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A click on the pencil cap extracts the lead sleeve once it has been retracted, and you press on the clip to retract the lead pipe, which is something that you’d do anyway to clip the Graphgear to you pocket, so this is a very intuitive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

Retro 51 Blue Acrylic Tornado

The Retro 51 Blue Acrylic is the last Retro 51 that I have yet to review as part of my Retro 51 challenge (minus the Retro 51 Flower and Retro 51 Coffee which are quarantined in my office). I bought this pen years ago in the Latin Quarter in Paris, in a little store on Boulevard Saint-Michel. The store had a few Retro 51 tornados in their dusty window display, and after some hemming and hawing I went in and asked about the pens. The proprietor had no idea what I wanted to buy from, but after some pointing he brought out his Retro 51 tray. The moment I saw this pen, I knew that I had to have it:

Is it not pretty?

The Retro 51 Blue Acrylic features chatoyant acrylic swirls in blue and navy, and it’s somewhat transparent, which means that you can see glints of the metal refill tube below the material. Like the Pelikan M800 Ocean Swirl there’s a dark side to the material, and a light side.

The dark side of the pen.

The hardware is chrome, and so very bright. This works well with the overall colour scheme. The acrylic body does pick up lint in a way that Retro 51’s metal-bodied pens do not.  I’m not sure this would make for a good pocket carry pen because of that.

Between light and dark.

Weight wise it doesn’t feel significantly lighter than Retro 51’s metal-bodied pens. If that’s you’re draw to this pen, then you’ll be disappointed. But how can you be disappointed in a pen that looks like this?

Look at that!

The finial features a dark navy blue, almost black, disc. I kind of wish that Retro 51 had made the finial out of the swirly acrylic material, but I guess that would have hiked up the price significantly.

The finial/top disc.

I changed out the refill for my favourite Ohto FlashDry refill, mostly because the old refill dried out. I used to use the semi-dried out old Schmidt refill for sketching, as it was pretty perfect for that.

The above drawing was drawn with the Retro 51 Blue Acrylic and the Ohto FlashDry 0.5 gel ink refill, plus some Faber-Castell PITT brush pens. My parents’ cats have ideas about my dad’s laptop that don’t coincide with his.

If you stumble upon one of these Retro 51 Acrylic Tornado pens, snap them up. They’re gorgeous, and life is too short to carry an ugly pen.

Retro 51 Blue Acrylic Tornado

Retro 51 Pen Addict

The quarantine distracted me from reviewing the two final Retro 51 pens that I have on hand (the Coffee and Flower edition are regrettable locked away at work), and the first of these two is the original Retro 51 Pen Addict limited edition tornado.

The Pen Addict Retro 51 was the first pen that Brad Dowdy had made for his shop, and it embodies both the Pen Addict aesthetic and the Retro 51 motto: “Life is too short to carry an ugly pen”.

The ding near the tip is my fault. There’s no chip off the pen and you hardly notice it, but it’s still there.

This is not an ugly pen. Orange isn’t my favourite colour, but it totally works on this pen, both because of the specific metallic orange hue used here, and because of the dark hardware. The Pen Addict Retro 51 just glows:

 

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It also is a numbered edition (I have number 77) and has one of the best Retro 51 top discs/finials: the Pen Addict logo.

The Pen Addict logo finial.

This is one of the few Retro 51s that I own that still have the Schmidt refill installed. I’m not a fan of this refill, but there are times when I’m looking for big, bold lines and it just fits the spot. This is the first time I used it for drawing:

My brother’s cat has opinions.

 

The Retro 51 Pen Addict original limited edition is still a great, classic Retro 51 tornado design. It’s no longer offered for sale on the Pen Addict shop, but if you find it reasonably priced on the secondary market, it’s totally worth buying.

Retro 51 Pen Addict

Retro 51 System and Uni-ball Jetstream SXR-600 Review

The Retro 51 System is what piqued my interest in Retro’s Tornado rollerballs again. It is such a handsome, well designed pen.  There are surprisingly few black Retro 51 limited/open numbered editions, which is in some ways not surprising. The company’s aesthetic leans towards the colourful or the metallic, not so much the “dark/stealth/tactical” side of the pen world.

A handsome, handsome pen.

I haven’t reviewed the Retro 51 System so far because it was such a huge hit when it came out, there were half a dozen reviews of it practically from day one. What did I have to add to the conversation? Plus, there was some confusion after the first 300 pens ran out and Mike Dudek put up another 300 pens for sale: people thought it was a very small limited edition, while it was always sold as a numbered, open edition. I didn’t want to take part in the drama, and I think that this pen is iconic enough to warrant discussion outside the hardcore Retro 51 collectors’ circles. Dudek and Retro 51 took a concept that could have been a “Smithsonian gift shop pen” idea, and turned it into a little work of art.

Pluto is on there, and you can see some of the “dark matter” streaks that Dudek designed into the pen.

The Retro 51 System isn’t cheesy, though it certainly could have been. Retro do design cheesy pens at times (its part of their design aesthetic), and the solar system has been over-productized for the past 50 years. Yet there’s something about the care put into creating this pen, from the choice to put Pluto on the map but to the side, to the choice to leave the texture to the “dark matter” stripes and let the planet designs speak for themselves, that makes it a utilitarian work of art. This pen was clearly designed be people who love everything about space and the solar system, and also everything about pens. It doesn’t glow in the dark, because it doesn’t need to. It has a classic, classy look that will also wear well with time.

One of the favourite things about this pen is the finial/top disc: it’s clear orange, a representation of the sun. It glows bright against the black background of this pen’s hardware, and really makes the pen pop – to whoever is writing with it.

Around the time I got this pen the Uni-ball Jetstream SXR-600 (Parker style) refill started appearing on the market. I was looking for a replacement to the Schmidt refill, and I had yet to meet my favourite Ohto Flash Dry refill, so a Uni-ball refill that made Brad Dowdy happy seemed like a good one to try. The Uni-ball SXR Jetstream SXR-600 in 0.5 is a Jetstream hybrid gel-ballpoint refill, one that lays very thin, neat, relatively dark lines. It’s probably the best ballpoint refill that you can get these days, and it is waterproof, fade proof and resistant to all kinds of fraud. It is not, however, fully a gel ink refill, nor does it remotely feel one, despite what the marketing says. It’s a best-in-class ballpoint refill, which most people will want to buy in 0.7 I think, as the 0.5 refill lays down a really fine line. If you’re looking for a replacement refill for Retro 51s, something that’s less messy and lays down a clean, fine line, the Uni-ball Jetream SXR-600 is probably the pen for you.

Retro 51 System and Uni-ball Jetstream SXR-600 Review