The quest for the best in mechanical pencils
November 2, 2006 11:19 PM   Subscribe

I can't be the only MeFite who with a mechanical pencil fetish, help me find the ultimate mechanical pencil.

I have just recently discovered the joy of writing with an excellent mechanical pencil. After years of your basic cheapy 10-pack affairs, I finally bought a Pentel Sharp, and it's a wonderful thing. The thing feeds super smoothly, feels solid as a tank and fits my hand quite well.

There's just one problem: the eraser. It has this metal sleeve that fits around the eraser. The eraser inevitably slides around inside the sleeve, which means I have to adjust it back out every time I erase something. On this latest pack of erasers, the sleeve actually fits into the barrel for some reason, which causes all kinds of problems with the eraser getting stuck inside the pen, meaning I have to get something sharp and jab it out!

So help me, hive-mind, what have been the best mechanical pencils you've used?
posted by !Jim to Work & Money (35 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
For sheer geek appeal it's hard to beat a Ohto Super Promecha. Whether one truly needs a mechanical pencil that is as adjustable as a Ohto Super Promecha is an entirely separate issue...
posted by RichardP at 11:31 PM on November 2, 2006

Response by poster: I should add here that .5mm is an absolute must. Also, fanciness is unnecessary, just raw, unadulterated awesomeness.
posted by !Jim at 11:36 PM on November 2, 2006

I love the Pentels. Please don't tell my dentist, but I gently bite the metal sleeve so the eraser stays firmly in place.
You could also buy one of those erasers that you put on the end of regular pencils.
posted by j at 11:38 PM on November 2, 2006

If you look on the inside of what you're calling the sleeve, you'll see it has two barbs on it. Gently wrap the sleeve around the eraser so the barbs catch it, then slide the whole assembly into the barrel so the barbs are driven even more firmly into the eraser, holding it stable.

The best mechanical pencil I've ever used was a chrome-silver rotring Newton. It's hard to find them in the USA.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:54 PM on November 2, 2006

I always use these Staedtler long-lead sharpenable pencils for fieldwork. I'd rather sharpen the leads than have them break. And they have a great metal mechanical allure -- the little metal fingers that spread and grasp the leads. Great stuff.

Though, I have to admit, the erasers are nothing special -- but then, I don't make mistakes. snort
posted by Rumple at 12:03 AM on November 3, 2006

I love mechanical pencils as well, and am always searching for one "just a little bit better". Something that I've started doing is always having a separate eraser (such as one of those click-erase dealies) with me. It's a pain sometimes, but it really pays off in that you don't have to be futzing with a little dinky eraser and its sleeve (I know exactly what you're talking about) slipping off.

Also, the other dorks will TOTALLY envy your dedicated writing/erasing system.
posted by rossination at 1:01 AM on November 3, 2006

Response by poster: Well, I have another eraser (a big one) that I use, but it's really only for bulk erasing. I really don't like the clicky ones because they're too floppy.

ikkyu2 I was excited by your tip, but alas, there are no barbs, only ribs, and they certainly are not for my pleasure.
posted by !Jim at 1:21 AM on November 3, 2006

The Rotring 600 is the predecessor of the aforementioned Newton. Same top-notch mechanics, but IMHO much better looking.

It's out of production, but new ones are still very common on eBay. Also available in black.
posted by uncle harold at 1:46 AM on November 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

I use a Parker Sonnet. It feels solid and has bits of gold on it and costs ridiculously much for a flipping pencil. It writes like a dream but its best feature is some kind of spring loaded advance mechanism built into the lid which is great to play with in dull meetings. I suspect that the secret of selling lots of high end writing instruments is to get a design which appeals to our fetishistic nature.
posted by rongorongo at 2:09 AM on November 3, 2006

Hmm, maybe I have an old Pentel (with barbs!) here. Perhaps they changed it - it doesn't sound like an improvement!

Uncle Harold is right; the pencil I used was a rotring 600. Isn't it beautiful? I think I want one with a matching pen for Christmas!
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:31 AM on November 3, 2006

I recommend checking out the rotring range. Not just the metal-barrel ones, some of the plastic barrel pencils are very nice.
A few years ago, I had an accident with my favourite rotring pencil and ruined the tip. I had been using it for my graphic work for over ten years by then, and discovered to my shock (and embarressment) that losing it was actually traumatic - I didn't realise how right it had become until it was gone. It was a decade since any were last made. I scoured everywhere for parts to fix it, but none could be found. I purchased a selection of the nearest vintage models I could find from ebay in the hopes that the tip would work on mine, knowing how pathetic I was being. None fit. So, um, spoil yourself with a range of pencils - don't accidentally get too attached to any particular one, or if you do, buy multiples of it. :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 3:01 AM on November 3, 2006

I've heard mechanical pencils compared to bras: when you find one you really like, you need to buy five, because by the next time around they won't be making it anymore.

I used to use (for like 8 years) a Pentel with a fat barrel, good-sized eraser, and — this was the best bit — the lead-advance button on the barrel. It was perfection. Then I bent the tip and that was the end of that. This was also a problem with the Rotrings -- drop it once at the wrong angle, and it's now only good for cleaning earwax. (Um, this is a joke, kids. Don't stick things in your ears.)

Three years ago I switched to the Technica-X. Solid like an aircraft carrier. Tip retracts so I won't have a repeat of last time. Tiny little eraser, but I usually carry a gummy around with me anyway. The one thing I still haven't gotten used to is having the lead-advance back on the end, rather than on the barrel.
posted by gleuschk at 4:30 AM on November 3, 2006

I use a drafting pencil at the office, it has a tiny eraser that peeks out of the top when you twist it. I don't use the eraser much, as I keep a big eraser on the desk.
(Does anyone know how to buy the white erasers that look like plastic, and don't get grubby? This one came into my life as an accident, and has no brand name.)
posted by unrepentanthippie at 4:32 AM on November 3, 2006

Aha! The Quicker Clicker is back, for a limited time! Retro rocks! I'm ordering five.
posted by gleuschk at 4:33 AM on November 3, 2006

unrepentanthippie: Staedtler Mars Plastic.
posted by gleuschk at 4:35 AM on November 3, 2006

I have my PaperMate Titanium on me all the time. Fits nicely in my hand, and has a twist eraser as opposed to the itty-bitty erasers that people tend to have problems with.
posted by irishkitten at 4:57 AM on November 3, 2006

I use the Dr. Grip pens constantly. Pilot also make a Dr. Grip pencil which has a similar feel. If you want to try it out, your default writing instrument fetish website (which RichardP linked to above) is a source.
posted by rdr at 5:06 AM on November 3, 2006

gleuschk: Thanks!
< /derail
posted by unrepentanthippie at 5:11 AM on November 3, 2006

I'm with rdr, I'm a Dr Grip man. Love the heck out their pens and mechanical pencils. I even have the PI character in my books use the Dr Grip.
They is the nummy.
posted by willmize at 5:31 AM on November 3, 2006

Sticking in Pentel land, I liked the Sharp, but discovered the Sliding Sleeve Sharp - it has a nice solid feel and you can carry it in your pocket without the point tearing a hole in your pants. The Pro/Am (P225) is about halfway between the two and doesn't feel as clunky as the Sharp to me.

Pentel used to make a side-click pencil that was great proportions and feel. I don't see it in their catalog online. I used mine until it escaped though a hole in my pocket.

For size, I really likes .5mm. Actually, I loved .3mm but couldn't find leads that didn't break too easily, so .5 worked. Uni used to make a nice soft lead that had a gold coating on the outside that kept breakage down.

As far as erasers are concerned, ignore the ones that come with it. Get a nice plastic eraser. Heck, get one that smells like cola.
posted by plinth at 5:49 AM on November 3, 2006

I love me a good mechanical pencil. Right now, I'm using a Cross. I don't know the name, but dang - gleuschk is right! I bought mine last year, and now it's gone! The ATX is the closest I could find at the Cross web site. But the one I bought was MUCH less than $50. And I like it because, though it is a .5, the lead doesn't break easily.

I bought another one that was dirt cheap (I think around $8), but I don't remember the brand. I'll check at home. It was a .7, and has the eraser (more than twice the diameter of normal) on the outside. Nice silver, "retro" look.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 6:03 AM on November 3, 2006

My present favorite is the Koh-I-Noor Rapidomatic autopencil. It has a nice heft to it and is nicely balanced in part I think to the metallic grip. The grip itself is diamond cut so it has it has a nice feel and friction when holding it. I bought mine from a local art and drafting store, but here's one location online.

The one drawback to this pencil is the small eraser, but I prefer using a gum eraser anyway.
posted by substrate at 6:04 AM on November 3, 2006

I am not sure who makes it, but this is what is says on the clip: "espina pearly rubber MA3 300." I bought a couple of them a couple of years ago so I am not sure if they are still available, but it falls somewhere between the cheapies and the high end, price-wise.

Also, I'd have to say that the type of lead you use makes a difference for the whole experience. I tend to be a little heavy handed and have found that softer leads (I think this is right -- or at least this is what I remember from talking with the man at the stationery store) work better -- something like a 2B works well.
posted by nnk at 6:13 AM on November 3, 2006

For the last 5 years I've been using Faber Castell Tk-Fine Executive (0.5 mm and 0.7 mm) and they are great. But now, my eyes are on Faber Castell Grip 2011 Mechanical Pencil. I don't know whether one can find these German miracles in US but it is worth trying.
posted by caelumluna at 6:50 AM on November 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

I don't use pencils, mechanical or otherwise, very much. However, I have had a PaperMate ClearPoint in my bag of tricks for years. It's got a long eraser that you extend by twisting a ring on the back end of the pencil, a grippy barrel that's not too intrusive or squishy, and the lead advance button on the barrel (like gleuschk had mentioned). It's cheap enough that if it does break (mine never has), you don't have to fret about getting another one, and they sell eraser replacements that are as large as the original. I haven't bought another mechanical pencil since I found this one about five years ago.

Also, if you're looking to experiment with types of lead, try an art store instead of an office supply store. There are many artists that use mechanical pencils for drawing, and an art store should have the full range of hard and soft lead for your pencil.
posted by youngergirl44 at 7:02 AM on November 3, 2006

A friend gave me a Rotring 600 a couple of years ago and I live in absolute fear of losing it like all the mechanical pencils I bought myself. But the one piece of office supply I really regret losing is the square Japanese eraser that came in its own little hard plastic sleeve with a cap, sort of like a flattened lipstick tube, and I hate eraser lint getting all over my stuff in the bookbag.
posted by casarkos at 7:10 AM on November 3, 2006

I love my Papermate Titanium. Refillable lead and erasers, same ones as the Papermate PhD (which I love less; I prefer the slimmer form of the Titanium.)

Cheap as can be, too, especially since they seem to be on sale right now at the Staples link above. You can get a dozen for the price of one of those fancy ones, and you won't cry if you lose one.
posted by bink at 8:01 AM on November 3, 2006

I don't even need a mechanical pencil, but consider me a new fetishee thanks to this thread. Caelumluna's Faber Castell Grip 2011 Mechanical pencil just made me feel a little bit funny. I must have it.
posted by kookoobirdz at 8:29 AM on November 3, 2006

I used to love
Classic Bics

But they'd break or I'd lose them within a couple weeks.

I tried buying the $1 or $2 classier ones, but I'd lose them eventually too.

So at the art supply store, I saw:
The AlVIN Draf/Tec

The price on the website is $4.50, but I paid $7.00 when I bought it last spring. The lady at the cash register rang it up, looked shocked that they sold a pencil at such a high price and asked me if I was sure I wanted to buy it :)

I haven't lost it yet and pretty much carry it with me all the time (yea yea, I'm a dork). However since I've run into the same issues that you have with the eraser, I've never even used it, instead relying on the basic click erasers.

Ironically, I lose the erasers all the time. I have about 3 of them that I tend to cycle through, either at work on my floor at home, or my backpack. Does anyone have any suggestions on a $7 eraser that I won't lose? :)
posted by johnstein at 9:38 AM on November 3, 2006

Ohto Super Promecha Pencils
posted by atom128 at 10:36 AM on November 3, 2006

doh, realized ive already been beaten to it!
posted by atom128 at 10:37 AM on November 3, 2006

I like Zebras myself.
posted by ThirstyEar2 at 2:17 PM on November 3, 2006

The "retro" pencil is... Retro Tornado.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 4:45 PM on November 3, 2006

The Ohto Super Promecha - very nice - but it also looks like it has no eraser - is this the case? (I'm looking at the PM-1500S 0.3mm in particular)
posted by -harlequin- at 1:35 AM on November 4, 2006

Response by poster: johnstein I was just looking through this list (for the Christmas list, natch) and that link you supplies was categorized as follows:

"Modern School Supplies > Shop > Drafting > Writing Instruments > Fine Line Mechanical Pencils > Double Hung Queen Anne Window"

Apparently it is now possible to write with windows. =P
posted by !Jim at 2:14 PM on December 7, 2006

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