Zebrano wood writing implements

I’ve been enjoying some Zebrano wood writing implements from e+m Holzprodukte of Germany:

A ruler with embedded lead pointer, a ballpoint pen, a pencil extender, a 5.6mm leadholder, a 1.18mm mechanical pencil, and a 5.6mm leadholder.

A couple of the historic shapes (the all wood 1.18mm and 5.6mm pieces) are less practical, but all of the implements are very pleasing to look at and hold.

My father’s pencil, by Finn

Today, we have a special guest contribution from Finn of Copenhagen, Denmark:

This Criterium 2613 has a special story.

My late father worked as a maker of fine fur coats in a known fur house in Copenhagen as his day time job, and was a dedicated artist in his spare time.

Back then you could not buy the Criterium in any shop in Denmark, but a salesman from a pencil manufacturer visited major companies and tried to get business. The fur house did not place an order, but my father had spotted the Criterium 2613 and negotiated with the salesman to let him buy the salesman’s sample. He wanted it for private drawing use, but the Criterium 2613 was part of a presentation box the salesman used when he was visiting possible customers. It all ended up with my father getting the pencil and the salesman writing back to France to get a new one for the sample box.

So this Criterium 2613 was originally part of a presentation kit, carried by a salesman in the mid sixties.

My father kept it for the rest of his life and used it a lot untill his death about five years ago.

I am using this Criterium 2613 a lot together with my other mechanical pencils, and if I am out of the house with only one pencil and a sketch book, this is the one.

Thanks, Finn!

Text and photos by Finn.

Red Hot Lead

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?

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?

Cretacolor Ergonomic 430 15 5.6mm leadholder

Cretacolor Ergonomic 430 15 5.6mm leadholder

The Cretacolor Ergonomic is a 5.6mm leadholder with an unusual grip section. The barrel has a zig-zag section which is claimed to be ergonomic. Artists have long applied tape and padding to make leadholders more ‘holdable’, and this instrument attempts to anticipate that challenge.

Cretacolor Ergonomic 430 15 5.6mm leadholder

The ideal grip is obviously a highly personal choice, and the Ergonomic is worth mentioning for those on a quest to find that grip. (I’ve found the Ergonomic good, but not quite right for me, while others love it.)

What can you do with it? It can use a huge range of graphite, compressed charcoal, wax colour leads, sanguine and sepia leads, chalk, or even a ballpoint adapter. Here is a nice Cretacolor lead set I found. Unfortunately, I broke a lead on the way home:

Cretacolor Ergonomic 430 15 5.6mm leadholder

Koh-I-Noor 2.0mm leadholders and colour leads

Koh-I-Noor 2.0mm leadholders and colour leads

The leadholders

From Koh-I-Noor we have the Toison D’Or 5900 and 5608 2.0mm leadholders. In an accompanying role are Koh-I-Noor colour leads.

Koh-I-Noor 2.0mm leadholders and colour leads

The 5900 is a leadholder which seems to be modelled on the Toison d’Or woodcase pencil. The weight and hardness of the body suggest metal composition, but I could be wrong.

Koh-I-Noor 2.0mm leadholders and colour leads

It has a clip stamped “Koh-I-Noor”. The clip edges are rough to the touch, and appear very cheap.

Koh-I-Noor 2.0mm leadholders and colour leads

The cap unscrews and revels four extended blades which form a sharpener. Clever, it works, though not as well as a standard format sharpener.

Koh-I-Noor 2.0mm leadholders and colour leads

Koh-I-Noor 2.0mm leadholders and colour leads

The 5608 (top photo) is something new. Sleek and svelte, it is really a 2.0mm mechanical pencil in a very portable format. The Toison d’Or’s awkward stamping is replaced with a retro rendering of the Koh-I-Noor name. Nice!

Koh-I-Noor 2.0mm leadholders and colour leads

It also has a cap with a four-blade sharpener. Unfortunately, there is a problem. The 5608’s sharpener can’t sharpen the pencil’s lead since the pencil lacks the ability to grip the lead during sharpening – the lead just spins and spins around. Other blog posts have noted that this problem is shared with other large diameter lead mechanical pencils. This also prohibits the lead from being sharpener with other sharpeners while the lead remains in the pencil.

Koh-I-Noor 2.0mm leadholders and colour leads

The leads

Colour lead in wide lead sizes (2.0, 3.15, and 5.6 mm diameters) can be a great joy – easy to use, and allowing great control. Unfortunately, it can also be hard to find and expensive.

Koh-I-Noor 2.0mm leadholders and colour leads

Koh-I-Noor’s leads were a delight to discover, due to the range of colours and the richness of the lines.

Koh-I-Noor 2.0mm leadholders and colour leads

Koh-I-Noor 2.0mm leadholders and colour leads

For a few days, I thought I had discovered an exceptional stationery item.

Sample marks on both a toothy artist paper from Canson, and a Marumann notebook:

Koh-I-Noor 2.0mm leadholders and colour leads

Koh-I-Noor 2.0mm leadholders and colour leads

Then something happened. A lead snapped, jamming the containing leadholder. While I’m not an expert, I know this is very odd – leadholders have very simple mechanisms – they are essentially a “clutch” surrounding a tube for the lead – and they don’t jam. Then another leadholder jammed. Something was very odd about this lead.

I thought the 5608 might be a great document review pencil with a blue lead – but to my frustration, the lead wouldn’t go in the pencil. That was the clue and the answer – this wasn’t really 2.0mm lead!

I took out the micrometer, and a few samples of Koh-I-Noor lead averaged 2.13mm in diameter. For a reference, I tried measuring a Mitsubishi Uni lead sample – that was 2.01mm.

The Koh-I-Noor lead is significantly off specification! It won’t fit even in the manufacturer’s own pencil – nor can the lead fit in standard KUM/Staedtler/Faber-Castell lead sharpeners (I have tried). It further creates complications in standard 2.0mm leadholders.

Though the colours are nice, I am very disappointed with this offering. Koh-I-Noor is a mainstay of drafting, drawing, and writing supplies that I admire, but it looks like the design department got the whole budget for these products, while engineering was neglected.