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A click on the pencil cap extracts the lead sleeve once it has been retracted, and you press on the clip to retract the lead pipe, which is something that you’d do anyway to clip the Graphgear to you pocket, so this is a very intuitive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

 

img_4661

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

Retro 51 Buzz Review: The Bee Rescue Tornado

The Retro 51 Buzz bee rescue tornado is probably the Retro 51 I eyed the most before buying. I loved the honeycomb design, but not so much the bees, and when it came out I still hadn’t found a replacement for the Schmidt refill. I solved the refill issue with the Ohto FlashDry, and once Retro51 announced that they’re closing, I decided to finally buy this pen.

I love that Buzz logo and I kind of wish that it was featured on the pen, even though I know that it would have just cluttered it.

The Buzz pen is part of Retro 51’s rescue series, which means that there’s a small donation given to NW Honey Bee Habitat Restoration for every pen sold. It comes in a beautiful pen tube (which makes it, like all Retro 51s, a great gift pen to give), and is a very well designed pen.

Let’s start with the finial/top disc, which is featured in the Pen Addict Podcast Retro 51 Celebration pen. How could it not be? It’s a honeybee themed pen and it features a bear – a classic Retro 51 move.

One of the best top discs that Retro 51 has ever designed.

The pen itself features an acid-etched honeycomb texture with printed honeybees and brushed copper hardware. Some of the honeycombs are filled, and the bees… Well, I think that they come off as a little bit tacky in photos, but they somehow “work” in person. They blend in better with the rest of the design, and actually help tone down its shininess.

The copper hardware fits this pen like a glove. 

The best thing about this pen is the honeycomb etching on it. It glows and really makes the pen pop, with the added benefit of making the Retro 51 Buzz easy and nice to grip.

Look at that glow:

Check out that shiny, shiny glow.

The only nit-picky thing I didn’t like is the finish level. The filled honeycombs aren’t always painted within the lines. If that’s on purpose, I find that it detracts from the pen, and doesn’t add anything. If it’s not, it’s a shame:

Can you see where the brown paint doesn’t go all the way to the edge? 

I still love this pen, and I’m so glad that I bought it while it’s still to be had. The Retro 51 Buzz is not only a beautiful and well designed pen, it’s a pen that only Retro 51 could have designed.

Buzz!

Retro 51 Buzz Review: The Bee Rescue Tornado

Retro 51 Cat Rescue 3 Review

The last Retro 51 of the three that bought once I heard that they were retiring arrived: the Cat Rescue 3. I gave it a try as  part of my Retro 51 Challenge, and so far I’m utterly enamoured with it.

The Cat Rescue 3 shares a similar design and illustration style as the Dog Rescue 3. The illustrations on both pens are wonderful: adorable, full of humour and love for their subject.

Beyond cool cats in sunglasses (that go well with pirate dogs with eyepatches) the Cat Rescue 3 pen also has a hidden drawing of a mouse (the dog one had a hidden squirrel). That just makes this pen 1000% more likeable in my eyes.

The tube the Cat and Dog rescue is similar, as both donate 5% of proceeding to the same animal shelter, Operation Kindness. Unfortunately the cardboard tube mine came it was utterly crushed by the mail service, so I won’t be photographing its ruins.

The finial/top disc features the Operation Kindness logo, and I’m not bothering with a writing sample because there are only so many times you can read about me raving how great the Ohto FlashDry gel refill is.

As a bonus, here are a picture of my cats (brother and sister, both rescues) to make you smile. If you can donate or help your local shelter in any way, please do.

Retro 51 Cat Rescue 3 Review

Retro 51 Dino Fossil Review

My Retro 51 Dino Fossil arrived in the mail, and I’ve been using it throughout the weekend. It was a completeimpulse buy, and I kind of regretted it once I bought it and before I got it. I thought that I’d never use a pen with bones on it, fossilized dinosaur bones or not.

It turns out I was wrong.

I don’t care much for packaging, but this packaging was cool. The gold embossing really adds a classy touch to it, and the Smithsonian logo pops on the background of the black tube.

That same logo also appears, in full colour, on the finial/top disk of the pen, and it adds a welcome bit of colour to it.

The pen is copper, much like the Retro 51 vintage metalsmith Lincoln, but there’s a lot of added texture to that copper. There’s brushed copper on the pen hardware, a dark matte copper on the pen body, and embossed dinosaur fossils that are partially painted.

The result could have been busy, but ends up working phenomenally well, while at same time making it almost impossible to properly photograph. The copper glows with warmth that makes the pen come to life.

It somehow doesn’t look tacky in person, but rather classy and somehow understated. The pen’s copper body draws more attention to itself that the bones do, because of their muted off-white colour.

The other thing that surprised me is that the Dino Fossil is numbered. I wasn’t expecting that, and the seller I got it from didn’t mention it, but just in case you care, on the band below the twist mechanism there’s a number, and “Smithsonian” where there usually is “Tornado” etched in. The number also appears on the cardboard tube the pen comes in.

The dinosaur fossil embossing makes this pen really easy to grip, and pretty enjoyable to write with. As usual I swapped out the Schmidt refill it comes with, replacing it with an Ohto FlashDry 0.5 gel refill.

The Retro 51 Dino Fossil was a pleasant surprise: a pen that I thought I bought for gifting, and turns out to be one of my favourite Retro 51s to date. I’m likely going to say goodbye to my Lincoln before this, and I recommend it if you have even the slightest affinity to dinosaurs, natural history, archeology, the Smithsonian or beautiful copper pens.

Retro 51 Dino Fossil Review

Retro 51 Dog Rescue 3 Review

I bought three new Retro 51 pens once I heard that they were retiring: Dog Rescue 3, Cat Rescue 3, and the Smithsonian Dino Fossil. I was planning on giving them a try as part of my Retro 51 Challenge, and if it turned out that I didn’t enjoy them, gifting them (or at worst, reselling them).

The Dog Rescue 3 arrived a few days ago, inside one of the cutest tubes that Retro 51 has designed.

5% of proceeds from this pen goes to Operation Kindness, which is nice, but probably won’t move the needle much. I donate yearly to a local animal shelter, and if you’re buying stuff just to donate, it’s better to not buy the stuff and just donate. This is a great looking pen though, so if you like it, by all means buy it, feel a little good about the donation, and then go and donate to Operation Kindness or a local shelter directly.

The operation kindness on the finial/top disc is a great touch.

The red on the finial is echoed in the dog illustrations on the body, which works really well. The illustrations/cartoons themselves are the best part of the this pen. You can totally see different dog personalities here, not just different breeds:

There’s even an eye-patch dog – can you spot him?

The hardware on this pen is shiny silver, and though it works, it isn’t one of the highlights of this pen. I suspect that the Dino Fossil’s one will be more interesting.

I replaced the standard Retro 51 refill with an Ohto FlashDry 0.5 one and it’s a joy to write with now.

The Retro 51 Dog Rescue 3 is a delightful pen that brings a smile on my face every time I pick it up. It would make for a great gift for a dog lover or a Retro 51 aficionado.

Retro 51 Dog Rescue 3 Review

Retro 51 Cat Rescue 2

An utterly non-Instagram ready journal entry about this pen, including my terrible handwriting. 

In November 2017 I went to a business convention in Washington DC, and while there I stumbled upon a tiny stationery store that had some Retro 51’s for sale. I liked the red colour of this pen, and some (not all) of the cat illustrations on it, and so I bought it. It was an utterly unreasonable impulse buy, because at the time I already knew that the Schmidt refill rendered my Retros virtually unusable for me, and I was years from finding a suitable replacement refill. The pen gathered dust in a pen cup on my desk for the past two years, until this week.

The finial/top disc is one of Retro 51’s best designs.

As part of my decision to use my Retro 51s more, I replaced the (dried out) Schmidt refill in this pen with an Ohto FlashDry gel ink one, and I’ve been using it pretty regularly for the past few days. It’s a bright and cheerful pen that writes like a dream now, even though in a quiet room you can definitely hear the tip rattle a bit as you write.

There’s no texture to this pen, the rescue cats are just printing on it, and I wish Lucy Kinsley had drawn them. So I’m not yet sure if this pen stays with me or I’m going to gift it to a cat loving friend, but for now I’m enjoying giving it a spin.

Retro 51 Cat Rescue 2