Review: The Monteverde One Touch Stylus Tool Mechanical Pencil

Folks, I’m a sell-out.

This blog is about wooden pencils; in fact, “wood” is right there in the name. I’ve always eschewed mechanical pencils, an in fact, have often linked to my favorite chapter, in full, of David Rees’s book, How to Sharpen Pencils.

So what I’m about to tell you may come as a shock:

You’re about to read a review of a mechanical pencil.

After you recover from that blow, I’ll give you a bit of a background. Ron from Pen Chalet contacted me a few months ago asking if I’d like to review anything from his shop. I’ve always admired his selection of high-end pens (Where else could I buy a $30,000 fountain pen?) but I knew that I couldn’t justify acquiring a fancy fountain pen for review on a pencil blog. I don’t have the vocabulary or the breadth of knowledge about pens to give it a fair review — I leave that to the likes of Brad or Ed or any of the other great pen bloggers out there.

But in the mechanical pencil section — there was one that I had my eye on:

monteverde-profile

Have you ever seen such a thing? I haven’t. I was familiar with Monteverde previously, but I don’t think I’ve ever used one of their products. This looks super cool — from the bright yellow hexagonal shape (almost like a wooden pencil!) to the ruled hashes on the side, to the capacitive stylus on the end. This looks like something Alton Brown would carry, or maybe Tommy Silva from This Old House.

Features

I was disappointed to note that the mechanical pencil doesn’t have the bubble level function in the side — that comes only with the fountain pen and the ballpoint. I think the mechanism that pushes the graphite up and down took up too much room.

But some of the other functions more than made up for it. The barrel features three different units of measurement — inches, 1:100 meters, 1:200 meters, and 1:300 meters.

The top opposite end of the barrel (where the eraser would be on a wooden pencil) has a really nice capacitive touch stylus that’s pretty sensitive. I could do some detailed sketching on my iPhone with it. I admit I don’t use a stylus very often, but when I do, this is a perfect one to use.

monteverde-mechanical-pencil-stylus-closeup

I knew there was an eraser somewhere on this device, but I didn’t know where! Ah! I realized. This stylus unscrews! I turned it counter-clockwise unit it popped off, and there I found…

monteverde-mechanical-pencil-screwdriver-closeup

…a tiny screwdriver? That’s awesome. The bit pops out and is reversible, so you can work with Phillips and with flat head screws. It’s a bit too tiny to work with screws on, say, a piece of furniture, but just right for precision work — perfect for tightening screws on my eyeglasses or a hand-held electronic device.

monteverde-mechanical-pencil-screwdriver-with-glasses

I knew that somewhere — somewhere! — there was an eraser. A coworker and I played around with it, trying to find it. Finally, we pulled on the end where the graphite comes out, and there it was!

monteverde-mechanical-pencil-broken-down

Like most high-end mechanical pencils, it’s almost useless. I don’t know if they think those who use fancy mechanical pencils don’t need to erase with any frequency, or what, but I knew that between its stature and its accessibility, I’d continue to use a handheld eraser when using this pencil.

Aesthetics

As soon as it arrived at my door, I was excited. The package has a nice heft to it — something I’ll admit wooden pencils can’t replicate. I knew I was holding a solidly machined piece of metal, heavy but compact — like a MacBook or an iPhone.

The one drawback to the feel of it is intrinsic with any mechanical pencil with loose leads floating around inside: it rattles. Unlike a pen or a wooden pencil, if you move it around a bit, you can hear and feel that lead inside. But this is something I realize can’t be helped.

monteverde-mechanical-pencil-detailing

As I mentioned before, the yellow, hex barrel reminds me of a wooden pencil. Otherwise, that’s where it stops. There is handsome brushed aluminum on either end of the barrel; acting as the “ferrule” for the stylus, and providing a grip on the tip. The pocket clip is a shiny stainless.

Performance

Here’s the to-do list I wrote in order to measure the performance of this pencil:

monteverde-mechanical-pencil-writing

This has been the hardest part of the review, just because I’m unsure of myself. I lack the breadth of experience to even compare this to other mechanicals — when I do use one, it’s a cheap disposable pencil like my favorite, the Zebra #2, which doesn’t compare at all to this. I even lack the vocabulary — what do you call the mechanism that draws the graphite core down? How do you grade the graphite refills? I have no idea.

Finally, I just decided to grin and bear it, and just honestly speak of my experience.

First of all, it took some getting used to when extending the graphite. If I drew it down too far, it got loose and when I pressed down, it would recede slightly back up into the pencil.

For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to explain that without making a GIF. And I do love me some GIFs. I found a fantastic little app to do just that:

monteverde_mechanical_pencil_tip

Besides that detail, the parts that makes this mechanical pencil “mechanical” are excellent. The bits that turn and screw/unscrew turn smoothly. The parts that are held in by tension hold fast, and pop out with a pretty easy yank.

The other drawback, for me and my way of writing, is that the graphite core is so thick! It uses a 0.9mm refill, which is roughly the thickness of a moderately dull wooden pencil. I generally prefer a 0.7mm core, which is what, say, the aforementioned Zebra #2 uses. I’ve been known to use a 0.5mm lead, but that is generally too thin and I break it if I press down with my normal amount of pressure.

The tip of the Monteverde mechanical pencil, top, compared to the tip of a Palomino Blackwing Classic, freshly sharpened in a Classroom-Friendly pencil sharpener.

The tip of the Monteverde mechanical pencil, top, compared to the tip of a Palomino Blackwing Classic, freshly sharpened in a Classroom-Friendly pencil sharpener.

Here’s where I get confused when writing about mechanical pencils: reviewing the quality of the graphite. With wooden pencils and the baked-in core, I know that the graphite is (or should be) of a consistent quality. With mechanical pencils, where the core is divorced from the production of the barrel, how do I review it?

In any case, despite the thickness of the core, it writes silky smooth. It feels much softer and darker than a standard HB lead — I’d put this at a 3B or even a 4B. It’s not great for how hard I press; I turn the tip to advance more lead before I even reach the end of a line, sometimes.

The graphite erases like a champ, though, very cleanly considering how dark it is.

I’d venture a guess and say that this graphite is optimized for those making notations in a shop, on wood or ceramic or something. Like a Palomino Classic, it’d be great for sketching and drawing, but maybe not for writing.

In brief

This is a unique, interesting concept that’s well-executed for what it needs to do. It’s well-manufactured and much attention has been paid to the details.

On the other hand, the concept is odd; I’m not sure when I’ll need a mechanical pencil with a ruler (usually, I’d want to use the pencil alongside the ruler to make marks at the rule) along with a screwdriver along with a stylus, but if I do, this is the tool.

This pencil is not flavored for my particular pencil work-flow, which involved a lot of writing and note-taking. But for someone taking short, sketchy notes and annotations, especially against a different surface than notebook paper, it’d be fantastic.

The price, $40 (on sale lately for $32), is reasonable, especially considering how long this thing will last. This is definitely a multi-generational keeper.

As I said before, reviewing this thing has been a challenge but an interesting and enjoyable one. I don’t think I’ve become a fine mechanical pencil convert, but I have learned to notice and appreciate details that I’ve never really thought of before. When I use a mechanical pencil, I’m still planning on reaching for my Zebra #2, if only because of its utility, size and price. But this Monteverde will be a prized member of my collection of pencilnalia.

Where to buy

Check it out at Pen Chalet for $32. It’s available in silver and black as well, which are beautiful in their own right, but for me, bright yellow is the way to go.

UPDATE: Great minds must think alike! My friend and podcast co-host Johnny Gamber from Pencil Revolution posted a review of the same product, in the same color, on the same day! I won’t spoil his review, so go over and check it out.

The Koh-I-Noor Triograph: The Sharpie of pencils

The Koh-I-Noor Triograph

I finally got my hands on a pencil that I’ve liked for a long time — the Koh-I-Noor Triograph. I fully realize that it’s not a writing pencil, but a sketch pencil. From the Koh-I-Noor website’s product page:

These 5.6mm lead pencils are excellent for working in large areas and for quick, loose strokes; they blend extraordinarily well too.

They can be used alone or in combination with a plethora of artistic media to achieve effects as unique as the individual artist.

That’s a little fancier that I get, folks. But man, they’re gorgeous. I love the stain on the wood barrel:

Closeup of the Koh-I-Noor Triograph tipCloseup of the Koh-I-Noor Triograph barrel.

I also really like triangular barrels. That was definitely a big decision factor for me.

So when my pencils arrived from Jetpens (Disclosure: I received these pencils at no charge for review purposes), I opened then excitedly. Continue reading

Bullet to bullet: the Midori brass pencil vs. the bulk, blank “umpire pencil”

This winter — I tell you what. It’s really kicked my butt so far. Between a record-setting month for snowfall, and several days of -12° (or less) weather, I’m ready to leave Indiana behind.

Being stuck at home has given me ample time to work on a big writing project, however, and that writing project has given me an opportunity to test out a few new products for review!

three-pencil-comparison-2

Top to bottom: Midori Brass Bullet Pencil, bulk “blank” umpire bullet pencil, and antique Fort Wayne Johnston Stock Yards bullet pencil (not reviewed)

Continue reading

Breathing new life into an old bullet pencil

I added a Palomino Prospector pencil to this bullet pencil.

Inspired by the excellent tutorial over on The Jungle is Neutral on restoring bullet pencils (a follow-up to a great post about the history of bullet pencils), I decided to whip out the Dremel and do a little work on one of my favorites.

I started by sanding the glaze off the eraser. I should have used a finer grain on the sandpaper for a smoother finish (and also a steadier hand), but it’s functional now! I’ve seen better, but I can now erase a pencil mark from a piece of paper with this eraser.  Continue reading

Bullet pencils: Pocket-friendly utensils from a bygone era

Agricultural bullet pencilsFor reasons I can’t explain, I usually only talk about half of my pencil collection on here. I talk about new products, mostly — pencils available to most everyone that is for sale now.

But I also have a lot of advertising and souvenir pencils. Probably ten cigar boxes worth. They’re not particularly known for being good quality pencils, but they appeal to me in their uniqueness. Many of them are decades old; and I can only imagine that there are not many left in the world.

One subset of that collection are several agricultural bullet pencils. A good friend of mine gave them to me a few years ago after her grandmother died and my friend was in charge of cleaning out her farmhouse in Illinois. There was a drawer full of these old pencils — given to her by salesmen from seed supplier, feed yards, stockyards, and more.

I love these things, but they're pretty old.

I love these things, but they’re pretty decrepit.

I treasure them, though I never use them, mostly because they’re so old. The erasers have petrified and often, the pencil barrel has run down to no more than a nub . And I don’t have dozens and dozens like Aaron Draplin, perhaps known best among this community as the designer of Field Notes. Pencil Revolution interviewed Draplin back in 2011 about this very subject. Draplin loves these little guys. And for good reason:

First off, it’s the compact quality. I love having a tight little drawing tool in the front pocket at all times, and I’m here to tell ya, these little sonofabitches have saved my butt many a time…on airplanes, in meetings, in a pinch, wherever. I always keep one in the front, left pocket of my 501s.

What I love about them the most, is how banal they were back in the day. Simple, cheap advertising tools given away at local businesses. Feed-n-seed joints, car lots, insurance agents, what have you. Just crappy little promo items that packed a real wallop. I’ve got a couple old salesman sample sets. Old and beat up, and a look into what it was like to have a guy sit down and say, “Here’s what we can do for your company.” So good.

(See his entire interview on Pencil Revolution, in two parts: Part 1 and Part 2)

They are indeed so good. One of my few issues with wooden pencils is that when they’re new, they don’t fit easily into a pocket — they’re too long! If I need to easily carry around a pencil in a shirt pocket or pants pocket, and I don’t have a pencil halfway through its life, I’ll turn to the Zebra #2 mechanical or even — gasp — a Fisher bullet pen (though I can’t find mine as of late! I think it fell into the depths of the couch).

From a utilitarian perspective, bullet pencils are great. They’re really no more than 4 or 5 inches long when sheathed, but they extend out to full pencil length when in writing mode.

The trouble is, I don’t think you can get them anymore. (Pencil Talk doesn’t think so. Neither does Field Notes.) A friend of mine who owns a company that makes promotional products says that she was looking for those a couple of years ago, and came up dry.

From JetPens.com. Click image to follow the link.

From JetPens.com. Click image to follow the link.

JetPens.com has something similar, the Midori Brass Bullet Pencil, but to me, it doesn’t count. It’s $21, and made of brass. This isn’t the vintage, plastic cheapie thing that is given away free. (On the other hand, though, the description says that the brass develops a patina after multiple uses, which is pretty cool. And you can buy replacement pencils and erasers to go with it)

If the promotional bullet pencil is just a relic of the past, so be it. While they’re far from the main course of my pencil collection, they’re a delicious, delightful appetizer. Whenever I see one, I’m thrilled to run across it. And if they are becoming more and more rare, I have all the more reason to treasure the few that I have.

Kickstarter Rainbow Pencils: What does it MEAN?!

Kickstarter is such an interesting place. From documentaries about Juggalos to more 3D printers than you can shake an extruded plastic stick at, anyone with an idea, cursory video production skills and an internet connection can sign up for a project.

And I love it.

Luckily, there’s no shortage of scribomechanica fans out there who have Kickstarter projects. I won’t go into all of the pens you can find being made there (Brad at Pen Addict has a really great list already assembled — I am partial to the gorgeous Render K by Karas Kustoms), but our inky brethren can pledge to their hearts’ delight.

While pickings are admittedly slimmer, pencil lovers can still find some gems. I’ve written about a few of them before, like a pencil ruler or the Sprout pencil. Why, just yesterday, Pencil Revolution shared this gorgeous notebook with a funny name that just reached its funding goal.

So I’m excited to share this one. This pencil’s only purpose seems to lie in its novel aesthetics, though it’s utterly charming.

It seems simple enough — it’s a rainbow pencil:

Lisa Frank pencils

Oh god, not these. Lisa Frank has nothing on this project. It’s much more understated. Like a kiwi.

Yeah, a kiwi.

When you buy your Kiwi at the supermarket, it’s just a simple, brown hairy thing, right? But you slice it open, and there’s an unexpected shock of color.

Rainbow pencils by Duncan Shotton Design.

These pencils are similar. They have a plain, matte white (or black) barrel. Very tasteful. Then when you start sharpening with your handheld blade sharpener…

POW.

Rainbow pencils by Duncan Shotton Design.

I love me some GIFs, so I was extra excited to see that the Kickstarter page had one of this pencil!

Made with layers of recycled paper, this pencil creates a rainbow as your sharpen it. According to the designer:

Rainbow Pencils function like regular wooden pencils, and are the same size and weight, but they’re not made from wood, they’re made from layers of recycled waste paper. In the United States alone, over 7 million cubic feet of wood are used every year to manufacture wooden pencils. With rainbow pencils, not only do all those trees not need to be cut down, but the huge amount of paper that might otherwise be thrown into landfill, can be recycled and put to good use. Each pencil has a 6-layer rainbow core and comes finished in either black or white.

What a fun way to be environmentally friendly! Most of the recycled paper pencils I’ve used before involved newsprint, so aesthetically, it either looked like newspaper, or mottled gray paper. It definitely lacks the aesthetics of a cedar pencil — no fragrance and no tight woodgrain look.

This rainbow pencil helps with that. I certainly can’t speak to the performance of the pencil, but if delight is in the details, then sharpening this would be a joy.

Head on over to their Kickstarter page to check out the pledge levels and to watch the video!

Rainbow Pencils by Duncan Shotton | Kickstarter.com

A Palomino Blackwing Pearl review

I’ve been a bad pencil blogger, folks.

Pencils.com introduced the Blackwing Pearl back in early May — more than two months ago. I posted two different preview articles about them then, but have been silent since.

It’s not through lack of interest. I’ve used the Pearl almost exclusively since then, switching away to a different Blackwing or a Golden Bear just to compare and contrast.

Box of Palomino Pearl pencils by Pencils.com

I’ve gone through three pencils, and I finally think I’m ready for a review.

Aesthetics

I have to admit, the Blackwing Pearl is gorgeous.

The owner of a local winery (and a client of my employer) took notice of this pencil and bought several dozen to use in the wine tasting room. It compliments the minimalist style of the facility, and a good friend of mine who works there tells me they are running out — patrons keep taking them!

Two-EEs Winery bought a bunch of these pencils because of their style.

Two-EEs Winery bought a bunch of these pencils because of their style.

Visually, this is a logical follow up to the PB Classic and the PB 602 — the pearlescent lustre (that’s right, I spelled that like a British person) looks really nice next to the grey sharkskin of a 602, which sets off the matte black of the original PB.

The Palomino Blackwing family

You can tell which of the Blackwings is most loved in my arsenal.

I have a little bit of an OCD eye twitch that goes off when I think about how, from darkest to lightest, the color of the barrel is:

  • PB Classic
  • PB 602
  • PB Pearl

Yet, from darkest to lightest, the marking of the graphite is:

  • PB Classic
  • PB Pearl
  • PB 602

One thing I got wrong in my (otherwise amazing) mockup of the Pearl was the words stamped on the side. Rather than gold foil, it’s stamped with black, which provides a strong contrast to the barrel paint. And, it matches the black eraser, which brings a little continuity. It’s the little things; I love that.

The barrel of the Palomino Blackwing Pearl

The element that feels out of place, though, is the brass ferrule. I think a steel one would look better, and make the barrel look more pearly. The ferrule here isn’t too gold, though — it’s more subtle, so it still looks really, really good.

Performance

The Palomino Blackwing Pearl writing test against its siblings.

Pencils.com refers to the Pearl as “balanced and smooth”, as a medium ground between the soft PB Classic, which is great for sketching, and the harder PB 602, which is best for writing.

I’ll definitely agree with this assessment. It feels like a great balance between the two previous pencils. In fact, I’d say that it tends to run almost as dark as the Classic, but holds a point much longer, close to the 602.

The eraser does leave dust, but it erases pretty clearly.

The eraser is the same as what comes with the 602 — a black, pumice-like “dust free” eraser. It works great (though it’s not dust free), and it looks beautiful; in high-contrast glory with the white barrel.

Conclusion

I’m a big fan. For my purposes, it’s miles ahead of the PB Classic.

My go-to Blackwing of choice is still the 602, however. I’m more than happy to sacrifice a bit of darkness in my markings to keep the tip as sharp as possible for as long as possible. But then again, I use pencils almost exclusively to write. Coworkers who scribble notes as well as sketch have remarked that they love this; it truly is a great balance between the other two.

The Palomino Blackwing Pearl can be purchased from Pencils.com for $19.95 per dozen, or if you’re feeling ambitious, you can get a gross (that’s 144 pencils) for $163.98.

Elsewhere

There’s a few other pencil and scribomechanica bloggers who were on top of reviews. Check out their posts: