I have always been a bit obsessive about my writing instruments. For one thing, I love calling them instruments. A good pen or pencil has more in common with a musical instrument than most people would realize. Good handwriting or skilled draftsmanship is an art. If you take writing or drawing seriously then you need a good tool to help do the job.
The problem is that while I treasure my mechanical pencils like beautiful instruments most people are content to use ten cent ballpoint pens. When the average Bic user has misplaced their pen they automatically turn to the person closest to them and ask to borrow a pen. It seems the most of the world has an attitude that pens and pencils are part of the public domain. It is common courtesy to offer up your pen willingly regardless of how much you treasure your pencil or pen. I have always struggled with that social norm. I carry a high quality mechanical pencil with me almost everywhere I go so I am never forced to use an inferior writing machine.
If you ask me for my pen you better not walk off with it. At my desk at work I have a pencil holder full of crappy pens and pencils that I don’t mind if people use or steal. Actually I have several in there that don’t work. I get a kick out of watching people take a pen out and walk away only to return moments later after they find out it is out of ink.
Last week my wife commented on my pencil. I told her that I have had it since 5th grade. She seemed surprised. Somehow I have managed to keep my pencil fetish secret from her all these years. But the truth is that I have kept the pencil for so long because it is a great machine. I have come across very few pencils that stand up to my high expectations for a mechanical pencil. As I was thinking about this pencil that I cherish I started thinking about all the things that can be wrong with a pencil. Before I knew it I had a list of 12 things that can make or break a good pencil. So here’s the list of 12 things to consider when you are decide to upgrade your writing instrument…
1. What size of lead does it take?
The size of lead that you use comes down to personal preference and the mechanics of how you write. If you have a heavy hand you probably want a thicker lead like .7mm to avoid breakage. If you like a thinner line then go for something thinner. I have always been a fan of .5mm but there is lead even thinner than that. Also keep in mind that lead comes in different hardnesses. The local office store probably only carries HB, but with a little searching you should be able to find harder or softer leads.
2. What does the click feel like?
You want a nice click. This is a little hard to explain, but you will know when it is wrong. When you press the button you want it to resist and then spring down and back. Cheap pencils don’t have the click right. It’s too loose and springy. Did I mention I am obsessive?
3. How far does the lead advance with a single click?
This is critical if you want to avoid breaking your lead. If the lead comes out too far you have to press it back in manually with your finger. If it’s too short you have to click it three times to get the lead far enough out and you have the same problem. A good pencil will push the lead out to a perfect length with two clicks. This is so that when you are writing and need to advance the lead you only have to click it one more time to get a perfect length.
4. Does it have solid construction?
When you press does the lead to the paper is there any movement? When you shake it do you hear anything? A good pencil is solid and should feel well made.
5. What is the lead sleeve like?
The tiny metal tube at the end of the pencil that protects the lead is a critical part of the pencil. Drop the pencil wrong and the tip will get bent or jammed in. Either way your pencil is toast. Higher quality pencils will have a sliding sleeve at the end. When you aren’t writing you can advance the lead and push the lead and sleeve into the pencil where it is safely protected.
6. What is the eraser like?
I never understood why most mechanical pencils come with a tiny little eraser that is almost not worth using. Isn’t that why we are using a pencil instead of a pen – to easily erase mistakes? I like having a fat white eraser at the top of my pencil. It seems that the majority of mechanical pencils have a cap that covers the eraser. While this helps the aesthetics of the pencil it makes it inconvenient to make mistakes.
7. Does it have a good clip?
Plastic clips will eventually break. Metal clips that snap on are fine but they give the pencil a sense of cheapness and lack of design. I good clip will be a part of the pencil extending naturally off the pencil giving you a simple way to attach it to your notebook or pocket.
8. What does it weigh?
Again, this is a personal preference but it can affect how you write. I like the feel of steel over plastic, so I am willing to sacrifice light weight. The weight should be equally distributed or slightly bottom heavy.
9. How does the grip feel?
My preference is for a solid rubber grip and I am amazed how many rubber grips are loose. I can’t stand a grip that slips up the pencil or rotates easily. It’s like riding a bike with a flat tire. The pencil is unresponsive and less accurate. Another mistake is if the grip is too soft. If you need a pillow to grip onto so your fingers don’t get sore then you need to write more.
10. How thick is it?
There are some fat pencils out there that I can’t use. If it is too wide I feel like I can’t control the pencil. The same problem happens when the pencil is too thin. For me the perfect circumference is a little fatter than a normal wooden #2 pencil.
11. How much lead can it hold?
I like to fill my pencils with as much lead as they can hold. I never want to be caught without lead. What do you do in that situation? Ask to borrow someone’s ballpoint? No, I would rather stop everything and find some lead.
12. Is it cool?
The final thing I look for is whether or not it has something unique about it. Is it a unique color? Is the design clean and beautiful? Is it covered in ugly logos and text?
So did my list persuade you to upgrade your writing instrument or just convince you that I am crazy? If you are looking for a great pencil check out jetpens.com. Happy writing!