PENCILS: AN OVERVIEW – By LPC Member David B.

pencil

Which type of pencil is best for writing? My intention is to compare the different types of pencils to determine the quality of writing experience. Secondly, to find if writing pencils made by pen companies are superior to those designed for drafting, math or drawing. I have large hands so I find most mechanical pencils shorter and thinner than I prefer. Categories are wood pencils, drafting lead holders (2.0mm or greater) and mechanical pencils (0.5, 0.7 and 0.9mm).

My interest is to test the smoothness and consistency of writing and the relative ease or complication of use. When drafting the knurled grip allows one to rotate the pencil between the thumb and fingers which helps maintain the sharpness of the point. It is useful to turn the pencil a bit at a time when writing as well. Leads come in degrees of hardness from very soft (6B) to very hard (6H) with the familiar HB sitting in the middle. There is a direct correlation between durability and smoothness. Compared to an HB lead, a B lead will be smoother but an H lead will last longer. Not all H/B labelled leads will be the same.

We are all familiar with wood pencils – particularly the common no 2 HB used in grade school. Cost can range from 12 for $1 to $2 each for Blackwing and other premium brands. Sharpeners can be mechanical, hand turned or electrical. KUM (Blackwing) makes a long point sharpener that uses two stages while most others use one. This point seemed, in my experience, to be better suited to writing but wears quickly. As a pencil wears it obviously diminishes and, upon becoming half used, is uncomfortable to hold. A holder or extender can allow the rest of the pencil to be used. Frequent sharpening is a necessary hassle and can be messy. I found HB leads scratchy so B or 2B leads wrote more smoothly but wore quickly. The Palomino does not use the H/B grading. The 602 and Pearl seem more suited to writing than the Blackwing, which is softer.

Drafting lead holders (also known as clutch pencils) are used to make mechanical or architectural drawings. 2.0mm leads are standard but other diameters are available. These can be sourced in many lead grades from 6B to 6H. They are pricey($2 apiece) as are the holders ($10 and more). One advantage of this design is that almost all the lead can be use without affecting function. The lead retracts into the holder protecting the point when not in use. Most are similar in length and thickness to a wood pencil. With a proper rotating sharpener, maintaining the point is less mess and hassle. The sharper point does wear quickly so a compromise to smoothness may be necessary.

Mechanical pencils are very popular and can be quite inexpensive. Bic makes a quality for value 0.7mm pencil that is ideal for crosswords and everyday use. Pencils and replacement leads are stocked in Dollar stores to Art Supply outlets from less than $1 to $50 and more. Quality models can be found for less than $10 in 0.5, 0.7, 0.9 and other sizes. No sharpener is required and lead size resembles nib widths(0.3/XF to 0.9/B). Most units are relatively thin and short. Fixed pipes are preferred for drawing but retractable models are fine for writing. TWSBI makes a quality version of both. The compromise of wear vs smoothness is less because the leads are made with a polymer additive. Also, the lead is continuously useable without sharpening. So one can write without interruption.

There are many videos and blogs specializing in pencils for different uses. My testing was not expansive, limited to common examples of each type. I found the quality of HB wood pencils satisfactory since going to a softer grade wore too quickly. A long point would only last a few lines so frequent sharpening is necessary. However, this is definitely the better choice for writing. Before this comparison, my first pick was the 2.0mm lead holder. HB leads wear too quickly and 2H leads are too faint and scratchy. The 0.7mm pencils work well in standard HB while 2B makes it write more like a 0.9mm. The writing experience is smooth and consistent.

I borrowed a few pencils to find out if pencils designed for writing are better. I had the following examples: Lamy Safari(0.5), Cross(0.9), Parker(0.9), Sheaffer Imperial and Targa(0.9). Jim R made a custom 0.7mm wood pencil – fatter than the normal version. The three 0.9mm pencils wrote well but are quite thin and short. The Lamy was more comfortable but the triangular grip makes rotating difficult. The Lamy 2000 MP comes highly recommended, however at close to $100 I would have to try before I buy. Phidon had none in stock. Jim’s custom pencil is close to ideal weight and balance for me. Using a 2B lead, the writing is smooth and noticeably darker than an HB. So it is the winner and my new favourite pencil. The 0.7mm seems to be a better balance of smoothness and wear.

We would love to hear about the pencils that you find best for writing – all non-fountain pen suitable writing, of course!

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