Mechanical Pencil Day Reviews: Pentel Graphgear 1000 and Retro 51 Tornado Pencil

The 5th of July is apparently mechanical pencil day, which is something that Cult Pens started most likely out of promotional reasons. I’m all for celebrating what ever little things we have because life in general and mine in particular sucks pretty badly now, so I’m jumping on the bandwagon and posting two mechanical pencil reviews.

I mostly use mechanical pencils to sketch maps and plans.

The first mechanical pencil is actually a drafting pencil, and it’s the excellent Pentel Graphgear 1000. I actually enjoy writing with the Graphgear more than I enjoy writing with my Rotring 600 and 800 (gasp!).

Pentel Grapgear 1000.

The Graphgear is lighter than my Rotring pencils, its knurling is less harsh on the fingers particularly because of the (non-latex) pads it sports, and the retracting mechanism means business.

It also helps that this is a well designed pencil, a beautiful writing tool to use, and whoever thought of creating different colour schemes for different lead sizes and incorporating that colour subtly over the pencils should get an employee of the month prize at the very least.

The clip. This thing will stay where you put it.

The retracting mechanism for the Graphgear sits in the clip, and works beautifully and makes the most satisfying “chunk” sound in the world. It retracts the pencil tip into the pencil body, ensuring that the lead doesn’t break and you don’t get stabbed while carrying your pencil around. This is a must-have feature for drafting pencils (together with the knurled grip, lead pipe, and lead hardness indicator), and it is done to perfection here. The only minus is the cutout below the clip that tends to collect pocket lint while being carried.

Look at that sleek design!

A click on the pencil cap extracts the lead sleeve once it has been retracted, and you press on the clip to retract the lead pipe, which is something that you’d do anyway to clip the Graphgear to you pocket, so this is a very intuitive pencil to use.

The design on the clip isn’t necessary, but it is beautiful.

The grip is superb: the Graphgear won’t accidentally slip from your hand, and the knurling won’t dig into either, even if you have a “grip of death”.

Closeup on the grip and pads.

The tip of the pen cap has a lead size indicator, in this case 0.7, and right above the grip you’ll find a lead grade indicator.

The Pentel Graphgear 1000 isn’t a cheap mechanical pencil, but if you are looking for a drafting pencil to use for long periods of time, or you’re looking for a mechanical pencil that’s a cut above (except for the Uni-Ball Kuru Toga), I highly recommend this pencil.

Bonus tip: If you’re starting out in watercolour on location or urban sketching, get a pencil like the Pentel Graphgear in 0.5 or 0.7 and some H leads and use that for your preliminary sketches. Even if you don’t erase them, they’ll disappear behind the washes.

Now for the second mechanical pencil, which is also a unique beast: the Retro 51 Tornado Pencil.

The Retro 51 Tornado Pencil Crossword

There are two things that are unusual with this mechanical pencil: it uses a 1.15 mm lead, and it’s shaped like a Retro 51 Tornado rollerball. That means that this is a bigger than usual pencil that uses a bigger than usual lead. Is it any good?

It depends. I’d skip using it for drawing or sketching, because at that lead size either go the 2mm lead holder route, or stick to woodcase pencils. It is, however, a fun object to have around, and it’s pretty nifty for sudoku and crosswords. The lead size is perfect for that, creating a pretty bold line even on sub-par paper while still giving your the option to erase it.

Have a delightful mechanical pencil day, and when in doubt, Kuru Toga.

Mechanical Pencil Day Reviews: Pentel Graphgear 1000 and Retro 51 Tornado Pencil

Caran D’Ache 849 Nespresso Arpeggio Limited Edition

Hey, look what just arrived in the mail:

Such great packaging.

It’s the new Caran d’Ache 849 Nespresso limited edition and this time it’s Arpeggio that was chosen. Arpeggio is not only one of Nespresso’s more popular capsules, it’s also a gorgeous purple, which is a huge plus in my book, and big difference from their previous edition, the India.

But first, some photos of the phenomenal packaging of this pen:

Side view, where you can also see that it’s the 3rd of the series.

The 849 Arpeggio is made out of recycled Nespresso capsules just like its predecessors:

The back of the pen box.

The cardboard cutout the pen comes in still on point: a simple and fitting material designed to perfection to best showcase the pen and its materials.

Look at that colour!

This came out darker than I would have preferred, but you can just about see the Caran d’Ache brand under the clip, and the “Swiss made” on top.

Swiss made.

The 849 Arpeggio is a lovely deep purple, and has a great texture to it. The non-smooth surface makes it much easier to grip than many of the other 849 pens. You can see the difference in texture here between the Arpeggio and one of the 849 Tropics pens:

Textured Arpeggio finish vs the glass smooth finish on the Tropics 849

And here’s the by now familiar “made with recycled Nespresso capsules” tagline on the side:

I changed the refill, and since somebody asked, I thought I’d focus on that for a bit. To change the refill you unscrew the clicker on top, and that might take a bit of fiddling, since it’s pretty securely screwed in. It doesn’t take force, just a bit of patience. Then take out the refill and swap it out with the new refill, and don’t forget to put the front spring on, preserving the right direction it was placed in when it came off.

Body, cap and original refill with the spring.

I replaced the original Caran d’Ache Goliath ballpoint refill with the Parker Quink medium gel refill (it’s 0.7 mm). Here it is in the packaging in case you’re looking for it. I bought a pack of these from the excellent, excellent CultPens (I’m not being paid to say this, I just really appreciate them and what they’re doing. If you’re a non-US pen addict in particular I recommend checking them out).

Here’s a writing sample with the Caran d’Ache Goliath ballpoint refill and the Parker Quink gel refill. If you’re a fan of ballpoints, the Goliath refill is excellent. I just happen to not like ballpoints, so I change them to gel refills whenever I can.

The Caran d’Ache 849 Arpeggio is a beautiful pen that would make for a great gift (if you can bear to part with it). I can’t recommend these series of pens enough, and I can’t wait to see what next year’s edition will be. Nespresso’s capsules come in a variety of pretty nifty colours, so I don’t think that Caran d’Ache can really miss with them.

Caran D’Ache 849 Nespresso Arpeggio Limited Edition

Parker Quink Blue Black Ink Review

Parker Quink Blue Black is far from a new ink on the market: it’s been produced and in use for decades. So why bother to write a review about it now?now

Because Covid-19 happened, and it’s turned shipping and shopping into a challenge, and so I have found myself seriously contemplating a “desert island” kind of question:

If the only ink you can buy is ink commonly found in brick and mortar shops, which ink should you buy?

The obvious answer for me is anything Waterman, but specifically Waterman Blue Black, now renamed to “Waterman Mysterious Blue”. But Parker Quink Blue Black is just as readily available, and just as cheaply priced (more or less), and also a workhorse, utilitarian ink that packs a few surprises. So why is it not my go to ink? I’ll get to that near the end, I promise.

Two swabs of the same ink: how are they so different?

I took two swabs and writing samples of the Parker Quink Blue Black, mainly because I thought that the first swab didn’t show off the correct colour of the ink. The left hand writing sample was done with a dip pen, and the swab was done with a brush. The right side was done with Henry Simpole’s Jasmin pen and a Conway Stewart medium nib, with the swab being done with a q-tip. The right hand sample is truer to the colour of the ink, although you can get a more teal/turquoise colour out of the ink in certain nibs (as is true with Waterman Mysterious Blue). This changeability is part of the charm of blue-black inks.

It’s also worth noting that Parker Quink Blue Black both shades and has a red sheen, so it’s far from a bog standard, boring ink. Here’s an ink that can be fun at the same time as it makes you look serious.

Comparison swabs.

Waterman Mysterious Blue leans a bit more into the teal/turquoise side of things, but it doesn’t sheen as much as Parker Quink Blue Black. Here’s the ink on Paperblanks paper (I snagged a fountain pen friendly Paperblanks a few years back and have been using it to test inks ever since):

You can see the shading particularly in my swirls.

There’s a red sheen even on the Paperblanks paper, in every spot where the ink pooled (so the bottom half of these letters for instance):

If you can’t see the red sheen, look at the sample below.

And here it is on Tomoe River paper, showing off shading and sheen. The photo came out a shade lighter than in reality, but that was the only way that I could show some of that sheen off.

Parker Quink Blue Black is neither waterproof or water resistant, just like Waterman Mysterious Blue. Yet it takes a bit more time and effort to clean the Parker ink out of pens than the Waterman’s (my gold standard for easy cleaning ink). It’s vintage pen safe, and an excellent staple ink, available practically everywhere that sells stationery or art supplies. In times where shipping prices have skyrocketed and many places no longer offer shipping to all destinations, it’s good to know that there are still good, cheap and widely available ink options out there.

Stay safe and stay as much as possible at home.

Parker Quink Blue Black Ink Review

Ti Mini Review

Look what arrived in the mail today! It’s the Big Idea Design Ti Mini, fresh from their latest Kickstarter. I generally love all Big Idea Design pens (except the for the click, which I still enjoy, though it’s not my favourite), but I still hesitated before backing this one. The form factor is so “extreme” that I wasn’t sure that I’d like it or find use for it. A small pocket pen (i.e. a pen that’s small even for a pocket pen), the Ti Mini is a titanium machined pen that uses D1 refills and is basically built for the watch/change pocket of your jeans. It’s the emergency pen you pull out when you need to scribble something on a note, something that you can carry around without even remembering it’s there until you need it.

The post was enthusiastic so the package got a bit smashed in transit.

The packaging is standard Big Idea Design: utilitarian, full of useful information, well thought out and designed and with a bit of an Apple vibe to it.

Smashed package, but you get the gist
That is just a great tagline
Designed by Big Idea Design, Made in China. Remind you of something?

There’s a bit of marketing material when you open the box, but I’m just going to pause and say that I’ve paid a lot more for machined pens that weren’t half as well packed as this, and the reason that my pen survived the rough-handling that my package received is because someone took the time to consider good packaging. And I’m not even someone who usually appreciates packaging (unless it’s particularly good or downright insultingly bad).

Not a scratch on the pen even though the box was smashed in.
Nice logo sticker to go with the pen.

The Ti Mini comes with two spare o-rings and six D1 refills: three gel ink refills (one in the pen, two others in the refill bag), and three ballpoint refills. All refills are Big Idea Design branded, and all of them are medium refills. You have everything you’ll need to write with this pen for months if not for years, right out of the box.

The Ti Mini in DLC Black

The pen has the classic look of any Big Idea Design pen, with an addition of a titanium bead at the end of a lanyard, to make it easy to pull out of your jeans’ change pocket. It’s an extremely well designed pen, built perfectly for its purpose.

The Ti Mini isn’t built for long form writing, but for a few lines and a scribble when you’re on the go it’s perfect. The gel ink refills that came with my pen seem to be duds, which is a shame, and the only strike agains this pen purchase. It’s not too bad though, because if there’s a pen that calls for a ballpoint refill, it’s this one.

Changing refills is a breeze: unscrew the top, and then unscrew the refill, replacing it with another D1 refill by simply screwing the refill in and then screwing the top back on.

If you’re looking for an “emergency” EDC pen, something that’s always there and ready for when you really need it, the Ti Mini is perfect for the job. It also makes for a great gift pen, even though now is not the time when people travel around much (stay at home!). Just be careful not to forget about it and leave it in you jeans when you wash them. The pen will survive, I’m not so sure about the washing machine…

Ti Mini Review

Henry the Pen Man

Find out more about Henry here on his site, and here on the famous “Has anyone heard of Henry Simpole” threads (one and two) on the Fountain Pen Network. Henry’s moniker was Truffle Finder. People are writing kind words and their memories of time spent with Henry here.

This is my favourite Henry story, and if you’re remotely interested in Esterbrook you should give it a read.

Read here about the Jasmin pen. I’ve attached photos of mine below.

You can see both Henry’s beautiful work and his hallmark here.

Henry the Pen Man

Some Thoughts on Productivity Systems

In the beginning of the month I started working in a new team, in a new career path, in a new technical job, under new circumstances. After working for two and a half months from home, I now work half a week at home and half a week at work, in a pretty empty office. I haven’t met all my team members, as we work in separate “capsules,” ensuring that if one of us got sick at least 50% of us would remain unaffected and capable of working. After 17 years of being a Mainframe system programmer, I’m now a DevOps engineer. I’ve been training for the past six months for it, and I love the work, but it’s still not the easiest switch to make. I have a new set of managers, with a new management style, and my old job keeps calling on me, which results in some wild context switching.

And meanwhile the world is burning, as incredible stupid leaders worldwide decide that their pockets are worth more than other people’s lives.

I’m not a huge fan of change, and so my productivity systems tend to stay around with me for years. During the early days of the pandemic, when I just started working from home, I thought that this was temporary. On the second week I realized that the mess of notes in whatever writing pad was around would need to change. And my mindset would need to change.

I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

I tried to replicate my old work setup at first (a large Moleskine squared hardcover with only the daily todo part of bullet journalling), keeping my home setup intact (a Field Notes with a running todo, lists, trackers etc). That held until I realized that I was starting a new job in a place that moved at a completely different pace than what I was used to. I was also no longer a manager, so the focus of my work was different. I needed to tear everything down and start over again.

I went back to digital task management. I’d tried OmniFocus for a while two years ago and didn’t like its complexity. I had used Things for a good long while before that but stopped and change back to a paper notebook once I decided that I had to have a physical barrier between work and home to have any balance in my life. Those were wild times, and I’m glad that I made that choice, but now it was time to bring Things back into my life. I’ve been using it since the 1st of June, and while it isn’t yet 100% set up to perfection, it’s working well so far.

I’m now managing both work and home from Things, because I can’t handle the added hassle of remembering to lug which notebook where every day, especially now, when I’m not yet set up in my new place. I also don’t realistically think that I could have kept track of my work in a paper notebook right now. I’ve “outgrown” it.

The issue is that I still love paper notebooks, and I still love writing with pen and pencil on a piece of paper. I still keep a pad next to me when I work and scribble ideas on it, but this switch has dwindled down my daily stationery use significantly.

As I was clearing my old desk I found physical evidence of all my years of work there: notebooks full of todos, meeting notes, project notes, ideas and problem solving pointers. I could see the work that I’ve put in. My new system is searchable, but it’s still an amorphous pile of bits somewhere in the Cloud.

I don’t recommend this eraser. It’s just one that makes me smile.

When I went into quarantine I had an inexplicable yearning to get back to the first ever real productivity system I used, the PigPogPDA. I loved my Moleskine pocket plain reporter notebooks, set up just right, full of all the important information that I might ever need. I had shopping lists, trackers, drawings, story ideas, directions, packing lists, cheat sheets in those notebooks: they were my everything at the time. I also remember how terribly expensive they were for me, and how difficult to obtain. Every page was precious, and I had to be careful not to waste any. I used the Hi-Tec-C and the Staedler Mars technico lead holder for that, and these little notebooks lasted for ages and travelled the world with me. Only in the past three years have I stopped using them, replacing them with a much simpler system in Field Notes pocket notebooks. Out of nostalgia I brought one back to life. It has done a lot to cheer me up and give me a sense of stability during these hectic times. Yes, I know it’s just a notebook. Sometimes “just a notebook” is all it takes.

If I have any advice to offer it’s this: be kind to yourself and pick whichever system works for you, and doesn’t make you work for it. Pick something that you’ll enjoy using. If it’s a sleek app, let it be a sleek app. You’ll find use for the notebooks in your cupboard eventually. If it’s notebooks, then make them entirely your own. That’s the joy of using paper planning anyway. And don’t be shy of saying: “This doesn’t work for me anymore”.

So I’m back to digital planning, and I’m going to find a way to have fun with my pens and paper somehow (I still journal and draw and write after all). This is something that’s likely to change as the times do, my work and my life circumstances do. So long as I don’t fall into the trap of Productivity Pr0n and forget what all this is in service of, I’m fine.

I’m fine.

Some Thoughts on Productivity Systems

Black Lives Matter

Black lives matter.

If you break into an apartment and shoot a woman in her sleep, you are a murderer.

If you kneel on a man’s neck for 9 minutes, you are a murderer.

There are no circumstances that make this OK:

If you’re going to comment that he only aiming a flash bang, or that he wasn’t aiming at them but at a protestor standing next to them, f*ck off.

To my friends who say that the US police are scared for their lives because every traffic stop could end in a shootout I say: why aren’t these cops protesting the NRA? Why aren’t these cops pushing for gun control? Why did these cops have zero problems when a bunch of red necks with guns charged state capitals demanding that the state reopen so they can get a haircut? Exactly how threatened are these cops who shoot and mace and hit peaceful protesters?

I donated money to the Equal Justice Initiative, Black Lives Matter, and Black Girls Code. I’m actively working to educate myself and follow more black voices on social media. I strongly urge that you do the same at the very least.

Black Lives Matter.

Black Lives Matter