Review – Faber-Castell Trilux 031 (Black, Blue, and Red)

Some time ago I reviewed the Faber-Castell Lux (034), an inexpensive Peruvian pen comparable to cheap Bics or Paper:Mates. They were pretty decent pens but they had small, round bodies that could easily become uncomfortable (I personally don’t have much of a problem with the size, but I can see how some people might not like it). Their bigger brothers, the Trilux (031 in this case), have larger, triangular bodies, in an attempt to remedy this problem and provide a more ergonomic experience while still being inexpensive. But are they actually more comfortable?

photo 1-5

“Probably” is the answer. The body is a very rounded triangular shape (in green for the 031, the back of the package indicated different numbers are different color barrels) with a cylindrical cap in the back and the slightest of step-downs in the front third, followed by a quick tapering to a point. The step down and end cap are just for the single-piece cap-with-clip to be able to grip since it’s still round for some reason. Both the cap and end-cap (finial?) are color-coded to match the ink color of the pen. Printed/embossed in black on the side is enough information to identify the pen.

photo 2-3

The section is comfortable to hold: the triangular shape fits well in the hand (with a standard 3-finger grip), the plastic is easy to hold, being slightly less polished after the step down, and said step down isn’t an issue at all, barely being noticeable. The cap is post-able (I only mention that because with the triangular shape and round cap they had to go out of their way to make that so) and the integrated clip does a fine job but I would suspect it’s easy to snap off.

photo 3-3

The inks seem to be the same as those used in the Lux, which are fairly comparable to any other set of inexpensive ballpoint inks, with the red being on the darker rather than the lighter side, the blue being quite dark, and the black feeling warm and grey-ish. My set in particular is fine-tipped, and writes fairly smoothly, but with more blobs than I would like. When I first opened the package the red and blue pens worked while the black was dried up. Warm water and/or rubbing alcohol didn’t unclog it and I finally had to resort to using a lighter, which I wouldn’t recommend, but it did work and was likely the only way to get it to write as it is “non-disassemble-able” (unless you want to destructively disassemble it).

photo 4-3

In the end they’re a solid pen, and a comfort upgrade with their thicker section and triangular design. They’re not the perfect office pen, but they feel well made (even if the plastic feels ever so slightly less flexible and/or solid when compared to some other similar pens), they write, they’re comfortable, and are inexpensive. I wouldn’t be seeking them out, and with them being “Producto Peruano”, finding a steady supply in the ‘States would be hard, but they are an increase in comfort to an already well-performing pen for the price.

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?

photo-255photo-256

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.

photo-259photo-260

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).

photo-261

photo-257

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.

photo-262photo-263

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 – Sharpie Industrial

Sharpie makes permanent markers, but permanent never really means permanent. Of course there are ways to remove traditional Sharpie ink, especially since it, like many modern inks, is alcohol based. So, in order to keep up with their permanent image Sharpie came up with its “Industrial” version. How permanent is it compared to the regular version? Let’s see.

photo-154

The body is virtually identical to that of a regular Sharpie, except for the information printed on it, which has been changed to reflect the more permanent nature and is in red. As far as writing on regular paper goes, it is a bit warmer than standard Sharpie ink, but not really any less or more black. The difference is barely noticeable. Also, like a regular Sharpie, it will not write on wet surfaces.

photo-155

But on to the permanence. I tested the ink on a piece of galvanized steel by making a small mark, letting it dry, and then applying pretty much anything I could think of that might clean it off. It held up remarkably well, but it was mostly resistant, and not fully “anything-proof”. By the end of my test the mark was quite faded but still readable, and it had withstood: water, fire, isopropyl alcohol, bleach, WD-40, ammonia, acetone, De-Solv-It (citrus based gunk remover), Lysol, Gojo hand cleaner (for grease and tar), dry cleaning fluid (because I couldn’t throw the kitchen sink at it), lighter fluid, paint thinner (mineral spirits), and gasoline. So I checked online and in several reviews people said that in laboratory settings the alcohol used would take the marker right off. So I went and attacked it with some denatured alcohol, and sure enough it broke it down to the most pale of lines possible, but it still wasn’t gone. So I tested on some other materials and another piece of galvanized steel. On plastic, the denatured alcohol removed it with very little problem. On aluminum it was also met with little resistance. On a tuna can (which could be either tin, steel, aluminum or a mixture) it was a little tougher but almost all of it was removed eventually. But, finally, on a galvanized trashcan the alcohol met its match, reducing it to a very faded line but it was still unable to remove it entirely. So there is likely some chemical that bonds directly to or gets through the galvanization on such materials.

Barely visible mark after denatured alcohol was applied

Barely visible mark after denatured alcohol was applied

All of this stands to reason. Modern inks are mostly made from an alcohol-based dye solution. This makes them dry faster and essentially water resistant, unlike their former water-based fountain pen ink relatives. But they still fall short of pigment-based inks on permanence, especially when it comes to alcohol, which in many cases will clean up both ballpoint ink and (permanent) marker ink by reactivating it for a short amount of time. Virtually any ink (but not all) will smear, bleed, or be removed when its base is reintroduced. But that’s why we have different bases in the first place.

In specific settings where large amounts of chemicals are continuously applied to surfaces, especially alcohol, these markers won’t work. But there are specialty markers made for work like that. As a general purpose marker that is meant to be used in tasks that are more demanding than standard household ones it works quite well. It does outperform the regular Sharpie and would work sufficiently well for many workplace or “industrial” tasks, but testing may be required before using it on the job.

Review – Pentel Sharplet-2 .9mm

Recently I was gifted several mechanical pencils from someone who is a fan of larger lead sizes, and they were attempting to convert me. I have to say I’m not convinced, but the pencils themselves were ones I hadn’t had previous experience with. That isn’t really surprising, considering the vast array of mechanical pencils on the market from companies like Pentel, such as the gift I’m looking at today: the Pentel Sharplet-2 in .9mm.

photo-138

The pencil has a very classic and simple design that’s been around the block. At the back there is a plastic, cylindrical cover for the eraser, which is the standard tiny variety and placed over the lead tube. This back bit also serves as the click-advance mechanism. The barrel is the same diameter as the back cover, and consistent all the way down. The clip is one piece of metal that is friction fit around the barrel; it is a little stiff but keeps the pencil where you clip it. The only other features of the barrel are the brand and model information (that is engraved in as well as painted on, making it harder to wear away than on most writing implements), and about an inch of tiny ridges on the “section” (there is no separate section so that is for you to decide) for grip. The plastic cone that screws on the front is straight and unspectacular, ending in a metal pipe that makes the pencil more drafting-friendly.

photo-137

The leads pencils normally come with are all pretty standard, straddling the line between super dark and super light. The wider leads, just by virtue of being larger, require less pressure to write darker, and write (or sketch) in general with a wider and darker line. There are no real problems or tricks one has to get used to when writing. The eraser is similarly plain. It erases well, but can have trouble getting rid of darker or thicker lines like all erasers of its size that come packed in with mechanical pencils. The pencil does come in different versions for lead sizes; these are color coded for easy identification (it looks like there is some variation in the eraser color, as well).

photo-139

Pentel makes a solid pencil, and this is no exception. The design is simple, comfortable, and durable. It’s really a no-frills pencil. Everything is basic and has a function, it’s easy to disassemble and parts could be easily replaced (though it isn’t expensive enough to justify the hassle of that, it certainly isn’t a disposable pencil, though). The mechanism is satisfying to use, the grip is not slippery, the clip holds, and the retro styling makes it look kinda trendy (not that I care). If you want a simple, solid pencil or want to buy a set with easily distinguishable lead sizes, these would fit the bill.

Review – Sharpie Highlighter

At times I feel like there is very little for me to say about certain things. And highlighters are one of those things. I use them, but not so much that I’ve extensively tested many of them to find the best. And I only use them for highlighting, and not some of the more creative applications like using them similarly to a blue pencil. Still, a product that does its job well deserves some of my time to talk about it.

photo-133

This Sharpie highlighter was a pack-in with several Sharpie pens, but I’ve seen it on the shelf by itself as well. The body is very simple, being a translucent yellow cylinder with a “cone-shaped” stopper on the end. The cap is a solid piece of plastic with an integrated clip that works well for what it is. The section is also a simple cylinder after a step down from the barrel, and then there is a slight taper and protrusion at the (chisel) tip. Sharpie is on both the cap and barrel in various forms with the only other information being a nontoxic seal and the words “smear guard”.

photo-132

When writing, the ink goes on smoothly, and is very bright. So if you want to draw attention to something, this will work. The ink also resists smearing both what it is being applied over, and itself when wet. While it does smear and spread some when dampened, it isn’t too terrible, and during my tests only fountain pen (liquid, dye-based) ink smeared even a bit. I haven’t tested the longer-term effects, but I’d like to think Sharpie has experience with these things.

It’s a highlighter. It’s a good, simple, bright highlighter. If you aren’t looking for anything special from your highlighter, but don’t want smearing, these will work.

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?

photo-127

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.

photo-128

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.

photo-129

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 – Office Depot Ballpoint Pens

Most stores have generic in-store brands or store branded products for various merchandise. That is the case here, with these Office Depot branded ballpoint pens. I don’t know what they cost originally, but they were marked down twice to 50 cents and then 3 packages for $1. Which means I picked up 30 for a $1. There are very few things I wouldn’t say are a good value for that price (I’d probably say stale gum was worth 30 pieces for $1) so it would be hard for these things to let me down. So let’s see how they perform.

photo-114

The bodies of the pens are super simple. They are round and straight with a cap on the end to hold the ink cartridge in on the back, and a slight bump (to hold the cap on) followed by a taper and then the point of the front. The cap is fairly generic with an integrated clip that works but isn’t great. They are all made of translucent plastic that matches the ink and have “Office Depot” printed on the side.

photo-115

Writing is surprisingly smooth, especially for mediums (they’re a bit broader than normal mediums I would say) and at times they can write with minimal pressure. The packages say “No skip guarantee” which isn’t true, but it wouldn’t be for any pen. It blobs after a certain amount of writing time but I don’t know a pen that wouldn’t, and it’s less than expected. They do tend to have (sometimes severe) startup issues though, especially the longer they are left capped, as do most cheap ballpoint pens.

photo-116

The colors are fairly standard office colors, nothing at all natural looking. The black is just off-black and slightly warm. The red is deep and doesn’t shade much, but still very noticeable. And the blue is quite dark, but still differentiate-able from the black except in the lowest of lights. All are essentially waterproof and dry quickly.

Overall, I’d say the pens are probably worth it. They have no frills, and likely a high margin of error. Any problems, though, and the pen can simply be tossed. They do come with wax-sealed tips, meaning they will last longer in storage, but after that they need to be used fast before they dry up. The bodies are sufficiently hardy to last easily for the life expectancy of a pen like this. The cap seals, the clip holds, and the tip writes. Everything’s functional and unspectacular. If you’re running a business where pens are needed frequently by customers or employees, or you’re just forgetful and lose your pen, these are cheap and they work until they disappear. But they won’t be impressing anyone.