What I’ve Been Using Lately

It has been a while since I posted mostly because I have focused on using stuff and not writing about stuff. Also, I have been in reading mode and not so much in writing mode these past several weeks. (That blog where I write about popular non-fiction science just might get started this summer!)

Anyway, I thought I would update folks on the tools I find myself using most these days. By design, you will see a lot of sameness here. While focusing on using, I also limited myself so I get a really good feel for the fewer things I am using. What you see here are the pens, pencils and paper used almost exclusively for the better part of a month. For pens, I used nothing but Karas Kustoms Render K version 2 since they arrived around May 13th. For wood-cased pencils, I’ve used only the Blacking 24 since it came out a few months ago. I have not used mechanical pencils all that much recently, but I did recently dig out my Lamy Scribble 0.7 mm. Turns out that thing is totally awesome if you take the clip off. As for paper, I have not written many notes in a pocket notebook (don’t know why – just haven’t), but the Doane Paper pads have seen plenty of action. Without further delay, a few pictures and a few thoughts.


Here’s pretty much everything I’ve used (almost) exclusively in the past 3-4 weeks. Atop the Doane Paper 8.25″ x 11.75″ pad we have, from left to right: blue Karas Kustoms Render K version 2 with a tumbled aluminum grip and Pilot Juice 0.5 mm blue, Palomino Blacking 24, orange Karas Kustoms Render K version 2 with a brass grip and Fisher Space refill blue fine, Apple Pencil, red Karas Kustoms Render K version 2 with a brass grip and Pilot Juice 0.5 mm red


The blue Render K with blue Pilot Juice 0.5 mm has been the go-to workhorse since it arrived in the middle of May. I bought a few different grips (aluminum, tumbled aluminum, black aluminum, brass) to see which combinations I like the best. I found the plain and black aluminum grips a touch slippery compared to either the tumbled aluminum or the brass. This Render K is shown with the tumbled aluminum grip. As for refills, I’m not ready to make it official yet but I think I have changed my gel pen allegiance from Pentel Energel 0.7 to Pilot Juice 0.5. It is not slam dunk by any means however, more often than not, I prefer the tighter lines and slightly less generous ink flow of the Juice 0.5 than the Energel 0.7. What about the Energel 0.5 you ask? For some reason, needle points and my left hand do not always work well.


My grading weapon of choice has been this red Render K with the brass grip section and a 0.5 mm red Juice. In bright light, the red Juice leans a touch in the orange direction which I like. Between the brass and tumbled aluminum sections, I prefer the added weight of the brass. The combination of the added weight and whatever goes on between my fingers and brass gives me a better sense of control. I have noticed that all the grip sections gains added character from small dings and scratches imparted by taking the cap on and off. I consider this a cool feature and not an annoying bug.


One more Render K, except here we have a ballpoint refill. Most of my ballpoint pens have a Parker Quink refill in them. For the Render K, a Fisher Space Pen refill seemed more appropriate. I go back and forth on whether I prefer the fine or medium tip for the Fisher refills. Right now, I’m leaning toward fine which probably has something to do with the fact that I write a lot with the 0.5 mm Juice so the medium Fisher refill seems too wide in comparison. The Render K, Fisher refill and brass grip make a really comfortable combination for me.


When it comes to wood-cased pencils, I am really down to two choices: Tombow Mono (usually in F) and Palomino Blacking 24. I prefer slightly harder graphite to avoid lefty-induced smudges. I also prefer my pencils to have an eraser. So, when it comes to the graphite, it is slight advantage Mono F. When it comes to having an eraser and the overall look and feel, the advantage goes to the Blacking 24. If I absolutely had to pick one and only one it would be the 24…at least for today.


I use an iPad Pro mirrored to an AppleTV when I teach so my Apple Pencil is indispensable. For reading the news and just generally goofing off, I really like using split view on the iPad Pro with Tweetbot on one side and Safari on the other.

So there we have it – the stuff I’ve been using lately. Here are some more pictures for you to look at.







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



  • 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.


  • 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 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.


  • 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)



  • 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.


  • 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)



  • 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.


  • 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



  • 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.


  • 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



  • 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.


  • 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)



  • 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.


  • 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



  • 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.


  • 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)



  • 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.


  • 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)



  • 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.


  • 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…

Palomino HB


Pencils, wood-cased and mechanical, have always been a prominent part of the collection but I would be remiss if I did not give a shout out to the gents from the Erasable podcast. While my discovery of the Palomino HB predates this podcast, there is no doubt that those guys played a role in my pencil collection and knowledge getting larger and deeper, respectively.

Anyway, as part of my quest to simplify the writing tools in my life, I spent a fair amount of time going through all the wood-cased pencils in my collection. In a previous post, I identified the Tombow Mono as my wood-cased pencil of choice. There is no doubt that it’s a great pencil but my goal to simplify has brought a change of perspective. I want a go-to pencil and the Palomino HB is that pencil. Why the Palomino and not the Tombow? Eraser, color and feel. The Palomino has an eraser and the Tombow does not. Admittedly, the eraser on the Palomino is entirely average but in the simplified world I now occupy, pencils with erasers make a lot more sense than those without. Next, the blue and orange colors of the Palomino are just great. Why would I want a black pencil with an unsightly barcode on it when I can have one in blue or orange. Lastly, the Palomino feels better in my hand than the Tombow. There is not anything uncomfortable about the Tombow Mono, but the rounded semi-hex cut along with the smooth yet tactile finish of the Palomino makes it one of the most comfortable writing implements, pen or pencil, I own.


In the world of HB pencils, the Palomino HB is a touch on the softer side but clearly not as soft as standard-issue B graphite. They should label the pencil as hB to accurately depict its graphite grade. Importantly, the point retention of the hB graphite is rather impressive. To be honest, I like the slightly harder (therefore slightly better at point retention) graphite of the Tombow HB a bit better but the difference is ever so slight. I guess my perfect pencil would be a combination of the Tombow Mono HB graphite with the Palomino HB body and eraser (let’s call it the Talominobow HB).

So there we have it. My wood-cased pencil of choice is the Palomino HB. I’ll audition other pencils in the future. But, if it cannot clearly beat out the Palomino HB, then I am going to pass and never look back. It would take me five lifetimes to work through all the wood-case pencils I currently own and my newfound simplification demands that I only own and use what I need to own and use. As Yoda might say, “If beat Palomino you cannot then forgotten you will be.”


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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.**



rOtring 600 Lava Pencil (0.7 mm)


Beauty and function. That is all we want in our writing tools. Beauty and function. Surely you have seen plenty of pens that look great but when you pick them up the width or balance or performance fall short for you. With their funky grip sections, some folks might put the wonderfully made and brightly colored Lamy implements in this category. On the hand, there are plenty of functional but dull-looking writers like, I don’t know, maybe Fisher bullet pens or some of the more drab Parker 51 of days gone by. Anyway, I am not here to pick on the beauty or function of this, that or the other writing tool. I am here to talk about the rOtring 600 Lava pencil because, for me, it gets a 10 out of 10 on beauty and around a 8 or 9 out of 10 on function.

Let us talk looks first. The lava finish that rOtring came up with is somehow flashy and understated at the same time. In the right light, the mildly rough finish produces a bit of sparkle. When it is not sparkling, the finish of the pencil body and the matte gray color of the clip, tip and knock compliment and contrast each other with such a perfect balance to a produce a look that is classic but all its own. I do not know jack squat about fashion, but the best analogy I came come up with is to that male movie star on the red carpet who is wearing a classic tuxedo but does so in a way that makes him just a touch spiffier than the rest. It’s a “you know it when you see it” sort of well-executed sense of style. There is, of course, the trademark red rOtring band at the base of the knock. Maybe it works with the rest of the pencil or maybe it interrupts the overall look, but it is a rOtring so there it is.



Function. The only minor drawback I have to say about the design of the pen that makes its function less than 100% perfect for me is the slightly too narrow width of the grip area. It is not noticeably thin and, importantly, the wider hexagonal body comes very, very close to compensating for the thinner grip. Still, I would have liked the grip section to be such a hair wider. Other than that, this mechanical pencil comes about as close to ideal as I’ve experienced. The slight heft of the pencil produces a sense of confidence and accuracy without feeling like a burden. Hidden within the cone-shaped tip is the retractable cone-shaped post making the pencil 100% pocket safe. The knock is the opposite of mushy or flimsy requiring the user to give it a definitive push to first deploy the post. Once the post is deployed, short and snappy clicks get you a nice length of graphite with two clicks to start and one click thereafter. Importantly, the clip is short so it does not interfere with your hand as you twirl the pencil looking for a sweet spot on the graphite. As is usually the case with mechanical pencil erasers, it is basically a rumor of an eraser but it works well for occasional use.



Let’s finish by talking about cost. All of the lava-finished rOtring implements can fetch a pretty penny. I actually have two of these pencils. I paid $70 for one and $58 for the other. Not cheap to be sure but they are becoming harder and harder to find so…

As you can see, I’m a fan. This rOtring may not be the best bargain going but its looks and performance are both top-notch.

(Public service announcement:  You can’t talk rOtring without reading some of Mike Dudek’s posts. Do so now.)


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.

Bullet Pencil ST


I won’t beat around the bush – this bullet pencil is not for me. Is it well made? Undeniably yes. Will I ever use it? No. There are two aspects (one significant, one less so) that make the Bullet Pencil ST a no-go for me. Before I get to those issues, let’s talk about the Kickstarter campaign and the build quality.

The Bullet Pencil ST was a Kickstarter project started by Jeff Grant. Taking a look at Mr. Grant’s website, it’s clear that this guy knows how to machine some unique products (combs, key fobs, wallets, etc.) that will last centuries. The Bullet Pencil ST appears to be his most recent Kickstarter project and while it was ultimately successful, things were a bit tight in the last week of the campaign. I even did my best to make sure it reached its funding goal.

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The build quality of this bullet pencil is amazing. If the pencil is typical of Mr. Grant’s products, then I would have no problem purchasing other items made by him. The body of the bullet pencil is solid, the clip has more than adequate tension and appears built to last and the tip of the “bullet” has some cool looking grooves. The best part of the design is the ball bearing retention mechanism that keeps the bullet in place while also making it fairly easy to extract from the body. Build quality…A+



Now to my issues. First, and of less importance, is the capacitive rubber stylus. Here’s the deal with tablet styli – they need to work as well as an actual finger or they’re worthless. My typical finger success rate when tapping and swiping on my iPhone and iPad is likely to be over 90%. With the stylus on the Bullet Pencil ST, I was getting ~50-60% success rate with typical pressure. The success rate improved to ~75% when applying more than natural pressure, but then what’s the point of the stylus? The stylus is not the main feature of this product so I won’t condemn the BP ST for this inadequate side feature. Still, I’ll never grab the BP ST to interact with my touch screen devices, ever. (Stylus aside…The best stylus I found is the Friendly Swede which uses a metal mesh tip. It’s every bit as effective as a finger – maybe more so.)


Now for the real problem with the BP ST – Balance. The balance is tilted too far to the eraser end to make writing with it comfortable or controllable. To quantify this issue, I measured the full lengths of a few writing implements along with the locations of their centers of mass. The numbers below indicate how far from the writing tip the center of mass is located. A number closer to zero means the implement is weighted toward the writing point. A number closer to 1 means the weight is, in pencil terms, closer to the eraser.

New Palomino 602, freshly sharpened…0.61 (so more than halfway between tip to eraser)
Midori Bullet Pencil with largest 602 stub that would fit…0.61
New Tombow Mono F, freshly sharpened…0.51 (lack of eraser makes this a more evenly balanced pencil)
New Dixon Ticonderoga HB, freshly sharpened…0.57 (has a smaller eraser than the 602 so it makes sense that its balance is between a 602 and the non-tipped Tombow Mono)
New Pentel Energel-X 0.7 mm…0.52 (grabbed a pen I use a lot for comparison)

Bullet Pencil ST with a new stub…0.66!!!


The weight of the BP ST is, compared to wood-cased pencils and another common bullet pencil, noticeably towards the eraser end. I don’t know about you, but I find writing with a fresh wood-cased pencil to be a bit awkward. The length of a new pencil is 1-2 inches too long to be perfectly comfortable. As the pencil gets down to around 6 inches long, it feels much better as the center of mass is located within my hand while writing and not a half-inch or so above it. Unfortunately, with the Bullet Pencil ST, the center of mass will always be above my hand…awkward city!

To understand what I’m getting at, try this little experiment. Get one of your favorite writing implements and hold it on a piece of paper as if you’re writing. Now, open your fingers and let go of the pen/pencil. I bet you’ll see the pen/pencil stay put or slide down towards the paper. Even a new, full-length wood-cased pencil will stay put or slide towards the paper when you let it go. These observations suggest that the center of mass of the pen/pencil is somewhere within the space of your hand. When I do the same experiment with the Bullet Pencil ST, I don’t see a sliding down. Instead, the BP ST does a backflip away from the paper and out of my hand. In short, the balance is way off for me. Folks with noticeably larger hands than mine may not get the backflip, but men with average hands and typical grips will see what I saw as will the vast majority of women. Again, awkward city!

To conclude, the Bullet Pencil ST is an incredibly well made writing implement that I will never use.

Retro 51 Einstein Pencil


The Retro 51 Einstein pencil is probably the coolest looking mechanical pencil I own. Just look at it! The flat black color serves as a chalkboard-like background for the various equations associated with some of Einstein’s great intellectual achievements. The antique look of the clip and twist mechanism fits the early 20th century vibe of the science and pencil design nicely as well. It’s a Retro 51, so you know the build quality is solid. I’ve mentioned my preference for analog/twist graphite mechanisms and legitimate erasers before, so that features work well for me too. There is a lot to like about this pencil. There are; however, a few quirks to Retro 51 pencils that you need to know about before purchasing one for yourself.


First and foremost is the size of the graphite. At 1.15 mm, Retro 51 pencils like the Einstein occupy an unusual size in the mechanical pencil pantheon. It can feel a bit too wide for most writing occasions but too narrow to be an artistic tool like a 2 or 5 mm graphite clutch. I’m no artist so I could be wrong about that second part, but I do write with pencils and mechanical pencils frequently and the 1.15 mm graphite takes some getting used to. That said, it does get a fair amount of use from me, especially when I teach. The wider graphite makes me write a bit larger and neater which are helpful characteristics when helping individual students. The 1.15 mm HB graphite that comes with the pencil tends to write on the lighter to typical degree of HB darkness for me.

The writing experience is comfortable due to the pencil’s moderate width and weight, but I would not describe it as precise. I think most folks are looking for thinner, consistent lines when they write with a mechanical pencil and you’re just not going to get that with the Retro 51. Additionally, a bit of graphite dust can accrue on the pencil’s tip adding to the less than precise feel of the pencil. But, all of that is about expectations, isn’t it? So long as you don’t expect a drafting pencil experience, the Retro 51’s old-school style and broad graphite lines likely offers a nice change of pace compared to other mechanical pencils you own.


In short, if you want a comfortable ride and have a need to write with medium to broad lines of graphite, then the Einstein Retro 51 is a usable tool that also looks very cool. If you prefer precise, thin lines when using a mechanical pencil then you should certainly look elsewhere.


(My own money was spent on the stuff in this post so it is probably a fairly honest assessment of said stuff.)

Uni Kuru Toga


The Uni Kuru Toga has to be one of the better known mechanical pencils in use today. As you may know, the whole thing about the Kuru Toga is that it has an “engine” that rotates the graphite each time it contacts the paper. The theoretical result is that the graphite point does not become unevenly sharpened so the line width is more consistent and the frequency of graphite breakage is reduced. Does it work? It actually does. But, it’s up to the individual user to decide if this is a needed feature or if it’s a case of a solution in search of a problem. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know which camp I fall into. Part of me enjoys the bit of line variation one gets from an asymmetrically shaped graphite point. Then again, part of me enjoys tools that work consistently and effectively every time. If I had to choose, I’d say I’m a fan of the feature. If I want variation in my graphite lines I can grab a 0.9 or wider mechanical pencil or a wood case pencil with softer graphite. All that said, the Kuru Toga does have a unique writing feel. Because the graphite makes that very slight rotation when it touches the paper there is a “softness” to the writing experience. If you like a tight and precise feel when writing with a mechanical pencils, then the Kuru Toga may not be for you.


What about the build quality? I’ve had the 0.7 and 0.5 mm versions for several months and both pencils have never failed me. Even though I have the all plastic versions of these pencils and they’ve been in an out of my work bag, dropped on the floor, covered by textbooks and generally put through the ringer of everyday use for 6+ months they’re still going strong. These are fixed-post pencils so they are not 100% pocket safe. The body and grip areas are made of the same plastic piece but the grip area has some ridges to help you hold onto the pencil. As for the eraser, it’s a touch larger than those silly tiny erasers found in many mechanical pencils but smaller than those typically found on wood cased pencils. As I recall, the pack I bought included replacement erasers but I’d hard pressed to find them at this point. The eraser is covered by an easily removed plastic cap that is also easy to replace without inadvertently advancing the graphite.

I’ve facilitated on the grade of graphite used in these pencils. At one point, I thought a harder grade (F or H) made sense since the rotation feature softened the writing experience. More recently, I’ve loaded the pencils with B grade graphite in search of a darker line to compliment the consistent line put out by the Kuru Toga. If I had to pick, I’d say the softer lead option is more enjoyable and effective overall.


So, how does the Kuru Toga stack up? At the end of the day the true measure of any writing implement is your willingness/tendency to use it. On that score, the Kuru Toga does very well. It may not be the pencil I grab for first, but it is one I reach for frequently. Of the many pencils (mechanical and wood case) I’ve used over the years as a science student and science teacher, the Kuru Toga is absolutely a keeper.


(My own money was spent on the stuff in this post so it is probably a fairly honest assessment of said stuff.)


Autopoint All-American Jumbo


I won’t leave you in suspense – this Autopoint pencil is just…okay. That said, I may have bought the wrong version for myself. Hindsight being 20/20, I now think I should have purchased the thinner All-American Standard instead of this Jumbo version if an Autopoint pencil was to have the best chance of winning me over. Additionally, even if I was not overly impressed by the Jumbo, the Autopoint brand offers a few features I like in a mechanical pencil to make grabbing an All-American Standard worthwhile.

Let me start with the negatives. The build quality is solid but the pencil does have a cheap feel to it. I don’t know how to explain it other to say that while the pencil has never broke down on me, its lack of heft and plastic feel gives me the impression that failure is never too far away. This may be an unfair criticism of the pencil, but that’s the feeling I get when I pick up the All-American Jumbo. The other factor of the pencil that does not work for me has to do with form. Specifically, the tapering from the main barrel to the tip of the pencil is weirdly long and I’m not quite sure where to grab it. With most mechanical pencils, the distance from the bottom of the main barrel to the tip of the metal post where the graphite extends is around 1.5 to 2 centimeters. With the Autopoint, there is 2.5+ cm of pencil between the bottom of the main barrel and the tip of the post. This results, for me, in the pencil having an odd balance because I’m never quite sure where to hold it. Part of the problem is the fact that the All-American Jumbo is somewhat wider for a mechanical pencil and so the tapering from body to tip seems all the more awkward. I’m guessing/hoping that the thinner All-American Standard may not feel as awkward in this regard.


Now onto a few features I do like about the pencil. First, I like mechanical pencils that use a twist action to extend the graphite. I don’t know, maybe I’m overly picky, but I like the analog/twist approach to graphite extension over the click/digital mechanism. Sometimes you need just a bit more or just a bit less graphite showing and analog twist action gives you that small amount of adjustment. I also like the gray color of the eraser and the fact that it’s decently sized without being comically huge. We all know that for most mechanical pencils, a functioning eraser is just a rumor. The Autopoint’s eraser is actually worth a damn and works well.


Lastly, I won’t put this in the pro or con category, but the refilling process for the Autopoint is unusual. You have to pull off the tip, unscrew a metal plunger thing and insert the graphite. Because of this unusual set up, you are likely better off using the graphite refills supplied by Autopoint but I suspect other 0.9 mm refills would work fine after a bit of trimming.

All in all, it’s an okay pencil but there would be several other pencils I reach for before grabbing the All-American Jumbo. Nonetheless, I think I’ll give the standard size All-American a try and consider picking up some colored 0.9 refills for my Jumbo for those occasions when a mechanical pencil with colored refills is helpful.


(My own money was spent on the stuff in this post so it is probably a fairly honest assessment of said stuff.)