The Mitsubishi Uni Palette 2B: Dark, soft, and hard to smudge

A month or so ago, a member of the Erasable Podcast Facebook group posted a picture of some pencils he bought from Japan — a Mitsubishi Uni model called “Palette” which bills itself being “designed for students.

The Mitsubishi Uni Palette pencil

According to the box, Mitsubishi says:

“Palette stationery is designed to help students develop their imaginations and think independently through the joy of writing.”

What really struck me at first about these, when seeing a picture of them, was the three shades of bright, brilliant blue on the pencil barrels. From a rich Navy blue down to a vibrant Baby blue varnish, with bright pearly-white imprints, this stood out to me, especially compared to its higher-end cousin, the understated maroon Hi-Uni.

My wife, considerate person that she is, noted my enthusiasm and went about tracking down a pack. She found a seller on Amazon that shipped from Japan, for free! Of course, it took almost a month to arrive, but when it did, I was so excited to break it open.

Aesthetics

As I mentioned before, the most striking feature of the pencil is the bright blues it comes in. It feels a lot more fun and light than the darker, serious maroon, black and gold of the Hi-Uni. It makes a lot of sense, being for students.

The Mitsubishi Uni Palette pencil and the Kum Masterpiece sharpener

The ends were unfinished, which was a bit disappointing. One of my favorite things about many Japanese pencils are the dipped or capped ends that often have a pinstripe or some detailing to finish it. A bright white to match the foil stamp would have been nice. But to keep costs down, I completely understand why it was bare.

The Mitsubishi Uni Palette pencil

Upon closer inspection, I was pleased to see that all the cores looked perfectly centered inside the wood. The casings seemed perfectly aligned and there were no chips or paint overspill despite the dramatic woodgrain.

Shavings from the Mitsubishi Uni Palette pencil and a Kum Masterpiece sharpener

The pencil sharpened like a dream. As with many Japanese pencils, It sharpened smooth and the wood sheered off in almost one piece. I used my Kum Masterpiece, my favorite hand-held sharpener, to get that razor-sharp long point I prefer.

Performance

The first thing to note is how dark and smooth it is. For a 2B, it was so rich and smooth — waxy, almost — that I thought it was an error. Surely this was a 4 or 6B!

Writing test with the Mitsubishi Uni Palette pencil

Because it was so soft and smooth, it didn’t hold its point for very long. It could be because I was writing on fairly toothy paper — a Baron Fig Confidant — but by the time I got two-thirds of the way down the page, the point was quite dull. I wasn’t even pressing very hard.

Writing with the Mitsubishi Uni Palette pencil

However, what really makes this pencil stand out is the smudgeability (is that a word?). As soon as I wrote a few words, I ran my finger across it and barely got a smear. This felt more like a 2B than something softer and darker.

A smear test with the Mitsubishi Uni Palette pencil

What makes it “designed for students”?

The day I opened up these pencils, I had lunch with a friend of mine: Bruce Eimon, who started Think on Paper .Co, a company specializing in Japanese stationery. He was raised in Japan, and deeply understands the Japanese stationery market — how it reflects that industry’s values, their philosophy of product design, and how they approach creativity and learning.

It’s important, he says, for Japanese schoolchildren to understand how to use a pencil. They spend a lot of time taking tests — writing and filling in little bubbles on a standardized exam. This pencil is soft and dark, so students don’t have to press too hard, which can affect their handwriting. It’s lightweight and relatively thin — for little hands — and is probably relatively smudge proof because those hands are often clumsy and are dragged through the graphite markings.

Brilliant.

If you’re in the US, it’s pretty hard to get ahold of these — CW Pencils doesn’t have them, and neither do JetPens or Pencils.com. As far as I can tell, I can only get them on Amazon. But, the good news is that they’re not expensive — less than $7 for a dozen. They just take a while to get here.

If you’re interested in picking up a dozen of these for yourself, you can find them on Amazon, here!

EDIT: Someone pointed out to me that there are also Palettes in gorgeous pastel colors with pink and orange in the package, and Palettes in a soft triangle shaped barrel!

Also, if you are reading this on your mobile device and have Medium installed, check this out — I was playing around with Medium Series, their new format similar to Snapchat or Instagram stories. I wrote this same review there, too.

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune: a review of the Baron Fig Archer pencil

This has been a long time coming, folks.

Ever since I first met Baron Fig founders Joey and Adam in person, last year in April, they’ve been intensely interested in wooden pencils. We had a great chat, sitting on a park bench in Washington Square Park in NYC. I told them what I thought made a good pencil, and they told me a bit about their design philosophy.

And while I had nothing to do with the creation of this pencil, I do feel a bit of pride in it — I don’t know if I’ve ever followed someone’s process from ideation to creation before.

The Baron Fig Archer pencils with the Three Legged Juggler Confidant notebook

It’s unclear how the idea started — perhaps it was a whole bevy of Baron Fig users telling the guys how pencil-friendly their paper was: toothy but not rough; thick but not plush. Perhaps it was that pencils can express their design philosophy to a level that pens never can — ultimate simplicity expressed. No refills, no moving parts. Just wood, graphite and paint.

But honestly, does it matter? I’m happy they decided to go for it. There’s a lot of (valid) criticism of the Baron Fig aesthetic out there: extreme minimalism, cold, clean lines, inexplicably feudal naming conventions. But for me, personally, I like it. I find warmth in their Confidant journals from the fabric covers, and though many of the designers I work with love the grey, I vastly prefer some color in my notebooks (I love, love my orange Three-Legged Juggler that I stashed away for a year or two before breaking open).

Their product lines has explored notebooks just about as far as they could go. They have the Confidant, the Apprentice (their soft-covered pocket notebook) and the Vanguard (the larger, multi-sized soft-covered notebooks). They released a Confidant cover, the Guardian, and even a planner variant of the Confidant.

Last year, they released the Squire, a pen that I wrote about here. It seemed only logical that a pencil would follow. I was worried it might be a mechanical pencil version of the Squire, but I was happy to see they went with a woodcase pencil.

Let me walk through a few different aspects of this pencil that really stood out to me.

Aesthetics

Joey texted me back in August with this amazing photo:

From the moment I saw it, I knew it would be a perfect fit in their lineup. The grey barrel is finished with a really soft matte lacquer, that makes it fairly non-stick. Even with clammy hands, this shouldn’t slip from your fingers.

Like the Squire before it, the insignia (icon?) on the barrel indicating the name is a simple line illustration. Instead of a sword, of course, there’s an arrow. Opposite it, “BARON FIG” is written. Both markings are, I believe, screenprinted on — there’s no sign it was debossed or stamped.

Closeup of the barrel of the Baron Fig Archer pencilPersonally, I would have loved a little bit of color — maybe the yellow accent color they use for bookmarks in their Confidante, or the Baron Fig wine color on their boxes and branding. But I’m not too bent out of shape about it — I expected a monochromatic pencil, and I think the majority of their audience will prefer it.

Closeup of the Baron Fig Archer barrel on the Confidant notebook

It’s definitely not going to turn any heads or start conversations, like a Blackwing or, say, a flashy Hi-Uni Penmanship. But that’s not what it’s for — this is designed to be a distraction-free workhorse. And while it’s fun to explain the story behind the Blackwing to strangers, it’s definitely a distraction. This is for focused sketching of wireframes, or writing important to-do lists, or just musing in your notebooks at breakfast to finish your Morning Pages.

Performance

Johnny, Tim and I were lucky enough to get an advance dozen of the pencils a couple weeks before the launch so we could try them out and talk to them about it on the latest episode (check it out!). I used it almost exclusively for a week, and wrote all over — in my Confidante, my Field Notes, on cheap Post-it notes — you name it.

Shavings from the Baron Fig Archer pencil, sharpened by a KUM Masterpiece

When I sharpened it with my Kum Masterpiece, the wood looks blemish-free but still pretty woodgrainey. It doesn’t seem like they’re using a composite wood. I’m not sure what it is made of — I doubt it’s incense cedar because of how lightweight it is. Still, I’m a big fan. It smells like a wooden pencil. And it sharpens like a champ.

The first thing I noticed was how incredibly lightweight it is. I don’t have a postage scale with me, but even considering there is no ferrule, it feels exceptionally light. So, at first, I thought it was going to feel cheap and scratchy.

writing-with-the-baron-fig-archer_full.png

I was so pleased to be wrong. On every paper I used it on, the graphite was exceptionally well-balanced. It wasn’t buttery-smooth like a Blackwing (even the 602 is way smoother than others of its hardness), nor was it scratchy like its featherweight sibling, the extremely light and scratchy Faber-Castell Grip 2001.

Baron Fig paper is widely considered to be pretty great for pencil, and this pencil is pretty great with this paper. I spent some considerable time writing with it in my Three-Legged Juggler Confidante, and it didn’t lay down the darkest mark in the world, but it barely smudged when I smeared it with my finger. And it erased very cleanly.

close-up-writing-baron-fig-archer_full.png

The Packaging

I think that the packaging deserves its own category here. Baron Fig has always been obsessed with amazing packaging — Their Confidantes come in a perfectly engineered box. Unboxing it is an experience, much like an Apple product or other fine electronics. The Archers are no different.

unopened-tube-baron-fig-archer_full.png

When I got the tube in the mail, I thought it was impossibly thin to fit. There was no way a dozen regular-sized pencils were going to fit in there! I showed the unopened tube to my wife, and asked her how many pencil she thought were in there, and her guess was around four to six pencils.

open-tube-baron-fig-archer_full.png

Finally, I lifted the top of the tube off, and sure enough, 12 pencils were fit together in a 3x3x3 honeycomb triangle. When we were recording, I asked Joey and Adam how long it took to design that packaging — Adam admitted to doing a lot of math in order to make that happen. It certainly paid off.

Concluding

I’m a big fan of these little guys. I still prefer pencils with erasers on the end. Blame it on my very American background — I maintain the eraser gives it a nice counterbalance when I’m writing, not to mention a super handy tool for when I need to rub out a mistake. But sometimes when I’m sketching or writing fast, I want a very lightweight pencil unencumbered by the extra weight a ferrule and eraser brings. These are sure to be a standard go-to for me.

tube-layed-down-baron-fig-archer.png

I think the price is perfect, too. It’s not cheap by any means, but at $15 a dozen, that means it’s $1.25 per pencil, which is quite a bit less than the $1.82 Blackwing.

Like Apple, Baron Fig puts intentionality and design into everything they do. They strip out the cruft that’s worked its way into stationery and office supplies, leaving only the necessities. If that appeals to you, you’re going to love the Archer. Pick up a dozen or two over on their website for $15 a dozen.

And thank you, Joey and Adam for this fantastic addition to your lineup, and for letting me feel like I was able to come along on the journey!

(These pencils were given to me at no charge by Baron Fig for review purposes.)

Rite in the Rain Mechanical Pencil Review

I’ve always liked Rite in the Rain notebooks. While I’m not particularly outdoorsy (I prefer to be called an indoorsman,, like most good bloggers), I love the durability of their paper and the retro aesthetic of their yellow or tan products, and of course, the gorgeous script typeface in their logo.

That’s why I was excited that they introduced a series of mechanical pencils! I’ve always found it a little bit ironic that they have a wooden pencil in their logo, but had no graphite options in the writing equipment they sell.

Rite in the Rain Mechanical Pencil

I know, I know — I’m a wooden pencil guy, and this is a wooden pencil blog. And this product video doesn’t help make the peace:

But still, this pencil is gorgeous, and fits with their market really well. It’s the same yellow, but in a smooth sturdy plastic, and a slate grey eraser. Like their notebooks, they’re inexpensive, but well made. And, I imagine, very durable.

Rite in the Rain mechanical pencil test

This pencil comes in three varieties — a yellow barrel with black lead, a black barrel with black lead, and a red barrel with red lead.

This pencil was developed along with, and manufactured by Autopoint, which makes sense — it really fits within their wheelhouse. This was a good fit.

I’m not a huge fan of how wide this core is — it’s 1.1 mm instead of the thin 0.5 or 0.7 mm that is often found in mechanical pencils. I can appreciate why it’s wider, though — it’s less prone to breakage, and shows up darker if writing bigger. Sure enough, it didn’t snap once when I was testing it.

Rite in the Rain graphite tip closeup

The graphite was nice and smooth, and dark. Especially on the paper in this Rite in the Rain notebook, it glided across the page.

The red core, on the other hand, was a fairly unpleasant experience — the pigment is way too light (as you can see in the image), and waxy to the point of feeling gummy. It dulled much faster than the graphite core did.

The only other complaint I have about this pencil is the sturdiness of the twisty point. As I’m writing, it sometimes creaks in an alarming way, like I’m stressing the little contraption inside that advances the core when I twist it. Nothing seems to be affected or broken, though, so it may just be a natural result of having two pieces that fit together like that.

I really like how it feels. It reminds me of a Bic Clic, and I hope they don’t take that as an insult. For the price, a Bic Clic is one of the most attractive, best engineered pens I can find. It’s shaped beautifully, performs consistently and admirably, and even though it’s plastic, it’s really high quality. I’ve never seen a flaw in one.

This pencil feel much the same. It’s a little bit thicker than a Bic Clic’s widest segment, and it’s just a little bit longer than the Bic. It feels really nice in my hand, and I imagine if I was someone who had to scribble notes in the rain, it’d be great to hold onto.

I think my favorite part of this pencil is the eraser. I don’t think I’ve seen one like it before — it’s grey, and I was expecting it to be very pumice-like and gritty. It’s not, though. It’s super-smooth, but really effective. It rubs off cleanly, almost like a vinyl eraser.

Rite in the Rain mechanical pencil eraser

Sure, I’d like to see Rite in the Rain introduce a wooden pencil. But honestly, it’s no big deal if they didn’t. They produce a great notebook, one that any pencil would work well with. They lent their philosophy to this mechanical pencil — a quality, durable tool for not a lot of money. I think it holds its own really well in their product lineup.

You can buy these mechanical pencils for $10.95 each, and refills for the core and the eraser, on their website. And for that 6×9″ top-spiral-bound notepad I used to review it? It’s $9.95 available from their website.

(Disclaimer: These products were given to me, free of charge, for review purposes. Thank you, Rite in the Rain, for these samples!)

UPDATE: A few readers have written to me that that the Autopoint All-American Jumbos are identical and cheaper. I don’t know if they are identical, and the RiR pencils are merely privately labeled, or if there are manufacturing differences/improvements. I intend to get an Autopoint-branded pencil and check it out. So in the meantime, I’d recommend that you hold off on your purchases of either.

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