scribble scribble *CLICK* scribble scribble *CLICK* scribble *CLICK*
December 1, 2014 4:50 PM   Subscribe

Do you need to get the lead out? Are you having trouble getting to the point? Maybe this post all about the joys of mechanical pencils will help!
  • Dave's Mechanical Pencils is probably the gold lead standard, with reviews and links about everything related to mechanical pencils, leads, erasers, and pencil-related ephemera.
  • Vittorio Villani's Drafting and Mechanical Pencils takes more of an individual collector's approach, with many beauty shots along with the reviews.
  • All jammed up: The Old Geezer offers advice on how to clear a lead jam.
  • Leadhead's Pencil Blog focusses on antique and vintage mechanical pencils. They are works of art themselves, and blogger Jon Veley has even set up an online museum.
  • Leadholder Drafting Pencil Museum hasn't been updated in a while but is an exhaustive collection of lead-related material, including a section on the mechanics of different types of mechanical pencils.
  • If you've only seen one mechanical pencil, it was probably a Scripto.
  • The Pencil Pages is a treasure trove of pencil information and links.
  • Finally, Pencil Revolution (previously) does not limit itself to mechanical pencils but the entire pencil lifestyle. After all, a great pencil needs great paper. (Warning: the links will take you down a time-sucking, pencil, paper, and office-supply rabbit hole.)
posted by Room 641-A (37 comments total) 94 users marked this as a favorite
David Rees weighs in.
posted by Aznable at 5:03 PM on December 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

oooh yeah.
posted by louche mustachio at 5:06 PM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I come from a very anti-mechanical pencil family. Mom and grandma are both teachers and see the mechanical pencil more as a distracting toy than a useful writing implement, so we just didn't have them in the house growing up.

Enter my first middle school math class where the teacher required us to use mechanical pencils and wouldn't let you use a regular old tree pencil in her class. So I come home and ask my parents that whichever one of them is at the store next please buy a pack of mechanical pencils for me. You'd think I'd asked them to go buy me a pack of condoms or something. My mom reacts with horror telling me that no, I can't be right, no teacher would require mechanical pencils, surely I just misheard her and she's disallowing mechanical pencils in her class. My dad tells me I should just keep using regular pencils and that he could come in to talk to my teacher about it if I needed him to. I beg them to please stop being insane and just buy me a friggin pack of pencils, I only need them for this one class, it's not a big deal.

The next evening my dad is several hours late coming home from work. Apparently he stopped at the SCAD bookstore on the way home to look at mechanical pencil options for me and got held up in conversation with some art students about the best pencil for me. He comes home with a $20 metal drafting pencil in a little plastic case with foam cutout padding. Which of course requires special sized lead. Everyone in the family takes turns using the pencil, marveling at how nice it is, except for my mom who just keeps shaking her head about these new teachers with their crazy ideas.

tl;dr my family is crazy, thank you for reminding me about it with this post!
posted by phunniemee at 5:13 PM on December 1, 2014 [54 favorites]

Just a side note for those playing along at home, aside from the one that came bundled in the little ruler/compass/protractor set I had in high school, that is the only mechanical pencil I've ever owned. Dead trees 4 eva!
posted by phunniemee at 5:17 PM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm taking a Graphic Novel writing/illustrating class right now, and last week the instructor went off for a solid five minutes on the right kind of clutch pencil to use for comic book penciling. In a course taught entirely digitally, where there was neither a pencil nor a sheet of paper to be had in the room.
posted by Sara C. at 5:18 PM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I still have my 'vanishing-point' Pentel PSD5 that I've had since the early 80's.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 5:19 PM on December 1, 2014

I love me a nice mechanical pencil.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:27 PM on December 1, 2014

Dave's review of the Uni Kuru Toga, a mechanical pencil with auto lead rotation. I love this thing. The self-sharpening aspect may not suit every writing style, but at sub-$10 it's worth checking out.
posted by Lorin at 5:36 PM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

More pencil links from earlier this year.

I was interested to learn recently that until the 19th century inks were so prone to fading and water damage that pencils were considered the more permanent form of writing. It was a document appraiser on either Antiques Roadshow or Pawn Stars (I think) so there is certainly room for some skepticism there, but it sounded interesting to me.
posted by TedW at 5:43 PM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

My first pen was indeed a Scripto, just like the ones in that link. I loved it (my friends teased me that I was "afraid of splinters" because I didn't want to use wooden pencils any more).
Eventually I broke it, and eventually replaced it with a more expensive pencil and a smaller lead size. This cycle has been repeated over the years, and currently I use a very slim lead in an expensive drafting pencil. This is the case even though I hardly ever use a pencil at all...just part of the abiding love for stationery supplies of all kinds.
posted by librosegretti at 5:43 PM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dead trees 4 eva!

Oh Jesus, now I have to consider this (and nice fountain pen vs bic for that matter) alongside our environmental consideration economics based decisions on cloth diapers, reusable shopping bags, and PV solar panels. I'd avoided noticing it up to this point.

Thanks metafilter, thanks a lot!
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:44 PM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Accounting on columnar pads is practically impossible without a precise and, more importantly, correctable mechanical pencil...
posted by jim in austin at 5:49 PM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've never been able to successfully use a mechanical pencil. My left-handed claw grip is just too clumsy and I end up snapping the lead in half before I can finish a sentence.
posted by octothorpe at 5:52 PM on December 1, 2014

scribble scribble *CLICK* scribble scribble *CLICK* scribble *CLICK*

I have five or six old Niji autofeeds that work pretty well, but I've been expecting something better to come along for years, now.
posted by jamjam at 6:07 PM on December 1, 2014

Oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy. And when you're done with this, I've got a whole blogroll dedicated to fountain pens.
posted by dis_integration at 6:20 PM on December 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

I love this post so much. (The rough draft for this comment was written with a 30 year old Staedler mechanical pencil that I used in college.)
posted by Rob Rockets at 6:20 PM on December 1, 2014

My trusty Pentel P205 has been neglected lately due to some dexterity issues; last week I discovered the Sakura SumoGrip and it reignited my love affair with mechanical pencils.

The SumoGrip has been a joy to write and draw with. I bought an 0.5, an 0.7 and some 2B refills and I've probably sketched more this week than I have the last six months. Interestingly, I expected to break the lead more often but because I normally have a death-grip I think it's got about the same breakage rate as the Pentel drafting pencil. More pros: less stabby than the 205 and it sounds less like the cat's laser toy.

Dave's review of the Uni Kuru Toga, a mechanical pencil with auto lead rotation.

With people so used to turning the barrel I'm surprised this hasn't caused any pencil vortexes!
posted by Room 641-A at 6:23 PM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thanks for these interesting links.

I'm a second-generation writing-implement fetishist. My father collected fancy fountain pens and mechanical pencils—not the super-high-end ones, but the ones that were just costly enough to make him feel prosperous. At his death he had enough pen-and-pencil sets to fill a couple of small drawers. The four Mont Blancs that I inherited mostly sit in the box. Instead, every single day I use his silver Rotring 600. I love its weight and grip, and the way it feels in my hand. It's practical and precise and hardworking, like my dad. It's a personal relic.
posted by GrammarMoses at 6:46 PM on December 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

I use mechanical pencils (usually cheap and crappy because they get broken and lost all the time) because that is what works best with Rite in the Rain notebooks outdoors in all weather. I don't particularly like them, though I might if I ever had a nice one, it's just what seems to work the least awfully in the situation.

I just lost my last one, actually (they fall out of my field vest in the back of the truck, or people "borrow" them, I'm not sure which), so maybe I'll spend a bit more and get some nicer ones.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:07 PM on December 1, 2014

I'm definitely on Team Pen, but I love that there are people geeking about pencils in the same way.
posted by Foosnark at 7:45 PM on December 1, 2014

Related to TedW's comment above about pencils being considered more permanent for writing up until the nineteenth century, pencils are still superior to ink when it comes to situations in which the writing is subject to exposure to the elements. I used to have a job in which I would identify supplies which were stored outside with a description on a wired tag tie. After only a few weeks exposure to sunlight, rain, etc., ones written in ink would be totally faded and illegible, but ones written in pencil would last literally years (or at least as long as the manila paper tag survived). Did a lot of re-tagging at that job until I learned that, I did ...
posted by Falling_Saint at 7:51 PM on December 1, 2014

I've got a nice 0.5 Levenger that I've been using for years. It has a weight to it that just makes it feel right in the hand.

Though I've been using Kuru Toga auto-rotators for a while now, and I have to admit, I really like always having a sharp point. Plus, seeing the complicated mechanics through the head of the pencil is just cool.
posted by quin at 7:51 PM on December 1, 2014

Holy crap what a post! And I'm afraid to click on anything in case I get sucked into a nostalgia/coveting vortex (my dad was an animator and had a bunch of these little guys, and they've always had an unholy sway on me). Well done!
posted by threecheesetrees at 10:08 PM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pentel T3 Techniclick 0.7 here. Side-button advance and eraser at the ready on top. It's all I use. Those metal ones look heavy.
posted by Lukenlogs at 10:08 PM on December 1, 2014

I simultaneously love the idea of mechanical pencils (I seem be drawn to unnecessarily complex things that have a perfectly good low-tech alternative) and hate writing with them. Continually snapping leads is one thing, and another is the way the lead ends up wedge-shaped and sharp and tears into the paper if you're not careful. And they're terrible for woodwork. I bought a Kuru Toga, thinking that would solve some of my issues. But there's still something scratchy and annoying about them that I can't put my finger on. And I love my big desk-mounted Helix sharpener - just like the ones attached to all the teachers' desks at school when I was a kid in the 70s. Dead trees forever indeed (but I'm happy for all of you mechanical pencil types who can work with those pesky things).
posted by pipeski at 3:01 AM on December 2, 2014

Pentel P225.
I buy them whenever I come across them because they are perfect. Light, but not fragile, the very narrow tip helps me write as small as I feel I need to, which while editing is at times very damn small; yet still legible.

I love this pencil and at times I imagine hunting down the designer and buying him/her a case of champagne.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:02 AM on December 2, 2014

Back in pre-computer days when I had to draft things with actual tools, I wore out the Pentel series, which appears to be the P203/205/207. The power eraser was fun, too. Hmmm... looking through my desk drawer, there's 2 P205s - green and black - and a Staedtler eraser-in-a-tube thingy. I think I had to give the power eraser back, when my drafting table was removed.

So, anyway - people still use these things? (ducks)
posted by Ella Fynoe at 4:54 AM on December 2, 2014

Pentel .09 Twist Erase - comes in a two-pack in Navy Blue and Black. Always have a set in my pencil mug.

The Koh-I-Nor 2mm all-metal lead holder with the sharpener cap? That one stays with me. I also have a Retro 51 Torpedo mini 1.2mm twist pencil in brushed nickel when I want to dress up.

When I was a kid, I was all about .5mm leads, and when I learned of such things, .35mm leads. As an adult with poor hand-eye co-ordination and a nasty caffeine habit, I lurrrrve me some .9mm, 1.2mm and 2mm leads. Line figuration and an expansive hand hides many flaws in penmanship, and they're sooo smooooth.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:43 AM on December 2, 2014

Wow, that is a fantastic post. I can't resist pencil or pen nerd stuff. For me, the Best Mechanical Pencil Ever is the Pilot 2020 Rocky shaker pencil, which hasn't been made in 25 or 30 years. I wish I had picked up a handful of them back when they were $5 each but you can still find NOS on ebay for $30. I still use my original to this day.
posted by fimbulvetr at 7:30 AM on December 2, 2014

I used to hate these too. Especially in college when they first were making the cheap ones ... during an exam people would bear down with them and they would SQUEAK SQUEAK SQUEAK and drive me nuts.

For a cheap pencil I can buy for home and the kids' school, I have been happy with Bic Velocity 0.9mm. There's a nice cushy rubber grip near the point, and I find that going to .9 from .7 eliminates the constant lead snapping. If you go to a Staples or drug store etc. you'll notice that the pencils are 90% .7mm. Avoid if you are a lead snapper!!

Also the Bic Velocity ball point pens are the smoothest writing cheap pens I've found. I'm a lefty and have stopped using gel pens due to smudging. The Bic feels even smoother than a gel pen to me. Better than some "fancy-comes-in-a-case" pens I've had. YMMV.
posted by freecellwizard at 8:25 AM on December 2, 2014

I mostly use pens these days (Uni-ball Jetstream FTW), but a while back I got a Ticonderoga SenseMatic, thinking, "Wow! A pencil I don't have to click to advance!" It advances automatically when you set it down to start writing. Here's the problem: It advances automatically when you set it down to start writing. And trying to push the lead back in only causes it to advance more! Apparently I'm using it wrong, judging by all the 5-star reviews. I don't know, it's crazy.

So when I use a pencil, I stick with the whatever brand of side-click style I got when I was in college. I can advance the lead whenever I want, and I don't get finger juice on the eraser.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:32 AM on December 2, 2014

Among my wife's family heirlooms is a gold mechanical pencil that her great great grandfather used during the Civil War. Still works. I had no idea that the technology was that old, but wikipedia assures us that this is so.

Clearly a coffee table book is in order.
posted by BWA at 8:36 AM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mechanical pencils may be handy, but two words when it comes to a luscious pencil-writing experience: Palomino Blackwing.
posted by at 9:34 AM on December 2, 2014

I used to use a Pentel P207 mechanical when I was in 5th grade or so. I switched to a P225 which I liked for the smooth barrel and the finer point. I tried a P203, but I broke the lead constantly. Around 8th grade, I saved up perfectly good video game money to buy a Pentel side-clicker. It was .5 mm, weighty, had a larger barrel and looked like the pencil an executive would use. I had also switched over to fountain pens for writing prose. That one two punch guaranteed that I had holes in my pockets and ink stains on my pants for years.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I switched from a fountain pen to a Staedtler Mars matic technical pen which I loved except that the crappy quality paper I had access to jammed up the tip too often. I switched to a Uniball Micro when I discovered that it wrote better than the Mars matic on crappy paper.

Now that I have kids, I write with what's handy since they're the primary reason we can't have anything nice; my son destroys the following things with impunity and alacrity: toothbrushes, flashlights1, pens, erasers, silverware, dishes...

1I had a fantastic compact flashlight that I bought in college. It took two AA's, a hardened metal case, a nice knurled grip on the handle, a bright light with a spare bulb. I had used this flashlight routinely for 25 years including the time that it got dropped into a running engine and was flung out the bottom. He destroyed it in 4 days. I think I threw it out, which is a pity because I just checked and they have a limited lifetime warranty. Given my luck, it probably excludes forces of nature (e.g. my son).
posted by plinth at 9:35 AM on December 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

My dad gave me a Japanese one that a business associate had gifted him with. You could change the tip to pen or pencil. Someone stole it in design school. 25 years ago, but I still remember.

0.5 2B throughout
posted by infini at 2:36 PM on December 5, 2014

I used to work in the copy department of a magazine, and we fact-checkers worked on paper, in pencil. The one true mechanical pencil (for writing, at least) is the Paper Mate Clearpoint, preferably 0.7 mm, but 0.5 will do in a pinch. They were by far the most expensive kind of available pencil, but I threatened to quit on the spot when my boss suggested we switch for the sake of the budget.
posted by purpleclover at 1:20 PM on December 15, 2014

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