faber-Castell Grip 1345/1347 (the last digit tells the lead diameter) is one of Faber-Castell’s entry level general writing pencils. Depending on where you buy it, you can get this pencil for 3 to 6 € (I don’t know details about prices in the US, but I assume it is a similar amount in $). Although made of plastic, the pencil has a nice finish for its price point. It also has a relatively sturdy metal clip. The writing tip features a conical, retractable lead sleeve, making the pencil fully pocket-safe. On the other end of the pencil, you can find a eraser that comes out if you twist it (which is a common feature of most Faber-Castell mechanical pencils). According to the sticker on the pencil, it is made in Japan (the higher-price Faber-Castell stuff is made in Germany, but “Made in Japan” is also an indicator of quality, at least in my experience with stationery). The pencil is available for 0.5mm and 0.7mm lead and comes in the typical Faber-Castell color range (dark green, burgundy red, dark blue, and black). The name “Grip” comes – presumably – from the rubber grip section at the front of the pencil. Although the grip section is decently made, I personally don’t like it, because I tend to rotate the pencil, which does not work as good with the molded grip indentations (although I have seen that apparently, newer models of the pencil feature a round grip without indentations).

The GripMatic is very similar to the Grip 1345/47, but the price point is one step lower (between 1,50 and 4 €). The overall build quality seems to be a little bit lower. The pencil is made in China, the finish is not as nice and the clip is made of plastic. Interestingly, the Gripmatic features an automatic lead advance mechanism, which the more expensive Grip 1345/-47 does not have. However, the lead advance mechanism does have its problems. In particular, I noticed that sometimes the mechanism tends to advance the lead due to friction when you carry the pencil in your pocket, making the pencil technically non-pocket safe.

Finally, the TK-Fine Executive is one price step above the Grip 1345/47 and can be found between 5 and 8€. From a technical standpoint, the TK-Fine Executive has the same features as the Grip 1345/47 (same mechanism, same eraser, metal pocket clip, also made in Japan). The differences are mainly stylistic. In my opinion, the TK-fine executive looks more elegant and the plastic body has a nicer finish. Also, I like the grip section more. Although it is non-rubberized, it has simple circumferential grooves instead of indentations, which does not impede the rotation in the hand. The only disadvantage compared to the Grip 1345/47 is the metal clip, which is only kept on by friction and could theoretically slide off if you pulled hard enough (although, in fairness, this has never happened to me by accident, only when I tried it deliberately).

Among the three pencils, the Grip 1345/47 clearly strikes the best balance between price and quality. The GripMatic is inferior in terms of quality, and the automatic lead advance has not convinced me. It would definitively be worth it to spend one or two euros more to get the Grip 1345/47. The TK-Fine Executive, on the other hand, is not necessarily worth the higher price point as it is not superior to the Grip 1345/47 in terms of technology or quality. Personally, I prefer the TK-Fine executive and I don’t mind the slightly higher price, but this has merely stylistic reasons.

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Oranges and Lemons

 A little bit of silliness for the end of the year.

How many lemons are there in this picture?

Pencils, fruit and ...?

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Otto Hutt Design 02 Mechanical Pencil & Hallmarks

Dragged into the 21st Century by Otto Hutt.

Sterling Silver. It really is incomparable if you like a lustrous shiny writing instrument, and for an added bonus you often get lovely British hallmarks, those little symbols that reveal so much about who and when your object was made.

Otto Hutt Design 02 Mechanical Pencil
Otto Hutt Design 02 Mechanical Pencil

Once whilst aimlessly wandering the internet I came across Otto Hutt, the German brand of luxury writing instruments and was intrigued by their sterling silver options. A German competitor to Yard-O-Led, albeit a modern one? I noted that as required by UK law, their products were fully British hallmarked when sold via UK retailers, and so I sent my GBP to the other side of the world and duly received back an Otto Hutt Design 02 Sterling Silver Mechanical pencil. It is serial number 02-4060, just for the record. Imagine my annoyance when I instantly noted the lack of any hallmarks!! Instead there was just the usual sort of manufacturers marking “925 GERMANY”. Very annoying.

Ripped off! Taken for a ride! Polite but stern messages to the retailer ensued. Soon my face was red with embarrassment. You see, I was unaware that two decades ago, unlike me, the UK assay offices joined the 21st century and introduced the new fangled option of laser engraved hallmarks.

Spot the hallmarks on the Otto Hutt, the lower of the two pencils

The obviousness of physically hammer struck old style hallmarks versus the deliberate unobtrusiveness of modern laser engraved ones.

Near invisibility. It is all a matter of angle. The laser hallmarking is very unobtrusive and frequently only obvious to the untrained naked eye unless the light is striking it at certain angles.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Gone and Back

 Had to take the blog offline for a while, but it's back.

Might even post something sometime soon 😉

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Rocky 2020

Rocky has been waiting patiently, counting down the decades, the years, the months, the days, the hours and now his time has finally arrived. He's going to party hard tonight, going to shake the lead out and party like it's 1989 all over again :)

Happy 2020 to you all, from Rocky and I.
Hope you have a great year.