Review – Pentel GraphGear 1000

My favorite mechanical pencil is the Pentel GraphGear 500, but its MSRP is a bit close to my usual ceiling budget for new pencils, so I was reluctant to pick up its “big brother” the GraphGear 1000, until I saw one for a good deal. There are a lot of upgrades and features the 1000 has that the 500 does not, but is it worth the extra price (it usually costs)?

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If I was to give an example of an over-engineered pencil, the GraphGear 1000 would be that pencil. The body starts out pretty simple, with the back half being mainly cylindrical and having all the necessary information printed on it. The front half has the (grip) section that is very lightly knurled and has 24 embedded rubber ovals to increase comfort and grip. The “cone” in front of the section that steps and tapers down to the “lead pipe” screws off, allowing the section to be removed and reoriented. A small cutout at the end of the section (near the middle of the pencil) can then be oriented over a scale of hardnesses that are printed (stickered) around the inside barrel to show the correct hardness of the pencil (mine was preset at HB). Then the cone can be screwed back down to lock in the selection. (Otherwise the inner barrel is a smooth black plastic with a matte finish that isn’t really intended to be seen).

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The lead pipe usually featured on “drafting” pencils is curiously absent when one first inspects the item. It can be found by pressing the clicking mechanism on the end, at which point it pops out and is locked in place via a locking mechanism on the clip. Further clicking of the mechanism will extend the lead (or, by holding it down, allow the lead to be retracted) and pushing the top of the spring-loaded clip will release the simple locking mechanism and cause the lead pipe to quickly hide away in the cone again. The clicking mechanism cap can be removed to reveal an eraser, which can be removed to reveal lead storage. Both are friction fit with nice tolerances. And the mechanism’s cap has the lead size (.5mm for mine) printed on the top for easy reading when in a pencil cup.

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How well does all of this work? Very. Everything is solid, most of the important parts being made out of metal, giving it quite a heft when compared to the 500. The clicking and locking mechanisms are smooth, quick, solid, and satisfying to use. There is no play at all when using the pencil, and it tucks away perfectly (when the lead is retracted). The HB lead it comes with is standard. It’s bordering on the hard side of HB, but it’s still pretty smooth, and from using the same variety in other pencils for quite some time I can say it is reasonably break-resistant for the .5 size. The grip is surprisingly comfortable and the rubber ovals hardly noticeable (in fact they might not be necessary, or may even make it a bit more slippery than I would prefer). The clip does a very good job of clipping (mostly because of the cutout and spring present for the locking mechanism), and it slides off with very little damage from its well-polished edges (my model has a chromed-out clip for extra smoothness and flair I guess) and it being the locking mechanism means the lead pipe will retract as soon as it’s clipped on to something, preventing damage. The eraser is the same as the one on the 500, and it does a decent job getting rid of marks while being firm enough to not disappear completely.

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With that multitude of features and solidness of performance is it worth the price? Assuredly. But do you really need all of those features? Probably not. This is a great pencil and I’m really glad I was able to get one (even more glad it was at what I consider to be a really good price) but it just won’t be replacing the 500 for me (at least at the moment: only time will tell). I’m not really sure what it is about it, since it’s got a nice weight, a satisfying feel, good writing capability, and it isn’t ugly (though my model {the PG1015} is a silver color with chrome clip and button and I wouldn’t call it the most handsome pencil in my collection) but it’s just not right for me. Still, it is an astounding pencil at a very good price and if the features I’ve talked about interest you, or you want to move up in the world of mechanical pencils either as a hobby or an artist I can heartily recommend this as an excellent next step.

Review – OHTO Sharp Pencil APS-350ES

I like tiny, pocket-sized things. Especially writing utensils, like the Fisher Space Pen Stowaway, the cheap touch screen styluses, and now the subject of this review, the OHTO mini Sharp Pencil. All of these happen to be the same size. So the OHTO is cool both in that it matches many other small items you can buy, but it also might be the smallest mechanical pencil I have ever seen, being a little over 4 inches long and less than 3/16ths of an inch in diameter. But at that size will it still work well? Let’s take a look.

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The design is meant to mimic a wooden pencil. The outside of the pencil is actually made of wood and has a hexagonal design. Mine is in green, with silver printed information on one facet. The tip is sharpened like a wood pencil until about halfway when it is replaced by a metal cone that leads to a very short lead pipe. On the back there is a clip that is a separate piece of metal bent around and friction fit. Beyond that is the click mechanism that is really only usable when the eraser holder is installed. The eraser holder is quite a simple piece of metal that keeps the lead in the feeder, depresses the click mechanism, and holds a very small eraser. The wire-thin piece of metal attaching this piece to the body seems rather flimsy and easy to remove, but I have had no problems with it shaking loose: it simply doesn’t have enough mass. Likewise I have encountered no problems with the quality of any of the components.

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The lead seems to be HB. I don’t have the package (which is rather understated and nice by the way) with me so I don’t know what it is exactly, but I have no complaints. It writes well, and can be sufficiently dark. The eraser also works surprisingly well for its size, with very little being used to rub away quite a bit, but I wouldn’t say it’s a great eraser. The click mechanism is satisfying and the lead is held very securely in place when one is using the pencil. The clip is also very good for the size, easily holding it in place while not damaging anything.

In the end, for on-the-go sketching or writing I would certainly recommend this product. I also wouldn’t recommend it at all for stationary or desk-related activities. It is very small, and while that makes it portable, it isn’t the most comfortable of writing implements. It will hold up very well in a bag or a pocket, and it looks quite neat in my opinion. I’d just say be careful of the back end being knocked loose and stock up on some extra erasers and lead (it only comes with one of each) as one will likely run through them pretty quickly.

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.

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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.

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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).

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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 – Zebra M-301 Mechanical Pencil

The Zebra F-301 is one of my favorite and most hardy ballpoint pens. I’ve used one for a long time, and they have a good record for staying together. But Zebra has several other writing utensils in their “301” line, one being the still-very-popular M-301 Mechanical pencil. Is it as good as its counterpart? Let’s see.

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The body of the pencil is the same as the pen, starting with a sturdy stainless steel click button, and going to a black plastic clip “holder” for a stainless steel clip that does its job if one doesn’t get turned upside down and shaken. The barrel is also a nice, plain stainless steel with the pencil’s information printed on it. The grip section is plastic with a bit of “knurling” that provides some grip and is unintrusive. The real difference between the two bodies is that after the section the pencil has a black plastic taper with a metal pipe for the lead. Unscrewing this will reveal the lead and make it breakable but otherwise not change the operation.

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The push cap operates smoothly, and can be removed to reveal an eraser that does its job, though it has no replacements in the package. Removing the eraser reveals the lead feed, which thankfully does come with more than one lead in the standard version. The lead feeds well, and writes as smooth as one would expect a standard HB to. It is a bit hard, and brittle at times; unlike many pens there is no shock absorber, so keep the lead as short as possible. The pipe and the lack of a shock absorber do make this pencil much more like a drafting pencil than the standard mechanical pencils, and it would work in that scenario in a pinch (or perhaps a bit longer). And its rugged steel exterior make it great for taking anywhere. One would just have to worry about the pipe getting bent or tearing something.

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It’s a great pencil, really, and it lives up to the expectations of its ballpoint relative. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a tough little thing that gets the job done, and for an inexpensive price, considering the materials and drafting-friendly capability. If one can find refills, they will have a pencil they can take anywhere for a very long time, even if it’s not their main utensil.

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.

 

Review – Uni Kuru Toga Roulette

I’ve previously looked at one of the most liked (and according the to the Wirecutter the best) recent mechanical pencils, the UniBall Kuru Toga; I was under whelmed. Recently I was able to get a hold of the upgraded version, the Roulette. Is it worth the upgrade? Should you skip the regular model and get this one? Let’s take a look.

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The back end of the pencil is a plastic and metal lead advancer; it works and doesn’t dig into the skin. There is a rubberized ring around it for reasons I don’t quite understand. Removing the advancer reveals a super tiny eraser that won’t last long but does indeed erase. Below that is a clip, which is fit onto the barrel in a way that would allow removal, but with difficulty. Japan is stamped into the side of the clip, and the name and size of the pencil is written on the barrel just beneath the clip. The barrel is plain until one gets to the section, which is metal and extended, the bottom half is knurled, but not aggressively so; it provides a good grip. There is a small hole in the grip that allows one to see the fact that the pencils mechanism is turning (but no the mechanism itself). Down from that is a tip very similar to the regular Kuru Toga, but extended is some ways. On this model this oddly designed step down cap is still not necessary, but covers up an otherwise ugly portion.

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Now on to the part everybody loves, the mechanism. I mentioned that I was under-whelmed by this previously, and I still am, but I know why now. The window in the grip section allowed me to see clearly when the mechanism was turning and when it wasn’t. And while it was possible to do this in the cheaper versions I was a bit harder to see. The mechanism itself by the way, as far as I can tell, is identical in both pencils, but there is no way to open them and find out exactly without possibly rendering them inoperable. But the answer to when the mechanism was turning when I was writing with the pencil was… never. I tested it, the mechanism works, it just never moves when “I” write with it. My writing, and drawing, are much too light to get it to rotate the lead, and thus I never see the affects. The packaging (for the inexpensive one, my roulette came in all Japanese packaging) says that the mechanism helps with the point of the pencil, and to prevent breakage. I really have never had a problem with either of these things, partly because I flail the pencil around compulsively when writing and drawing, and that rotates it such that my lead is always at a point. Now I guess I know that I write far too lightly to have a problem with breakage. But man, if I write lightly, some people must really press down on the things. So yes, it works flawlessly, but if you write like I do it isn’t really a selling point. And finally I wouldn’t worry about the mechanism wearing out, it is extremely well made and there have been no complaints about such a thing occurring, so if it does by that time you’d be able to just get a new one, it’s popularity means it likely isn’t going anywhere.

So, it is a good pencil? Yes. Is it worth the money for the upgraded version? Yes, even without the mechanism. The pencil is solid, well made, and solves the comfort issues I had with the less expensive version. The weight is good, the feel is good, the metal gives one a good grip and the writing is nice and fine. And if one does press hard enough to activate the mechanism I’ve heard nothing but good things. I wouldn’t take it over my Graphgear, but that’s just personal preference. I like the thinner body a little better on that one. So if you write with a lot of pressure, the Kuru Toga is the pencil for you, if you don’t you have other equally good options within the price range in my opinion. Even then it’s definitely worth a look.