Auto lead rotating!!??!
April 7, 2010 6:10 PM   Subscribe

This isn't exactly breaking news, since it circled the writing utensil blog scene (I didn't even know there was one) in 2008, but check out the Uni-Ball Kuru Toga. It's a mechanical pencil (only available in Japan and over the internet I believe) that automatically rotates it's lead for you. Here's some randomly-chosen, Google-acquired reviews of it: 1, 2, 3, 4.

I love this thing and think it's awesome, but all my friends that I've shown it to think it's dumb so let's see what MetaFilter thinks of it.

Also, if you're thinking of picking one up there's now a "high grade" version that might be worth a look. I don't know anything about it, since I have the original version.
posted by DoublePlus (43 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Heh. This thing! I actually had one sent to me to review (self link here); I didn't really see the lead rotating much, but I doubt the Japanese would sell such a thing if it didn't actually work. I don't think it's dumb. I think it's dumb to think the pen and pencil have reached their "final forms."
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 6:19 PM on April 7, 2010

So this new pencil, it's like a ballpoint pen?
posted by Panjandrum at 6:23 PM on April 7, 2010

Not quite. I'd like to try one. Rotating my pencil while doing math problems will be a hard habit to break.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:31 PM on April 7, 2010

I have several, they really are better than normal mechanical pencils - the difference is subtle in that you don't have to do anything, just write and the lead automatically rotates, wearing in an even pattern without a chisel tip.
posted by ChrisHartley at 6:46 PM on April 7, 2010

But.. if I use this how will I get the fine sharp lines and wide grayscale tones that are so vital to my 'bored out of my ever-loving mind' doodling?
posted by FritoKAL at 6:47 PM on April 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

Ooh. Father's Day gift for my Dad? Check.
posted by Miko at 6:49 PM on April 7, 2010

There are a lot of other cool things on those links. office supply jewelry and decorating with colored post-it notes.
posted by water bear at 6:49 PM on April 7, 2010

Nothing dumb about it. I rely on pencils in my work, and this is a lovely idea.

I do wish it came in a larger .9mm (or at least .7mm size) though.
posted by pianoboy at 6:57 PM on April 7, 2010

I wondered how good it was. Cool.

I'm digging the scissors I saw at Jetpens, that fold away so they look like a pen. But they're sold out...darn.
posted by circular at 6:59 PM on April 7, 2010

This is a pen(cil).
posted by armage at 6:59 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you are using .9mm lead, why do you need to rotate? Or even use a pencil at all? A charred log would also suffice.
posted by DU at 7:01 PM on April 7, 2010 [14 favorites]

Hey I have this!

I have the .3mm version. And well, it does exactly what it saids-- it rotates the led.

I do use this pencil pretty often.

Now, do you really need it? No. Is it a cool cheap quality pencil? Yes, yes it is.

I like it.

But I like a lot of gadgets.
posted by countzen at 7:06 PM on April 7, 2010

If you are using .9mm lead, why do you need to rotate? Or even use a pencil at all? A charred log would also suffice.

Try taking obvious notes on a large score for a Broadway show (requiring both thick and thin pencil lines) and get right back to me.
posted by pianoboy at 7:19 PM on April 7, 2010

A fair answer.
posted by Songdog at 7:23 PM on April 7, 2010

How long does it take for the lead to make a full rotation? Is it like 10 inches of writing, or something like that? I guess maybe there's a fine ratchet that lets it rotate in one direction simply by moving it, which preventing it from rotating back? Hmm.
posted by delmoi at 7:38 PM on April 7, 2010

Oh, the mechanism is explained in this post. It's a double ratchet thing that moves when you press the tip.
posted by delmoi at 7:43 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ah, I have blogged about Japanese writing instruments myself. I always look for culture-specific issues behind such specialized writing instruments. I'm spent far too many hours practicing Japanese calligraphy, including a specific style called "pen-ji" (pen writing) that this mechanical pencil is just perfect for. The specific problem is that the strokes of kanji are written in only two directions: left to right, or down. Compared to Western orthographic systems, with their circles, loops, diagonals, and abrupt changes of direction, kanji has relatively simple basic glyphs. Result: mechanical pencils would tend to turn into chisel points very easily when writing kanji. Western writers might never have seen this problem in normal pencil usage. So this rotating point seems intended to solve this specific pen-ji problem. Students are often taught pen-ji techniques in school, but that depends on a ballpoint pen with fixed width. This rotating tip mechanical pencil seems specifically designed for use with pen-ji, although oddly, the Japanese documentation shown on one of those links seems to focus on English handwriting.

I can see that this type of pencil would be really useful at small points like 0.3mm. I prefer 0.5mm, as the smaller points seem too tiny, and break easily, but that problem seems to be remedied by this pen. I see the tiny 0.3mm pencils here in the West mostly used for mechanical drafting, but they're exceedingly useful for Japanese furigana, little in-line superscript notations.

Yeah, can you see that guys like me really geek out on Japanese writing instruments? And the Japanese are even more picky. Japan is the only place where I've ever seen a department store with testers for every single nib of MontBlanc pens, both left and right handed, including some special nibs I've never seen sold in the west. IIRC I saw more than 20 different nib tester pens, that must be several thousand dollars worth of MB pens. Yes, the Japanese are fanatics about writing instruments.

Sidenote: I almost started writing "shaapu penshiru," sharp pencil, several times here, out of force of habit. Mechanical pencils are called sharp pencils, not because they're sharp, but because the first major brand was by Sharp.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:52 PM on April 7, 2010 [9 favorites]

So I'm the only person who really likes that sharp flat-ground point mechanical pencils get, huh? To me this sounds like a device that automatically removes and disposes of the edges of all pans of brownies, or a mod that advances the odometer of your car directly from *9999 to *0001: an ingenious machine that saves me the trouble of enjoying one of life's small, idiosyncratic pleasures.
posted by penduluum at 7:59 PM on April 7, 2010 [6 favorites]

pendulum, I know just the thing for you.

Did I mention that I own several hundred different types of pencils, pens, and various other writing instruments?
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:22 PM on April 7, 2010

It's hard to imagine (countzen, chime in if you will) that this doesn't produce some kind of squashy or slippery feeling in the contact. After I started using Rotring jewel-point pens I thought pencil felt a little slithery and would be surprised if this additional mechanism didn't worsen the sensation.
posted by jet_silver at 8:25 PM on April 7, 2010

I use a .9mm pencil in lieu of a fountain pen when jotting in a moleskine - doesn't bleed through the paper, but lets me practice my penmanship with proper figuration. It's smooth, and not scratchy: very pleasant to take notes with.

So I have no use for this rotating-lead device, but I waaaaaaaaant one...

(Actually I want a Rotring 600 1,0mm pencil in Lava finish, paired with matching broad nib pen.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:30 PM on April 7, 2010

I would have killed for this when I was learning pencil and paper drafting, but that was a looong time ago.
posted by NortonDC at 8:33 PM on April 7, 2010

OK, it rotates, but it doesn't advance the lead, so what's the advance mechanism? If it's top advance, that's a deal-breaker. If there's a side button (which I don't see, so I don't think it is), then I'll give one a try.
posted by Lukenlogs at 8:54 PM on April 7, 2010

I got my first Pentel 0.5 mm in 1975 and still have it and use it often. It was so much nicer than the thick lead Sharp pencils of the time.
posted by Jumpin Jack Flash at 8:54 PM on April 7, 2010

NortonDC, what did you use when you learned drafting? When I learned it, we spent an inordinate amount of time practicing how to whittle a proper wooden pencil point with a knife. Actually, that's a skill I still use even today, more often than I would have expected.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:56 PM on April 7, 2010

...Rotring jewel-point pens...

I think these are scratchy compared to the Kohinoor jewel tips, as well as the Staedtlers (but the Staedtler wires break so often I would never recommend them), and those are scratchy compared to the Kohinoor tungsten carbide points.

However, technical pen points ultimately come to have a version of the same problem the Kuru Toga is designed to to correct. The little wire that runs down the tube and conducts ink to the tip by capillary action develops a flat spot, and that flat spot catches at the paper a tiny little, but distinctly noticeable, bit ( not to mention that they come from the factory with edges that are squared off rather than rounded).

I have produced nearly spherical points on those wires by putting them in a dremel and running them against 1200 grit paper-- until I could no longer stand the embarrassment of being the kind of person who would do something like that.
posted by jamjam at 8:59 PM on April 7, 2010 [4 favorites]

As a student of Chinese and fan of pencils, I'm getting one (nay, three) of these. Rock on!
posted by flippant at 9:54 PM on April 7, 2010

According to the email I just received, my shiny new pencil has just shipped from Osaka. Yay!
posted by netd at 10:12 PM on April 7, 2010

posted by five fresh fish at 10:49 PM on April 7, 2010

posted by flabdablet at 11:36 PM on April 7, 2010

I have one. You have to hold it quite vertical for the lead to rotate. Plus, it doesn't like Uni-Ball's own coloured leads, which slip in it. Those I use in my Rotring 600s ...
posted by scruss at 4:43 AM on April 8, 2010

I love the internet so much.
posted by marginaliana at 6:33 AM on April 8, 2010

until I could no longer stand the embarrassment of being the kind of person who would do something like that.

You know, you are so close to being the God of Technical Pens. You really should re-think your decision to back away. There's a possible lifetime career here.

I'm serious. There's a God of Fountain Pens, you know.
posted by aramaic at 6:40 AM on April 8, 2010

I said "you know" twice, and for that I am afraid that I must go shoot myself. My apologies for the ensuing mess. Simply horrible.

...however, my suggestion stands.
posted by aramaic at 6:43 AM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

"If you are using .9mm lead, why do you need to rotate?"

Keeps a consistent point on your pencil. Important in mechanical drafting so that your line widths remain consistent. I wonder how one of these works if the user is also rotating their pencil as that is going to be a hard habit to break.
posted by Mitheral at 6:50 AM on April 8, 2010

Cool. And also thanks for the reviewer sites. I've been looking for a good replacement pencil after Cross screwed me ("Oh, we shipped that. If you didn't receive it, well... Not our fault". Grrr.), and this will definitely help in the search.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 7:53 AM on April 8, 2010

I've loved my Rotring mechanical .5 for years, but just lately I've found myself back to using wooden pencils that I sharpen with a knife.

I have no idea why. Neither my job nor my hobbies requires a sharp pointed lead, but there is something I find contenting about a couple of perfect swipes of the blade leaving me with just the right shaped point.

That said, I may have to try one of these merely because I love the idea of this kind of meticulous engineering going into something as ostensibly simple as a pencil.
posted by quin at 8:12 AM on April 8, 2010

jet_silver, although the pencil does feel slightly different from other mechanical pencils, It's never been something that turned me off about it or anything. The lead just moves like .5mm (a total guess there, it's just really tiny) up every time you press it to your paper. I wouldn't say that you can feel the actual rotating, because it takes about 40 presses for the lead to make a full rotation.

Also, like scruss said, some leads do slip in the pencil. (I've been wondering for like a month if my pencil was broken, seeing scruss' comment makes me think it's just the wonky lead I'm using)
posted by DoublePlus at 8:36 AM on April 8, 2010

I got one of these from JetPens a couple of years ago. All in all, I like it better than any of my other mechanical pencils for writing and note-taking. If you actually write with it, with a fairly firm hand, it works as advertised. If you draw (even drawing long lines, as when sketching up an informal table) with it, or if you write very gently, the rotation mechanism doesn't engage often enough to offer much benefit. The action of the rotation mechanism does give it a slightly cushioned feel that I'm sure isn't to everyone's taste, but it is very precisely made; it doesn't feel loose or sloppy at all.
posted by Western Infidels at 8:46 AM on April 8, 2010

I have the .5mm Kuro Toga and love it. It took me about three days to break myself of my thirty-year habit of physically turning the mechanical pencil in my grip every couple of lettters.

The feel is a little mushy because the cam that rotates the lead allows the tip of the pencil to rise up a fraction when you press down on the paper, but I was surprised to find that the pencil's feel "reads" like a pen to my hand because of that.

No more super-sharp chiseled edges ripping my paper, or blunt faces making a broad line when I needed a fine one. Highly recommended for you mechanical pencil people out there.
posted by Aquaman at 9:26 AM on April 8, 2010

I'm intrigued! I want to use mechanical pencils, because I am frustrated by having to constantly sharpen regular pencils to keep the point as sharp as I like it. Mechanical pencils hold out the promise of a perpetual, perfectly-sharpened tip.

But I have this problem when I try to use mechanical pencils. I have a really heavy hand, apparently, or I write at the "wrong" angle. I'm lucky to write three words before the lead breaks.

I've tried to re-train myself, but to no avail. Instead I stick to a harder lead (2H to 4H) which I don't have to sharpen quite as constantly.

(But mostly I write with my Lamy Safari with ink cartridge converter and Pelikan "Brilliant Black" although someone's convinced me to give Noodler's Black Bulletproof a try.)
posted by ErikaB at 11:24 AM on April 8, 2010

charlie don't surf, I honestly don't remember much about the drafting pencils or sharpening them. What I do remember is all the hand cramps, pencil rotating, and graphite dust trying to smear my pages. Damn you soft leads!!

On the other hand, I did get to introduced to AutoCAD in the 80's, and we got to listen to walkmen during class in high school.

Now offa my lawn, already.
posted by NortonDC at 9:36 PM on April 8, 2010

Nobuyoshi Nagahara? God of Fountain Pens? No.

There are three famous people from Fall River, Massachusetts. Lizzie Borden. Emeril Lagasse*. Frank Dubiel.

Only one of these is famous internationally, in Dubai and Tokyo, Vienna and London, Moscow and Shanghai, New York and Rio. Frank Dubiel, author of "Fountain Pens - The Complete Guide To Repair & Restoration." Anyone who deals in the upper echelon of fountain pens has a copy of the book, as does every fountain pen owner who's ever dropped more than a Lexus' worth of cash on a writing implement.

That, and John Mottishaw... there have been more than one "Mottishawed" top-tier Sailor nib.

- - -

*There are as many Arcadians living in Rhode Island and Southeastern Mass. as there are in Louisiana. It's why the accent is so incomprehensible, where we "Trow down da staiyas dat bastid, an den pahhk dem caaaahs side-by-each adda anospital to seeum latahs an says we'd sowry dats what we did, anden we had parstar an gravry." Listen carefully next time he shows up on Planet Green, and the word order will go screwy and the ending "r"s and "nd"s, or beginning "th"s and "h"s will go away, and random "r"s and "n"s will intrude when he's really excited or really bored.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:21 PM on April 10, 2010

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