3.15mm leadholders and mechanical pencils

3.15mm leadholders and mechanical pencils

Interested in a great graphite writing and drawing experience that might use a less well known writing implement? How about the opportunity to use colour leads, or even a ballpoint pen with the same pencil? Let’s take a look at 3.15mm leadholders!

These pencils have a lead diameter that is about 50% thicker than the lead in a modern woodcase pencil, and is classified as a “wide” lead, with 3.15mm sitting in between 2.0mm and 5.6mm among the three major wide lead incarnations.

I have always liked the category – it provides a comfortable experience, and despite support from some major manufacturers, is a relative rarity in pencildom.

3.15mm leadholders and mechanical pencils

The pencils
The TK9400 from Faber-Castell is probably among the closest to being a pure drafting tool – a full length three-jaw clutch leadholder. It is comfortable to hold, and the dimensions remain the same as the lead wears down. The barrel is just a bit wider than that of most 2mm leadholders, which I like. It has a marking near the non-removable cap to indicate the lead grade. The intent is thus that one would acquire a series of leadholders, one corresponding to each grade in use.

The Caran d’Ache Fixpencil has been previously mentioned. A four-jaw clutch leadholder, it has a classic look, and features a removable cap with sharpener.

Next is something quite unusual – different retailers have different names for this pencil. It is marked “Japan”, but I don’t have definitive information on the manufacturer. It appears to be very solidly made, and is very attractive in a “less is more” sort of way. It is a mechanical pencil rather than a clutch leadholder, with a push button mechanism, and the cap advancing the lead. (The cap also unscrews to reveal a sharpener.)

Unfortunately, it has a serious flaw. I bought my pencil from a vendor who seems to think that a bubble wrap envelope suffices as packaging, so of course the lead was broken after the postal authorities had a few days with the package. Replacing the lead, I found that it wouldn’t take a standard 3.15mm refill. With a micrometer, I found that the supplied lead was 3.03mm in diameter, and the pencil’s tolerance wouldn’t allow use of a standard lead. What I needed were “Transotype Nobby Design Pencil 3mm Nachfüllminen/Spare Nibs”. (Spare Nibs?) Great, a no-name pencil using a proprietary refill that I can only get from overseas vendors. It is close to becoming a paperweight while being brand new. Who thought this up?

From Lamy comes the four-jaw Scribble. This may be the market’s pre-eminent 3.15mm leadholder. Solid (I had assumed it was metal until told otherwise) and with a modern design typical of Lamy, it is a functional product with superior design and aesthetics at a reasonable price. The body is a round bulb, with three flattended sections.

Also from Lamy, the abc is also a mechanical pencil rather than a clutch leadholder. Lamy has since switched to using 1.4mm lead, but I like this older model. The twist mechanism allows for both advancement and retraction of the lead! Though it is aimed at children, I can’t think of another wide lead pencil with this mechanism. If you’re aware of one, please leave a comment and share your knowledge.

The Wörther Shorty four-jaw clutch pencil has also been mentioned before. Compared with other writing implements, and based on the build quality, design, and inclusion of red, white, and soft graphite refills, I found the Shorty a reasonable price at $C25 to $29 at retail in Canada. (As I write this, $C1.00 = $US0.96.) What I’ve also noticed is that it sells or less than half that internationally. If you can get one for $10 to $15 – go for it, it is definitely a standout in that price range.

The Kaweco Acrylic and Sport Classic we’ve also mentioned before, here and here. The Classic has three jaws, and the Acrylic five. I’m mentioning the number of jaws as a mechanism variation between pencils, but can’t say that I notice any practical defference as an end user. Any other thoughts on this?

Since I wrote the Kaweco posts, I have to say that I’ve found the pencils to be fine for occasional use, but they are both too short for comfortable regular use. The Wörther has a body only slightly longer, yet that seems to make a major difference.

The Bexley Mini-Max was a response to the 5.6mm Multi-Max (which I’ve been meaning to write about for years now.) It is also a pocket pencil, and came in a tin with some interesting refills.

3.15mm leadholders and mechanical pencils

Other 3.15mm pencils
Faber-Castell and Caran d’Ache seem to be alone in offering drafting leadholder style pencils. Stabilo has a new product, the s’move, aimed at children. Koh-I-Noor, e+m Holzprodukte, Kaweco, and Wörther all have additional offerings. At the high end, Delta and David Hayward Designs both have some amazing products. (Write to David directly – the 3.15mm products are not displayed on his website.)

I’ve had queries about these refills. Unfortunately, choices are few. Thanks to the success of the Scribble, Lamy’s M43 refill – a package of three – is probably the easiest to find. There is also the M42 colour set – one each in red, green, and blue. Wörther also offers a variety of refills – the red and white ones that came with my Shorty are very high quality, and I’d like to try some of their other colours.

3.15mm leadholders and mechanical pencils

For full 60mm length refills, Faber-Castell and Caran d’Ache seem to be the last two suppliers.

Finally, there is a manufacturer of both colour and graphite refills whose products seem to be resold under various labels, though I don’t know the original manufacturer. They are typically sold in round or rectangular plastic tubes.

Unfortunately, this small number of sources seems to mean high prices. I’ve see online prices of up to three dollars per lead! I’d recommend looking around first.

An alternative
Bexley deserves some credit for selling a very interesting accessory (I don’t know if they are the creator or not) – they have taken a ballpoint mini-refill and attached a plastic collar, making the diameter 3.15mm and thus grippable by any of these clutch pencils! You can convert from pencil to pen in seconds.

Sharpening can be done with a variety of instruments. The Staedtler 502 won’t work with this lead diameter, but the Gedess does.

If you’re willing to try something a bit different, maybe this unusual format might be for you?

18 Replies to “3.15mm leadholders and mechanical pencils”

  1. Very comprehensive and thorough review of this mechanical pencil category. You got some variety in your collection. Mine numbers around 10, but covers only 4 different models. Thanks for the informative post on the current 3.15 mm MP offerings. Might pick up a TK 9400 if I chance upon one.

  2. I’ve got the TK9400 set i belive they only came in 3 grades HB 3B and 6B The 6B being the 3.15mm and the HB and 3B are 2.0mm. Just to add in anyone if looking for refills the code for them are TK 9071 and come in packs of 10 and are housed in pretty sturdy plastic dispencers. oh and lastly there is a TK sharpener which has two blades one for the 2.0mm and one for the 3.15mm it gets a point qickly with minimal lead loss but the downside is it needs to emptyed right away or the lead will just spill back out of either of the holes.

    Hope thats helps anyone on TK’s

  3. My Dad is legally blind and looking for mechanical pencils w/ much thicher lead than you can buy in the local stores

  4. After reading this article, I just had to have the transparant leadholder, the transparant 3.15 mm from Kaweco has something geeky about it that I like a lot. I searched until I found it on eBay.de.

    I’ve been enjoying more Penciltalk ever since. I even ordered some nice colored 0,5 mechanical pencils and fillings from Jetpens. It was the only shop that I could find them in. Over here in the Netherlands you won’t find them anywhere. Unfortunately, it took almost three to get them delivered, customs kept them for ‘evaluation’ for more than a week. Tip for anyone ordering from the States to the Netherlands: Don’t choose USPS as delivery service, any other service is a week faster.

    Somewhere you ask us to mention ‘missing’ leadholders and mechanical pencils. I saw this ‘Yoropen Vanguard Bleistift silber/petrol 740500’ that is mentioned on http://www.fuellhalter.de/index.php?list=KAT38 and although I don’t own it, it looks very interesting (and different and unusual, to keep in the context of this article ;)

  5. It’s not a 3.15mm, but the Faber Castell e-motion twist pencil 1.4mm twists both out then twists to retract it. It has an ever so smooth mechanism. There are deluxe models available, but I got mine on Ebay for $10 plus shipping. I feels luxurious because it is made so well and with its soft lead writes wonderfully.

  6. I need your help and it is argent. Please read the following;
    I have just purchased a Faber Castell TK9400 series
    2mm, 3B lead holder.

    I’d like to know the exact position of it when its lead is
    retracted and when its lead is protruded. Let me explain the confusion I’ve got. First the pencil is slightly hard to push to get the lead out and when it’s out(I mean the normal position of the lead for drwaing, writing etc.) the inner clutch part which actually clutches the lead seems to be getting out longer and when I push the lead back inside the leadholder, the lead gets in easily but the inner clutch part doesn’t get in completely and that is the
    point I don’t understand, whether this clutch part should get in completely and in such a way that nothing remains outside of the outer rim as the clutch part remains in the same level as its outer rim’s edge. The reason of my confusion is that I had purchased a 3.14mm 6B lead holder of faber castell last month and when its lead is inside,nothing remains out(i mean the clutch part is totally inside in retracted position).

    I say it is argent because the shopkeeper doesn’t know anything about it and I also don’t know whether the 3B lead holder is OK or defective. I only assume it’s defective in context of the position of my 6B lead hoder and I’ve simply failed to find a picture of Faber castell 3mm lead holder in which it appears without lead and all models
    come in sealed packs so it is not possible to compare with other models of same type. I’ve never seen 2mm 3B lead holder before and it’ll be difficult to return or replace if I spend more time, so asking for your argent help.
    That’s all. Thank you.

  7. I liked a lot reading your detailed review of 3.15mm leads. I ‘ve got two Faber TK9400 and I
    had been prudent about 7-8 years ago when I bought two of them and three sets of 10 refills (of 3.15mm) each, 3 B and 6 B. And I say so, since later on, I could neither find lead holders of this diameter size, nor their refills, in retailers in Athens, Greece. I use them at my work, which is weather forecaster at the Hellenic National Meteorological Service, so when I work in shifts I have to draw weather maps at 3 different levels of the atmosphere. I ‘m sure it is something not many have in mind about leads’ use… I enjoy it though, it ‘s one of the most relaxing and creative parts of the day, one of the little pleasures left. I keep my leads as treasure, especially now in the troublesome times we are already going through here…

  8. Simple questions I guess. I love my graphite 2mm lead and holder. I am looking for larger graphite leads and holder. Where could I find 3.15mm, 3.8mm, and/or 5.6mm lead and lead holders to buy? I am looking for H, HB, B graphite leads for any of these sizes. I have read about HB and B lead refills. Where could I find these to buy? Are there H graphite leads in these sizes? And where could I find these to buy?

    Thank You So Much for the directions or any information.

    Thanks again,


  9. Hi Sandy/jasperita,

    It depends on where you are located – typically the local art supply store will be the place most of us find these items. If you are lucky enough to have a local fountain pen store, they may have some of these items as well.

    If you are looking for these items online, just try a search engine for some ideas.

  10. Wonderful review. I’m hankering after a Faber Castell TK9400 or two… or three, or four. But which clutch offers the broadest range of leads? I like to use soft and hard graphite in my art, and would feel a bit restricted with just H, HB and B…

  11. Another wide led pencil that uses a twist mechanism both to advance and retract the lead is the excellent and inexpensive all plastic Pilot Croquis, available in H, B and 6B hardnesses, the barrels are pre marked with the hardness and the lead is a 3.8mm thickness, the same thickness as the Caran d’Ache Museum pencil’s colour leads and the Technalo leads, and they are interchangeable though one would need to snap the C d’A leads as they are much longer, and they are also water soluble. I picked up my Croquis at Jetpens.com for $5.00 US and Cultpens.com in the UK is also carrying them. They are very light and easy to carry in a pocket and seem very robust and well designed with a very ergonomic wasp waisted design with flats to prevent rolling and allow a variety of grip options.

  12. Hi Sefer, I don’t think any single source would have all these leadholders (and some of them are now out of production), but I’m sure that one could put together a nice assortment through stationery stores, university bookstores, and online vendors.

  13. I’d like to “widen the field” just a bit. The 3mm lead diameter (.120″) is a popular size for “crayon markers” or “grease pencils” or “china markers” as they are variously called. They were made in 3mm diameter lead sizes by Scripto, Eberhard Faber, Blaisdell, Kwik-Klik, Delva, Kohinoor, Skillcraft, All-Write, and Wearever, mainly in the 1940’s, but some models are still available today, even on the US Government approved purchasing lists. I converted a 3.15mm Wörther “clutch pencil” to a crayon marker just by pulling out the 3.15mm graphite refill and inserting a 3mm Scripto 3mm “thick lead” refill. It worked fine as a crayon marker. However, the “crayon leads” tend to shed small bits of crayon over time, as the marker is used. After a short time I removed the “crayon lead”, presuming that I had no way to take apart the Wörther internal mechanical parts in order to clean them. In contrast, there are any number of very simple clutch pencils from the 1920’s, like those made by Blaisdell and Uwanta, which are able to be completely disassembled for cleaning, and thus are readily convertible to accept 3mm “crayon leads”. For further info, go to my web site “vintageautopoint.com” and skim the “Other Grease Pencils and Markers” essay.

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