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?

Caran d’Ache 45 multipen


Caran d'Ache 45 multipen

This post continues on two other articles about vintage multipencils. (The Faber-Castell 33/78 four colour pencil and the Caran D’ache Tricolor.) I mentioned their quality construction, as well as the relative complexity of their mechanisms.

Caran d'Ache 45 multipen

Well, I got further with them than I did with the Caran d’Ache 45. The 45 was advertised online as a multipencil, but when it arrived, it turned out to be a multipen – three ballpoints and a pencil in a classic looking barley pattern housing.

Caran d'Ache 45 multipen

Octagonal shaped, each writing implement is selected by sliding a corresponding switch. The implement is retracted by clicking the cap.

Caran d'Ache 45 multipen

Caran d'Ache 45 multipen

So now the fun starts. First the obvious. I can’t find any way to advance or replace the pencil lead, and suspect it is all manual. That’s okay – at least it works.

Caran d'Ache 45 multipen

Now the ballpoints – they are dried up. Easy to replace, right? Unfortunately, no. There seems to be a standard mini-ballpoint format that is used by pocket pens and multipens, but it has two differences from the 45’s format. First, the modern format is longer – which can be remedied with a side-cutter. But, the 45 is a clutch leadholder on the inside, and it wants the format of the original. The 45 does not properly grip the new format.

The original, between modern examples:Caran d'Ache 45 multipen

So, I fear this potentially amazing writing instrument is a paperweight, unless someone out there has some ideas for finding a replacement ballpoint refill.

This post is also a cautionary tale about proprietary formats for writing implement refills – pen, pencil, or other.

Caran d’Ache Tricolor pencil


Caran d'Ache Tricolor pencil

The Caran d’Ache Tricolor is another vintage multipencil, no less complicated than the pencil in the previous post.

Caran d'Ache Tricolor pencil

Gold-plated, the cap is inscribed “Plaqué D’or”.

Caran d'Ache Tricolor pencil

Caran d'Ache Tricolor pencil

It is a leadholder with three (graphite, red, blue) inserts.

Caran d'Ache Tricolor pencil

Instructions are always good, but warnings in special red ink can be a bit scary.

Caran d'Ache Tricolor pencil

Caran d'Ache Tricolor pencil

(Non-literal translation: If you break a lead, you’re on your own.)

Basically, there are three lead collets (“collet” is the term used in the manufacturer literature) within the pencil. Pushing the cap and holding the pencil upside down retracts the extended collet, and makes the pencil pocket safe.

To select the lead colour, and I’m not kidding here, you try and aim the appropriate colour dot on the pencil upwards, and eject the collet as if it was a lead in a regular leadholder. It works some of the time.

Caran d'Ache Tricolor pencil

Lead advancement is like other clutch pencils.

To replace a lead (1.18mm), you eject the appropriate collet as far as it will go, and attempt to detach and replace the lead (and colour leads will be brittle) without breaking the lead or warping the collet. The collets have a very tight grip on the existing leads, so I can’t see how one would replace a lead without using external force – like a knife blade – to open up to collet. And – that force might very well distort the collet. But maybe I’m just thinking negatively.

Caran d'Ache Tricolor pencil

Like the Faber-Castell multipencil, the Tricolor has many charms and is an attractive pencil. As well, it reminds one to appreciate modern conveniences.

Caran d’Ache edelweiss 341 pencil


Caran d'Ache edelweiss 341 pencil
The edelweiss 341 is the student line graphite pencil from Caran d’Ache.

The pencil varnish colours represent different lead degrees:

2H – Green
F – Blue
HB- Red
3B – Grey

Probably many of us would associate a scheme like this only with higher end products.

Caran d'Ache edelweiss 341 pencil

The pencils additionally bear the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) logo.

They are hexagonal, with an unfinished cap – the only arguable compromise.

Caran d'Ache edelweiss 341 pencil

The pencil isn’t in the same quality league as the top offerings from Caran d’Ache, such as the Technograph 777. Also, the grading seems to differ by a two degrees or so from many other pencils – the HB seems like a 2H to me, while the 3B – well, it’s more my style.

The 341 is a good pencil, and very good relative to many student pencils. Those liking a soft dark lead are advised to try the 3B.

Caran d’Ache Swiss Flag pencil


Caran d'Ache Swiss Flag pencil

This pencil looks like it could be a marketing or novelty item. It lacks an imprinted name or model number. The pencil is made and sold by Caran d’Ache under their own name as part of a larger product campaign.

The graphic is striking – a red background, with white crosses. The matching ballpoint pen is sold as the ‘Swiss Flag’ pen in the ‘Essentially Swiss’ series, so I am calling this the Swiss Flag pencil. Let me know if you have a more correct name!

Caran d'Ache Swiss Flag pencil

This associated set is interesting in itself. There are many matching pen and pencil sets – with ‘pencil’ meaning ‘mechanical pencil’ – but I can’t think of another set where one can buy a ballpoint pen and matching woodcase pencil.

The pencil is round, with a silver coloured ferrule and white vinyl eraser.

Caran d'Ache Swiss Flag pencil

One pencil had a lead break while sharpening, but I couldn’t repeat that problem. The top photo shows an imperfect sharpening, with maybe a bit too much wood sharpened away. I would blame the sharpener, except that the sharpener continues to do fine with other pencils – and I tried more than one Swiss Flag pencil, more than once. So, I think the photo reflects my experoence.

The lead isn’t a standout, though not bad.

Overall, I think it is a nice, not too serious, fun pencil.

Caran d’Ache 351 pencil


Caran d'Ache 351 pencil

The offerings of Caran d’Ache continue to intrigue.

At first glance, the 351 resembles the Technograph 777. But wait – there is a ferrule and eraser attached.

And the bar code is back in black, imprinted on the pencil’s reverse side. No nice peel-off plastic as was done with the Technograph.

I tried the 351 (a 351-2 to be exact) next to an HB Technograph 777. I really had to do quite a bit of testing to try and convince myself of the Technograph’s superiority. I wasn’t completely successful. In the end I would say that these pencils are very similar – in that range where differences aren’t immediately clear.

Caran d'Ache 351 pencil

While I don’t have any official context, the 351 would seem to be an office or school pencil – but it writes as well as the high end version. Good stuff!

I don’t usually evaluate erasers on woodcase pencils, but I tried the white vinyl eraser on the 351, and it is a surprise, being quite good on a variety of types of paper.

Another point of interest is the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) logo on the pencil. This would make it one of the first retail pencils from a major manufacturer to carry this statement.

Overall, the 351 is a very impressive pencil.