Review – Tech Gear Pencil Case

Finding the right case is a difficult thing, there’re so many options that come in all different sizes, and with features ranging from tons of little pockets and organizational tools to nothing at all. Even where a zipper is positioned can really affect how convenient a product is to use on a day-to-day basis. So today I’ll be looking at an inexpensive pencil case available in a wide range of areas (at least it was when I bought it at a grocery store, but it takes time to properly test a case and I don’t know what’s going on with them now).

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The Tech Gear pencil case is a simple thing, being made of mostly black nylon in a rectangular-ish shape that’s about 8” long and 4½” wide. There are two support pieces, one going around the bottom, and another on the “lid” and they keep everything roughly in the right place. Just underneath this support piece is the zipper, which runs along the top edge. When unzipped, the “lid” (which has a rubber logo patch, 5-stripe “design”, and possibly a different color upper half) hinges back along one of the long edges revealing the inside, which is just a “bucket” about 1” deep where you can dump things. This “hinge” is reinforced by another piece of nylon both inside and out.

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The inside is a smoother texture than the outside, with several of the seams covered up by a plastic-ish, almost electrical-tape feeling material. There’s a tag that tells you it was made in China, but otherwise it’s just an empty cavern into which you can dump whatever you want that’ll fit. And that is pretty much anything that is the same length or shorter than a standard, unsharpened pencil (about 7½”, you might be able to squeeze longer things in if you’re creative) and about 1¼” thick (even that might be stretching it). And that’s a fair amount of stuff. I’ve been using it to carry around my “to-review” items and never had a problem with space. I’ve only got around 15 items in it now, but it can hold 30 writing implements and a few other bits and bobs comfortably.

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But it is a cheap case, so how well does it hold up? Reasonably, I’ll say. It’s been a long time since I went to school (and I just used a Ziploc for my pencil case then) and I know I would’ve been much harder on a case then than I am now, but after carrying it around for a while now there is very minimal wear (a loose thread here and there and the rubber patch on the front is a little scuffed, but nothing significant). Still, I can see a lot of the cheapness in its build quality; most seams are unfinished and liable to tear or unfurl, and the material itself isn’t that strong a stuff in the first place. The zipper works but the material is cheap and soft (and paint already flecking), etc. For someone like me who won’t put it through much hard work it’s fine and’ll probably last for quite a while, but in school I’d say it’s about a 1-year bag.

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And that’s pretty much it. The bag has some organizational problems but it’s also fairly small so nothing should get too buried. And it’s got some craftsmanship problems but for the price you couldn’t really expect better. It’s good for what it is and if that’s what you need it’s easy enough to get. So if you just need something to dump your pencils in and won’t worry about having to replace it later because it’s cheap, this one’s a good thing to look at.

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Review – Simple Pencil Extender

Pencil extenders are something I haven’t looked into very much. I am able to “comfortably” use a pencil well into a stub, and would just as soon have that stub as a backup and get a new pencil when it gets smaller (and now I’ve mostly swapped to mechanical pencils). But that does mean I have quite a few stubs lying around, and maybe with some inexpensive “Chinese” (don’t know for sure, but it seems likely) pencil extenders I can breathe new life into them.

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This one is a bit of an anomaly to me as I didn’t get it myself (it was a gift), it has no identifying markings, and I can’t seem to find it specifically online anywhere. I have found an eBay listing that highly resembles it, but I don’t quite know about it. Still, it is strikingly close to other, more hexagonally shaped versions that can be found all over the place and likely use the same collet.

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The device is immensely simple: a rounded wooden dowel is crimped to a tube of metal with a slit near one end and a separate metal band wrapped around it. When a pencil is inserted into the metal tube the band can be slid down to tighten and secure the pencil stub in place. It’s basically a collet that slides instead of screws, and while it works there are some problems. For example, the pencil stubs that can be used must be of a very specific size. Standard hexagonal pencils fit (think Paper:Mate Americans) but the larger art pencils and every round pencil I’ve found (including all colored pencils) have been too big. In general it seems a coat of paint is all the difference it takes between fitting and not.

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And even when a pencil does fit it isn’t held very securely. Sliding the metal collar does clamp the collet tube down a bit but a good tug and the pencil comes free, though it is held in well enough that typical shakes don’t knock it loose. And the metal tube itself isn’t very well fitted to the wooden body and the two can easily be persuaded to part ways.

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Still, with the cost seemingly being almost nothing, it does a tolerable job. The pencil is held securely enough to write with, and can be used comfortably as long as there is still pencil to grip (the collet is not a nice bit to hold on to). It is fairly lightweight, which is good for portability but bad if you really want your pencil to feel the same as it did when it was longer. And even though the construction is shoddy they cost about as little as a pencil or two so if they help you finish a couple they’ll’ve been worth it.

Review – Swingline Tot (Mini) Stapler

I’ve been using an old Swingline CUB stapler at my desk for years now. The combination of small size and standard staples makes it perfect for me, a person who doesn’t have to staple often. I also have the super small Tot-50 stapler in my pencil case, and while the size is good it does use a different type of staple to most other staplers. But now Swingline has a middle ground even between those two with the Tot, a stapler that is just about as small as you can get while still using regular sized staples. But how useful could that be?

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The Tot is about 2½” in total length, 1¾” tall, and 1¼” wide. These measurements are a bit larger than they could have been due to the rounding of the stapler body; there are no sharp edges on it. At the back there is a curved piece of metal sticking out to serve as a staple remover. It works fairly well, though unlike the standard “jaw” type it does have the tendency to fling used staples across the room. On the top and bottom of the main body there are relatively comfortable divots in which to place your fingers when stapling. And the entire thing is a sort of teardrop shape, narrow in the back and widening near the front before suddenly dropping off.

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Underneath is a small rubber “plate” (for lack of a better word) covering with a handy mark representing staples stamped into it (in the previously mentioned divot), though if I didn’t know they were supposed to be staples I wouldn’t have figured it out. Peeling this back from the nice little nail nick (it’s held in place with tabs in slots) reveals a small storage compartment with enough space for a regular block of standard sized staples, and enough space for (someone with smaller) fingers to get in and grab it. Below these staples is the general information about the product, save for the brand name which is proudly displayed on top. This rubber piece is fully removable, though it is a bit finicky to get it past the staple remover on the back both when getting it on and off. I can also say, from a spill on my desk, that the rubber seals well enough to be water resistant (but I wouldn’t count on it).

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As with most Swingline products stapling is as easy as can be. There’s a surprisingly good amount of leverage in this design and it connects pages cleanly and neatly together. Its use of regular sized staples and a mouth about as wide as your standard desk stapler means that it will basically perform the same function, with its only limiting factor being capacity (and durability since it is made of mostly plastic and most staplers are metal). My only general complaint is the top; it’s quite easy to open and hinges back far enough to make loading a breeze, but the tab that holds it in place when it’s supposed to be locked down is very weak and I’ve found it to pop open with slight provocation, or even without provocation at times. And that’s slightly worrying: I don’t want staples everywhere. But the spring holding it down is fairly strong, and if kept on the desk or in a case this shouldn’t be a problem.

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So, if you’re not one that staples often, have limited desk space, or want to carry a stapler with you but not special staples (but maybe with a bag or case) this little guy will work great. It’s small, easy to use, and gets the job done. It isn’t as durable as the larger versions (or its metal predecessor the Tot-50), but with care it will work for a long time (but maybe not as long as my CUB) and for how inexpensive they can be I’d say they’re definitely worth it (and they come with a box of staples, which is cool).

Review – Master Mechanic Carton Cutter

With so many options, one carton cutter review just wasn’t enough, and I am now back to review one that has a higher price. But does that make it better quality?

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The short answer is yes: it is better quality, but I’ll just go over a few things. The cutter has a bent and nicely shaped/joined sleeve made out of an unknown metal (probably steel), with an insert that is a folded piece of metal that will hold a razor blade. It also has a cutout “spring” that creates the tension instead of the body doing that, making it more pleasant to use. The sleeve also has a nice, easy-to-hold white paint applied, which makes it easier to see. The Master Mechanic logo that is printed on top of this looks nice but wears off easily and looks unsightly when it does.

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Use is easy and smooth, tapping (a hard surface) both to deploy and retract the blade-holding mechanism (placing the back on a hard surface and pushing firmly will deploy the blade, and doing the reverse with the blunt part of the front will retract it), but it does have a way it “likes” to go in and works better that way. The razor blades that are included are also slightly better than the cheaper knife, but in general one won’t get much use out of single-edge razor blades, which are sharp but cheap and prone to snapping or deforming.

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Is it worth it to buy a better version of such simple product? Probably not for most people. While this is a better carton cutter than cheaper ones, it isn’t really less dangerous or easier to use per-se. The fit and finish are as good as one could reasonably expect on a product this cheap; the amount of friction on deployment is constant; and the device will likely last for a long time. Still, a carton cutter isn’t a tool most people will be worrying about, and the less expensive ones would be easier to replace if they were misplaced or damaged.

Review – Master’s Touch Palette Knife

I’ve been painting recently, and have a new appreciation for palette knives (foolishly I never used them before), both for controlling paint on a palette, and for painting. Unfortunately I’ve found no real resource that says if there are consistent sizes and shapes for palette knives, and I don’t believe there really is. So instead of this being a review of a specific size or shape of knife, this will be a general look at the quality of the Master’s Touch brand of inexpensive and easily accessible palette knives.

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The particular knife style here is slightly unconventional, and appears in the least amount of photos I see online, though it is the shape used by Bob Ross, so it’s got that going for it. The handle is a light, okay finished wood with a lanyard hole and the Master’s Touch logo imprinted on it. It’s sturdy enough and it works. Following that is what appears to be a “brass” “section” ring that is dented and losing its finish. It holds the blade in place, fairly sturdily, but also not centered. The blade is stainless steel, quite flexible and tapers down to a very usable edge. It is finished well enough, and doesn’t get thin enough to cut easily, but I suppose if one really tried they could make it dangerous. In some places the brushed finish isn’t nearly as well done, but these places don’t really matter in the scheme of things.

Overall it’s a nice introductory tool. It obviously has some quality control issues, but they aren’t major and don’t prevent the tool from functioning or make it dangerous. It’s inexpensive, and I would recommend it to anyone who isn’t sure if they really want to paint and are just trying to get into it, upgrading in the future is always possible and still isn’t a lot of money. And even if one doesn’t this tool will likely be able to last a painting lifetime.

Review – Q-Pins Pushpins

Pushpins can be a problem. But they are what they are, right? There’s no getting around them. That’s what I would’ve thought until I heard about Q-Pins pushpins, which claim to have updated the pushpin to a more modern and easy-to-use design. How do they hold up?

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Full disclosure before I begin: I was sent these to review by the company. With that out of the way, let’s look at the features: Q-Pins are designed to deal with the problems one encounters when using regular pushpins. They’re shaped like a capital “Q” and use the tail to hold paper to the board, rather than the pin itself. If one doesn’t use the pin on a regular pushpin, the amount of force required to hold the document up will leave an unappealing mark. I used to get around this by using thumbtacks, which has less grip for your fingers, but more for the document. I’d best describe Q-pins as a cross between the best parts of a pushpin and thumbtack, with a little more ergonomics. The edges of the bowl on the Q are curved inwards, creating a nice grip for the thumb and index finger that is more than enough to get it out.

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They come in either packs of black and white opaque or a pack of green, blue, purple, and yellow translucent. Personally I wish there were more color sets, but these work well.

Now, it’s kinda hard to talk about what a pushpin does, even though I have done that quite a bit, it looks like. In any case, I decided to try and beat up a q-pin by throwing it across the room and at the floor with a moderate amount of force. The results were not a scratch, and I’ve seen pushpins shatter under similar conditions (though rarely). I tried bending the tail off, and my fingers began to hurt as the plastic started bending. I’m sure they can be broken, but it almost has to be intentional. And for a bit of fun, I grabbed the metal pin itself with pliers and pulled firmly in both directions. The pin and its plastic case are not easily separated.

So, are they better than pushpins? Yes. Are they perfect? No. If one is very careful or hangs up thick documents, the pin can be used to hang an object without a mark. But sometimes even a natural amount of force can lead to a straight indent in the document being hung. This is certainly better than a hole, and in my opinion it’s also better than the circular indent coming from a pushpin or thumbtack used with friction. In this scenario, the Q-Pin also has superior holding capability, though it is quite close. Removing the Q-Pin is also much easier than either of the two other options. It’s a clear winner, but it is a bit more expensive. If you don’t lose things and want a better pushpin, possibly for life, you should try some Q-Pins.

Review – Helix Architects Triangular Scale

Rulers. Well, we all need them at some point. Whether you need to draw a straight line or know the distance between two points, they come in real handy. But sometime the information you need is just not on your ordinary ruler. So you get an architect’s triangular scale. But which one? Let’s look at one of the cheapest: the Helix Architects Triangular Scale.

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First off, the plastic this thing is made out of is very brittle and sharp. Little burrs and notches line the sides. There are no rounded corners, and you can easily stab yourself on the triangle points. However, there seems to be no fear of shattering or snapping in the piece, it is quite sturdy.

The information is printed in a nice, readable black over the very-slightly off-white plastic. From what I can tell (truth be told I’m not entirely sure about what all the sides are for) they are accurate. I have compared them with several other units I have. The ink used is resilient, but also raised and will rub off with prolonged use as will most rulers and the like.

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Overall, for it being fairly cheap, it is a nice piece. It does its job well and will probably serve for several years before needing replacement with proper care, though there are many more comfortable or longer lasting alternatives out there.