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A click on the pencil cap extracts the lead sleeve once it has been retracted, and you press on the clip to retract the lead pipe, which is something that you’d do anyway to clip the Graphgear to you pocket, so this is a very intuitive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

Rotring 800 Drafting Pencil Review

After I reviewed the Waterman Phileas I noticed that I have hardly reviewed the writing/drawing tools that I use most. So I making it a point to start to rectify that, at least a little bit. 

The Rotring 800 is Rotring’s high end drafting pencil, and it costs significantly more than its popular counterpart, the Rotring 600. It’s also my preferred drafting pencil, and the one pencil that’s a constant in my drawing kit. While I own the Rotring 600, and I agree that it’s a very good drafting pencil, I’ve abandoned it entirely for it’s more big brother, the Rotring 800. 

This is a handsome, elegant drafting pencil.

The Rotring 600 and 800 are both full metal (brass) bodied drafting pencils. This means that they were built for drafting (architectural plans) and sketching, not so much for writing. You can use a drafting pencil for writing, but they’re not built for that (that’s what mechanical pencils are for). Drafting pencils are metal bodied with a knurled grip, a lead grade indicator, and a sleeve that both protects the lead and allows you to more easily use it with rulers and templates, and to get a better view of what you’re drawing.

Herein we get to the problem: both the Rotring 600 and the Rotring 800 are almost perfect drafting pencils. Each one has a significant flaw, which means that you have to decide when purchasing what are you willing to live without.

Retractable tip

I think that the Rotring 800 is a slightly more good looking drafting pencil than the Rotring 600, and it weighs more than the 800. That’s nice, but that’s not “$20 more” nice. The reason to buy the Rotring 800 is the retractable tip. That’s it. The Rotring 600’s non-retractable, sharp-yet-delicate tip makes carrying it around an issue. It can bend and it can do damage – piercing through case fabric, clothes, and I wouldn’t carry it in my pocket (ouch!).

Retractable tip extended. The tip allows for precision work, and prevents the lead from breaking.

I carry my Rotring 800 in a Nock Co Sinclair, together with the rest of my sketching kit, and I really needed the retractable tip. For that I had to pay extra, and I also had to give up on a crucial drafting pencil feature that the Rotring 600 has and the Rotring 800 doesn’t have: the lead grade indicator. This is a basic feature of drafting pencils, and I have no idea why Rotring didn’t add it here. It doesn’t bother me too much as I don’t switch lead grades that often, but it’s still a baffling choice on Rotring’s part.

I love the texture on the pen grip and the pen itself: it’s beautiful and functional at the same time. This is a pencil that will not budge from your hands as you’re working with it. Also, the added weight of the retractable mechanism means that it’s perfectly balanced and you need to apply zero pressure on the lead.

There’s an eraser beneath this cap. I wouldn’t use it. 

The Rotring 800 is a handsome, heavy and expensive drafting pencil. If you’re just getting to know drafting pencils the Pentel Graph Gear 1000 is what I’d recommend (it’s cheaper, lighter, has a great design, more tip sizes, and a lead indicator), as it really works as an excellent mechanical pencil as well as a drafting pencil. The Rotring is what I use because it aggravates my RSI least (YMMV),the added weight lets me work faster and yet retain control over my line, and I really needed the retractable tip (I ruined a Rotring 600’s tip). If you’re wondering whether to purchase a Rotring 800 (or 600) I highly recommend testing it out first, especially if you have small hands or have a “non-standard” way of holding a pencil, since you may find its weight uncomfortable.

Rotring 800 Drafting Pencil Review