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!

Demonstrator Pens – January 31/February 7, 2015 meeting

Demonstrator pens are clear or transparent pens that allow the user to view the internal components of the pen. They were originally given by pen manufacturers to dealers so that they could “demonstrate” to their customers how the pen worked, how the filler worked and how the cap fit on the pen. This was a great selling tool, particularly in the 1930s when it has been suggested that Parker and Sheaffer first created them and the then new and different filling systems (that are commonplace today) were first introduced.  Accordingly, the demonstrators were produced in limited number and not typically sold to the public, as the dealers needed them. Today, demonstrator pens are regular production pens, and in some cases, limited editions, owing to their popularity.

While the purists consider transparent versions of pens as the only true demonstrator, most people accept that the many translucent versions (typically in different colours) produced today also qualify as demonstrator pens.

A big thanks to official club photographer Rick for taking the pictures below (except for the black light picture)!

Great turnout to kick off the New Year!

great turnout

John with the TWSBI Vac 700 and bottle.  You can get 5 and one-half fills of a Vac 700 with the special TWSBI bottle.  The life skills you learn at a pen club meeting!

twsbit vac 700 and bottle

Doug and the Visconti Travelling Ink Pot, right before an “incident”.  Good thing he was demonstrating with water – only rookies use ink (and end up wearing it!).

visconti travelling inkpot

Most pen users have at least one Lamy in their collection – the first one pictured is a clear Lamy Vista with Noodler’s Blue Ghost highlighting ink under black light – very cool indeed!

lamy vista blue ghost

Here’s another Lamy Vista used for writing and filled with Parker Washable Blue – of course, it would have been a better picture if all that graph paper had a sample of how the ink writes, doh!

lamy vista parker blue

Now you can’t come to a pen club meeting and not get ink on your hands; but really Doug, that’s it?  Let’s see a bit more effort the next time!

you gotta have inky fingers

Someone likes demonstrators – and this doesn’t include any of his translucent pens, except for the blue Pelikan 205.  This group includes, from left to right: a Pelikan M800 (limited production), an Aurora Optima LE (available in an edition of 1936 corresponding to the year it was introduced/the red auroloide on the cap and blind cap really pop!), an Omas Ogiva guilloche model, a Stipula Etruria Nuda (from the now defunct Swisher Pens), a Visconti Voyager LE (the swirling black markings on the barrel really stand out when the pen is filled), a Pilot Custom 823 (also comes in smoke and amber, and it holds a ton of ink), a Delta Fusion 82 (this came in a great fountain pen/rollerball gift set),  a clear Pelikan 205 (an early Levenger model) and a blue Pelikan 205 (just one of several colours it comes in).

which one is yours

Here is a neat close-up of the Pelikan 800 – all the parts are labelled with laser markings and you can clearly see the large ink reservoir and Pelikan’s piston-filling system at work:

pelikan 800 with labels

Still more demos -I think the red swirled cap one is a Recife, then another Stipula Etruria Nuda (the Etrurias are wonderful pens, whatever the flavour) and TWSBI Vac 700:

more demos

and a few more – TWSBI Diamond 530, a Visconti Travelling Ink Pot, a Noodler’s rollerball and a blue Pelikan 205 (and a bottle of Fountain Pen Hospital’s exclusive Noodler’s Henry Hudson Blue ink lurking in the background).

more and more

Another week and another rogue’s gallery – I put this at the end on the assumption that most people have tired of reading my post, so would never get this far!  Just kidding, you handsome devils! 8~)

rogues gallery