HEMA Mechanical Pencil

5 comments

Today, we are honored to have a guest post from Leon of Oude Tonge, Netherlands.

HEMA Mechanical Pencil
L. to R.: Stanley knife, Pentel Side FX 0.5 PD255, HEMA vulpotlood, Pentel Function .357, Uni Kuru Toga 0.5, Kaweco Sport

Since my schooldays, I haven’t done much work with a mechanical pencil. I have an education as a pre-press graphic designer and graduated in 1995. The Mac had taken over the pre-press world but our school was a little late to the party, so I still learned to work with paper, ink, huge cameras and chemically developed, rasterized film.

Outside of school and some internships I never used these (literally) old school techniques any more, but I still love the tools of the trade. I can’t resist buying them every once in a while, when I’ve found a new one that looks promising. Mechanical pencils (vulpotloden in Dutch) are among my favorites. Penciltalk.org was a eye opener. Apparently I am not the only one who likes mechanical pencils.

You’d think that, with the increased use of computers and the digital lifestyle becoming the standard, items like mechanical pencils would be used less and less or would even disappear completely. Fortunately, this is not the case, although they don’t get a lot of attention. They are there, but they are not advertised much. Still, I think some of these items have never been so high in quality while so affordable as now, in the 21st century.

I’m not a very active collector, but whenever I visit a warehouse or bookstore, I like to check the assortment of mechanical pencils. Of course, you’ll often find dozens of cheap lead holders usually mostly made of plastic, designed without any fantasy. Dull.

However, at the HEMA, a series of Dutch department stores, I found a nice exception. A full metal mechanical pencil. It comes with a single 0.5 mm lead to get you started and even though the eraser is too small for frequent use, the weight of it alone gives you confidence that it’s a serious piece of equipment.

HEMA is known for their ‘own’ products. Most are produced specially for them, to their specifications. Therefore, I wouldn’t be surprised if these mechanical pencils are not available anywhere else.

It is sturdy and handles well. The surface looks like aluminium but given the weight, I’d say it’s steel covered with a layer of aluminium. The metal clip is strong but flexible enough to be really useful. The body is sleek but the lower part is slightly wider, which makes it more comfortable to hold. The diamond shaped profile makes the grip much better and en passant makes it look like a piece of a fine mechanical instrumentation. In the center of the grip are some deeper laying rings that amplify this effect even more. All together, it’s a little gem among those plastic elements.

HEMA Mechanical Pencil
A closer look at the different parts of the HEMA mechanical pencil

Sincere thanks to Leon for contributing this excellent article. Photos and text by Leon. Since composing the article, Leon has noticed that the HEMA clip appears to be identical to that of the Rotring 600.

Staedtler Mars Dynagraph pencils and leads

34 comments

Staedtler Mars Dynagraph pencils and leads

Let’s take a brief trip into the almost departed world of drafting by pencil. Before computer aided design (CAD), precision drawings were made by hand. Architects, draftspeople, engineers, and others, used lead pencils alongside other tools to create plans for everything from small industrial parts to immense cities.

The observations made here are probably trivialities to those familiar with the tools. Yet as an “obsolete” technology, the capabilities of drafting film and film pencils may be unknown to those of us who never experienced these products first hand, and I thought it would be enjoyable to share some discoveries.

Staedtler Mars Dynagraph pencils and leads

I’ve been fortunate to be able to assemble some vintage supplies.

– Staedtler Mars Dynagraph 100 50 woodcase pencils in grade N3.

– Staedtler Mars Dynagraph 0.5mm (255 05) and 0.7mm (255 07) mechanical pencil leads in grade N2.

– Mylar polyester drafting film.

The lead refills and drafting film were purchased at retail about two weeks ago! The pencils came from eBay.

Staedtler Mars Dynagraph pencils and leads

Staedtler Mars Dynagraph pencils and leads

Some further notes.

The grades – N0 through N6. An old Staedtler catalogue online at leadholder.com suggests these comparisons:

N0 = HB
N2 = H
N4 = 5H

Adding information from this fascinating chart at Lowell Bueprint, we can complete the chart this way:

N0 = HB
N1 = F
N2 = H
N3 = 3H
N4 = 5H
N5 = 7H

Both the pencils and the leads have an additional logo, “profilm”. Though I own many Staedtler pencils, I have not seen this additional graphic before. This site, for example, suggests that this is an early 1980s Staedtler trademark, now abandoned.

The pencils are explicitly marked “For use on drafting film.”

The film is something I’ve been seeking for some while. I was quite happy to discover a local retailer who was willing to cut a small piece for me off of a roll. Mylar is Dupont’s trademarked name for polyester film. There are other brands, but Mylar seems to be a bit of a standard.

The photos below generally show the Mylar on top of graph paper – either 2mm vellum, or a Moleskine notebook. This is for contrast – it had to be placed on some sort of surface. The Mylar does not have any lines. It does have a milky translucence, and feels quite strong to the touch.

Staedtler Mars Dynagraph pencils and leads

Observation no. 1: The erasure of Dynagraph pencil lines on Mylar is remarkable. To my own eye in direct sunlight, it seemed close to perfection. The macro setting of the camera brings one back to earth, but still, I have to say that the erasure properties of the N3 Dynagraph pencil/Mylar film/Mars plastic eraser trio well surpass the paper and pencil experience. Even the typical paper indentation that one can usually discern is absent, presumably due to the film’s strength.

Staedtler Mars Dynagraph pencils and leads

Observation no. 2: The specialty lead is truly non-smearing! To the right is the misbehaving Staedtler Mars Lumograph 2H. Light finger movement causes considerable smudging. The Dynagraph leaves a nearly immutable line.

Staedtler Mars Dynagraph pencils and leads

Observation no. 3: Pencil grades, even the very hard grades that behave like rocks on paper, are much more vivid on film. A 3H looks like a 3B. Take the extreme Mitsubishi Hi-Uni 10H:

Staedtler Mars Dynagraph pencils and leads

It is near useless, fainter than the printed lines, in a notebook:

Staedtler Mars Dynagraph pencils and leads

Yet makes a valid mark on the drafting film:

Staedtler Mars Dynagraph pencils and leads

So film certainly gives an invigorated life to those 2H through 10H pencils which are very challenging to use on paper.

To summarize these basic observations about film pencils on film: Perfect erasure, no smearing, and lines appear significantly darker.

The computer isn’t going away, but I’m wondering if these properties might not be valuable to artists. And I haven’t yet noted that this “paper” is supposed to last centuries and maintain stability.

I can’t find a Mylar sketchbook for sale, but did find that David Hockney was aware of this medium. If you use this medium or are aware of other artists who use it, please leave a comment.

And while this post is engaged in a bit of a “rediscovery” of the past, let’s acknowledge those who’ve never forgotten these skills: twenty-first century architects who still work with pencil. These two have mentioned their continued use of pencils at this blog:

Otto-Walker Architects, Park City, Utah

J Mark Nelson LLC, Colorado Springs, Colorado

These products may have peaked in popularity in the 1980s, but the Dynagraph and Mylar duo still seem capable of getting a precision job done.

P.S. Please see “Zeitreise” at Lexikaliker, which shows some vintage advertisements for Duralar (the predecessor name of Dynagraph) pencils on Mylar.

Red Hot Lead

15 comments

Red pencil lead refills

Graphite is not the only refill available for mechanical pencils and leadholders. Colour lead refills, red in particular, are available in several formats. They might be be used by teachers, accountants, or anyone seeking to make a noticeable mark. The thicker versions might have uses in carpentry and masonry. Let’s examine ten of them.

Red pencil lead refills

0.5mm Pentel PPR-5 Red – a faint but usable red.

0.5mm Staedtler Mars micro color 245 05-2 Red – much more vibrant and saturated colour than the Pentel lead, yet also fragile – frequent breakage seems to be the tradeoff.

0.7mm Pentel PPR-7 Red – also faint but usable.

0.7mm Mitsubishi Uni Color Red – a bit softer than the Pentel, also a redder hue.

0.9mm Pentel PPR-9 Red – the format makes the marks more readable than the thinner versions.

Overall among the thin leads, the Pentel leads are slightly orange, while the Staedtler and Mitsubishi leads are truer reds.

Red pencil lead refills

2.0mm Koh-I-Noor 4300/5 Red – previously seen here, the lead is somewhat orange, and seemed faint.

2.0mm Fueki (???) RA20 Red – this is a brand that was previously unknown to me, and I thank isu of the uncomfortable chair for kindly sending this lead to me. It is quite good, with vibrant colour and on the softer side.

2.0mm Mitsubishi Uni Red – not bad for writing, it seems to keep a point, and is on the orange side. It should be noted that the leads have an attachment that prevents them “falling through” clutch leadholders. This may make them unusable in certain brands. There is also a risk of this ring getting stuck in a leadholder.

Red pencil lead refills

3.15mm Lamy M42 Color Red – surprisingly hard for a lead of this diameter, it is a nice refill for a 3.15m pencil.

3.15mm Wörther Spare Leads Red – very soft, they are almost like wax crayons – a marking tool rather than a writing implement. They’re also easily the most vibrant.

Among the thin leads, I like the Mitsubishi because it seems to be an accurate red. The Pentel, though performing well, has a slight orange hue that seemed not right. Though the Staedtler lead has great colour, it was too prone to breaking to be useful.

Among the thick leads, the 2.0mm Fueki and 3.15mm Lamy were the standouts from a writing perspective due to their truer red lead. The Wörther would no doubt be good at rougher tasks.

Red pencil lead refills

Ten samples is by no means a complete survey of the category. Are there other brands that you like or special uses for red lead that you might have?

Stationery Magazine

7 comments

Stationery Magazine

I can’t read much of it, yet it seems to speak very well to many interests of mine.

Red and blue pencils, leadholders, quirky office accessories – they’re all here, and featured prominently.

The magazine is in Japanese, with about 150 glossy pages crammed full of photos of woodcase pencils, mechanical pencils, leadholders, erasers, sharpeners, staplers, hole punches, rulers, and much more.

Stationery Magazine

Yes, they have a page on Vernier calipers:

Stationery Magazine

Sharpeners also.

Stationery Magazine

Stationery Magazine

Eagle Draughting pencil

41 comments

Eagle Draughting pencil

The Eagle Draughting pencil is a treasure from the past.

The pencil is round, with a core just over 3mm in diameter.

It has a dark wood stain, and is imprinted:

Made U.S.A. [logo] EAGLE “Chemi*Sealed” Draughting 314

This pencil is absolutely delightful to use – it has a super smooth creamy black lead, with great historic style. The lead does wear down quite quickly, so a nearby sharpener can be handy at times.

Eagle Draughting pencil

I am a bit curious about how it is a “draughting” pencil. More recently (this pencil may be several decades old) a drafting pencil has typically had a hard, faint lead. This would be sold as a pencil for artists, were it sold today.

Pilot S20 drafting pencil

34 comments

Pilot S20 drafting pencil

The Pilot S20 is a very special pencil. It could be classified in many ways – as a drafting pencil, a mechanical pencil, or as a luxury pencil.

The S20 has the shape and features of a drafting pencil, and it is a drafting pencil, but it’s also perfectly usable as a general purpose mechanical pencil. The construction and finish are also at a level where a few small changes would make this pencil quite at home at upscale fountain pen shops, selling for much more.

Pilot S20 drafting pencil

The distinguishing feature is the wood casing. A rich dark brown, the wood gives the pencil a very pleasing appearance, and makes it very comfortable to hold. The wood imbues the pencil with a pleasant, warm, humane aspect.

The balance and grip are superb, in my view. There is a slight concave dip in the traditional “grip” area. You just want to keep holding and using the pencil.

Pilot S20 drafting pencil

The cap is marked with the lead diameter, and has a lead grade indicator window on the side. These two features are the ones that, if removed, might cause the pencil to be mistaken for something much more expensive.

Pilot S20 drafting pencil

The lead advances by clicking the cap. The cap can be removed to access an eraser and the lead chamber.

Pilot S20 drafting pencil

If you want a drafting style pencil that doesn’t look like it might be a medical instrument, this is a great choice.