I Know What I Like – Top 10 Pens and Pencils

Welcome to part 3 of the ongoing saga of I Know What I Like. Check out parts 1 and 2 if you have even more time to waste. I cover pens that have fallen out of favor in those previous installments. Today, we’ll cover the pens that have made the cut.

Before getting to the list of pens that have made it behind the velvet rope, let me just say that this narrowing process has been interesting and frustrating. Interesting because it made me assess what I like and how I actually use writing tools. The fact of the matter is that I do not have a lot of use cases for fountain pens. I just don’t, and I do not want to make you think I use fountains pen more than I do. It has been frustrating because, depending upon the day and my particular mood, a given pen may just make or miss the cut. Ultimately, this part 3 of I Know What I Like covers writing tools that, many more days than not, make the short list. Yes, I may flirt with other options but time and time again I find myself coming back to these choices. In an attempt to be fair, informative and easy to read, I limit myself to mentioning a few pros and cons of each item. Just know that, in my final estimation, the pros outweigh the cons for each item.

Pelikan Souveran K405 Ballpoint

Pelikan405

Pros:

  • Just look at it! A near perfect balance of sharpness and simplicity. I actually have an all blue K405 headed my way that I think I might like even more.
  • Takes the Parker Quinkflow refill. Yes, Parker Quinkflow may be boring and the blue ink may be a touch too purple, but it works for me.
  • The diameter of this pen is just about perfect for me.

Cons:

  • It is a touch (just a touch) too light. If it were ~1 gram heavier it would be perfect.
  • The clip on my K405 is not quite tight enough. It sits fine in a shirt pocket, but it can come loose if kept in a front jeans pocket as is my preference.

TWSBI Eco 

TWSBIEco

Pros:

  • TWSBI stainless steel nibs offer great price-to-quality ratios and the Eco uses nibs I have from other TWSBI pens.
  • Probably the best made fountain pen TWSBI produces. Unlike other TWSBIs, quality control does not seem to be an issue with this TWSBI edition.
  • Plenty of ink capacity
  • Feels great in my hand. I want to be in full control of a pen when I hold it. No slipperiness please! The Eco delivers on this point big time.
  • Piston filler on a fairly inexpensive pen is cool.

Cons:

  • Not the best looking pen I own. The “chunky” cap is a bit of a mismatch for the body and the reliance of rubber rings is a bit cheesy.
  • The cap can post, but it looks and feels silly when you do.

Tombow Mono/Mono 100 Pencil (F graphite)

TomboMono100

Pros:

  • I’m a lefty so I need graphite that does not smudge easily. I have tried many, many, many wood cased pencils and the Tombow Mono and Mono 100 in F offer the best balance of smudge resistance and smoothness hands down. I will not debate this point! Other opinions are simply wrong! Maybe it’s the F graphite, but the point retention is superior as well.
  • The quality control on these pencils is excellent. The graphite is always centered, the wood sharpens perfectly each and every time and the finish of every Mono or Mono 100 I own is as good as the next.

Cons:

  • It does not have an eraser. Some people don’t care about this. I do, but only a little. As you can see, I popped an eraser cap on mine. This does detract from the look a bit but I’m okay with that.
  • Not dirt cheap (~$1.20 per pencil on Amazon).

Pentel Twist-Erase Mechanical Pencil (usually 0.7 mm)

PentelTwistErase

Pros:

  • The grip material and diameter work well for me. These pencils got me through calculus, chemistry and physics tests back in the day so I think shared adversity breeds a bit of fondness.
  • The length of the pencil is almost perfect. I wish the clip were shorter or about 0.5 cm further from the point so as to completely avoid contact with my hand, but otherwise the length and balance are great.
  • Hey look, an actual eraser that (a) erases and (b) lasts more than 5 minutes on a mechanical pencil!
  • Very easy to find and cheap.

Cons:

  • Non-retractable tip can make it shallow-pocket unfriendly.
  • The clip is too tight. I have to work a bit to make sure the clip slides onto a pocket.

Edison Menlo Pump Filler

EdisonMenlo

Pros:

  • Look. At. It. Look. At. It. Again.
  • The stainless steel nib on this pen is the best nib I have ever used. Smooth but not too smooth and never skips.
  • The pump filling mechanism is fun.
  • The writing experience and balance work equally well for me capped and uncapped.
  • The hold and control I have on this pen is fantastic.

Cons:

  • This puppy was not cheap.
  • The material has a noticeable odor that took a few weeks to dissipate.
  • It’s a fountain pen so it does not get the use time that fully justifies its expense (that’s on me, not the pen).

Parker Jotter

ParkerJotter

Pros:

  • Classic design and color options galore! This may sound odd, but I feel more connected to the bygone days of analog workflow when using Jotters than I do with any other writing tool, including fountain pens. To me, a fountain pen can feel more like an extravagance than a call back to days gone by. Meanwhile, the Jotter is a more subtle and realistic connection to the past.
  • Obviously, it takes the aforementioned Parker Quinkflow refill that I prefer.
  • Fun to collect without breaking the bank.
  • The quality control of the older Jotters (brass threads) is outstanding.

Cons:

  • The diameter of most Jotters is on the thin side of acceptable for me.
  • Versions with the plastic threads can feel too light and cheap.

rOtring 800 Mechanical Pencil (in black and usually 0.7 mm)

Rotring800

Pros:

  • Weight, balance and grip are all near perfect for me. I do not know why, but silver rOtrings always feel too cold and slippery to my hand but the black versions, especially the 800, feel so much better.
  • The retractable tip makes this 100% pocket safe and adds a bit of a wow factor.
  • I was able to move the clip up just enough so that it does not interfere with my hand when writing.

Cons:

  • The diameter of the grip section is a hair too small for my perfect preferences.
  • Like most mechanical pencils, the eraser is an afterthought and replacements cost more than they should.

Delta Fusion 82

DeltaFusion82

Pros:

  • The fusion nib thing may be a bit goofy, but it works for me. Other than the nib on my Edison, this fusion nib is the best one I have in my collection and it was great right out of the box.
  • Weight, balance (posted or unposted) and grip of this pen all work for me.
  • The fine nib on this Delta is clearly finer than the fine nib on the Edison. If I want a true fine, I go with the Delta. If I want a medium-fine, I go with the Edison.
  • Given that the writing experiences are similar, this Delta was a much better deal than the Edison.

Cons:

  • I’m not thrilled with the color. I did get it for a good price (relatively speaking) but picking this color was a compromise. It’s a decent color, just not ideal.
  • Unlike the Edison, this fountain pen does not do as well with the rough and tumble of a backpack. It does not really leak, but the nib and interior of the cap can get a bit inky if the pen gets knocked around a bit.

Lamy 2000 Rollerball (w/ Pilot Juice refill)

Lamy2000

Pros:

  • This pen is the newest member of the short list and currently occupies a particular need. Specifically, it is the capped (non-retractable) pen I am using for the Pilot Juice refills I enjoy so much. The Render K G2 use to hold this spot (and may again some day), but I want a capped pen option for using Juice refills and the Lamy 2000 is it right now. (Small amount of hacking required)
  • Like all the Lamy 2000 pens, the fiberglass body feels great in my hand.
  • The spring clip works well – easy on, easy off without any lack of hold.

Cons:

  • The tiny metal bits on the grip section that hold the cap on can be distracting. I am past this issue but it is a thing to overcome.
  • You could easily spend $100 or more for this pen. You absolutely should not.

Tactile Turn Mover (w/ Pilot Juice refill)

TactileTurnMover

Pros:

  • Comes in a few different colors and materials so you have options. The “sand” colored aluminum version is shown here.
  • Metal pens can be hard to hold. The turns of the grip area are the best design answer to this issue I have seen. So simple yet so clever.
  • For me, this pen compliments the Lamy 2000 in that it is the retractable pen of choice for the Pilot Juice refills. My #1 grading pen is a TT Mover with a red Juice refill.
  • Weight and diameter generally work well for me. There are days I think it’s a touch to wide, but I’d rather it be a touch too wide than a touch too skinny.

Cons:

  • I will not call it a quality control problem, but I did return a blue Mover I bought through Massdrop to maker. To his credit, he could not have been nicer or quicker about addressing the issue.
  • You do need to be deliberate with the knock mechanism. This is not the knock for figgidy folks.

So there we have it. It turns out there are ten items here, so I guess we could call this my top 10 writing tools. If I never buy another pen in my life, I would be perfectly fine with these ten. I will still look for other options of course, but I will be more particular about what I buy from now on. If I do not think a pen or pencil has a chance of displacing one of these ten items, then I will likely pass on it.

Lastly, I hear some of you asking, “Great. But what is your one absolute favorite writing tool?” Well, if I had to pick just one it would clearly be the…

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A Bucket of Pencils

PencilBucket

The humble mechanical pencil has always been a key component of my writing arsenal. I have had a few favorites over the years, but I never really zeroed in one or two (or five for that matter) as my go-to mechanical pencils. Due mostly to its availability, cheap price and fantastic eraser, Pentel’s standard Twist Erase (usually in 0.7 mm) frequently found its way into my hand. That little guy got me through more than a few organic chemistry tests in college. The Twist Erase is a fine pencil to be sure but that never stopped me from buying and trying other possibilities. How many other mechanical pencils have a tried over the years? Well, here is the list of mechanical pencils currently residing in the dedicated mechanical pencil bin at home. This list does not include the odd pencil lost in an office drawer somewhere or pencil components in multipens, but it is a reasonably complete list of the mechanical pencils I have tried over the years.

(in no particular order…)
Pentel Twist Erase 0.5, 0.7, 0.9
Pentel Twist Erase GT 0.7
Pentel Twist Erase XP 0.5, 0.7
Pentel Twist Erase Click 0.7, 0.9
Pentel P205 0.5, 0.7, 0.9
Foray 0.7
Kokuyo PS-P100 0.9
Platinum Pro-Use 0.7
Pentel e-Sharp 0.5, 0.7, 0.9
Caran d’Ache 844 0.7
Staedtler 925 0.7, 0.9
Vintage Eversharp 0.9
Parker 45 0.9
Pilot G2 0.7
Pentel PG1009 0.9
Pentel Energize X 0.5, 0.7
Pentel Energize Deluxe 0.5, 0.7
Pentel Graphgear 500 0.3, 0.5, 0.7
Pentel Graphgear 1000 0.5, 0.9
Pentel Graphlet 0.7
Alvin Draft/Matic 0.7, 0.9
Alvin Draft-Tec Retrac 0.5
Pentel Kerry 0.5, 0.7
OHTO Promecha 0.9
Zebra DelGuard 0.5
Autopoint 0.9
Autopoint Jumbo 0.9
rOtring 600 Newton Lava 0.7
rOtring 600 Newton Black 0.7
rOtring Tikky 0.7
rOtring Rapid Pro 0.7
rOtring 800 0.7
Parker Jotter 0.5
Parker Lifestyle 0.7
Pilot Color Eno 0.7 (multiple colors)
Lamy 2000 0.7
Lamy Scribble 0.7
Retro 51 Einstein 1.15
Cult Pens Double Knock 0.5, 0.7
Staedtler 925-35 0.5, 0.7, 0.9
Uni Kuru Toga 0.5, 0.7
(By my count, that’s well over 60 mechanical pencils I could put my hands on right now. )

As part of my objective to simplify/reduce/focus my writing tools, I would like to curtail this unwieldy collection down to a final few. Getting down to 2 or 3 options for each of the common graphite sizes (0.5, 0.7 and 0.9) would be a nice goal. I have made considerable headway towards on this in the past several weeks, but I am not yet down to a final list. Maybe I will compare similar pencils along the way so do not be surprised if a few mechanical pencil posts show up around these parts.

What will I do with the pencils that do not make the cut? The less expensive pencils will make their way into the “free for the taking” beaker of pens and pencils I keep in my classroom. Any pencil worth a few bucks will likely head to eBay. More to come…

Lamy Accent 4Pen

LamyAccent1

I reviewed the Lamy 2000 Multipen and it turned out to be the most popular post I’ve written in a while so it seems like a good time to review one of Lamy’s other multipens, the Accent 4Pen. You have to give the people what they want!

I have owned the Accent for several years and it is a great pen. However, for two reasons that I’ll get to soon, it falls just a bit short for me. I really, really want to like this pen but these two issues keep holding me back. That’s not accurate. I do like this pen – quite a bit actually. I just don’t love it and I really, really want to love it.

First, some good stuff. It’s a Lamy so the build quality and classic design are both aces. My Accent is about 8 years old and over these years of not infrequent use, it has performed like a champ. There are a few scuff marks on the matte black finish here and there but that is entirely expected. I did have to replace the mechanical pencil thingy but that was my fault. I forced a piece of graphite into the mechanism and jammed it. Lamy is pretty good about replacing broken bits on their products but the malfunction was my fault and I did not feel like waiting the 3-5 weeks or paying shipping for an inexpensive repair. I forked over about $9 and bought a replacement online.

LamyAccent2

Compared to the Lamy 2000 Multi, the Accent 4Pen is a bit heavier. While the Lamy 2000 is evenly balanced with the center of mass located very close to the middle of the body, the Accent is weighted more towards to the point. I like this forward weighting quite a bit as I feel like I have good control when writing. Also, can’t we all agree that pens weighted noticeably past the half way point and away from the point are just the worst? Anyway, the clip on the Accent is spring loaded which is pretty cool. Even cooler is the fact that the clip is rock solid showing essentially zero unwanted wiggle.

As for refills, the Accent 4Pen takes three D1 refills and a 0.7 mm mechanical pencil. There’s a lot to like with a 3 + 1 set up. It offers plenty of pen variety with the added benefit of having a pencil. The Lamy D1 ballpoint refills are some of the best around and they fit perfectly through the tip of the pen resulting is zero refill wiggle. Whether it is the 2000 or the Accent, Lamy refills feel as rock solid as any single refill retractable pen I have tried. That said, the refill hole of the Accent is a bit wider than the one on the 2000 so I do notice a bit of wiggle when the former was loaded with a slightly thinner D1 Zebra gel refill. (I do not recall coming across a wiggly refill, Lamy or otherwise, for the 2000 yet.) The mechanical pencil in the Accent is great. Like any pencil portion of a multipen, you are limited regarding the number of graphite pieces you store onboard but the pencil of the Accent is one of my favorites mechanical pencils. There is just something about the line of sight I have on the graphite and the way the hole, pencil collar and graphite line up that works really well for me.

LamyAccent7

One key difference between the Accent and the 2000 is the retraction method. The 2000 uses the same button to deploy and retract all of the refills. The Accent uses one button to deploy the refills and a second button on the side to retract the refills. I do prefer the one button approach but maybe the two button set up is needed because of the mechanical pencil. Importantly, the retraction button is easy to depress without being so soft that you can suffer an accidental retraction (that sounds really bad).

LamyAccent4

So far so good, right? So why does the Accent fall just a bit short for me? For starters, let’s talk about the grip section. If you look at the contours of the pen, you see that the widest part of the pen is the grip section. The width is not really my problem. My problem is that the grip section is pretty darn hard and gets uncomfortable after a few minutes of use. It is actually more complicated than that though. The pen refills do not stick out of the hole as far as the pencil collar and graphite. So, when using a pen refill my natural grip is right on the thickest and hardest part of that grip section. However, when I use the pencil, my natural grip falls a bit lower and I end up holding the very top of the black tip section which is actually rather comfortable. So, I end up with a comfortable grip when using the pencil but a hard and uncomfortable grip when using a pen giving the whole thing a rather schizoid experience.

LamyAccent3

My other issue with the Accent is really nitpicking. Take a look at the picture below. Do you see what color indicator is located above the clip? Yup, it’s the red indicator. Really Lamy?! Why would you put the color most people use the least in the “home” position of a multipen? That’s just stupid! Unfortunately, the color indicators cannot be moved. Yes, I could put whatever refill I want in that position but do I really need to take a Stroop test when using a pen.

LamyAccent8

Anyway, I’m not giving up on the Accent just yet. There is another version with a Palladium finish and a rubber grip section. If that rubber grip is more comfortable, and how could it not be, then I can learn to deal with the bizarre set up of the color indicators (Seriously Lamy, what the %$#@ were you thinking?!). The Accent 4Pen goes for about $75 which certainly is not cheap but given the materials and the build quality, it’s a reasonable sum. Should I find a good deal on the Palladium version someday then there is enough to like about the overall style and build quality to give the Accent 4Pen a second chance to become That One Pen.

 

The Pens and Pencils I Actually Use

That One Pen has been around for a while now. I’ve posted several dozen reviews and have been fortunate enough to accrue something resembling a decent readership. What I have not done is clearly written about what I actually use on a consistent basis. For those of us afflicted with late-stage pen and/or pencil addiction, writing tools constantly fall in and out of favor. However, over time, we find ourselves returning to a short list of favorites. What follows is a somewhat lengthy consideration of my pen and pencil short list. As with any such list, it is idiosyncratic, biased and personal but it is not hastily constructed. Trust me – the overflowing storage boxes and lower-than-otherwise-would-be bank account are evidence that this post is the result of plenty experimentation.

Here are the ground rules for this post – no categories and no rankings. I do not want to get caught up in listing my top 5 this and my top 5 that because I do not use pens and pencils based on their relative ranking in a particular category. I use stuff based on some random combination of needs and wants. Also, ignore the order in which these items are listed. If it is in this post then I like it, use it and recommend that you consider it as well. One final point. I only selected writing tools that I use, or at least have handy, multiple times in a typical week. As a result, the list is light of fountain pens. It’s not that I don’t have and use fountains pens with some frequency it’s just that only one or two are consistently inked and handy at most times. We’re focusing on the work horses here. Let’s get started.

Pentel Energel 0.7 mm
The gel pen category is huge and seems to grow every month. The range of colors, ink properties and point sizes makes the gel pen options dizzying at best and bankrupting at worst. That said, if you can buy it at Staples or order it from Jet Pens, odds are I’ve tried it. For me, the micro, needle points tend to be too scratchy and inconsistent with respect to ink flow and the broader points tend to be too wet and I need quick drying ink as a lefty. So, medium points usually find the sweet spot between smoothness, feedback and dry times. Enter the Pentel Energel. Like I said – I’ve tried just about everything in this category. Yes, I’ve flirted with other options and even gone steady with more than few, but in the end I always come back to the Energels with the 0.7 mm point. From the Deluxe RTX to the Energel-X to the Alloy to the non-retractable options, these pens come in a variety of body types. Personally, I prefer the Energel-X. The Deluxe is a tad too long. The Alloy is a bit longer still and also less comfortable and the non-retracble versions are less convenient. In a perfect world, one of the established machine pen makers will use the Energel refill as inspiration for a future design. Are you listening Karas Customs, Tactile Turn, Ti2 Design, BigiDesign, etc.?! One quick note – the Energel ink is not water-resistant so do not write your mortgage check with these pens. Actually, don’t write your mortgage check at all – send it electronically. Given that I write 2 checks a year (at most) and have never had issues with water ruining important papers I’ve written, I consider the water thing a total non-factor.

Energel

 

Tactile Turn Mover and Shaker
Speaking of machined pens…Of all the categories of pens, I find machined pens (especially those offered on Kickstarter) particularly tempting. What late-stage pen addict can resist the idea of a purpose-built pen while also supporting an entrepreneur chasing his or her dream? Heck, as a teacher I’m easily sucked into a story of hope and potential so Kickstarter is basically design to get money from folks like me. All of that said, I have grown weary of quality control in the small to medium batches that these vendors deal with and a bit tired of the utilitarian design favored by this segment as well. I am not saying machines pens are poorly made but I am saying I have sent multiple machined pens back to multiple vendors for minor tweaks here and there. Not a huge issue but it is a thing. Anyway, to me, the best pens are simple, efficient and maybe even a bit classy. I’m not going to get on any particular makers, but I have discovered that pens made from slippery aluminum tubes with screws showing on the clip are not my thing. Now, the Mover and Shaker pens from Tactile Turn give me the chance to support a small business and get an object that looks and feels like a pen. The shorter Shaker takes Parker-style refills. The longer Mover readily accepts G2-type refills. The Mover is a touch too long for my hand, but I do get a fair amount of use from my Mover when its loaded with a 0.5 mm Pilot Juice refill (more on this pen below). I don’t use it frequently, but it has a permanent place in my pen cup so it belongs in this list. Likewise, the Shaker is not my primary Parker-style refill pen (read on to find out which one is) but it’s certainly makes the short list.

TactileTurn

 

Staedtler 925 and Uni Kuru Toga (the less expensive mechanical pencils)
Honestly, how many cheap mechanical pencils does the world need? If every pencil manufacturer stopped making mechanical pencils tomorrow wouldn’t it be about 20 years before we would notice the beginnings of a shortage? I enjoy mechanical pencils as much as the next guy, but pound for plastic, there may not be another category of writing implements I’ve blown more money on than cheap mechanical pencils. Enough complaining. What less expensive mechanical pencils do I keep coming back to? Staedtler 925 and Uni Kuru Toga. Like all cheaper mechanical pencils, both of these pencils are a tad too light for me but they are also among the most comfortable writing tools, pen or pencil, I own. There isn’t any fancy about the Staedtler 925, but the ridged rubber grip is comfortable without being too squishy. As you probably know, the Kuru Toga has a cool clutch mechanism that keeps the graphite line consistent and the subtle contours of the grip area provides plenty of control. There are other mechanical pencils I carry with me and use more frequently (see below) but I have multiple sets of Kuru Toga and Staedtler pencils in multiple locations to make sure a decent mechanical pencil is always handy.

StaedtlerUni

 

TWSBI Mini (Honorable mention for TWSBI Classic and Vac 700)
To try to talk about all that fountain pens have to offer in the context of this post would be silly. There simply is too much history and too many options to get into it in one post, two posts or twenty posts. I have about 20 fountain pens in my collection but time and time again I come back to my TWSBI Mini. It’s not the best looking fountain pen I own. That honor might go to my Parker Vacumatic. But it is the fountain pen that fits my hand the best and works perfectly each and every time. It has to be the nib and feed because the TWSBI Classic, which uses the same hardware, is also rock solid for me. I prefer the slightly wider barrier of the Mini compared to the Classic and if only the darn cap of the Mini would just slide on instead of screwing on the back to post, the Mini would be perfect. While I may not use it as much as other writing tools on this list, I want to give a shout out to the Vac 700. It’s one of the quirkiest pens I own and it’s far too big to carry around but it is the ideal tool for when I want that old-school-sitting-at-my-desk-writing-like-it’s-1925 feeling. Again, there are plenty of other fountain pens in the collection but none, including the vintage pens I own, have earned my trust and loyalty like the TWSBIs. One more comment. My TWSBI Mini did develop a crack in the body. I sent an email to TWSBI USA on a Sunday morning and I got a positive reply within minutes. That, my friends, is how you do customer service.

TWSBI

 

Parker Jotter (Relatively inexpensive but classic writing tool part 1)
I don’t care what any of you pen snobs think – I love the Parker Jotter. What’s more, I like them best when they are loaded with the basic Parker Quink ballpoint refill. How do you like them apples pen dorks?! Along with spending far too much time trying different cheap mechanical pencils, I spend way too much time (and more than a few bucks) down the Parker-style refill rabbit hole. I bet I could find (conservatively counting) 15 different types of Parker-style refills in my home office in under 20 seconds. While a Fisher Space Pen refill and a 100% fresh Visconti gel refill have their benefits, I continually come back to Parker’s own Quink refill. I’ve been debating between medium and broad point recently, but one way or another it’s typically Parker Quink for me. As for the Jotter itself, its iconic design is the epitome of simplicity, efficiency and class. In truth, the Jotter is probably a few millimeters too thin to be perfectly perfect for me, but that’s just me being perfectly picky. Whether it’s a quick line on a Post-it Note, a to-do list on an index card or problem solving in a student’s five subject notebook, I know I can grab a Jotter and get a solid result each time on any paper and look classy while doing so. Remember, the Jotter has been around since 1954 so you get relatively inexpensive collectability and the benefit of touching history with each pen stroke. Love. It.

Jotter

 

Dixon Ticonderoga and Tombo Mono (because sometimes you need to go old school and O’natural while you keep it real)
I don’t always use a wood-cased pencil (because why would I) but when I do, I like to keep it simple and/or yellow and/or smooth and/or slightly hard. Wood-cased pencils are a whole thing unto themselves. I have allowed myself to dip more than a big toe into this pool but, like my 8-year-old self, I refuse to dive in head first. I have learned enough to know that there are bad pencils, decent pencils, good pencils and (supposedly) really good pencils but given that wood-case pencils are not terribly portable and there simply is no way I’m going to use more than 8 wood-cased pencils in my statistical speaking 34 years left on earth, I’m just not going to go there in any significant way. Why do I prefer F grade graphite? I’m left-handed and prefer not to look like I’ve been playing in the dirt after writing. The Dixon is on this list because (a) the F/2.5 grade version is fairly easy to get, (b) I have a thing for iconic design and (c) it has an eraser. The Tombo Mono is on the list because it’s the best writing wood-cased pencil that doesn’t smudge that I’ve tried to this point in my life. So why not just go with the Mono alone? See items (a), (b) and (c) above. Like the cheap mechanical pencils I discussed above, I have plenty of “copies” of the Dixon and Tombo here, there and everywhere to make sure my old school pencil itch can be scratched any time.

DixonTombow

 

Pentel i+ and Lamy 2000 Multi pen
Let me be honest here. I feel like any self-respecting pen nerd should have a favorite multi pen or two. So, these two entries feel like obligations as much as anything. Don’t get me wrong – I use them often just not as much as the other gel or ballpoint options on this list. Frankly, multi pens are a weird category. On the one hand, they should be the answer to every pen nerd’s need to have more than one writing option on hand at all times. On the other hand, you cannot physically write with more than one pen at a time and multi pens never do their job as well as a single refill pen. Putting all of that aside, whenever I need/want the convenience of a multi pen I go for either my Pentel i+ or my Lamy 2000 with the final choice based on whether I’m in a gel ink or ballpoint mood. Ultimately, picking a multi pen comes down to minimizing concessions. So, if I’m going to use a gel ink multi pen then the refills need to work consistently (I’m looking at you Pilot Hi Tec C Coleto), thus my preference for Energel inks. If I’m going to use a ballpoint multi then I prefer to go with one that looks and feels great, thus the Lamy 2000. These pens may not be true work horses for me, but they definitely pull their own weight on my pen and pencil farm.

PentelLamyMulti

 

Caran d’Ache 849 (Relatively inexpensive but classic writing tool part 2)
With all due respect to friends across the pond, the Caran d’Ache 849 is basically the european Parker Jotter. The 849 came along some 15 years after the Jotter. I don’t know its full history and looking stuff up on the internet can be so complicated, but I suspect the folks at Caran d’Ache were inspired by Parker’s work. Given the design of the 849, they were certainly inspired by the humble wood-case pencil so there is an interesting cross over there.. Like the Jotter, we have the flexibility of multiple refill options and the added fun of moderately priced collectability given the varieties of color and finishes available within the 849 line. Simple. Efficient. Well made. What’s not to like? In case you’re wondering, the pen in the foreground of the picture below is the 100th anniversary 849 Caran d’Ache released earlier this year. So colorful and detailed.

CarandAche849

 

rOtring 600 Lava and rOtring 800 (the more expensive mechanical pencils)
The rOtring mechanical pencils I have may be the best made items in my entire pen and pencil collection. The precision, efficiency and build quality of these pencils is insane. As with all things, there is a point of diminishing return when it comes to price and mechanical pencils. After all, we’re basically talking bout a sleeve for a stick of graphite. Still, if you have a need for mechanical pencils, why not use the best? Like any mechanical pencil, these rOtrings are not suited for extended writing sessions but when it comes to problem solving and other typical mechanical pencil uses, these tools are top of the line without being stupidly expensive (~$70). I dig the lava finish so much that I have two of the 600s (one for home and one for school) and the 800 is a constant travel companion. Both of these pencils have retractable tips (the 600 retracts with a click, the 800 with a twist) which adds to their pocketability. If you want to show someone how writing implements are supposed to be made and how efficient mechanical pencils really can be, show them a rOtring.

rOtring

 

Pilot Juice 0.5 mm (the other gel pen)
Like I said, the gel pen world is a dizzying array of confounding choices. So, it makes sense that any pen nerd should have a couple of favorites from this category. Why the Pilot Juice? (1) It has a 0.5 mm canonical shaped point. I prefer cone shapes to needle points and when you get down to 0.5 mm and smaller, many makers go with needle points. (2) The ink chemistry of the Juice is different from the water-based Energel so it writes a tighter, drier line that compliments the Energel nicely. (3) It has the same size and shape of the ubiquitous G2 refill so it works in variety of pen bodies, including the Tactile Turn Mover discussed above. Given my preference for 0.7 mm lines in the Energel, you might think I’d like the Juice in 0.7 mm as well. That has yet to be the case. Maybe I haven’t tried the right color in the 0.7 Juice but, for whatever reason, the color intensity at 0.7 mm is less satisfying than at 0.5 mm to my eyes. Overall, the Pilot Juice is not my go-to gel ink but it is my go-to-next gel ink.

PilotJuice

 

BigiDesign Ti Ballpoint
This plucky little guy is the most recent addition to my consistently used list of pens and it’s here for one reason; the interior design of the pen is such that the Parker-style refill does not wiggle one fraction of a nanometer during use. With retractable ball points, there can be a hint of wiggle in the point. To be clear, this is not the case with my favorite Parker Jotters or Caran d’Ache 849s (but I am looking at you Retro 51). However, when I want a truly 100% rock solid feel in a ballpoint, I’ve been grabbing for the Ti ballpoint from BigiDesign in recent weeks. It’s not perfect. Un-posted it’s a bit too short and posted it’s a bit too long. But compared to bullet-style Fisher Space Pens which also provide a rock solid feel, the Ti Ballpoint’s grip area and heft of the titanium works better for me. It does come with a rather useless rubber stylus tip on the bottom end. Thankfully, you can swap it out for a flat end cap that comes with the pen.

BigiDesign

 

Miscellaneous Stuff I Use Often
We’re closing in on 3000 words so this post is already too long. I will not go into significant detail for the items below, but I did want to mention a few paper items, inks and other things that fit into the broader pen/pencil world as way to round out this post.

The Friendly Swede Micro Fiber Stylus – Along with all the money I spent on cheap mechanical pencils and Parker-style refills, I also spent too much searching for the best stylus for my iPad. This is one to get. It works first time every time.

Pilot Iroshizuku Kon Peki – Like many of you, I have more fountain pen ink than I could possibly use in this or three more lifetimes. Of all the ink bottles I have, the level in the bottle of Kon Peki is the lowest – ’nuff said.

Field Notes – You should carry a pocket notebook and you should carry the one that offers the best balance of paper quality, style and durability. Like many of my favorite products in this list, Field Notes has a certain inexpensive collectability that adds to the fun.

Yellow Legal Pads – Honestly, I probably write more notes on these legal pads than on any other surface. I’m currently using the Docket Gold pads by Tops. They’re not perfect but they’re about as good as legal pads get.

Nock Co. Dot Dash Index Cards – The last thing I do before leaving school each day is prepare a to-do list for the following day. I used to write this list on any old note card I could find. These days, I refuse to use anything but Nock Co Dot Dash cards.

Park Sloper Wallet/Notebook Holder by One Star Leather Goods – I’ve been thinking about going with a smaller front pocket wallet and leaving the Field Notes naked in my back pocket, but this wallet is so damn well made and so damn functional that I can’t bring myself to make the switch.

Mountain Briefcase by Topo Design – If I could recommend only one product in this entire post, the Mountain Briefcase might be it. I got the green one for Christmas last year and I could not be happier with it. It fits several pens, my MacBook Air, a legal pad, a stack of student test papers and various other bits and pieces with an insane level of efficiency.

Pen Holders by Dudek Modern Goods – I have several of Mike Dudek’s solid walnut pen holders, including a couple that were custom-made. Also, I’m this close (forefinger and thumb about 1 cm apart) to ordering another custom piece from Mike. These holders may straddle the line between function and luxury so it’s not like you need one. Still, you should want one because they do what they do well and look great doing so.

So there you have it. The pens, pencils and other stuff I actually use. Of course, this post will be revised in the weeks and months ahead but it won’t be updated without serious consideration. I hope you found this post 5% as informative as I have. Sitting down and clearly thinking about what you actually use, without worrying about what you think you should use or what is trendy, is an eye-opening process.

 

**Disclaimer – Other than a few products that were gifts from immediate family or close friends, all of the items in this post were purchased by me with my own money. I have not been compensated in any way by any of the merchants or makers discussed in this post. Any links to vendors are provided purely for reader’s convenience.**

 

 

Zebra DelGuard 0.5

DelGuard1

So what’s your preferred graphite diameter for mechanical pencils? Are you a 1.1 or 0.9 or 0.7 or 0.5 or 0.3 mm kind of person? Me, I am typically a 0.7 mm person. For most cases, 0.9 mm and larger feels too fat. On the other end, diameters smaller than 0.7 mm feel like they could break at any moment. At least that is how I felt about thin graphite until I came across the Zebra DelGuard 0.5. By pairing the Zebra DelGuard’s unique break-prevention clutch with 0.5 mm graphite in F grade, I am enjoying a thinner diameter pencil without the constant worry and annoyance of snapping graphite.

The DelGuard comes in a variety of colors. I opted for the light blue option but I am so impressed with this pencil that I fully expect the light green version will find its way to my doorstep soon. The overall body of the pencil is slightly tapered as you go from the wider eraser end to the thinner grip section. This tapered shape and the subtle, smooth ridges of the grip section offer plenty of hold and control. The overall length and balance of the pencil works very well in my small/medium hand. The grip section has a small transparent window that shows off the top of the patented DelGuard clutch system. You cannot see too much through the window, but you can see a spring and a bit of mechanical action when pressing the knock giving the pencil a cool…well…mechanical vibe.

DelGuard2

On the one end, I was, initially, put off by the appearance of the funnel-like post whence the graphite extends. Then I realized, I’m a chemist and I love funnels! Also, the funnel shape completes the overall tapering of the pencil body and gives you a clear visual of the extended graphite. On the other end, the knock cap covers a slightly-better-than-worthless eraser. In the pantheon of mechanical pencil erasers, I would size up the one installed on the DelGuard as a small-medium bit of erasing plastic. Importantly, the holder grips the eraser tight enough so that I will be able to extent it out as it gets shorter. As for erasing ability, it’s better than average.

DelGuard5

Let’s talk about the clip. It’s plastic, offers minimal tension and will probably break before I lose the pencil. In other words, it is like most plastic clips on mechanical pencils. But, there is one very important and positive feature to the clip – it’s relatively short. The one thing too many mechanical pencil makers do not understand is that it is important that the clip not interfere with the top of the hand as you write. Why is this important? Everyone slightly turns pencils (wood-cased or mechanical) in their grip as they write so as to find the sweet spot on the graphite. Yes, the Uni Kuru Toga solves this problem, but most people will turn their pencils just out of habit. If the clip is too long, then you cannot turn the pencil a full 360 degrees without it annoyingly touching your hand. As you can see in the photo below, the clip just misses the top of my small but brutish left hook.

DelGuard3

DelGuard7

How does the whole DelGuard thing actually work? Well, so far, perfectly. I have not broken off a piece of graphite once while using this pencil. Admittedly, I loaded it with F grade graphite but there has not been a hint of breakage. I strongly suspect HB and softer graphite would do very well in this pencil. To see the DelGuard in action, take a look at this overly biased video produced by Zebra.

DelGuard4

In summary, it looks pretty cool, the break-prevention clutch works as advertised, the clip stays out of the way and the eraser is serviceable. At a cost of $7-10, the Zebra DelGuard is moderately priced for a plastic mechanical pencil and may save you those few cents lost due to graphite breakage. Short of perfect but very much recommended.

DelGuard6

Ode to the Mechanical Pencil

I like mechanical pencils. There, I’ve said it. I know many readers may stop by here looking for reviews of fountain pens and other “fancy” writing implements but I’m finding myself coming back to mechanical pencils more and more. It may be some sort of midlife crisis. I took a lot of science and math classes back in the day and there was nothing I enjoyed more than going into an organic chemistry or calculus test armed with little more than my wits, a solid mechanical pencil and a stick eraser. In related news, I’m trying to streamline and simplify bits of my life. Among other things…

…I finally set up a password storing software for my online life (major headache reliever and time saver)
…I swapped out a bulky, leather briefcase for a much simpler and lighter Topo Designs Mountain Briefcase (Holy crap is this thing awesome!)
…I retired my desktop at school and now just rely on my MacBook Air and a docking station (Windows…you may be dead to me now).
…I ditched my subscription to SiriusXM and now rely on music and podcasts to keep my mind occupied while driving (SiriusXM – maybe if you worked with me more on the subscription fee things could have turned out differently)

Anyway, back to writing implements. All writing tools come with compromises. Fountain pens have wonderful historical appeal and deliver an effortless, expressive and personalizes writing experience when everything goes well. But, things don’t always go well and you need to be a bit fussy about the paper you use. Gel pens, with their great ink colors and variety of point sizes, may be the best thing to happen to pens in the last 20 years but ink quality varies and refill life is typically low. Among ink pens, ball points write on the widest array of paper types, have a 20th century history all their own and have undergone a recent revival thanks to advances in ink formulations. Then again, many folks find ball points utilitarian, soulless, unremarkable and indistinguishable.

Which brings me to mechanical pencils. Could it be that mechanical pencils offer a number of positives we seek in our writing toys and fewer of the drawbacks? By choosing your preferred graphite hardness (4B, 3B, 2B… 2H, etc.) in a particular diameter you get a pencil that is your own. While mechanical pencils have the occasional mechanical problem, most issued are easily solved without the services of a “meister” of any sort. Sure, graphite might break but it doesn’t leak or stain and I have yet to find a piece of paper that pencil won’t mark.

What about wood-case pencils you ask? They’re great. Is there anything more iconic than the yellow pencil? If you came to my house and stole my Tombo Mono (F) pencils, I would hunt you down like the dog you are. But, wood-cased pencils are not terribly portable and you always need something else in hand, namely a sharpener, to get them to work. I’m not here to bang on wood-case pencils, but think about it. Unlike a brand new pen, a brand new wood-case pencil is useless unless you have the other thing. Obviously it’s not a big deal but it’s still a thing.

So, as part of my simplified life I’m going back to mechanical pencils. (I also find myself gravitating towards simple and efficient pen designs like the Caran d’Ache 849. More on that later.) I hope, dear reader, that you will indulge me a bit in this effort. Although not exclusively, the next several reviews will likely focus heavily on mechanical pencils. If that’s not your bag, I hope you will stick around nonetheless. If it is your bag, I hope you will tell me what mechcils (see that – I’m inventing words now!) you enjoy and give me some ideas to explore.