Retro 51 Einstein Pencil

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Uni Kuru Toga

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Pilot Color Eno

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As a teacher, I do more and more grading online every year and, all things considered, this is a good change. But when it comes to science exams, nothing beats good old paper and pencil. My usual grading implement of choice is a Pentel Energel in purple, green or orange but I decided to branch out a bit the last couple of weeks by using colored pencils. Worse yet, I’m using colored mechanical pencils! If you are a pen(cil) nut you already know that there are a dizzying array of options available for mechanical pencils and we’ll fall down that rabbit hole soon enough. For now, let’s start with a mechanical pencil option that many folks never pursue – the colored mechanical pencil.

I bought this purple Pilot Color Eno on a total whim during a recent visit to JetPens.com. When it arrived I thought, “Looks nice. When the hell will I ever use it?” Well, testing time recently arrived in my science class and while looking for something different to use for grading I came across the Color Eno. Turns out it’s been a great little experiment.

As you may know, colored pencil “leads” are primarily composed of dyed wax. Think of a thin, hard crayon and you basically have the right idea. As a result, colored pencils are prone to breaking more than graphite “leads” which can be a bit annoying. This problem was resolved so long as I avoided exposing too much of the “lead” at any one time. One, maybe two clicks of the knock is all you need and all you should extract in order to avoid breakage.

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As for the writing experience…I really like it. Being made almost entirely of plastic, the Color Eno is lightweight but the contoured and stripped plastic grip gives me plenty to hold onto. At first, the grip feels a little stiff but it seems to soften up as you write. Importantly, the diameter and shape of the grip resulted in zero slipping and I never noticed my fingers creeping down the grip. For lefties like me, this is an issue because we push our pen and pencils into the paper and slippery grips (i.e. stainless steel) can feel a bit unwieldy. Being a waxed based “lead”, there is a touch of resistance when laying down marks with the pencil, but again, I like that. In fact, I seem to be gravitating towards finer points/lines in many of my writing toys because I like the bit of resistance and feedback I get.

My novice, crappy pictures do a decent job of showing the color of the line produced by the Eno. If anything, I would say it’s a touch less blue in person than my miserable photography suggest. It a fairly true purple (sorry, I think it’s technically listed as violet); not too pink or red and not too blue. For my purposes, it needs to contrast enough on test papers written in pencil or ink and it does. Another nice thing about grading with a mechanical pencil is that the need to advance the “lead” makes me feel like I’m making progress. With my trusty and still much used and enjoyed Pentel Energels I would just turn the page and keep on going. With a mechanical pencil, I get the occasional reprieve of needing more “lead” which is also nice way of slowing down to make sure I’m grading accurately.

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So, do I like this colored mechanical pencil thing? I guess I do because I just dropped a few more bucks on the green and blue Color Enos on yet another JetPens order earlier this week.

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

Tombow Mono Pencil(s)

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A pencil review?! I thought this was thatonepen.com, not thatonepencil.com. That’s true but doesn’t everyone pick up a pencil at least now and then? In my job as a chemistry teacher, my analog writing time is divided something like 70:30 between pen and pencil. Like most folks, I write most of my notes or to-do lists with a favorite pen. Unlike most folks, I need to do a fair amount of scientific problem solving/thinking. Maybe it’s just habit, but these process just feel more natural with a pencil in hand.

Back in my student days (Don’t ask how long ago. Suffice it to say that I was writing organic chemistry mechanisms before anyone heard of a little known governor from Arkansas), I did most of my problem sets and tests with a mechanical pencil (typically 0.7 mm) and one of those clicky erasures. I didn’t have anything against wooden pencils, but a couple of mechanical pencils loaded with “leads” seemed like a more efficient approach than walking into a test with a fist full of wooden pencils. In graduate school, I had to use pen in my lab notebook of course (Anyone remember these bad boys?) but I picked up the habit of using a wooden pencil from my research advisor. He always had a Cross Century ballpoint in his shirt pocket, but he also kept a cup of sharpened wooden pencil handy on his desk. Maybe I was trying to suck up or maybe I thought that if wood pencils were good enough for one of the smartest people I knew they were good enough for me, who knows. Regardless, pencils, in one form or another, have always been close at hand in my world.

Fast forward to today and this little pen blogging hobby has brought about a number of minor life experiences and opportunities including two pen shows, more than a few ebay purchases, much more than a few orders to JetPens and Goulet Pens, a Field Notes Colors subscription, custom-made pen holders and a few reminders. I’m reminded every day that I, and you if you’re reading this post, care much more about what I write with than the typical (read “normal”) person. More recently, I’ve been reminded that this writing implement snobbery extends to pencils as well. It was always there, but folks like the Erasable podcast gents and sites like Dave’s Mechanical Pencils have made me come to terms with this part of my personality. In short, my name is Todd and I’m a pen AND pencil snob. (Paper too but let’s confront one demon at a time.)

Well, that was more preamble than I original planned so let’s get to the present pencils shall we. Like most casual users of pencils, the idea of using a pencil that doesn’t have an erasure just seemed inefficient to me. Then again, what are all those clicky erasures doing on my desk and in my book bag? Upon further review, it was clear that I dismissed a larger portion, probably a majority, of finer pencil options for no good reason over this erasure issue. I came to Tombow brand pencils after ordering a bunch of different wooden pencils from Pencils.com and Jet Pens. Specifically, I got the Palomino collection pack from Pencils.com and a couple of different Tombow 2558s from Jet Pens. While I liked aspects of nearly all of these pencils, I found myself going back to the Tombow 2558 (H) most frequently. So, with my no-erasure pencil bias eliminated and my Tombow preference in tow, I walked the aisles of Blick Art looking for other options – enter the Tombow Mono.

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First, the pencils looks awesome. The black finish and white end produce a sharp chiaroscuro. Add the gold-colored lettering that resists chipping or fading and you’ve got yourself a classy pencil. Maybe this sounds strange, but this wooden pencil also feels solidly built. Compared to bodies of other wooden pencils I have that demonstrate a bit of flex, the Tombow Mono almost seems not to be made of wood. I can even hear a difference. When I roll multiple Palomino, Dixon or other pencils in my hands the sound is dull, almost hollow, compared to the higher pitched “click clack” I hear when rolling the Monos in my hands. The label on one facet of the Monos reads “hi-precision DRAFTING” and I think the description fits well. These are wooden pencils that, when sharpened nicely, feel very much like a mechanical drafting pencil. It’s a weird analogy, but I think this will work. Tombow Monos are the cyborg of pencils – fundamentally organic yet with a mechanical, precise feel.

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How do the pencils write? Let’s start with the HB grade. Compared to other quality HB-ish pencils I have, the Tombow Mono HB definitely favors the hard end of the HB spectrum. For instance, compared to the Palomino Blackwing 602 or the standard Palomino California Republic I have, the Tombow Mono HB graphite is clearly made of sturdier stuff. While I don’t have one to compare directly, I suspect we’ll need to get into a Mono 2B range to find something comparable to the 602 or Palomino. As we move to the F and H Monos, the graphite cores clearly get harder but, importantly, they maintain a surprisingly smooth writing experience. Right now, I think the F is my preferred grade. It’s very smooth, lays down a decently dark line but doesn’t require the frequency of sharpening of an HB core. My preference isn’t so profound that I seek out the F grade exclusively. Usually, I just grab any of the Mono’s out of the cup and go with the flow. However, If I’m looking to pair pencil grade with writing circumstance, then I’ll grab the HB for smooth paper like Rhodia, the H grade for cheap notecards and most legal pads and the F grade for copy paper and Field Notes. Yeah, you know it’s bad when you’re selecting your pencil grade based on the paper you’re using. Goodness help us all. Yes, I do mean “us” because you’ve read this far haven’t you, you pencil freak.

So, there it is – my first pencil review. It won’t be my last but I suspect it may be a while before a wooden pencil that compares so favorably to the Tombow Mono comes to my attention.

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