I was searching for a craft knife when I stumbled upon this cool pencil just lying around, being beautiful but of no use to anybody:
I’m pretty sure that I bought it somewhere in London, perhaps in the London Graphic Centre or in stationery section of Foyles, but in any case it isn’t new.
It’s an unlacquered woodcase pencil with a chequered print, a B grade core and it appears to be a Tombow Ki-Monogatari, part of their eco pencil range.
It has a silky smooth finish, and it’s one of the most attractive woodcase pencils I own. The wood is not cedar, but by the way it sharpens and feels it’s high quality stuff.
You can see the grain of the wood very nicely here:
And also come through the chequered pattern:
It sharpens like a dream, with a perfectly centred core and no splinters or chunks falling out. High quality wood, high quality design, so what about the core?
This is a Tombow pencil and one of the things that Tombow do exceedingly well is make woodcase pencils. Drawing with this pencil is a dream – it glides on the page, there’s no “grit” to the core, it offers a good range of shading for a B grade, it doesn’t smudge and it keeps a point really, really well. This is a grade A drawing pencil.
I found this pencil by accident, totally forgetting that I ever bought it. I have cool stuff, so why don’t I use it?
I have no idea what the actual model of the pencil is, I’m just guessing that it’s a Ki-Monogatari, which means that this isn’t a “you should buy it” review. It’s a “go open you stationery drawer(s) and see what cool stuff you find there” post. Treat yourself to the stuff you already own.
I was organizing some things around the house when I found a brown paper bag with the Muji logo on it, and in it was some washi tape and three wooden writing instruments: two mechanical pencils and a pen. There appears to be an advantage to being a forgetful unpacker, as I get to enjoy a little trip to a London based Muji store while I’m stuck at home in quarantine times.
Here are the three writing companions:
I was drawn to them because they were wood encased, and they had that very sleek, minimalist Muji design. They weren’t expensive, so even though I’m generally not a ballpoint fan and the mini mechanical pencil looked more like a novelty piece than an actual writing implement, I bought all three.
And promptly forgot about them.
Well now I’m giving them a spin, and I can’t help but be intrigued the most by the least practical of the bunch: the wooden mini mechanical pencil. It’s a 0.5 point pencil, which is pretty bog standard for mechanical pencils, but here’s where the standard ends and you venture into the wild world of Muji industrial design. The pencil is very, very, very, very thin and also very, very light. It makes all other pencils, mechanical or not, look like veritable giants around it. It is 0.6 cm wide, which is tiny, and it feels like a delicate little twig that will snap at any minute, making it quite the adventure to write with. You get a little thrill when you pick it up and scribble with it: will it break? will it survive to write another day?
Your own mini “Survivor” in pencil form.
The design of the cap and clip area are both peculiar and handsome. There’s a combination of matt and shiny aluminum parts that make a striking statement, especially on an otherwise minimalistic pencil body. There’s no branding anywhere, and no indication of the lead size that this pencil takes (though that isn’t hard to guess). If the metal bands serve a practical purpose I can’t think what it is. They seem a bit blingy at first for such an understated pencil, but I think that they do add to the design.
The pencil tip is very short and stubby, which adds to the kawaii of the pencil and yet keeps the tip visible. Which would be important if you could actually do any kind of writing or drawing with this pencil, but it’s just too thin to be used for anything but a sentence or two once in a while when you have no other choice. It’s like trying to write with a pen refill without the pen body: not something you would ever do unless it was an emergency and it was the only option you had.
All in all this pencil feels like a designer or a maker got a challenge to “make the smallest usable mechanical pencil possible, something nice that we can use in a Filofax ad”.
Now we’re back to normal pencil size world, and it’s time to take a look at the Muji Wooden Mechanical Pencil. It’s also a 0.5 pencil, and it has a very Muji/IKEA sort of look to it. It would definitely feel at home in an IKEA ad for a desk.
The wooden barrel is the highlight of this pencil, and since there aren’t many wooden mechanical pencils around and this was an inexpensive purchase I would recommend splurging for one if you have room on your desk.
I say “on your desk” because while the wooden pencil body is good looking and feels great in the hand, it is uncoated. This means that it will pick up dirt and dings from being carried around in a case, a bag or a pocket. Even on your desk it’s likely to become sullied with use, although I have had luck with using erasers to clean soiled wooden pencil bodies before.
The pencil is slightly shorter than a standard mechanical pencil, and it’s a very light pencil, but it’s absolutely usable, unlike its mini counterpart.
The Muji Wooden Ballpoint Pen is probably the one that I’ll use the most of all the bunch. It’s a 0.5mm needlepoint ballpoint that writes with a really fine, clean line. The refill, like the pen, is completely unbranded, but I’m pretty sure that it’s made by a large manufacturer like Uni-ball or Pentel. The only ballpoint pen that I have that writes remotely like this is the Traveler’s Company ballpoint, and this pen is more comfortable to hold and use.
The design aesthetic is the same as the mechanical pencil, very Muji/IKEA modern and minimalist. Like the mechanical pencil the wooden body makes for a lightweight pen that feels lovely to hold but is liable to easily get dinged and dirty.
The pen is on the thinner and shorter side when compared to other pens, so it isn’t the greatest for longer writing sessions. It is still a great pen for the price, as it’s solidly built with a good click mechanism and no wiggle in the tip or rattling while you write. Of the three I’d recommend this the most, as a general pen to keep in handy for those times that call for a ballpoint.
I’m drawing a lot of maps and schematics lately for a D&D game that I’m running so I’m using a slew of mechanical pencils for the occasion. Here’s the normal sized Muji wooden mechanical pencil at work on a Baron Fig Confidant:
Near the end of one year and the beginning of another various articles and podcasts about New Year resolutions start popping up. They either give tips on how to make resolutions, debunk resolutions in favour of something else, and almost all of them try to sell you something.
This post is about how I create yearly goals (i.e. resolutions), using things that I already have, in a way that has worked for me since 2015.
I wrote about the way I do “New Years Resolutions” in the past. I call them that because I like the non-business ring of “resolution” over the “business-jargon” sounding goal. My “resolutions” are, however, S.M.A.R.T. goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. I manage them using the least used notebook that I had lying around (a Baron Fig Confidant), and whichever pen I have at hand. They aren’t made for instagram, rather I use my plain ugly handwriting, and what marking are on the page are there because they’re useful. Over the past five years I’ve attained about 90% of what I set out to achieve, with even an annus horribilis like 2018 not putting me too much off track. My goals are tiered, much like Kickstarter stretch goals, with most goals having a fairly easily attainable first tier, just in case life decides to kick me in a tender place.
I’m going to go over this year’s goals, and last year’s goals (apart from a few that I’ve censored for privacy’s sake). I know that February is usually the month when people give up on their resolutions. I hope that this post will help and inspire people to give yearly goals or resolutions a chance.
Above you can see my 2020 resolutions. A lot of them are things that appear in almost every year. The professional goals are all new (I didn’t manage my professional goals with my personal goals until this year, and even now only a small part of my professional goals are here).
Every goal at this point only has the basic, first tier goals set beside it. The first three goals for example, all reading related, will eventually have stretch goals. They’re interesting to note here because back in 2016 I only had one reading goal: read 24 books. Once I got back into the habit of reading, I started to challenge myself with longer and more challenging books. These are all my base reading goals. I usually stretch them to around 50 books a year.
Why don’t I start with 50 books then? Because the point of these goals is to build myself up for success. The basic goals are the “even if I have a horrible year I should be able to reach these” goals. They are there to remind me that there’s a tomorrow, and something I can and should do about that tomorrow, even if a family member is hospitalized (or worse). The stretch goals are then built in small increments, reaching to my my final goal for the year.
Why don’t I write my stretch goals down from the start? Because the point is to keep myself focused on the next small step. That’s why things are broken down to the smallest increment that makes sense: one book, 10k, one month.
There’s a reason for each goal on this spread. I won’t go into each one specifically, but they all fall into the following general categories:
Write more (my writing goals are censored, because if I publish them, I won’t do them. I know myself well enough by now).
Use the stuff I own.
Challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone.
Social goals (partly censored).
Health goals (running, cross-training, bloodwork, dentist visits).
Professional goals (partial list).
Everything has to fit in on a two page spread, or I lose track of things. That’s why I spill over to other pages in the same notebook to track some of the details of my goals:
Here are my 2019 resolutions. A pink check mark means that the basic goal is finished. You can see the increments things grow by (my stretch goals):
You may have noticed that the “fill triggers” goal isn’t filled up at all. This is the “relevant” part of the S.M.A.R.T. goals. I used the trigger system from Marshal Goldsmith’s “Triggers” book for a few months in 2018, and I decided at the beginning of 2019 to not continue with it. It was a conscious decision, and so I just ignored that goal.
Here are my 2019 “spill” pages, just to get an idea of how the whole thing works together:
Here are pencils, fountain pens, notebooks and races tracking:
And my largest tracking list, books:
The Baron Fig Confidant that holds this list has a bright cover and sits right in front of me, on my desk, at all times. I set up my goals that at every day or two I crack the notebook open and update the lists. Once there, I scan everything and check if there’s something that I can do to get it done. The point is to have this list on the top of my mind as much as possible, or else I’ll just forget about it, or it becomes something that I avoid checking out.
This is a system that supports me every day, giving my goals and aspirations much needed structure. I hope that this will help you build a personal system of this kind for yourself.
My latest flea market find is a red/blue Union No. 84 pencil from The “Master” Pencils Ltd, the English pencil company that also created the Golden Master pencils that I reviewed in the past.
The Union No. 84 is an oversized pencil, with a red and navy core. I love the choice of font for the imprint: it looks clean and professional.
The pencil is thick, built like a children’s pencil, and so the cores are extra large as well.
The navy core, almost black in appearance:
Finding a sharpener that can sharpen this pencil was a challenge. You’ll need one that’s designed for children’s pencils, yet is high quality enough to handle wood that has toughened over time, and a core that is still soft and brittle. I went with the M+R double brass sharpener Nr. 0603. Beware of the red core when you sharpen this pencil, as it can stain your hands.
Here’s the Union No. 84 next to the Caran d’Ache Bicolor 999, the golden standard for red/blue pencils. You can see their size differences quite clearly.
The navy tip of the pencil:
The red tip of the pencil:
The red tip of the pencil was much softer and more crumbly than the navy tip, but even though I was worried about it, it didn’t break with use.
I tested the Union No. 84 against the Bicolor 999, and discovered a few interesting things. The Union’s blue is indeed a shade darker than the Bicolor’s but it’s not as dark as I would have expected. The red shades of both pencils are virtually identical. The Union feels more like a pencil than the waxy Bicolor, with more feedback, and more shading possible when some pressure is applied. Both pencils erase poorly, but the Union erases better than the Bicolor, particularly the Union red, which doesn’t stain the paper.
I tested the pencils on a Baron Fig Confidant, my go-to pencil testing paper, and erased them with the Maped Technic 600.
The Master Union No. 84 is a lot of fun to draw with, beyond being useful for highlighting and correcting text. It feels like a proper pencil, and not a waxy crayon, and it shades enough to allow for doodles like this one:
The Union No.84 is great and fun, and so was the Spiderman movie. I highly recommend them both.
In the early 2000s the Tombow Object fountain pen was one of the recommended beginner fountain pens on the market. That was in the pre-Pilot Metropolitan and pre-TWSBI days, when the beginner fountain pen choices were pretty sparse. I have the Tombow Object fountain pen and I’ll review it at a later time, but a few years ago I saw its rollerball counterpart on clearance sale, and so I risked the purchase.
I’m not a rollerball person, since they tend to behave like the worst of fountain pens (ink spreading, feathering, bleeding through and leaking out of the pen) without the good parts (line variation and versatility in ink colour). But the Tombow Object rollerball intrigued me because it shares the same body as the Tombow Object fountain pen but is significantly cheaper, and so I was hoping that even if it turned out to be an annoying pen to use, I could just use it as a way to get some colour variety with my Object fountain pen.
And why would you want that, you ask? Well, just look at that anodization:
The Tombow Object is a metal bodied pen (brushed aluminum body and cap that gives it a great texture) with a plastic section and a steel clip. That gives it some heft, but still keeps it light enough to be comfortable to use both capped and uncapped. There’s a satisfying snap when you cap the pen, and it stays on very securely. The tip doesn’t rattle or wiggle around, and the clip does an admirable job of being a good pocket clip and preventing the pen from rolling about. The pen has a beautifully designed taper on both ends that gives it a bit of character, and an unobtrusive “Tombow” and “Japan” printed in white on the cap. Although this colour is called gold, it’s a coppery-gold, close to a champaign colour you can sometimes see on cars.
The appeal of the Tombow Object has always been the fantastic anodization colours that were offered, each one really vibrant (except for the silver, which was boring). As you can see from the photo above, like all aluminum pens, it can be dented and nicked. This is probably a pen that you want to keep on your desk and not bashing around in your bag or pocket.
Another reason to keep this pen on your desk is that it tends to leak. There’s a slip mechanism in the cap that both prevents the ink from drying out and from leaking beyond the tip of the pen, but as you can see in the photo below, you need to be careful when you start using the pen where you grip it, or just accept ink stains on your fingers (or keep a paper towel at hand).
The pen uses a proprietary Tombow Object refill, which is always a shame. I wish that I could just pop in any fountain pen ink cartridge in there instead.
The slip cap also allows you to easily post this pen, although I don’t recommend it. For one thing, it isn’t necessary as the pen is long enough as it is, and for another, because the pen leaks into the cap you’ll just spread ink on the pen body.
It’s ink test time! Here’s a sampling of how the Tombow Object rollerball behaves on different kinds of paper:
None of this is great, but to be frank, this is generally in keeping with rollerball behaviour, and one of the reasons that I really don’t like the Retro51 Schmidt rollerball refills. The Object behaved best on the Clairefontaine paper, and even displayed some fetching line variation. It’s still a “one side of the page only” type of pen though.
As for the cap-and-body switching hack, it only partially works. You can take the body of a Tombow Object rollerball and switch it with one from a Tombow Object fountain pen, but the plastic insert in the cap that prevents the ink from drying up or leaking is incompatible between models. The pen just won’t snap shut with the “wrong” type of cap. It does still allow for some crazy cap/body combos, but that a whole different ballgame.
So would I recommend this pen? It is beautifully designed, looks great, is comfortable to use and you can find it on the secondary market for the price of a Retro51 or slightly cheaper. The enormous downside to this pen is that it uses a proprietary refill (I have not yet tried to hack it to see if it can accept other refills). So if you like this pen I would recommend stocking up on those refills, because Tombow might not offer them for sale forever. The Tombow Object and the Tombow Egg which use them have both been discontinued for a few years now, which is a great pity.
For the last three years I’ve been making and tracking yearly goals in a Baron Fig Three-Legged Juggler Confidant. I call my new year’s resolutions my yearly goals because unlike resolutions, goals are something concrete and well defined that you continually strive to achieve.
The goals are personal, so I’m not going to share them here, but I am going to go over how I set them up, in the hopes that it might help and inspire those working on their own yearly goals.
Set yourself up for success by picking goals that you:
Actually care about.
Are achievable even if your year goes horribly wrong. The trick is to set up easily achievable basic goals, and then “bonus” or extended goals that go beyond them in various tiers. So if you aren’t reading at all and you want to read more a good basic goal would be “read 4 books a year”, with extended goals of “read 8 books a year”, “read 12 books a year” and so on.
Are a mix of things that you track all year and one time events ( for example: participate in X number of races, and run X kilometers a month/year).
Aren’t focused on one area only (to avoid boredom and burnout).
I use a paper notebook to track my yearly goals and the “Streaks” app to get my streaks going. The notebook is something I open and update at least once a week and so is constantly on my desk, resting against my laptop. It’s a physical and constant reminder of what I need to do. I can’t emphasize enough how important the physical aspect of putting a check mark or crossing out a box is for this to work.
Be ambitious only with extended goals, or you are going to disappointed and discouraged very quickly. Human beings are terrible at assessing deadlines and the amount of effort required to achieve a goal. Cut your goals by 25-50% at least from what you think you can achieve. Yes, it’ll make them easy, but the point is to create a momentum of action and success, not frustration and failure. If you know you’ve missed all or most of your goals you’ll stop looking at them, and by March 2019 you’ll be done.
I love reading about how other people use their notebooks and pens/pencils, so I decided to take the time to list what I’m currently using and how:
Field Notes Front Page – used in landscape mode with a Blackwing 16.2 to take notes while I work through the third draft of my novel. Something about the format of this notebook appeals to me, especially in landscape mode. I ignore the lines completely (easy to do, since they’re so faint). Also works well while I’m typing, since it’s thin enough not to get in the way. I just put it below my keyboard, a pause to jot a quick note when I need to.
Field Notes Dime Novel – I use this as a catch-all and home to do list notebook, using whichever fountain pen I have inked at the moment.
Moleskine Star Wars Lightsaber Duel – used as my daily journal, coupled with a Ti Arto with a uni-ball Signo 0.5 gel refill (UMR-85) and a Scotch glue stick to paste bits and bobs in. I’ve been using this combo for about two years now (with different Moleskine lined notebooks), and I couldn’t be happier with it.
Moleskine Large Squared – used as my “bullet journal” at work. I’ve simplified the bullet journal system (removed the calendars entirely) and it’s now a daily checklist + work journal that serves to answer two questions: what am I going to do today, and what have I actually done. Keeps me sane and happy, especially when outages derail my day. I use a Zebra G-301 pen with this that I bought in Atlanta in 2012, and it is still going strong. I go through about a refill every two months, so this isn’t the most economical of systems…
Moleskine pocket square reporter – a new one for me. I’m using it to keep a running food journal, using a Retro 51 tornado slim graphite filled with a parker gel refill.
Paper for Fountain Pens notebook – together with sheafs of Tomoe River paper, this is what I use for my writing notes, quick drafts, and when I’m working through plot holes. I use whatever fountain pen I have going at the time, usually two pens with two different inks, Neil Gaiman style.
Moleskine two-go – I’m using this as my reading journal. I log all the books I read here. Previously I used two Field Notes Arts notebooks, but I ran out of them, so I moved to this. Using a Karas Kustoms grey RenderK in this, coupled with a Caran d’Ache Bicolor pencil to highlight things, and whatever other pencil I have laying around, for extra notes.
Baron Fig Three Legged Jester Confidant – using this to track my resolutions for several years now. Used to be my daily journal.
Moleskine softcover squared pocket reporter – using this to keep track of story ideas. I write in it with whatever is on hand.