Review – Dollar General Utility Knife Blades

Utility knives are an almost ubiquitous tool. They are inexpensive and easy to use cutting tools that are good on the job, at home, and for crafting and artistic tasks. And for most people they are used for jobs that scissors just can’t do. Even people who carry pocket knives can use a cardboard cutter now and then. But there’s a reason the blades come in 100 packs at 10¢-30¢ apiece. This set from Dollar General is about 20¢ apiece. How do they work?

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To start, the packaging says they fit most utility knives, which I’ll believe. Their shape is similar to most other blades I’ve seen, and they fit my knife just fine. They lock into place with about as much precision as one would expect, which is to say not much. There’s play in the blade when installed, but it’s workable. They come sharp enough to cut paper, and strong enough to cut household plastics, which are both really things that are a bit out of the general use of the blade. They don’t dull immediately, either. That being said they don’t last for very long and the blade itself can be dinged rather easily. They are also pretty fragile. When I was testing one on plastic the very tip of the blade broke almost immediately. They’ll last about a hard day (or 2-3 give or take) cutting cardboard, longer in the house, shorter if you’re cutting more or heavier things (like they won’t last literally all day just cutting), and for as cheap as they are I wouldn’t expect much more. And if cutting cardboard cleanly isn’t a necessity they can last longer. Finally, they are smothered in grease in the package to prevent rusting, and while I haven’t left mine out I have no doubt that they would rust really fast.

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So are they great? No. But no utility knife blades are great.  They do about as well as expected, and are at least safe for their main function of cutting cardboard, rubber and the like. If you need the blades right now, or don’t need to buy many blades, these will work, but larger packs or ones with slightly higher quality would be recommended.

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Review – Piccadilly Sketch Book

There are quite a few sketchbooks out there, and it can be hard to choose. If one isn’t the “pick one and stick with it forever”, or the “grab the nearest one off the shelf when a new one is needed” type of person, it can be overwhelming. Which ones on the shelf are worth it? Piccadilly is a brand of notebooks that has been making inexpensive Moleskine-type books for some time. Are their sketchbooks any good?

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The books have a super-plain brown cardboard cover with only the word sketch thinly lettered on the front. This cover is more of a wrapping, as it’s only attached at one point on the back, wrapping around and folding in the front like a dust jacket would. The binding is a series of small, sewn signatures glued together on the spine. It’s similar to most other binding methods; the spine cover just isn’t glued to the actual spine. At 120 sheets it’s a nice length, and isn’t too bulky or heavy. The construction, while sturdy, wouldn’t, I suspect, hold up to more than its complete page count if heavily used, and the cover-cover might even fall off or be rendered unusable before then. For a non-spiral it’s good, but it won’t last forever.

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The paper is blank 100gsm, textured and acid-free. It’s quite thick, almost seeming like card stock, but this provides a stable writing service even deep into the book. The texture isn’t great, in my opinion, but isn’t intrusive either. It holds graphite and pigmented ink well. If one is using wet, dye-based inks, though, feathering can be quite severe. The thickness leads to very little bleed-through (although it couldn’t stand, say, sharpies) and almost no show-through in most cases. It’s very well behaved and makes writing and drawing a pleasure, especially with pencil.

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It’s a good sketchbook, quite a good one, if you’re not going to put it in extreme conditions. It’s on the lower price side of average sketchbooks and does the part. Most people won’t have a problem with it and I certainly haven’t. If you’re looking for something to beat up, a different book might be needed. But if you’re looking for a minimal, handsome medium-use sketchbook, I’d have a look.

Review – Bic Velocity Mechanical Pencil

Bic makes a lot of writing products, and sometimes it’s hard for me to keep them straight. I’ve never really been sure what one is supposed to do over the other. Nevertheless, the Bic Velocity is a solid mechanical pencil and I’ll be looking at it today.

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The back of the pencil is unremarkable; a clear plastic cap covers a small, white, barely functional eraser (it works about as well as most mechanical pencil erasers). This assembly can be pushed down to activate the lead advance mechanism. Just down from this is a plastic clip, functionally all right, with the pencil’s information written on it. Down from there, the body is clear and straight until it get to the rubberized grip section where it bulges then hourglasses, creating a nice place to rest your fingers. The little cap cone after this is clear, and has the metal tip floating inside so that is retracts when the lead is retracted, preventing the tip from getting caught on anything.

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Writing is fine. The lead is standard. It doesn’t break much, goes on smoothly enough and dark enough for school or office work. There is no advanced shock absorber or lead turning to prevent any damage, though, but at the price, that’s teetering on the edge of reason. The grip is comfortable enough to get one through writing or drawing without too much trouble. It doesn’t slip and isn’t too narrow. The overall construction is solid, and it feels like it won’t break in your hand.

Overall, the Velocity is fine. It isn’t the best mechanical pencil ever, and it has no real features, but it’s solidly and relatively comfortably built. It is fairly inexpensive and comes with enough refills of erasers and lead to last the user for some time. As far as inexpensive options go for mechanical pencils, it’s a good one, but there’s nothing special about it.

Review – Paper:Mate Sharpwriter

Papermate has been making pencils for a long time, and one of the simplest and least expensive mechanical pencils available is one that they make. These pencils are some of the cheapest on the market from a name brand, and always come in packages containing a large number. They are almost universally recognized as one of the lousiest pencils to use, but is that reputation deserved?

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Starting at the back, it’s got a small, pink eraser that does indeed erase (quite well, actually,) but, like most erasers at the back of pencils, it won’t last very long. Moving down from that, we have a basically straight and plain body, with a terrible “clip” near the eraser (it doesn’t actually clip on most things the thickness of shirt pockets). The basic information about the pencil is physically molded in the side, with no other features on the barrel. It looks slightly slippery but does grip with no problems.

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At the front of the pencil is the lead-advancing mechanism, which one must twist both to extend and retract the lead. This is inconvenient, but not more so than a top click. This twist mechanism is flimsy and easy to break if one goes too far, but not too noticeable when writing. The lead is technically refillable, but the pencil is almost treated as disposable, so it isn’t worth it.  The lead that comes with the pencil is fine: it’s a #2 and it works fine for most purposes, even erasing well with the eraser. There is also a “shock absorber” in the pencil (I believe it isn’t a special thing but inherent in the design) and it works!  You can press down quite hard and the lead will simply retract a few mm instead of breaking, but writing like this would be fatiguing and still cause the lead to break, since the spring is only absorbing force in one direction.

Is it a great pencil? No. Is it a bad pencil that will explode when you take it out? No. It works.  It’s a bit finicky at times, and I feel like I could break it with my bare hands and minimal effort, but under normal use conditions this isn’t a problem. The clip is the worst part, and if you need a good one I’d steer clear of the Sharpwriter. If you’re looking for the one pencil to have forever this is also far removed. But it is quite versatile and quite inexpensive. (Adam Savage of Mythbusters likes them: https://youtu.be/uN6vptYpo5I?t=2m15s) And if you lose pencils often, or are getting them for an office, I’d at least consider it.

 

May Update

ART SUPPLY CRITIC

New reviews will now be going up on Monday rather than Wednesday. I’m reorganizing my entire posting schedule to make it more even.

TUMBLR

Hello followers (mostly Tumblr followers, since this post is more directed at you/them.) You might have noticed I’ve dropped off of posting my comics to Tumblr recently. This is for a few reasons, the main one being that the method I have to use is a very large hassle to do and is affecting how much I can do during the day, I’ve been working on integrating things better, but it hasn’t worked out and is taking up even more time. So, at the moment, I’m going to stop posting comics every day on Tumblr, and replacing that with a weekly post that rounds up some of the best comics from the week with links. This may also include a text post or two. Eventually, this also may become an email list that people can subscribe to (it won’t leave Tumblr, though). Thank you for being patient with me.

DRAGON FUNNIES

The Dragon Funnies is no longer sharing to Tumblr, and while the site isn’t going anywhere, I’d appreciate it if more people followed my main site (www.dragoncompany.org) instead of this one.

POSTING SCHEDULE

Art supply reviews will be posted on Monday now.

Articles will now be posted on Friday.

Videos will be posted on Monday and Thursday.

A weekly recap will be posted on Saturday.

Other written things, like book reviews and such, will hopefully be posted on Wednesday.