Blindly looking through a cardboard box Continue reading
PaperMate isn’t exactly known for making the most high quality products in the world. But for the most part they do make products that get the job done in an inexpensive and readily available way. And that philosophy is very apparent in the 48 pack of “Write Bros” mechanical pencils, which generally sells for as little as a 2 pack of more well-regarded pencils. Are these the perfect solution for someone looking to supply a group on the cheap/keep losing their own, or are they too fragile to be worth it?
The bodies are similar in size to a normal wooden pencil, but a bit shorter at just over 6”. Molded in a slightly pearlescent plastic and one of 5 average colors, they have a ribbed grip section for the last inch and a half of the barrel, followed by a cheap-looking frosted plastic cone that is screwed onto the end and from which protrudes a small plastic “lead-pipe” and lead from inside that. Near the back of the pencil, there is an exposed click-advance mechanism with an integrated pocket clip that moves with activation. On top of that is a small white eraser, which can be removed to expose the lead chamber and allow refilling. Oddly enough at this price point, the item can be further disassembled by unscrewing the frosted cone on the front, at which point the entire advance mechanism will essentially fall out of the back of the barrel. There is nothing useful that can be done from this point, but it is interesting to look at.
Performance is so-so to average. The 7mm HB lead is what you would expect at the price, a bit scratchy and softer than advertised (prone to breaking). The clip technically does its job but I wouldn’t count on it, and the plastic is brittle enough that it would easily snap. As far as erasing goes, the eraser is superb, but it is a small size and virtually vanishes when put to its task. The feeling of the click mechanism is unsatisfying but inoffensive in any way other than it feels like it will quickly break.
Basically you get what you pay for, which in this case is not much. Even PaperMate didn’t bother putting a name on these pencils (I call them “Write Bros” because that’s what’s on the box and online, but the items themselves only say “Paper:Mate”, and “0.7mm”). But there isn’t much terribly wrong with them. If they are intended to be essentially “disposable” mechanical pencils, they succeed. Each has two leads (though many of mine were broken and thus less useable) and an eraser, enough to be useful, but little enough that the poor and brittle construction will be able to survive that use. They don’t seem to be meant to be refilled, as they aren’t worth the trouble, and being used much more would likely result in broken clips and eventually mechanisms (but it is a possibility for a little bit). And putting aside environmental or frugality concerns they are an inexpensive and relatively comfortable way to provide functional pencils to a lot of people, or many pencils to one particularly careless person.
In the US most of the wood pencils you’ll find are either round or hexagonal (at least in places I’ve seen) with emphasis on the hexagons. I personally prefer round for comfort, but they tend to roll off of any but the flattest of surfaces. Apparently people in other places have found this an issue as well, and attempted to rectify it, because I recently received a set of writing utensils from Peru, in which were 4 triangular writing instruments, among them the Paper:Mate Mongol Tri. Is it an upgrade?
At first glance there’s nothing interesting about their design. They’re regular pencil length: ≈ 8”, with a crimped ferrule holding a pink eraser, and yellow paint with black (stamped) lettering. The printed information is all you need to know and a barcode, there is even a stamped but not colored “woodclinched” which I’m sure means something. It’s an overall similar diameter to standard pencils here in the US, but maybe a millimeter or so thicker. That extra thickness is to accommodate the rounded triangular shape (it’s probably the same volume of wood overall) that doesn’t roll off the desk (for the most part; you might have a very steep desk) and fits quite comfortably into the hand when using a standard 3-finger pencil grip. My fingers are much closer together when using this rather than a hexagonal design, but there isn’t much of the hand cramping you get when using smaller diameter writing instruments, and the paint provides enough friction to hold onto.
Performance is nothing special and what you’d expect from a #2 Paper:Mate. The lead hardness is middle of the road, more on the softer side of HB, but that really just contributes to it losing its point quickly and not much in how it looks on paper. The eraser is fine, with nothing special about it. Like most integrated wood pencil erasers, it isn’t really enough for the life of the pencil, but it won’t be vanishing on you. In the package they come with a point that was pretty dull when I got it (but it did fly and go through the US Post Office first) and was obviously made with a chisel sharpener (three pretty flat cuts, one on each side) but it does work just fine with a standard rotating sharpener, even if it’s a bit strange to hold.
If you really don’t like the feel of your average round-ish pencil, this (or similar) might be worth seeking out. I certainly don’t mind using it, and can see how it would be more comfortable under certain circumstances. But it is a fairly standard test/school/general-use pencil, with nothing special about how it writes. I‘ll definitely be keeping one around, and I hope to see products like this in the US in the future, but I’m pretty comfortable with round writing implements and don’t see the need to swap.
The Paper:Mate Mates is obviously designed to be child’s pencil, considering that they unusually come in various colors or with various princesses or comic book characters. But the reason I have one is because it was given to me. I’m a thin lead kinda guy (0.5 most of the time) and the Mates only come in one size: 1.3mm. So they’re a cheap way to get the feel of a larger lead for those of us not used to it. But how does the rest of it work?
The most interesting thing about this pencil is the body, which is a rounded-off triangular shape. It seems built up from a more standard size. Most ballpoint pens or (non-mechanical) pencils could fit inside of the Mates with no problem. It’s also longer than most other pens and pencils I have lying around. The overall design is very simple; it’s made to resemble a regular pencil. There is a triangular eraser on the back that is plugged into the back of the lead tube. It then expands to fit with the edge of the plastic it is held in by and creates a more “seamless” look. This bit is also the click-advance mechanism. Following that, there is some styling in the plastic that is meant to resemble the metal bit holding the eraser in on wood pencils. And beyond that is a smooth triangular barrel (with enough information printed on it) followed by a taper that is a little roughed up and meant to look like a sharpened wood pencil. There is no pipe to hold the lead here; it simply comes out of the end.
Writing is simple, and what one would expect from a #2 pencil: smooth and somewhat dark. Due to the size of the lead, though, a lot more expression can be obtained from this pencil, as the lead can be flattened on one side and then flipped to allow for swapping between a very thin and very broad line. The triangular shape both helps and hinders this, making it easier to precisely rotate the pencil, but hard to exactly flip it over. The shape and the length, though, help the pencil ergonomically quite a bit, making the user in general much less prone to hand fatigue and cramping when using it for long periods of time. The fact that it is quite light for its size also helps with this, but contributes to a float-y feeling that I’m not much a fan of.
This pencil was made for kids as a school pencil. The ergonomics, large lead size, and HB (#2) lead grade all stem from filling in large amounts of scantron bubbles. But it does have other, more artistic (or even some office) uses. The lead is replaceable so it can be swapped for one more suitable for you, but a better eraser is needed. It isn’t the sturdiest pencil in the world, but there isn’t much that could go wrong with it and it should hold up in most use cases. So if you want to try out larger lead sizes pretty inexpensively, or are looking for a more ergonomic pencil experience, here would be a place to start.
Papermate has been making pencils for a long time, and one of the simplest and least expensive mechanical pencils available is one that they make. These pencils are some of the cheapest on the market from a name brand, and always come in packages containing a large number. They are almost universally recognized as one of the lousiest pencils to use, but is that reputation deserved?
Starting at the back, it’s got a small, pink eraser that does indeed erase (quite well, actually,) but, like most erasers at the back of pencils, it won’t last very long. Moving down from that, we have a basically straight and plain body, with a terrible “clip” near the eraser (it doesn’t actually clip on most things the thickness of shirt pockets). The basic information about the pencil is physically molded in the side, with no other features on the barrel. It looks slightly slippery but does grip with no problems.
At the front of the pencil is the lead-advancing mechanism, which one must twist both to extend and retract the lead. This is inconvenient, but not more so than a top click. This twist mechanism is flimsy and easy to break if one goes too far, but not too noticeable when writing. The lead is technically refillable, but the pencil is almost treated as disposable, so it isn’t worth it. The lead that comes with the pencil is fine: it’s a #2 and it works fine for most purposes, even erasing well with the eraser. There is also a “shock absorber” in the pencil (I believe it isn’t a special thing but inherent in the design) and it works! You can press down quite hard and the lead will simply retract a few mm instead of breaking, but writing like this would be fatiguing and still cause the lead to break, since the spring is only absorbing force in one direction.
Is it a great pencil? No. Is it a bad pencil that will explode when you take it out? No. It works. It’s a bit finicky at times, and I feel like I could break it with my bare hands and minimal effort, but under normal use conditions this isn’t a problem. The clip is the worst part, and if you need a good one I’d steer clear of the Sharpwriter. If you’re looking for the one pencil to have forever this is also far removed. But it is quite versatile and quite inexpensive. (Adam Savage of Mythbusters likes them: https://youtu.be/uN6vptYpo5I?t=2m15s) And if you lose pencils often, or are getting them for an office, I’d at least consider it.