rOtring 600 Lava Pencil (0.7 mm)

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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Bullet Pencil ST

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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+

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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.)

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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!!!

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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.

A Kaweco Trio

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I recently got a hold of three different Kaweco fountain pens so I thought it would be appropriate to review them side-by-side-by-side. The pens in question are a Kaweco Skyline Sport (~$25; F nib), a Kaweco AL Sport (~$75; M nib) and a Kaweco Student (~$55; B nib). The AL Sport I have here is the raw aluminum finish. I reviewed, positively, an AL Sport in blue several months ago. I have not done many multiple pen reviews, so to make this process a bit more streamlined I’ve come up with a few categories (build quality, balance in hand, nib experience, overall) to guide the comparison.

Build Quality
In first place we have the AL Sport. Of course, being made out of aluminum gives the AL Sport a serious advantage. This is not to say that the other pens are poorly made. In fact, the Kaweco Student, with its thick plastic walls and solid clip, comes in a close second with respect to build quality. The Skyline Sport is an all plastic pen with somewhat thinner walls than the Student. As a result, the Sport is noticeably lighter. I won’t say the Skyline Sport has a cheap feel to it, but of the three pens it does have the least confidence-inducing build.

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Kaweco AL Sport

Balance
I was unable to find the perfect porridge between these three pens when it comes to balance. The closest to perfect would be the AL Sport but it has to be posted in order to feel balanced in the hand. Unposted, the Sport and AL Sport are just too short to feel comfortable for anything more than a quick note. Also, with its all plastic build, the Skyline Sport (~0.4 ounces) is just too light for me. I prefer to notice that I’m holding onto something when it comes to my pens, especially fountain pens. I don’t have great penmanship to start with and pens that are too light feel like they get away from me when I write. The AL Sport gives a nice ride when posted but I’m not a big fan of the raw aluminum finish as it feels a bit too slippery. My blue AL Sport doesn’t feel nearly as slippery to me so I’m guessing the anodized finish adds something to the grip.

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Kaweco Student

When it comes to balance, the Kaweco Student is an interesting pen. Unposted, it was too short and the metal grip section too slippery. Posted, the pen was quite a bit longer so my grip naturally moved further back on the grip section and more towards the body of the pen. Either way, I couldn’t get it to sit in my hand nicely. But, and this is an important but, if you hold your pens somewhat higher up on the grip then I suspect a posted Kaweco Student could really work nicely for you. Helpfully, the threads on the body of the Student are not sharp in the least so they make a suitable gripping location.

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Nib
Save for the line width, all three pens appear to use identical steel nibs. My experience with these pens and their different nib sizes is identical to my previous interactions with Kaweco nibs. The fine nib rocks! I’ve never had skipping issues with Kaweco’s fine nibs. They write smoothly and lay down a consistent line. The broad nib isn’t my thing but that’s not Kaweco’s problem. It’s just that I’m not a broad nib kind of guy. I’ve tried. I’ve tried multiple times. There’s just no getting around it – I don’t dig broad nibs. Please send your hate mail to idontcare@dontcare.com :-). Now for the medium nib. Maybe it’s the way I hold my fountain pens, but I have yet to meet a Kaweco medium nib that works well for me. They don’t start readily and they constantly skip. I’m willing to take all the blame for this issue with medium nibs but that’s just the way it is. In short, medium nib – yuk, broad nib – not me, fine nib – yes, yes, yes!

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Kaweco Skyline Sport

Overall
If I were to recommend a Kaweco fountain pen it would be an AL Sport with a fine nib in a colored finish. Hold on, I already recommended that pen. The regular Sport doesn’t float my boat. It’s too light and there are other inexpensive alternatives that give a better ride. The Kaweco Student is very well made and the blue color of the pen I got is a real looker. I do think you need to naturally hold your pen further away from the nib than I tend to otherwise you may find the balance of the Student a bit off. The AL Sport in raw aluminum looks great and has an nice balance when posted but I like my aluminum pens to be anodized for that extra bit of grip.

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If you’d like a chance to nab a Skyline Sport or Student for yourself, stay tuned. These two pens will be part of a giveaway in the near future.

Kaweco was kind enough to send these three pens to me at no expense. I’m human so their kindness may have influenced my perspective but I attempted to give an honest review nonetheless.

Ti2 TechLiner Titanium

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2014 has been the year of Kickstarter pens for me. There have been a crazy number of campaigns to support. Great for feeding the pen beast; not so great for feeding the wallet. If you have ever backed a Kickstarter project then you know makers can have trouble meeting shipping deadlines. With one exception that still has not delivered my award some 10 months after the expected date (I won’t name names), I’ve had good luck with Kickstarters meeting delivery goals. The folks who made the Ti2 TechLiner were particularly impressive with their Kickstarter campaign. It closed in mid-November and fulfilled (defined by me getting my pen) just a month later. The folks at Ti2 Design seem to know how to run an online business.

I have the Ti2 TechLiner Shorty in Gonzodized Titanium. That’s a bit of a mouthful. Suffice it to say that the TechLiners come in two sizes (the 5.75″ regular and the 5″ shorty), several materials (Ti, Cu, bronze, brass) and a variety of finishes (black, tumbled, hand-brushed, polished, acid-washed and gonzodized). You want choices, you got choices. The Kickstarter I supported introduced the copper, bronze and brass materials along with the shorty size. Other machined pen makers have played around with copper, brass and bronze as of late and I’ve learned that copper is just too heavy for a pen. Brass and bronze are a touch lighter so depending upon the style and balance of the pen, they’re worth considering. That said, I think Titanium makes a great choice for a pen as it finds the sweet spot between lightweight aluminum and hefty brass, bronze and copper. Additionally, I have not seen the gonzodized finish from any other pen maker so titanium gonzodized was my choice.

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There are two design features that set the Ti2 TechLiner apart from other machined pens. The first would be the use of magnets at the tip and end of the pen. Is it a design gimmick? Maybe. Does it work? Absolutely. The neodymium magnets are short, fat rings which allows the tip of the refill (ships with Uni Signo 207 black in 0.7 mm) to slid through their centers. There is a third ring magnet in the cap to allow the cap to close over the tip or post on the end with a fair amount of force. Titanium is a non-ferromagentic material, so the cap magnet is essential to the design and function of the TechLiner. A non-scientific comparison of the force needed to uncap the TechLiner versus a plastic Uni-ball Vision stick I had lying around suggests the TechLiner requires about 80% the force to uncap a common plastic stick pen; not a rock solid fit, but plenty strong enough. There is also a satisfying metallic slap/snap sound produced as the magnets grab the cap during closing or posting.

The second design feature is the chunky knurling found on the grip and the end of the TechLiner. The designers at Ti2 call it a grid pattern and I’m a fan. It is great to see machined pen makes like Ti2 Designs and Tactile Turn come up with novel takes on the grip section of pens. There may not be much left untried in pen design so makers coming up with new twists on the grip is great to see. That the tip of the TechLiner ends rather abruptly with a nozzle-like look thereby leaving about a centimeter of the refill tip exposed is another clever feature. Most pen makers, in my opinion, leave too much of the refill tip covered by the pen body. The TechLiner may go a bit too far in the “naked” direction but I like their thinking. Overall, the minimalist body and gear-like appearance of the grid grip gives the TechLiner a 21st century steampunk look.

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As I said before, the TechLiner ships with a Signo 207 refill. The 207 is solid but less than ideal for the south-pawed as it does not try quickly enough. I spent a few minutes playing with other refills and found that the innards of a Uni Signo RT and a Pentel Energel (albeit very tightly) fit the TechLiner. Additional refill exploration will likely yield more options.

I do need to mention one minor issue with the writing experience. There is a tiny amount of play in the refill tip. I would compare it to the small amount of wiggle you get in gel multi pens like the Coleto. This wiggle is certainly not a deal breaker, but it does belie the robust design and feel of the pen. If I were grading the TechLiner, the minuscule wiggle would take a straight A pen down to an A-. I paid $70 (+ $10 for the clip) during Kickstarter for the pen. The Ti2 Design webpage will soon be selling it for $75 (+ $12 for clip). Certainly not a no-brainer purchase but the design and quality makes $75+ a reasonable price.

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Tactile Turn Titanium Mover

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Short Review:  This is a fantastic pen!

Slightly Longer Review:

The name of this site is That One Pen. Its goal is to track my efforts to find that ONE pen. I’ve written nearly 50 posts and reviewed about 25 pens and a handful of pencils. In the grand scheme of pen-dom, 25 is but a tiny drop in the pen cup. All of that said, if I had to pick one pen as That One Pen today, the Tactile Turn Ti Mover would be on the short list at the very least. In fact, right now, today, the TT Ti Mover is my favorite pen.

I previously reviewed the TT Mover and the shorter TT Shaker. Back then, I was more enthusiastic about the shorter Shaker than the longer Mover. My take on the Mover was positive if somewhat lukewarm. Today, my perspective on the Shaker remains positive while my opinion of the Mover has “evolved”. What made me go from “okay” to OMG regarding the TT Mover? My discovery of the Pilot Juice refill and the new titanium body.

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A full review of the Pilot Juice is in order and I hope to take care of that later. These refills are now my preferred gel pen option. I’m on record as being a big fan of the Pentel Energel as they lay down a consistent line, come in a nice array of colors and offer quick drying times. The performance of the Juice refills is similar or just a touch better in every way. The writing experience of the 0.5 Juice is smoother than the 0.5 Energel and also lays down a line that is more consistent and tighter. Additionally, the 0.38 mm Juice is the first sub-0.5 mm point that worked well for me. Most micro tip gels feel too scratchy to me. Those that do write somewhat smoothly often skip (I’m looking at you Hi Tec C). Anyway, I still dig Energels but I find myself grabbing for Juice pens much more frequently these days. The Pilot Juice refill has the added benefit of being the same size and shape of the (over) popular G2 refill which may fit more pen bodies than any refill except for the ubiquitous Parker-type refill.

Now for the titanium body. Titanium is a touch heavier than aluminum which works well if, like me, you find most aluminum pens a hair too light. Titanium is also resistant to corrosion so it will look good as new today, tomorrow and the thousands of tomorrows to come. There is also the relative “warmth” of titanium compared to other metal pen material. (Warming, science content coming) Titanium has a relatively low specific heat. This means it conducts heat efficiently. So, while aluminum will have a noticeably cold feel to it when you first pick it up and for several moments thereafter, titanium warms up quickly. Twirl the TT Ti Mover in your hand and it quickly loses it metallic coldness and feels great.

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Lastly, there’s design and build quality. As you can see, the design is simple, clean and effective. Those tactile turns toward the front of the pen really, really, really do their job well. Hey lefties, you know how we push a pen across a page which can cause our fingers to slide down pen? Well, the warm feel of the titanium body combined with the grooves of the grip section completely shuts that sliding down. Then there’s the invisible seam. It’s really cool how the seam pretty much disappears as the front and back sections come together.

To conclude, the TT Ti Mover looks great, works well and is built to the highest standards. It’s hard to say. Maybe it is that ONE pen, maybe it isn’t. But I do know, at this point, it easily has a spot on the medal stand. At $139, it certainly is not an impulse buy. So, think about it for a few minutes before you get one.

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Nock Co. DotDash Pocket Notebook

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Thinking about it now, it was only a matter of time until Nock Co., everyone’s favorite pen case maker, expanded into the pocket notebook space. Then again, there are a variety of pocket notebooks available to the portable stationary obsessed so it is only natural to ask if the world really needed another pocket option. Fortunately, this Nock Co. entry brings more than enough uniqueness and quality to the notebook crowd to be well worth checking out.

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The yellow color is certainly a bold statement and it fits in nicely with the zesty colors Nock Co. uses for its pen cases. Thankfully and smartly they did not go overboard with excessive graphics on the bright cover beyond the Nock Co. “N” on the front and a USA design on the back. Inside the cover we have check boxes and lines to indicate the notebook’s contents (including the cheeky “Plans for World Domination” option), a box for your name, some contact name and number graphics, an all-purpose “Don’t Forget” box, space for start and end dates and an email address for good samaritans to contact in the event they find a lost notebook. The graphics and text – I’m guessing Century Gothic font – are printed in a pleasing, medium brown color.

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Along with the striking cover color, the Nock Co. notebook distinguishes itself by adopting the flip-top, reporter-style binding which I think is a clever choice for a couple of reasons. One, it sets this notebook apart from many other pocket notebook options. Two, binding the notebook at the top is a back-pocket-friendly design. Side-bound notebooks experience significant stress when sitting and if you don’t take pains to protect the books they typically develop creasing or curvature perpendicular to the spine thereby diminishing integrity. I now have a leather cover for my Field Notes so a single notebook survives for several weeks compared to the two, maybe three, weeks I would get for a naked notebook. It is still early, but the preliminary returns look good for the Nock Co. reporter-style binding. The notebook has lived in my jeans for nearly three full days and there is little to no noticeable curving or creasing of the binding and the cover is holding up well. The 80 lbs cover paper seems to be an attempt to balance durability with flexibility. Again, a bit more time will tell if Nock Co. found the right balance on this count. Being a lefty, the reporter-style binding is also win since my southpaw will not be rubbing on a previously written page.

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Next, we have the dot dash printing of the paper. This is the same ruling used on Nock Co. notecards which quickly became my notecards of choice. While the dot dash design is functional and flexible without being too busy, it really was the writing experience that sold me on their notecards. There is a softness to writing on these notecards that I have not found with any other paper product. Anyway, the dot dash design does feel a bit busier in the notebook which is likely due to the larger size of the 3.5″ by 5.5″ notebook compared to the 3″ by 5″ index card.

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As for the writing experience of the notebook – it’s solid. Actually, it’s very, very good. Pencils, ballpoints and gels all took to the paper well. There is a hint of tooth to the paper so canonical points have enough fiber to grab without feeling too scratchy. I have not done excessive testing with fountain pens, but my TWSBI Mini (F steel nib) and Pilot Custom Heritage (M gold nib), both loaded with Kon Peki, produced fine-medium lines. As a result, I would say the paper is a touch on the thirsty side. There was only a tiny, perfectly acceptable, amount of feathering and mild ghosting on the reverse side. Kon Peki typically has short drying times, but on the Nock Co. paper the ink dried almost instantaneously and certainly well within 5 seconds. All-in-all, the paper is a winner. It’s certainly not Rhodia smooth, but it is miles away from legal pad scratchy. It is easily on par with some of the better, but perhaps not the best, paper found in the Field Notes Colors editions.

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Would I buy the Nock Co. DotDash pocket notebook again? Absolutely. In fact, I bought a couple of packs and plan to keep one sealed up just in case these notebooks hit it big. More importantly, it would be great if Nock Co. has a bit of a hit on their hands so we can look forward to notebooks with different color covers. Certainly recommended.

 

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.)

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)