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)

A mild obsession

I know, I know, I’ve been writing a lot about bullet pencils. I’ve known about bullet pencils for years; ever since I started antiquing with my mother.

(Yes, I was that kid.)

I’ve never paid them much mind, though. They were a niche that was too wide to explore, and would detract from my main mission: regular wooden pencils. Only in the last couple of years have I really become interested in owning some, ever since my friend Amber gave me a selection of vintage agricultural vendor pencils.

These are all well and good to collect; to polish and display and cherish, but what about actually using them? Aaron Draplin uses the old ones and just ignores the petrified eraser. Craig over at The Jungle is Neutral uses the old ones, too, going so far as to strip an old one down to the bare bones, switch out the pencil, polish the eraser, and put that to strenuous field use. I did something similar to an old one, though I left the wonderful graphic wrap on the barrel.

But I’ve become interested in what one can buy now. What kind of bullet pencils are available on the market today? Not a lot, it seems. But I’ve been able to get ahold of a few of them, and pitted them against each other.

The contenders:

Bulk blank white bullet pencils

Blank bulk bullet pencils from eBay

After spending some time on eBay, I ran across a vendor selling, in bulk, blank, white bullet pencils — 100 for $20.

That should have been a red flag. But no, I pressed the “Buy Now” button. After all: 100 bullet pencils? For 20 bucks? Sounds great!

After a week or so, they showed up, and I tore into the package. I was immediately disappointed — the pencils have fallen out of their sheath in transit, so the envelope was a mess of graphite and dirty plastic.

How did this happen? The pencils are so shoddily constructed, the back of the pencils don’t fit into the sheath, so they don’t stay together.

And when I try to push them in harder, so the little ridge would stay in the sheath, it just breaks the plastic:The pencil won't stay in the sheath, unless you push it. And that will break the plastic.

I could have stopped the review there. The sole special functionality of a bullet pencil, to fold up and protect the tip, fails. But just for good measure, I figured I’d try out the actual pencil to see how it performs:

It may be hard to see here, but the writing on the product above (the bulk bullet pencil) is much lighter than the Midori Brass pencil, seen below.

It may be hard to see here, but the writing on the product above (the bulk bullet pencil) is much lighter than the Midori Brass pencil, seen below.

This pencil performs similar to one of those cheapo golf pencils you can buy at Office Depot; 144 for $7. The core writes too lightly, the wood splinters when it’s sharpened, and there’s no heft to the pencil — it feelsl like it’s completely plastic.

bulk-bullet-pencil-extended-2

(Of note: the cap on the back of the pencil looks like it’s metal, but it’s as plastic as Joan Rivers.)

To give this review something to compare it to, I got ahold of:

Midori brass bullet pencil

midori-brass-bullet-pencil-keyboard

I’ve had my eye on this, ever since I became interested in bullet pencils. Recently, I made a connection with Elaine from JetPens, who was interested in partnering for some product reviews. Among a few other goodies, she sent me a Midori brass bullet pencil, which I’ve had my eye on for a while.

The Japan-based Midori Stationary Company is pretty cool. I’ve never used any of their products before, but they seem to have everything — paper, notebooks, things like staplers, paper cutters and paperclips, and pens. From what I can tell, this is the only pencil they make. They also have a bullet pen, which is similar in frame to the pencil.

The four components that make up the Midori brass bullet pencil. Simple and high-quality.

The four components that make up the Midori brass bullet pencil. Simple and high-quality.

In a nutshell; it’s really solid. It’s made of actual metal, which automatically puts it light years ahead of the plastic ones. The eraser, which fits neatly into the ferrule that’s machined from the same piece as the sheath. It’s a little wider than a normal eraser, so it should last through several new pencil inserts (and when it finally does wear down, refills of the pencil and eraser are available for purchase).

Speaking of the pencil insert, it performs really well. Typically, I’m not a fan of round pencils, and I am usually ambivalent toward natural, wood, but the quality of this really shines through. Just look at this grain!

midori-brass-bullet-pencil-wood

midori-brass-bullet-pencil-wood-closeup

There is a faint, matte, clear lacquer on the barrel that gives it a silky, soft feeling. it’s light weight, but not cheaply, which is an interesting sensation because the brass sheathe is fairly weighted. That gives it a decided top-heaviness that emulates old, vintage bullet pencils.

How does it perform? It’s smooth and dark, and definitely of high quality. I’m pretty unfamiliar with Midori’s other products, and this seems to be the only thing they make with a wooden pencil. I’m glad to know they took care to use a quality pencil, instead of inserting some generic golf pencil, which would be easy to do.

(Posting this image again, just for good measure. As you can see, the marks are darker and erases more smoothly)

(Posting this image again, just for good measure. As you can see, the marks are darker and erases more smoothly)

Once this pencil insert wears out, I might replace it with a half of a Golden Bear or even a Palomino. I still like the hex shape better, though the heavily lacquered colors might clash a bit (perhaps a Forest Choice?)

Also of note is the pocket clip, which admittedly I don’t use. Normally I just toss it in my front pocket with my keys. I can whip it out to jot something down in my Field Notes. But if I wanted to clip it to a shirt or to the notebook, the clip is great.

Image from Waremakers.com.

Image from Waremakers.com.

The Midori is available in three colors — original brass like mine, brown-coated and white-coated. I vastly prefer the brass color over the others. According to Jetpens, the “[b]rass body will develop the characteristic vintage look over time.” Which makes sense.

The major downside of the Midori pencil is its price — it’s $21, which to be honest, isn’t that much of a problem, because this thing will last a long time. And while it costs more than a hundred times the price of those other pencils, it is literally worth a hundred times more. So you’re still getting your money’s worth.

Conclusion

I think the choice is clear: if you have any desire to use a bullet pencil, and you want something more functional than an old, vintage bullet pencil, spend the $21 for the Midori brass pencil. For the love of Pete, learn from my mistakes — stay away from the crappy plastic pencils.

I think there still exists a market, however niche, for a good quality plastic bullet pencil. Something right around the $5 price point. If there is a new pencil I can buy like that then brother, let me know. But in the meantime, this Midori pencil is a keeper. I don’t usually have the attention span to personally subscribe to the concept of an “everyday carry” like my new scribomechanica friend Tim, but this is solid, beautiful, unobtrusive and perfect for a permanent addition to my arsenal.

Recommendation: The Midori Brass Bullet Pencil | JetPens.com

(Disclaimer: The Midori Brass Bullet Pencil reviewed here was given to me free of charge by Jetpens.com.)

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

  1. Thanks for this post! I have been eyeing one of those 100 Poop Bullets lots on eBay for a while, but I never pulled the trigger. That brass one is gorgeous! Does it get a patina over time?

    • Haha, well, if the bullets are made of poop, no wonder why you don’t want to pull the trigger! 😀

      Seriously, though, ladies and germs.

      I am led to believe the brass pencil will get a patina after normal use. I haven’t had it long enough to develop anything but fingerprints, but I’ll check in again in a few months. I wonder what the patina on the white or brown one would look like over the brass?

    • Hi, Barnaby!

      I don’t believe there is an attachment — the threads are most inward pointing, so you can really get a good grip on the eraser. You can still pull the eraser straight out, but I think this just served to grip it a bit better.

      Here’s a better look at the inside: Inside of Midori Brass Bullet Pencil

      • Thanks Andy, I realized after posting that the “threads” weren’t continuous, that they were really more like ribs. Excellent closeup photo BTW.

  2. Awesome review Andy. I’ve been looking at those umpire pencils too. Thanks to you I can dismiss them summarily. It’s a little synchronistic that you reviewed the Midori pencil just days before I receive the one I have on order. I’m a big fan of the vintage pencils and from the sounds of it the Midori pencils are every bit as cool :).

    • No problem, Craig! If it wasn’t for you, I’d have a much harder time with finding out all the info I have about bullet pencils — you’re a great resource, for sure! Enjoy your Midori, and tell me what you think!

  3. Hey Andy,

    I’ve played with the Midori pencil for a couple of days now and here’s my initial impressions:

    Pros –
    * A new-build brass bullet pencil 🙂 That’s a good thing.
    * Very high quality materials, design and construction all around -from the brass barrel to the chromed lid and the pencil and eraser
    * It’s kind of heavy – has a nice heft to it so you know it’s in your pocket
    * The unlacquered brass finish will “vintagize” itself nicely with some moderate use
    * Wider and longer than the vintage items, it is actually more comfortable to use

    Cons –
    * Price – IMO it’s too expensive for what you’re getting
    * Compatibility/interchangeability – the eraser and pencil don’t fit other pencils and vice versa. For instance, if you wanted to replace the supplied pencil with one of your choosing, you can’t without suffering an improper fit. For me this is a big issue – it’s a pencil, not some piece of proprietary tech.

    Would I purchase again? I don’t know. I’m genuinely on the fence. I will however continue to use it for however long the pencil and eraser lasts, then I’ll flog the barrel on eBay or lose it in a drawer for a couple of decades 😉

  4. Wow, I’m so happy to find a discussion on bullet pencils!
    I’ve had the Midori bullet pencil in white for a few years; I love it… however, it does have some downsides. As thejungleisneutral pointed out, you can’t just put in any pencil; most american pencils are slightly too small and fall out. That’s a major bummer as one of the draws to using a bullet pencil is the opportunity to continue the life of favorite pencils once they get too short to use comfortably. I’ve tried golf pencils, IKEA pencils… all too small. 😦 As Andy pointed out you can buy refills from Jet Pen, for erasers and pencil inserts but buying refills from Japan is not my idea of sustainability.
    My second issue is going through security check points with this pencil WILL get you pulled over to a ‘special’ area. This happened to me at a Fed building in Philadelphia, where I was attending a friend’s naturalization ceremony. Homeland Security was like, ‘uh, maam, do you have a BULLET in your purse?’. Luckily, when they saw the pencil they were good sports about it and gave it back to me BUT it caused a big delay, and could have been a lot worse.
    I haven’t tried using the vintage bullet pencils yet, but that was my next move. I bought some eraser refills from Penn State Industries that SAY they are for bullet pens. If they fit then I’m definitely going to be on the hunt for some cool vintage bullet pencils at antique markets.

    • UPDATE – erasers and pencils from PennState Industries do NOT fit either the Midori Bullet Pencil OR my vintage bullet pencils. Too small 😦

  5. Great project on Kickstarter. Gorgeous and handmade. Westport CT Check it out! Back this project! If you’re a lover of bullet pens and pencils, these are the best I’ve seen to date 🙂

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