Friday, June 01, 2018


I want to talk about mechanical pencils for a second. No, I don't have many friends, why do you ask?

So I'm in the market for a new mechanical pencil. I would like to use it for math-ish homework, but also for precision line drawing--not so much shading, so a firm fine-ish point would be better. The platonic ideal I have in mind is a pencil I used ages ago as my primary drawing tool, but I've moved literally 6 times in the past 12 years and I can't for the life of me find the one I used to use. (Yes, I've looked. Yes, I only had one.) But here's a description. It was a metal-bodied mechanical pencil, which likely held 0.5mm lead (my preferred note-taking lead in med school). It had a nice weight to it, and though it was a narrow barrel, it had a wider foam rubber grip that made it easier to hold. The grip was SOFT but NON-TEXTURED (I cannot emphasize this enough) so that it relieved grip fatigue but also did not produce any unpleasant pressure points. The hold of the barrel on the lead was firm, so it did not have any unsettling give to it like some tips do (are you familiar with mechanical pencils that have some "bounce" to them when you write? That's some bullshit) and because of this it delivered exquisite control over the line. The eraser was but a nubbin, but it was a dynamo at erasing fine lines, and if you used it judiciously for detail work, it would last for quite a while. I can't remember the brand of this pencil--I want to say it was either a Zebra or Pentel, but neither maker has anything on the market at present that looks quiiiiite like what I'm looking for.

Here are some other pencils I've used in the recent past.

The Bic disposable mechanical pencil. I've used these since college. They're...fine. I'd use it for taking notes that I didn't need to be particularly neat. It wouldn't break my heart to lose them, and so I did, often. But the barrel is a little small and hard, and my hand would get tired often if I used them for prolonged periods. Also, the eraser is shit.

This Pentel twist-erase situation. They're OK. The barrel is nicer (wider, and though the rubberized grip is ribbed, it's not ridged in an way that hurts your hand), and it sports nice long eraser refills. It clicks lead from the top, not like those pencils that have their clickers on the side, where the grip is, like some kind of LUNATIC PENCIL which doesn't understand that THAT'S WHERE YOU HOLD THE PENCIL WHEN YOU WRITE, WHY WOULD YOU PUT THE LEAD ADVANCEMENT BUTTON RIGHT WHERE YOU'RE HOLDING IT TO DO WORK? (Sorry. I have Many Pencil Opinions.) But the lead it comes with is garbage (yes, I know I can swap the lead out) and something with how the mechanism holds the lead it place feels not quite firm, like there's some wobble or give to it. Again, it's OK. I use it to do my stats homework. But I miss my old pencil.
These pencils are garbage, which is why I get them for my kids. (She said lovingly.) They cost $20 for a million of them and they come in that fat lead that is harder to break. I also keep a bunch of them in a jar on the piano, so that kids who come over for chamber music rehearsal can use them to mark up their music. If someone takes or loses these pencils, I could not give less of a shit, but I will not touch them to do my own work. They also have that illogical side lead advancement mechanism, because TRASH.

So I was looking at this pencil (the Pentel Graph Gear 1000 Automatic Drafting Pencil in 0.5mm), because it looked like it might have some of the features I was looking for, but...I don't know. The eraser is spot on, and in fact makes me think that the pencil in my memory was a Pentel. But the nubbled grip and the textured metal looks...painful. The pocket clip looks kind of high profile, or prone to breakage. And the price tag. I can't remember how much my original Platonic Ideal mechanical cost (and in fact, I might not have purchased it at all in the first place--it's entirely possible I stole it from Joe and just kept it because MARRIAGE) but for upwards of $9, would I be too worried about losing it to use it? Probably I could find it cheaper off Amazon (Amazon does tend to charge a markup for teeny weeny cheaper items that cost more to ship than to buy), lazy. I have also glanced at some of the pencils on JetPens, but some of the nicer ones cost, like, $20-$30 each, so if they're not going to make me breakfast in the morning, they're really going to have to be something special. (Which is not to say I am not open to being convinced--I have a gaping soft spot for office supplies.)

Tell me what pencil I should buy. Thank you for your pity.


  1. Kari Ann9:07 PM

    This is not helpful, but in college I accidentally stole a mechanical pencil from my boyfriend (I think he left it in my dorm room or something), and then I kept it because it was EXCELLENT. It's not exactly like the one you're describing, but it sounds closeish. I have no idea what kind it was, but he told me it was his favorite and that it was expensive, so obviously I felt bad and gave it back.

    BUT THEN like a week later he broke up with me out of nowhere and godDAMN now I wish I'd kept that pencil. It was oh so smooth, oh so controlled, such fine lines... He broke my heart, the least I could've gotten out of it was a nice pencil. If only I'd had the foresight to steal it when he'd have felt too guilty to make me give it back.

  2. Maybe this?

    Or this?

    Or this:

  3. I should also note that we will be in Japan for a week and a half this summer, so if there's some weird Japanese Hotness Pencil that I need to keep an eye out for, know that I will HUNT THAT SHIT DOWN. The Japanese have the best office supplies.

    1. While maybe not the purist pencil you are looking for, my favorite writing tool was a Japanese 5-in-1: mech pencil + black/blue/red/green ink. My kids stole it and lost it.

    2. My kids would love that too. They would also lose it instantly.

  4. I think the one you had was a Pentel, I had one too in college and it was THE BEST. I found a similar one t Muji, years ago and it’s still the only pencil in my case. >pushes glasses up in nose bridge<

  5. Also, i think the graphclearnis a little too light and a little too skinny to be comfortable...but these are just my opinions

  6. Anonymous12:27 AM

    It doesn't fit your exact specifications but I'm partial to the shaker style of lead advancement. It was weird in concept but once using it, it became second nature. I use this one for paper crafting: it has a grip that is very lightly textured but soft, the eraser is small but effective, and uses 0.5mm lead.

  7. I have used the Pentel 205 since forever. I still have the same pencil from 2001, I think! It has a metal grip but I don’t find that a problem. They are just the best pencils ever, with a metal body which has the right weight (Goldilocks weight!) and a firm grip on the lead. Best. Pencil. Ever. Japanese pencils are good so do research while you’re there, but the Pentel 205 is my pencil of choice. I even converted my ten-year old son onto them. Here’s a link from Amazon UK but I’m sure they’ll have them in the US, too!

  8. I feel like the One True Pencil I used in the past may have been a Pentel 205 also, but is it possible that they’ve redesigned the barrel?

  9. Did you know they make 0.3mm pencils now? Ever since they came out, I've found 0.5mm too thick. Favorite ones include Pentel Orenz in a gorgeous orange barrel as well as Tombow Mono Graph in a beautiful professional gold-ish barrel :) I LOVE STATIONERY!

  10. Maggie6:48 PM

    I stan for that Pentel Graph Gear! I'm 100% with you that the grip looks uncomfortably and poorly designed, but somehow it's super comfortable. The clippy thing - which is nice and sturdy - also works to retract the end of the pencil, so the pointy thing the lead comes out of doesn't stab you in the boob through your front pocket. The eraser is refillable. If you don't lose it, it'll last forever. That pencil got me through organic chemistry and then some - your cartoons and blog back in the day were a big motivator for me to pursue med school, and here I am a month away from graduating from residency, so it feels Very Significant to me that I get to encourage you to purchase said pencil.

  11. Tatiana Verdon4:39 AM

    As a textile conservator, I can only use pencil when working with antiques and old textiles. I highly recommend a glance and read through reviews here:

    They have the best pens and pencils. Delivery is super fast.

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