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Pencil Review: Muji

Muji Pencil

It has been a long while since the last pencil review at this blog. For many of us, it has probably become easier to buy pencils via mail order from either specialty stores or large ecommerce sites. But buying in person (locales such as Tokyo and NYC excepted) is not getting easier – digitization has been moving the office supply store to the same economic situation as the bookstore. And the big box stationers didn’t typically stock much apart from pencils competing for the lowest price.

But there are still other distribution channels, including emerging retailers like Muji. I’m excited to write about this pencil because Muji has stores in over twenty-five countries, and is very well known for stationery. Further, I’ve never seen this pencil reviewed online. It was featured at Bleistift, but as you can read, Matthias declined to buy it.

A couple of further notes – the pencil is not marked Muji (which is completely consistent with Muji’s “no-brand” aesthetic) but it is not the only Muji pencil I’ve seen. I’m fairly conversant with the brand as I temporarily lived in a hotel above the San Jose Muji for some weeks, and I’ve purchased items from just about every department of their store. The pencils we’re looking at today were purchased at a Toronto Muji, and are made in Japan. I found a lot of “Made in Japan” items there. This may seem natural, but almost everything (including pencils) in the San Jose store was made in China.

In terms of stationery – the San Jose store has multiple aisles of gel pens and paper products. The Toronto store is much smaller, with an island display devoted to pens and such. There are things I love, such as to-do pads with clear vinyl covers, transit pass holders, and all sorts of clear folders that I’ve used extensively during travel. The notebooks and journals look great – but are budget quality. Maybe we’ll take a closer look another day – but let’s start with the pencil.

One last thing – the product prices are marked in Japanese Yen. The markup to Canadian Dollars is about 23% in general – but the package of pencils is marked 150 Yen, but sold for five Canadian Dollars – a 274% markup! For comparison, this price per pencil is about one third the local price of a Staedtler Mars Lumograph.

Muji Pencil

We’ll also look at two Muji erasers.

Name: Muji

Full name and model no: Muji pencil

The Muji item number seems to be: 0120-14-6404

Manufacturer: Unknown, but the packaging states “Made in Japan”.

Background: See above.

Weight: I’m not in current possession of a scale. I’ll update this post when I get one.

Dimensions: Rounded hexagon with unfinished cap. Standard (~175mm) length. The width side to side in 7.1mm.

Appearance: The pencils are hexagonal and unsharpened. The cap is not finished. The pencil surface is a clear lacquer. The only imprint is the pencil grade, “2B”. This finish is consistent with other Muji products – basic, unbranded.

The pencil is marked:

2B

Other notes: The minimalism of the pencil is fine with me, but I would not mind a bit more visual identity.

Grip: I found the lacquer to make the pencil a bit slippery, something most noticeable when sharpening.

Sharpening: I tried the excellent Möbius + Ruppert Pollux. The lead broke in the sharpener. I tried again, and again, and again. Same results. So I tried a different pencil – and had the same issue. I momentarily feared that these are just terrible pencils, but I tried the Möbius + Ruppert Grenade, and all was well. The Muji just doesn’t work with the Pollux. The pencils also sharpened very nicely in the El Casco M-430.

Muji Pencil
Muji Pencil
Muji Pencil

The wood appears to look and smell like cedar.

Writing: I chose three different paper types to test. As I write this, I know I should have also chosen some Muji paper to test – but I have never warmed to it, and just don’t use it much. I did pick an Ito Bindery Drawing Pad, Exacompta Index Cards, a Mnemosyne notepad, and a Doane Paper Moon Camera notebook. The Ito Bindery product is fantastic – it also has a Muji like minimalism, but is much higher quality and better executed – a real “less is better” product. The Doane Paper journal is another favorite – I am not tired of the blue ‘+’ signs.

On Ito Bindery (whose paper takes washes on Graphitint pencils and fountain pens), the lead seemed very dark, compacting and soft, and there was a lot of stray graphite dust. It did better on the index card and especially on Mnemosyne. The Doane may have been in between.

I also tried a Tombow Mono 2B as a comparison. Wow, after a while with the Muji, the Mono seemed like a Faber-Castell Castell 9000 in grade F by comparison. The Muji is a very dark pencil. The only grade, 2B, is more like a 4B as other manufacturers would grade it.

This is also a pencil whose point seemed to commence wearing down immediately.

The El Casco sharpened pencil seemed much more usable to me in terms of not wearing down. Perhaps there is something about the angle of the graphite cut contributing to the structural stability.

In some ways, the Muji is possibly more of a drawing pencil than a writing pencil.

Erasure: The Toronto Muji store had a delightful surprise for me that I wasn’t expecting – a paper wrapped eraser! This is a historical style that I love. Blaisdell received a patent in 1895 for this technique. I think it would be extremely successful if more widely available – pencil users love these little rituals, and removing the paper wrapper is a lot of fun! I know of Hinodewashi making a similar product. Are there others?

I also bought a regular vinyl block eraser.

Muji Pencil
Muji Pencil

A Staedtler Mars plastic block served as a benchmark. Erasure was best on the Exacompta, and bad on the other papers (worst on the Ito). The Mars also smeared the Ito quite badly.

Muji Pencil

The erasers are okay to good (as are most modern erasers from Japan) and the paper-wrapped one is a gem! But the Muji pencil is not in general made for pencil who need erasure capabilities. The lead is too dark and adherent to paper.

Muji Pencil

Overall: The Muji pencil is attractive and the price not outrageous for a Japanese made pencil. It does well in some circumstances – an El Casco style point (acute, concave, blunt) does very well on Mnemosyne paper, for example. But the noted sharpening and erasure characteristics make it unsuitable as a general purpose pencil.

I’m disappointed. I was hoping this pencil was going to be better. But I did discover a paper wrapped eraser!

Caran d’Ache 100th Anniversary Fixpencil

2015 was the 100th anniversary of famed pencil maker Caran d’Ache. We’re a little late noting this, but belatedly wish them congratulations! For the anniversary, a few commemorative items were offered, including a special version of their famed Fixpencil.

The Fixpencil, which we looked at in 2008, is arguably one of the most iconic writing instruments around, having been recognized in a Swiss stamp.

Some of the other items (e.g. fancy fountain pens) weren’t really my cup of tea, and the pencil commemoration (for the Technograph) just seemed to be four standard pencils in a cardboard box. Fortunately, this special Fixpencil seemed appealing, and came without an outrageous price.

Caran d'Ache 100th Anniversary Fixpencil

The pencil is a standard 2mm Fixpencil, but with a special design – silver colouring, a 10cm ruler, and colour leads:

Caran d'Ache 100th Anniversary Fixpencil

Caran d'Ache 100th Anniversary Fixpencil

Of special interest is a multilingual brochure that outlines the stories of Caran d’Ache products. The text is light on facts, but the illustrations are great!

Caran d'Ache 100th Anniversary Fixpencil

Did you buy any of the Caran d’Ache 100th anniversary products?

Tree Pencils

Tree Pencils – or more specifically – 8 Tree Friendly Pencils from Kikkerland.

The packaging says they are made of recycled paper. The designers are Rojo and Andrea Román. They created the pencils for a 2011 Mexican design competition. The pencils are made in China.

Kikkerland Tree Friendly pencils

Housed in a faux matchbook complete with sandpaper sharpener, they are super innovative for a novelty pencil!

Kikkerland Tree Friendly pencils

Lamy Safari 2.0mm Mechanical Pencil

Lamy has many fans in the stationery world, and justifiably so. Their products are associated with reliability, good value, and a commitment to good design.

Here is a Lamy Safari you’re not going to find in any stationery store: a 2.0mm mechanical pencil. The one pictured is a custom modification by isu, the author of both the uncomfortable chair, and the uncomfortable chair 2. Why two blogs? I am not sure. Maybe there are even more.

In a great confluence of events, Stationery Magazine issue 10 just arrived from Japan. We took a brief look at the first issue almost a decade ago. Although I do not read or speak Japanese, the annual magazine has such great photography that it is still worth picking up if you’re someone who reads blogs like this one.

Guess who is featured in issue 10? The master modifier himself!

LAMY Safari 2.0mm Mechanical Pencil

Thank you isu for the great pencil!

LAMY Safari 2.0mm Mechanical Pencil

I wonder if Lamy could be persuaded to add 2.0mm to their lineup?

LAMY Safari 2.0mm Mechanical Pencil

LAMY Safari 2.0mm Mechanical Pencil

Les Crayons de la maison Caran d’Ache, Wooden Pencil Box Edition No. 1

Accompanying the audacious Les Crayons de la maison Caran d’Ache series is a pencil box, offering four pencils that are adorned with palladium plated caps.

Les Crayons de la maison Caran d’Ache, Wooden Pencil Box Edition No. 1

To my eye, the American Walnut box is very nicely finished:

Les Crayons de la maison Caran d’Ache, Wooden Pencil Box Edition No. 1

Les Crayons de la maison Caran d’Ache, Wooden Pencil Box Edition No. 1

The two parts of the box (closed by magnets) open to reveal a sloped pencil box:

Les Crayons de la maison Caran d’Ache, Wooden Pencil Box Edition No. 1
If you are able to buy the pencils directly from Caran d’Ache, you can even get the pencils imprinted with up to six characters!

The palladium pencil caps are nice, and can be reused! Unfortunately the fit on one is not what I’d hope for:

Les Crayons de la maison Caran d’Ache, Wooden Pencil Box Edition No. 1

The caps can be reused on replacement pencils:

Les Crayons de la maison Caran d’Ache, Wooden Pencil Box Edition No. 1

Perhaps the nicest aspect of the box is the way it lines up (again held together with interior magnets). Caran d’Ache say the boxes are made by a professional furniture maker in Schwyz, Switzerland:

Les Crayons de la maison Caran d’Ache, Wooden Pencil Box Edition No. 1

An overall assessment is challenging. The use of a precious metal (no doubt in minuscule quantity) to cap the pencils clearly brings to mind the superb silver capped Graf von Faber-Castell No. III pencil. The box is beautiful and practical. Yet in the end, we now know that the pencils are reconstituted wood, which I find innovative, but less than completely appealing.

A custom Pentel Kerry pencil and a surprise from Clairefontaine

2.0mm Pentel Kerry

Sometimes familiar stationery items aren’t what they seem. Here is a Pentel Kerry mechanical pencil – but unlike any most of us have ever seen. It is paired with a Clairefontaine pocket notebook.

2.0mm Pentel Kerry

This pencil – a classic – is a custom modification by isu of the uncomfortable chair, turning the pencil into a 2.0mm version! It continues to fully function as a mechanical pencil. Look at the quality of the finish – it appears as if it came from the factory.

Thank you isu for such a wonderful gift!

2.0mm Pentel Kerry

As to the the second surprise – let me mention some context. Many of us were very surprised to learn that Tombow has moved (at least some) production of their iconic Mono 100, one of the world’s best pencils, to Vietnam. There is a great account at Lexikaliker. The news so far isn’t good – unfortunately, the Vietnamese version appears diminished in finish quality, even if retaining the same lead core.

So what a surprise to find a notebook the same week from Clairefontaine, which like sibling brands Rhodia and Exacompta, strongly associates itself with “Made in France”, that is made in Morocco. Yes, “design” and “paper” from France. Fortunately, I find the notebook to be excellent, with creamy 90 g/m2 paper (presumably the same as the “Rhodia R” series) and a pocket format. I’ll note a particular pencil advantage – this thick paper takes well to traditional rubber erasers, such as the round Graf von Faber-Castell.