Review – Field Notes Pencil

Field Notes has made a name for themselves creating (or branding) basic but well made items for note taking and such. Their notebooks balance affordability with quality, and their range of accessories attempt to do the same. The Field Notes pencil (like the pen I’ve looked at before) is on its own quite a bit more expensive than most similar pencils, but they are often included as a free pack-in item (like their pens, calendars and rubber bands), so you usually don’t have to buy them straight out. But are they any good?

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The body has basically the same dimensions as your standard round pencil. The wood is a nice, unfinished cedar, with large amount of information printed on it in black. Attached to the back end is a nicely fitted aluminum ferrule with “green” green eraser. Everything is very precisely manufactured and it feels/looks great. You get more printed information that average, like the: brand, website, lead hardness, materials, and inventory number. It’s all laid out clearly and printed cleanly.

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The performance is about what you’d expect. The HB lead is a little rougher than some, but it goes down relatively dark while not eroding the point too quickly. The eraser could be better, but it does its job and there’s quite a lot of it to use (it doesn’t disintegrate immediately like some others do). I grew up with round pencils and I prefer their feel, so I think the ergonomics are quite good: it gives one a little more to hold on to, but it will more easily roll off the table. But the most surprising thing upon picking it up is how light it is. When brand new, I can actually feel the weight of the ferrule/eraser pulling the back of the pencil down a bit, which is a very unusual feeling, but you get used to it, and the lightness is wonderful for longer “penciling” sessions.

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It’s a relatively high quality pencil that I don’t think you can get anywhere else (unlike the Field Notes pen, which is a branded Bic Clic), but I’m not sure they’re worth the nearly $1 (83¢) asking price. They’re as good as or better than the name-brand pencils you find at the store (Dixon, PaperMate) but they’re at least twice the price, crossing the border from regular writing pencils into budget sketching pencils, with which I don’t think they compete. They’re good pencils for what they are, but I’m not going to be ordering a set anytime soon. Still, they make a nice bonus when opening your Field Notes packages (as are all the little things Field Notes puts in as extras).

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Review – Parker Classic Pen and Pencil Set (GT)

Have your eyes ever glanced over something where you “knew” what it was but had to double take because something was just “wrong” about it? That’s what happened to me when I first came across the Parker Classic pens. I thought they were Jotters, Parker’s very popular, least expensive pen, but something was just… “off”. And indeed it was, after purchasing it and comparing it to my Jotter at home I discovered that it is a bit different (mainly in thickness), but does that improve anything?

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My version (the GT, which I think stands for “gold trim”) is a super simple design. The barrel is a cylindrical piece of stainless steel that screws together in the center. The front third tapers down to a hole, through which the nib protrudes when activated (on the pencil there is a small lead pipe here, extending the length slightly). And the back section of the pen ever so slightly tapers down to the click mechanism. Both the top clicker and the arrow-shaped clip are done in a gold-colored, chrome-like finish, and “Parker – Made in U.S.A.” is very minimally engraved at the separation (on the back half).

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The clip does a very good job, being more detailed but just as strong as the clip on the Jotter, and actually affixed to the metal and not on its own separate (if unremovable) band. The clicks on both the pen and pencil are quite satisfying, the pencil more so because it is slightly shorter (thus having less traveling distance) and more firm (it also has rings near the top to help distinguish between the two in the pocket). Because of its length, the pen one does seem a bit floaty. The pencil’s click button also pulls off to reveal a usable pink eraser (it’s nothing special), and when that is removed, the lead reservoir (for .5mm leads). The design of the pencil here means that the mechanism is fully attached to the front part of the pencil, and unscrewing the back does nothing to hinder the operation (other than making it less comfortable) or allow for any maintenance.

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I haven’t mentioned the ink/lead yet because there isn’t really much to talk about. The black, fine cartridge (standard Parker type) and HB .5mm lead the two come with is exactly as you’d expect. Relatively smooth, almost dark, and mostly break-and-water-resistant. The main difference in handling comes from the size. They are a bit longer than the Jotter, at 5¼” (pen) and 5 3/8” (pencil) long, but it’s really the diameter that makes the difference, being 1/8” smaller at their widest of ¼”. This doesn’t make them much lighter, but it does make them nicer to use for someone like me who likes smaller barrels on their pens, or is trying to store things more efficiently.

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It is an upgrade from the area of 3rd tier pens (like the Jotter, which is above semi-disposable pens, which are above fully disposable pens). It has more refined, nicer feeling, and is just as durable. But it isn’t too much of an upgrade unless you really like the slim dimensions (like me). The fact that it’s apparently been discontinued is a hint at whether or not people really thought it was worth upgrading, but I’m a fan, and at a decent price I think they are serious competition for the Jotter in the pencil case. I’m keeping mine around, and it’ll probably last me a lifetime.

Mini Review – Museum Siam Pencil

I’ve looked at quite a few triangular-shaped pencils recently; they seem to be a trend attempting to make writing more comfortable. While they are obscure, I had heard about them and they make sense. Trending in the opposite direction I have here a pencil from the Museum Siam that is square (with rounded edges). One would think that would be uncomfortable, and maybe that’s why it’s a much less readily available design. Let’s take a look.

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The body of the pencil is super simple. It’s a rounded off 5mm rectangular prism with a nice matte black paint. On the side, stamped, in nice red letters are “Museum Siam” and a pictograph of a worker. The back of the pencil is capped with a red material but this is covered with a quite large eraser that is also in the shape of the logo/worker dude.

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This pencil is obviously a novelty or keepsake, and while it writes like a fairly normal #2, being a bit toothy and on the soft side, it probably wasn’t meant to be written with very much and most of the normal information you’d find on a pencil is absent. The body of the pencil is surprisingly easy to hold, and allows for a good grip without much cramping, though it will dig in a little more than more standard pencil shapes. The biggest problem is the eraser, which makes the pencil massively back-heavy and almost unusable when attached. I didn’t test its performance because I didn’t want to damage its aesthetics but I suspect, like most shaped erasers, it would perform poorly.

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It’s a pretty neat little gift shop item if you’re a fan of weirder pencils, and there isn’t much else to say about it really.

Review – Apsara Extra Dark Triangle Pencil

I’ve been looking at a lot of international pencils recently, and these are no exception. While Apsara pencils aren’t necessarily “hard” to come across in the US, these particular pencils, the Extra Dark Triangular, are virtually nowhere to be found. Are these Indian pencils worth getting your hands on, or nothing special?

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The pencil almost couldn’t be simpler. They have a rounded triangular body coated in yellow paint. The back end is also rounded off and capped with a thin amount of shiny black material. Most of your necessary information is stamped on the side and filled in with black paint, though in lieu of a hardness number (they’re 2B by the way) there is instead the vague “Extra Dark”.

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They are darker than the average #2 pencil, and quite soft/smooth, losing their point very quickly. I wouldn’t call them “extra dark” but you could certainly get away with it. And it’s nice for sketching or filling in scantron bubbles. The wood that the main body is made of is very light and cheap, with paint that is shoddily applied (it isn’t a nice, even coat, and you can see through it in places) but the triangular shape is comfortable and there’s enough friction to keep it in your hand nicely.

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It’s far from the king of all pencils, but it’s comfortable, doesn’t like to roll off tables, and feels like nothing when holding it. It’s a decent test-taking tool (though it lacks an eraser) and an inexpensive* way to get those darker lines when sketching. Personally, the darker lines and triangular shape aren’t my style, but if that interests you and you find one out in the wild you might want to take a serious look. But I wouldn’t go seeking them out until they become more widely available.

*I assume

Review – Stabilo No. 288 Exam Grade Pencils

Every time my brother goes on an international adventure, I get to reap the rewards by looking at writing utensils from another country without the hassle of actually having to visit that country. Now, Stabilo is a company with many products available in the US or easily shipped there, and the subject of this review, the Exam Grade No. 288 2B pencil, can be found and purchased here, but when you compare prices and availability it’s obvious it’s really meant for foreign markets (mine cost 36 {probably less} Thai Baht {or a dollar and 3 cents} for three pencils when compared to $3-7 on eBay or Amazon plus shipping). Is there a reason to chase them across the world or are they just Paper:Mate equivalents?

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Most of the information on the package is in Thai, a language that I unfortunately don’t speak or read but have enough objects displaying it around my house that I can instantly recognize it. The pencils themselves are all in English, though, so for someone like me identification and re-ordering would be an easy thing to do. They’re a standard wooden hexagonal design with a black matte finish until the final ¾”, where there’s a glossy white band followed by a glossy red “cap” of paint. No eraser is affixed; instead, a separate eraser is included in the package. On two opposing facets of the body all of the necessary information is printed (poorly) in a silver ink and ever-so-slightly stamped (there’s also a barcode in white).

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Performance is pretty par. Supposedly, these are pencils meant to take school tests with, and I would say they do a good job of that. The wood isn’t great quality, but it’s light and sharpens easily. The graphite is on the darker side being a 2B (an unusual but not unheard-of hardness for US school pencils). It looseits point quickly but makes a darker mark, something I’m not a fan of, but is good for filling in bubbles on a scantron (or something similar). The black eraser comes in a card sleeve where all of the information is also in English. Supposedly it’s “specifically designed to erase scan sheets cleanly with minimal eraser mess” (and a bit of paraphrasing). And it’s not bad. Light marks are erased easily and darker marks passably, and the eraser shavings do clump up to create less mess. It also doesn’t seem to disappear right before your eyes as you use it. It’s far from a perfect eraser, but it (the 1191) is at least comparable to the standard pink erases that are so easily found.

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As far as quality is concerned I’m not going to be running off to Thailand anytime soon to track down a lifetime supply. They’re competent but not excellent everyday/school pencils that are inexpensive and usable with a few subtle changes when compared to their counterparts in the west. If you should ever find yourself in Thailand or any area that sells them (perhaps you live there) they can easily be used for most daily tasks, but they’re nothing to write home about.

Review – Pilot Opt (.5mm)

It’s always surprising how many innovations there can be for something as (seemingly) old, tried, and true as a mechanical pencil. The Pilot Opt is a fairy traditional and comfortably chunky mechanical pencil save for its unique advance mechanism. While a standard click-mechanism is available and quite usable (and necessary for retracting), there is also a sliding weight inside that allows the pencil to be shaken to advance the lead. But is this shake advance mechanism (that I don’t fully understand) a real improvement over the standard, or just a gimmick?

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The body of the pencil is fatter than the average mechanical pencil and relatively torpedo-shaped, with the thickest part being around two-thirds of the way toward the front and tapering down from there. Forward of this hump there is a (removable) rubber grip section and a metal cone, attached to which is a smaller metal cone that serves as a lead pipe. As far as I can tell, the farthest this pencil can be taken down by the user is removing these two bits, which gets you nowhere. Behind the grip section is a clear piece of plastic with a colored checker pattern (which is black, trying to mimic a “carbon fiber” look. Other syles come in other colors) below this, you can see the black tube containing the advance mechanism. Behind that is a correspondingly colored opaque plastic bit that contains just enough printed information about the pen and holds the attached spring-clip on a pivot. At the very end of the pencil is a(nother) correspondingly colored translucent plastic eraser cover, under which is a small white eraser that can be removed to access the lead tube.

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The lead and eraser are what you would expect from Pilot: that is, quite serviceable. The lead is a fine .5 and the one included feels like an HB. It’s a medium hardness and quite smooth, nothing to write home about but nothing wrong. The eraser gets the job done but like many mechanical pencil erasers is entirely too small (in my opinion). This is offset slightly by it not being they type that disappears easily. The push click mechanism is usable and gets thing done, but is a little underwhelming. And the clip is great, being smooth enough to not damage items but strong enough to hold on firmly, while the spring mechanism makes it easier to use and harder to break. But obviously the main attraction is the shake advance mechanism, which works as advertised. A good shake will advance enough lead for one to be able to write, though it might take two to get to a length most people are comfortable with. The advance per “shake” is comparable to the advance per “click” with minor length differences depending on some ethereal power (likely gravity and the external forces you apply). And the weight inside needs to reach both extremes in a short period of time with some force in order to advance the lead, this means that accidental advancement is a rare occurrence, but when intentionally done can be a surprisingly subtle gesture (though it’s still violent enough that people might give you strange looks). I haven’t had it advance in my bag, yet it’s always done so easily when I was using it.

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Without its gimmick this is still a solid pencil, though one could argue that its ¥200 (≈$1.75) price tag isn’t worth it without the shake advance (the same for its increased US price of $3.00-3.50) but even then it’s right on the line for the quality (though I wouldn’t get it without the mechanism because of its thickness). But with the mechanism it becomes a fascinating and usable utensil. The grip is comfortable, if wide, the lead and eraser are of quality, the clip is a step up, and the mechanisms work wonderfully. If you’ve been looking for a more convenient advance mechanism and other options like side advance aren’t doing it for you this is certainly something to look at. And while I probably wouldn’t have bought one for myself (it was a gift from my brother when he went to Japan), and indeed I won’t be keeping it in my daily use pencil bag, I had a fun time with it all throughout my testing.

Review – Kokuyo PS-FP102 Mechanical Pencil (.7mm) (DM)

In a time where a lot of companies are trying to re-invent the wheel with their pencils, Kokuyo from Japan has made a relatively inexpensive, minimalistic, and comfortable mechanical pencil. The PS-FP102 (Pencil Sharp {my guess from the website}) omits several things that could be thought of as standard, and uses that effort on a sturdy and comfortable design (that is, from what I understand, ostensibly for children in school). Is the trade-off worth it?

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The body is one of the simplest to be found on a mechanical pencil, being mainly a vaguely triangular-ized (at least the “frosted” versions are triangular) cylinder with a rubbery coating for the 4 ½” body. Sticking out a quarter of an inch on the back is the click-advance button, and five eighths on the front is a plastic cone, from which a smaller metal “lead-pipe” can emerge bringing the total length of the cone to three quarter inches. Printed (maybe stamped or adhered) on one of the facets is all of the information about the pencil (which seems like it will rub off in the future but has withstood use so far).

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The body can be unscrewed at the cone, revealing that the rubberized triangular barrel is just a sheath, and the cone mechanism can be pulled from the front. As far as I can tell no further takedown can be done and neither of these operation provide any real benefit that I can see beyond checking how much lead is in the pencil (through a convenient window {the view on my frosted black version from the outside is blocked}) and perhaps clearing out the front mechanism.

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Writing performance is good; the lead is a .7mm and presumably HB (there are also .9 and 1.2mm versions). It’s a bit too thick for what I usually like to write with (.5mm) but it is fairly break-resistant and smooth, which would be good qualities for a school pencil, and from what I understand that is what it was originally designed for. There is no eraser or clip (though there is a version of the pencil that comes with a stand-alone eraser and friction-fit clip) and instead of having to remove a back piece to insert lead there is simply a hole just big enough to fit the lead through that lead can be fed into. Once it has been pushed all the way in, it enters into a larger reservoir and will not likely find the correct angle with sufficient force to come back out of the hole. It’s honestly a pretty elegant lead-feeding system if one doesn’t care about having an eraser.

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The click-advance mechanism is very smooth and workable, but unsatisfying. The metal “nib”/lead-pipe at the front does retract and advance with the lead, neatly preventing any damage that it would cause but being a bit fiddly (it’s easily possible to retract the lead and not the metal piece, which is a bit of a strange situation). And the rubberized, triangularized grip is very easy to hold, not slippery at all, and quite comfortable (though not my preference), especially for hands just learning to write (it keeps fingers in the proper orientation). I must say, though, that it only barely resists rolling off the table more than its round counterparts.

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So instead of an eraser or clip, this pencil provides an elegant lead-feeding system, comfortable and chucky triangular grip, and a stow-away point. All of which make it a good fiddly-bit-free pencil for students, and with a slide-over clip and external eraser (the integrated ones are never enough) it might also be a preferable one for artists or in the office. For the mostly reasonable price of ¥180 (≈$1.55) it’s a solidly designed, well built little pencil that seems like it would last under a bit of stress and is certainly worth checking out if you want a triangular grip or to forgo the standard integrated eraser for greater lead convenience.