Mechanical pencil torture test
We tortured these mechanical pencils. You can probably imagine what happened next. Reviewed by William Gurstelle.
Starting about 1979, a craze by Japanese schoolgirls for drawing cute cartoon figures caused skyrocketing sales of mechanical pencils. Dozens of companies began designing and manufacturing mechanical pencils and they haven’t stopped. Today, Japan is to mechanical pencils as Switzerland is to watches.
Of course, there are exceptions, but for a really good mechanical pencil, the place to go is Japan. “Look for unique features like retractable tips and auto-rotating lead mechanisms,” explained Elaine, the mechanical pencil expert at Jetpens. “These details are small yet practical, and they’ll be appreciated by artists, students, engineers, and everyone in between.”
Jetpens provided six of their favorite mechanical pencils, priced at $35 or less, for me to use and abuse.
The lineup that arrived:
|Uni Alpha Gel HD Shaka Shaker Pencil||$10.00|
|Pilot Delful Double Knock Mechanical Pencil||$8.25|
|Pentel Sharp Kerry Mechanical Pencil||$19.50|
|Pentel Graph Gear 1000||$16.50|
|Uni Kuru Toga||$16.50|
Except for the German-made Rotring, all of these pencils are Japanese.
A lot of what makes a mechanical pencil good or bad is in the eye (and hand) of the beholder. The grip and feel that appeal to me may not work for you. So let’s begin with the cold hard facts and figures.
|Pen||Body Material||Lead Advance||Weight (grams)||Tip/Pocket Protection Method||Finger feel||Weighting||Advance per click (shake)|
|Uni Alpha Gel HD Shaka Shaker Pencil||Plastic||Shaker||17.4||None||wide, cushioned, smooth||Front||.0450 inches|
|Pilot Delful Double Knock Mechanical Pencil||Plastic||Shaker||20.1||Retracts||wide, smooth||Front||.0450|
|Pentel Sharp Kerry Mechanical Pencil||cap metal, body plastic||Push||21.6||Cap||medium, smooth||Neutral||.0169|
|Pentel Graph Gear 1000||Metal||Push||20.5||Retracts||medium, knurled||Back||.0210|
|Rotring 600 Metal||Metal||Push||22.5||None||narrow, knurled||Neutral||.0225|
|Uni Kuru Toga||Top plastic, bottom metal||Push||15.1||None||medium, knurled||Front||.0225|
After I wrote, drew, and doodled with each pencil, I did some tough testing to see which of these pencils were really built to last. I washed each pencil, simulating the all-too-familiar experience of forgetting to empty pockets before throwing clothes in the washer. Then, I took the survivors and placed them on a concrete driveway and drove over them with an SUV. This simulated, well, I don’t know, I guess the experience of running over your pencil with a large, heavy car.
|Washing Machine Test||Crush Test|
|Uni Alpha Gel HD Shaka||Passed||Passed|
|Pilot Delful Double Knock||Passed||Passed|
|Pentel Sharp Kerry Mechanical Pencil||Passed||Passed|
|Pentel Graph Gear 1000||Passed||Failed|
|Uni Kuru Toga||Passed||Passed|
Here’s my summary evaluation for each mechanical pencil:
Dark, heavy, solid, and, expensive, the Rotring is a paean to industrial design. It’s all business, with few frills, but it feels very comfortable in one’s grip. It has a rock-solid lead advance, moving the graphite consistently .0225 inches a push. In my opinion, this is about perfect, sending the lead not so far forward that it breaks easily, but enough so that it clears the pencil body. On the minus side, the Rotring did not survive the washer test. The lead sleeve bent significantly and could not be re-straightened.
Pentel Sharp Kerry
The classy Kerry looks like a quality fountain pen. It has a metal cap with a cleverly designed moveable tip, allowing the user to advance the lead while the cap is in the typical in-use position. The cap prevents the pencil from getting graphite on the user’s pocket, but it requires a second step in order to access the eraser. The advance-per-click is a little low at 0.0169 inches per click, meaning that the user may have press multiple times to advance sufficient lead length to write easily.
The Delful is the value leader. Yes, it’s all plastic, but it costs less than a third of the most expensive pencil in this test, and the Delful’s wide-diameter, cushioned body makes it fatigue free. Operating the pushbutton on the top retracts the tip into the body, protecting it from damage — a really nice feature in an inexpensive pencil. The pencil uses a shaker mechanism to advance the lead which is faster and easier than a push button advances. On the negative side, each shake is relatively huge, causing the lead to advance too far, too quickly.
Uni-Alpha Gel Shaka
Another excellent value, the shaker-style pencil, the Shaka is similar in feel, size, and cost to the Delful. It has the widest barrel and most finger-cushioning of any pencil tested, but it lacks the retractor of the Delful.
Pentel Graph Gear
This pencil has it all. It has all metal body with a solid yet comfortable feel, high-tech designer styling, and a retracting tip with a satisfying click-click operation. It’s a little bit back-weighted, which I liked, and it’s priced competitively for what you get. The only drawback is, that while it passed the washer test, it failed the driving-over test. It was much more deformed than the other pencils and the broken advance mechanism couldn't be repaired.
The Winner is…
Uni Kuru Toga
The half metal and half plastic Kuru Toga is a great looking pencil, with a thin upper body and solid, knurled metal base. Although it’s a bit on the light side, for the actual act of writing, this was my personal favorite. The lead advance is an ideal 0.0225 inch per click. Even better, it features a clever mechanism that automatically rotates the lead as you write, making lines more even and reducing lead breakage.
Today a future without schools. Instead of gathering students into a room and teaching them, everybody learns on their own time, on tablets and guided by artificial intelligence. Flash Forward: RSS | iTunes | Twitter | Facebook | Web | Patreon | RedditIn this episode we talk to a computer scientist who developed an artificially […]
Where are our petabyte drives? Brian Hayes takes us through the reasons storage is “stuck” in the low terabytes. The tl;dr is that we got such exceptional capacity growth in the late 90s and early 00s we don’t need much more right now, so the focus since then has been on SSDs, networking, interfaces, etc, […]
Amélie Lamont, a former staffer at website-hosting startup Squarespace, writes that she often found herself disregarded and disrespected by her colleagues. One comment in particular, though, set her reeling — and came to exemplify her experiences there.
Those of us who love music wish we could listen to it 24/7. But it’s impossible when we’re trying to converse with our friends, or when are swimming in the local pool.That is, until now. The KOAR Bone Conduction Bluetooth Headset, now 48% off, has changed the audio game.Made with lightweight titanium memory metal, this headset boasts patented bone conduction technology to transport sound […]
It’s one thing to enjoy dinner at home and a nice glass of Cabernet Sauvignon with your best friend, Netflix, but it’s another thing entirely to make that meal from scratch and get that wine delivered right to your doorstep.But what if we told you there’s a way to make this possible? To keep your social life, […]
Having to pack and drag your stuff through security can put quite the damper on your vacation plans. Thankfully, we’ve got your back with one way to make traveling more painless: the Jumper Overnighter Travel Bag.This compact bag is so lightweight that you can effortlessly carry it, and fit it into any overhead compartment. But just […]